Posthumous Dalit empowerment of R.K. Narayan

The Guardian, London, ran a story last April on a coffee shop in a hotel in Mysore staffed by Dalit girls.

“Dressed in a sunshine yellow and burgundy langa davane, the traditional costume of young south Indian girls, Gouri glides gracefully around the Green Hotel coffee shop.

“Poised and confident, she is one of 11 young women trained to run the Malgudi coffee shop at the Green Hotel, Mysore.

“The hotel is the brainchild of Dame Hilary Blume, founder of the Charities Advisory Trust in London. But Gouri’s mother could hardly have dreamed that her daughter would enter such a place….”

Admittedly, there is something to be said about this kind of empowerment especially when Dalits have traditionally been condemned to menial tasks like cleaning toilets; when their girls are routinely beaten up, stripped, paraded naked, even killed, for so much as daring to aspire.

Agreed it makes sense for a restaurant in Mysore to name itself after the mythical town that was born in the City, in a manner of speaking. Yet, there are a couple of questions to be asked after throwing political correctness to the wind.

# Like, has Green Hotel or Dame Hilary Blume taken the permission of the writer R.K. Narayan or his family for the use of his creation “Malgudi” for a commercial purpose albeit with a social cause?

# If they haven’t, would vegetarian Narayan, who rarely wore his social concerns on his half-sleeves, have allowed the exploitation of “Malgudi” even if it was to empower Dalit girls?

# And if neither Narayan nor his family have been kept in the loop about such a development, does a “Malgudi” coffee shop amount to a copyright violation, Dalit or no Dalit?

The author of the Guardian article Mari Marcel Thekekara wrote elsewhere in June 2009:

“The Malgudi coffee shop opened on February 2, 2009, with much fanfare. The press was extremely supportive of the idea and gave us wonderful reviews. The girls were nervous on opening day, but they charmed the guests nevertheless….

“Mysore is considered a conservative, one-horse town (by Bangaloreans and the fashionable elite), but the much-maligned media went to town praising the concept of dalit slumdwellers being given a break. And the girls were delighted to be on local television and on the front pages of the major dailies….”

On the one hand, you could argue that a Malgudi coffee shop in Mysore is better than a Malgudi that serves authentic Chettinad, North Indian and multi-cuisine in Singapore. Or in Madras.

And in a City that has  done little to preserve the name of its most famous writer, a Malgudi coffee shop is better than no Malgudi coffee shop, considering that at least a few foreigners will go home with memories enlivened by the experience of sipping south Indian filter coffee by the river Sarayu.

Still, on the other hand….

Read the full story: Taking destiny to task

Image: courtesy Bellur Ramakrishna

Also read: Anybody Dalit in the media and speaks English?

CHURUMURI POLL: Dalits being taken for a ride?

Disgusted. Afflicted. Literate. Intelligent. Talented