The short stories by Dalit writers are undeniably interesting, in terms of themes and narrative techniques. Dalit short stories have attempted to establish social values and bring to light certain hidden aspects. The expression of the customs, the way of life as well the hopes and aspirations of the Dalit community give shape to a different world altogether. Notwithstanding, Dalit short stories are expressive of the anger and revolt against injustice in an admirably subtle manner. The last three decades have witnesses the success of Marathi and Gujarati Dalit short stories. The stories ‘Promotion’ by Arjun Dangle and ‘Frozen Blood’ by Dalapat Chauhan present a moving account of men living with the burden of caste. Both ‘Promotion’ and ‘Frozen Blood’ reveal the ambivalent crisis of identity in the Dalit middle class.
The short stories by Dalit writers are undeniably interesting, in terms of themes and narrative techniques. Dalit short story emerged as a consequence of the ‘jehad’ against the social varna system and massacres. Any work produced by the Dalit writer cannot be called Dalit fiction. A work to be called Dalit fiction, it is not sufficient that it be written by a Dalit writer. The subject matter of writing and the consciousness underlying it are of the utmost importance. Only that work written by Dalit writers can be called Dalit literature, which concerns Dalits, which is inspired by the Dalit movement. It must contain Ambedkar’s thought, the thought that teaches Dalit the feeling of self-respect, and the language of rights and entitlements.
Dalit short stories have attempted to establish social values and bring to light certain hidden aspects. The expression of the customs, the way of life as well the hopes and aspirations of the Dalit community give shape to a different world altogether. Notwithstanding, Dalit short stories are expressive of the anger and revolt against injustice in an admirably subtle manner. The last three decades have witnesses the success of Marathi and Gujarati Dalit short stories; the cause can be attributed to the movement of the short story from the traditional mould to novel experimentation. The Dalit writer today is fully occupied in trying to examine the various possibilities of presenting short stories in an innovative manner, by accepting the importance of the event and the character rather than obscuring the event; such efforts have achieved fruition as can be seen today.
The stories ‘Promotion’ by Arjun Dangle and ‘Frozen Blood’ by Dalapat Chauhan present a moving account of men living with the burden of caste. The story ‘Promotion’ highlights the identity crisis of Dalit protagonist, Waghmare who is working as an Assistant Purchase Officer in the Purchase Department of Indian Railway. He is newly promoted for this post. But the junior employees like Mr. Godbole do not obey and co-operate him. They resent him. They even do not respect him because of his caste. The fact is that Waghmare is a timid officer. He even tries to conceal his caste. He is sacred of attending the meetings of the Backward Class Association. He is very conscious of his status as an officer and tries to maintain a certain standard. He stops travelling in the second class as he is given a first class pass. He starts showing white collar attitude as he has become an officer. The following passage reveals his attitude:
Waghmare entered the first class compartment of the 5.15 local. He got his usual window seat. There were four minutes to go. Just then, the man with The Evening News entered the compartment, panting, having had to run to catch the train. He plonked into the seat opposite Waghmare’s, looked at him, smiled and said, ‘You seem to have reserved this seat on a permanent basis. You always get the window seat.’ Waghmare started when he heard the word ‘reserved’. He wondered whether his fellow commuter knew that he belonged to a scheduled caste. After assuring himself that he couldn’t possibly know his identity, he pulled out The Illustrate Weekly and began leafing through the pages. Once again he felt he ought to change his surname. Akolkar would be the right choice, since he was from Akola. (171)
As he reaches the Officers’ Railway Quarters, he notices a shabby woman and her children at his home. She is his wife’s aunt who lives in the slum opposite to the quarters. As Waghmare does not like woman’s visit to his house he informs his wife as:
‘Come, don’t get carried away. We don’t live in the B. D. D. chawls. Next, you’ll have the entire slum visiting you – what will our neighbour say ?’
‘Well, are they going to rob you ?’
‘Don’t talk too much. Learn to maintain you status. After all, you’re an officer’s wife.’ (172)
But at the end of the story, Waghmare’s newly assumed status of officer disappears when he meets his son:
Waghmare sat on the sofa. His five-year-old son came and laid his head on his lap. Waghmare noticed his bruised knee.
‘How did you get hurt, Pappu ?’
‘D’you know that Pramod, who has a super Ganpati ?
His Grandma pushed me.’
‘Why ? Did you beat him ?’
‘No. We were playing and I drank water from his water pot.’
`Waghmare’s mind is filled with the image of Godbole.
His newly-sprung wings of promotion fall off and a mere mortal named Pandurang Satwa Waghmare crashes helplessly into the abyss below. (172)
Similarly, Dalpat Chauhan’s ‘Frozen Blood’ depicts a wrestling with one’s self. Doctor Parikh is the protagonist of the story. He has changed his surname, even though he is not free from his old identity. The pain of Doctor Parikh is presented through the stream of consciousness technique and internal monologue. The doctor mumbles, “Can Bhala’s Dayo never become a Devendra? Has he to always remain Dayo ?” (77) Doctor Parikh is brooding over the bad experience he had previous day. He constantly thinks of the words of Hemraj:
He usually woke up at five o’clock in the morning and never needed an alarm-clock to wake up. He didn’t remember a single instance when he wasn’t up at five. He had hardly slept that night. “Oh ! no. I am not thirsty. Oh no !” The words echoed in his ears at the thought of sleep. Oh ! These were Hemraj’s words; the Choudhary Patel of his village. (77)
He remembers the conversation which he overheard yesterday:
“Hemrajbhai ! Velo has gone to call the doctor. I hope nothing…!” Hemraj’s bhabhi was talking to him.
