During the award ceremony of M. Harish Govind Prize, many asked me why I need a “Dalit Poet” labeling. They were shocked that there were just a handful of Dalit poets who write in English and have registered their visibility. The English literary gathering seems to be so ignorant of the girth in the literatures available in the vernacular. Many Dalit poets writing in their respective vernaculars have – and are in a league of their own. Poets like Namdeo Dhasal are considered worthy of the Nobel Prize by reputed critics like Sachin Ketkar, S. Joseph who is widely celebrated as the best poet writing in Malayalam since the legendary Balachandran Chullikadu era.
Why I am an Indian English Dalit poet?
Because my poems and myself intend to provoke a discussion about caste – the contemporaneity of caste, not as a relic of a bygone era. It is an ongoing battle and this needs to be documented.
Do you think it constrains you?
No. Absolutely not. In fact being a Dalit poet drives one to a unique vantage point of being endowed with razor sharp subversive potential – in this choice of themes for his poems as well as in the spirit for experimentation, to push the envelope on exploring the limits of expression in his or her language.
Other ramifications of labeling?
Whether an individual needs to assert his marginalized subjectivity should be best left to him. The heart of identity of politics is “who decides what for whom”?. So the choice to name oneself should be left to the poet himself. This reminds me of a debate in the 1950s about Negritude – word coined by Aimé Césaire and this very coinage being challenged by Wole Soyinka- the first “black” man to win Nobel Prize in literature asm “A tiger does not proclaim his tigritude, he pounces”.. Does this word Negritude help trigger a humungous amount of cultural criticism and help build a platform of resistance against colonial /racist system?
Can we rally behind a word without being cramped with political correctness? Will it tether my imagination?
Does adhering to the contours of a name , like that of negritude which may have emanated from a the principle of “birds of a feather , flock together” may help us identified in history and avoid the situation like this.
“I met History once, but he ain’t recognize me,
a parchment Creole, with warts” – Schooner’s Flight , Derek Walcott..
I know my story is not unique. I proudly share and celebrate an FB post of fellow poet Akhil Katyal who identifies himself as a poet with an added subjectivity of being a member of a sexual minority.
“Why do you guys have this Pride parade?”
He asked genuinely, “Why all the drama?
We don’t shout ‘I’m hetero, I’m hetero.'”
I said “Of course, of course, when you
got married, you didn’t sit on a horse, didn’t
parade about town, never wore a crown.”
Chandramohan S is an Indian English Dalit poet and literary critic based in Trivandrum, Kerala. He is part of the P.K. Rosi Foundation, a cultural collective (named after the legendary, pioneering Dalit actress) that seeks to de-marginalize Dalit-Bahujans. His poems were shortlisted for Srinivas Rayaprol Poetry Prize 2016. His second collection of poems is titled “Letters to Namdeo Dhasal” is just published. A few of his poems have been used at many protest in addition to being anthologized in LAND: An Anthology of Indo-Australian Poetry (edited by Rob Harle) and 40 poets under 40 (edited by Nabina Das and Semeen Ali). He was instrumental in organizing literary meets of English poets of Kerala for the Ayyappa Panicker Foundation and for Kritya Poetry festival. In year 2016, OUTLOOK magazine had profiled him as one of the high achievers from the Dalit community in addition being an aspiring rapper. He is currently collaborating with a musician to make a rap album of Dalit poetry.