A perceptive scholar


Saraswati Samman winner Sharankumar Limbale’s literary flourish is so evident in the 40 books that he has written, but his work on Dalit critical study has been influential and won acclaim. Prof. Avinash Kolhe sketches the man and his work.

Sharankumar Limbale (born 1956) Marathi novelist, poet, critic and short story writer, was selected for the 2020 Saraswati Samman, a prestigious literary recognition conferred annually by the K K Birla Foundation. The news took not only him but entire Marathi literary establishment by surprise. Before Limbale, Vijay Tendulkar got this in 1993 and Mahesh Elkunchwar in 2002. Apart from the citation, the award carries a plaque and award money of Rs 15 lakhs.

The 30th edition of the award, the highest recognition in the field of Indian literature in our country, was given to Limbale for his Marathi novel ‘Sanatan’ published in 2018.Sanatan is an important social and historical document of the Dalit struggle, said the K K Birla Foundation. It further said that the author has written this novel by creating many imaginative characters and space and weaved the story with history.

The Saraswati Samman is an annual award for outstanding prose or poetry literary works in any of the 22 languages of India listed in Schedule VIII of the Constitution of India. It is named after an Indian goddess of Knowledge. It was instituted in 1991 by K K Birla Foundation. The candidates are selected from literary works published in the previous ten years by a panel that included scholars and former award winners. The first award was given to Dr Harivanshrai Bachchan for his four-volume autobiography ‘Kya Bhooloon Kya Yaad Karoon’, ‘Needa Ka Nirman Phir’, Basere Se Door’ and ‘Dashdwar Se SopanTak’.

Limbale’s novel ‘Sanatan’ was selected by a committee of scholars and writers headed by former secretary general of Lok Sabha Dr Subhash Kashyap. The selection process was three-tiered and involved deep and intense comparative study to locate an outstanding work of literature from 22 Indian languages.

Born in Solapur district of Maharashtra, Sharankumar completed MA in Marathi literature and later PhD on ‘The Comparative study of Marathi Dalit literature and American Black literature’ from Shivaji University, Kolhapur. He worked with the Yashwantrao Maharashtra Open University, Nasik from where he retired as a professor and director.

Till today Limbale has penned over 40 books, but he is best known for his autobiography ‘Akkarmashi’, which is translated in many Indian languages as well as in English. The English translation was published by the Oxford University Press with the title ‘The Outcaste’. Limabale is well known for his contribution to Dalit critical studies. His book ‘Towards an Aesthetics of Dalit Literature’ published in 2004 is considered amongst the most important works on Dalit literature.

It is necessary to locate Limabale in the history of Marathi Dalit literature. Dalit Literary conference began from March 1958. The Dalit literature got real boost in 1972 when a group of firebrand young Dalit writers like Namdeo Dhasal, Raja Dhale and J V Pawar launched ‘Dalit Panthers’ on the lines of American ‘Black Panthers’. The driving force behind these Panthers was the works and philosophy of Dr B R Ambedkar who believed that literature should not only promote social and human progress, but also foster values. A literature that supports inequality is not only unacceptable to him; but in his views, there must be a mass movement against such literature.

Limbale’s autobiography ‘Aakramashi’ (The outcaste) published in 1984, was well received by readers and scholars alike. Limbale was born as an illegitimate son of upper-caste Patil and a poor untouchable mother. ‘The Outcaste’ records Limbale’s miserable life of an untouchable, half caste person. It brought to surface the dirty side of Indian society.

Limabale’s next important work was novel ‘Hindu’, published in 2010. Scholars argue that Limbale’s‘Hindu’ depict modern conflicts in India. This novel is set in a village in Maharashtra where Panchayat elections are due. Tatya Kamble influenced by Ambedkar’s thoughts, stands up for self-respect and participates in political process. Under the rules of reservations, the post of sarpanch goes to reserved category and a Dalit candidate is fielded by his upper-caste employer. This sets a cat among the pigeons. What happens to caste relations, political power dynamics is painted dispassionately. Slowly, though violently, political consensus emerges in the village which is delineated extremely sensitively by Limbale.
As a perceptive scholar of Indian literature, Dr Limbale argued in his ‘Towards an Aesthetics of Dalit Literature’ that ‘an ancient and modern Marathi literatures do not portray the actual life and struggle of Marathi people: rather, they reflect the influence of erotic and romantic aspects of Sanskit and English literature’.

Limbale got this prestigious award for his sterling contribution to Marathi literature.

Prof. Avinash Kolhe

Prof. Avinash Kolhe retired as Associate Professor in Political Science from D.G. Ruparel College, Mumbai.