Thematic implications and metaphorical expressions of marginality in

Namdeo Dhasal’s ‘ Poet of the Underworld



Courtesy —  sachin ketkar




Dalit literature essentially deals with the marginalized groups who are fundamentally devoid of their voice within the Indian society. It is also necessary to understand that the mainstream literature which caters to a sophisticated set of readers or perception has repeatedly shown its reluctance to publish the pain and the anguish of Dalit literature. Hence every Dalit writer aimsto carve a space or voice for himself / herself out of the mainstream literature in order to bring tolight the injustice meted on to his community. This inevitably creates a subculture within the mainstream literature, a kind of an aperture for all the repressed Dalit sentiments which were shrugged off by the insensitive society. But the power of literature is immense as it allows the existence and proliferation of dissenting voices to construct a parallel world for self-realisation and problematizes the dominant world view. Poets have constantly tried to publish their voices through literature and Namdeo Dhasal does it by impressively expressing himself in a unique way. Namdeo Dhasal through his poetry projects the kinds of complicity, acquiescence and indifference shown by various quarters of society against the marginalized. His poetic collection ‘Poet of the Underworld’ (2007) consists of poems like Golpitha (1972),  Moorkha Ma ataryane Dongar Halavile (The Stupid Old Man Moved Mountains, 1975),

Tuhi Yatta Kanchi


(What’s Your Grade, 1981),  Khel  (Play, 1983), Gandu Bagicha (Arsefuckers Park, 1986), Ya Sattet Jeev Ramat Nahi  (The Soul Doesn’t Find Peace in this Regime, 1995),  Mee Marale Sooryachya Rathache Ghode Saat  (I Slew the Seven Horses of the Chariot of the Sun, 2005) and Tujhe Bot  Dharoon Chalalo Ahe Mee

(Holding Your Finger, I Walk On, 2006). The paper attempts to probe the various thematic implications and metaphorical expressions of marginality in Namdeo

Dhasal’s poetic collection ‘Poet of the Underworld’



A Dalit writer’s literature is accompanied with the life and experiences of a survival inunimaginable ways, inspite of centuries of oppression in the Indian society. Their life is aconstant negotiation with the hegemonic society which subjugates them and compels them to becomplicit, acquiescent and indifferent in certain situations for their meager existence. Butessentially, Dalit literature has a peculiar ability to feel a fundamental sense of belonging withother marginalized identities; it also helps in collectivizing the struggle for a common goal of liberation from caste oppression and vehemently asserting the self. Namdeo Dhasal, one of the pioneers of Dalit Panthers Movement, set the stage to unapologetically publish the anger, grief and anguish of the Dalits. His poetry collection ‘Poet of the Underworld’ (2007) had startled the Marathi literary scene, which earlier only accommodated the aesthetics palatable for sophisticated readers. The aim of this paper is to selectively probe the various thematic implications and metaphorical expressions of marginality in Namdeo Dhasal’s poetic collection‘Poet of the Underworld’.


As Dilip Chitre said, If there is anything like Dalit literature, it is something created by superimposing the idiom of social sciences upon literary criticism, which has adequate methodological and terminological resources of its own to deal more than descriptively withliterary movements. But Dhasal’s literature like any other Dalit writer has to be taken

into account along with its complex metaphors and themes which seem bizarre and surrealistic. It is also very difficult to penetrate the layers of anger which he weaves resulting from a self that isunrealized. To understand a Dalit ‘self’

, it is imperative to go beyond the objective detachmentmaintained by critics and view his life in totality keeping him in the centre.One of the essential features of Dalit literature is to subvert the canonical literature. But Dhasalgoes one step further by subverting even the mainstream literature and its poetical oeuvre in



in Dhasal’s ‘  Man You Should Explode (Golpitha ), the elitist notions of civilization,religion and philosophy is bizarrely shredded for the creation of a new world, which should bemade available for humanity. While all religions of the world are at the receiving end of his ire,there seems less difficulty in understanding his faith in humanity minus religion and prejudices.For Dhasal, language and societal conception becomes tools for subversion, which alsoconcurrently transforms into a motif for Dalit expression and consciousness. Just as language and   societal conception undergoes a constant negotiation between the elite upper caste and the lower caste in the Indian society, so does the sharing and consumption of Water

, when Dhasal says

“Upstream, the water is all for you to take / Downstream, the water is for us to get  ”

(Dhasal pg43), which evidently shows the hegemonic imposition of the upper caste rule in the villages. Theutter callousness, with which the right to use fresh water was denied to Dalits, but its usage onlyif, the upper caste population are satisfied with their fill, only aggravates the inhumanity perpetrated on them.


Water stands as a metaphor for hygiene, purity, satisfaction, etc. which wascategorically made available only according to the whims and fancies of the upper castes.Dhasal indulges to a greater extent on scatological and vulgar descriptions which does set thesophisticated poetic decorum on fire. But this stems less from his neighbourhood experiences inDhor Chawl but more because of the quality of life he could receive from the caste dominatedsociety. Although like him many miserable and wretched identities in red streets, opium dens,liquor bars, etc. gathered and habituated along with the

subculture and the people’s lives   putrefied by the civilized society.


