Baluta, by Daya Pawar, first appeared in print in 1978. The book is set in Mumbai and rural Maharashtra in the 1940s and ‘50s and describes in detail the practice of untouchability and caste violence and how the Dalit communities featuring in the book fought for their dignity. In this excerpt from the first translation of the book by Jerry Pinto (Speaking Tiger, June 2015), Daya Pawar, born into a Mahar family, is made to go back to his childhood by a question posed to him about a Mahar eating practice.
"So have you eaten the meat of dead cattle? Tell me honestly, how does it taste?" I was asked recently by an intellectual at Sahitya Sahvas, a writers’ colony in Mumbai. The question took my breath away. I answered in some confusion: "When I ate it, I was not at the age at which one remembers tastes. I only knew how to assuage my hunger, by filling the hole in my belly. During a famine, Vishwamitra ate the leg of a dog. During the great war, the Maratha platoons ate the meat of horses. So I won’t talk about the dead cattle that I may have eaten."
But it is true that the death of cattle brought great excitement to the Maharwada. It is also true that if the animal had died falling off a cliff, the excitement was even more acute. Such an animal’s flesh would be fresh. News that an animal had died in the wilds did not take long to get to the Maharwada. It would pass along faster than the telexes of today. When the vultures and kite began to circle, like aeroplanes, the Mahars would locate the fallen animal. They would rush to get there before the birds picked the carcass clean.