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Interrogating My Chandal Life

Interrogating My Chandal Life
An Autobiography of a Dalit

First Edition

February 2018 | 384 pages | SAGE Samya

Winner of The Hindu Prize 2018 (Non-fiction)
Shortlisted for the 3rd JIO MAMI Word to Screen Award 2018

If you insist that you do not know me, let me explain myself … you will feel, why, yes, I do know this person. I’ve seen this man.

With these words, Manoranjan Byapari points to the inescapable roles all of us play in an unequal society. Interrogating My Chandal Life: An Autobiography of a Dalit is the translation of his remarkable memoir Itibritte Chandal Jivan. It talks about his traumatic life as a child in the refugee camps of West Bengal and Dandakaranya, facing persistent want—an experience that would dominate his life. The book charts his futile flight from home to escape hunger, in search of work as a teenager around the country, only to face further exploitation. In Kolkata in the 1970s, as a young man, he got caught up in the Naxalite movement and took part in gang warfare. His world changed dramatically when he was taught the alphabet in prison at the age of 24—it drew him into a new, enticing world of books. After prison, he worked as a rickshaw-wallah and one day the writer Mahasweta Devi happened to be his passenger. It was she who led him to his first publication.

Today, as Sipra Mukherjee points out, ‘issues of poverty, hunger and violence have exploded the cautiously sewn boundaries of the more affluent world’, rendering archaic the comfortable distances between them. Despite ‘Chandal’ explicitly referring to a Dalit caste, this narrative weaves in and out of the margins. 

A Note by the Translator
East Bengal, Partition and West Bengal
Dandakaranya Rehabilitation Project, Food Riots and Calcutta
I Run Away from Home
My Lone Travels across East and North India
On the Road for Five Years
Return to Kolkata
My Entry into the Naxal Movement
To Dandakaranya and Back to a Changed Calcutta
Life on and around the Railway Station
A Bomb Explodes in Barddhaman
Into Jail and into the World of Letters
A Rickshaw-wallah’s Meeting with Mahasweta Devi
A Girl from the Past
To Dandakaranya, Dalli and Bastar
Chhatisgarh, Mukti Morcha and Shankar Guha Neogi
After Shankar Guha Neogi

An inspirational story of a refugee, he was so poor that his sister died of starvation and his father from lack of treatment. He only learn to read and write as an adult when he was jailed on charges of being a nexallite. Today he is an award winning author, popular not just in his native Bengal but across India. Byapari pens down his own story with anger of the others who continue to live in abject poverty and as objects of social prejudice.

DNA, 25 March 2018

The book follows Byapari’s journey from the partition that forced hus family to relocate to Calcutta, through the tumults of the Naxal movement and the Baster revolution headed by Shankar Guha Neogi-both of which Byapari was part of –to his rise as an established author.

Byapri’s investigation into his identity is layered .Besides his cause identity –Byapari is a Namashudra- he has also been a refugee, a Bangal, a Naxal, a communist, an activist, a writer and so on. Byapari autobiography talks of things that have been written about many times. But the voices from within are few and far between, even these rarely find their way into the so-called mainstream.

THE TELEGRAPH, 22 Jun 2018

“Byapari’s narrative is about the need for compassion and dignity in all human relationships…is powerful, affecting memoir about hunger and deprivation also endurance, struggle and a fierce will to live.”

The Hindu

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ISBN: 9789381345139