Now an autobiography of a Dalit
Punjabi writer Balbir Madhopuri has appeared focusing on the
situation of Scheduled Castes in Punjab in the last half a
century. Chhangia Rukh (Navyug Publishers, New Delhi) is
both a life story and a social critique of the caste condition
in this region. Balbir was born at Madhopur, a small village
near Bhogpur in Doaba, in a poor "Chamaar" family a
few years after Partition.
school and college days are meticulously portrayed without any
gloss whatsoever. The author has tried to delineate every minute
detail in his "Chamarli," as he calls his locality
situated on the south-western side (direction of the setting
sun) of the village. The filth and squalor and the improvised
mud houses exposed to the vagaries of nature are presented for
the readers to have a glimpse of life surviving on the margins
There are many
situations in this autobiography where the Dalit-Jat conflict
explodes over socio-economic issues in the village structure but
is contained with the intervention of the elders. The arrogance
of a few Jat bullies always becomes the cause of such blow-ups.
The Dalits, on the whole, remain subdued for obvious reasons
unless they are forced to challenge the bullies. Time and again
Dalits curse the Creator for their situation.
adversity, Balbir is able to receive college education and after
doing his post-graduation becomes a junior officer in the
Information Service. His days at Jalandhar during his
post-graduation are a turning point in his life as a writer. He
comes in contact with many people in the media and starts moving
in the Leftist circle, which adds to his consciousness level.
But he also finds that some of his Communist friends have a
feudal approach to many socio-economic problems. While posted in
Delhi, Balbir has to live in rented accommodations and faces
problems with caste-conscious landlords.
Two characters in
this autobiography stand out head and shoulder above the others.
They are authorís mother and grandmother. Both the women
display a lot of patience and perseverance and they never lose
hope even in the most trying circumstances. Another nodal point
in this autobiography is the banyan tree in the basti,
where one has a glimpse of the socio-cultural life of the Dalits.
In the course of time Balbirís family is able to get out of
the social morass, though in a limited way.
appears at a time when a lot of social churning is taking place
with far-reaching political consequences. Madhopuri in these 200
pages presents a short history of the Dalit situation in Punjab.
Apart from writing half a dozen books, including two collections
of poems, he has done a lot of translation work in Punjabi,
including Catherine Clementís well-known novel Edwina and