Never has history been so blood-stained and soaked in violence as that of caste on a plate. When culinary tradition is so intrinsically linked to the celebration of culture, what happens to the histories of foods that carry with them generations of pain, the cuisines forged from centuries of oppression?
Dalit culinary traditions developed across the country as a mode of survival, born from economic necessity and the need to adapt. Says Dalit researcher Deepa Balkisan Tak, “Be it land, water or food, Dalits never had any rights to anything. Food practices were never made out of choice (but were the fallout) of a lack of options. Pork and beef became part of the Dalit cuisine because it was easily available because the upper castes didn’t want it.” Dirt, pollution, and the segregation of wells are now widely-known associations with and manifestations of the caste system in India, but the ways in which food hierarchies were structured for Dalits still remain in the shadows, although the consequences are fairly straightforward.
Breaking through these stereotypes rooted in casteist disparity and hierarchical absolutism is Sri Vamsi Matta, a Dalit artist rewriting the narrative build around Dalit cuisine.
Interestingly enough, Vamsi who’s been engaged in theatre for the last 10 years started off as a B.sc student. An early realization that his true calling lied in the spotlight of the centerstage, Vamsi has written and acted in innumerable plays. Using his platform as an artist to create a dialogue around casteism and its adverse effects, his work brings to light ‘the myth, meta-narratives, memories, resistance, and all that constitutes the lives and experiences of Dalits’.
Reflected in his latest performance piece ‘Come with me’, Vamsi aims to explore the relationship between caste and food while sharing a meal together.
Focusing on Dalit Cuisine, the piece begins with personal stories and oral histories around food in his household and community and is peppered with existing literature and academic writing around the multi-layered, many flavored relationships between caste and food. The piece unpacks questions of oppression and solidarity, grief and joy, and the everyday victories of the human spirit in the face of structural injustices. Audiences are invited to eat together and share their own stories around caste and food. In doing so the form subverts an activity laden with caste hierarchies and hopes to create a space for community building.
The sold out event is set to be hosted in Bengaluru on 11 June, 2022.
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