Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Notes on Joothan: A Dalit's Life by Omprakash Valmiki and 'My Dungeon Shook'- James Baldwin

Joothan: A Dalit’s Life                                                                     Omprakash Valmiki

Valmikiakash Valmiki is a great poet and short story writer in Hindi Dalit Literature.  “Joothan” is an autobiographical account of his miserable birth and life. Omprakash believes his lineage starts from Valmiki, the great author of Indian epic The Ramayana and says that even the great Rishi Valmiki is a Joothan (sweeper caste). “Joothan’ literally means scraps of food left on a plate. It is related to the word ‘jootha’ which means ‘polluted. The word reflects pain, humiliation and poverty of the untouchables.
Omprakash Valmiki’s family was in the colony of the village where the untouchables lived. ‘Chuhra, Chamar and Jhinwar are the caste names of these untouchables.  Tyagi, Taga are the upper caste people of both Hindus and Muslims. Valmiki’s home was in front of the stinking cowshed of an upper caste family. On the one side there was a pond and on the other side, there were high walls of the brick homes of the Tagas. In his family there were five members.  All of them worked hard, yet they couldn’t get two decent meals a day.  Most often they had no payment for their work. Instead, they got only abuse from the upper caste masters
Valmiki learned to read and write from Sewak Ram Masihi who was a Christian.  It was an open air school.  After that Valmiki’s father took him to the Basic Primary School. Valmiki’s father begged the master of the school to teach his son. Master asked him to come the next day, and Valmiki and his father kept going for several days and finally Valmiki was allowed to study there. Valmiki had to sit on the floor where there was not a mat even.  The children of the upper caste used to tease him by calling ‘Chuhre k’.   If he was thirsty, he would run to the hand-pump to drink water. All the teachers belonged to the upper caste and they hated the untouchable boys and Valmiki was often punished and insulted by the teachers and students of the school. If the untouchable boys dressed well, they would be laughed at and if they were shabbily dressed, others would ask them to get out because they were stinking!
When Valmiki reached fourth class, Kaliram, the headmaster  asked Valmiki to sweep every class room and the poor had to climb the teak tree and made a broom of its twigs and began to sweep. After that he was asked to sweep the school compound. The dust and heat entered his mouth and nostrils and he went on sweeping, while other students were studying in their class rooms! On the third day, while the boy was sweeping the school yard, his father passed by the school and saw what his son was doing. He called his son ‘Munshiji what are you doing?’ The boy burst out sobbing. Valmiki told everything to his father. Pithaji threw away the broom and shouted at the headmaster and called him ‘the progeny of Dronacharya.
 Pitaji went door to door of the upper caste people and begged them to let his son study in the same school. But they all shut their doors against the poor old man and his son Valmiki. Still he was not disappointed. Finally he walked to the house of the village Pradhan and explained to him about the cruelties of the headmaster and begged him to allow his son to be taught in the school. Pradhanji told Valmiki’s father not to worry about the past, but send his son to the same school and there would be no more trouble for him. Thus the determination of Valmiki’s father helped Valmiki to continue his education in the same school.                                                                                                                      Kjt/29-03-2017

My Dungeon Shook                                                                                  James Baldwin

James Arthur Baldwin is a great African-American writer. His first novel is ‘Go Tell it on the Mountain’. This essay ‘My Dungeon Shook’ is quoted from the book titled ‘Fire Next Time’ which was published in the year 1963, the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation issued by Abraham Lincoln, abolishing slavery in the USA. The title ‘My Dungeon Shook’ is quoted from the ‘old Negro spiritual.
This essay is in the form of a letter written to the author’s nephew James. Baldwin tells his nephew that his grandfather was very soft at heart and he was so innocent that he blindly believed whatever the whites told him. He was told that he was a ‘nigger’ and he believed it. ‘Nigger’ is the most dirty and vulgar name given to a human being. The grandfather thought of himself a cursed dirty slave and worked for the whites throughout his life. Thus the grandfather destroyed himself. This is why he had a terrible life and he was defeated long before he died.
Baldwin says that the black could be destroyed only when they blindly believed what the whites told them. For example the whites called the blacks a nigger. Any man of common sense knows well that human being is not a nigger or insect. The whites have committed many crimes. They enslaved and tortured thousands of blacks and imprisoned them in the dark cells because the blacks never believed what the whites told them and never accepted them as their masters. Therefore the blacks could not be defeated in spite of innumerable cruelties and persecutions.  But the whites are so stupid that they themselves don’t know the seriousness of their crime. They believed for many years that black men are inferior to whites. This is why Baldwin sarcastically calls them ‘the innocent’.
The black were brought from Africa in ships and forced them to work as slaves in farms and homes of the whites for many centuries. The blacks silently suffered these cruelties and lived in miserable living conditions. Charles Dickens, the famous English novelist explains misery and poverty of the black people in his novels.  The black children were born in the slums of the cities and they were sent to orphanages and workhouses. For the whites, the black is a worthless human being and he must live and perish in the ghetto.
Referring to the birth of his nephew, Baldwin says that on the day when he was born, they all trembled with fear because of the sufferings the child will have to undergo in his life as a black in the USA. Still they were very happy and thrilled with joy because a boy was born to them; one more black soldier is born to the black community to fight for full citizenship rights. So they loved him and thus they survived. Baldwin says that if the blacks had not loved each other, they would have been perished long ago.
According to James Baldwin, the white Americans are afraid of the strength and capacity of the Blacks to dominate the whites in all fields of life, such as sports and games, literature, music and art. This is why the black are given the symbols of life- nigger, ghetto, and ask them to be slaves of the whites. For many centuries, the black man has functioned as a fixed star in the white man’s world and worked for him as his slave, but with the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation Law by Abraham Lincoln, slavery was abolished. It was a rude shock to the ‘innocent whites’ of America. This terrible law upset their identity. They are no longer masters and the blacks are no more slaves. It is a terrible paradox for the whites.  For many centuries, the whites thought of themselves as superior to the blacks, the slave. Baldwin reminds his nephew that the blacks have produced great poets, prophets and artists of the world. ‘The Old Negro spiritual is not only a prayer to God but also a great poem composed by an unknown Negro slave who with tears of joy falling down his cheeks, knelt down in the farm where he was working, praises God Almighty, when he heard the Emancipation Proclamation abolishing slavery. 
 Baldwin advises his nephew to treat these whites as his brothers and thus the Blacks and the whites should accept the integration. The whites should also accept the reality that the black are their brothers and not slaves. This is the integration of America.

 The old Negro spiritual
“Free at last,
Free at last, free at last,
Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last.
The very time I thought I was lost,
Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last;
My dungeon shook and my chains fell off,
Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last,
This is religion, I do know,
Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last;
For I never felt such a love before,
Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last.


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