A Dalit man is powerless in the outer world. It is true that there is a certain amount of power ascribed to him when he is inside his home. He lives in a duality of being, and with a complex psyche which is undecipherable for the language of the outer world. The situation of a Dalit woman in this sense is unthinkable. Whatever I have gathered later, while reading narratives of Dalit women from Marathi Dalit literature, I have begun to sense that no one has a moral potential and ethical power to free Dalit women other than Dalit women themselves. In their words, I found an ability to expose for me things with which I grew up but which my masculinity prevented me from seeing. In their words, I began to sense that every Dalit woman grows up with an instinct to break the chain of oppression if given a chance and, if not, she bequeaths this instinct to her children. Narratives of Marathi Dalit women made me see what I have not seen in my mother so far: the invisible chain of sacrifices on which my ability to speak and write today has flourished. It was undeniably there. Her life is a metaphor of it. Her labour to raise us and educate us is a symbol of her strength and vision. But my father was not this clear. He ceased to have a vision when it came to his children.
It had to do with the dilemma which is not uncommon for a Dalit man: powerless outside the home, dominant inside the home. He is cheated outside. He is humiliated outside. Though a man, he possesses no dominance in the national discourse. He is portrayed as a victim in the national imagination. But at home, he likes to dictate, he likes to control—he intends to be powerful. He becomes a twilight of dilemmas this country can hardly have a moral capacity to see and understand. It is the unhealthy castethat runs in the veins of this country that is responsible for this. He is located somewhere in between savagery and humanity. Often, he is too complex for himself to be normal and calm in the Water in a Broken Pot.indd 21 2/17/2023 2:06:09 PM22 world’s eye. He drinks, he blabbers. He murmurs senselessly, or sometimes curses as if talking to the people from the past.
This is how I have seen many men in my basti, who died alcoholics. First they consumed alcohol. Then the alcohol consumed them. These men were later judged and reduced to being called ‘bewadas’ (drunkards). When they were sober, I found in their silent eyes the sign of horrified grief—complicated forms of grief that remained undetected in the autopsy of their lives. Alcohol may have been the reason for their deaths, but it was not the cause of their destruction. Much later in my life, when I started reading seriously about the role of society and crime, I told myself: I know these men who endured failures but who were defeated by loneliness. But earlier, I never had access to their emotional world, including my father’s. For me, entering into their emotional world was only possible through the imagination when I started writing stories and they became my characters. Sometimes, griefs are those wounds which leave a permanent scar on the skin. Although the wound is healed, the scar is its reminder—you have endured that pain, you have overcome it. You are a survivor; you are a victor. My father is the wound; I am the scar.
Bollywood is a cataract in our world of perceptions. My father did not know this.
*1993. I was eight years old. By this time, my fascination for Bollywood movies was rapidly increasing. I remember, it was during the same year that cable TV was introduced. One person in our basti had a huge, white, umbrella-shaped disc fixed on the roof of his building. Everyone said that it was from here that they telecast movies, but none of us knew how it happened. VCR was another sensation in our basti at the same time. Only a few households in our basti had cable connections. My home did not have it. I used to go to one of my relatives’ place, who was a government servant and had a colour TV at his house. Everyday after school, around noon, I would go near his house, take a peek through the window. If I heard the sound of movies, I shamelessly knocked on the door.
On one Sunday that year, my father took me to watch a movie. It was Khalnayak (Villain), starring Sanjay Dutt, Jackie Shroff and Madhuri Dixit. We went to watch this movie in Sudama Talkies, situated in Dharampeth, a locality dominated by the Brahmins and Baniyas of Nagpur. As we reached as usual to watch a matinee show, we found the theatre crowded. There were long queues for tickets; people pushing each other at times, whistling, some were looking with enthralled expressions at the larger-than-life poster of the movie hung on the facade. There was a violent anxiety to watch this movie. They were mostly men, young and wild, who looked up to Bollywood stars, emulated their fashion, their mannerisms, their attitude. My father asked me to stand in a corner and went through the crowd. He returned after sometime with two tickets—he had gotten them in black.
Khalnayak was a little unusual story for the audience of that time. Sanjay Dutt played the role of Balram aka Ballu. Ballu is shown as a victim of poverty and his circumstances. Because of this, Ballu turns into a criminal. The masses were below the poverty line in 1993, and they were also the viewership of this movie. They easily related to Ballu. Seeing Ballu on screen, they felt powerful. In Ballu, they saw themselves, taking revenge against the system, against power. But this revenge was metaphoric, and so was the enemy. No movie of this time had ever tried to portray the reality of the source of oppression: the Brahminical value system. Bollywood wasn’t honest nor intelligent in its movies. Ballu in Khalnayak was the symbolic self of the masses without any history of them, which for a long time wanted to take revenge against those who kept them poor and subjected them to exploitation.
My father watched this movie a couple of times later. Why would he watch a three-hour-long movie repeatedly? I wasn’t surprised, given that I know about him as a person and why a few movies attracted him more than others—he related to the feeling of revenge lingering inside Ballu, who was agitated, frustrated, vengeful and an outlaw; but he was equally emotional and craved for the love and affection of his mother, who was left behind in the world that made a criminal out of him. It was the same year, in April, that Sanjay Dutt was arrested under Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA), for his role in the serial blasts in Mumbai in 1993. It again pushed the popularity of the movie to another level. Sanjay Dutt became a ‘khalnayak’ in real life. Many stories about his relationship with his father and mother and his addiction to drugs later came out, which seemed to draw the sympathy of the masses. What attracted and appealed to the masses who watched this movie and made it the highest grossing film of that year was the justification, his poverty and loneliness, that Ballu has for being a criminal.
But as I see it, whether in reel life or real life, Ballu was indicative of the lovelessness in life. And this lovelessness was very much present in my father’s life. The idea of love that Bollywood promotes does not exist in society. Over the years, this idea of love with Brahminical notions attached to it has been served to society by movies. Outside the cinema hall or theatre, its audience only finds lovelessness, since caste keeps them separated eventually. In fact, this lovelessness is a part of Indian society. Later, as I got acquainted with people from many castes, including dominant ones, I witnessed this lovelessness was widespread in their lives and fractured the common sense among them. Why would it not? After all caste is pervasive; it separates one person from another; caste is the warden of the feeling of love. It makes one crave for the simple element which is an essential part of human life: touch, the touch of love, the touch of affection and the touch of acceptance. Caste prohibits a choice. Caste violates the will. What was more apparent in the life of my father was silence, not words, not expressions. But I wanted him to shout the essence of his life, I wanted him to tell me: I told you, love is difficult to carry in your heart, because to carry it we need purpose and a person for whom it has to be carried. Most of the people, most of the time, carry hate in their hearts because they are yet to find the purpose of love and a person for whom they should carry love in their heart.
I wanted him to share his insights, with which people like him become solid and survive; I wanted him to tell me: The world is easy for those who carry hate within them, these people are ever present in history. Those who have love to offer are like flowers who have sprouted after decades of nuclear attack on the soil. People who carry love in them are no less than a museum of hope. People who carry love in their heart are not weak; they are strangely tolerant. But my father did not speak. Or probably I am yet to develop a language to understand him.
Yogesh Maitreya is a writer, poet, translator and publisher. He is the founder and editor of Panther’s Paw Publication that is dedicated to publishing literature by Dalit Bahujan writers (in English and as translations from other Indian languages). He is the author of Flowers on the Grave of Caste (2019), a collection of Short stories, Singing/Thinking Anti Caste (2021) a book of essays on music and memories, and Ambedkar 2021 (2021), a book of prose poetry