It is very difficult to fathom the disgust and fear felt by the scavenger community. Disgust and fear is aroused in their minds mainly due to the occupation that they are indulged with. No human beings will to become a scavenger; it is out of no choice or the onus of generational occupation makes one a scavenger. This chapter will focus on the feelings of anger generated by untouchablity on a scavenger and the fear of being a scavenger leading to self-pity and self-disgust.
The fear of becoming a scavenger is imprinted in the minds of every scavenger. Chudalamuttu too faced the inhibitions of becoming a scavenger. It was against his wishes that he became a scavenger just like his father. It was Ishukkumuttu who had the intentions of making his son a scavenger like him. There is contrasting feeling of emotions in the father son duo. Ishukkumuttu belonged to that generation of scavengers who deemed it their destiny to become a scavenger and accepted the fate with folded hands. This submissive nature was instilled in the minds of the scavengers by the upper caste members of the society. By default they became compliant and subservient to the superior caste people. They took it to themselves the duty of cleaning the latrines and saw to that their children followed suit. Ishukkumuttu rebukes Chudalamuttu’s disinterest in taking up the family occupation. He showers abuses at him when he gets to know that Chudalamuttu showed clear disdain in taking up the job in front of the overseer. He is angered by his son, who disobeyed him by not asking about his confirmation as a scavenger with the over seer. Deep inside, they did not wish to become a scavenger but they sort of internalized the fear by accepting the fate and moving on doing their filthy work.
If for Ishukkumuttu, the fear was about his son not becoming a scavenger, for Chudalamuttu it was the fear of becoming a scavenger. The night he knew he was going to end up in a similar fate as that of his father Chudalamuttu could not sleep. The very thought of becoming a scavenger irked Chudalamuttu. He had worked as a scavenger replacing another scavenger and the very experience was disgusting for Chudalamuttu. He dreaded the thought of living his entire life as a scavenger clinging on to his tin and shovel. This very thought of becoming a scavenger angered him. The fear of becoming a scavenger engulfed Chudalamuttu and invoked the wrath in him. He wished for a better dignified life like other normal people. He wanted to lead a normal life without poverty. He is angered by the very thought of becoming a scavenger like his father and thus questions humanity, “Cannot a scavenger live like a human being? Cannot he too get some money together?” (Asher 2). He further takes out the anger in the form of becoming a rebel in the very first day of his joining. He unlike the other scavengers refuses to eat the food provided at the household he works for. Despite of having a tiring day, Chudalamuttu slogged without taking a morsel of food. This was the way in which Chudalamuttu expressed his anger over his destiny, the destiny that every scavenger fears. Taking up the job handed down to generations, the job as a scavenger in the Municipal town of Alleppey.
Another fear that tormented the community of scavenger was the fear of death. Death was a frequent visitor to a scavenger’s household. Indulging in an unhygienic job as manually removing human excrements, scavengers were prone to many deadly diseases.
No one among us ever reached the age he did. If nothing else happens we get typhoid, or cholera, or dysentery, or small pox. Then it’s all over. If it doesn’t happen through one of these, then it’ll be consumption. Forty is the greatest age we can expect to reach. (Asher 8)
Small pox affected the town of Alleppey and death came knocking at the doors of scavengers. The scavengers too feared for their lives as the epidemic was taking a toll on them. The fear of dying from small pox haunted them day and night and this made them superstitious. Despite their poverty, they contributed money to please all the gods and goddesses. When Sunindran’s wife was diagnosed with small pox, the entire community of scavengers was left to worry. Death has made its way into the scavenger community and soon it would wipe out the clan. In that small pox epidemic, plenty of scavengers and their family became martyrs. “Nobody knows how many people died in that smallpox outbreak, or how many survived” (Asher 54).
Cholera was yet another deadly disease that the scavengers feared. After the small pox outbreak it was the chance of cholera. Death reappeared and presented itself amongst the scavengers in a new form and shape. Once again the Municipal town of Alleppey feared under the shadow of death. With increasing number of dead people, Chudalamuttu was promoted as the gatekeeper of the cemetery. This new job for Chudalamuttu was a huge relief. He was no longer a scavenger and that was all he wanted in life. When death was playing its fearful dance among the people, Chudalamuttu was reveling in the new job. But with increasing number of deaths being reported each day, Chudalamuttu also feared the inevitable. It was very difficult to evaluate the number of people who died of cholera that year in Alleppey. The worse affected from the outbreak were the outcastes and the displaced, “They are the beggars, poor people and suchlike. They are to be seen being picked up, one after the other, from roadsides and street corners” (Asher 97).
