A society is made of diverse people and communities and a healthy society is the one where there is a space and a platform for each one to express themselves. This, in turn, will bring in empathy and compassion, which we desperately need in current times.
The book Water in a Broken Pot: A Memoir by Yogesh Maitreya is one such honest attempt where we get a glimpse of the author’s life and his family as he belongs to the Dalit caste. It is a book about longing, loss and, eventually, finding oneself in the chaos which are part and parcel of a caste society.
BEHIND THE BOOK
The book was recently released at Champaca Bookstore at Anjuna, followed by a discussion with Maitreya by Vivek Menezes, looking at the representation of the Dalit community in Indian literature and how Indian cinema is an overarching factor for Maitreya during his writing process.
Maitreya is a writer, poet, translator, and founder and editor of Panther’s Paw Publications, which is dedicated to publishing literature by Dalit-Bahujan writers (in English and as translations from other Indian languages).
Maitreya wrote this memoir during the pandemic when he was approached by the publisher, Penguin Random House India. Initially, he had no idea about the book, but then he thought of writing about his own life as it was necessary to share. Also, he believes that there is no such literature in English in India.
While he was writing, he was reading books like The General of the Dead Army by Ismail Kadare and My Name Is Why by Lemn Sissay that had a huge impact on him.
“The book, My name is Why, changed the way I understood my emotions. There is a line in the book that says, ‘Hurt people hurt people.’ I believe that is a lot of us. Now, I believe that hurt people need to heal people. It should be the philosophy of my book,” he said.
He further mentioned that in his book, he has also mentioned his failures.
WHAT INFLUENCED HIM
Along with literature for Maitreya, cinema has also played an important role in his life as a writer. Throughout his discussion, he mentioned the Marathi movie, Fandry (2013) by Nagraj Manjule that depicted the life of a Dalit boy and the atrocities he faced.
“Fandry blew my mind. I felt as if it was my father’s story and I have written quite a lot about my father in my memoir. That movie was a breakthrough for my generation. I believe it shaped me as a writer,” explained Maitreya.
He also shared how cinema helped him to deconstruct the idea of love, etc. While growing up in a basti in Nagpur, there were no books or libraries for Maitreya, but films, and that was emotional education for him.
However, he also pointed out some Bollywood movies were problematic, where they normalises patriarchy, the toxic male character who is a rapist, and there were also pathological songs, etc, which he realised later.
Maitreya believes that he looked to cinema for his emotional education as it was not possible at home. “My grandparents and parents didn’t have the luxury of time to spend with their children, to talk to them, to share stories about their lives. So, there was no sentimental education,” he says.
He opines that society consciously makes such people work day and night so that they don’t get time to think or retrospect. They get so tired at the end of the day that they just eat, drink and sleep, and then the next day, the same struggle follows.
“This is the violence that nobody talks about or sees in India. They talk about liberation in a philosophical and academic way. The problem with academic discourse is that it changes your language (to intellectual language). This is the language through which I can intellectually express, but you lose connect with the people whose language is the language of life, basic emotions.”
During the discussion he also emphasized the point that there is a systemic eraser of their stories and histories. “You are not recognised as a mind,” he says.
Maitreya, who is a PhD Scholar at TISS, Mumbai, shared that he connects more with black writers rather than savarna Indian writers. American writer, James Baldwin, is one of his favourites.
He also spoke about social media and how it has given space to people like him to express themselves, and most importantly, to reach out. He added that now, due to social media, it is much easier to sell books which are published under his publishing house, Panther’s Paw Publication.
However, he also pointed out the irony – that the same social media has made people bad readers as it has affected our reading habit.
Lastly, he spoke about Babasaheb Ambedkar, who is an inspiration for many.
“He (Ambedkar) had a troubled life, but that man transcended that hate and led a massive journey towards compassion and love. He did this within his lifetime. For us, it will take generations. They (my parents) are carrying the pain and frustration of the generations. Thus, it is important to write our stories. We will be there as hope and love, and not as hate,” said he.
Water in a Broken Pot: A Memoir by Yogesh Maitreya is published by Penguin Random House India and is available at all leading stores, as well as online