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Redeeming the Silence

A Nomad Called Thief: Reflections on Adivasi Silence by G N Devy; Orient Longman, Hyderabad, 2006; RUDOLF C HEREDIA In this collection of essays, Ganesh Devy constructs a mosaic, rather than choosing to paint a picture of the adivasi way of life. Parts of the mosaic are worked on in great detail, which in turn point to larger, open spaces for the reader to search and explore, contemplate and assimilate. Devy writes persuasively and with obvious conviction as he brings us face to face with a silence we have too long repressed. We do not seem to realise that in doing so we are inadvertently turning a blind eye to our own future. For Devy this silence has the seed of new possibilities and creative alternatives for a future that we can only hope for and reach out to, perhaps only very tentatively as yet.

Redeeming the Silence

A Nomad Called Thief: Reflections on Adivasi Silence

by G N Devy; Orient Longman, Hyderabad, 2006; pp 199, Rs 295.

RUDOLF C HEREDIA

I
n this collection of essays, Ganesh Devy constructs a mosaic, rather than choosing to paint a picture of the adivasi way of life. Parts of the mosaic are worked on in great detail, which in turn point to larger, open spaces for the reader to search and explore, contemplate and assimilate. Devy writes persuasively and with obvious conviction as he brings us face to face with a silence we have too long repressed. We do not seem to realise that in doing so we are inadvertently turning a blind eye to our own future. For Devy this silence has the seed of new possibilities and creative alternatives for a future that we can only hope for and reach out to, perhaps only very tentatively as yet.

The Nomad Thief symbolises the tribes once notified as criminal and now denotified by a government that still abandons them to very much the same plight and even exploits them further. The fate of these nomads epitomises the adivasi condition, presented here as a severe indictment of our society: the oppression it precipitates in the name of order, the displacement it justifies for the sake of development, the violence it perpetuates for the cause of peace, the alienation it perpetrates masquerading as progress. The fate of these tribals are subjected to is a sharp comment on the inhumanity of our society, when viewed from the perspectives and concerns of the last and least, the lost and the marginalised, the people we put out of sight because we cannot look them in the eye and own up to the responsibility of what we have done to them and what we have not done for them.

It would be temptingly facile to dismiss the concerns Devy projects in these essays as an incomplete, one-sided presentation, romanticising a “back to nature” Rousseauvian utopia. But it can more pertinently be read as an imaginative and incisive critique of our many presumptions and prejudices that have remained unexamined for long and have become indelibly imprinted in our minds and hearts.

The sweep of these essays covers a broad spectrum. They add up to a wide angled vision, a richly embellished mosaic, ranging from the detail minuting of a village discussion, to a learned discourse on “Language and Reality”, from the chilling “Kikiyario” cry of the adivasis of Gujarat to their haunting music as in “The Song of Orpheus”, from their seemingly incomprehensible “aphasia” to the ambiguities of their “lost paradise”, from the agonies of their “Incomplete Blood Cells”, to the synergies of the Pandarpur Vari in Maharashtra, from the unfolding of Devy’s personal diary to his “Reaching Out” with the institutions he has founded.

There are informative essays on regional language and oral traditions of knowledge, that are rewarding in their original and incisive insights, in particular on how a local dialectic of a regional language makes room for innovation and creativity in its more formalised language of reference. He understands a dialect as “a necessary component, not as a decaying remnant” (p 93). Indeed, for Devy “a language without dialects will tend to become a heap of clichés” (p 94). It loses its imaginative power even as it may achieve grammatical purity and the power ofabstraction. This makes for a convincing argument for linguistic pluralism.

The discussion on development arrives at the tribals’ own articulation of what this must mean, which Devy summarises thus: “development implies creating villages where starvation and deprivation do not force people to migrate out of the village, where no one dies of malnutrition, where no one becomes a bonded labourer under the burden of debt, where no one is exploited because he/she is illiterate, and where every patient has some access to medical facilities” (p 128). This is a dream of self-reliance and sharing in inclusive community, not a nightmare of greed and competition in globalised dependence.

The essays move easily between different genres: from classificatory tables to group dialogues, from philosophical speculations and analysis to imaginative narratives and parables, and finally conclude with “Gandhi Again, and Never Again”. Here Devy sketches his deeply Gandhian vision of “aparigraha” and “samata” which he comes to after a long journey, a pilgrimage, a “Vari” on which he invites us all.

Ganesh Devy has walked a long road with the adivasis of Tejgadh, where he has set up the Bhasha Sashtra Kendra’s Adivasi

Economic and Political Weekly October 21, 2006 Academy. As with most genuine pedagogues, he has by his own admission learnt more than he has taught. His deeply empathetic and sensitive construction of the advasi way of life poses a question that will not go away. In our unease in coping with a question that cannot be repressed, we have all too readily fallen to suppressing the questioner. Devy has learnt from their silence and found a redemption, albeit on the micro-scale of his community involvement. But we cannot help sensing that even on the larger canvas of our society the salvation of our all too vulnerable and terrorised humanity needs what these indigenous, counter-cultures can teach us, if only we will learn from them. Instead we keep hurtling down a catastrophic path even when we intuit that sooner rather than later we must turn back on it, before we cross the point of no return and reach a dead end.

EPW

Email: rudiheredia@gmail.com

Economic and Political Weekly October 21, 2006

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