Tuesday, January 12, 2016

‘I share a bond with every writer who is wholeheartedly engaged in the cultural struggle’- Pradnya Daya Pawar

‘Pradnya Daya Pawar’is a renowned figure in Indian literature. There are very few writers who break  the barriers laid down by the establishment to put forth visions and glimpses of a new world. Pradnya Pawar belongs to this category. She is a courageous writer who bravely puts forth the woman’s side in a conservative patriarchal society which denies to acknowledge and treat a woman as a human being. Man-woman relations, woman’s suffocation and sorrows arising out of patriarchy, her fight with self at physical and mental levels-these are various themes which find strong articulation through her stories as well as poetry.

Never afraid to take position and always articulate to voice resistance to injustice in any forms, Pradnya Pawar recently returned the state awards along with award money in protest of rising intolerance and violence against intellectuals and voices of reason. The regressive forces targeted her and there was criticism all around about this return of awards. However, she didn't budge and remained steadfast with her protest of such intolerance. This interview is especially in this context, while also discussing her literary journey: 

You came to be associated with writing and literature through Daya Pawar. So he had a major influence on you writing or there were other influences as well?

It is a biological coincidence that I was born to an activist-writer like Daya Pawar and Hira Pawar, my mother who was extremely strong-willed and strict. However, coincidences like these are certainly life changing. Indeed, it is my upbringing and family environment which is responsible for me turning a writer. In fact, I would say, my childhood played a formative role in my writing. Although the material conditions were unfavourable, practical life was full of scarcities of every sort&I do not have some ancestral property; however, I hold a proud lineage of movement, the world of ideas, study and accompanying rigour, and frank and fearless voicing of opinion. I would certainly count my father Daya Pawar first among the major influencing figures in my literary journey-his attitude, lifestyle, and empathy have deeply influenced me. The second major influence is of Namdeo Dhasal, and third is the Phule-Ambedkarite movement, especially Dalit Panthers. My readings in the context of these movements, as well as world cinema, theatre, music have broadened my horizons and saved me from turning parochial or one-sided. I have come across many renowned people, whom I consider as centres of living knowledge.

Perspective on Man-woman relations is always at the heart of your writing….

I would rather consider politics as the centre of all my writing. Man-woman relations is one prominent form of that politics and hence it figures accordingly in my writing. In fact, politics is all-encompassing. It is part of public as well as private spaces; indeed, this dichotomy of public versus private itself is the fruition of a political move of hegemonic ruling establishment. What then is this politics, what are its intrinsic forces, what is its reach, reality of caste, class, gender, the predatory form of neoliberal economy and changed circumstances under globalisation-I believe these are the questions which form the crux of my writing. Furthermore, there is a meta-reality of market and media. The predicament of people in this complex situation, especially those people from deprived sections and women-how their lives are shaped up-this is what I try to capture through my writing.  Right from my first collection of poems ‘Antastha’to the recently published ‘Drushyancha dhobal samudra’-there is definite Journey and it is certainly not unilinear.

Even if we speak of ‘woman’in abstract, still, everything changes with the question ‘which woman’. I have always very consciously avoided stereotyping or essentialising woman through my writings. And even men have several facets, several aspects. And perhaps, this is the reason why young men and women, who think differently, can immediately relate with my writings-be it my collection of stories like ‘Afawa khari tharavi mhanun’or a play like ‘dhadant khairlanji’. In fact, I don't like literature which is preaching or only agitational. I can never write columns after columns full of sloganeering and such materials. Just take the simple example of man-woman relation: it consists of so many different things on different levels. The narration of my story cannot forego the perspective of historical, dialectical stages of development and that is quite obvious. Because I am writing in a period after Baburao Bagul, Daya Pawar, Namdeo Dhasal. So if I have assimilated and acknowledged this as lineage; then I have no option but to break through several layers of obvious, common sensical symbolism. In fact, life of no human being is easy. Nothing is easy. I have learnt this lesson of life-facing hardships and swallowing insults, I have paid a huge prices to keep alive my will to write. And sometimes it has so happened that my poetry has surpassed my life, and is mocking me saying-ab kya karogi, main to nikal padi’-now what will you do, I am on my path! 

Even if you speak about body, I have observed that body is never viewed as body as such. Body is always caught in the clutches of morality, tradition and the ‘social’. In fact, human beings and their bodies, their existence is always very creative and intrinsically egalitarian and therefore, capitalism, patriarchy & brahmanism: these systems turn the human body into a mechanical existence. And in a country like India, where all three systems coexist, human body, sexuality and human relations undergo complete perversion. It is a common practice to vilify something which holds the potential to blow apart the establishment. Human body holds the inherent potential to transcend all these exploitative systems-precisely since this potential is known, the human body (especially that of a woman’s) is enchained more and more. No exploitative hierarchical system can afford a lively human body. I deploy these structures in several of my stories. Incidentally, some so-called Ambedkarites tried to run a maligning campaign terming these stories immoral, however, it didn't succeed. 

