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Excerpt

On the Passing of Mahasweta Devi by Manoranjan Byapari

Title: How I Became a Writer: An Autobiography of a Dalit

Author: Manoranjan Byapari

Translator: Anurima Chanda

Publisher: SAGE Publications India and Samya under Samya SAGE Select imprint

Chapter 34: The End of an Era

The passing away of certain individuals left a huge impact on the human community. The void created by their absence was irreplaceable. This was especially true when it came to Mahasweta Devi. . . . Because of the power of Mahasweta Devi’s writing, there was a huge need for her leadership and protest. Equipped with the fire and anger akin to the sun, she was the one to have kept the fight against injustice alive. She had not given in to any temptation or fear, but spent an entire life battling in the interest of those starving penniless people tottering on empty stomachs. Her roar had raged right from the decade of the seventies to the dangerous days of Singur, Nandigram and Netai. Her fiery raging pen had dealt blow after blow like a cannon on the impenetrable fort of the cannibalistic and violent forces out to destroy human civilization . . .

              It was a painful time for Bengal, Bengalis, intellectuals and civil society. Somebody had said that a writer does not write with a pen, but with the spine . . . In those times, the one and only ‘soldier armed with a pen’, Mahasweta Devi, had protested against that which is unjust, improper and inhumane. Her fight was for the Adivasis, the foresters, the Dalits, the labouring classes and the minority groups…

    . . . With the death of Mahasweta Devi, I lost a mother who had…shown me a new direction. She was the one to explain the meaning of ‘jijibisha’ [the will to live]to me. There were multiple ways to live…But what is the point of that life which gets lost immediately after death? She showed me the direction of such an endless life.

. . . During the long thirty-six years, from 1981 to 2016, she was spread all over my life like a huge tree . . . This tree possessed the powers of the Sanjeevani plant whose mere touch could revive the dead.

              Although I started with Bartika and thereafter had my works find a place as part of course books for the West Bengal State University, within the journal of the Comparative Literature Journal of Jadavpur University, as questions under the Public Service Commission exams, I was still unsure how far I would have to swim to reach the end. According to me, I have been able to reach the ultimate stage. I have achieved as far as I could achieve, from being unlettered to discovering the world of letters which was then followed by receiving  the Bangla Akademi award and the Ananya Somman from 24 Ghonta. After obtaining the biggest two awards in Bangla literature, I could perhaps say with some amount of certainty that I have experienced it all.

. . . Having read so many books, I knew well enough that the world of my experiences were not readily available to many others.Hence, they were not able to write about it. They could not even think of writing about it, as their imaginations also failed. I, on the contrary, could easily write innumerable pages on them.  That’s what I did. I wrote four short stories and took it to Mahasweta Devi who explained, as I have mentioned earlier, that she does not publish fiction. I found the addresses of four magazines and sent them off to be published  . . . all the four stories had been published.  I found a lot of strength and self confidence at this incident. I realized that I could really do it. Even if there were no one backing me, I could fight my own fight.. ..

              I next came in contact with Mahasweta Devi in 2000, three years after my return [from Chhatisgarh]. Around this time, many of my works were published with Bartika. I revived my relations with her, which remained till her last breath . . . my association with her remained for the entire duration of 1981 to 2016. I would visit her place almost every other week. In the huge expanse of time, she wrote for so many newspapers starting with Jugantar to Bartaman, but she never wrote a line about the rickshaw-puller writer Manoranjan Byapari . . .. People might remember that just a few days before her death in 2016 she had written almost an entire-page article for Ei Shomoy about the rising young writers from West Bengal who had a lot of potential.

 . . . Mahasweta Devi loved me like her own child. She had already looked far into my future. She knew that it would cause me a lot of pain, but in her heart she wanted the world to cheer for me. However difficult it might be, she wanted me to make my own path, so that no tag of favouritism could get stuck to my life like a leech which would have compelled me to bow down my head with ‘gratitude’ all my life. She wanted me to become independent and did not desire my heart to grow weak . She had wanted me to become a writer on my own worth, an independent, self-dependent, courageous writer. 

ABOUT THE BOOK

‘Writing was my truth, my god, my everything. I could not leave it for anything.’

With these words, Manoranjan Byapari points to how writing is as important to him as breathing. How I Became a Writer: An Autobiography of a Dalit is the translation of the second volume of his remarkable life story Itibritte Chandal Jivan. In this volume, translated for the first time into English with great sensitivity, the author talks of his life in Kolkata after leaving the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha. He takes up the post of a cook at a school, which provides work, albeit gruelling. Part I, School Shenanigans, describes how he carried out his duties, while being treated contemptuously because he is a Dalit, and became more determined to forge a new identity as a writer. Part II, The Right to Write, reveals how his persistence gradually resulted in his works being published in little magazines and, later, by mainstream publishers and how his fame slowly spread with television interviews and prestigious awards.

He discusses Dalit writings, Dalit literary organizations and whether he is a ‘Dalit writer’. His forthright observations on society and governance provide many insights.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Manoranjan Byapari never went to school or university. He first wrote for little magazines where his success and popularity found him many publishers. His writing career took place as he worked as a cook for 21 years at the Helen Keller School for the Deaf and the Blind. He is a Trinamul Congress MLA for Balagarh since the 2021 West Bengal Vidhan Sabha elections. He has received many awards such as the Suprabha Majumdar Smarak Puraskar by the Paschim Banga Bangla Akademi in 2014, the television channel 24 Ghonta’s Ananya Samman in 2013 and in 2019 the Hindu Literary Fest’s nonfiction award. He is well known across India as he speaks in Hindi that he learnt in Chhatisgarh when he was with the Mukti Morcha of the late Shankar Guha Neogi.

ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR

Anurima Chanda is Assistant Professor, Department of English, Birsa Munda College, North Bengal University. She has taught English as Second Language (ESL) and students with learning disabilities at the Centre for Writing and Communication, Ashoka University. She received her PhD on Indian English Children’s Literatures from JNU. She was a pre-doctoral fellow at the University of Wüerzburg. She is also a literary translator (translating from Bengali/Hindi-English-Bengali. Among her books for children are Timelines from Indian History: From Ancient Civilizations to a Modern democracy; Tintin in Tibet by Herge: A Critical Companion; The Untouchable and Other Poem; and DK Indian Icons: Bhimrao Ambedkar: An Illustrated Story of a Life.

CREDIT LINE:

Excerpted from How I Became a Writer: An Autobiography of a Dalit by Manoranjan Byapari, translated by Anurima Chanda. Jointly published by SAGE Publications India and Samya. 2022, 376 pages, Paperback, Rs.650, ISBN: (978-93-81345-77-1), Samya SAGE Select.

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