Book Excerpt, Part- III.
These years were a time of grave crisis for the state of West Bengal. Violence came in waves, one upon the other. Before the common man could get over one, there arrived even more gruesome details of another. The morning newspapers brought in daily reports of unabated violence. Either the police had killed Naxals, or the Naxals had killed the police. Either the Congress had murdered the CPM, or the CPM had murdered the Congress. Here some Naxals had broken out of jail, and there the guards had beaten to death some Naxals after their failed bid to escape.
Yet people soon stumbled back to their usual rhythms. Within days, the food stalls and little eating places were open in the evenings, customers crowded the tables, the gambling dens at the rail sidings and the godowns opened, the Kamalas and Kaminis began visiting the empty bogies of the garaged goods trains.
What was I to do now? I had achieved the impossible by returning alive from Kamarpara, but I needed to eke out a living.
‘Pull a rickshaw,’
Tata Datta advised. Like the donkeys, the bullocks, the horses, human beings too pulled loads. They carried palanquins or pulled rickshaws. Tata Datta owned a few rickshaws. He rented one of them out to me for two and a half rupees every day. I was to be a rickshaw-wallah.
If man spent too long a time in the jungles, his animal-like instincts came to the fore. When the water of the holy Ganga is poured into the gutter, the Ganga becomes the gutter, not the gutter the Ganga. Had I ever been holy, clean, good? I do not know. But now, my environment consumed me. I drank, I gambled, I quarrelled. An anger seethed within me. So many young lives lost. And yet the common man went about his life normally. Eating, drinking, shopping, going to the cinema in the evenings, making babies at night, whiling away time at tea stalls. Nobody gave a thought to their sacrifices. I could not be part of this humanity. These people were all my enemies. Enemies, all enemies!
I strode through the station all day. Sometimes drunk, sometimes not drunk. I strode around, and looked for people to beat up. Beating people calmed me: pickpockets, snatchers, kidnappers, pimps, any colourful Romeo troubling girls of the poorer classes. I would thrash them all. Within days I became a terror to the goons of the locality. On the other side, to many people, I began to be seen as the saviour. This was especially true of the young maidservants who would come to the city to work as domestic helps. This was a time when the train services would get stalled frequently for a variety of reasons. Maybe the rains had flooded the tracks, or the overhead wires had snapped, or the wires had been stolen. As a result of these many mishaps, the girls would often have to spend the night on the platforms. That was when they would come looking for me to find them a safe haven for the night, away from the unwanted attentions of both the goons and the police. Soon many others joined me. One who worked at the liquor shop, one who scraped off the scales of the fish for the fish seller, another who was a rickshaw-wallah, another who was a rag-picker.
A young maidservant was raped and murdered, and then hanged from the ceiling in an attempt to pass it off as suicide. We gathered the girls from the rail colony and pelted the house with stones. Tata Datta kept trying to redress my shallow knowledge of politics. From time to time, he would drag me to the political classes of a certain leader, Sanjay Putatunda. But I did not learn much. I joined a radical militant Left group for some days. Then lost touch with them. Only the militancy remained. And this earned me notoriety.
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.
On 25th January 2018, Mr. Byapari will engage in talks with Mr. Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar and Mr. Arunava Sinha, for the Event Interrogating the Margins, at The Jaipur Literature Festival, from 3.45 p.m. at the Durbar hall.
On 26th January 2018, Mr. Byapari will engage in panel discussion with Mr. Chintan Chandrachud, Mr. Christophe Jaffrelot, Mr. Sukhadeo Thorat and Ms. Pragya Tiwari, for the Event Dr. Ambedkar and his Legacy, at The Jaipur Literature Festival, from 10 a.m. at Charbagh.
Excerpted with permission from Interrogating My Chandal life: An Autobiography of a Dalit, Sage-Samya India, 2018.
Feature Image Courtesy: Quora