Songs from the Underworld
K. Satchidanandan
NAMDEO DHASAL: POET OF THE UNDERWORLD:POEMS:1972-2006 by Dilip Chitre Navayana Publishing, 2008, 180 pp., 350
January 2008, volume 32, No XXXII

We are living at a time when dalit literature is fast being assimilated into the mainstream of Indian literature which also implies a potential loss of its power to provoke and disturb the status quo.The spurt of translations of dalit poetry, fiction and autobiography in English, in the form of individual works as well as anthologies, while helping to earn the genre a wider audience across the country,can also be seen as a sign of this process of mainstreaming .This is also a reflection of a change in the self-perception of dalit writers:many of the new generation dalit writers do not want to be seen as belonging to a special category of writing and to be judged by standards peculiar to them; instead they would like to be seen just as writers and to be judged by their innovative use of language and the formal revolution they have pioneered in their respective regional literatures.

The avant-garde has always had to face this challenge in the course of their maturing :their works get included in text books,they become an inevitable part of any literary festival or anthology, they win awards from the literary establishment ; their works become subjects of formal research, and their structural, syntactic and stylistic values gain greater attention than their thematic radicalism and the social questions that in the first place gave rise to the whole Movement. I recall Susie Taru once pointing to the danger of this appropriation faced by radical women writers; the dalit writers,like the ‘progressives’ before them or the ‘nativists’ after them, are no exception.

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