Book Excerpt, Part- II.
That day I had returned with wood from the Khairkheda jungle… About a thousand people in all milled around the bazaar as I made my way with my loaded bicycle to the eastern fringe. On reaching there, I saw that microphones had been fitted to bicycles and the CPM Party was canvassing.
‘Friends, that which we never thought would be possible has been made possible by the grace of God. All of us have come together to join hands, etc etc.’
This was no speech. I thought I heard a cat meowing – a cat whining. If the name of the party was Communist, what was the whine doing in this man’s voice? Where was the fire, the anger, the roar that could lift, sky-high the hopes of the toiling man? This party may be the CPM, but it was a Red Flag-bearing party. The members of the People’s War Group had carried this flag into Dandakaranya, setting on fire the forests and robbing the capitalist owners of their sleep. Standing there in the bazaar, I was much pained at the lack-lustre whimpering of this Madhu Malakar. My personal scores with this Party could wait. At the present moment, it was a question of ensuring the deserved respect for the Red Flag. Nobody had enlisted me, but the historical onus had, as it were, been placed upon my shoulders by this forested land.
Did I consciously think of all this then? Hardly. The alcohol I had swallowed was creating havoc inside my belly then. As I say, alcohol makes the coward turn brave, and the brave turn reckless. It makes the fool turn garrulous, and the garrulous into the super-garrulous. How else can I explain what I did next? Before this, I had never ventured to speak publicly before five people. And now, in this market full of people, I went up and grabbed the microphone from Madhu Malakar’s hand.
‘Here, Dada, you’ve said enough. Now give this to me.’
The CPM supporters surrounding Madhu had not been too happy with his speech either. The topography here was harsh with its hard soil and fierce sun. A language appropriate to this place would need to be in the same league of toughness. Any speech here began with words directed at the opponent’s mother, and ended in the same way. The greater the profanity, the louder the applause. The greatest speaker was he who could successfully rape the word ‘Mother’ the highest number of times. And here was Madhu Malakar who had not once said ‘mother-fucker’ in his speech. How was the audience to be appeased?
And here was I, a wood seller, from the lowest rungs of society. And quite visibly drunk. So the crowd understandably greeted me with some expectation. When Madhu tried to grab the microphone back from me, they stopped him with,
‘Let him speak, let him speak.’
One among the audience attempted to tune me to the right note:
‘Go on, Bhai, give them a few of your choicest curses.’
‘I won’t curse,’ I said. ‘But what I will say can father a league of curses.’
Needless to say, my words were carried by the microphone to the Congress Office who perked up their ears. Father of curses? What could that be?
I was then buoyant on the wave of confidence powered by alcohol. Looking around me, I felt these people were ignorant philistines who had gathered around me for my sagacious wisdom. They knew nothing. It was up to me to fill their empty vessels with delicious fruit, upon consuming which the ignorant would move from darkness to light. I was the guru. Now all these thoughts were not mine, of course, but of the alcohol that had come alive inside me. The people here were living as they had lived five hundred years ago, with their blind belief in ghosts, spirits, conjurers, witches, heaven, hell, this-life, after-life, talisman, charms, and a hundred other superstitions. Politics to them was casting a vote and receiving some money in return. Amongst all these stories of the Ramayana, Mahabharata, ghosts, spirits, kings and queens, I would have to make space for another story. I would have to tell them that their present misery had been brought on not by their deeds in an earlier life, but by a very real group of people living here. And that the change would be brought about not through any Guru or Gossain, but through relentless struggle.
Bare bodied and bare foot, I had only my gamchha tied around my waist. My skin was dark, burnt darker by the sun, and my hair unkempt. People of such adivasi-like appearance did not deliver speeches here. They stood among the crowd, listened and clapped. Seeing such an unlikely speaker holding the microphone, people of the marketplace stopped and came forward, curious. And I began my first ever speech inspired, without the least trace of any doubt, by alcohol.
I began at the very beginning, with the Big Bang, so to say.
‘Friends, this world has not been created by any God, Allah, or Bhagwan. It was created by the Sun, an inextinguishable, eternal ball of fire out of which the earth was born. And we are children of that earth, possessing within us that unquenchable blaze which can turn to ashes all injustice and evil. It is that fire that we have to bring back, and burn to ashes the weeds that are the enemies of human civilization.’
Big Bang in the sun.Creation of the earth. Beginning of life. Evolution theory. Primitive egalitarian society. State system. Slavery. Feudalism. Role of religion. Monarchy. Crumbling of feudalism and coming of capitalism.Birth of the labouring class.The Eight-Hours movement.The Red Flag. Marx’s Das Kapital. Soviet Socialism. The International Communist Party. CPM. The Naxal Movement. Emergency. Janata Dal. Bhindrenwale. The Golden Temple. Indira assassination. The present alliance.And the elections.
Like an actor in a countryside jatra, I narrated all that I had learnt from my Communist friends and leaders all these years, raising and lowering my pitch as the occasion demanded. It was as if I was Shanti Gopal of the ‘Lenin’ show.
I think I spoke for over two hours at a stretch. My body was bathed in sweat. My lips were foaming. And the veins in my forehead throbbed. I ended my speech with,
‘You are all intelligent people. Be careful whom you choose, for it is you who will have to pay the price.’
When I finished, I found that the milling crowds had drawn nearer to me and been rendered absolutely quiet as if by the touch of some magic wand. Within about fifteen minutes of me beginning my lecture, the Toothpaste, the Ringworm Ointment, the Sundari Bidis had had their smaller microphones shut off by the people….
After some moments of absolute stunned silence, the words that first reached my ears were profanities addressed to my father. The words came from a BJP supporter, who thereupon proceeded to hoist me up on his shoulders and do a mad dance with me around the area. I was finally thrown down in front of Avinash’s liquor shop with a
‘You son of a swine! You know so much and you go around hawking wood!’
He turned to Avinash with a roar,
‘First a pint of English for him!’
Manoranjan Byapari’s Interrogating My Chandal Life has hit the stalls. He shall be touring through Literary Festivals and Book Fairs promoting his new book. Mr. Byapari will engage in talks with Prajwal Parajuly, Saaz Agarwal, Vikas K Jha, and Ms. Anjum Katyal will act as Moderator of the event Desh Ki Dharti: Of Home and the Homeland, at Apeejay Literary Festival, St. Paul’s Cathedral Lawns, Oxford Pavilion on 14th January 2018
Excerpted with permission from Interrogating My Chandal life: An Autobiography of a Dalit, Sage-Samya India, 2018.