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Speak Memory (Oral Histories of Kodaikanal Dalites)

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About the Author An experienced professor of English and teacher of German, Dr N Thirumaleshwara Bhat (1939) established himself as a translator during the decades of his long association with Prof K S Haridasa Bhat of Udupi. A multi-language scholar, he first ventured into translation by rendering Masti Venkatesha Iyengar's novelette Subbanna into German. Though he has translated many works in English into Kannada, his main forte is in translating from Kannada into English. Chief among his wor...
About the Author

An experienced professor of English and teacher of German, Dr N Thirumaleshwara Bhat (1939) established himself as a translator during the decades of his long association with Prof K S Haridasa Bhat of Udupi. A multi-language scholar, he first ventured into translation by rendering Masti Venkatesha Iyengar's novelette Subbanna into German. Though he has translated many works in English into Kannada, his main forte is in translating from Kannada into English. Chief among his works in translation include: Dr TMA Pai (Prof K S Haridasa Bhat), The Gospel of Life (Swami Jagadatmanandaji), Halabara Jolige (Jayamma Chettimada), Puppetry in Karnataka (S A Krishnayya), Kadyanata (A V Navada), Marionettes of Yakshagana (Uppinakudru Bhaskara Kamath), Olasiri (Dr Ashoka Alva), Offer Sacrificial (Kuvempu), Abhimanyu (Yakshagana Prasanga), Manteswami (Folk Epic), Junjappa (Folk Epic), and several short works of Dr Chandrashekhara Udupa. The Kendra Sahitya Akademi published his monograph on Rashtrakavi Govind Pai. His works in Kannada include: Dorakida Dan; Shastra-Prayoga. For promoting Indo-German understanding, he was awarded the "Order of Merit" by the President of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1993.

Na Mogasale (1944) an eminent Kannada litterateur was born in Kasargod. At present, he resides at Kanthavara where through his literary and cultural organizations like the Kanthavara Kannada Sangha, the Allama Prabhu Peetha and the Vardhamana Prashasthi Peetha, he has made Kanthavara a literary and cultural centre. He has also served for 37 years as a Government Medical Officer in Kanthavara. He is best known for his voluminous novels, poems and short stories. Of his many novels, Ullanghane (Defiance) and Mukhanthara (The Other Face) are considered his major works. His Kannada novel Ullanghane also bagged him four awards including the Kannada Sahitya Academy Award, the Kuvempu Prashasti (Shimoga), the Chaduranga Prashasti (Mysore), and the Chadaga Prashasti (Bangalore). Manipal Universal Press has also published Defiance the English translation of his novel Ullanghane.


Dalits, their history, the changes that have taken place and their memories are r- the centre of my preoccupations for the last few years. I have been exploring these aspects through oral history, which involved a good deal of fieldwork in two villages, or more precisely in two Dalit colonies (ceri) of the Kodaikanal hills in western Tamil Nadu. The location of the study, the climate, the landscapes, and the altitude of the villages are in contrast to most of the Tamil country, which is often close to sea level, and much drier and hotter.' All these have an influence on the life conditions and on daily life (accessibility to goods, mobility, housing, clothing) in the villages, although they share with most Tamil villages the major characteristics in terms of social hierarchy and organisation. The two villages I stayed at are Puduputtur and Villpatti. Both are spread around a few streets only, and the division between the ur (ur) and the ceri (ceri) is clearly delineated. Only a few kilometres away as the crow flies, it takes about four hours by bus to go from one place to the other via Kodaikanal. Family ties between the two villages result in frequent visits of people from one village to the other. Consequently, people and information circulate.

