A New Leaf In Resistance Writing
Himanshu S Mohapatra
BHEDA by Akhila Naik Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2018, 152 pp., 495
February 2018, volume 42, No 2

The Odia word, bheda, the title of both the Odia novel and its English version, translates into social difference. It has a subsidiary meaning as well, penetration of a target, which reinforces the baneful effects of difference. The novel brings out the evil of social difference. Now what kind of social difference? For it is seen to be neither of the two familiar forms of it, the difference of rank and the difference in nature. When Kent in King Lear chastizes the oily and unctuous court official Oswald for the latter’s rudeness to Lear and sets out to ‘teach him difference’, the audience applaud the scene. It is the difference of rank. But when Goneril, the evil daughter of Lear, dumps her husband for her lover and gloats over the ‘difference of man and man’, it is the second kind of difference. Bheda explores another kind of social difference which cuts deeper than either and about whose undesirability there can be no two opinions. It is the social difference sponsored by caste which prescribes endogamous social inequality at birth. The only other divisive category with which it can be compared is gender. Both are social constructs but are made to look like facts of nature.
Both need to be resisted and, if possible, transgressed. Bheda attacks caste in the main. There is an authenticity and urgency about the attack because it is informed by the author’s experiences in the Dalit life world. The translator too has the same existential perspective. In addition, both author and translator are from the same backward region in Kalahandi that the novel draws its characters and scenes from.

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