Earlier this week, I wrote about Indian poet Meena Kandasamy. Kandasamy is part of a wave of writers emerging out of the Dalit class—the more than 15% of India’s population once called “Untouchables.” This extraordinary movement is one of the most interesting recent developments in global literature. On this Great Stuff for Writers Friday, here are some resources on Dalit writing for anyone interested in expanding their literary horizons.
Andrew Buncombe’s article in the British journal The Independent is a good place to start. It includes an interview with Dalit fiction writer Ajay Navaria and a quick but thorough discussion of the abuses Dalits still suffer, as well as a general introduction to the rise of what is coming to be known as Dalit Lit.
Much of the literature written by Dalits is available only in Indian languages, but increasingly Dalit Lit is being translated into English. The feminist Dalit author Gogu Shyamala writes in the South Indian language Telugu, but English translations of her short stories are available on Amazon.com in the collection Father May Be an Elephant and Mother Only a Small Basket, But . . . Called "intensely beautiful and sharply political," Father May Be an Elephant uses compact, very short stories to explore Dalit life in a tiny Indian village. A review of the collection can be found here.
Karukku, an autobiography by a Dalit woman who writes under the pen name Bama, has also been translated into English (as well as German and French). Bama's frankness about her life as a woman and a Dalit in rural India touched such a sensitive nerve, it got her expelled from her village for months. The introduction to Karukku, written by its renowned translator, Lakshmi Holmstrom, is available online in the journal Outlook India.
Western readers who have been enticed to Indian literature by the work of international superstars like Bharati Mukherjee, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Salman Rushdie should find and explore the works of Bama, Shyamala, Kandasamy, and other Dalit writers. They'll find there a different perspective—a glimpse into the Indian universe on the forefront of social and literary upheaval.
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