Donning a white shirt, mundu and a shawl with golden borders, revolutionary Dalit leader Dr BR Ambedkar relaxes on a wooden easy chair. On his side sits a kindi, a traditional pitcher typically found in old Kerala houses, more often than not the savarna ones. This is the illustration featured in the cover of acclaimed Malayalam writer Unni R’s latest book Malayali Memorial, a collection of seven short stories, published by DC Books. The book’s cover, however, has, not surprisingly, kicked up a row in the Malayalam literary field.
Ambedkar’s attire in the picture decidedly resembles that of a typical savarna Hindu man of Kerala. With the backdrop of the illustration also seeming to suggest a dominant caste tharavadu (feudal house), many critics took to social media soon after the release of the book cover, alleging that this was a deliberate effort by the Nairs (a dominant caste group in Kerala) to appropriate the legacy of Ambedkar.
If DC Books had a modicum of righteousness, it would withdraw the cover, Dalit writer and activist Sunny M Kapicadu told TNM. “This is a deliberate attempt to create controversy, as a marketing technique. So we have decided not to make it a huge controversy, because that is exactly what they want. Ambedkar is above all such attempted insults,” he said.
Some critics complained that DC Books removed their comments of objection to the book cover from their Facebook page, besides blocking them on their website. Neither Unni nor the DC Books management has so far reacted to the controversy.
Meanwhile, Sainul Abid, who designed the cover, told 24 news that the cover illustration was a representation of one of the short stories in the book. The story in question is reportedly about a casteist savarna man with a close likeness to the social reformer in terms of his physicality, due to which he earns the nickname Ambedkar. Owing to the caste spirit he harbours inside him, this nickname makes him uncomfortable, due to which he decides to assert his own caste. The cover illustration portrays the irony between the character’s mentality and physicality, Sainul Abid said.