Manoranjan Byapari – Story of a convict turned Rickshawpuller turned author
He is probably the only convict turned rickshaw puller turned author in the world with more than 11 novels,5 books and 100 essays published. Manoranjan Byapari, a name well known nowadays in the cultural circuit of West Bengal, in 2014 was awarded with a Paschimbanga Bengali Akademy award as well.
Mr. Byapari’s tale of 63 years transports from his initial years in refugee camps after Partition of Bangladesh and West Bengal. His sister died of starvation, while he worked as a cattle boy during the Sino-Indian War. His father developed a nasty ulcer, and his mother didn’t have enough to even cover herself. He remained illiterate. At 16, he fled his impoverished Dalit family to become a vagabond and petty criminal on the streets of different cities in West Bengal.
As he says “I was a brawler and rioter. I was even charged with arson and attempt to murder. This was when naxalism was at its peak,” “I was in and out of jail but when I was 24, I was sentenced to 10-year imprisonment. My life behind those walls seemed bleak. A fellow inmate pointed to a plant growing outside the window, and I wondered how such a beautiful plant could survive in hostile conditions. That’s when I decided to redeem myself.” “In jail, I started going to the library. We won the case and my jail term was brought down. In the two years I spent in jail, I managed to read only two books because I was very slow. So when I got out, I had an insatiable appetite for more. I got a job as rickshaw puller and started reading anything that came my way. If I found a piece of paper on the street with words on it, I would pick it up to read.”
His life changed drastically when he met Mahashweta Devi coincidentally at a rickshaw stand when the author came to him and asked for a ride, he was reading Ashapurna Devi’s Agnigarbha at that time and asked the meaning of “Jijibisha” to the author, it meant “A will to live” surely he wanted to live and he wanted to make it big.
According to Mahashweta Devi “Manoranjan can be defined as some rare element or a hidden fountain which was waiting to be discovered”
This Rajyasabha TV documentary ends with a Manoranjan Byapari poetry to make it more inspiring and thought provoking.
Here he goes,
There was a promise that a letter will come
That promised letter will bring the end of winter.
Along with the warmth of sunrise,
The drums will beat.
With the intoxicating fragrance of Mohua,
Exactly the way spring comes in the bare feet of a tribal beauty…
In the impoverished lives of the foothills.
There were words which spoke about hunting.
We would hunt those wild boars with our spears,
Who spoiled our grains and spoiled our children.
Filled up my Dalit life with agony.
Nobody knocked at my door.
The postman who brings in the news,
Never shouted my name.
Still I am waiting and waiting to hear,
The letter will come, surely will come.
Original article published in TheHindu
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