Dalpat Chauhan’s ‘Fear and Other Stories’: Piecing together reality of caste oppression : The Tribune India

Dalpat Chauhan’s ‘Fear and Other Stories’: Piecing together reality of caste oppression

Dalpat Chauhan’s ‘Fear and Other Stories’: Piecing together reality of caste oppression

Fear and Other Stories by Dalpat Chauhan. Translated by Hemang Ashwinkumar. Penguin Random House. Pages 220. Rs 499

Book Title: Fear and Other Stories

Author: Dalpat Chauhan.

Aradhika Sharma

A veteran writer of Dalit literature in Gujarati, Dalpat Chauhan highlights the intense suffering and marginalisation of Dalits in a feudal society constructed around caste, which shuns a whole community of people based upon birth. The appalling tradition of upper-class oppression of the Dalits, whereby they rape their womenfolk, burn their houses, whip them at will, hurl stones at their homes to ‘teach them a lesson’, humiliate them and forbid their presence in public areas is the sad truth of Indian society even to this day.

Dalit literature, although a century old, has gained traction in the hands of writers like Chauhan. ‘Fear and Other Stories’ is a series of narratives reflecting the fundamental revulsion and disdain of the upper classes towards the ‘untouchables or the scheduled classes, even while being dependent on them’.

Chauhan’s stories, which reveal the inhumane and shameful culture of suppression, have the effect of making the reader writhe in discomfiture, feeling vaguely responsible and ashamed for the segregation and anguish inflicted on people. He rips apart society’s collusion, usually shrouded in silence, on caste oppression. The 11 stories located in a grim, dusty and poverty-stricken landscape, where human beings wreak havoc on their less fortunate brethren, rattle the readers’ belief in a supposedly secure and democratic society.

The title story, ‘Fear’, is an unnerving account of a terrified young man, Khodo, who is driven to suicide because of the sheer terror of upper caste men. The wrath of these men had driven his mother to hang herself for fear of dishonour and his father had been burnt alive. Khodo’s torment is excruciating as he endlessly relives his parents’ agony: “The more he tried to crush the fear lurking in his heart, the more it reared its head with all its fangs out.”

In ‘Cold Blood’, Chauhan takes a censorial view of those who try to shun their Dalit identities. Dr DB Parikh is a successful doctor who had changed his surname from Parmar to Parikh. He is rudely reminded of his origins when the upper caste people, who come groveling for medical help, gratefully accept the donation of his blood but reject a glass of water from his hands. Their denial, “so pitch perfect, so synchronous and so unanimous… could not have been unless it was rehearsed to death, planned with military astuteness and perfected for nothing less than centuries”.

‘Touch of Snake’ is about the distress of a Dalit couple whose only son has been bitten by a poisonous snake. As life ebbs out of the helpless boy, his parents’ piteous entreaties for help become more intense, but the so-called ‘holy’ man of the village does not “suck” the poison out, preferring to let the child die rather than “pollute” himself.

‘The Payback’ is an interesting counter-narrative where the author depicts a turnabout of fortunes of the ‘Savarnas’ and the otherwise scorned Dalits. During a famine, in the dead of the night, the upper caste villagers come to beg at the doorstep of a ‘dhe’ for dried carcass. However, the story is not without tragic irony.

In the entire collection, there’s only one story, ‘The Invasion’, which depicts a victory for the Dalits. Natho, a strong farm worker, tills a slender piece of government land. Miffed and threatened by his lush green field of pearl millet, upper class persons try to destroy his crop, but turn tail in the face of Natho’s fury.

Chauhan’s prose is brilliant. Conversations between the characters are unforced and true to life. The descriptions of the village settings are expressive and atmospheric. The translation by critically-acclaimed Hemang Ashwinkumar is on point, crisp and maintains the essence of Chauhan’s narration.