Book Review: Anand Mahanand’s “Lo(k)cal knowledge: Perceptions on Dalit, Tribal and Folk Literature” | Authorspress

Local knowledge as the answer to Global Predicaments

Year of publication: 2013 ISBN: 978-81-7273-735-1 | Hard Cover | Cost: INR 450

The readers of this book cannot miss the author’s ingenuity in giving an apt title to the book. The term ‘Lok’ in the context of the marginal discourses in India refers to the folk, oral, native, and geo-specific epistemologies that have their own distinct characters, features, and world-views. The formation of the adjective ‘Lo(k)cal’ attests to the author’s belief in the importance of the native discourses of India  which are varied, disparate yet very important in the present context of the critique of the dominant and hegemonic socio-economic, literary, and cultural discourses which have affected the course of our country’s history. The division of the book into three main sections also throws significant light upon the concerns of the author in focusing on the varied aspects of the rich repositories of knowledge contained in the ‘Lok’ traditions of Indian subcontinent. Anand Mahanand gives ample scope for the discussion of the significance of these marginal discourses by a close hermeneutic reading of the works pertaining to this native tradition.

The first section of the book contains the critical readings of various important voices of the marginal discourses like Laxman Gaikwad, Laxman Mane, Bama, C.K. Janu, Basudev Sunani, Narayan and others. One of the pertinent questions dealing with the marginal or Dalit discourses in India has been the discussion of the use of autobiography, personal narrative, poetry, and memoirs as the media to narrate the spine chilling experiential and ontological predicaments of the Dalits and the marginalised communities of our country. Mahanand makes a serious effort to answer this question of the self-representation of Dalits in this section. We can accept the author’s conviction that the silenced and mute voices of the land get a platform through these genres as they are closely associated with the deep rooted oral and folk traditions ingrained in the cultural memory of these various communities and tribes.

The basic premise of articulation for these dispossessed communities is a self-reflexive and conscious narration of the true incidents of their sufferings and humiliation through the first person narrative as the author points out aptly. This observation then draws our attention to another important fact in the minority discourses- the oppressed are representing themselves without any other external influence of the oppressors. This very fact has been the corner stone of several anti-colonial, anti-caste, anti-establishment, and counter-hegemonic discourses all around the globe. This assertion is supported by the author’s contestation of the discourses of colonialism, casteism, and globalisation through his close reading of the marginal texts from various parts of the country. In a very precise and clear manner, he pricks at these discourses by constantly proving that the homogenization and reductionism of the dominant discourses can be effectively dealt by local/lokal discourses. He says aptly that: “If we study the tribal perspective with careful attention, they stand independent and assert themselves for a specific identity of their own, and that should be respected.” (23).This shows the author’s firm belief in the value of these native discourses.

The second section continues the argument of the first section by actually providing the models of lokal knowledge contained in the tradition of folk tales and narratives pertaining to Odisha. The section is embellished with the explication of various genres of folktales, performative traditions, poetics, and philosophy of the tribals or adivasis. The author’s effort in providing a sound argumentative base for his thesis in the first section can be inferred by reading this very interesting and rich section of the book. The hegemonic discourses have constantly demonized or devalued the local knowledges as we know through the works of Edward Said, Ngugi wa Thiongo, Chinua Achebe and many others. Anand Mahanand picks up the insights of these scholars and tries here to argue that the lokal knowledge is as pertinent as the mainstream knowledge forwarded by the forces in power. Drawing our attention to the rich Katha tradition of storytelling in India, the author contextualises the tradition by culling out examples from the western region of Odisha. The efficacy of the folk tales, the moral education implied for children, the wisdom and charm of the stories get highlighted in this section. The wisdom of these folk tales as the author stresses can be used for practical purposes and pedagogical benefits too. The author’s wide ranging scholarship can be realised through his comparative reading of works from other languages like Kannada and Marathi while discussing about the Odisha folk traditions and performances.

The last section of the book deals with the pedagogical implications of using such lokal knowledges to strive for more compassionate, inclusive, and creative world views. Anand Mahanand here stresses on the importance of English for the upliftment of the downtrodden community learners through an “integrative position” that supports the inclusion of English in the curricula for the learners coming from poor back grounds (91). But one major aspect of his assertion is that he succinctly focuses on the socio-cultural milieu of these learners – which is very apt because one cannot ignore the cultural background of the learners. He then gives us various examples of his own research and experiments done in Odisha focusing on the Gonda community. His recommendations for better pedagogy are: a) exposure to English language and knowledge produced through various media; b) extensive reading practices to help the learners increase their proficiency; c) proper motivation for the learners; and d) opportunities to use English as a spoken and written medium. The interesting and very valuable contribution of the author in this discussion of pedagogical implications of English language is the appendix of various tribal genres and forms of expression quintessential to native language speakers. Through an effective translation method, these tribal knowledges can be used in English classrooms to help the learners to acquire various language skills. The author’s honest and creative concerns are mirrored when he gives examples of songs, riddles, folk tales, and storytelling as some of the effective means to teach English.

All these aspects of the book make Anand Mahanand a committed and noteworthy scholar in the larger pan-Indian context wherein there are discussions and debates about the English pedagogy and its implications on the rural students of India. Finally, in a simple yet straight forward language, the author forces the readers to seek lo (k) cal answers to many pertinent global problems.  This book is a must read for academicians and intellectuals alike.

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Ravi Kumar Kumbar (MA PhD from EFLU) Assistant Professor of English at The JSS SMI UG & PG Studies, Dharwad, Karnataka. An ardent fan of poetry. Translator critic poet and a constant being in the process of becoming.

 

 

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