Interrogating My Chandal Life: An Autobiography of a Dalit
Author: Manoranjan Byapari
Translated by Sipra Mukherjee
9789381345139 | PB | pp. 384 | 2018 | SAGE Samya
This book charts the author’s futile flight from home to escape hunger, in search of work as a teenager around the country, only to face further exploitation.
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If you insist that you do not know me, let me explain myself … you will feel, why, yes, I do know this person. I’ve seen this man.
With these words, Manoranjan Byapari points to the inescapable roles all of us play in an unequal society. Interrogating My Chandal Life: An Autobiography of a Dalit is the translation of his remarkable memoir Itibritte Chandal Jivan. It talks about his traumatic life as a child in the refugee camps of West Bengal and Dandakaranya, facing persistent want—an experience that would dominate his life. The book charts his futile flight from home to escape hunger, in search of work as a teenager around the country, only to face further exploitation. In Kolkata in the 1970s, as a young man, he got caught up in the Naxalite movement and took part in gang warfare. His world changed dramatically when he was taught the alphabet in prison at the age of 24—it drew him into a new, enticing world of books. After prison, he worked as a rickshaw-wallah and one day the writer Mahasweta Devi happened to be his passenger. It was she who led him to his first publication.
Today, as Sipra Mukherjee points out, ‘issues of poverty, hunger and violence have exploded the cautiously sewn boundaries of the more affluent world’, rendering archaic the comfortable distances between them. Despite ‘Chandal’ explicitly referring to a Dalit caste, this narrative weaves in and out of the margins.
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About the Contributors
Manoranjan Byapari has worked at many kinds of jobs and also been writer-in residence at Alumnus Software, Calcutta. He never went to school or university. He is a popular writer in the literary magazines and in 2014 received the Suprabha Majumdar prize awarded by the Paschimbanga Bangla Akademi. He was awarded the 24 Ghanta Ananya Samman in 2013. He and his writings are well known as he speaks about Dalit issues in Hindi, becoming proficient in the language while he was with the Mukti Morcha of the late Shankar Guha Neogi in Chhattisgarh.
Sipra Mukherjee is Professor, Department of English, West Bengal State University. Her research interests are religion, caste and power. Her interest in literatures of the margins began with research into early missionary journals of Northeast India. She has since worked on small religious sects and is presently trying to archive the local cultures of North 24-Parganas at her university.
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