The Adivasi Will Not Dance (stories), Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, pp.189, Rs. 399, Speaking Tiger Publishing Pvt. Ltd, 2015.
According to the Anthropological Survey of India, there are about 4635 communities in India. Apart from the thousands of dialects, there are as many as 325 languages and 25 scripts derived from various linguistic families. (See: An Agenda for Cultural Action and Other Essays, K.N. Pannikar, pp.63) The landscape, the food, the attire, the mores and tradition – things that bind a collectivity, changes with every 50 kilometer. If this is true for the land, so it is for the literature which it produces in such copious quantity.
The Eastern part of India is the land of tribals and Adivasis. The landscape is full of bluest rivers, fecund forests, green mountains and paddy fields of stunning beauty. Hidden below the landscapes are minerals of vast, unimaginable, almost of fairy-tale proportion, worth trillions of dollars of profit for mining corporations.
To make things worse, the ruling class – the cosmos of babus, netas, journalists, industrialists, and sadly even academics, all of them are hell bent of promoting the idea of ‘development.’ In this world of political economy the idea is to transform all our villages into ghost cities. In the present collection of short stories written in chiseled English (and occasionally in local dialect) the author narrates to us stories about people who are trapped in between minerals and governmental greed.
Hansda’s world bristles with Santhals – wretched whores, gossip loving aunts, aviator sporting goons, sex addict businessmen, corrupt gutka chewing governmental officials, children who experiment with sex and ordinary people caught in communal riots. The mineral in the hinterland has created the mineral-bourgeoisie. This mineral-bourgeoisie, as you know well is a new category. Neither the sociologist nor the historian knew about them earlier. It barely existed a few decades ago. It is the free market’s worst creation. The mineral-bourgeoisie earns mammoth amounts of profit by getting access to the natural resource virtually at throwaway prices. It enjoys wealth that it does not create. It lacks manners. It is rough. It is ruthless in its pursuit of wealth. It badly desires to speak English and deep in its heart of heart suffers from inferiority complex. And most importantly, it does not shy away from killing – from murdering, extorting and yes, from debauching publicly like villains do in B-grade Bollywood movies.We are talking about a family of gangsters inspired by dark and murky Bollywood movie for whom killing is synonymous with living. To live in this world without value and meaning means to kill. Hansda has chronicled their lives with such brilliance that his work should occupy a high position among policy makers and social scientists. Someone has finally belled the cat.
I think this collection of short stories should be sent to the President of the Indian Republic. After all he and former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh are the chief architects of a model of economic system whose buttons are in the hands of the World Bank and the IMF. Sell everything they argue– rivers, mountains, forests to private corporations. This is their golden formula that is going to wipe misery from the poor’s eye.
We should ask the President to read aloud Hansda’s story in which the Adivasi is being beaten because he dares to ask the President the question: “what sort of development are you talking about Sir, when our fertile fields are being taken away by goondas, what is this charade Sir? Is your Constitution meant only for the rich and ultra-rich?”
These are some of the most important questions that are being hurled against the stony establishment today. Everybody wants development. But why must the poor always be the sacrificial beast? Can societies survive if they annihilate the fields, forests and rivers? Is our imagination so bankrupt that it cannot think about alternatives?
This collection of short stories was long overdue. I think it wouldn’t be unfair to say that finally the Ivan Turgenev of Indian literature has arrived. And what an entry! Bravo! We are impressed.
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