In a recent story by the Hindi writer Ajay Navariya, we see a copy of Maxim Gorky’s 1906 novel Mother on the bookshelf. Our protagonist, a young Dalit man, has moved his family out of the village in response to a series of insults and an assault. He is now an urbanite, a teacher, an intellectual, and he reads Gorky. For the protagonist, like the fiction writer Navariya, Gorky is an ur-text, both within the narrative and without. B. R. Ambedkar, the father of the Dalit movement, mentions Gorky as well, in his discussion on the analogous practices of the artist and the scientist, both imaginative, both intuitive. For Dalit (or “untouchable-caste”) thinkers and writers, the path to the Russian novel, hastened by inexpensive paperback editions circulated in India during the Cold War, isn’t the straightforward dialogue of heirs to the social realist tradition, nor that of international communist allies. Critical of both the progressive writers and their pity for the poor, as well as the various communist parties and their indifference to caste, Dalit writers come to Mother Russia differently. This essay asks us to consider this web of citation as a shared subaltern vernacular. How might this vernacular allow us to examine a certain postcolonial logic of dissemination, one that gestures to a different kind of internationalism–not simply that of realists and workingmen, but one of half-castes, working mothers, and other marginal heroes?.
- Gorky, Maxim
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