an article in 'danse macabre'

an article i'd written on dalit poetry in telugu had been published here:
A television news report I'd seen a few years ago captured this strange tale of a small clan of people living atop trees less than five hundred miles from my desk. They ate, relaxed, slept and lived on the branches of peepul trees in a farm adjoining a village. They belonged to a community of swineherds, people who normally live inside villages or on their fringe, interact with other villagers every day and have a role to play in village life, not a chunk of pre-history that forgot to erase itself, evolve. How could they become so unsure of all firm ground?

Their story illustrates the ineffable nature of the reaches of marginality in Indian society: the abyss of marginality could be lurking outside your door. A single mis-step, and you could drop off the horizon.

Land and caste are dominant themes in poetry in Telugu, by poets from the Dalit Bahujan (or the ‘lower’ castes) communities, because land, as little as a quarter of an acre, means a firmer hold on rural economic life and caste determines your chances of inheriting or acquiring land.

Narayanaswami laments, as though he is talking to himself:

land's the problem
the problem's only land
a little land for food
or for your death
the problem's wholly land
please read the rest of 'I'll weep like Karamchedu!' at the danse macabre, 'Nevada's first online literary magazine'. thanks, nabina, for all the support.


gaddeswarup said...

Very interesting. This sentence is not clear to me:
"The Chandala (one of the derogatory names ‘untouchables’ were referred to in Hindu texts), began around early twentieth century. "
What about Gorati Venkanna? I just came across this site which has some interesting material (see on the left of this section):
I am not sure how accurate it is ( somewhere the victims of Karamchedu atrocity are mentioned as madigas).

kuffir said...

swarup garu,

yes, an obvious typo..the word 'age' has gone missing.

venkanna is a story by himself, but his poems were missing from joint collections of dalit poetry, published in the nineties, that i was mostly following. and i've a couple of his cds but not books. so i haven't actually been able to translate his poems until now. plan to do that in the next few months. yes i've known of the simon charley site for a while.

SS said...

Great essay kuffir, thanks.

Slightly offtopic-

You say "Land and caste are dominant themes in poetry in Telugu, by poets from the Dalit Bahujan (or the ‘lower’ castes) communities..."
For Dalit men, perhaps?
Sexual exploitation and patriarchal oppression are still important themes in dalit women's poetry - the little that has seen the light of day. (Do struggles for land rights yield comparable rights for the genders?) Yes, there are moving pieces on the plight of dalit women - Etti thalli, Devuni pellam, Aido Vachakam... dalit men writing about the atrocities their women suffer. But I wonder: if "dalit consciousness" can only be authentically expressed by a dalit, can dalit men represent the voice of dalit women?

anu said...

Great to see Telengana Poetry get a wider audience, beautiful analysis!

My favorite poem is Shubhadra's; beautiful, original and such a distinct voice!

Sampath said...


Well Done!!

George said...

Chenchuramiah's daughter-in-law visited Karamchedu yesterday (May 28) with her family & supporters. She installed the statue of her father (former film star, politican & rabble rouser). None of these bothered to pay respect to the victime of the infamous massacre.

Kiran said...

The land problem will be there as long as India is predominantly agrarian and rural. And india will be just that until it weakens the grip of caste on society

gaddeswarup said...

I came across this strange book by one of the Karamchedu guys. The English version is downloadable:

George said...

gaddeswarup, the book is indeed very strange. The author (Chenchuramiah's son) is on a journey of self congratulation. He is oblivious to everything except his own "achievements" & his father-in-law's "greatness" as well as pathetic hatred for his "co-son-in-law"

DVR refers to Karamchedu massacre in an oblique way. His main contentions are the "innocence" of his father (A1) and lamenting the "fact" that they are being targeted just because they are kammas. He neither condemns the massacre nor sympathises with the victims. The book was released by the author's wife (now a union minister) amidst fanfare a few months ago.

Kufr may note the Daggubatis are in favor of "samaikyandhra" while KPR supports seperate Telangana. Food for thought hm..

gaddeswarup said...

There is a long article "Evolution of Telugu Dalit Literature" in EPW:
My knowledge of Telugu literature is limited and I can only appreciate simple Telugu; though I find the article informative I am not sure how correct it is. There is an interesting remark that continuity of ancient Telugu is latent in the language spoken by Dalits. Again I do not know whether this is true, but I found some Madiga poetry easier to follow than the many of the standard poems from school text books (from my school days in the forties and fifties which had excrpts from Manucharitra and suvh books. I think at least one of the poems from the Madiga poetry collection was translated and was published in this blog.

Kiran said...

HI Kufr,

Are you doing ok bro ? been a long time since you made a post.


Jai Gottimukkala said...

Swarup garu, thanks a lot for the EPW link. Purishottam's article is well researched and informative (but for a few factual errors). The authoring style could have bee improved though (or it was possibly written for a different audience/format).

I do agree with the author's contention of the purity of Maduga language and the reasons for the same.

Dalit writers appear to be spread across the political & linguistic style spectrum. One singular aspect that strikes me is the near total abscence of atheism and rationalism among dalit writers (or even dalit leadership for that matter). Katti Padmarao is the only exception that comes to my mind. I find this difficult to understand: can you throw light on this please?

gaddeswarup said...

Jai garu, I have been living outside India since 1986 and outside A.P. since 1956. Earlier I used to visit 'home' more frequently when my mother was alive (until 1967) but it is much less now. So I really do not know and am trying to learn now since I have retired and have more time.
I have come across some blogs which seem to by dalit writers. for example, Parnasala (katti mahesh kumar), Darla, Untouchable Spring (antarani vasantam) which I browse once in a while. it seems to be Katti Mahesh Kumar may be an agnoctic though I have not read any piece of his delaring his agnosticism. Padma Rao's name I heard only though this blog and I have not read any thing by him.
I am mainly trying to understand about poverty and development and take interest in caste only as far as it impigns on development. I think one M. Rajshekhar ( he is not a dalit I think) seems to a very promising journalist who writes on such issues. I generally look for such writings. I also follow Kuffir's writings since I feel that is not only well read, but also rooted in the realities and thinks hard. But with my math. background I do not always understand him well.

Jai Gottimukkala said...

Thank you Swarup sir. Katti Mahesh Kumar looks to be an atheist (reading through the post "నా నాస్తికత్వానికి కారణాలు" on March 23, 2010). While the post is a quote from Bhagat Singh, his comments make his preference clear. However he

I a primarily looking at the contradiction. I believe the logical response of a people oppressed by religion is to denounce it, dalits appear to have denounced one religion (Hinduism) rather than the concept of religion itself. Even those who are agnostic/atheist appear to have become so in "normal due course" i.e. Mahesh's atheism is unrelated to his dalit identity.

Kufr, long time no post. Why this unchaecteristic silence?

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