First novel by an adivasi in Kerala – Kocharethi

SARASWATHY NAGARAJAN, The Hindu: Life & Style / Metroplus, 27 April 2011

Narayan, author of Kocharethi, the first novel by an adivasi in Kerala, and Catherine Thankamma, who translated the book into English, talk about the book and its place on the literary scene.

Literature on adivasis, shaped by perspectives of authors who may or may not have interacted or studied the tribals and their lives, could be romantic flights of the imagination or grim portraits about trials and tribulations of the tribals. Irked by these fanciful and wrong representations of his community, Narayan, a member of the Malaarayar tribal community in Kerala, took up the pen to write the first authentic novel written by an adivasi in South India. […]
At a time when tribals all over India are fighting a losing battle to preserve their lands and cultural identity, Kocharethi reminds us, yet again, how these children of the land were marginalised by the state, the establishment and organised religion. From proud farmers, practitioners of traditional medicine and guardians of the land, the tribals became displaced and dispossessed, dependent on the largesse of the State to protect their lands and, most importantly, their cultural identity. “Many of the incidents in the book are based on real incidents that I remember or what I garnered from my elders’ experiences, especially what my great-grandfather recounted of his life,” says Narayan, a former Postal employee. [..]

In the late Sixties many adivasis in Kerala began to vocalise their anger at the way popular culture represented the tribals in films and books. Letters to the editor and the publisher did not help. That is when elders advised Narayan, a voracious reader himself, to write a novel about his community instead of merely criticising what was there in print and celluloid.

The misrepresentations were marginalising a marginalised community. I wondered what I could write about and that is when I decided to stick to what I knew best. So I chose to describe my life, upbringing and culture,” says Narayan.

Thus was the spirited Kocharethi born. […]

Source: Found in translation – The Hindu
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Publisher’s information: Oxford University Press (India)

The first novel by the first tribal novelist of South India, Kocharethi maps the story of the Malayarayar tribe in Kerala. Melding history with culture, the work portrays their many struggles: from possession and dispossession of land to the challenges of preserving myths, rituals, social customs, and belief systems.

Narayan, who wondered if leaves cried out when they fell to the ground, follows an adivasi couple through their childhood, youth, old age, illness, and death to present a vivid account of their elemental life. Drawing deeply from oral traditions to underscore the earthy tensions of an adivasi society, Narayan evokes Nature and the Great Spirits, unfolds the Malayarayars’ changing perceptions of land and its ownership, and documents a way of life that is slowly fading into history.

In Catherine Thankamma’s hands the translation retains the flavour and verve of the Malayalam original. The Introduction by G.S. Jayasree sets the context for the work and the in-depth interview with Narayan conducted by the translator helps chronicle the many changes that have taken place in the Malayarayar way of life. Accompanying illustrations bring to life the story of a community unheard of outside Kerala.

‘Kocharethi, one of the first tribal novels, is a remarkable work and should be translated into other Indian languages.’ —Mahasveta Devi

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