Jijibisha:The Will to Live- The Story of Manoranjan Byapari

What  do you expect the future of a boy who had a pathetic childhood, no schooling, a painful adulthood with petty jobs, who  was in and out of prisons for petty crimes? The odds are very high of such a person amounting to anything significant in life.

His parents were migrant labourers from erstwhile East Pakistan who migrated to West Bengal during partition. He was a toddler at a refugee camp in south  24 Parganas then. His sister died of starvation and father was ruined by gastric ulcer.

He worked as a dishwasher in a tea stall, pulling cycle rickshaw, daily wage worker and a caretaker in a Chhatisgarh crematorium. Last 20 years he has worked as a cook in a ramshackle hostel in Kolkata for the hearing impaired.

In the early 70s when the Naxalbari movement was at its peak, he used to take part in protests and quite often he was beaten, tortured and put behind bars. He used to be frequently arrested under the charges of arson, looting, bombing and attempt to murder. He was sent to Alipore and Presidency Jails a number of times.

Manoranjan Byapari is no trader of entertainment but a personification of pain.

All these years, the only thing that was simmering in him was anger against the unjust establishment. One day while in jail one of the inmates said to him,” Getting angry at others may not solve your problem. From this window can you see the sapling on the rooftop of National Library? If it can survive in concrete, you too can find something worth living in this prison. Find a purpose in life.” That day Manoranjan started learning Bangla alphabets on the walls and floor of the prison; first with dust and stones and then with chalk. Two years in prison, he  was able to read and write Bangla fluently. When he came out, he started reading voraciously whatever he laid his hands on.

Throughout the day he used to pull a cycle rickshaw sometimes as long as 16 hours. The spare time while waiting for the passengers was devoted for his new passion of reading. A word called jijibisha from a story caught his attention. He could not decipher the meaning He asked a number of passengers but no one could answer him properly. One day a passenger, an old lady answered his query saying the word jijibisha meant a will to live. Finding something exceptional in the rickshaw puller, the lady  scribbled  her name and her home address on a piece of paper and asked Manoranjan to meet her later.  After the lady alighted, he  took out the novel underneath the seat. It was Agnigarbha by Mahasweta Devi, ( Jnanpith Award winner, Political activist and writer of books – Hazar Chaurashir Maa, Rudali etc.) the same lady who was in the rickshaw a few minutes before.

His first piece of writing, Rickshaw Chalai (I pull a rickshaw ) was published in Mahasweta Devi’s journal Bartika.

His autobiography Ittibrittey Chandal Jibon when translated into English, spread his fame beyond West Bengal and he was invited to Jaipur Lit Festival. He has to his credit 17 books over the last 40 years of his toil and has received number of awards which include West Bengal Sahitya Academy, Ravindra Smriti Puraskar, Gateway Litfest Writer of the year, Hindu Award for Non-Fiction among others. His writing focusses on the marginalized sections of the society  be it the sex workers, daily wage labourers, beggars etc with whom he has one-one interactions. His writing is authentic as he is able to empathise with his protagonists. In one of his interviews he says:

Quote

I too have worked very hard to progress step-by-step. I would labour throughout the day and then sit down with pen and paper at night. My body would droop with fatigue. My guts would twist like burnt cobra in hunger, but I would keep writing page after page ignoring all the pain.

Unquote

Ray Bradbury in his book Zen in the Art of Writing says, If you have to write with passion you need to have something original, something authentic to say. His philosophy is, “Every morning I jump out of bed and hit a landmine, that landmine is me; it explodes. After the explosion,  I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces together.”

Manoranjan Byapari was born a Chandal,  considered as among the lowest in Shudra caste and he says that you just cannot get out of what your birth has assigned you irrespective of your achievements. His autobiography Interrogating a Chandal Life – Autobiography of a Dalit  won him a number of accolades. However the elite Bhadralok literati still shuns him. Even after being a writer for 20 years he was struggling to get a decent job and had to work as a cook in a shanty  hostel.  It speaks volumes about the Hindu caste-based hierarchy.  He says, “I write because I cannot kill.”

 

11 thoughts on “Jijibisha:The Will to Live- The Story of Manoranjan Byapari

  1. Deepak Kulkarni

    I liked the last sentence ” I write because I cannot kill”. It tells a lot about the person, his experience, his views to look at things, his grounded approach etc. Very nicely written.

    Reply
  2. Aalhad Parulekar

    Byapari ji’s story is indeed one of valour amidst a lifetime of struggle. Its sad that he’s shunned by his peers for his caste identity, that too among educated folks. Thanks for writing !

    Reply
  3. Ashwin Srirangaraj

    Hello Rajan, Firstly, thanks for sending me this link – Extremely Motivational. Fantastic example to relate.
    Should & must be used by Managers & Leaders to bring the resurgence, a sense of purpose & ownership in their repective teams members.

    I personally loved the line:

    “If it can survive in concrete, you too can find something worth living in this prison. Find a purpose in life.”

    Thanks again for sending it.

    Reply
  4. ashisdutta

    Very poignant and moving. Very well written. After reading, I am reminded of Munshi Premchand’s story called Satgati. A sense of guilt lingers much after the story is over.

    Reply
  5. Yatin Chandrakant Samant

    Thank you for sharing Rajan
    It has a lot of potency of message in terms of Will to live which fuels drive to fight challenges to succeed
    Faith in self , What a change in perspective can do – Power of Perspective ( in Jail )
    Finding purpose of live .

    While I wish him well , I trust & pray for him that his struggle would have lifted him to a level to look at world beyond bitterness & anger ; to be more future focused than as a captive of past and that he can now use his energy & new found confidence to create many new Manoranjans

    At the end , I felt one can relate to his struggle , pain , achievements even without knowing which caste he came from .
    That he may have suffered due to caste , to my mind has far lesser relevance to make a difference to a reader to sense his struggle as a human being ; in a sense that it neither adds not takes away from his struggle , experience of learning thereof and certainly not to a reader’s comprehension of all that he has gone through

    Reply
  6. Yatin Samant

    Thank you for sharing Rajan
    It has a lot of potency of message in terms of Will to live which fuels drive to fight challenges to succeed
    Faith in self , What a change in perspective can do – Power of Perspective ( in Jail )
    Finding purpose of live .

    While I wish him well , I trust & pray for him that his struggle would have lifted him to a level to look at world beyond bitterness & anger ; to be more future focused than as a captive of past and that he can now use his energy & new found confidence to create many new Manoranjans

    At the end , I felt one can relate to his struggle , pain , achievements even without knowing which caste he came from .
    That he may have suffered due to caste , to my mind has far lesser relevance to make a difference to a reader to sense his struggle as a human being , since his struggle , experience and learning would have been as authentic regardless of caste factor

    Reply

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