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Poet’s challenge | The Indian Express

Coal India’s announcement of a grand dividend cannot mask its several crises and the need for reform. Namdeo Dhasal’s poetry dared the reader to look reality in the eye. It also offered a redemptive vision. Namdeo Dhasal, the great Marathi Dalit poet, who once described himself as “a venereal sore in the private part of language”, is no more. From 1972, when his ground-breaking first collection of poems, Golpitha, was published, till his death, his poetry and politics — 1972 was also the year he founded the Dalit Panthers movement — remained that of a guerilla fighter. Born in 1949 in a village in Pune to a family of Mahars, he moved to Bombay with his father, living in Golpitha, a netherworld populated by prostitutes, drug-traffickers, and smugglers. That world, rank with filth and powerlessness and inequality, fertilised his poetry, as did his encounter with casteism. Once a young man writing within the limits of classical prosody, he was jolted by the backlash that followed his falling in love with an upper-caste girl. The young lovers were separated, and Dhasal, “raged then, went berserk, decided to throw away all shackles…” Few in the upper-caste Marathi literary world could read that unfettered poetry without being stung by its aesthetic of revulsion. Inventive in form and ringing with the hybrid dialects of Marathi and Bombay, they oozed with filth and pus and excrement, daring the reader to look a reality in the eye, each expletive a challenge to the middle-class smugness enshrined in ideas of what is proper to poetry. In writing about Golpitha and Kamathipura, he redrew the literary map of India’s most vibrant megapolis. Dhasal’s poetry embraced not just the “scum of the earth”, but the sensual and the bodily, with its odours and effusions. But beyond the slap of its scatology and rage, the “current of blood flowing through all pronouns”, Dhasal’s poetry also contains a redemptive vision. A great pity, then, that so little of his poetry has been translated in other Indian languages, despite the valiant attempts of a few. Perhaps the new tide of interest in translations in Indian publishing will rectify that.
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