The Life We Live
This particular poem by Arun Kamble is a work that stands out in the canon of "literature of dispossession" due to its stark portrayal of reality. In this poetry, the poet employs quotidian imagery, metaphors, and diction to explore the abject reality of the Dalit life in India, making it an indispensable work of Dalit literature.
Historically, Dalit literature has been compared to slave narratives. This is because of a multitude of reasons, one being that in both, there is a blatant projection of the brutal reality of social evils as well as the "fossilized attitudes" of ascendancy that perpetuates such evils. Dalit literature has been traditionally characterized by bold imagery and language. This element is evident in this poem, and it is appropriated to shock people into reality and out of complacency, to expose the reality of caste segregation and double marginalization of those outside the parameters of the hegemonic power structure.
This poem essentially invokes self-reflection among non-Dalits about the assumptions they hold about the Dalits. The "we" in the poem acquire centrality to serve as a tool to formulate resistance against the oppression that the Dalits ("we") face. The poet creates a binary between "We" and "you" in the poem and challenges the oppressive rhetoric of the savarnas (ascendancy/"You") that has justified relentless justification of the Dalits.
In this poem, the poet expounds a radical idea, a reversal of social order. Hence, in these lines, the poem acquires political overtones that connect the idea of poetry and activism. This is used by the poet to resist the dominant hierarchy to acquire justice for his community. By doing so, he engages in the process of writing back to the centre.
Which Language should I Speak?
This poem helps the poet confront a seminal concern for Dalits in the Indian society. He talks about the identity crisis that has been carved out of a legacy of cultural ambivalence. He is told by his grandfather, "you whore-son, talk like we do. Talk, I tell you!". It is clear from his grandfather's words that there are certain social expectations from the speaker that precede even his existence.
There are certain preconceived ideas of what is "authentic" when it comes to their language, and this leads to a confusion in the mind of the child, who is told something completely else by his Brahmin teacher later on. He is held in the middle of a conflict between his Dalit grandfather, who wants him to essentially speak like him, and his Brahmin teacher, who is busy with the Vedas.