India

Jayant Parmar: A Dalit Urdu Poet

Saquib Salim for BeyondHeadlines

Urdu poetry, developed during the late eighteenth to mid-nineteenth century under the patronage of later Mughals like Bahadur Shah Zafar and many other Nawabs, primarily dealt with the themes of love or heartbreak. While for poets, like Ghalib, beloved, heart, love, separation, wine and melancholy could be metaphors taking metaphysical meanings still classical Urdu poetry largely remained a vehicle to express the feelings of love, affection and dejection. 

In the early twentieth century Iqbal introduced new metaphors and themes into Urdu poetry. Along with him several poets started writing about the freedom movement, Islamic themes and other social problems. Within a few decades, by 1930s Moin Ahsan Jazbi, Ali Sardar Jafri, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Kaifi Azmi and many others started revolutionising the Urdu literary space by bringing elements of Marxism into their poetries. These Marxist poets were called progressive poets and dominated the Urdu literary circles during the remaining seven decades of the twentieth century.

Progressive poets talked about a variety of social and political problems. Kaifi, Jan Nisar Akhtar, Sahir, Majaz and many others have raised the voice for women’s rights. Women poets, like Kishwar, also write about the problems faced by the women in our society. These poets have written extensively against religious extremism, exploitation by capitalists of proletariat, corruption, economic inequality and other social problems. But one social evil, and probably one of the most heinous of all, for some strange reasons remained untouched by these progressive poets. This evil is ‘caste system’ and injustice related to it.

Jayant Parmar filled this gap in early twenty first century. In words of famous Urdu critic Balraj Komal Jayant Parmar is the ‘only Dalit Urdu poet’. Writing about his poetry Gopichand Narang writes, “Urdu is a language of minorities and oppressed. But Jayant is oppressed within the oppressed. His voice is of those who live on the margins of our society.”

Jayant was born to a mill worker and a housewife in Ahmedabad. His father was an activist of communist party and the family lived in a poor Muslim-Dalit mixed locality. Economic considerations forced him to start working at a young age of 15. He started drawing miniature paintings for a local studio, only to left work soon as, being a Dalit, he was given a separate water tumbler and glass. Later, he joined Bank of Baroda and retired as a bank official.

A self taught man he bought an Urdu primer from an old books market and learnt the language. A language which he mastered so well that he went on to beg Sahitya Akademi award for Urdu in 2009, for his collection of poetry ‘Pencil aur Doosri Nazme’.

As a dalit himself he declares himself a Dalit poet and his poetry ‘Dalit Poetry’. In one of his poem ‘Dalito ke liye’ (For Dalits), he writes;

Tere dukh ke

Mahakavya ko

Main likhunga

Suraj ki

Jalti chhaati par!

(Epic of

Your sufferings

Will be written by me

On the burning chest

Of the sun!)

In another poem ‘Narak Kund ki Baas’ (The stink of hell-pit) Jayant brings out the treatment that was meted out to his ancestors and he draws a connection between the past and the present. Poem is;

Narak kund ki baas

Mere school talak aati thi

Dhoop ki chhatri ke niche

Nange paanv utarti thi

Narak kund main!

Jaanwaro ke chamde ko

Namak aur pani me bhigo kar

Apne mariyal paaon se kar deti thi saaf

Badle me wo

Gosht ke tukde le aati thi mere liye!

Aaj bhi jab main 

office jaane se pehle apne jute ko

Cherry polish karta hu tab

Uski chamak main 

Maa ka chehra dikhta hai

Narak kund ki baas

Mere office tak aati hai!

(The smell of hell-pit

used to dog me

right up to my school.

Under the canopy of a scorching sun

she would descend

barefoot

in the hell-pit.

She would

soak

stinking animal hide

in salt and water

and cleanse it

with her numb feet

In return,

she would bring

for me

a few pieces of meat.

Even today

when I polish my shoes

with cherry blossom

before leaving for office

in their glow

I see my mother’s face.

The smell of hell-pit

dogs me

right into my office!)

We can also find the imprints of Periyar’s self respect movement in his writings. For him issue is not only hunger and poverty but for a Dalit it is self respect. In his poem Meri Jang Roti ki Nahi (My fight is not for bread), he writes;

Bhukha brahman

Bhukha kshatriya

Bhukha vaishya

Ladta hai roti ke liye

Chand si ek roti ke liye

Uska sapna roti hai

Mera sapna roti nahi

Achhoot hu main

Mere saaye se bhi tum katrate ho

Main hu tumhari basti bahar

Jahan pe tum hagte ho waha par

Taat ki meri jhuggi hai

Kande se le kar mandir tak

Tumne banayi hain diwaren

Mandir ki unchi diwaren!

Mere hisse me to mila hai

Apni jaati ka imaan

Aur nafrat ki aag!

Meri jang hai uske khilaf

Jo roti se badhkar hai

Meri jang roti ki nahi!

(Hungry Brahmin

Hungry Kshatriya

Hungry Vaishya

Fights for the bread

For moon like bread

His dream is bread

Bread is not my dream

I am untouchable

You avoid my shadow

I am outside your colony

The place where you shit

I have hut of canvas

From logs to temple

You have raised walls

Tall walls of the temple!

I have got as my share

Faith of my caste!

And hatred towards me!

My fight is against that

Which is more important than the bread

I am not fighting for the bread!)

One of his most effective Dalit poem is Subah ki Hwaon (The Morning Breeze) where Jayant has brought out the pain that a Dalit’s soul feels as a result of centuries of inhuman oppression and which give rise to a blood red sun. He writes;

Subah ki hawaon

Meri rooh ke paas ruk jaao

Mujhe do lahoo rang suraj

Jis pe badal ka saya na ho

Jo na dube

Ufaq ke ghane jangalo me kabhi

Jis ko ungli pe rakh

Krishan ke chakr ki tarah

Phekunga un par-

Jinho ne meri jibh ko kaat kar

Yagya ke kund me

Om swaha kiya

Meri phool si

 nanhi bachi ka sar kaat kar

Nazr-e-aatish kiya

Meri behan ki chhatiyon se

Bahayi nadi khoon ki

Mere baap ko zinda dafna diya

Din dahade meri maa ko nanga kiya

Meri aag ab thandi hogi nahi

Mujhe do lahu-rang suraj

Subah ki hawao 

Mere paas ruk jao

(The morning breeze,

Stay by me;

Give me the blood-red sun,

Never covered by the clouds,

Which never sets;

In the dark forests,

I’ll spin it on my finger

And throw it on them

Like the Krishna’s discus.

I’ll throw it on those,

Who after severing my tongue

Seek blessings from ceremonial fire;

On those who severed

The head of my innocent daughter

And threw her in the fire;

On those who made blood to flow

From the breasts of my sister;

On those who buried my father alive;

On those who undressed my mother

In broad daylight.

My fire will not extinguish.

Give me the blood-red sun,

O the morning breeze,

Stay by me.)

This desire to see a blood-red sun by Jayant might be because of his upbringing by Communist party activist parents. He wants a blood red sun to shine over the heads with this new morning. For the people well versed with Urdu poetry, it is a well known fact that what colour red conveys, as I have also written in my another article about Jaun Elia that what does a poet convey through red colour. Jayant being a Dalit aspires for an egalitarian society where a person is not treated untouchable by others and this leads him to look for the solution in a communist society. Hence, he asks the morning breeze to bring the red coloured sun with her.


(Author is an independent commentator on social and political issues)

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