The questions in this section are based on a single passage. The questions are to be answered on the basis of what is stated or implied in the passage.
In Mann Joseph's debut novel Serious Men, the protagonist, Ayyan Mani, is a scheming Dalit-Buddhist who almost gets away with passing off his partially deaf son, Adi, as a prodigy, a genius who can recite the first 1,000 prime numbers. The garb of satire where almost every character cuts a sorry figure-gives the author the licence to offer one of the most bleak and pessimistic portrayals of urban Dalits Despite his savage portrayal of Dalit (and female) characters—or perhaps because of it-Serious Men has won critical appreciation from a cross-section of readers and critics.
At a time when a formidable body of Dalit literature - writing by Dalits about Dalit lives - has created a distinct space for itself, how and why is it that a novel such as Serious Men,
with its gleefully skewed portrayal of an angry Dalit man, manages to win such accolades? In American literature—and particularly in the case of African-American authors and characters-these issues of representation have been debated for decades. But in India, the sustained refusal to address issues related to caste in everyday life—and the continued and unquestioned predominance of a Brahminical stranglehold over cultural production-have led us to a place where non-Dalit portrayal of Dalits in literature, cinema and art remains the norm.
The journey of modern Dalit literature has been a difficult one. But even though it has not necessarily enjoyed the support of numbers, we must engage with what Dalits are writing—not simply for reasons of authenticity, or as a concession to identity politics, but simply because of the aesthetic value of this body of writing, and for the insights it offers into the human condition. In a society that is still largely unwilling to recognise Dalits as equal, rights-bearing human beings, in a society that is inherently indifferent to the everyday violence against Dalits, in a society unwilling to share social and cultural resources equitably with Dalits unless mandated by law (as seen in the anti-reservation discourse), Dalit literature has the potential to humanise non-Dalits and sensitise them to a world into which they have no insight. But before we can understand what Dalit literature is seeking to accomplish, we need first to come to terms with the stranglehold of non-Dalit representations of Dalits.
Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance, published 15 years ago, chronicles the travails of two Dalit characters-uncles Ishvar and nephew Om Prakash—that migrate to Bombay and yet cannot escape brutality. While the present of the novel is set at the time of the Emergency, Ishvar's father Dukhi belongs to the era of the anti-colonial nationalist movement. During one of Dukhi's visits to the town, he chances upon a meeting of the Indian National Congress, where speakers spread the "Mahatma's message regarding the freedom struggle, the struggle for justice," and wiping out "the disease of untouchability; ravaging us for centuries, denying dignity to our fellow human beings."
Neither in the 1940s, .where the novel's past is set, nor in the Emergency period of the 1970s-when the minds and bodies Ishvar and Omprakash, are savaged by the state-do we find any mention of a figure like B.R. Ambedkar or of Dalit movements. In his 'nationalist' understanding of modem Indian history, Mistry seems to have not veered too far from the road charted by predecessors like Mulk Raj Anand and Premchand. Sixty years after Premchand, Mistry's literary imagination seems stuck in the empathy-realism mode, trapping Dalits in abjection. Mistry happily continues the broad stereotype of the Dalit as a passive sufferer, without consciousness of caste politics.