"Being the only boy in the house, I ran errands, went to the shops to buy our necessities, and delivered small quantities of milk and buttermilk which we sold to some neighbours, and then had my morning meal. Breakfast consisted of a small quantity of rice kept overnight in rice water which by the morning had slightly fermented, and a little lime pickle or chutney made dal, tamarind, and chillies. Sometimes a single hot chilli was all that was available to eat with the rice."
The memoirs and lectures of A.N. Sattanathan, presented here in a fully annotated edition, with a critical introduction, constitute a key literary-historical document of the caste struggle. Sattanathan’s autobiographical fragment is a unique record of non-brahmin low-caste life in rural South India, where the presence of poverty and caste prejudice is the more powerful for being understated.
As the experience—sparsely and beautifully rendered—of the low-caste but not stereotypically ‘untouchable’ villager, it is, quite simply, revelatory, and will make an impact as such on the English-educated reader, to whom that experience has been so far unavailable.
In a complementary narrative, Sattanathan’s lectures — on ‘The Rise and Spread of the Non-Brahmin Movement’ as ‘the most outstanding event in South Indian History in the twentieth century’— offer a lucid summary of the cultural and historical conditions that find more personal and immediate expression in the memoirs.
A.N. Sattanathan had a distinguished career in the all-India services. He was Collector of Customs and Central Excise, Calcutta, and in later life wrote and published widely on politics and economics in India. In 1969 he was appointed Chairman of the first Tamilnadu Backward Classes Commission and made a lasting impact on the state’s policy of affirmative action towards lower castes.
Uttara Natarajan is Reader in English at Goldsmiths College, where she teaches and researches in nineteenth-century English literature. Her publications include Hazlitt and the Reach of Sense and Blackwell Guides to Criticism: The Romantic Poets.