Poet from Jharkhand bags Sahitya Akademi award for poem with universal appeal

anuj lugun

For decades in India, the Adivasi identity has been appropriated and exploited for political and economic gains.The diverse culture of tribal people in the country has been commodified, packaged and labelled with an umbrella-term, which does little to help their cause. At the same time, the mainstream media and literary discourse has largely ignored Adivasi literature.

But that is beginning to change. In 2015, Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar from Jharkhand won the Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puruskar for his debut novel The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey, and was nominated for several literary prizes. Touted as the first full-fledged Santhal novel written in English, it was followed by three more works by Shekhar to much critical acclaim.Shekhar, a Santhal by ethnicity, portrays in his works the living experiences of the people of the Santhal Pargana area of Jharkhand. In fact, in his collection of short stories The Adivasi Will Not Dance,the depiction of oppression and abuse of the tribal community is so honest that it made Jharkhand government ban the book in 2017 (the ban was lifted later on).

This year, another writer from Jharkhand is creating ripples in the literary circuit. Anuj Lugun, a young novelist and poet from Simdega, Jharkhand has been awarded this year’s Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puruskar for his long Hindi poem, Baghaur Sugna Munda ki Beti (The Tiger and the Daughter of Sugna Munda).

33 year-old Lugun, who was born in Simdega, Jharkhand and studied at Ranchi College and Banaras Hindu University, is currently an assistant professor at Central University of South Bihar, Gaya. He was awarded the Muktibodh Rashtriya Kavya Sammaan in 2009, and Bharat Bhushan Agrawal Sammaan in 2011 for his poem Aghoshit Ulgulaan (Undeclared Uprising).

For Lugun, the Yuva Puruskar brings the needed recognition that he feels his cause should get in the mainstream, but it is of no value to him“if the ground reality does not change for my people.”

Lugun’s poetry carries the themes of nostalgia, loss of tribal life and identity, the commercialisation and exploitation of natural resources, loss of habitat of animals, resistance against hegemony, among others.His works chronicle the history of tribal struggle, revisit the myths of his community, and is an attempt to preserve their eroding way of life. In his own words, his poetry carries forward the ‘philosophy of resistance’.

In his award winning poem Baghaur Sugna Munda ki Beti (The Tiger and the Daughter of Sugna Munda), he creates a beast out of human greed and exploitation.The tiger in the poem is not a real animal but the animalistic fervour with which humans are exploiting nature and those whose lives depend directly on it. He writes: Usneapnenaakhunbadeykarliyehain, uskiaankheinpehle se zyadalaalaurpyaasihain (He has grown his nails longer,
his eyes are bloodier and thirstier than ever before).
In another poem, titled Sheherke Dostke Naam Patra (A Letter to My Friend in the City), he talks about the loss of valleys and rivers due to mining and dams, and urges his city friend to take care of the displaced tribal people who will have to migrate to the cities. In his poem Adivasi, he attacks the opportunistic and appropriated uses of the word ‘Adivasi’, often misused for political, economic, or reservation benefits by various sects of the country, and goes on to assert his community’s identity.

However, to limit his body of work to being tribal-centric would be a grave mistake.Lugun himself says that he tries to depict the global urgency of his local concerns, and that “the effects of rampant abuse by profit-driven capitalists is not just a concern for the indigenous people of any area, but a concern for each and every being on this planet”. In Sheherke Dostke Naam Patra, he writes:

Kalekpahadko truck par jaate hue dekha, ussepehlenadigayi, ab khabar fail rahihaiki, meragaonbhiyahan se jaanewalahai (Yesterday I saw a mountain leaving on a truck, the river had already left, now there’s news that my village will leave this place too)

Lugun’s relevance increases at a time when many states in the country are facing severe water crisis; when stories of people fighting over water supply are turning from dystopian fiction to daily news. When the world is marred by climate change and global warming, his poetry about loss of forests, drying up of rivers, and exploitation of natural resources by MNCs for profit seems as prophetic as it is historic; as global as it is local.

Lugun, who belongs to the Mundari community of Jharkhand, documents the tribal way of living, a culture that is one with nature and believes in returning what it takes from the soil. He believes that “for the world to fight global warming and other environmental issues, engaging with the Adivasi discourse is absolutely essential.”

The lamentation of loss is a major part of Lugun’s body of work; but there is also agony, anger, and an unapologetic disgustfor the system that causes it. In Gulaamgiri (Slavery), he writes:

Kuch der meingulaammaalikonkekehne par sadko par aayenge vote daalengeaurjashnmanayenge – “loktantra..loktantra..loktantra..” (The slaves will come out in a while on the orders of their masters to cast their votes and celebrate – “democracy..democracy..democracy..”)

He attributes the revolutionary energy in his works to the struggles of his family. Notably, he is the nephew of William Lugun, a prominent leader of the Jharkhand Movement, and his family has been engaged in resistance for a long time. It is this philosophy of resistance that permeates all of his poems. Growing up amidst stories of both supremacy and struggle, of both colonisation and comradeship, he believes that the stream of history has a different colour for the oppressor and the oppressed. For example,in his long poem Eklavya Se Samvaad (A Conversation with Eklavya), he revisits the famous Mahabharata episode and explores the existing Mundari tradition of practicing archery without a thumb, with the arrow held between the index and middle fingers. He subverts the common perception of the Eklavya episode by writing from a tribal perspective:

Eklavya, ab jab bhi tum aana, teer-dhanushkesaath hi aana, haan, kisi Drona koapna guru mat maanna, vahchallkartahai (Eklavya, if you come again, come with a bow and arrows, and yes, do not make Drona your guru, he is deceitful)

The foremost concern for Lugun’s art and politics is the preservation of tribal identity, an identity that he feels is being stolen, and which “has to be saved by everyone, not just Adivasis.”

Although his award winning poetry is located near literary giants like Dhumil and Paash by his admirers, he himself is a fan of Kabir (“the sharpness with which he attacks the powerful is brilliant”),GajananMadhavMuktibodh, and the Mundari writer MenasOrea.

Writers like AnujLugun are a case in point for art as resistance and the need to pass on the mic to voices from minority communities. His poetry is important, and adds to the slow but loud revolution that is happening in the literary circuit, as more and more oppressed voices are finally being heard.

His poems can be read online at http://kavitakosh.org/kk/%E0%A4%85%E0%A4%A8%E0%A5%81%E0%A4%9C_%E0%A4%B2%E0%A5%81%E0%A4%97%E0%A5%81%E0%A4%A8

Tushar Rishi, is a Student, Hindu College, Delhi University


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