Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Untouchables: My Family's Triumphant Escape from India's Caste System
by Narendra Jadhav

Untouchables is collage of memoirs by Dr. Narendra Jadhav and his parents. Although the title suggests a political slant, the book actually has a substantial set of stories revolving around family life and Indian village life. Jadhav's father was part of Babasaheb Ambedkar' s movement to eradicate untouchability, but he was just a leader on a local level, so his story is novel to those of us familiar with the great-man approach of history textbooks, Indian and otherwise.

The book's most poignant moments, which made it a worthwhile read for me, come in the parts where Jadhav describes the marriage of his parents, which, though arranged, was very successful. Despite their poverty, they did not seem to have disease or death to deal with, so the book as a whole doesn't have a tragic quality. In fact, the everyday stories are humorous and somewhat familiar to anyone who has spent anyone time among farmers or in villages in any part of the world. Moreover Jadhav's father was an adventurer in Mumbai a la Shantaram, albeit on a small scale, and his garrulity adds much spice to the central chapters.

The book is translated from Marathi by the author himself, who is now a renowned economist. Some Marathi words, such as Aiee (mother), are left untranslated for their endearing quality; a glossary will help non-native speakers translate these words.


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