Fandry – The lived experience of caste

Pigs are controversial species to humankind. Muslims don’t eat pork and so do most of the upper caste Hindus. Personally speaking, I haven’t made peace yet with the idea of eating pork, a dead pig nor a dead cow or a dead buffalo. It’s something deeply entrenched in my own Brahminical conscience. I remember an experience from my childhood, I was napping in the afternoon and I heard a pig squealing. I rushed to the terrace and saw two men chasing a pig and finally catching it, and tying it. I was distressed by the sight at that time. I asked my father later, as to what would they do with it. He calmly replied, “They’ll kill and eat it.” I was aghast, “Eat a pig? How? Why?” He replied, “Well people eat cows, dogs, and snakes as well.” I was astounded by that reply.

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The movie, Fandry, is about a boy, Jabya, who is reluctant to chase pigs like his father does. They belong to a marginalized nomad group called Kaikadi. Fandry means a pig in Kaikadi language. The movie in its subtle ways builds up how Jabya is ashamed of his caste, reluctant to work like his parents – chase pigs, labour to build houses, dig trenches, cut wood, etc. He is smitten by Shalu, an upper caste girl in his class and dreams about her, while increasingly becoming conscious of his own identity, his looks, his skin colour, his poverty, and his caste. In a sequence, Patil family (upper caste land-owning community) asks Jabya to rescue a piglet stuck in a trench in front of their house. Jabya denies it, which surprises Patils, who then call his father (Kachru Mane) to take out the piglet.  The last half an hour of the movie is a sequence where the whole Mane family is chasing pigs in a wasteland outside Jabya’s school. Jabya is shown reluctant to catch pigs while his old father, out of compulsion to arrange money for daughter’s wedding, is relentlessly doing so. Kachru, tired and angry, that Jabya is busy hiding, beats up Jabya in front of all school kids. Jabya and Kachru, are ultimately successful, in catching the pig. While going back to their house, carrying the pig, Jabya is crying, ashamed and insulted in front of his friends. Meanwhile, upper caste boys tease Jabya and his sisters, call them ‘Fandry’. Jabya, sad and agonized, pelts stone at them, resorting to violence ultimately, to overcome his caste, to protest the discrimination.

The movie is a reflection on Nagraj Manjule’s (Director of the film) own life. Films like Fandry, are a rarity in India, a country obsessed about caste and religion, yet watches movies that are far away from reality. Artists like Manjule (who also directed Sairat) are perhaps rarer. Film artists publicly speaking against caste oppression, participating in protests is something unheard of for Indian film audience. Manjule not only does that, but has chosen a powerful medium like films to voice against that discrimination. One of my favourite sequence of the film is where Mane family is chasing pigs, and the national anthem starts. The pig is within the hold of Kachru and Jabya but both stand still for the anthem while the pig runs away. The film starkly showcases the absurdity of the whole endeavour. In a powerful imagery, Jabya and his family, is seen taking the pig amidst the backdrop of a wall with paintings of Dr. Ambedkar, Jyotiba Phule, Savitribai Phule, etc.

The film shakes you from within. This film is a story of the lived experience of caste, the experience of marginalization, the dent to self-confidence of a person. This article by Mint, gives glimpses of Manjule’s childhood struggle and loneliness growing up. I have previously written a blog article titled, Kanjar, where I have narrated an incident of how we came across children whose parents were perceived to be drunkards and cannibals. In another blog article, I have narrated how language we know and speak, also can lead to alienation. Dr. Ambedkar wrote a landmark essay titled, ‘Annihilation of Caste’, where he argues and viciously attacks the caste practices in sub-continent. The essay has been published on Columbia University’s website, click here.

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Cow terror in Una, Gujarat.

I first heard of the movie four years back, in 2013, when it was released. A friend told me that ‘Fandry’ means pig. And we both laughed. A movie about chasing pigs won the national award! A movie about chasing pigs, sounds absurd, at first. Yet we are normalized to caste, people chasing people over religion. Yet we are normalized to lynchings and deaths.  Only if I had lived chasing wild pigs, cleaning toilets, disposing off cows, I wouldn’t have laughed. I would have watched that movie back then. or probably never, for it would have reminded me of the insults, the humiliation. But I have not lived that experience, and it took me four years to watch a landmark movie. I did not laugh during the movie. I was sad, aghast, and agonized just like Jabya.

 

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Lost Stories

This is a quote from a wonderful book I recently stumbled upon.

“A happy love is a single story, a disintegrating one is two or more competing, conflicting versions, and a disintegrated one lies at your feet like a shattered mirror, each shard reflecting a different story, that it was wonderful, that it was terrible, if only this had, if only that hadn’t.

The stories don’t fit back together, and it’s the end of stories, those devices we carry like shells and shields and blinkers and occasionally maps and compasses. The people close to you become mirrors and journals in which you record your history, the instruments that help you know yourself and remember yourself, and you do the same for them. When they vanish so does the use, the appreciation, the understanding of those small anecdotes, catchphrases, jokes: they become a book slammed shut or burnt.

The stories shatter. Or you wear them out or leave them behind. Over time the story or the memory loses its power. Over time you become someone else.”

– Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Postcard from Vizag

Today instead of sending a poem,
Sending you a postcard.
Just to let you know,
That I am fine,
Away from home,
Away from the world I know,
I am fine.
I won’t ask, ‘How you doin?’
The reply I know is ‘fine’.
Vizag is beautiful,
Not that you’ll be jealous.
Just thought of letting you know.
Silenced, among the strange voices.
Confused and bemused.
Just to let you know.
Doing my part like the ocean does,
Rages from miles,
Promising to meet the land.
Promise is eternal,
And the meet ephemeral.
Hope it reaches you,
It won’t be in any wrap.
Open and bare,
Like your wounds and mine.
Would you read this time?
Smell it, see it.
Does it feel different?
– Shantanu
Vizag_Postcard