The Circle That Is Losing Its Centre : Ambedkarite Poetry of Our Time


Yogesh Maitreya

suni book coverDalit poetry in Maharashtra has been recently going through a transition. However, there are only a few poets who have managed to catch this transition in their poems. Some of them turned inward and explored the subject matter of their personal conflicts with the world. Others have managed to make the dialectical combination of their self/subjectivity and the objects which were imposed upon them by the outer world. Sunil Abhiman Awachar is one of the poets in Maharashtra who has been carrying the legacy of Dalit/Ambedkarite poetry to the new level of expression in which global objectivity and local subjectivity are found to transform themselves into a newer poetic expression. He has recently published his poetry anthology; Kendra Harawat Chalalelya Vartulacha Parigh (roughly translates as 'The Circle that is losing its Centre').

His journey as a poet has gone through many phases. Not only has he been a witness to the phase in which Dalit/Ambedkarite poetry came to a temporary standstill after the 1990s, he has also observed its impact on the Dalit literary tradition in Maharashtra. Hence, it shouldn't be a surprise for us if we see a different vocabulary in his poems which is rarely found in Dalit/Ambedkarite poetry in Maharashtra. And he knows why he is using this. In his poem, Global Present, he writes:

Dyaneshwar and Tukaram are giving bribe
So that their poetry can be accommodated
In the universities;
The flag of democracy is hoisted all over,
The principle of humanity is lost in the Olympics
Amid such a situation,
One cannot deny the possibility
Of 'Clamour' to be awarded a Nobel Prize

(Translated by Yogesh Maitreya)

His poetry anthology has one hundred and fifty poems. These poems depict a variety of subjects and the range of experiences that he as a poet acquired through his constant interactions with both amicable and conflictual situations around him. However, he, as a poet always chose to be on the side of the one who in this society had never been given any recognition in the literary domain and this is why he writes the poetry of a common man in which he says:

He is looking at the world
Through the compassionate eyes of the Buddha,
He is arguing through the logics of Charwak and,
Amid the light of lantern
He is browsing the pages of 'The Capital'

(Translated by Yogesh Maitreya)

In associating the common man with the intellectual quest, he also reclaims their human personality in his poetry and puts utmost confidence in them as human beings. It is also illuminating to understand the source of his poetry, in one of his poems, which at the first appears to be a poem that belongs to the school of Romanticism, however, it is ontologically rooted in Ambedkarite perceptions in which a woman has always been given the highest applause. He writes:

My words are nourished
By breastfeeding my mother gave me;
The glow in my words belongs to the lips
Of my lover;

Do not use my words
To distort the truth,
My words
Like the bullet of a gun
Reach to its aim...

(Translated by Yogesh Maitreya)

The literary tradition of Ambedkarite/Dalit politics in post-Panther and post 1990s era brought with itself a wave of hopelessness in the domain of electoral-politics in Maharashtra among Ambedkarite masses; one can also say that Ambedkarite people in Maharashtra were not able to translate their social strength and the strength of their movement into the domain of party politics, except in the year of 1957, in which the newly formed RPI had MPs and MLAs elected and won solely on their own strength. However, to look at the situation from multiple perspectives, Ambedkarite people had attained the ability to express themselves effectively. In Sunil Awachar's poetry depicts not only the ability to understand the hopelessness of Ambedkarite masses in all these years in the domain of electoral politics but also their strength as a critical mass gets well reflected in his poem where the 'air' becomes the metaphor of their critical quest; one of the weapons which democracy offered them. He says:

Without food
You can live for a while,
Without water
You might live for a few days,
You can also do away with clothes,
You can live without shelter,
But without air
You cannot live more than few seconds

Hence, you must do one thing:
Before the earth turns into a desert
You should plant a tree;
You should do this
Before casting your vote in democracy

(Translated by Yogesh Maitreya)

In the recent decades in Maharashtra, there were only a few poets who went on to provide an ideological base for their poetry. After the demise of Ambedkarite poets like Arun Kale and Ketan Pimpalapure there seemed to be a recession in such sorts of poetic narratives. Sunil Abhiman Awachar's emergence in the present decade, with a strong ideological background of Ambedkarite movement and whose empirical experience of Dalit life and theoretical reflection of poetic tradition of Marathi poetry, seems to respond to this recession; and he seems to carry the tradition of 'movement and poetry' further from where its descendents had left it. His poetry is not only well aware of the complexities of local life in which 'globalised' objectivity has been infused by various oppressive mechanisms, he seems to have the answers for them as well. In one of the poems from the anthology called Breaking Free, he writes:

I furnace the iron,
Then give it a shape,
With the stroke of hammer
I make it straight

Then I make hooks
Each one separately,
I join all of them together
I make a chain out of them.

If I can make the chain
Why cannot I break it?

(Translated by Yogesh Maitreya)

It has always been a necessity for the poet to reconnect himself with his past but at the same time with his present. It is an essential task of a poet to transcend the horizons of time and space in his reflexivity and to create a piece of art which helps people to communicate between their past and present. It is the victory of the poet if he is able to do so for his readers. Sunil Abhiman Awachar's poetry seems to fulfil much of such promises. Morever, he never misses to draw the politics of structural complexities in his poetry that again makes him one of the important voices in the Marathi Ambedkarite/Dalit poetry. He seems to be very conscious of the changes which would prove fatal to people who are part of the movement if they are not cautious. And he expresses or rather confesses this:

Since I started to mingle with elite class and
Sprinkle perfume into my armpits, the sweat smells
Like a stench...

(Translated by Yogesh Maitreya)

In the domain of translation of Ambedkarite/Dalit movement into English, Brahminised publishers and translators proved themselves to be prejudiced. And they only appeared on the scene when there was something material to be gained out of translations of Dalit literature. That is one of the reasons why poets like Sunil Abhiman Awachar have remained largely un-translated. However, recently some of his poems have been translated by me into English in the hope that more and more organic and genuine Ambedkarite voices like him will be available for the readers. This english anthology of his poems will be published by Panther's Paw Publication by April, 2017.



Yogesh Maitreya is from Nagpur and has done his M.A in Criminology and Justice from TISS (Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai). 


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