Born in 1949, Namdeo Dhasal is
Dhasal is a quintessentially Mumbai poet. Raw, raging, associative, almost carnal in its tactility, his poetry emerges from the underbelly of the city — its menacing, unplumbed netherworld. This is the world of pimps and smugglers, of crooks and petty politicians, of opium dens, brothels and beleaguered urban tenements. In a recent article on Dhasal, I described his poetic world as that of “Mumbai without her make-up, her Botox, her power yoga; the Mumbai that seethes, unruly, menacing, yet vitally alive, beneath the glitzy mall and multiplex, the high-rise and flyover. The Mumbai of the non-gentrifiable, the untamable, the non-recyclable.”
A recent book entitled Namdeo Dhasal: Poet of the Underworld featured English translations by poet Dilip Chitre from across Dhasal’s voluminous corpus. The book also offers a trajectory of Dhasal’s colourful life – from his beginnings in the humble hamlet of Pur-Kanersar in the state of Maharashtra to his growing years in Dhor Chawl on the fringes of Mumbai’s red light district; from the vigilante organisation, Dalit Panther, he founded in 1972, to his long-standing struggle with myasthenia gravis; from his various personal and political challenges to his growth as a poet (who fashioned his oeuvre from eclectic forms — traditional Marathi literary resources such as ovi, bhajans, kirtans, varkari music, tamasha, as well as modern European poetry).
The two poems selected for this edition reveal some of the characteristics of his poetry. What is perhaps not so easily discernible are the complex negotiations Dhasal makes with language. In his introduction to the book, Chitre explores the fascinating archaeology of Dhasal’s idiom: its many tones and registers, and its polyglottal fusion of Bambaiya (Mumbai’s bhelpuri demotic) with the Mahar dialect that is his family inheritance.
There is no flag-waving jingoism in Dhasal’s work. This is not a world of kindly communitarian folk and beaming pariahs. But for all its rage and toughness, there is a certain hospitality of vision. If this vision is devoid of romanticism, it is not devoid of compassion. This is memorably exemplified in ‘Kamatipura’, a portrait of Mumbai’s red light district, where Dhasal’s high voltage rant concludes on a note of unexpected tenderness:
Tucking all seasons under your armpit
You squat in the mud here
I go beyond all the pleasures and pains of whoring and wait
For your lotus to bloom.
— A lotus in the mud.
Moorkha Mhatarayane Dongar Halavile, 1975
Tuhi Iyatta Kanchi?, Ambedkara Prabodhini, Mumbai, 1981
Ambedkari Chalwal, Ambedkara Prabodhini, Mumbai, 1981
Gandu Bagicha, 1986
Ya Sattet Jeev Ramat Nahi, 1995
Andhale Shatak, Ambedkara Prabodhini, Mumbai, 1997
Mee Marale Sooryachya Rathache Ghode Saat, 2005
Tujhe Bot Dharoon Chalalo Ahe Mee, 2006
Ujedaachi Kali Dunia
Ambedkar.org: A few unpublished poems by Namdeo Dhasal
Tehelka: Dilip Chitre profiles Namdeo Dhasal
Kavitayan: Two poems by Dhasal
Navayana: Reviews of Namdeo Dhasal's work
and an interview with Dilip Chitre, the translator.