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‘My identity is very important to me’
Dibyajyoti Sarma | Saturday, 24 October 2015 AT 09:07 PM IST
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In an email interview with Dibyajyoti Sarma, Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar talks about his latest work, The Adivasi will not Dance, which has stories from hinterland of Jharkhand.

For Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, a medical officer presently working in Pakur, Jharkhand, 2013-14 was a banner year. His debut novel, The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey, was picked up by Aleph and released to glowing reviews. The book went on to win the Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar for the young wordsmith. His second book, The Adivasi will not Dance, has been published by Speaking Tiger and unsurprisingly, the stories about the tribal community in Jharkhand are making waves. Here’s chatting up the author:
As a writer, highlighting the issues of your minority community, where do you see yourself?
Writing-wise, I don’t see myself as someone different. I try not to think much about how I am being perceived by others, or what image I am portraying. If I am seen as “a writer writing on ethnic minority issues”, fine. If I am seen as just another writer, that is fine too. I am also okay with authors from other communities writing about my “ethnic minority” community, as long as their writing is true, their observations are right, they have put in a remarkable amount of research in their writing, and are not patronising towards my community. Lazy writing about a community, even if it is by an author from that community, is not a done thing.
You belong to the community you write about. How important is it?
Though I might not care about what others think of me, my identity is very important to me. The fact that I am an insider helps me because my observations about Santhals are first-hand and have some degree of authenticity.  Tomorrow, however, if I write about some other community or some other place, I wonder if I will receive the same type of acceptance.

Do you feel a certain responsibility towards telling the stories you do?

Yes. Very much. In fact, before the publication of both my books, I was terribly nervous. Am I telling the right stories? Am I telling them in the right way? And even now, after the publication of both my books, I look forward to being criticised and told that something is not quite right.
You first book is rooted in a specific time and place, and yet is mysteriously universal. On the other hand, The Adivasi will not Dance seems overtly political…
Fiction and activism, in my opinion, should be kept apart. Or  else it becomes pamphleteering and all the joy of reading fiction just flies away. The stories in The Adivasi will not Dance are political. But thankfully because of my editor’s intervention, the stories have not turned into banners and placards.
When I wrote The Mysterious Ailment... four years ago, I was still in medical college, eating in my maiya-babuji ka hotel. I had not seen much of the world. So, you had Santhal myths, details of their social system, their village, the mysterious ailment, the magic — because that was all that I knew at that time. There was a hint of Jharkhand politics in the background to create a timeframe. Now that I have a job and have to live by myself, all myths, magic and mystery have disappeared. I have stepped into reality, and you will see a huge difference between my first and recent book.

About The Adivasi will not Dance-

In this collection of stories, Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar breathes life into a set of characters who are as robustly flesh and blood as the soil from which they spring, where they live, and into which they must sometimes bleed.

Troupe-master Mangal Murmu refuses to perform for the President of India and is beaten; Suren and Gita, a love-blind couple, wait with quiet desperation outside a neonatal ward, hoping — for different reasons — that their blue baby will turn pink; Panmuni and Biram Soren move to Vadodara, only to find that they must stop eating meat to be accepted as citizens; Baso-jhi is the life of the village of Sarjomdih, but when people begin to die for no apparent reason, a ghastly accusation from her past comes back to haunt her.

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