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Keshav Meshram, great dalit poet and novelist, passes away in Mumbai
Keshav Meshram passed away in a hospital at Bandra in Mumbai on Thursday. He was an eminent dalit poet and novelist, and great critic of extremist trend in dalit literature.

EMINENT DALIT poet, critic, novelist and short-story writer Keshav Tanaji Meshram passed away in a hospital at Bandra in Mumbai on Thursday. He was suffering from lung cancer. With his death, a prolific literary career of a man (he had written about 40 books), who always maintained balance while voicing the pain, revolt and introspection of the plight of dalits, has also come to an end. Despite being a contemporary of Namdeo Thasaal (founder of dalit panther and a fiery poet), Meshram‘s poetry was like a restrained effort to convey feelings in a decent language.

In his presidential speech at the Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Sahitya Sammelan at Nasik in 2005, Meshram had lambasted the literary mafia for confining their world only to suit the stastes of elites. He had also asked how many of established writers had actually ventured beyond their comfortable white-collar world to see how crores of poor people live. He had criticised them for creating a coterie of writers, critics, publishing houses and libraries for running their business at the cost of true literary values. He had also criticized the extremist trend in dalit literature, which believed in only hurling expletives at the established classes and calling it revolutionary literature.

Breaking the tradition of his ABMSS predecessors, who had always blamed the English language for the decline of Marathi usage, Meshram had said that blaming any language would not solve the problem and that Marathi was not a dying language. He had pointed out that those crying hoarse to save Marathi were educating their children in English schools and wanted them to go abroad. His had tried to indicate that the elites were misguiding the masses. He had asked the state government to create a literary academy to translate great literary words from other language to Marathi and vice versa so that the common reader could enrich himself intellectually.

He had also warned of growing frustrations among people, especially the poor and newly educated youths belonged to various oppressed castes, because of the changes initiated through globalization and privatization.

Meshram was born on November 24, 1937 in a poor dalit family in Akola. He spent his adolescence and early adulthood working as a railway wagon loader, a construction worker and oil mill worker. While struggling for the basics of life, he continued with his education simultaneously. His joined as a clerk in Western Railways for a full time job but later he became a Marathi lecturer at Maharshi Dayanand college (popularly known as M.D college in Parel).

His volumes of poems ‘Utkhanan’ (excavation) earned him the status of an important dalit poet. As a novelist, his most popular work was ‘Jatayu’ in which he portrayed the anguish of a brilliant but poor dalit boy, Abhimaan, who was sidelined despite being a talented student. In ‘Jatayu’, Meshram showed how Abhimaan fought with superstitions and blind faith. But, when he interfered with the rituals of a tantrik, it brought disaster to him. He unsuccessfully tried to save a possessed girl from being molested and beaten up. The girl died and the police framed him at the time when he received his appointment letter for a job.

Meshram’s autobiography ‘Hakikat’ shows the development of a sensitive mind in an adverse world. His other literary works deal with introspection of the plight of dalits in the changing world.

 

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