Born in Bharawas village, in the Rewari district of Haryana, the Hindi writer Ratan Kumar Sambharia has been living in Rajasthan for over three decades. Sambharia has written numerous books, including five short-story collections, and has edited a book on BR Ambedkar, whose political writing and activism made him an icon of the Dalit movement. Many of Sambharia’s works deal with the experiences of marginalised communities in India. His writing has been translated into several languages, including Kannada, Marathi, Punjabi and Sindhi.
Sambharia’s book Thunderstorm, which has been translated into English by the academic Mridul Bhasin, is a collection of 15 stories that shed light on various aspects of Dalit life in a casteist society. The stories, many of them set in Indian villages, explore themes of poverty, discrimination and land ownership, as well as more personal matters such as love and family. The following story, titled ‘Bes,’is told from the point of view of Agani, a tribal woman who is left stranded on her way to the city of Udaipur. Agani averts danger by donning thebes—clothes, or appearance—of an upper-caste Rajput woman.
Agani sat on the concrete platform at the crossroads, her plight that of a motionless puppet whose string had been snapped or of an insect caught in a whirlwind. Numb with fear, she couldn’t see, hear, call out for help or weep. She sat there, surrounded by the echoing sighs of the forest.
She now cast a sidelong glance at the two men tottering their way towards where she sat, meandering along opposite sides of the road. One searched the shadows under each tree, examining its roots minutely, lest she be crouching there. The other kept hitting every tree with his lathi to dislodge her from the branch she might be clinging to.
The two men, Harji and Marji, were dead drunk and beside themselves with rage. Then suddenly, their ire gave way to joy. She was close at hand, they felt. She had given them the slip all right, but they felt it wouldn’t be long before they found her.