The Mortgaged Man by Pitambar Tarai

BOOK REVIEW by Dr. Jaydeep Sarangi

Jaydeep Sarangi
Odiya Dalit Poet Writes Back

The Mortgaged Man
Pitambar Tarai
Translated from the original Odia
Sidhesh Publishing House, Cuttack, 2017
Pages 108
ISBN 978-81-930875-1-0
Rs. 110/-

The word 'Dalit' does not signify a particular caste but stands for an awareness of the everyday lived experiences of those human beings belonging to the lowest strata of caste hierarchy in a stratified society in India. The feeling is of oppressed and deprived by the age-old stereotypes. Dalit literature intends to articulate this social, cultural, political and religious oppression perpetrated in this country. “Awareness of this oppression does not simply manifest itself in torrid descriptions of Dalit life. Rather, it attempts to derive out of these experiences a new value system that would help dalits to carve out a new social reality.” (Jatin Bala: 167-68)

No militant movement or rebellion on the part of dalits has taken place in Odisha (like what happened in Maharashtra) which does not negate the suffering and angst of the dalits. One can take a dalit poem and feel the rhythm of distress and anguish arising out of the pain  suffering for generations. Pitambar Tarai (b. 1959) is an Odisha Sahitya Academy awarded poet. Many poems in  The Mortgaged Man is rich in aesthetic responsibility towards life:
“Since childhood I knew
at the north end of our village lie
like two separated brothers
two ancient cremation grounds(.)” (‘Untouchable’,  p. 17 )

Another associated aim of dalit literature is the creation of a literary circle that will nurture younger talent and train them to work for dalit liberation. They will usher in a casteless society with one united race inhabiting it – the Indians.

Progressive literature movement aims at the projection of a socialist order, the appeal of Dalit literature lies in its remarkable life force, in the portrayal of the Dalit way of life, their painful lived experiences, the denials they face, the resistance they offer and in the creation of an ideology. If one has to fight against the established social order, then an alternate value system pertaining to the Dalit way of life must first be decided upon. This in turn necessitates a paradigm shift – a cultural revolution. Pitambar writes,
 “I am the gate of hell.” ( Woman, 108)
Land is a haunting place for the dalits in India. They are displaced from the mainstream:
“My ancestors had not
Attempted to buy a piece of land” (‘A Piece of Land’, p.37)

Dalit texts are about a movement:
“If you like,
Shoot me with arrow.” ( ‘The Bird’, p. 98 )

 So, any work of translation involving these texts  is a social engagement. Dalit literary movements emblematiss a fight against untouchability and the resultant socio-economic divide. Pitambar in The Mortgaged Man writes,
“Oh unredeemed man!
On the outskirts for thousand years (.)”  (‘ Man on the Outskirts’, p. 64)

Pitambar’s poetic idioms  are subtle, specific   and   razor-sharp where the  poetic corpus retains as an inviting discourse:
“Friends, better not ask
of the house.”   (The House, p. 24)
In an Interview with Jaydeep Sarangi Tamil dalit writer/activist  Bama Faustima exclaims, “It (Dalit Literature)  is the literature of oppressed people It liberates them and gives them their identity. It heals them and strengthens them to fight for their rights.” (Muse India, Issue  42, 2012)

Like many contemporary  poets from Odisha, Pitambar is an ardent lover of rain  and rivers which bring a promise of renewed vitality.
“See, she a serpent
no, never a river.”  (‘The River’, P.29)

His  aim is to achieve cleansing of the minds by purgation of  pent-up feelings and angst. He is a committed artist. His poems remind us poems on rain and rivers by Niranjan Mohanty and Bibhu Padhi. Pitambar is a part of an amazing tradition and legacy of poets.   

The aim of dalit literature movement is to facilitate dalit liberation. This journey is just nothing to something. The wheel has started turning. Dalit writers are writing back. We cannot deny the intermingling of thoughts, contexts, engagements   and concepts of these writers, which make them unique. They are aware selves who can think beyond a definite boundary and create their own space.
Pitambar drums up optimism.  Some poems in this collection pop up a prophetic note of hope and  renewal of humane feelings:
“Wait, Wait
Wait and stop.”  (‘The River’, P.29 )

Translation is an intimate act of reading. Translation is like transfer of power. Identity is always a kind of representation of oneself to Others. There is a power hierarchy between the Bhasa text and the translated one. Emancipation of dalits is constantly on-going movement. It has seen many changes. Translators of this  collection  from Odiya to English include Jayanta Mahapatra, Panchanan Dalai, Amiya Kumar Patra, Sapan Kumar Jena, Kmal Kumar Mohanty, Bibhudatta Mohanty, Rajendra Das, Namita Nayak, Kishore Panigrahi, and Gobinda Sahoo. Translators have tried to remain close to the texts in original. A good foreword to the book would have given us the background and the immediate literary contexts of the poet and his commitments. Poems in this collection go beyond a predictable tag and attain universality in appeal.
No doubt the reader will not remain indifferent after encountering  the poems in this collected volume, The Mortgaged Man.
Notes:“Bama Faustina: Conversation with Jaydeep Sarangi”, Muse India:“Jaydeep Sarangi in Conversation with Jatin Bala”, Stories of Social Awakening: Reflections of Dalit Refugee Lives of Bengal, Paperback by Jatin Bala (Author), Jaydeep Sarangi (Editor),   Authorspress, New Delhi, 2017.