Washed Plates, Pulled Rickshaw But Kept Dreaming, Amazing Story Of A Writer From Kolkata

The modern schooling system doesn’t define learning, nor consider that education is co-related to success. In India, a huge chunk of the general population in their younger years have no choice but to follow the norm and enroll themselves in a system that is supposed to hand them talent and everything they need to gain wealth and prosper. But when the life-giving power of literature inspired Manoranjan Byapari, not having a college degree didn’t stop him from marking his name as one of the renowned writers of Dalit literature in Bengali. 

Born in the Barisal district of Bangladesh in 1950, Byapari spent most of his childhood in a refugee camp in West Bengal where his parents migrated after three years. To earn his bread, he washed plates in Dhabas alongside which he also got involved in revolutionary activities. But the later only brought him sufferings of an oppressed group and landed him in jail. But no matter how odd the circumstances were, he found the calling of his life that chances are he couldn’t have discovered any other place. He learned how to read and would indulge himself in the words and phrases of his favorite books and soon realized that this is exactly what he wants to revolve around his entire life. 

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When he came out of jail, he found a job as a rickshaw puller and went to Chattisgarh in the 80s. He supported the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha leader Shankar Guha Niyogi and participated in his workings until his assassination in 1991 after which he moved back to Kolkata. He decided to put his mind to writing and wrote short stories, essays, and novels, most of them revolving around the lives of marginalized men like him. 

Pulling rickshaw in the hazy and bustling streets of Kolkata, he also once encountered with a famous writer who created a significant impact on his writing career. When he was picking up sari-clad women as his passenger for a ride, he was unaware that she was Mahasweta Devi, a popularised face in literature. I was shocked to learn that my passenger was one of the most famous writers in Kolkata. It was an incident that occurred nearly four decades ago and gradually it changed my life,” he said at the Jaipur Literature Festival. 

Devi also helped in directing a 20-page story which he handed to her after completion. One of his first stories titled, ‘I Drive A Rickshaw’ appeared in a magazine Bartika in 1981 which was a Bengali magazine published by Devi. He has also published an autobiographical novel, Itibritte Chandal Jiban which is also available in English as Interrogating My Chandal Life: An Autobiography of a Dalit. 

Byapari left his job as a rickshaw-puller two decades ago and Khudirabad in 24 Parganas district of West Bengal. Today, he cooks food for more than 300 students in the Helen Killer school for blind and deaf. He not only proved that the conventions created by the world don't matter if you dream too big and as one of the greatest figures in literature he also scaped the stereotypes off the creative art of writing. 


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