What was your experience of writing a play like ‘Dhadant Khairlanji’?
The Ambedkarite followers were seriously perturbed after the Khairlanji massacre[1]. Everyone was deeply hurt with this terrible caste violence. The horrifying manner in which Priyanka, Roshan, Sudhir and Surekha were killed, raised a fundamental question-why the Dalits should face such tragedies time and again while following the path of self-respect laid down by Dr. Ambedkar. It was the first time after independence when the entire Dalit community came out on streets without any proactive leadership. Even people with white-collar jobs participated. I myself was a participant in several protests and events happening at that time. In fact, during that period, I wrote a long poem titled ‘Love in the time of Khairlanji’. I would like to quote few of its lines here:

‘Just when the scars of scarcity were being healed
just when the ancient puzzle of the dark was being deciphered
Just when the peace had started to acquire a tranquil sound.
I had thought-
the past has shed its worn out skin
and these old tears of sorrow
of several ages
we swallowed it
Taking it for a glass of poison
….still kept having horrifying dream of shedding delusions
For nth time.  
In broad daylight,
at night-middle of the night,
At any spell, any season.
the calendar just kept fluttering-
Back and forth’

Rajdatt, a famous director in Marathi, wanted to make a film on Khairlanji. He offered me to write the script and dialogues for this film. We met a few times regarding this film proposal. However, due to certain reasons, or say, due to my other priorities, I declined the offer. However, the thought remained with me. This play on Khairlanji was written in these several contexts.

Of course, I didn't want to portray on stage what actually happened in Khairlanji. In fact, for me‘Khairlanji’was not taking place in some ‘distant faraway place’or ‘some rustic, rural hinterland’or in some sort of a vacuum. It was a ‘systemic crisis’denouncing the constitutional values of the entire Indian society. Along with this, I was trying to take stock of the Ambedkarite movement. I had somewhere in my mind, the notion of forming of different layers and hierarchy within Ambedkarite community. I wanted to assimilate all these tracks and depict them together. I did it in my own way. Several readings of this play were organized, at various colleges and universities, also in Prithvi theater. Readings were usually followed by discussions. A fact worth mentioning-Konkan Marathi Sahitya Parishad, Karjat Branch (District Raigad) staged this play for State drama competition. Afterwards, few years went past in anticipation that somebody would step forward to stage this play for commercial theatre. I met many directors-producers in this regard. However, nobody was much interested now in Khairlanji. Then I decided to produce the play myself and brought it out under the banner of our ‘Lokayat Creations’. This was certainly some sort of a brave act to bring it out on commercial theatre because I had no previous experience in this regard. However, I learnt a great deal from this play. This play was staged in various parts of Maharashtra-Mumbai, Thane, Vidarbha, Marathwada, Western-Southern Maharashtra. I could speak directly with people after the play as they had lots of questions. Certainly this experience taught me a lot and enriched me. Basically, play is a collective art. Its success and failure is also collective. I certainly knew that this play is not going to be money spinner; but I bore the financial brunt and staged the play out of a political conviction. 

Could you recount any memorable moment in your writing journey and any particular piece/form of your writing you feel most connected with?

I don’t have any discriminate affinity towards a particular form of writing. I feel equally connected with all forms of literature l laid my hands on. You have to recognize the strengths and crucial areas of each form, study them in depth, and you have to devote adequate time for that. Of course regular practice is must. I have had great joy and challenges in writing everything-poetry, periodical columns, plays, stories as well as critical reviews. Perhaps you can say I feel most close with poetry as I have been writing poems for a longish period of time. But at the same time, I feel that writing poetry is the most difficult thing to do, as it swallows you a lot emotionally.

Talking about memorable incidents-there is one incident when I was studying and writing a bit as well. Till then none of my poetry collections had been published. However, my poems had started to appear in ‘Anushtubh’, ‘Asmitadarsh’and several Diwali issues of daily newspapers. Durga Bhagwat had written me a letter after reading my one poem ‘trishna’. That was one unforgettable moment for me. I have dedicated my collection of stories titled ‘Afawa khari Tharavi mhanun’(to make the rumour true) to a great story writer of Marathi, Kamal Desai as well as Urmila Pawar, the author of ‘Aaydan’. After reading the book, Kamal tai called me and after showering praises on me, she said,”I want to feed you at my home. So tell me what food do you like-I will cook for you myself one day. I was full of tears listening to her. Of course, it couldn't happen-she passed away in the meantime. I will always have this scar.

Which author you like the most?

