Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Book: “The Scar” A Dalit’s Autobiography by K A Gunasekharan.

Growing up as a boy from the Parayar caste, in the milieu of Christian, Hundu and Muslim communities., K A Gunasekharan narrates the familiar tale of caste oppression and prejudice prevalent in the villages of Tamil Nadu. As the narrative unfolds, the reader is shown how the ‘low’ caste negotiates differently with the three religious communities. The deep pain of the Paraya surfaces through the risible anecdotes that ridicule the grievously unjust practices of the ‘upper’ castes.

The book emphasises the fact that Indian villages are doubly caste-consious and cruel, and that Dlit emancipation rests in better education for the community. Gunasekharan writes in an earthy and colloquial style to capture the innocence, cruelty and drama of a south Indian village.

Considered the first modern autobiography in Tamil, ‘TheScar’ (Vadu) is an importance book calling for Dalit assertion and emancipation.

K A Gunasekharan is a teacher, folk-artist dramatist and researcher. He was the dean of the School of Performing Arts at Pondichery University. Currently he is the Director of the  international Institute of Tamil Studies. In preface of the book, he says:

My early days are closely associated with the people of Islam. I realized even whilw at school, that caste differences did not exists in Elayankudi -  a place with a large Muslim population, whereas in places just two kilometers away, it was found in excess. I contemplated the horrid experiences I have had because of caste discrimination in my early life. ‘Vadu’ (Scar) evolved. Anger welled up as I wrote about the discriminatory practices that I ha suffered; sometimes tears flowed. I have captured in my writing all the experiences that I narrated to my friends on various occasions.

Kalikulam village is near Thayamangalam. This is where my friend Samidoss was born. I had an unforgettable experience when I stayed there one night. At around midnight, a kudukkuduppaikkaran entered a cheri making the eeri rattling sound peculiar to this tribe.

I wake up even as he entered the street. I told Samodoss, Die! I will hide in the cattle shed opposite your house. I want to sea how this fellow makes his appearance. Samidoss warned me saying, ‘ He will bring the ghosts with him. He will incapacitate you’ I decided to comfort him and did himself in the cattle shed. Samidoss lay frozen with fear.

The kudukuduppaikkaran stood at the entrance shouting, ‘Thoo, thoo, thoo, graveyard hag.’ The entire village was quavering with fear, I think. None came out. I got up quickly, folded my kaili, and left in a huff without finishing his oracles for the entire street, shouting and threatening, ‘Thoo, thoo, thoo… something bad is going to happen to this house.’

KIn Salaiyur, during Ramsan, the fakirs would go around the Muslim streets, singing to the accompaniment of beats kept by a small drum. I used to stay awake to watch them. I think it is this habit that helped me to accost the kudukududppaikaran in Kalaikulam.

Like this there are so many anecdotes, which come to mind on and off. There are many incidents, which have been left out. I have written about only a few of them in Vadu.

When I read parts of what I had written to Elengo teacher, he felt us through it was his own experiences that were being narrated. Comrade A Marx encouraged me to compile my experiences.

Comrade Ravikumar published an expert from Vadu in Dalit Murasu magazine. It was well received. In order to bring  it out as book I send a soft copy of Vadu to Kalachuvadu.

I had the unique privilege of having Prof.Nanjundan as the editor of my book. He gave me useful suggestions to bridge the gap between my style and the counter. Our meeting at Salem and the discussion I had with him helped in making Vadu understandable to all readers, without compromising the language of my soil. His knowledge of Grammatical Tamil without my formal training in it is impressive.

I have related my experience up to my college days in this account. The experience I Have had since the time, my involvement in Marxist movements, my journey down the arts lane, do not figure in this book. Dalit youngsters who read Vadu may be inspired to realize that they need to fight this caste-ridden society with more energy than the others do. For the others, this book is an introduction to dalit life.

While proof reading, my wife Revathi’s constructive criticism of my style of writing as very useful. To her and to Comrade A Marx, I owe my gratitude. I am grateful to my friend, Nanjundan, Comrade P Panchangam, Dr. A Thirunagalingam, a friend from my childhood days (who remained me of the many experiences that I had felt out) and Karasur Palanichami.

I also thak Ravikumar for his erudite preface, and Kalachvadu Publishers.

K A Gunasekharan
20 December 2004

This preface is translation from the Tamil edition. Translated by V Kadambari, who teaches  English at the Ethiraj College of Woman, Chennai. She is a blingual writer and translator, and keenly interested in gender issue and gender studies.

The book is published by Orient Blackswan private