Given the interest in emotions in understanding human behaviour more fully than ever before, researchers in recent times have been looking at the crevices between thought and word, cracks and gaps through which meaning can slip unnoticed by readers. The well-respected German historian Margrit Pernau, for instance, has been working on the history of emotions for some time now and deems emotions to be the shapers of both politics and personal lives. Since literature not merely reflects the emotions of its present time but can also shape how future emotions develop, this linkage between literature and emotions needs the closest possible study.
Nikhil Govind, who heads the Manipal Centre for Humanities in Karnataka and has in the past looked at the revolutionary streak in the Hindi novel, now turns his gaze to the abstract and the subjective. Pain, oppression, suffering, humiliation, injustice, chagrin, absurdity, inadequacy and all forms of subjectivity interest him in his explorations in the present study. Using a range of literary texts from Bangla, Hindi, Urdu, Marathi and Malayalam, he traverses the axes of religion, caste, class and social status. As he sums up in his conclusion: ‘All the texts discussed in this book bring up these abysmal questions of authentic response and responsibility to varying kinds of affliction and hurt (humiliation, abandonment, mistrust, poverty, unfreedom, rage, shame, and so on).’
Govind begins his exploration with the example of Ambedkar and his description of the humiliations he had faced in his autobiographical fragment Waiting for a Visa (1935-36). As member of a government committee tasked with looking into charges of discrimination against untouchables he is required to visit the village of Chalisgaon. But he finds no tonga driver willing to take him, an untouchable, even though he is a barrister-at-law. As he writes, a Hindu tongawalla, though ‘no better than a menial’ has ‘a dignity and can look upon himself as superior’. Finally, an untouchable person volunteers to drive him but being an amateur he ends up falling into the river along with the tonga and the eminent guest. With some humour mingled with sadness at the absurdity of it all, Ambedkar writes in the section entitled ‘Pride, Awkwardness and a Dangerous Accident at Chalisgaon’ adopting a tone of ‘distance and detachment’. Govind probes these tonalities in Ambedkar’s prose to look at the immense hurt that lies beneath the seemingly matter-of-fact tone and the valuable lessons for future Dalit scholars and memoirists from the tangled skein of emotions hiding just beneath the surface of seeming distance and detachment.