An Anthem for Kerala: Mojitopaattu

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 
Soda
Ice

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:

 

മൊഹീതോപ്പാട്ട്

നാലഞ്ച് തളിർപ്പുതിന

രണ്ടു സ്പൂൺ പഞ്ചസാര

മൂന്നു നാരങ്ങാ നീര്

രണ്ടര വോഡ്ക

സോഡ

ഐസ്

 

നാക്കിലമണ്ണിൻ∗

രാവൂടുവഴിയൂടെ

 

ആടിയാടിപ്പോകുന്ന പൂനിലാവേ നീ

ആണാണോ പെണ്ണാണോ?

അഴിഞ്ഞഴിഞ്ഞു തൂവുന്ന പൂനിലാവേ നീ

നേരാണോ പൊളിയാണോ?

പാടിപ്പാടിപ്പരക്കുന്ന പൂനിലാവേ നീ

വെയിലിൻറെ ആരാണോ?

 

പച്ചിലകൾ തോറും തപ്പിത്തടഞ്ഞു വീഴും

രണ്ടരത്തലമുറ നീലിച്ച വാറ്റുചോരപ്പൂന്തെളിനിലാവേ നീ

ഞാനാണോ നീയാണോ?

 

∗കേരളം

 

 

 

 

 

Take back the Poison-Rain: Ambikasutan Mangad’s Swarga

Swarga_300_RGBWhen I first encountered Enmakaje, it was already much praised in Kerala as the powerful little book that aroused the Malayali’s moral conscience towards the unspeakable tragedy wrought by the unbelievably-callous aerial spraying of the insecticide Endosulphan in north Kerala, over some of the most lush, verdant areas of the State. It was criticised by some for what I thought was a very interesting experiment with form: it begins as fiction, slowly shades into a historical account of the beginnings of the anti-Endosulphan struggle in north Kerala, and then shades back, in the end, to fiction again. For me, Enmakaje was much more than an activist tale. It was a determined effort to renew the Malayali self, through a prayerful weaving and imaginative retelling of the many stories that have shaped us. Reading of Neelakantan’s and Devayani’s stories, one remembers these stories, but differently. For example, what if Raman and Seetha left Ayodhya forever, renouncing its sickening power games? What if Adam and Eve voluntarily renounced Paradise? What if Vararuchi’s wife had rebelled in the origin-story of Kerala, of the Parayi petta panthirukulam?

Juggernaut has just published my translation of this gem of a book, and the title of the English version is Swarga: A Posthuman Tale . Below is an excerpt from the book.

 

It was past midnight.

Jayarajan started from his sleep and sharpened his ears for sounds from outside.

He shook Neelakantan, who was fast asleep, awake. Neelakantan woke to darkness assailing his open eyes. He was frightened.

‘What is it?’

In a trembling voice, Jayarajan said, ‘Something is happening outside. I can hear noises.’

Neelakantan’s throat was parched. He asked in a loud voice, ‘Who is there outside?’

Jayarajan noticed his fear in the dim light of the lantern.

‘Not human beings. Something like a storm and strong winds . . . I can’t make out much . . .’

Neelakantan’s breath returned.

‘Oh, that! Must be the wind . . . I’ve been scared ever since you came in . . . it’s just that I didn’t show it. You lie down, I’ll see you off tomorrow morning; put you on the first bus back. It is not at all safe for you to come and stay here again.’

Jayarajan got up.

‘Come, let’s go out for a bit.’

Neelakantan yawned. His voice was lazy. ‘The rain and wind will go their own way. You should lie down.’

Jayarajan took his hand and made him get up.

‘I’ve seen quite a bit of rain and wind too . . . but something extraordinary is happening outside.’

Neelakantan began to listen, alert now. There was a whole symphony of unpleasant sounds rising outside.

Taking care not to wake Devayani, they opened the door and stepped out.

They saw the most unbelievable sights on top of the Jadadhari Hill.

The huge trees were shaking hard, writhing, in the wind. From the clouds above, golden-coloured lightning-snakes descended, falling on the tops of the massive trees and enveloping them. As if from the impact of the lightning, the tall trees bowed as low as the ground, seeking to shake off the golden serpents . . .

In the next moment, the wind came hurtling like a demon’s hand, swooping up the trees. The branches clung and cleaved to each other as if in a paroxysm of desire, and shivered as though in the throes of an orgasm. And then, the lightning-serpents returned, and the whole cycle began again.

Startled, Jayarajan asked, ‘What is happening up there?’

For a few moments, Neelakantan had no words. He kept watching the hill’s frenzied dance and then said, ‘Terrible thunder and lightning. And the wind and rain besides. All of it together, that’s all.’

But even as he said those words, he knew how inadequate they were. Human language was too limited to describe this miraculous phenomenon. It was too vast to be comprehended by puny human consciousness.

‘Look, it is raining on top of the hill,’ Jayarajan pointed out. ‘Some of it is falling here too. But just see – there is not even a sign of rain or wind anywhere near here. Here the trees are still as if they have stopped breathing. It is a miracle . . . let me call chechi.’

‘No, she will be scared.’

Jayarajan remembered Devappa’s words. ‘On the night of the Kozhikkettu in Bhagyathimaarkandam, no one goes out!’

‘Two years ago, on a night like this, I heard the jungle sway like this around midnight. I thought it was a storm and did not go out.’

‘I think,’ Jayarajan said and stopped.

‘What?’

‘Is this really Siva’s dance of destruction, the thandava? Isn’t this the Jadadhari Hill?’

Neelakantan asked, ‘Are you a believer?’

‘No. What about you?’

