ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Imagining a Casteless and Classless Society

Poet of the Revolution: The Memoirs and Poems of Lal Singh Dil translated by Nirupama Dutt (New Delhi: Viking /Penguin), 2012; pp 216, Rs 399.

The colonial state in India attempted to marginalise Punjabi through policies that denied the language all forms of state patronage. However, both as a colloquial language and a literary tradition Punjabi thrived during the colonial period. Mir (2010) argues that Punjabi literary culture enjoyed relative autonomy from the colonial state practices particularly vis-à-vis certain other Indian vernacular languages such as Hindi, Urdu and Bengali. This relative autonomy allowed the language greater scope for continuity with precolonial practices. Punjabi literary culture has therefore always offered an example of stability as people and institutions in the region traversed the divide between precolonial and colonial rule. It also continues to play a significant role in understanding the sociocultural and political aspects of Punjabi society.

Lal Singh’s poetic and other writings have been widely considered as a contribution to the Punjabi literary tradition especially in the context of the sociocultural and political turmoil in Punjab (the 1960s), when the Naxalbari and leftist movements were at their peak. The memoirs and poems of Lal Singh Dil have exposed the untold aspects of life of a dalit poet-revolutionary. His main protagonists were landless dalits, agricultural workers, still others were daily wage earners and the unemployed. His writings come to us as a mix of both the neo-Marxist and subaltern approach being used to understand Punjabi society in the postcolonial context. Dil exposes in his autobiography the caste-based composition of leftist cadres in Punjab, which was the immediate historical reason for the withdrawal of dalit support to the Naxalite movement in the 1960s. Dil’s poetic instincts never rejected the significance of religion and the revolutionary way of life. In fact, he carved his own identity from both perspectives. As a poet, Dil incorporated both his revolutionary and cultural instincts and tried to give shape particularly to his own identity under the framework of both discourses. Arguably, the emergence of the dalit consciousness in the state was manifest in dalit creative writings.

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