The Story of an Outsider the Outcaste Sharankumar Limbale New Delhi: OUP, 2003 Pp.121 Rs. 195

The Story of an Outsider the Outcaste Sharankumar Limbale New Delhi: OUP, 2003 Pp.121 Rs. 195

The Story of an Outsider
The Outcaste
Sharankumar Limbale
New Delhi: OUP, 2003
pp.121 Rs. 195/-

Books are often divided into three categories. Some come unheralded but leave a deep impression on the human mind. The second category, if absorbed, goads one to action even if all that they say is not palatable or even correct. The last type of books reflects the state of affairs at one point in human history and carries a message that cannot be ignored. Sharankumar Limbale’s The Outcaste (Akkarmashi) belongs to the last category. It reflects the state of affairs of a particular oppressed class, namely the Mahar community about half a century back and at the same time gives a true and realistic picture of the darker side of the Indian society.

The Outcaste, Sharankumar Limbale’s autobiography, was originally written in the Mahar dialect of Maharashtra. The author has put in words the life he lived as an untouchable, as a half-caste, and as an impoverished man. His mother was an untouchable. She was married to a young man of her community and she gave birth to two sons. The landlord had an eye on her and he was such a conjurer that he got her separated from her husband and subsequently made her his concubine. Thus Sharan was born as the illegal son of a high caste Patil and a poor, landless, untouchable mother. The mother lived in a hut, the father in a mansion. The son was condemned and branded illegitimate.

Limbale portrays the pathetic and unenviable life of a poor and oppressed community, poignantly and touchingly. He raises some pertinent questions to be answered by people who consider themselves civilized and modern. How is a person born with his caste? How does he become an untouchable as soon as he is born? How can he be a criminal? The condition of the untouchables is such that they steal, beg, fetch dead animals and eat them, in order to appease their hunger. Their stomachs are like a passage to the graveyard that continuously swallows the dead. To a hungry Mahar in abject poverty, a ‘bhakari’—a kind of bread—is as large as man. It is as vast as the sky, and bright like the sun. Hunger is bigger than man. It is vaster than the seven circles of hell. A single stomach is like the whole earth and it can swallow the whole world and let out a belch.

In Sharan’s life everything was topsy-turvy and dismal. He had nowhere to sleep. So he lay inside the bus stand. During this period, the teachings of Dr. Ambedkar woke up the Dalits. Ambedkar himself was a Dalit, born in the Mahar community. But he rose to a position of eminence as a social activist, a legal expert and a nationally respected leader of Dalits in India. Later he embraced Buddhism in order to free millions of the oppressed from the tyranny of caste discrimination. He stressed the importance of education in order to uplift the downtrodden. As a result, children were no longer illiterate and they began to reap the benefits of literacy. The new-found political independence also helped a lot in improving the living conditions of the untouchables. The wind of change helped Sharan also to attend a college in Solapur and to have higher education. But his poverty did not allow him to enjoy the luxuries of college life. He felt the limitless pain of poverty. But this made him stronger, mentally. The atrocities against the Dalits made him sad and very impatient. On the battlefield of life, Dalits fight their own fathers, uncles, sisters, brothers and mothers. They battle with themselves as if they are their own enemies. The reason is that they are controlled by caste and are vanquished. Sharan is sure that there will be yet another battle in which the Dalits will never surrender.

In the changed circumstances, Dalits were getting education and becoming aware of their rights. The policy of reservation ensured jobs for the educated lot. Sharan also got a job as a telephone operator at Ahmedpur. The thought of untouchables living comfortable lives with jobs made available to them, irritated the high caste Hindus. Dalits began to refuse to do the lowly jobs that they once did for the Hindus. The community which had lived the life of cats and dogs for thousands of years was now behaving as equals. This was unacceptable to the high caste Hindus. Sharankumar closes his autobiography with some pertinent questions. ‘Why this labyrinth of customs? Who has created such values of right and wrong, and what for? If they consider my birth illegitimate which values am I to follow?’ The philosopher in Sharankumar compares man to a tree on which the leaves of old age grow. The leaves grow drier day by day. Death uproots man like a storm would a tree. Hindus and Muslims are human beings. The blood of both people is red. Yet they are opposed to each other because they have different religions. They do not show any humaneness to a human being from another religion. A man cut out of his religion is still a man. Then why is man imprisoned by conventions?

The Outcaste brings to mind The Thief’s Journal by Jean Genet. Genet was born illegitimate in Paris in 1910. He never knew his parents. Being an orphan he became a thief at the age of ten and was sent to a reformatory. He spent thirty years wandering in the European underworld. In The Thief’s Journal he has stated that the simplest reason that made him a thief was the need to eat. In children’s hells, in prisons, in bars, everywhere he pursued his identification. He resolutely rejected a world that had rejected him. He was poor; so he could not pity the poor. Sharankumar Limbale has also unveiled a bizarre world of poverty, untouchability and the pathetic human condition prevailing all over the world. But unlike Jean Genet, in Sharan’s case there is hope and light at the end of the tunnel. Santhosh Bhoomkar has done a good service by translating this work from the Mahar dialect to English.


M.G.K.Nair:Freelance writer who has published several Malayalam books and translations. Currently the editor of Quilon Public Library Journal, he is actively involved in the Quilon Chapter of the Theosophic Society.