As I said earlier, I became aware of social exploitation through my family upbringing and the same upbringing made me aware that you can battle with this exploitation, you can fight even through your pen. The walls of the home were full of books. Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh, Rajkamal Chaudhary, Adneya, Ismat Chugtai, Harishankar Parsai, Manto, Vinod Kumar Shukla, Kamaleshwar, Mahasweta Devi, Dhoomil, Qurratul Ain Haider, Premchand, Shreekant Verma, Vishnu Khare, Sahir Ludhianvi, Jaun Nissar, Faiz, Paash, Amrita Preetam, Sukanta Bhattacharya, Mayakovsky, Brecht, Ho Chi Minh, Octavio Paz and Neruda have all broadened the horizons for me.

Certainly I acknowledge the link with the Marathi poetic tradition in which I write. The strong current of Marathi Dalit literature and poetry, which took up cudgels with the Marathi literary establishment-raised certain pertinent fundamental questions about the division of literature in closets like individualist, collectivist, aesthetic etc. I felt these questions were very important. The synthesis of reflective thought and feelings, the sublation of ‘individual’into the ‘collective’, firm foundation of this collectivity, new social-cultural epistemological insight, non separation from ideology, and to have an utopian vision of a society based on humanity and equality: the Dalit poetry gave me many such wonderful treasures. This is a really glorious legacy and history. The Dalit literature was described as sociologically analytical, politically explosive, and aesthetically bewildering. I think the Dalit autobiographies, especially the Dalit women’s autobiographies are extremely important-because Baby Kamble, Shanta Kamble, Urmila Pawar, Hira Pawar underscored the Dalit feminist message of Dalit women’s contribution in making history through such autobiographies. Even my poetry has been labelled feminist, Dalit feminist, Dalit Bahujan feminist etc. and I am pretty comfortable with all such labels.

The Marathi poetry prior to emergence of Dalit poetry was mainly under the influence of B. C. Mardhekar, P.S. Rege and Sharatchandra Muktibodh. Mardhekar broke the established norms of decadent romantic poetry tradition and truly modernised the Marathi poetry. Muktibodh also was defying the tradition of romantic tradition and writing a political poetry of social commitment. However, P. S. Rege revived the romantic tradition. However, with Vinda Karandikar and especially Narayan Surve’s Marxist thought, the stream of modern poetry grew stronger. It is because of this commitment to modernity, I feel the poets like Arun Kolatkar, D. P. Chitre, Vasant Abaji Dahake, Tulsi Parab, Prakash Jadhav, Satish Kalasekar, Manohar Oak, Chandrakant Patil, Arunchandra Gawali are important.

Among the poetesses, I feel closest to the Saint Janabai, Soyarabai, and in modern times, Bahinabai Chaudhary, and the ones like Prabha Ganorkar, Anuradha Patil, Rajni Parulekar, Hira Bansode, Jyoti Lanjewar, and Malika Amar Sheikh; who truly rendered modernity to the poetry of female sensibility. In a sense, I share a bond with every author who is wholeheartedly engaged in the cultural struggle. They seem like true relatives and provide me the strength.

What will you say about the young writers?

I do read many of them. I will not name particular ones, but I find many of the present young writers, poets, poetesses quite promising. They are extremely serious, conscious and aware. They have a very good understanding about society, overall system and they have the introvert attitude along with it. However, this introvert attitude is today complemented by social media which is totally extrovert. It leads to the creative expression remaining at a superficial level and doesn't go the root of the matter. Sooner they realize this danger, better.

What are your present writing projects?

I was busy with my doctoral thesis over last two-three years. Therefore I had kept aside all my writing projects. But now I have a lot of things in mind. Let us see how it goes. One book of collection of my newspaper columns is coming up called ‘Tehaltikori’from Akshar Prakashan.

The regressive forces have murdered Dr. Dabholkar, Comrade Pansare and Prof. Kalburgi. Not only that, they have easily moved over.  How would you comment as a writer on the present social situation? What is the position behind returning the awards?

We are going through a period of undeclared emergency. This kind of emergency is more horrifying than the emergency of 1975. That is because, in 1975, it was only the State which was doing surveillance on common people. Now, it is not only the State, but also the ruling party members, are carrying out this surveillance on behalf of the State. And they are everywhere-from places of residence, to places of employment. There is an unprecedented dictatorial manner in every walk of life-education, science, arts, literature, and overall entire cultural world. Our public sphere of debate has become really hideous, obscene.

