In these days in which Indo-Gangetic barbarians seethe with rage against Kerala and unleash all sorts of false propaganda about the state of affairs here, I have been thinking about my own love for and quarrels with this place. My relation to it has been largely critical, as a Malayali woman born and raised here who has endured, and continue to endure, much second-rate treatment. More than anyone else, I realize, it is Malayalis who have criticized Kerala. Not surprising, then, is the fact that one of the most ardently-discussed themes in public politics here in the past decades has been the critique of the entrenched imagination of Kerala, and its exclusions. Not for nothing, too, have the struggles of marginalized people here demanded not just material gains, but the reimagining of Kerala in more expansive terms. And newer and newer groups of excluded people keep renewing it – most recently, the LGBTIQ+ people.
Our love for Kerala is a cursing, stumbling love – but love above all.
That’s why I think Anitha Thampi’s poem Mojitopaattu (The Mohito Song) ought to be our anthem. Anitha is undoubtedly one of Kerala’s most perceptive poets of the present, capable of delving into the depths of the present cultural moment and surfacing with inscrutable yet pervasive feelings and moods and weaving these into words. Our crazy love of Kerala which cannot be but critical is brilliantly caught in this poem. In it, this love comes alive as moonlight falling on this place which illuminates erratically, sways madly, and disappears without notice; this loving looks as hard and risky as a drunk’s faltering steps along a rough bylane through treacherous yet playful moonlight; this love eddies through the blood of two and a half generations and comes awake even as the whole world sleeps. Long before the Indo-Gangetic barbarians even noticed us have we felt this mad love, and it will take more than vituperative slander to kill it.
Below is my translation of Mojitopaattu – and I take Anitha’s suggestion that it a song, and a drunken one, seriously. I hope someone sets it to music and it becomes the anthem of crazy-lovers of Kerala.
Four-five sprigs fresh mint
Two spoons sugar
Juice of three limes
Vodka, two measures and a half
Hey you, swayin’-shakin’-rollin’
on night-time alley that’s runnin’
all o’er earth that’s green and shinin’
Banana-leaf-like, straight and gleamin’*
Hey sweet moonlight,
who you be,
you be man or you be woman?
Hey you, fallin’ easy-loose-y
You for real, or just a feelin’?
Hey you singin’ , spreadin’-creepin’
Who you be to sunshine beamin’?
Hey you lurchin’, fallin’, stumblin’
on each an’ ev’ry greenly leafling
Hey bright moonshine, distilled-dried blood, bluish,
two and a half generations bleedin’
Who be you?
You be me, or you be you?
*Kerala, that lies at the foot of mountains like a bright green banana leaf beside the sea.
( Anitha Thampi , ‘Mojitopattu’)
And here is the original, much more terse and controlled in its use of language, but a paattu all the same:
രണ്ടു സ്പൂൺ പഞ്ചസാര
മൂന്നു നാരങ്ങാ നീര്
ആടിയാടിപ്പോകുന്ന പൂനിലാവേ നീ
അഴിഞ്ഞഴിഞ്ഞു തൂവുന്ന പൂനിലാവേ നീ
പാടിപ്പാടിപ്പരക്കുന്ന പൂനിലാവേ നീ
പച്ചിലകൾ തോറും തപ്പിത്തടഞ്ഞു വീഴും
രണ്ടരത്തലമുറ നീലിച്ച വാറ്റുചോരപ്പൂന്തെളിനിലാവേ നീ