Cutting the Edge, with Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s controversial book of short stories “The Adivasi Will Not Dance” | A Reading by Bhabya Singh

REVIEWS, NEW DELHI, 14. 07. 2017

“The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.”

– Oscar Wilde

“The Adivasi Will Not Dance” is a collection of short stories by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar. The book has already created a lot of buzz, as we live in a country where some people only exist to scream, blame and burn effigies. Writers have the habit of highlighting the truth. Hence, they are always the prime target of the so called ‘saviours of culture.’ They never fight against the real issues of the country, the issues of poverty, women and child safety, terrorism, unemployment, communal violence and many more.

“Something will be offensive to someone in every book, so you have got to fight it.”

– Judy Blume

Born and raised in Jharkhand, Hansda is a (recently suspended for his outright writing) medical officer and the winner of Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar in June 2015 for his novel, “The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey”. “The Adivasi Will Not Dance” contains ten stories revolving around Santhal people of Jharkhand. This book is a distressing and depressing portrayal of their pains and sufferings. However, some of the stories are purely an edifying description of human emotions and results of their acts or deeds.

The first story, “They Eat Meat!” is about adaptation of a Santhal family in new environment of Subhanpura Colony of Vadodara, Gujarat. The family unwillingly left their habit of eating non-veg for social acceptance. “Jyamon desh, tyamon bhes”. However the neat and clean Vadodara won Panmuni – jhi’s heart. The story took a sudden twist with the incidents of Gujarat riots of 2007, the violence, the curfew, the attack on the only Muslim family of Subhanpura Colony and ‘that something odd’ which happened.

The second story “Sons” is about Kalpana – di’s son Suraj, Vidya – di’s son Raghu and the disparity in their upbringing and financial status. Yet, who turned out to be the fruit-bearing mango tree in interesting to read.

“November is the Month of Migration” is the story of twenty years old Talamai, who along with her family migrating to West Bengal to work in paddy fields. For fifty rupees and two pieces of cold bread pakora, she satisfied the demon’s greed. Who was responsible for her helplessness – poverty, society, her family or she herself?

“Getting Even” is a horrifying story of revenge. A ten years old boy is accused of raping a four years old girl. But the truth is much more heinous.

The next story “Eating with the Enemy” is about Sulochana, a domestic helper and a great gossiper. Things changed, when her husband married another woman, Mohini. Sulochana’s feelings for Mohini were like a roller-coaster ride. Sometimes she hated her, sometimes she praised her. After their husband’s death, Mohini married another man, while Sulochana turned into a selfish, aggressive controller of house. In her greed, she even committed the mistake of sending away her daughter into hell with Mohini. She suffered due to her own foolishness. Yet, the gullible Sulochana ate and drank with her ‘Enemies’.

“Blue Baby” is the sixth story of this book. Before her marriage, Gita made a plan. She loved Dilip and never wanted to marry Suren. Hence, she executed her plan. Today she is sitting with Suren in hospital waiting for her blue baby to turn pink. Will the baby turn pink? What was her plan? Did that plan work?

The next story is “Baso – jhi”. Baso – jhi or Basanti is everyone’s jhi in Sarjomdih. Children or adults, everybody adores her. She is a great domestic helper to Pushpa. But Baso – jhi’s peace soon ruined by the three consecutive deaths in the village within two years after her arrival. Pushpa started questioning her identity and kept her away from kitchen and clothes. Who is Baso – jhi? What was her past? Is she a ‘dahni – a witch’?

In the next story, “Desire, Divination, Death”, Subhashini after a hectic day at the rice mill is in a great hurry to reach home, as her sick son will be waiting for the jalebis. She couldn’t find a seat in a trekar. Why Chando – bonga is testing her? Who is the sick boy, begging for food she met on her way home? “Her tears had dried and her heart was racing. She knew that Misfortune sometimes assumes human form and begs for alms …”

“Merely a Whore” features Sona of Lakkhipur. “Sona was a dream; everyone else was merely a whore.” When Sona met Nirmal, she started dreaming of a future. Sona was a dream, but eventually to her dream, she is merely a whore.

The last story of the book titles “The Adivasi Will Not Dance”. In this story sixty years old Mangal Murmu has described the oppression and exploitation of the adivasis. They fought for their land, but lost. Their farmlands converted into coal-mining areas by the rich and powerful coal-mafias. However, their talent is not lost, their talent of singing, dancing, their art is alive. Mangal Murmu and his troupe received an invitation to perform for the President of India. On the day of performance, standing on the stage, Mangal Murmu refused to perform “We Adivasi will not dance. The Adivasi will not – ”

Altogether, this book is a mirror of the society. Even though, the author is mentioning Santhals, but the issues raised in the book are the problems of every poor and under privileged people of different parts of the country. The readers will come across many devils in this book, the dark truths of the manipulation of the weaker section of the society, human-trafficking, physical abuse of women, domestic violence, prostitution, stereotypes of ‘dahni’ or witch and many more. The book must not be judged specifically for its mature content, but the sensitive matters discussed through it should be paid attention. For a genuine reader, this book will be a bone-chilling and grieving experience.

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Bhabya Singh (Columnist, Reviews) is a student of Commerce; however, with a fond love towards literature she thrives to read and write.

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