Metaphor of the tree in Changia Rukh MEG 13 Writings From The Margins
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Metaphor of the tree in Changia Rukh MEG 13 Writings From The Margins

Balbir Madhopuri’s autobiography, Changiya Rukh, has a noteworthy title. It refers to a tree that has been snipped off at the top, sliced, and dwarfed. Madhopuri utilizes it as a metaphor for a Dalit or ‘untouchable’ Indian whose development potential has been “robbed” by the Hindu social system. The head cut tree also symbolises the tree’s innate and rebellious persistence in producing new branches and leaves. Changiya Rukh, set in the Punjabi hamlet of Madhopuri, recounts the Dalit community’s social history and highlights caste relations based on prejudice and injustice. Madhopuri’s perspective, on the other hand, is able to grasp and delicately depict the plight of Dalits living on the periphery of society in various areas of the nation. Madhopuri describes the bleakness of existence amid all constitutional and legislative efforts with honesty and genuine impartiality. This true tale of a Dalit’s anguish of hardship, social isolation, and humiliation, as well as resistance, success, and hope, is a triumphant journey.

In Changiya Rukh, Madhopuri uses the image of the tree often, most notably in the chapter “The Banyan Tree of the Chamars,” where the narrator’s father Bhaia remarks, “Just look at the way these trees cling to each other, it’s almost impossible for the air to get through.” These two had hugged without saying anything or thinking about it. And here’s a guy who doesn’t want another man to approach him. (Against The Night, Changia Rukh)

The hostility that exists between humans is contrasted here with the strong connection that exists between trees. The text’s Bargad tree seems to be a significant reference point for the narrator. It is built on land purchased by the region’s Dalits. As a result, it is a location people can claim as their own. As stated in the text -the marla of sixteen,

Their clan purchased 484 square yards of property beneath the bargad from Kartar Singh of Neevan Vehra. No documents were signed, and the whole transaction was conducted by word of mouth. Even if they could afford it, the law did not allow Churas and Chamars to buy property or construct homes, let alone to cultivate it. Changia Rukh (Against The Night 134)

It is said that members of other castes, including Jats and Brahmins as well as carpenters, haircutter, refer to this location as the Bargad of the Chamars.  Individuals belonging to other castes are dissatisfied with the Bargad’s existence. Because the tree represents a threat to their power, many Jats would use expletives to describe it. The reality of the matter is that the Bargad is located on land belonging to the Dalit community. This frees them from the Jats, who would otherwise abuse the dalits in every way. Even while it may not sit well with the Jats, the Dalits should be able to wander freely and make use of the Bargad tree for livelihood, as well as rest beneath its shade and conduct festivals. In this sense, the tree poses a danger to the latter’s caste status. The Bargad tree has been cut to the ground for this reason. The narrator expresses his surprise at what has happened:

“Then there was the day I’d never imagined I’d see. It was a memorable day in February 1972. It was an experience to remember. The end of my tenth-grade term was approaching. I saw our banyan peepal trees had been chopped down when I returned home from school. The sight of the battered and mutilated twin trees was too much to take. Their thick, heavy limbs were strewn over the lawn. Chowkidar Jagar and his sons were ruthlessly chopping and sawing at the massive tree trunks.”

The narrator is left with an emotional vacuum after seeing the “unbearable sight” of the “massacred” tree. The choice of the picture of a hewn tree as the book’s title clearly reflects the terrible nature of the event. Madhopuri utilises the picture of a barren tree with its top chopped off as a metaphor for his society and himself. From this perspective, the tree may represent a Dalit or untouchable Indian who has been denied a healthy and happy existence, or a Dalit whose potential for development has been stifled by the Hindu order’s established caste hierarchies.

Metaphor of the tree in Changia Rukh MEG 13 Writings From The Margins

At the same time, ‘changiya rukh’ may allude to the tree’s incredible resiliency and capacity to resurrect itself by sprouting new branch shoots. From this vantage point, we may see the injustice done to the tree or the dalits, but what is emphasised here is the people’s capacity to express themselves and resist injustice, not the amount of violence.

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