“Bosom Friend”: Hira Bansode

Bosom Friend is a poem authored by Hira Bansode, a woman Dalit poet. The poem is a critique of the caste system in Indian society, the pretensions and hypocrisies of the higher caste towards the lower caste. In the poem, Bansode tells the conflict between her expectation and reality.

One day, the poet’s close friend from a higher caste community comes to her home, a lower caste family to have dinner for the first time. When her friend comes to her lower caste family, the poet thinks that her friend has left behind the caste prejudices, the rigid high and low caste distinctions. She thinks so because in their society women do not usually ignore the caste disparities. The poet thinks that her friend has ripped out all those caste distinctions bridging the gulf of those caste prejudices that divide between people, between communities and between relationships. She thinks that her friend comes with a mind as large as the sky to her small house leaving behind the age old divide between higher and lower castes. She is very excited and happy. She praises her friend and regards and call her ‘bosom friend.’

Having contented that her friend is free from caste prejudices, the poet serves her food like the naive devotion of Shabari of the Ramayana. However, the poet’s friend makes a change on her face when she looks at the plate served by the poet. The poet’s friend, with a display of shock, tells the poet her dislike to the way the poet serves her chutney-koshimbir. She tells the poet that the way the poet serves food is not proper and she (the poet) has not still learned how to serve it. Her friend then tells the poet that the low castes will never rise above their old and outdated manners and customs.

Her friend’s words make the poet embarrassed. She remains silent. Then towards the end of the meal, her friend expresses surprise when she learns that there is no buttermilk or yoghurt with the last course of the rise which is normal among higher castes.

At this time, the poet has lost all her courage. Her strength fell away like a falling star. She has lost all her pride in front of her friend whom she dearly calls ‘bosom friend.’ She feels sad and numb. It triggered her like the ripples created in a pool of stagnant water when a stone is thrown in it. She remembers all her childhood memories yet she cannot tell all of these to her friend except to remember and keep as memories to herself.

In her childhood, the poet did not have even milk for tea which is much less compared to yoghurt or buttermilk. Her mother cooked on sawdust which she brought from the lumberyard, wiping away the smoke from her eyes. Every once in a while they might get garlic chutney on coarse bread. Otherwise they just ate bread crumbled in water. They did not know what a sweet like shrikhand was. The poet recollects that she never smelled the fragrance of ghee and never tasted halva, basundi.

The poet then realises that her friend has not discarded the old tradition of caste inequalities and disparities. Its roots went deep in her friend’s mind and a change in her belief cannot be brought so easily. Lifelong prejudices and beliefs do not disappear overnight.

The poet serves her friend yoghurt with the last course of rice. She expresses regret that she could not serve the food in a manner that her friend sees as proper.

The poet always thought that she was equal to her friend. Since she was well-educated, she expected that her friend would have no caste prejudice. She was of the belief that her friend came to her home for dinner without any consideration of caste. She thought that her friend was broad-minded and a true friend. But everything happened in contrast to her expectation. While in conversation, her friend addressed the poet as ‘you folk’. All these indicated that her friend still carries the attitude of looking down on the low castes though she pretended to treat them as equals. Now the poet is asking herself whether her friend is a true friend, a bosom friend; whether the society treats the low caste equally.

Bosom Friend is a poetical protest and a tale of conflict between the poet’s expectation and reality. The poet wonders whether her friend sees her equally as she expected. In a deeper sense, the poem tells about the deep-rooted caste prejudices and disparities in her society. In the poet’s own words, “my hand which had just touched the sky was knocked down.”

 

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