Emissaries on the ‘caste-ing’ couch

Book: The Doctor And The Saint

Author: Arundhati Roy

Publisher: Penguin Books

Pages: 165; Price: Rs 299

Revolutions can begin, and often have begun, with reading...Annihilation of Caste is the eighty three year old text of speech, which was never delivered.”

Both these sentences find a mention in the opening page of the first chapter introducing the reader the void existing between the two, which actually is the passage from the past to present.

Arundhathi Roy once again through The Doctor And The Saint touches upon such a subject that itself is based upon untouchability and caste divide. A thing that we presume to have let go in the past but in reality practice till date. 

One thing I must say that this book is certainly not for a prejudiced mind. Moreover, when you come across a blunt comparison between Malala Yousafzai and Surekha Bhotmange, which certainly provides Arundhathi to rest her view as an author and take it forward. Demarcating an ideological divide over the issue of caste system, Roy has highlighted a split in the thought process of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar. In order to do so, she has relied upon various writings by these two iconic figures of our country.

The book informs the readers that when Annihilation Of Caste was published, the man who is often called the ‘Greatest of Hindus’ – Mahatma Gandhi – responded to Ambedkar’s provocation. Is the author trying to convey that the man who preached non-violence was himself vulnerable to provocation? As a reader, from time to time and chapter after chapter you will be confronted with a question of similar kind.

One thing was certain that their debate was not a new one. Roy herself refers to these two men as the emissaries of a profound social, political and philosophical conflict that had begun long ago and still by no means ended.

Chapter after chapter, Roy attempts to highlight the prevailing caste dynamics in social and political fabric of India. After a while, reader is bound to understand that what we have been ignoring all this while in the name of new modern progressive era is nothing but an old wine in new bottle, where caste still plays a pivotal role.

When we refer to the issues of honor killings and debate over it from time to time, we must also refer to the opinions expressed by Ambedkar and Gandhi through their writings on the subject of Caste. The Doctor And The Saint, provides that opportunity more than once throughout the read.

In one among the many that this book mentions of, there is this endorsement of caste system by Gandhi published in Navajivan in 1921. It is translated from Gujarati by Ambedkar (who suggested more than once that Gandhi ‘deceived’ people and that his writings in English and Gujarati could be productively compared)

Gandhi wrote: ‘Caste is another name for control. Caste puts a limit on enjoyment. Caste does not allow a person to transgress caste limits in pursuit of his enjoyment. That is the meaning of such caste restrictions as inter-dining and inter-marriage…These being my views I am opposed to all those who are out to destroy the Caste system.’

With this book, Roy, has once again put forward an example of pen being mightier than sword. Ironically, through her research she trespasses into the territory belonging to the messiah of peace and stumbles upon otherwise overshadowed messiah of equality. Let the readers decide, on whom the garland falls.