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The making of a rebel

Maitreyi Pushpa talks about "Alma Kabutari" to AMRITA TALWAR



A TELLING TALE Matreyi Pushpa with litterateur Namwar Singh

Nobel laureate and author Orhan Pamuk came into limelight when his stories were translated from Turkish to English. Now, people across the world can read his novels. Similarly, India with its diversity in culture, language and religion, has some great stories and storytellers.

It is important that the thoughts of such writers are read by the largest possible numbers. Keeping with the trend of translations, Katha Publishing House has brought out a double treat for literary diehards - Maiteryi Pushpa's SAARC Literary Award-winning novel "Alma Kabutari" translated from Hindi to English and U.N. Singh's poem, "Second Person Singular", translated from Maithili to English.

"Alma Kabutari" is an account of Alma, a young girl from the marginalised kabutara community. It is the story of her evolution from victim to survivor to a tenacious rebel. Identified as a criminal tribe during the colonial times, kabutaras have dealt with social and sexual subjugation by the upper caste. They are not only poor but do not possess any land or water resources, are roofless, and the society has completely shunned them.

Real person

But Alma is the revolution. Educated on her father's insistence, Alma finds that literacy brings her authority and confidence to sustain her through life's upheavals and tragedies. She is the nerve centre of her village. She leaves home and connects with society and creates an identity for herself.

Maitreyi Pushpa, who has written consistently about rural politics and is an activist of sorts for the underprivileged and exploited tribes, through her book has presented to the world, the condition of Kabutaras. "My book's protagonist is not just a character but a real person. I met her in Khill, my village in Jhansi, and was mesmerised by her beauty and touched by her plight," says Pushpa.



WORDSMITH'S WISDOM DON'T Judge Maitreyi Pushpa's book by its cover

So how did she connect with the tribe? "These people either stayed in mountains or made a banyan tree their home. As a child, I wanted to go and help them but was always stopped by my mother. But opportunity came in the form of my brother Shovaram, who was at that time interacting with the women of the tribe." Alma is his daughter-in-law.

Kabutaras were blamed for the sins, which they never committed. "When the tribe realised that without stealing they are being blamed for it, they started robbing places and rich landlords - attacking the rice granaries and other agricultural produces. They used to be caught and jailed for life. The men spent most of the time in jails and their young wives were left behind," says Pushpa.

According to Pushpa, the kabutara women are very beautiful. "The women, to make an income sell hooch made of mahua and gur. Since men spend most of their time in jail, the women to ensure breeding of their future generations indulge in illicit sex with the upper caste."

But they have no recognition in the society. "Two kids were studying and I asked one of them, why they weren't going to school and the younger one said that the upper caste children release dogs on them."

On translating it from Hindi to English, she says, "My Hindi novel could only reach selective audience but I wanted to share the plight of these people globally and translating it into English was the perfect medium."

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