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The past is best forgotten. But, as Daya Pawar writes in his seminal autobiographical work Baluta, “…the past is stubborn, it will not be erased so easily.” How true this is, one feels while reading Dagdu’s (Dagdu Maruti Pawar was his name) story. “Many Dalits may see what I am doing here as someone picking through a pile of garbage. A scavenger’s account of his life. But he who does not know his past cannot direct his future,” says Daya Pawar.

Baluta first appeared in Marathi in 1978, the first Dalit autobiography to be published. It caused a sensation, and soon acquired the status of a classic of modern Indian literature. It was translated into Hindi and other major Indian languages, and proved a major bestseller. Now, for the first time it has been translated into English by author Jerry Pinto.

The leading lights of Marathi literature like Pu La Deshpande had welcomed Baluta as an eye-opener for the society, and showered praises on Daya Pawar for his creative use of language which was “not merely that of revolt but of a deeply introspecting analytical intellectual.”

Set in Mumbai and rural Maharashtra of the 1940s and ’50s, Baluta describes in shocking detail the practice of untouchability and caste violence. But it also speaks of the pride and courage of the Dalit community that often fought back for dignity.

Most unusually, Baluta is also a frank account of the author’s own failings and contradictions—his passions, prejudices and betrayals—as also those of some leading lights of the Dalit movement. In addition, it is a rare record of life in Maharashtra’s villages and in the slums, chawls and gambling dens of Mumbai.

Daya Pawar is no more. He died in 1996. Baluta in English was long overdue, and Jerry Pinto and his publisher must be congratulated for the feat. It’s never easy to translate – when Namdeo Dhasal approached Vijay Tendulkar to write the introduction for Golpitha (1972), the acclaimed playwright was frank enough to admit Dhasal’s collection of poems described a world he, an upper caste, had never breathed in. Many Marathi words in Golpitha were foreign to Tendulkar, and Dhasal had to help him with them. Of course, Tendulkar being who he was, wrote an introduction with sensitivity and understanding.

In today's world dominated by the culture of advertising and marketing, wherein even the miseries of the poor are glamorized, Daya Pawar’s writing will prove an eye-opener for many.

Do look for a short extract from the translation in the book section…

-- Editor

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