Tuesday, February 16, 2010

[ZESTCaste] Need to live: Panther Dhasal, voice of Dalit angst, turns restaurateur


Need to live: Panther Dhasal, voice of Dalit angst, turns restaurateur
Dhaval Kulkarni Posted online: Tuesday , Feb 16, 2010 at 0008 hrs
Mumbai : Once known as a chronicler of Dalit angst and one of the
fiery leaders of the Dalit Panther movement, poet and activist Namdeo
Dhasal is now donning a new hat, that of a restaurateur.
"Instead of fighting in the political arena, I am caught in the battle
for a livelihood. There is nothing that can cause more unhappiness to
one who always nurtured a desire to change the social and political
situation," said Dhasal, a Padma Shri award winner, on questions about
the ideological dilemma before him.

He said his multi-cuisine restaurant, Royal Inn at New Link Road in
Andheri West, has received a "good response" as it offers affordable
fare. He has taken the restaurant on rent with partner Roopkumar
Madnani. Dhasal, who says he is well-known in literary circles for his
relationship with food, has suggested most of the items on the menu
along with wife Mallika, who also gushes about her husband's culinary

Dhasal, who sought to portray the anger and frustration of a
generation that sought to counter centuries of oppression with a mix
of education, ideology and aggressive resistance, was seriously ill a
couple of years ago. Reeling under a financial crunch, when
politicians like Vilasrao Deshmukh and Sushilkumar Shinde and
celebrities had to step in for assistance, he had sold his old house
to meet hospital expenses. The remaining money is invested in the
hotel venture.

"That experience was very bad. If social activities don't provide you
security for a livelihood, then the only option left is to face death
keeping behind 40 years of work," said Dhasal, who suffers from
myasthenia gravis and feels that parties must care for full-timers.

"(I) do not want to seek favours from anyone in old age¿. Mass
movements cannot be a source of livelihood. Hence this attempt," said

Dhasal, who loves the reshmi and pahadi kebabs served in the hotel and
plans to experiment with more offbeat items on the menu like vazri (a
delicacy containing mutton intestines) and a curry of the harandodi
flowers once the restaurant carves out a niche, visits it regularly
and takes turns at sitting at the counter, also indulging in his
poetic musings and political activism, writing and meeting activists

Born in Pune district, Dhasal later shifted to Mumbai, where he grew
up in the red light area of the city, the Golpitha locality, famously
described in his poetry book by the same name that went on to cause a
churning in the upper-caste-and-middle-class-dominated literary
circles with its use of colloquial Marathi interspersed with street
lingo and simmering anti-establishment rage. He worked as a taxi
driver, quit in 1972 and formed the Dalit Panthers, inspired by the
American Black Panthers.

Dhasal pointed out how activists who chose to espouse causes of the
Dalit and downtrodden faced problems with their livelihood as they did
not have any elements in the established system supporting them. He
recalled how he and wife Mallika, daughter of Communist folk singer
Shashir Amarshaikh, were forced to sell raddi (old paper) to make both
ends meet.

However, problems have not taken the fight out of him. "The current
phase is decisive. It is time when the caste structure and system can
be given one decisive push as it slowly unravelling," said Dhasal, the
fire in his eyes intact.


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