The Hindi writer Ajay Navaria said in an interview, “We are not Dalits 24 hours a day”. This statement may seem puzzling. Some may think, How can one escape one’s identity at will? The signifier ‘Dalit’ isn’t a uniform that a person can put on for some time and then change into another, right? Well, I struggled with interpreting the statement for some time too. If the reader goes through Tanya Singh’s Blue is the Colour I Choose, it might offer some explanations.
Tanya Singh, similar to Navaria, has been a Professor at a reputed university. In her debut collection, she writes as a Dalit woman. Many of her poems are written through this perspective. But this is not the only reason why this collection is important. It assumes significance rather because in her poems, she also gives us a glimpse of her life as just another regular person going about her every day routine, without thinking incessantly about being Dalit.
In her poem Stares, she writes about a funny incident regarding her experience in a café, when she should have pushed the café door instead she pulls it, expecting it to open. She feels that people were staring at her. This is the entire poem. While it may seem like an inconsequential little verse, it proves a couple of important points. The first is concerning the humanity of Dalit people. In a charged political scenario where identity takes precedence over everything else, we sometimes forget that Dalits are also made of flesh and bones, just like any other person regardless of their caste.
In fact, had it not been for news on the media concerning yet another atrocity, we would be forgiven for believing in the caste system like something that exists only in one’s imagination. But it is as real and fundamental as air in a closed room. The second point is that this poem which is about a café door is regarding the social location of the poet, her privilege vis-à-vis majority of Dalits around India. The poet is writing from a space which makes such an experience in a café possible. She accepts the privilege that she enjoys as a person brought up in a metro city, however fraught it may be. In the poem Rain, she writes;
“… Outside my car,
a beggar-kid carrying another beggar-kid;
perhaps his brother,
on the piss-water-filled road
my dry eyes soaking their wet bodies
they looked at me piercing through the thin glass window,
unfathomable thoughts dripping from their head.
I looked at them again
suddenly conscious of my fancy bag
and expensive underwear,
And then turned away
with my urban,
Other poems in the collection, similarly point to the guilt that she feels belonging to a class that is better off, but it is also true that her perspective as an articulate young female poet writing in English is significant. Her collection urges other young people from the community to publish their work and continue to work towards realizing their dream.
Blue is the Colour I Choose contains poems that have their origin in casual evening hangouts with savarna people, and draws content from conversations that take place in such settings. Poems like Circle give an insight into the lives of oppressors:
“I wrote letters to my grandfather in Sanskrit,
he always insisted so”, said she.
“Learning classical dance and music is a part
of our childhood training, reiterated another.
They always have such stories to tell,
their incestual club of
heritage, culture, legacy,
the grand names of their predecessors;
Chaudharis, Chaturvedis, Chauhans,
their poojas, gods, gurus,
cotton and silk saris,
sweets and cooking recipes,
It shifts the gaze back to savarnas and makes them know what the other side thinks of them. In the words of James Baldwin, ‘The victim who is able to articulate the situation of the victim has ceased to be a victim: he or she has become a threat.’
Poems of affirmation also abound in the collection, which are a pleasure to read. In New Day, Tanya Singh writes,
The savarnas make history
The Dalits make future”
It shows her belief in the idea that Dalits do not just live in the present, they also share a vision for the future. It is true that days in the future certainly hold a lot more hope for Dalits.We need more poets like Tanya Singh to show us the path where everyone is given the opportunity to speak their truth.
Tanya Singh should be read because of poems wherein she asserts her humanity in the face of violence and censure. Congratulations are due to Panther’s Paw for giving a platform to Tanya and for making it a priority to support voices like hers.
Chanchal Kumar is from Jharkhand and currently lives in Delhi, India. His poems have previously appeared and awarded in The Sunflower Collective, Hamilton Stone Review, Welter Journal, Name and None, Young Poets Network, UK including others. Recently, his poems were translated to Bengali by Harakiri Journal. He is pursuing M.Phil at University of Delhi.