Like all protest poets, S. Chandramohan writes without frills. He dives straight into the cauldron of social, communal and caste hierarchies and resultant deprivations, only to come up with a starkly polemic take on them.
A poet on a mission, he turns the iterated legends shaped by set notions of caste value on their heads in a bid to read them in the light of contemporary social realities.
A published poet — his first anthology, ‘Warscape Verses’, came out in 2014 — Mr. Chandramohan thinks that Indian poetry in English has been largely elitist, with little social commentary.
While poets like K. Satchidanandan and Ananya S. Guha have described his poems as overtly political and straight, it’s only recently that some of his poems were summoned to add muscle to the student protests happening across the country.
A Dalit poem written by him, ‘Killing the Shambukas’, sometime ago was suddenly brought back to currency across the country after the suicide of Hyderabad University student Rohith Vemula.
It reads thus:
“Jim Crow segregated hostel rooms Ceiling fans bear a strange fruit,
Blood on books and blood on papers,
A black body swinging in mute silence,
Strange fruit hanging from tridents.”
While the Shambuka poem was rendered in over 10 Indian and foreign languages and read out in protest demonstrations in New Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad, several other poems of his – looking at subaltern characters in Indian mythology from a Dalit perspective and often ringing them into the stifling hierarchies and deprivations of contemporary society – also found avid readers.
Mr. Chandramohan did his engineering and is now working as coordinator of the P.K. Rosy Foundation – launched in the name of the first Malayalam cine actress, a Dalit, whom nobody wanted to celebrate until recently.
“My effort at the moment is to build a commune of Dalit writers,” he says.