How a mice-catcher became a writer
Adi-Bharat Mukti: Bahujan Samaj, a 674-page treatise, hit the stands in July. It was the first Dalit-authored book in Hindi which crossed the 500-page mark. Price: Hold your breath, Rs 1000, the only Dalit book to have a four-figure price. Author: H L Dushad. It has caught the imagination of the Dalit intelligentsia.
Dushad's first book, Prachartantra and Bahujan Samaj, was published in December 1998. He writes for a host of Dalit journals, including mainstream national dailies.
A well-known name in Dalit literary circles, Dushad has done theatre as well and tried to produce a serial on the life and works of Dr Ambedkar. But DD officials did not find merit in his script. The paanwallah at Mandi House suggested too high a price. The failure in electronic media did not deter him from articulating his views in print. Let me tell you his story, no less novel-worthy.
Born to Dalit parents in 1953, in a sleepy village of Deoria district, Dushad's childhood was anything but rosy. At the tender age of three, his maternal uncle took him away from his parents to raise him. His father worked for the Calcutta-based Exide Battery. He had joined the company as an unskilled labourer and graduated to boiler-attendant, burning a quarter-lorry coal each day. His mother lived with him in a slum, eliminating any opportunity for young Dushad's education.
At his maternal uncle's home, Dushad had to earn his keep. Incredible as it may seem, he had to take care of over a dozen pigs as a seven-year-old. Rain, hail or snow, the pigs had to be herded out at 5 am for grazing and brought back by 7 am. The two-hour ordeal got repeated in the evening. He continued his job till age 10. He even made it to class III. As a teen, he contributed as a farm hand. By then his father, realising that his son was not going anywhere, brought him back to Calcutta and enrolled him in a municipal school.
Your childhood memories? `Ooh,' is his first reaction. "Hated by non-Dalits, I do not remember having ever worn new clothes in the early years. I had to discover happiness among the ruins, light in the dark tunnel. The roasted field rats are incredible in taste! Those who have not had field-mice are still vegetarian," asserts Dushad.
"And those piglets? Think of them as beautiful as English-speaking brown Brahmans, gentle, cultured! Play with them, hug them, kiss them. But their fate is pre-destined by Mother Nature! Once butchered, take out their intestines, clean them and roast them under the fire of arhar dry-sticks. Salt-coated, ready to serve, the taste is beyond imagination. And the mature pigs? Weighing about a quintal, robust like an Ahir, Jat or a Kamma! Once butchered, think of the fat-laden skin. The pig Paratha. Have it again the next morning and the taste is beyond imagination. What about the fish-catching, the fish Chokhas? Ooh!"
Dushad didn't have privileges. He earned his bread even as a child but lived with honour. His uncle, a well-built, six-footer, hunted elephants, not out of any boorish desire. Elephants were Thakur's symbol of arrogance, oppression.
After school, Dushad went to Calcutta's Rishi Bankim Chatterji College. After his father's retirement, he joined Exide as a babu. He educated his children. One of his sons is a college lecturer, who has just qualified for the UP Civil Services. He got married to a Jatav girl, setting a fine example. She is a personnel officer in a nationalised bank.
Driven by his artistic instincts, his theatre experiences, and inspiration from his guru M.S. Sodhi, Dushad took premature retirement to try his luck at Tollywood, equivalent of Bollywood. But luck didn't favour him . He shifted to Delhi and began his tryst with Mandi House. It didn't work.
A keen observer of Kanshi Ram's social revolution and the resultant Dalit upsurge in UP, he took up the pen as the intellectual prop of the movement. Dushad's journey is far from over. In Delhi's cultural setting, an intellectual universe which does not belong to him, Dalit emancipation is his only passion. He is in search of a new social order defined by justice, egalitarianism, peace. In other words, translating Ambedkar's dream into reality!