This fear of becoming a scavenger leads to anger and disgust towards the profession of manual scavenging. Chudalamuttu feared he would become a scavenger and his worst fears came true. But this only ignited the anger inside him. Chudalamuttu was never happy being a scavenger. The very occupation shrouded him in a mist of fear and anger. He was furious with the upper caste people who treated him like filth. But there was nothing he could do about it. The fear of belonging to the scavenger community suppressed the anger inside him. When Chudalamuttu is blessed with a baby boy and the Municipal president’s wife makes fun of his son’s name, Chudalamuttu becomes furious,
So is he going to be called Baby, the scavenger? Then she, too laughed. The words, ‘He’s not a scavenger’ were on the tip of Chudalamuttu’s tongue. But he suppressed them. Let them learn that later. Chudalamuttu returned home that day more pensive than on any previous occasion. The thought of vengeance was a strong fire that was consuming his heart. He would make them call the child ‘Baby’… But it was pity that he had been born a scavenger’s son. (Asher 76)
Chudalamuttu was well aware of his socio-economic status in the society, and this prevented him from confronting his superiors. He feared his identity. He did not want to be known as a scavenger and this prompted him to take up any job apart from manual scavenging. Identity operates on two levels and they are individual and collective identity. According to Sivaprakasam,
One’s name and status he/she occupies in his community establishes individual identity. Two questions, to an individual would reveal his/her identity. The first one is “who am I?” which is generally answered by an assertion of continuity…second is “What am I?” This is generally answered by assertion of distinctiveness through culture and community and has to be answered by revealing one’s inner self, one’s membership of and adherence to particular cultures and distinctive communities. Collective identities are composed of individual members…Collective identity of members of a group is formed when the group has certain characteristics. (Sivaprakasm 76-77)
Chudalamuttu possesses both the identities but he is perplexed by his individual identity. He is identified as Chudalamuttu, the scavenger but it is this identity that he wishes to erase. He tries not to be the way like other scavengers thereby trying to remove his collective identity. He alters his dressing and mannerisms to deviate from his identity as a scavenger. “His vest and shorts are neat and clean. One can see at a glance that he is no ordinary scavenger. If it were not for the tools he is carrying, one would doubt whether he was really a scavenger” (Asher 20).
The fear became deep-seated for Chudalamuttu with the passage of time. This fear re-appears with the birth of his son, Mohanan. Mohanan’s birth was a joyful event in Chudalamuttu’s life, yet the fear of his son being called as ‘the scavenger’s son’ was something to be worried about. Thus, we see the fear of being a scavenger’s son is cyclic. With the birth of his son Chudalamuttu is worried and tries to alienate himself as much as possible from the new born. Chudalamuttu loves his son very deeply and he is very protective about him. But deep inside his conscious he tries not to get close to his son. He could not bear the thought of his son being addressed as ‘the scavenger’s son’. He did not want his son to undergo the same trauma that he underwent as a scavenger.
When the child made the sound ‘mma’ valli would call out, ‘What is it, my son?’ She had the right to say that. But when the child made the sound ‘ppa’ Chudalamuttu was afraid to answer. He was a scavenger. And the child? What was the child? Valli was annoyed: ‘Oh, so that’s how it is. When the child calls, you don’t say a word in reply.’ It was not because Chudalamuttu did not wish to establish a claim to his position as the child’s father. Chudalamuttu wanted to claim the child as his. But he was afraid! The child must not know that his father was a scavenger, he must not be told. The child must not get a sense of inferiority in that way. (Asher 77)
He did not want others to know the identity of his son and hence he names him differently. He names his son Mohanan keeping in mind that the name given to his son was generally given to the members of the upper caste. Names also represented the caste to which a person belongs to. The scavengers were named differently from the members of the upper caste. Chudalamuttu faced the smirk of both the upper caste people and the scavengers for naming his son Mohanan. Other scavengers mocked at Chudalamuttu for ambitiously naming his son Mohanan. A scavenger was denied the freedom of naming his child according to his likes as he was expected to name the newborn according to the caste it belonged to. Scavengers usually had names like, Pichandi, Muniyandi, Vadivelu, Ishukkumuttu and Chudalamuttu. From the name of a person one could identify the caste from which he/she belonged to.
He feels pity and disgust towards himself and blames his fate for making him a scavenger. Chudalamuttu is swept over by multiple emotions like fear, anger, pity and disgust. Fear of becoming a scavenger and the untouchable factor associated with it leads to the feeling of anger and frustrations in the mind of the untouchable. This in turn leads to self-pity and self-disgust.
Pillai, Takazhi. Scavenger’s Son (Tottiyute Makan).Trans. R. E. Asher. Oxford: Heinemann, 1993. Print.
Sivaprakasam, M. N. “Identification of Dalit Community”.Dalits and Social Mobilisation. New Delhi: Rajat Publications, 2002. Print.