Basudev Sunani
(India, 1962)   
Basudev Sunani

Basudev Sunani (born 1962) is an Oriya poet of growing repute. The author of four collections of poetry and a recent book entitled Dalit, Capitalism and Globalisation, he represents a strong, articulate and engaged Dalit presence in the world of Oriya verse.

There is a rich diversity of creative responses from Indian Dalit poets to the brutal experience of being relegated to the lowest echelons of the caste hierarchy for centuries. Its variety notwithstanding, Dalit literature remains an important ‘dissenting collective’, a subculture unified and animated by the common historical experience of oppression and marginalisation.

In his interview with poet-translator Rabindra Swain, Basudev Sunani states unequivocally the impossibility of sharing the caste experience of being Dalit with anyone outside the fold. He also believes Oriya literature has not explored the issue of caste in its many overt and insidious avatars: “The Dalit consciousness cannot be shared by non-Dalits. It is a stupendous task to present it before those who do not have the experience of it, especially through poetry . . . The upper caste people cannot fathom the humiliation an untouchable undergoes . . .  When my book Untouchable came out, in 2001, some of my Oriya poets mockingly asked me, ‘Untouchable?’ ‘Who?’ ‘Where?’ . . .  Like hunger, love is universal. But unfortunately, here love is determined by the caste to which you belong.”

It is a scathing indictment of a rigidly stratified and deeply inhuman social order. And it is reflected in Sunani’s scorching, forthright but textured verse. ‘Satyabhama’, my personal favourite in this edition, is a quiet poem about an encounter with an old childhood female friend from a village school. The strength of this poem is its absence of sentimentalism. There is no vast generic lament about persecuted Indian rural womanhood in a state of transition. Instead, here is a poem about an individual with her own specific anomalies: a woman who retains her girlish giggle, who stands for local elections, who is hunting for a bride for her son, who still demurely covers her face with a sari pallu.

Sunani’s poetry leaves us with questions. Questions with answers so disquieting that they have remained suppressed for aeons, with brute violence meted out to those who dare to utter them: “My tongue will be severed/ And I will turn to stone.” But there is no passive defeatism in this poetry either. “Why pray,” he asks with quiet logic in one of his poems, “if one is not afraid/ of the dark?”

In another poem that lashes out at the laughable farce of contemporary Independent India, Sunani likens the country’s mute enduring citizenry to a troupe of robotic circus performers always ready to dance to another’s tune. And there is an even deeper tragedy at work: “The dancers do not know/ how long they have been doing their job.”

What is clear, however, is that this is a poet who knows his job and does it exceptionally well.

© Arundhathi Subramaniam

Also on this site

“Life becomes unbearable if you are fed and hated.”
Interview with Basudev Sunani by Rabindra Swain.


Aneka Kichhi Ghatibaara Achhi, Eeshan-Ankit Prakashani, Nuapada , 1995
Mahula Bana, Eeshan-Ankit Prakashani, Nuapada, 1999
Asprushya , National Institute of Social Work and Social Sciences, Bhubaneswar, 2001
Karadi Haata, Eeshan-Ankit Prakashani, Nuapada, 2005

Dalit, Punjeebaad O Bhumandalikarana, Nayan Singh Majhi, Nuapada, 2006


In English

Contemporary Oriya Poetry: An Overview by Rabindra K. Swain

A Critical Study of Dalit Literature in India by Dr Jugal Kishore Mishra

Voice of Dalit in South Asian Literature by Aswini Kumar Mishra


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