While reading a book, I often pick up a reference of another interesting book. I can’t remember where I read about ‘Akkarmashee’, the autobiography of Dr. Sharan Kumar Limbale. Perhaps I picked up its reference while reading Naseema Hurzuk’s biography ‘Chakachi Khurchee’. (See my blog ‘Who is a handicapped Person, Naseema Hurzuk?‘) I remember that within minutes of reading about Akkarmashee, I bought the book online. Lockdown has made me a ‘serial reader’ of biographies.
Akkarmashee means the one of eleven ‘masa.’ Akkara means eleven. Twelve masa make one ‘tola’, so akkarmashee is the imperfect one, who falls short of being a complete tola. Obviously, it means one who is born out of a wedlock. Such relationship between white men and black women, usually slaves is well known. Also well-known is the fact that the poor and their women have always been exploited by the wealthy as well as men in power.
Those who read Dalit literature in Indian languages, and there is plenty in Marathi literature, will find the trials and tribulations very disturbing; the impact is long lasting. The urban world does not know their lived experiences. Our tendency to remain cocooned is so strong that we rarely open eyes to the way others are experiencing their lives. It is not necessary to go far in search of evidence. I remarked to a friend that managers often do not know how workers in their companies live. He readily agreed and made a startling observation – ‘They have only anthropological interest in workers!’
Same observation holds good for many of us when it comes to the downtrodden and those who experienced rejection, humiliation, exploitation and abuse. Among them are those who belong to the caste ‘Mahar.’
Limbale’s father, a Lingayat, ‘used’ his mother and objected to his name being given as the author’s father. Reason? He was a wealthy man and did not wish to have claim on his property. Subsequently his mother had to sleep with another when Limbale’s father threw her out. The choice was between survival and rape. Limbale calls it rape. And the progeny has to fight identity crisis. Does he belong to a higher caste because his father belongs to it, or is he a Mahar because his mother is so?
The author wrote his biography at the age of twenty-five while many write it in their sixties and seventies. His unique and heart-rending experiences shock the reader. We have seen the poor. And we have seen the way they live.
But reading about lived experiences of those who suffered rejection, humiliation, and exploitation makes us aware of our duty to heighten social awareness to these evils.
One review of Akkarmashee so succinctly observes, ‘It is, thus, a tale both of struggle and accomplishment. It is a disturbing tale not only on account of its candour, its bitter critique of caste and gender oppression that stands legitimized by society but more significantly on account of the writer’s eagerness to be accepted by the very class/caste that has been the root cause of his humiliation and anguish.’
Contrast this biography written by a young man who was a ‘nobody’ with biography of famous film Director V Shantaram. And with the biography of Bollywood star Dev Anand. Those biographies are essentially image building exercises of the rich and famous! They hide so much and reveal so little about the lived experiences.
Akkarmashee is very impactful on this aspect. It is translated in several Indian languages like Malayalam, Tamil, Gujarati, Hindi, and Punjabi. And Oxford University Press has published the English version ‘The Outcast’.
Vivek S Patwardhan
Feature Pic Courtesy Atharva Tulsi on Unsplash
“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” **** “Aroehan: Creating Dream Villages in Mokhada by 2025: “No Malnutrition Deaths, No Child ‘Out of School’, Reduction in migration by 50%.”