A voice of and from the margins
Manoranjan Byapari, the celebrated Dalit Bengali writer, has taken on many odd jobs in life-as a rickshaw-puller, a sweeper, watchman, cook or whatever else came his way. Through all this, though, he stuck unwaveringly to his one and only passion-writing.
Manoranjan Byapari, the celebrated Dalit Bengali writer, has taken on many odd jobs in life-as a rickshaw-puller, a sweeper, watchman, cook or whatever else came his way. Through all this, though, he stuck unwaveringly to his one and only passion-writing. His pen, soaked in the sweat, blood and angst of the people who exist on the margins of society, has won him literary accolades over the years, most recently the Hindu Literary Award (non-fiction category) in 2018.
Byapari is one of those writers who write about the struggle they have lived. In the 1970s, following a scuffle with the police who had picked him up for being a ‘rowdy Naxal’ for beating up a so-called bhadralok (gentleman) for harassing a woman, Byapari was arrested and sent to Alipore Central Jail. It was during the 26 months he spent there that Byapari first learnt his alphabet and to read and write. When he was finally released on bail, he returned to his old life of odd jobs, but this time, all his free time was devoted to reading literature and books on philosophy and politics. He especially loved the works of Mahasweta Devi who wrote about the oppressed people, living on the fringes of society. A particular word she has used in one her book, jijibisa, piqued his curiosity. He rummaged through dictionaries and books in search of the meaning of this word, with no success. A chance meeting with Mahasweta Devi-as she rode on Byapari’s rickshaw-changed everything. Not only did he get the meaning of jijibisa (the will to live), he also found the will and motivation to channel his angst into something productive. She asked him to write for her journal, a piece that was widely appreciated in a leading newspaper. Byapari had found his calling.
While in Chhattisgarh, where he dabbled in politics with trade union leader Shankar Guha Niyogi while working as a caretaker at a crematorium and a dishwasher at a tea-stall, he wrote his first book in Bangla-Itibritte Chandal Jibon (Interrogating my Chandal Life: An Autobiography of a Dalit), which found critical acclaim. He has written 14 novels and 100 short stories since with prostitutes, thieves, vagabonds, helpers and falsely-implicated rapists as his protagonists. His recently published There’s Gunpowder in the Air, a book on the lives of naxalites, has received positive reviews. Recently, he signed a contract with Amazon, which has agreed to translate all of his 14 novels into nine languages. He has also represented West Bengal twice at the Jaipur Literary Festival and is a nominee in a number of prestigious literary competitions.
Byapari now works as a cook at the hostel of Helen Keller Badhir Vidyalay in Mukundapur, Kolkata. His job requires him to be on his feet for long periods of time which is detrimental to his health. Repeated requests to the government for a transfer to a different job have fallen on deaf ears. He has said that if they continue to ignore his request, he will return the Suprabha Majumdar prize awarded to him by the Paschimbanga Bangla Academy in 2014 as a form of protest.
Courtesy: India Today