The gruesome mob killing of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri, the ban on Muslim youth to participate in Garba, the continuing cycle of Dalit killings, Love jihad, Ghar wapsi campaigns-these are the things going on. The situation has deteriorated so much so that if you cannot debate rationally with voices of reason, then simply kill these voices and shut them up forever-this is where we have come to. Dnyanpeeth winning Marathi author Bhalchandra Nemade has been provided police protection (after he received threats). Yesterday, Girish Karnad has received a threat that he will be killed. The murders of Dr. Dabholkar, Comrade Pansare and Prof. Kalburgi prove again that any voice of dissent will not be tolerated. The point is not only about freedom of expression of writers, and their safety of life and honour. It certainly is, but even common people of Maharashtra, India are living under this constant shadow of terror. The poison of communalism is being spread in India on purpose. What to eat, how to live, whom to love, whom not to love, what to dress, how to express-there are people all around me living under a constant shadow of fear over these things. While underlining the fundamental issue of freedom of expression of writers and artists, we should not forget that the State is attacking the common people’sright to life.

The roots of today’s situation lie in the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992. Advani’s Rathayatra had partitioned the country again on religious grounds. But even now when they are in power, they don't seem to possess the rational, tolerant approach necessary to run the country. The people in top positions of the government are recklessly making provocative anti-social statements. And Hindutva organisations like VHP, Hindu Rashtra Samiti, Sanatan Sanstha are going further and doing actual violence, breaking the rule of law. It is their rule based on violence and terror. If you do not follow our diktats, then we have the right to punish you there and then, because this government is follower of our ideology-this is their stance. It leads to structures of parallel government, state, and the state becomes a mute spectator. As usual, the foot soldiers of these regressive forces are from Bahujan samaj, however, they are remote controlled by RSS. This government has come to power taking help of such means and such forces. This is an all round assault on fundamental values and principles of Indian constitution itself. I decided to return all the state awards I had received along with the prize money in order to protest this assault.

What has been your experience after return of the awards? What were the reactions? What will be the next step of this cultural movement?

I returned awards and immediately afterwards, many Marathi writers returned their awards. At the moment, their number is quite large. We all went together to Mantralaya (Maharashtra Government office) and returned the awards. The meaning of this is clear: everyone was angry and annoyed with the present situation. Only somebody needed to take the lead. Actually I was also awaiting for this lead to come from Sahitya Akademi winning writers in Marathi. Anyhow I hoped that, if not Award Wapsi, at least this cultural movement across the country will receive the support and boost from the world of Marathi letters. However, nothing like that was happening. On the contrary there was ridicule.

About the reactions-well, we have been at the receiving end of endless criticism and mockery. The word is that we are ‘Congressi, Sickular’etc. Many people say-‘we are exaggerating the actual situation. And didn't intolerant things occur during Congress rule’?

There is a difference here. The all round attack on the constitutional values which is going on at present, was not the case ever before. There was no interference in the private space-what to eat, what to write. The literary ‘suicide’of Perumal Murugan, M. M. Basheer-a senior writer and researcher of Ramayana from Calicut, Kerala deciding not to write about Ramayana, Chetna Tirthahalli-the Kannada writer who criticised the ban on cow slaughter receiving threats of rape-we are witnessing a tremendous amount of pressures upon writers, and they are growing. These regressive forces have taken a stand that we will not let anybody do a critique/enquiry of Hinduism; what they say is the final word on Hinduism. Huchangiprasad, a Kannada Dalit writer who wrote against the caste system, was abducted and beaten up as his writing ‘insulted Hinduism’and he was further threatened that if he continued to write in similar way, his fingers will be chopped off in punishment. In such circumstances, I believe it is my responsibility to take a firm stand and oppose this terrorism.    

The government criticised the authors who returned the awards-calling them dishonest, Congressi, living in State provided housing etc. This is my open challenge to anyone to pick up any of my writing and show the praise of Congress. The consistent criticism of our decision to return the awards only goes to prove that this act has really hit them hard. Hence by invoking irrelevant charges against us, they are trying to shift the attention away from the issues we have raised. We should not forget that if rulers try to keep people under terror all the time, then the people one day can throw the rulers out of power. People taught this lesson to Indira Gandhi and now the people of Bihar also taught the same lesson to Narendra Modi. I am a representative of these common people and I am not at all pessimist. Therefore I feel that everyone should come together and build strength to foil this attack on Indian democracy. 

To return awards is just the small beginning. Now the writers-artists need to collectively raise their voice and that also has started. The writers from Gujarat, Goa and Maharashtra who are returning awards as well as the ones supporting it, have recently organised a new initiative named ‘Dakshinayan’. This bunch of writers organised public meetings in 3 cities-Pune, Kolhapur and Dharwad. Writers are not a strong community. And they cannot afford to keep paid security guards for personal safety, not they can fathom such a thing. The pen in their hand and their voice is their only means of expression. It is the need of the hour to vow to fight with all the means.  

(This Interview was first published in www.mulakhat.com in Marathi on Nov.22, 2015. Original interview in Marathi was done by Sujata Shirsath, English translation by Rahul Vaidya)

[1] 2006 case of brutal murders, rape of Dalit Bhotmange family in Kherlanji, located in Bhandara district of Maharashtra by members of the politically dominant Kunbi caste.

1 comment:

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