But yesterday, they came like a mountain, my people. They arrived in hordes, my men, yesterday! Black faces bearded with silver burning eyes red with rage burst through the blankets of sleep breaking the barriers of day breaching the bounds of night. Earth heaved in the mountains of my men and quaked to their dance of rage and those who crawled in lines of ants rose in paws of jungle beasts and those who crept like reptiles rose in cobra hoods. They rose, my men, in mountains shouting the red song: Down, down inequality,
Down Caste Hierarchy,Down the bug that fattens on money.
Ah, they flooded and flowed in rivers, my people, yesterday!”
Everybody is familiar with these verses and the poet who has penned his anguish and anger against the injustice meted out to the Dalit community. If his poems were firebrand, his autobiography touches the heart with its simplicity and subtle humour.
Dr Siddalingaiah’s autobiography A Word With You, World translated by S R Ramakrishna takes one into a world where poverty, casteism, corruption, illiteracy and deprivation have been rampant in society since ages. The translation of noted Kannada poet’s autobiography Ooru Keri, which was earlier written in two volumes, is humorous and poignant.
In the afterword written by distinguished critic Dr D R Nagaraj who says Siddalingaiah offers us a bonsai like compression of life, it seems perfectly apt. “This is a writing that makes rage pleasant. Here, anger becomes sarcasm. Ire is translated into a mischief that grasps the subtleties of life.”
Narrated simply, it is a touching account of the life of a man in different frames and times: The society, the landscape, the ups and downs in his personal, academic and professional lives. As one progresses from chapter to chapter where a chronological set of incidents and events in the poet’s life have been woven like tapestry, one can actually feel the vibrations of humiliation, hunger and poverty amid discrimination.
Narrating his early years when he was born in a village in Magadi taluk till he became a firebrand activist, the poet writes in a simple and invigorating manner without being bowed down by the anger or prejudices he would have encountered in different phases of his life. The travails of a young boy who knew the importance of education and the need to become educated have been told and retold in an interesting way with a sense of humour.
The noted poet outlines his journey from a Dalit colony on the edges of Magadi town where he would rather roam the hills and wade in rivers than attend school to the hardships of living in Dalit hostels in Bangalore city. Never despairing his poverty, he turns to poetry. He looks at the benefit of sleeping on the streets of Bangalore, “The imagination of people who sleep under the star-studded sky takes wing. They become close to the moon,” the poet writes.
Progressing from school to college days, one gets to see and hear his fiercely political and poetic voice mature as he tastes success as an orator and legislator, but his mood for mischief never diminishes. The book is unputdownable and one should make it a point to read the life sketch of a poet albeit in the background of social, economic and political changes in Karnataka of a particular period.
Dr Siddalingaiah is a major Kannada poet and one of the founders of the Dalit Sangharsha Samiti. He has also written two plays, and his doctoral research was on folk deities. He has served twice as member of the Karnataka Legislative Council. A professor at Bangalore University, he was chairman of Kannada Development Authority.