Kolkata–Bengali writer Manoranjan Byapari, a name to reckon with in Dalit Literature, on Sunday said that though not visible it is the prevalent caste system in West Bengal that stood against any celebration of his success.
“I am the best example of caste system in Bengal. I won the Paschimbanga Bangla Akademi and many other awards. Fourteen of my books are being translated, but no Bengali channel or newspaper reported about it the way they would have had I been from the upper castes.
“Forget about the caste factor, but hardly did anyone feel proud about it as a Bengali,” the 68-year-old Byapari said during a discussion on his novel ‘Batashe Baruder Gondho’ at the Tata Steel Literary Meet 2019.
It has been translated into English as ‘There’s Gunpowder in the Air’ by Arunava Sinha.
The word ‘casteism’ is not used openly. Bengalis are very intelligent. The divide is in the form of ‘chotolok’ and ‘bhodrolok’ which indirectly stood for lower and upper-class people, the witty writer said.
“How far the upper class people allow us to be a part of their domestic life is up to them. But at the economic level, if a lower class person comes up they will try their best to stop his/her advance,” pointed out the author of ‘Interrogating my Chandal life: An Autobiography of a Dalit’.
The man who started writing after a chance encounter with writer Mahasweta Devi, said: “The recent recognition from various parts of India is unbelievable for me. Had I believed in God I would consider it to be His magic. But I haven’t seen the Gentleman and don’t have His mobile number. I had also searched him on ‘Google’ but never found him.”
Hailing from a family that migrated from Bangladesh, Byapari found himself in refugees camps in Bankura and South 24 Parganas district. Getting no government aid, he never got a chance to go to school, and had to toil for two square meals daily.
In such a dark situation, he fled from the refugee camp in South 24 Parganas district’s Gholadoltala to north Bengal’s Siliguri in search of food. There in 1967,”I got to see the Naxalites closely”.
Explaining how he landed in jail during the Naxal Movement, the writer said: “I loved telling stories and often made them up. So after I left Siliguri and came to Kolkata (then called Calcutta) where my parents had shifted by then, I told people that I have been to a place like Naxalbari (where the Maoist movement began in India) and met people like Kanu Sanyal, Khokon Majumdar and Jangal Santhal.”
He was tied to a pillar and thrashed by some people who were strongly against Naxalite politics.
Later, the Naxalites approached him asking ‘if he wanted to return the blows’ and thereby he got involved with the Maoists despite having no political knowledge about their ideology, and was jailed.
One jail inmate showed him a ‘small Banyan plant protruding out of the walls of The National Library’. He explained to young Byapari that there is no water or mud but the plant is still growing.
So if he has the vigour he can grow, look around, find humour and even learn things inside the jail.
“Today I feel I have broken all the boundaries,” he said with a degree of satisfaction. (IANS)