Loknath Yashwant is not an easy read. The Marathi writer has a vast canvas that spans community, religion, aesthetics, the dynamics of caste and gender, and his unrelenting poetry is a searing look at contemporary society.
In his recent collection of poems, translated into English as Broken Man, Yashwant’s verses loudly break from the tradition of aesthetics of Brahminical writers that has come to define much of what we have come to think of as ‘good literature’. He declares, both covertly and overtly in an ode to Mirza Ghalib, that the genteel turn of phrase is not for him –– indeed, he appears to view it as a hindrance to social change.
His words are hard-hitting, his descriptions visceral and his fountain is the experience of untouchability, of discrimination, hunger, caste surveillance, betrayal. But this is not to say that his poems are devoid of hope. Indeed, they are deeply compassionate in a way that they view oppressed communities as human and as the only ones with the power for social change and a better tomorrow.
Yashwant’s imagination of caste is that of a superstructure, a system, that governs every aspect of our lives. Hence, caste and community are frequent themes in many of Yashwant’s poems. He critiques what he sees as a class of Dalits, many among them well-to-do and middle class, moving away from the teachings and writings of BR Ambedkar into a comfortable form of Buddhism that retains little of its anti-caste traits and emancipator potential. He rails against those from the community who have moved forward but haven’t done enough to help their downtrodden brethren.
In another heartbreaking poem, he describes a fledging romance between a Dalit man and a Brahmin woman, only to talk of the “constant ringing” of a warning bell from Ambedkar –– a poignant reference to the caste-based violence that many from the Dalit communities bear for love.
Yashwant is one of a generation of poets, singers and writers from Maharashtra’s hallowed anti-caste tradition whose works have been highly regarded in Marathi but had received little attention in other languages. This is a common experience for writers who come from oppressed communities in a country where literature, and indeed knowledge production, has been seen as the preserve of a few castes.
In an article published in the Economic and Political Weekly in August 2018, poet Yogesh Maitreya, who is also one of the translators of this volume, noted the importance of translating Yashwant’s works in English in a milieu where most English translators continue to be upper caste authors. He argued Yashwant’s critical perspective carried “the potential to provide the anti-caste sensible [that which is perceived by the senses],” which isn’t provided by Brahminical literature.”
To that effect, his ability to see the subject through a critical perspective carries the potential to provide the anti-caste “sensible,” which isn’t provided by Brahminical literature, Maitreya argues, and it is to bring this rational world view to a wider audience that translation is important.
My reasons are simpler. Sample this:
The jailor slipped into a nap
Of late, prisoners have started
Keeping a watch on each other
For this graceful, visceral performance, Broken Man scores.
Broken Man: In Search of Homeland
by Loknath Yashwant; translated by Dr K Jamanadas and Yogesh Maitreya
Publisher: Panther’s Paw Publications
Page count: 92
Price: Rs 199
First Published: Feb 08, 2019 18:47 IST