Category Archives: Navayana Books

Read 23 of 2022. Don’t Want Caste: Malayalam Stories from Dalit Writers. Edited by M.R. Renukumar. Translated from the Malayalam by Abhirami Girija Sriram and Ravi Shanker.

Don't Want Caste. Edited by M.R. Renukumar

Title: Don’t Want Caste: Malayalam Stories from Dalit Writers
Edited by M.R. Renukumar
Translated from the Malayalam by Abhirami Girija Sriram and Ravi Shanker
Publisher: Navayana Books
ISBN: 978-8189059811
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 192
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

This collection of short stories hits hard and as it should. We need to with our privilege open our eyes and see the world around us for what it is. For the injustice, for the hate, for the discrimination, and for the fear that some people live with – the marginalized whose rights have been encroached on, and those whose lives are a constant struggle.

Don’t Want Caste, a collection of stories by Dalit writers is a mix of truth, some truth told through the lens of magical realism, and some told plain and simply.

These stories have been selected from seven decades of Dalit writing in Malayalam –       from the 1950s to the 2010s. There are 23 stories in all, each very different and just the same – telling us about the atrocities of caste discrimination and what it does to functioning societies or how it is an integral part of it, unfortunately so.

The stories explore the meaning and consequences of what it is to be a Dalit – of what it is to belong and not belong – of how then the unreal is used to talk about the real. The real that is so traumatic that it needs the assistance of magic to speak of.

“The Downfall of a Demon” (1964) is one story that captivated me the most. It is simple, unique and yet says all that it wants to about the world we live in. “The World of Rabbits” (2006) is about a young Dalit boy who discovers a change of emotions among his parents towards rabbits and what happens thereof.

There are stories of men, women, and children running away from their caste – wanting to disown it and trying very hard to get away. There are stories of men, women, and children embracing who they are and what they are – and fighting throughout in their own manner to claim all of it.

“The Serpent Lover” is a story of two lovers Ganesan and Sarojam who make a tragic discovery about their past and have to work around it. There is the issue of shame, hope, and also the angle of memory that doesn’t let go because how you are constantly made to show your place in the society.

Please read it. The translations of Abhirami and Ravi are succinct, on point, and let the stories speak for themselves. The writers – twenty-three of them have done a magnificent job of displaying every emotion on these pages. Don’t Want Caste is one of the books that I recommend to everyone in the country to understand the nuances of what is often thought doesn’t exist, but it does, and it is in your face most of the time. Please don’t choose to hide behind ignorance.

Read 2 of 2022. The Orders Were to Rape You: Tigresses in the Tamil Eelam Struggle by Meena Kandasamy

The Orders Were To Rape You by Meena Kandasamy

Title: The Orders Were to Rape You: Tigresses in the Tamil Eelam Struggle
Author: Meena Kandasamy
Publisher: Navayana
ISBN: 978-8194865445
Genre: Essay, Nonfiction
Pages: 104
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

This book is in part an essay, a memoir of some sort – a dialogue with oneself, and also a collection of resistance poems by female guerrillas and militants of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka. It is a narrative of three Tamil women – tigresses – the wife of an LTTE fighter, a female combatant from the LTTE, and of the author herself.

What set out to become a documentary by the author, ended up becoming an essay of gruesome experiences recounted by the two survivors of war. Meena met them in Malaysia and Indonesia, in 2013, four years after the war had ended.

This book is so much more than this. It is about Kandasamy’s “childhood history of adulation and fangirling over the Tigresses”, leading to questioning all that is fed to people in the guise of news, and only one narrative being told. I think this is what actually led Meena to tell stories that were not told and to give a voice to ones that didn’t get one. It is also about genocide of the Tamil Eelam people – of the involvement of India in this, the violent aftermath and the camps. It is about the rapes of women – the brutalities, the wounds that never heal, the scars that don’t appear, and the trauma that never goes away.

The second part where Meena shares poetry of the tigresses, is more of a call for rebellion in one way. It looks at poetry by women as a way to fight back, to resist, to fight over and over against the status quo.

For me the narrative of the Tamil Tiger’s wife was most powerful and resonated so deep. It is very disturbing but needs to be told. It needed to be told in the manner Kandasamy says it – cutting no edges, hiding nothing, revealing it all for the reader.

Are these women victims or survivors? I kept asking this question to myself long after reading this text. I am still wondering. Also, the relationship of these women with Kandasamy is something I would want to read more of. The reluctance they had initially to speak with her and the opened up. What led to that? What sort of an ally one has to be to be able to evoke that? The lived and complex realities of Tamils, Tamil women, and more so Tamil women combatants in Sri Lanka through this essay will certainly give rise to much needed discourse, and we need more of those. There is a lot to unpack, a lot to take in through this slim volume of suffering, fight, and the road to liberation that is always long and hard.

Books and Authors mentioned in The Orders Were to Rape You

  • Nimmi Gowrinathan
  • Lovers and Comrades: Women’s Resistance Poetry from Central America: Edited by Amanda Hopkinson
  • Against Forgetting by Carolyn Forche
  • Mariana Yonüsg Blanco
  • Sandra Ramirez
  • Commandante Yesenia
  • Tichaona Nyamubaya
  • Lorena Barros
  • Aida F Santos
  • Anna Swir
  • Captain Vaanathi
  • Nibha Shah
  • Captain Kasturi
  • Adhilatchumi
  • Lil Milagro Ramirez
  • Poem 278 by Kakkaipatiniyar Naccellaiyar
  • Purananuru
  • Poem 112