As I present this translation of my revised doctoral manuscript, I wish to reflect upon all aspects of the process of my oral history work in order to bring out the context of the knowledge produced by this research. Let me begin by explaining what led me to work on Dalit history. At first, the caste system, foreign to me, triggered my curiosity. My specific interest in Dalits, however, grew on seeing the clear delineation and the very obvious differences between the ceri and the ur in some Tamil villages. After this expo-sure, a host of questions started to emerge relating to the very ways untouchability has been and is still experienced. What it is/was and how it feels/felt to be a Dalit? When does a Dalit realise he is a Dalit? What kind of interactions do Dalits have with non-Dalits? How, if at all, are the discriminations justified? Are these questions often raised by Dalits themselves, or by non-Dalits? Are the consequences of small and everyday life actions of discrimination on the Dalits' minds and bodies thought about? In the Indian context where officially equality is guaranteed' but in practice caste discrimination still exists in most spheres of life, I do think these concerns need to be addressed in order to develop empathy, and a greater awareness of the consequences of certain types of behaviour and practices on people's lives and minds. The history of this section of the population should be known, and written.

This study thus aims at being a modest contribution to the literary and academic work to give the Dalits, and their subjectivities, a better visibility in a society often indifferent to Dalits or choosing to remain ignorant about them. Writing about the past is to force society to face the truth: while caste discrimination is a problem of the past, it is also one of the present. This book, hopefully, will contribute to challenging flawed conceptions of the reality of caste (caste as not being relevant anymore, as a contemporary incongruity, or as an anachronism) many people have, especially in urban India or even abroad. And even if a balance between commitment and distance needs to be found for mature reflection, may this study also contribute to the social movement of Dalit literature and history "invested in the battle against injustice and driven by the hope of freedom".


Suruli is a Cakkiliyar, a Dalit) He lives in the ceri of Puduputtur, a small village atop the Palni Hills which, despite its remoteness, features the traditional caste divisions and discrimination. Suruli is about fifty-five, but neither does he know his exact age nor care much about it; he and many of his peers count their age in units of five years. He is proud to have seen his cherished desire come true: to see his son learn English and become proficient in it. After nursing this dream for a good twenty years, unthinkable in his community up till then, Suruli, when we met him at the Kodaikanal bus station, was on his way to visit his son who had recently been appointed as a teacher of English in a college in the plains. He was clean-shaven and wearing formal dress, a white dhoti, and travelling with his wife, Murugayammal, and one of his nephews. He stood there proudly because his dream had come true, one that he had realised by hard work and sheer tenacity. This was a historic day in his life and that of his community too. Suruli, however, expressed his fear of his son becoming distant from his family and village, once he got used to what was available in the plains.

Cinnamani, Suruli's son, is twenty-eight. He is a polite young man, proud of being the first Cakkiliyar in his village to get higher education and obtain a degree. He currently teaches English in a college and during class, when his students are busy doing their exercises, he is sometimes surprised to find himself thinking of the road he has been travelling since his childhood.

I'm feeling very happy. And, if I'm taking (i.e. teaching) class in my college, sometimes I'll ask my students to go through something, so in the gap, I will feel like this. (...) See, we are from a remote area, we are Dalit people, and even high-caste people from Puduputtur, [they] are not able to have [or] take class. They are not able to teach, but we Dalit people are getting [a] chance. Yeah, I'm feeling very happy.

He continues to be amazed, despite the many personal and family sacrifices it entailed, how he has obtained a post that even high-caste people from his village cannot hope for. Historical circumstances and, equally, the engagement of his family where no other child has been educated, have contributed to his achieving this career, which is sufficiently out of the ordinary to arouse the admiration of people beyond his community. These father and son are two among dozens of witnesses we had the privilege of questioning about their lives, their experiences and their pasts. The paths of Suruli and Cinnamani differ in every way though their stories are linkers, by blood naturally, and by their community which has determined the challenges faced by each of them. These stories, in the words of Cakkiliyar witnesses, in all their complexity and richness, form the heart of this book, and its raison d'etre, and its basis.

**Contents and Sample Pages**

Item Code: NAQ778 Author: Alexandra de Heering Cover: PAPERBACK Edition: 2018 Publisher: Institut Francais De Pondichery ISBN: 9788184702200 Language: English Size: 9.50 X 6.50 inch Pages: 423 (Throughout B/W Illustrations) Other Details: Weight of the Book: 0.7 Kg
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