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Fill in the Blanks (Entrance Exams)

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In Mann Joseph's debut novel Serious Men, the protagonist, Ayyan Mani, is a U1, scheming Dalit-Buddhist who almost gets away with passing off his partially deaf son, Adi, as a prodigy, a genius who can recite the first 1,000 prime numbers. The garb of satire-where almost every character cuts a sorry figure-gives the author the licence to offer one' of the most bleak and pessimistic portrayals of urban Dalits. Despite his savage portrayal of Dalit (and female) characters-or perhaps because of it? Serious Men has won critical appreciation front a cross-section of readers and critics.

At a time when a formidable body of Dalit literature writing by Dalits about Dalit lives has created a distinct space for itself, how and why is it that a novel such as Serious Men, with its gleefully skewed portrayal of an angry Dalit man, manages to win such accolades? In American literature and particularly in the case of African- American authors and characters these issues of representation have been debated for decades. But in India, the sustained refusal to address issues related to caste in everyday life and the continued and unquestioned predominance of a Brahminical stranglehold over cultural production have led us to a place where non-Dalit portrayal of Dalits in literature, cinema and art remains the norm. The journey of modem Dalit literature has been a difficult one. But even though it has not necessarily enjoyed the support of numbers, we must engage with what Dalits are writing not simply for reasons of authenticity, or as a concession to identity politics, but simply because of the aesthetic value of this body of writing, and for the insights it offers into the human condition. In a society that is still largely unwilling to recognise Dalits as equal, rights bearing human beings, in a society that is inherently indifferent to the everyday violence against Dalits, in a society unwilling to share social and cultural resources equitably with Dalits unless mandated by law (as seen in the anti-reservation discourse), Dalit literature has the potential to humanise non- Dalits and sensitise them to a world into which they have no insight. But before we can understand what Dalit literature is seeking to accomplish, we need first to come to terms with the stranglehold of non-Dalit representations of Dalits.

Rohinton Miary's (A Fine Balance), published 15 years ago, chronicles the travails of two Dalit characters uncle Ishvar and nephew Omprakash who migrate to Bombay and yet cannot escape brutality. While the present of the novel is set at the time of the Emergency, Ishvar's father Dukhy belongs to the era of the anti-colonial nationalist movement. During one of Dukhi's visits to the town, he chances upon a meeting of the Indian National Congress, where speakers spread the "Mahatma's message regarding the freedom struggle, the struggle for justice," and wiping out "the disease of untouchability; ravaging us for centuries, denying dignity to our fellow human beings."

Neither in the 1940s, where the novel's past is set nor in the Emergency period of the 1970swhen the minds and bodies Ishvar and Omprakash, are savaged by the state-do we find any mention of a figure like BR Ambedkar or of Dalit movements. In his 'nationalist' understanding of modem Indian history, Mistry seems to have not veered too far from the road charted by predecessors like Mulk Raj Anand and Premchand. Sixty years after Premchand, Mistry's literary imagination seems stuck in the empathy realism mode, trapping Dalits in abjection. Mistry happily continues the broad stereotype of the Dalit as a passive sufferer, without consciousness of caste politics.

"It is not as if Dalit movements _________ not active during the periods that form A Fine Balance's backdrop." Select the most appropriate choice to fill in the blank in the above sentence: 

In recent weeks, the writers William Dalrymple and Patrick French, among others, have come before a fusillade of criticism in India, much of it questioning not their facts, not their interpretations, but their foreignness.

"Who gets to write about India?" The Wall Street Journal asked on Wednesday in its own report on this Indian literary feuding. It is a complicated question, not least because to decide who gets to write about India, you would need to decide who gets to decide who gets to write about India. Rather than conjecturing some Committee for the Deciding of the Deciding of Who Gets to Write about India, it might be easier to let writers write what they please and readers read what they wish.

The accusations pouring forth from a section of the Indian commentariat are varied. Some criticism is of a genuine literary nature, fair game, customary, expected. But lately a good amount of the reproaching has been about identity.

In the case of Mr. Dalrymple, a Briton who lives in New Delhi, it is - in the critics' view - that his writing is an act of re-colonization. In the case of Mr. French, it is that he belongs to a group of foreign writers who use business-class lounges and see some merit in capitalism and therefore do not know the real India, which only the commentariat member in question does.

