While I write this at night
it’s three o’ clock
Though I want to have a drink
I don’t feel like drinking.
Only I want to sleep peacefully
And tomorrow morning see no varnas
Namdeo Dhasal now makes news only for moving further away from the cause he stood for, that is for moving away from Marxism to the Shiv Sena and now to the Sangh Parivar’s fountainhead- the RSS- organizations that he had once bitterly opposed.
But once Namdeo Dhasal had founded the Dalit Black Panthers movement in 1972, and heralded the era of Dalit poetry, though the term Dalit Poetry had existed since 1958.
Anand Teltumbde places his poetry in the context of his times (the early seventies):
The times were just ripe for the protest movement of dalits to germinate…. The most notable example of this protest came in light in the form of Golpitha- a collection of poems by Namdeo Dhasal. Golpitha – name of a red-light district in Mumbai, depicted the tough life of a dalit there and is considered as Dhasal’s most stellar work. People were shocked by the raw energy exuded by each of its word entirely unfamiliar to the established literary circles. They had never seen quite like it before. Its proletarian lingo, iconoclastic imagery, defiant idiom and terrible anger shook the establishment to its very foundation. A spate of poetry followed
Dhasal’s poetry is powerful and poignant, and very raw.
Dhasal’s poetry is shocking to those who have not experienced the excruciating circumstances of caste exploitation:
In one of his poems Dhasal describes how caste society and male domination deformed his mother, making her into a “machinery for the production of worms.” Identifying with her spiritual butchery at the hands of a bigoted society, he tells her, “Just as I have been stripped bare, so have you.” This identification with his mother, however, doesn’t lead him to inner healing; instead, it hardens him and gives his despair an unpredictable edge. With a baiting bitterness, he asks her, “On the day you cut my umbilical cord, why didn’t you slash my throat with your fingernail?” He then proceeds to rail at her some more, accusingly but also as an act of self-mutilating triumph over any possibility of romanticization —
You didn’t even moo once from the depths.
You didn’t stir the sky with a shrill cry.
The earth didn’t crack.
How easily you lived, wrapped in rhinoceros hide.
In What More Than This Can Be, he wrote:
I am a common man of this contemporary history
I have put down the head guard out of self-humility
I wish to embrace deeply my innermost being
That will end up the essence,
Do not shed the innocent skin of this grammar
After all this heinous world belongs to human beings
Power is not in words but in the desire
This fever-stricken, exaggerated pretention
Will bother the deep relations
Clear away the self-chosen inhuman path
Seasons come and go
Who are you waiting for?
Dhasal has since then moved across the political spectrum from Leftist leanings to now sharing the stage with RSS leaders. It is a left handed tribute to the Dalit Panthers’ movement that even the Shiv Sena, once a backward caste outfit opposed to the Dalit cause, now allies with one or the other splinter groups. Ram Puniyani explains the phenomemon well:
Dalit panthers came up as the most promising organisation for dalit rights and their path was that of alliance with the other oppressed sections of society. They broadened the definition of dalits to include workers, minorities, adivasis and women. This indicated the line of allaince to be followed. This last concerted effort fell to pieces with different leaders of dalit movement getting co-opted by one or the other political power or personality.
Though Dhasal now has his own convoluted explanation:
“But Dalits have come into political power in some places,” Namdeo said. “They are accused of corruption, but they learned it from the Brahmins who ruled before them. The reservations do not work as they now stand. I believe that our people will start to make more demands and the Hindus will be forced to submit to them.”
Namdeo is a big poet in the sense Whitman, Mayakovsky and Neruda are big. But unlike them, his poetry contains large chunks of a real and dirty world peopled by have-nots and their slang. Henry Miller once said, “I am not creating values; I defecate and nourish.” Namdeo did precisely this for Marathi poetry. He restored its soil-cycle by feeding it the very excrement and garbage that could fertilise it for the future.
The interview with Namdeo Dhasal alone makes VS Naipaul’s India: A Million Mutinies Now worth a read.
Poetry is politics, he once stated. Undoubtedly, his current politics will not cast a shadow on his poetry and Dhasal’s poetry will live long after his current politics is dead.
Picture: Dalit poet and leader Namdeo Dhasal shakes hands with RSS chief K Sudarshan at a book release function in New Delhi on Wednesday (Acknowledgement: ToI)