The firebrand Marathi poet-writer and leader of the Dalit Panthers movement succumbed to a long-drawn battle against illness
For more than four decades, Marathi poet and firebrand writer Namdeo Dhasal’s name remained synonymous with Dalit struggles of varying kinds. In the wee hours of Wednesday, Dhasal succumbed to a long-drawn battle against illness including colorectal cancer. He was being treated at the ICU of the Bombay hospital in south Mumbai. He was 64.
The award-winning writer of ‘Golpitha’ and leader of the Dalit Panthers movement, Dhasal has had a medical history of myasthenia gravis, a rare auto-immune disorder. He had been in and out of hospitals since the diagnosis of cancer. Dhasal’s funeral will be on Thursday morning.
Dhasal’s incisive poetry and an equally sharp prose encompassed a wide range of voices from Mumbai’s underbelly. His works earned him the Padma Shri award and Sahitya Akademi’s Lifetime Achievement Award. In his “Man You Should Explode”- from the Golpitha collection – Dhasal made crumble the elitist notions of religion, philosophy and civilisation to envisage, instead, a world for all of humanity.
His funeral will be on Thursday morning.
Here’s a poem – not the better known ones from his earlier work – but from Ya Sattet Jeev Rahmat Nahi (The Soul Doesn’t Find Peace in This Regime, 1995), translated by the late Dilip Chitre and published by Navayana in Namdeo Dhasal: Poet of the Underworld.Autobiography
The face you find stirred up on the surface of the water is mine:
The foaming crown on the raised wave
About to touch a pride poised between time and space.
Hell’s bastions of suffering have begun to crumble and fall.
I’ve made myself tired and unhappy here on this seashore of pain;
Sculpting with a chisel and image of many-faceted wounds.
The gossamer mantle of Being fluttering in the wind;
a fierce foreplay of light and dark creating its urgent rage
Formless skies; wistful; as the transparent birds of dreams fly away.
The flowers of inner awareness, beginning to bloom, have no fragrance;
Like a snake, I too shed my skin; this touch of icy water cuts all passion’s cords.
Don’t blow a soothing breath on the surface of the water now, or my memoirs will lose their face.
Ode to Dr. Ambedkar
Thursday, August 19th, 2010
My ropes are pulled towards you, you who conceived of giving a burial
To the cages of religion, caste, gender, and race preserved under armed protection;
My ropes are pulled towards your achievement
Through a low-toned falling rain’s softly played flute
Tunnelling out of my soul, surrounding electric trees
Kicking that ancient woman hard and deep in the butt.
Mirrors are losing their reflective polish;
The sea of hell is being parted;
The powdered bones of those afflicted with sin are being scattered from high above in the sky
And they vanish; the sun is setting over the lands ruled by demons—
The devils who plucked the leaves of mythology from a blossoming spring;
The devils who made my throat sing songs that condemned all regions of evil.
The skin of the untouchable parched by cycles of untouched life is moistened by your Heavenly stream;
You’ve smashed the head of the god-given wind
That created room for a wobbly nation and its restless people;
You’ve pierced through the voluptuous thighs of those ghostly nymphs that cast
Their spell upon us. My history starts from you, the age of everyman you launched.
Let those who want to have the history of man bundled and sacked in abstract and concrete
Stigmata the blind masses wear on their forehead; the caste-mark of false history.
People are tempted to dynamite themselves to blow up their latent greatness.
I won’t look for you among the bulls and the bears of the market, or in the clock of the present Time.
I won’t seek you in the distance between the crow and the factory, the public urinal and the prison custody.
The shining liver of a seven-year-old gathers rust.
O teak tree shaking in all these circumstances,
I pursue the waves of change on the crest of my period;
I’m thinking of the wild birds and the city birds shitting on your bronze statue.
That’s no thought really; it’s only a parasite that’s growing
On a circumambulation of your statue,
That’s the origin of the individual, and a shortening of the long journey towards one’s identity
That contains neither a flame nor a knife,
That has the hardness of the back of a female crocodile and the insensitiveness
Of the skin of a rhino;
That contains only the burbling sound of the original spring of life and the tenacity of an iguana;
And bodies built like fortresses and bastions.
Thought and death are both deception;
Smoking a hashish pipe and getting laid are both deception—
As though a sheet bought from the goddess of rags can cover absolute nudity.
The parrot of existence perennially pecks at the unending agony of thought;
The parrot of existence perennially pecks at the permanent pain of death.
Death is that stone inscription of which the thinker is always afraid.
The hashish pipe:
It’s a sovereign precious stone that even time cannot cut with its teeth.
I can’t see my own face, you know;
It’s a nauseating face; and that I, with such a face, should be an animal wagging its tail
Following them; you’ve pushed me towards such a crucial doorstep.
