Authored by Dalit writer Manoranjan Byapari, The Runaway Boy is a formidable novel of a Dalit boy’s journey through the dehumanising, segregationist culture and politics of India.
The Runaway Boy is the first part of Manoranjan Byapari’s Chandal Jibon trilogy. This trilogy consists of three semi-autobiographical novels by Byapari that depict the atrocities against the Dalit communities, known as the untouchables, in modern India.
Manoranjan Byapari reveals a world of perpetual hunger and abject poverty through the life of a Chandal boy named Jibon whose life begins in a squalid refugee camp in West Bengal, India. His parents fled the verdant beauty and vast waters of Barishal in erstwhile East Pakistan due to the partition of India that caused large-scale communal riots and bloodshed. They came to Kolkata in search of a better future.
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At the camp, their hope for a better future was crushed. Their unimaginable humiliation of being an untouchable was compounded by poverty every single day, leading to crippling hunger. One of the themes in the book is about Jibon’s desire to leave this life of hunger and humiliation behind him. Accordingly, he runs away to Kolkata to start a new life. In Kolkata, Jibon comes of age through a series of harrowing experiences as both caste and poverty continue to haunt him.
Readers of Byapari’s autobiography (Interrogating My Chandal Life: An Autobiography of a Dalit) can tell that Jibon is a mirror image of Byapari himself. What turns out to be the most remarkable trait of Jibon is how hatred and anger towards the socially privileged people are omnipresent in the Dalit consciousness.
Translated aptly by V. Ramaswamy, Byapari’s formidable novel is now accessible to readers across South Asia and beyond.