Shankar Guha Niyogi

A Subaltern Salute

Sandip Bandyopadhyay

Manoronjan Byapari has already established himself as a writer with a difference. He has published several books some of which have been translated into Hindi and English. His autobiography ‘Itibritte Chandal Jivan’’ (The Story of an Untouchable) has made its mark. He not only writes about the oppressed but himself belongs to that class. His incredibly eventful life is a saga of long struggle and bitter suffering.

Born into a dalit family which left the former East Pakistan for West Bengal in the 1950s, Monoronjon spent some years with his parents and siblings in a refugee camp, then in Dandakaranya for a short period. He did not like the confined refugee-life and came back to Calcutta (Kolkata). There he somehow got involved in allegedly anti-social activities, was arrested and sent to jail in the early 1970s.  In jail, he actually learnt to read and write. Prison literally became his university.

On his release Monoronjon Byapari tried to eke out a living by doing various odd jobs, pulling rickshaws, working as a domestic help in middle-class households and finally got a settled job in a Government Home for the disabled. Meanwhile he had make up his mind to become a writer. He began to write poems, short-stories and attracted the attention of Mahasweta Devi and later some other authors and intellectuals who encouraged him to go on writing. And so did Monoronjon.

The *book under review is his attempt to fictionalise the life and struggle unto death of Shankar Guho Niyogi, the legendary labour-leader in Chattisgarh (then under Madhya Pradesh) who was assassinated by hired goons on 28 September, 1991 in Bhilai. Monoronjon inspired by Niyogiji’s ideal, had gone to Dalli-Rajhara in Durg district in the 1980s and worked with Guha Niyogi for some years. He thus got the chance to know the innovative trade union leader intimately and learn about his struggling life with commitment to the workers of the Bhilai Steel Plant.

Niyogiji’s association with the workers, formation of Chattisgarh Mukti Morcha under his leadership has been already well documented. In this book Monoronjon has tried to present the leader’s life since childhood till death in the form of a novel. He has added imagination to what he had learnt from personal association with Niyogi.

As a piece of literature, it may not stand out, but the attempt is undoubtedly laudable. Monoronjon Byapari has already written a number of novels. He knows the art. Here he has skilfully woven episodes after episodes into a moving saga. Niyogi fell in love with a tribal girl, Asha, and decided to become a member of that community by marrying the girl in the face of strong opposition from her father. Monoronjon has depicted this episode beautifully. In contrast, his description of the fateful night on which Niyogi was assassinated fails to leave a deep impact on the reader.

This writer remembers A K Roy’s speech at the Calcutta Book Fair in 1992 while launching a book on Shankar Guha Niyogi. It was far more moving than what Monoronjon has written. Besides, some chapters seem to be loosely knit—an account of incidents only. Apart from the printing errors, there are some factual inaccuracies too. The book, otherwise remarkable, should have been properly edited.

*‘‘Moron Sagar Paare Tomra Amor’’ (You Are Immortal Beyond Death) by Monoronjon Byapari,
ABP Prakashan, 2016

Vol. 49, No.37, Mar 19 - 25, 2017