In‘ Mandakini Patil: A Young Prostitute, My Intended Collage ’, Dhasal portrays the ultimate marginalized identity  –  a prostitute who is shown to be an object for sexual perversion by men,  “ Her clothes ripped off, her thigh blasted open, / A sixteen- year-

old girl surrendering herself to pain, / And a pig: it’s snout full of  blood

(ibid pg 56). By willfully subjugating the self, a prostitute vulnerably exists satisfying the carnal desires of men.The projection of a prostitute’s pain which Dhasal empathises because of Dhor Chawl,reciprocates his identification with her, who is seldom understood and seen from a subject position. The obliteration of her voice by the society is recovered by Dhasal emphatically, inspiteof being a man, a possible hindrance, which is a characteristic Dalit feature of identification or  belongingness with the marginalized. Dhasal decodes the silence of  Mandakini viz-a-viz the people who visit her, the pimps who sell her and the abhorrence with which society treats her, ina brilliant manner. Quite similar to the theme is the treatment of   Kamatipura (Tuhi Yatta Kanchi

pg 74), a place which is considered to be the hell hole of Mumbai and it is here that many Mandakini’s and Dhasal’s have become “

A lotus in the mud

” (Ibid pg 75).


Dhasal’s usage of words, tone, tenor and themes in Golpitha , takes us to such levels of language,that it remains de-glorified and undignified. He problematizes the literariness, by not prevaricating, but bluntly venturing between the utterly degraded sense of voyeurism and the   scatological surface of foulness. Albeit, writing is an activity of aesthetic pleasure, Golpithainvariably goes against the literary aesthetics by presenting art as a depiction of a broken self.


Dhasal’s aesthetics is unique because it shatters the cornucopia of a civilized culture by de -glorifying it and traversing over such identities, which inevitably leave us speechless. Certainimages are vulgar, pornographic but it seldom titillates the readers, rather they shock the veryreading process; while all who reads get involved with the disheveled identities, and their pain,rejection and suffering incarcerates even the readers. Dhasal vulgarity can neither be classified assensuous or pejorative; instead they purposefully disrupt the normative understanding of poetryand its decorum.As water, which is essentially a resource for the satisfaction of thirst , similarly ‘

Hunger  ’ is another Dalit adjective for denial of a right to life. As Dalits had historically sacrificed their dignity at the altar of the caste based society, their bodies have become objects and toys of systematic societal caste persecutions. Dhasal personifies

hunger  in an adversarial position in the following lines, “

Hunger, at times you assume the form of a mouse, at times you become a cat,and a lion sometimes; / How can we, weak ones, face / This game started by you and dare to playit? (ibid pg 76).


Another poetry, ‘Sweet Baby Poverty ’(ibid pg 87) which shows the result of aunion of Dalit anguish; less a cause of celebration but more of a personification of misery and poverty.

Dhasal’s poetry stands as a testimony to a unique ‘Dalitness’, if one may say, which

stands for a self that consciously bonds and speaks for similar marginalized identities.

With ‘ Khel Gandu Bagicha’, Ya Sattet Jeev Ramat Nahi and ’ and ‘

Mee Marale Sooryachya Rathache Ghode Saat , Dhasal becomes increasingly vitriolic. Here his personal becomes political, as he quotes ‘

I am a venereal sore in the private part of language


(Cruelty pg 100)which assumes the form of a vehement statement, so powerful that it consciously intends todeglorify the aesthetics of thought and language. Generally, language is the utterance of aspeaker or a subject, who engages in a conscious thought, and who is also in-turn cultured by itsaccompanying sophistication. Therefore Dhasal intends to infiltrate such elitist and sophisticatednotions among his readership and create a shock effect. He interestingly also personifies theelements of nature and charges them of being complicit in the whole debilitating caste persecutions. The elements like Sun, Moon, Water, etc. find a mention in the holy books of Hindu culture which is the Puranas, Shastras, Vedas, etc. and therefore by problematising it, he subverts the Hindu traditions, its beliefs and its conceptions and manages to de-holi-fy thecasteist culture.


As Dilip Chitre rightly pointed out,

“Namdeo’s universe is untouchable too. It is loathsome and nauseating universe, a journey into it is a  journey from the sacred into the profane. Or, if we were to see it in purely secular and material terms, it is a journey from the clean to the dirty, from the sanitized to the unsanitary, from the healthy to the diseased”

( Poet of the Underworld  pg 11-12).


As a quintessential Dalit feature, Dhasal involves in the idealization and idolization of Ambedkar in Tujhe Bot Dharoon Chalalo Ahe Me(2006). The same enigma and hero worshipping is matched in Ode to Dr. Amdedkar (Golpitha) and

(Tuhi Yatta Kanchi, 1981). Here Dr. Ambedkar is the light as bright as the sun, a metaphor of enlightenment,knowledge and inspiration. But the seething anger of inequality seldom dies down, as is re-ignited in the epigraph ‘


’ (pg 81).


Translating Dhasal or any dalit writer is a difficult process, which Dilip Chitre (his translator)has admitted in ‘Poet of the Underworld’. It is difficult , not only because translation of any kindis unable to achieve the aesthetic effect of the originals, but also because the reading of any Dalitwriter like Dhasal is fraught with impediments for a sophisticated reader. It need not be pointedout that Chitre might have possibly missed out a lot during his translation process, which for anytranslation is inevitable. But if we

consider Dhasal’s English translation , one fourth the originals,it could still successfully manage to project the underbelly of a Dalit life and its literature ingeneral.

Overall his masterpiece ‘Poet of the Underworld’ can best be described as an emotive literature of untouchable people in untouchable locations reeling under untouchable situations.The substance and thematic richness of his poetry automatically lifts it from vulgarity, unlikeother literatures and literary movements which were battered by critics.



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Hovell Laurie: Namdeo Dhasal: Poet and Panther.

Journal of South Asian Literature . Vol. 24, No. 2. MISCELLANY, 1989. pg 65


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