Popular Dalit author, Manoranjan Byapari, not only wrote novels like Interrogating My Chandal Life: An Autobiography of a Dalit and There’s Gunpowder in the Air with his hand, but also used the same hand to stir the ladle and cook meals for kids at Helen Keller Badhir Vidyalaya for the last 23 years. Being a cook at the school was one of Byapari’s ‘first formal jobs’ and he took great pride in doing it. However, after a knee surgery, as it became more difficult for him to sit and cook for long hours, and lift heavy utensils, he sought a transfer in a petition to the West Bengal Government.
Byapari says that the petition was stuck in the bureaucratic processes of government offices until this week when someone mentioned it to the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee. She approved it within just a few hours, and his transfer from the kitchen of the school to a district library was confirmed. “As soon as the news of my petition reached the respected Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee, she quickly took the initiative, and within hours, my problem was solved. Officially, I joined my new place of work yesterday.” Byapari tells News18.
Byapari’s place of work from now on will be the Vidyanagar district public library, South 24 Parganas, and the author cannot be more happy to be working at a library. “From now on, I’ll be in the place of my dreams. I will be surrounded by thousands of books everyday. I would be able to read all the books I like. This duty won’t just be a duty for me, it will be my worship.” he says.
Byapari’s love for books is something he cultivated over the years with a lot of devotion, and despite many difficulties. Raised in refugee camps, the writer never received a formal education. The death of his sister due to starvation, and his father for the lack of treatment also happened when the author was young. However, his life turned a new leaf, when he was arrested and put in Alipore Jail for alleged Naxal links. A kind teacher became his mentor and taught him how to read and write. His thirst for knowledge was so great that after jail, when he started working as a rickshaw puller, he would read between rides as he waited for new commuters to arrive.
As fate would have it, one day he ferried renowned author, Mahasweta Devi, from her home to Jadavpur University on his rickshaw. On the way, Byapari asked Devi the meaning of difficult word, ‘Jijibisha’ and she explained that it meant ‘a craving for being alive.’ During the ride as Devi learnt about Byapari’s passion for reading and writing, she quickly gave him a writing assignment, and published the article he wrote. Since then, Byapari has written over a dozen of novels and hundreds of short stories, many of which are popular. But, that still doesn’t mean that he makes enough money to sustain himself on the writing alone, and he needs the job of a D group government employee for his daily living, says the author.
“In the publishing world of Bengal, no writer gets the royalty they deserve. Now, after going on Amazon, I am getting paid a little more, but even that money alone cannot sustain me and my family. In Bengal, I doubt any writer can make a living with just book royalties. Apart from Samaresh Majumdar, I cannot think of anyone else.” he says.
“I have grown with the help of small publishers. In West Bengal, big newspapers and magazines have rarely published my work. I have fought my fight on the small pages of little magazines. Also, most big publishers in Bengal have not published my books. In fact, many publishers are themselves in terrible financial conditions anyway. There had been times when I was satisfied with the fact that they have agreed to publish my book, they were in no position to offer me royalty.” he adds. Much before the the trends of self-publishing and self-distribution became a norm, the author says that he would carry and sell his own books, and pay the publisher.
However, despite the difficulties he faced while getting his work published, Byapari has never stopped writing about the working class. In a previous interview, the author had told News18, “Whenever I have tried to write something different, like a light-hearted story, a travelogue or a romance, I have found myself going back to the stories of hunger, and struggles of the working class.”
“I always remind myself that I do not belong to the Babu class. Of course, there are many from the intellectual section of the society who have given me love and support. But, I want to always write, fight, and speak for the working class. I have reached here by talking about them. If I didn’t belong to their class, I wouldn’t have become an author ” he had said.
Currently, the author is spending his lockdown days reading and, of course, writing, with an occasional scroll through Facebook.
“I had lived a strange life, and I think people like that about me, which is why my autobiography had become so popular. So, now, I am writing about my older days, and of course, this transfer will also find a mention in the book,” says the author.
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