What is most interesting about these appraisals is that their essential nature makes reading the book superfluous, as one of my Indian reviewers openly admitted. (His review was not about the book but about his refusal to read the book.) The book is not necessary in these cases, for the argument is about who can write about India, not what has been written.

For critics of this persuasion, India surely seems a lonely land. A country with a millennial history of Hindus, Christians, Jews, Muslims and Buddhists living peaceably together; a country of hundreds.of dialects in which so many Indians are linguistic foreigners to each other, and happily, tolerantly so; a country that welcomes foreign seekers (of yoga poses, of spiritual wisdom, of ancestral roots) with open arms; a country where, outside the elite world of South Delhi and South Bombay, I have not heard an Indian ask whether outsiders have a right to write, think or exist on their soil.

But it is not just this deep-in-the-bones pluralism that challenges the who-gets-to write- about India contingent. It is also that at the very heart of India's multifarious changes today is this glimmering idea: that Indians must be rewarded for what they do, not who they are.

Identities you never chose - caste, gender, birth order - are becoming less important determinants of fate. Your deeds - how hard you work, what risks you take - are becoming more important.

It is this idea, which I have found pulsating throughout the Indian layers, that leaves a certain portion of the intelligentsia out of sync with the surrounding country. As Mr. French has observed, there is a tendency in some of these writers to value social mobility only for themselves. When the new economy lifts up the huddled masses, then it becomes tawdry capitalism and rapacious imperialism and soulless globalization.

Fortunately for those without Indian passports, the nativists' vision of India is under demographic siege. The young and the relentless are India's future. They could not think more differently from this literatis.

They savor the freedom they are gaining to seek their own level in the society and to find their voice, and they tend to be delighted at the thought that some foreigners do the same in India and love their country as much as they do.

"But with many outsiders' India-related books recently hitting bookstores there, the sensitivity ___________ flared into a bout of vigorous literary nativism, with equally vigorous counterpunches." Select the most appropriate choice to fill in the blank in the above sentence:

If religion and community are associated with global violence in the rtvnds of many people, then so are global poverty and inequality. There has, in fact, been an increasing tendency in recent years to justify policies of poverty removal on the ground that this is the surest way to prevent political strife and turmoil. Basing public policy - international as well as domestic- on such an understanding has some evident attractions. Given the public anxiety about wars and disorders in the rich countries in the world, the indirect justification of poverty removal -not for its own sake but for the sake of peace and quiet in the world - provides an argument that appeals to self interest for helping the needy. It presents an argument for allocating more resources on poverty removal because of its presumed political, rather than moral, relevance. While the temptation to go in that direction is easy to understand, it is a perilous route to take even for a worthy cause. Part of the difficulty lies in the possibility that if wrong, economic reductionism would not only impair our understanding of the world but would also tend to undermine the declared rationale of the public commitment to remove poverty. This is a particularly serious concern, since poverty and massive inequality are terrible enough in themselves, and deserve priority even if there were no connection whatsoever with violence. Just as virtue is its own reward, poverty is at least its own penalty. This is not to deny that poverty and inequality can - and do - have far-reaching consequences with conflict and strife, but these connections have to be examined and investigated with appropriate care and empirical scrutiny, rather than being casually invoked with unreasoned rapidity in support of a `good cause." Destitution can, of course, produce provocation for defying established laws and rules. But it need not give people the initiative, courage, and actual ability to do anything very violent. Destitution can be accompanied not only by economic debility but also by political helplessness. A starving wretch can be too frail and too dejected to fight and battle, and even te protest and holler. It is thus not surprising that often enough intense and widespread suffering and misery have been accompanied by unusual peace and silence. Indeed, many famines have occurred without there being much political rebellion or civil strife or intergroup warfare. For example, the famine years in the 1840s in Ireland were among the most peaceful, and there was little attempt by the hungry masses to intervene even as ship after ship sailed down the river Shannon with rich food. Looking elsewhere, my own childhood memories in Calcutta during the Bengal famine of 1943 include the sight of starving people dying in front of sweetshops with various layers of luscious food displayed behind the glass windows, without a single glass being broken, or law or order being disrupted.

"A sense of encroachment, degradation and humiliation can be even easier ______ mobilize for rebellion and revolt." Select the most appropriate word out of the four options for filling the blank space in the aforesaid sentence. 

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