Malayalam poetry to hitherto unexpressed human conditions: “The city’s late discovery of the forest” – Kerala

S Joseph, who introduced Malayalam poetry to hitherto unexpressed human conditions (Meenkaran, Mesthri, Kotta, Identity Card, Chila Irunda Idangal, Aana, Maruku, Pengalude Bible) with very ordinary, pared down words, has wandered through life’s mean streets to reach where he is today. Indeed, he has come a long way as a man and a poet. His grubby backyard was far removed from the temples and cathedrals of Malayalam literature, especially that of poetry. His father Sebastian was a stone mason and his mother Eli an illiterate lady who filled him with memories and folk songs and made reed baskets for a living. […]

Joseph deals with Malayali’s unique experiences. “My poetry is firmly rooted in Kerala. It talks about trees unique to our landscape, fish that can only be found in our ponds, and tribes that carry ancient memories of Malayalam. There are many amidst us who are despised, humiliated and oppressed by human conditions such as caste, colour and gender. They shouldn’t be apologetic but assert themselves. My poems celebrate the beauty of blackness and ugliness. Such poetry cannot be performed, or composed. It lacks music, it has to be read.

The universality of Joseph’s poetry’s stems from its particularity. “I do not write about rivers but Edachherry thodu. Kadammanitta (Ramakrishnan) wrote about river but he did not identify it. He despite being acclaimed for his tribal poetry never addressed a particular tribe. I write about a kotta. If you put together two baskets you can make a globe,” says Joseph.

According to Joseph, there is only one word for an experience and that cannot be expressed by any other. “I have cut out exaggeration from my poetry. I have tried to slough off the metaphysical aspect of poetry and bring it ever more close to ordinary people. I look upon Sun and Moon as they are and not as objects of worship. The effort is to liberate poetry from rhetoric and explore a different concept of real.” […]

Source: Joseph and his brothers by John Cheeran, Times of India, January 23, 2016
Date visited: 29 January 2020

The Johar Journal
The Johar Journal (द जोहार जर्नल ) is an online open-access, peer-reviewed, biannual journal on Adivasi, tribal and indigenous issues with particular focus on tribal literatures in translation. >>

Department of English, Jamia Millia Islamia
YouTube video presentations “Tribes in Transition III” (September 2021) >>

“We cannot let our culture and society stop …”

Santali poet, scholar and translator
Dr. Ivy Hansdak (Editor-in-Chief, The Johar Journal)

The three-day camp involved walks to the forest settlements of the Mala Arayar in Kallar and Mottamoodu, poetry recitals, fiction and script readings as well as a documentary film screening and story-telling sessions

‘The Bridge,’ organised by Gowry Art Institute at Kallar, provided a forum for creative individuals from all walks of life to synergise their thoughts on the arts […]

Artist Sajitha Shankar’s Gowry Art Institute stands on a sharp curve in the Vamanapuram river at Kallar, about 40 km from Thiruvananthapuram city. The curve creates an island of sorts, and offers a unique vantage point to the institute, from where one can see the mountains and forests in the Ponmudi range. Across the river, right in front of Gowry Art, is a bridge that crosses to the Adivasi settlements on the other bank.

Breakfast was followed by an indoor round of introductions, after which Lakshmikutty Kani informally inaugurated ‘The Bridge’ with a poem, clarifying her own name in the process. We learnt that kani itself is a misnomer for the community of Mala Arayar – kani was only the unit of land that they were portioned out. To the city-dwellers, the legend of Ponmudi, the mountain peak we were closest to, was new. We heard that the mountain was once rich with precious stones that the Mala Arayar had all too peacefully yielded to those in search of wealth.

Healthy interaction

The three-day camp involved walks to the forest settlements of the Mala Arayar in Kallar and Mottamoodu, poetry recitals, fiction and script readings as well as a documentary film screening, and story-telling sessions. The hallmark of the event was the healthy interaction and spontaneous dialogue between individuals from varied fields, made conducive by the homely atmosphere and interconnected architecture of Gowry Art. Readings, recitals, and narratives seemed to emerge without prompting throughout the day and night in probably what is the first such event to be held in Kerala.  […]

There was a general sense of liberation and joy in the unforced conversations, walks, and creative presentations with the guarantee of nature’s benign presence. The interaction with the Adivasi communities drew divided responses. While some found it a fruitful learning experience, others felt a sense of tragedy and inadequacy in the city’s late discovery of the forest. The event concluded with a generous gift from the Mala Arayar – a performance of the traditional ‘Chonan Kali’ by six women and girls to the accompaniment of a bamboo stringed instrument by guru Sivanandan, at Gowry Art.

The synergy of creative diversity was matched by the Kallar river that in three days’ rain welled up to a powerful flow while we human beings left, leaving nature to its own deep meditation.

Source: “Bridging creative synergies” by Usha Zacharias, The Hindu, METRO PLUS, September 8, 2011
Address :
Date Visited: 27 November 2020

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“The forest was never far away from habitation. For instance, excavations of the settlements at Atranjikhera and Hastinapur, which are not too far from Delhi, have yielded evidence of a large variety of forest trees. The Buddhist Canon states that aside from the village and its outskirts, the rest of the land is jungle. Travelling from one town to another meant going through a forest. Therefore, when in exile, the forest was not a physically distant place, although distant in concept. – Romila Thapar (Emeritus Professor of History, Jawaharlal Nehru University) in “Forest dwellers in early India – myths and ecology in historical perspective” | Learn more >>

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