“He is a native of our village. You remember Bhala. He is Bhala’s son Dayo.”
“Miyor… His is the last house in Miyorvas. His son is a doctor here.”
“I had forgotten him completely.” (81)
By remembering this conversation Doctor Parikh shivers and stands up from the chair. Again he is lost in thought:
“Bhala’s dayo ! I am Bhala’s Dayo. I am doctor, but that doesn’t mean I am not Bhala’s Dayo. Everybody in the village knows me by that name only…even though I have become a doctor.”
“I am Devendra Parikh. Bhalabhai’s Devendra. Everyone here calls me by this name, or rather Doctor Parikh; everyone including the maharaj…bloody…uncivilized… fools…damn it… I am ashamed to have got my surname changed from Parmar to Parikh. How annoyed my father had been, but wasn’t he justified ?” (81)
The doctor’s brain nerves twang like wires. Then other thought occurs in his mind. He is reminded of his father’s pathetic tale. It was his mother who had narrated it to him on his visit to his village one day. He remembers:
“Son, the sarpanch was furious when you changed you surname. Your father was the target of his rage. Not only the sarpanch, the entire village spurned your father.”
“But why ?”
“Because you changed you surname from ‘Parmar’ to ‘Parikh’. Can you seal the mouths of the people ? Once when your father had gone to the village, he happened to meet the sarpanch, the sarpanch said : “Alya Bhala, you have become a big man.” Your father was perplexed : “Sarpanch saheb why do you speak so ?” “what else should I say ?” the sarpanch had said sarcasticcally to your father”
“Is it so ?”
“Yes”, his mother continued, “your son has become a doctor I have heard. What is his surname ?”
“Oh ! Parikh saheb ! You have become bania-brahmins all of a sudden. Not dhedhs any longer ?
Let me spread out a cot for you, respectable that you have become overnight !” (82)
The same sarpanch literally begs for the help when his son had met with an accident. He even accepts the blood of Doctor Parikh in order to save the life of his son. But later he does not drink water of Doctor Parikh. This makes doctor very upset. He cannot sleep during the night. He is thinking of the glass of water. In the morning, at the far end of the ground, he sees a tap in one corner. It is leaking slightly. He stares at the tap absentmindedly. A bee comes buzzing from somewhere and begins to encircle the tap. His attention shifts to the bee. He feels uneasy and goes back to his chair in his room. Again he thinks of the glass of water and sees the shadows of the three men dance before his eyes. When he reaches the ground, the shadows begin to look in all direction. The tap is dripping, tip…tip. There must be water in the tap. The shadows twist the tap open and drink water with cupped hands in turns. As the story winds up to a horrifying close, Doctor Parikh visualizes blood dripping from the tap instead of water.
Thus, both ‘Promotion’ and ‘Frozen Blood’ reveal the ambivalent crisis of identity in the Dalit middle class. The story ‘Frozen Blood’ depicts the pain of Dalit doctor. The doctor is constantly wrestling with himself. The story focuses on the problem of identity crisis among Dalit community. Even after assuming the mantle of Dr. Devendra B. Parikh, Bhala’s son Dayo cannot outdo his old identity. A high degree of a medical doctor does not and cannot rescue him from being recognized as ‘Bhala’s son Dayo’, the one whose house is the last in Miyorvas. The story highlights that the introduction-‘Bhala’s son Dayo’ sticks to doctor like a second skin. This curse of caste follows him wherever he goes. A savarna like Hemraj who does not mind accepting the untouchable doctor’s blood, refuses blatantly to drink water that the doctor offers him. The attitude of both the protagonists is sober though they think that whatever heights a man might scale, his caste is never cast off; it remains an inseparable part of his identity.
- Anand, Mulk Raj, and Eleanor Zelliot. Eds An Anthology of Dalit Literature. New Delhi: Gyan Publishing, 1992. Print.
- Bagul, Baburao. “Dalit Sahitya: Man’s Greatness, Man’s Freedom”. Asmitadarsh – I. 1973. Print.
- Chauhan, Dalapat . ‘Frozen Blood’. Tongues of Fire: A Selection of Gujarati Dalit Short Stories. Ed. and trans. Darshana Trivedi and Rupalee Burke. Ahmedabad: Gujarat Dalit Sahitya Akademi, 2000. Print.
- Dangle, Arjun. ‘Promotion’. Ed. Poisoned Bread: Translations from Modern Marathi Dalit Literature. Bombay: Orient Longman, 1992. Print.
- Limbale, Sharankumar. Towards an Aesthetic of Dalit Literature: History, Controversies and Considerations. Ed. and trans. Alok Mukherjee. New Delhi: Orient Longman, 2004. Print.
- Pantawane, Gangadhar. “Dalit: New Cultural Context of an Old Marathi Word”. Contributions to Asian Studies – II. 1977. Print.
- Parmar, Mohan. “Gujarati Dalit Short Story – A Survey”. Tongues of Fire: A Selection of Gujarati Dalit Short Stories. Ed. and trans. Darshana Trivedi and Rupalee Burke. Ahmedabad: Gujarat Dalit Sahitya Akademi, 2000. Print.
- Sherrif, K. M. Eklavyas with Thumbs: Selection from Gujarati Dalit Literature. Ahmedabad: Pushpam Publication, 1999. Print.