Narayan Surve: Poet of the working class

The life of the 84-yr-old is testament to the fact that an
under-privileged background doesn’t limit achievements

Ashlesha Athavale

Posted On Tuesday, August 17, 2010 at 02:59:47 AM

Author Girija Keer has been criticised for her recent comments on a TV
show. She allegedly said, “Most underprivileged people, slum dwellers
and illiterates lack talent.

How will it benefit if they are included in the Sahitya Sammelan?” She
is one of the writers in the race to preside over the prestigious
Marathi literary conference scheduled for December.

Noted poet Narayan Surve, who gave a voice to the working class, died
on Monday. His life is testament that Keer’s belief is incorrect. He
came up from an under-privileged background to a life of wordly riches
and was immensely gifted.

A social activist and communist, Surve struggled for years with his
identity as a poet, due to the background of his existence. He was
found by a mill worker when abandoned as a baby in 1926, and brought
up in a workers’ chawl.

Narayan Surve

Labelled Dalit due to this, Surve, who did not belong to a family,
class or religion, often questioned how he could be called one. He
could have come from a well-to-do person’s family, could have belonged
to a high caste.

While he was at odds with his Dalit poet image, he never denied the
fact that he came up from a working class background.

Surve lived on the streets and did odd jobs. His writings speak of the
urban angst of the worker who survives on daily earnings. He writes in
his celebrated work Mazhe Vidyapeeth (My University): Didn’t have a
house, nor relatives and friends/All that existed was the earth below
our feet/As also the shelter of the shops; besides,/The footpath of
the Nagarpalika was open,/Free of cost. Supporting himself later as a
schoolteacher, he actively took part in the workers’ union movement in

Surve is credited with giving the working class their say in modern
Marathi poetry. But while his poetry spoke about the experiences of
the working class, it was also introspective. His works include Sanad,
Manush Kalawant and Jahirnama.

Surve received many awards and honours including the Padma Shri for
excellence in Literature and Education. He also received the Kabir
Samman in 1999 from the Madhya Pradesh government.


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