‘I haven’t been to temples or shrines after I began to see things differently . . . In my view, Siva is Nature itself. Siva exists in every leaf, every flower. The thandava that you mentioned–’

‘The dance of destruction of Siva, who swallowed the divine serpent Vasuki’s deadly venom! This is it! Is this thandava- Jadadhari Hill’s, Nature’s – that means Siva’s – own attempt to shake off the terrible chemical poison, so like Vasuki’s venom, the Kalakoota?’

‘You tie up everything to your consciousness of the environment!’

Jayarajan pointed out: ‘See, the wind’s grasping fist now eases. The lightning retreats. The rain and thunder depart. The trees stand up straight once again.’

Neelakantan nodded, his eyes wide open and filled with the magic in the air. Yes, the dance of destruction was now ebbing.

Excerpted with permission of Juggernaut Books from Swarga by Ambikasutan Mangad, translated by J Devika available in bookstores and on Juggernaut.

 

Love in the Time of Public Despair: Remembering Kamala Surayya

31 May passed like any day in present-day Kerala – filled with the cacophony of mediocrities and expressions of greed, envy, and hate which have become the new normal. No wonder, then, that most people did not remember that this was the poet Kamala Das/Madhavikkutty/ Kamala Surayya’s death anniversary. I cannot help recollecting that I had predicted that this would happen: that people here would celebrate her death, display sickening sentimentality, and then quickly forget. In life and in death, Surayya never received the critical attention that she deserved as a thinker, nor did those interested in progressive left politics take her forays into politics seriously. In these times of despair, one must, however, turn to her …

Read more on:

http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/blink/know/seeking-rhyme-in-reason/article8737506.ece

 

 

 

Confront the Rupa Subramanyas Within : A Note to a Nair-born Friend

Dear Kaviraj,

Just saw your post condemning The Telegraph’s representation of Smriti Irani as ‘Aunty’. I understand your indignation, though I am curious to know why few people like us stand up and protest when the people who supporte her, the sanghis, throw vile abuse at dissenters and feminists, label them prostitutes, and threaten them regularly with rape and disfigurement. My daughter was recently threatened in Delhi and warned not to behave like a ‘JNU randi’; senior women teachers from JNU were showered with similar abuse, shoved, groped, and hit at the Patiala House, and many of them have received direct and indirect threats. JNU women have been portrayed in the most despicable terms recently, before which Telegraphs’s characterisation of Irani as ‘Aunty’ is tame indeed even if unacceptable.

Continue reading “Confront the Rupa Subramanyas Within : A Note to a Nair-born Friend”

If You Can’t Beat Them, Join ’em – Or, Ente Dinkeswara!

A new wave, nay, tsunami, of (THE) Faith has risen in Kerala. Soon, it will sweep the Nation.  This is the mighty thrust of Lord Dinkan, now known all over Kerala as Dinkamatam – or Dingoism.

…. Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red/ Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O Dinka,/ Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed ... [from ‘Ode to Dinka’ by the early Dinka devotion poet Muroidea Muridae Murinae, later stolen by Shelley and rewritten as ‘Ode to the West Wind’. Note that Dinkan,  superhero airborne rat and Shelley’s West Wind are both powers of the Air]

If you don’t believe me, visit this url:

https://www.dinkoism.com/

Now, like many others, I too was an unbeliever until I went there. One click, and I knew this was truly Faith. Market logic is nowadays the true marker of anything genuine (redefined an anything worth pursuing), and Dinkoism is unmatched in this regard. Even Amritanandamayi who successfully packages and sells all styles of Hinduism (the astrologer-obsessed style, the Saibaba-singing-style, the Sivakasi-print style, the shallow version of the Upanishadic style, the Christian-inflected Hugging-Mother style, the belligerent Hindutvavadi-style) cannot match him. Upon opening this Divine page, my eyes fell upon a notice in Malayalam which said: Mega offer before the world ends in 2012 [that needs updating, I suppose – small error; the spirit is more important] . 100 % guarantee in securing sin-free existence. Many years of service. Ridding of curses undertaken responsibly. We have no branches. Now, what further proof did I need to be convinced that this was the true Faith? Who doubts now that faith in the Logic of the Market precedes faith in faith? The Logos of Dinkan and the Logic of the Market are in perfect harmony!

Continue reading “If You Can’t Beat Them, Join ’em – Or, Ente Dinkeswara!”

Women in Sabarimala – The Untold Story: Elsa T Oommen

This is a guest post by ELSA T OOMMEN

‘For the last 20 years woman irrespective of their age were allowed to visit the temple when it opens for monthly poojas. They were not permitted to enter the temple during Mandalam, Makaravilakku and Vishu seasons’
– (S. Mahendran vs The Secretary, Travancore Devaswom Board and Ors. (1991) (8) [AIR 1993 Ker 42])

The Supreme Court of India will soon be hearing the final arguments on the question of the restriction imposed on women in the reproductive age from entering the Sabarimala temple in Kerala. The court had earlier questioned the constitutional basis of the restriction at the behest of a the public interest litigation (PIL) placed before the apex court of India by the Indian Young Lawyers Association (IYLA) where it called for allowing women of all ages to be allowed entry to the temple. Continue reading “Women in Sabarimala – The Untold Story: Elsa T Oommen”

Two Trees Don’t Make a Forest: Leave KOL Alone

The latest assault on the Kiss Of Love movement, the last in the long list of assaults against its activists over the past one year in Kerala, involves the arrest of two former KOL activists, Rahul Pasupalan and Resmi Nair, over sex trafficking charges. While the media has been mixing up this case with that of a pedophilia FB page in a rather unwarranted way , the media has been screaming about the pair’s connection with KOL and some reports almost imply that their actions were because of their associations with KOL. Others, including the arch-conservative newspapers, have asked whether the KOL was a cover for sex work markets! Continue reading “Two Trees Don’t Make a Forest: Leave KOL Alone”