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
Genre: Short Stories
Source: Personal Copy
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.