An earthen owl of compassion and a black rose of blood grow out of my arse;
Their fermented foul breath commands me to vomit,
And makes me walk through a crowd;
And trees walk with me like humans;
And my hands compose books of the apocalypse;
The procession that covers me up has no root in death;
It’s a procession for which a fire-pit blazes in my mind
And white rabbits swing in the air;
It’s the formation of a single luminous clan that the seasons have planned;
That procession and I were never split apart.
Time does not categorise the same sex: for the eyes of time are never
As myopic as the vision of the censors;
If time were myopic, how would your face
At the bottom of this procession, and at the bottom of my being, be hurt
By those divine whales imagined differently in parliaments of the people?
As my head becomes visible, rising above hurts and tortures,
Shrieking military aircraft circle above me searching for their prey
And the design of a martial law regime starts erasing
Lines drawn on maps; and the whole web of lines;
And through this crisis, I am going on my tenacious journey
Like a would-be conqueror, driven by a desire shaped like the Ashwamedha charger;
In this pomegranate forest I am going through, my society is just a bystander; if I don’t uproot this society of mere onlookers,
A hard rock will separate you and me: and I will not be able to see
Your radiant disc surrounded by lotuses growing among crystals, rejecting all material things,
And merged with myself, tasting wholesome and scrumptious like freshly baked millet bread;
A textile mill, a hut;
An asthmatic, a soldier;
One goes through the length of the settlement to the courtyard of childhood
To play with shaggy red-haired puppies,
And to inhale mango-blossoms that burst before raw mangoes appear on the tree;
And to catch and slay the frightening anti-shadows,
Their hordes prancing like deer, and shimmering like bony plates on the skin.
I am afraid I’ll go berserk,
Fifteen years after you were gone.
Death has just fed dust to one of your comrades,
And buried him in a grave measuring his seventy-one years;
And once again the same gloom has fallen that spread when you passed away;
Newspapers repeated the same headlines they had used for you:
‘Champion of the Dalits Gone
Creating a Void in the Dalit Community’
Do leaders in a movement wear the same shirt?
And have the same ink and letters used about them, and their feet and their shoes?
They—who never make the error of going
One step forward or backward from the pioneer—
Don’t posses the fuel and the velocity with which are born
The ones who have the spunk to lift their foot as high as their leader did
Or to move it differently.
He who digs his own grave in the presence of his mentor,
And eagerly embraces decreed concessions,
And rides high horses for the sake of a chair that has no successor,
He who does not change the flavour of the day or the night,
Or the saliva on the tongue, or the water in the saliva;
He who loses touch with life in the soil, and creates the black and white
Monsters of factionalism,
For such a one I cannot shed one heart-felt tear.
I don’t squeeze for him the oil in my body, nor light candles for him;
And I don’t wear my best mourning black to attend an obituary meeting.
On the Throne that people gave you, since occupied by only grief and spontaneous lament,
I smell only your fragrance;
And the extinguished pupils of my eyes itch as the skin of cripples does.
I follow your teachings: struggle relentlessly, challenge the foundation of faith, of pledges;
And I carve myself up to the last particle of poverty and agony in me.
And I plunge a sharpened shovel into my own heart too;
And soak the pages of your life with warm blood;
And arouse the only honest thing in me;
And I move into the battle amidst gunfire and explosions and tanks;
And through lush green blades of wheat;
For, at the very point of the needle, one is introduced to love and to the green blade of wheat;
And with the robust surging energy of uncontrollable bulls,
The wife dreams the husband’s dreams, and the dreams of the wife are dreamt by the child;
And thus happiness forms its chain of life to forge a future.
Everyone is, as a matter of fact, as complete as the Sun
That protects and preserves all; including the cactus;
And uses the dew that forms on petals
To heal all pain;
That Sun recognises the difference between man and beast;
That Sun grows weary of the sameness of day and night;
That Sun crosses over all things;
That Sun finds the colour of life and death as useless as that of a sweet lime
Its beak turns into brass, and pecks at the diseased skin of age;
That Sun flows perennially through shouts of victory,
And is found moving in the smile of a flower.
It refuses to serve the village community, rejects the millet-bread offered as its mahar gatekeeper;
It cannot sprout in the muck of rum and coke;
It does not sit on doormats as untouchables do.
That Sun flies like the New Year’s butterfly and spreads light;
That Sun grows parallel to railway tracks;
That Sun loosens the stone walls of universities;
It moves only from one freedom to the next.
You are that Sun, our only charioteer,
Who descends into us from a vision of sovereign victory,
And accompanies us in fields, in crowds, in processions, and in struggles;
And saves us from being exploited.
You are that Sun
You are that one—who belongs to us.
From Namdeo Dhasal‘s Marathi Collection of poetry, Golpitha. Translated by Dilip Chitre for the book, ‘Namdeo Dhasal, Poet of the Underworld: Poems 1972-2006‘.
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