Sunday, August 9, 2009

Confessions of a Male darkness

By Parnab Mukherjee

Tribal Myth: The Elkela tribe is a nomadic collective of southern Orissa, India. I caught up with them in Ganjam in 2005. They give their wives to the highest bidder. Elkela women usually switch to the highest bidder without any qualms. Occasionally, the wives also sell themselves, both for reasons of economics and better sex. They speak in a strange dialect of Oriya laced with Telegu. For a living, the family collects honey and traps mice and snakes.

A dwindling community, they are now only 5,000 in number. They don’t belong to voter lists nor do they receive any grant under the bonded labour scheme. The fascinating part of their lives is that most husbands of the tribe practice and earn from being a Mundopota. Mundopota is a practice where men dig the ground and put their heads inside. With their heads buried in the ground and almost no chance of breathing, the Mundopotas can survive for as long as even 10 hours. Women and children draw photographs of gods/goddesses with coloured chalk around the dug-in heads. It is a dying art. This is a text on the Mundopotas.

My head inside the ground
looking at the morass
as you get more arse
from the next bidder
At the end of the day my bed is empty
but then I am used to darkness and
you are used to light
My head inside the ground
looking at the endlessness of a dungeon
My head inside the ground
searching for components of darkness
amongst mortar
and earth
Some flung coins
some rupees
and a meal
There is another darkness that is mine
the hunger of not eating
and the hunger of knowing that you are in the bed of
somebody who paid more for you
hunger all the way

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