Navayana comes of age

हल्की थी तब चढ़ी तराजू पूरी भरी फ़िर क्या तोले
मन मस्त हुआ फ़िर क्या बोल

I weighed myself on the scale of nothing
I’m now filled, fulfilled—what’s to measure against?

Today, 5 November 2021, marks Navayana’s eighteenth anniversary. Over the years, we have had a somewhat indifferent relation to the occasion. Sometimes we have sent out newsletters such as this to mark the event, reflecting on our past and future; sometimes we have offered specials and discounts (now they are there, all year round, desperate times desperate measures in an Amazoned world); at other times we have forgotten about the whole do altogether. In fact, we passed our tenth anniversary quietly, working towards the future we are now in. What does the founding date of a publishing house signify anyway? An arbitrary date of arbitrary significance, marking off a bit of historical self-importance. Like Kabir asks in the epigraph, what’s to measure against?

But in its eighteenth year, we feel Navayana has truly come of age. This has much to do with the Navayana Dalit History Fellowship which we launched this year, a project which has been a long time coming. For too long, we have mulled about our history of errors and missteps. In the end, the going was exceedingly fulfilling, though laborious, considering the quality of ideas we received from the seventy-odd applicants for the nDHF. The eight fellows who were eventually selected—Ankit Kawade, Arul Muthu Kumaran, Babasaheb Kambale, Chandrabhan P. Yadav, Ishita Roy, Mahitosh Mandal, Meera Jatav and Murugan V.—signal much hope. They spoke in an online event on 14 October, the day of rebirth, of Babasaheb Ambedkar’s conversion when over half a million people participated in a bloodless battle for “the reclamation of their human personality”. Here is a peek into what the eight fellows had to say:

We are also delighted to announce two new upcoming Navayana titles.

Out this December will be Jalalul Haq’s The Shudra: A Philosophical Narrative of Indian Superhumanism—a philosophical autopsy of ancient Indian thought. It shows how Indian history begat superhumans and subhumans, how inequality pervaded Buddhism, Jainism and other self-styled heterodox Shramanic sects, even as they tried to counter the hegemony of Brahmanism. Haq, who taught philosophy at Aligarh Muslim University for four decades, offers us a classic work of original thought. The Shudra is a novel meta-narrative of inequality in India.

The new year will see the launch of a grand narrative of equality. Martine Le Coz’s The King of the Mountain is the story of King Salhesh of Mahisautha. The tale has been passed down orally over the centuries by the Dalit community of Dusadhs in the Mithila region, and came to Martine through Urmila Devi, the master artist from Jitwarpur, Madhubani. King Salhesh is destined to be a protagonist of an epic, suffused with magic and poetry, envious cousins and battles for martial and territorial supremacy. But this rendering inverts every convention of the epic genre. Its spirit of revolution and emancipation finds form in the tender prose of Martine Le Coz, a French artist and novelist, who won the 2001 Prix Renaudot for her historical novel Céleste.