Eat with great delight.
Currently showing at Clark House Initiative, Mumbai, 12th July to 6th August 2018.
There are only a few Dalit cookbooks in active circulation. However, the works produced by the Dalit literary movement contain many vivid and complex descriptions of food. These descriptions deal with hunger, eating, cooking, joy, and trauma, all of which serve to call attention to Dalit communities’ everyday struggle and resistance under the caste system. Since 2017 I have been collecting extracts of Dalit literature that relate to food, and compiling them into books of recipes. Creating a cookbook which emphasizes the foodways of Dalit communities, to whom access to both food and literacy has been sparse, is an attempt to contest what Sharmila Rege has described as the “‘official forgetting’ of histories of caste oppression, struggles, and resistance”.
I was born and raised in Pune in a half-Dalit, half-English family. Since the 1980s we have had the luxury of a camera, and as a result we’ve had the opportunity to document our personal histories. While conducting my research into Dalit food culture, I became aware of the lack of positive imagery associated with Dalit communities in public circulation. It is of course immensely important to extensively document the oppression of the caste system and the deplorable conditions that many Dalit people are forced to survive under. But I think there is something significant – and humanising – in disseminating positive depictions of Dalit people too. With this in mind, I turned to photographs of my own family, and the memories captured on camera – most of which revolve around the sharing of food.
The title of this body of work, ‘Eat with great delight’, is also the name of a recipe I created from Dalit writer Omprakash Valmiki’s autobiography, ’Joothan’ (2003). In the book Valmiki captures seemingly contradictory emotions of shame, hunger, satiation, and celebration that can surround the Dalit experience, in this case in relation to ‘joothan’, the practice of gathering leftovers from upper caste wedding feasts.
Taken between 1984 and 2004 on point-and-shoot film cameras, the images displayed range from my mother drinking Maaza at her wedding reception, my aunt serving paper plates of Budhani wafers and cake to guests at a birthday, my brother learning how to use a knife and fork, sharing a meal with family, to spending time in the kitchen. Mostly they were shot by my mother, Vishakha, and my father, Lokamitra.