An Evening of Social Awakening

Book Release: Fiction authored by Jatin Bala, and edited by Jaydeep Sarangi
Report by Titas Biswas, who is a post-graduate in Literature from the University of Calcutta. She enjoys confessional poems, both reading and writing of them. She wishes to join a publishing house in the near future. She also hopes to be a part of the performance poetry scene in Kolkata.

“Can the subaltern speak?”

If one is acquainted with Literature, at some phase they must have encountered this clichéd question. Children grow up reading about Anne Frank and the horror stories of the Holocaust: tales of oppression where a section of humanity was not even considered human. But sometimes while reading about the world, we tend to ignore several aspects of our own national history. In the history of India’s struggle for Independence, perhaps the most tragic event was that of the Partition. And the refugee crisis that followed as a result is still quite an untouched territory. Very few of us are aware of the angst of those who could neither go back to their place of origin, nor blend in with their current environment. And even if we are aware, we tend to visualise refugees as a homogenous group of people who could be defined as ‘rootlessness personified’. But this myth of homogeneity is far from reality. Even the refugees were separated by indelible lines; the lowest rung being occupied by the Dalit refugees. Despite all the obstacles, several Dalit refugees managed to gain access to education and found in writing a weapon to help them get rid of their curse of social invisibility. And that is when the subaltern began to try to speak. Though a vast majority of the work remains in Bengali, attempts are being made by several editors to translate texts of Dalit literature. 6th July, 2017, marked the success of a similar endeavour: the release of ‘Stories of Social Awakening’, featuring stories penned by author Jatin Bala, translated into English. The book was edited by Dr. Jaydeep Sarangi, who is himself a poet, a professor, a translator and a patron for hidden literary talent.

The event was inaugurated with a soulful song by artist Lipika Biswas. This was followed by the felicitation of the guests of honour, Prof .Sanjukta Dasgupta (Professor of University of Calcutta and eminent poet) and Dr. Sharmila Ray (celebrated poet and educator, Head of the Department of History at City College). The guests were honoured with sashes. Several other guests of importance were also felicitated: Mr. Manohar Mouli Biswas (President of Bangla Dalit  Sahitya Sanstha and one of the most prominent voices in Dalit literature), Mr. Sukanta Mondal (Secretary of Bangla Dalit SahityaSanstha and poet ), Dr.Jaydeep  Sarangi (editor of the book) and of course,  Jatin Bala (author of the book). The guests together released the book to loud applause. Sri.Subodh Sarkar, the chairman of Kobita Academy and noted Sahitya Academy winning poet, was invited too but unfortunately could not make it. He had, however, left an encouraging note for the author and the editor, which was read out by Dr. Sharmila Roy. He wrote:

“Jatin Bala’s stories in the book are the ‘black box’ decoding the experiences of the largest human migration from East Bengal… I’m sure Jatin Bala is going to be a big name in India and beyond the borders.”

After this, Prof. Sanjukta Dasgupta, Dr.Sharmila Ray, Dr.Jaydeep  Sarangi and Mr. Manohar Mouli Biswas were invited to deliver speeches. Each speaker highlighted the importance of inclusion of Dalit literature into the syllabi of important academic institutions. They believe that such a step would not only increase general awareness of the masses regarding the life and struggles of the Dalits, but also nurture empathy towards them. This is perhaps the only way to eradicate the walls that separate ‘us’ from ‘them’. The issues of importance had been introduced and it laid the foundation for the remaining programme.

The event had two distinct sessions of panel discussions. Session I was chaired by Prof.Sanjukta Dasgupta and the speaker was Prof. Debi Chatterjee, an ex-Professor of Jadavpur University and the Editor of ‘Contemporary  Voice of Dalit’ (Sage Publication). She delved into history and opined that dalit refugees were the worst victims of the Partition. Her observations were informative and concise. She also chaired the first half of Session II, for which the speakers were Dr. Ashish Hira (PhD in Refugee Literature) and Mr. Nepal Biswas (Faculty of Kandi Raj College). The second half of Session II was chaired by Prof. Amjad Hossain (professor of English, Aliah University. Mr. Pranab Barman (Faculty of Bhatter College) and Dr. Manosanta Biswas (Faculty of NSOU) were invited as speakers. Various aspects of refugee life were dissected and discussed: the scanty food, lack of hygiene, cramped habitation and the much ignored topic of sex life. It was an immensely educational and enriching experience for everyone in the audience.

The next attraction was the interview of the author, Jatin Bala, by Dr. Sravasti  Guha Thakurta (JCC College, Kolkata). The author shared with the audience several details of his life and his work: how his own struggles and his intimate experience with the refugee life acts as the ink to his pen. Every story that he writes is at the same time about him and about every other Dalit refugee. This brush with the author’s perspective is aimed at making the reading of the book even more meaningful.
The final part of the event comprised poetry reading by leading figures of Dalit Literature. The first session of Poetry Reading was chaired by Dr. Madhumita Majumdar of Bhangar College. Poets Sukanta Mondal and Kalyani Thakur were invited to read out their poems. The second session of Poetry Reading was chaired by Dr. Arindam Mridha (Faculty of RBU). Poets Manju Bala , Manohar Mouli Biswas and Debashis Mondal shared their poems with the audience. The poems explored a plethora of emotions, ranging from fear to anger, sorrow to self-deprecation, hesitation to rebellion. It opened up to the audience an untapped vein of Bengali poetry which they will hopefully explore more enthusiastically in the future.

To conclude the event, Prof. Ekta Hela of JCC College read out her own Hindi translation of a poem by Jatin Bala and offered her vote of thanks to the dignified guests and all other members of the audience. The event anchors, Ponchotapa and Titas Biswas, also thanked everyone for attending the event despite the heavy downpour. The turnout was indeed impressive and the hall was filled beyond capacity. It only goes to show how Kolkata has been, and seems to continue to be, a city full of appreciation for art, a city where people will battle any odds to keep culture alive. If the future translation projects planned by Dr. Sarangi keep receiving similar support, it can be safely assumed that Bengali texts will finally enjoy the national and international recognition that they always deserved. Bengali Literature is all set to reclaim its place in the domain of Indian Writing in English.

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