Sunday, April 16, 2017

A Dalit poet writing in English, based in Kerala

Until I saw Letters to Namdeo Dhasal, poems by Chandramohan S, recently I did not know we had amidst us in Kerala a Dalit poet writing in English. 

There are several novelists of Kerala origin, all of them living outside the state, who have made a mark as writers in English. There are also a few poets writing in English, like Jeet Thayyil and C.P. Surendran, who too live outside the state. 

Chandramohan, who appears to be a worthy successor to Kamala Das, the first Keralite to win recognition as a poet in English, lives in Thruvananthapuram.

Letters to Namdeo Dhasal is Chandramohan’s second book of poems. The first, Warscape Verses, was published in 2014.

Chandramohan’s world view is breath-taking. Shambuka, Nangeli, Marie Magdalena, Jim Crow, Dow Jones and Fredreich Engels are all in it.

Keki N. Daruwala, the renowned poet, writes in The Hindu:

Dalit poetry, based on 2,000 years of experiencing atrocities from caste Hindus, needs to be handled respectfully. Letters to Namdeo Dhasal by Chandramohan S. has just landed on my table.
An easy way out with critiquing Dalit poetry is to say it is political, quote some lines, and pass on. There is more to Chandramohan. For a Dalit poet to write in English is itself a political act. But he keeps referring to ‘vernacular rivers’. He is fighting (and deriding) caste and elitism at the same time. Not only that, he stands up for the immigrant and the third world. At our malls, ‘A green eyed petrodollar/ Engulfs the third world like a tsunami.’

In a poem ‘Occupied Language’, after talking of abandoned adjectives and ‘vowels lynched and hung upside down’ (like tortured prisoners?) he talks of colonial symbols on a map and ‘refugees fleeing through edited check points/ to seek asylum in an alien tongue.’ The poem ends with the immigrant into the elite language (English, let’s face it) ‘abbreviating his surname’ and then ‘stripping bare the sterile meat of/ An evacuated language.’ I have chosen not to quote the more telling attacks on caste.

A poem on Murugan who hanged himself in Hyderabad (and how the BJP cried itself hoarse , saying he was not a Dalit) ends with the lines, ‘We become him/ Conform or perish.’ We get defiance: ‘This poem refuses to undergo painful procedures/ Like the long intrusive questionnaire … before it is granted a visa.’ (‘The Muse in the Market Place’.)

He will not be regimented by those who wear nationalism on their sleeves. He has a strong ‘Beef Poem’. In ‘Love in the Time of CCTV’, he says, ‘You are under surveillance when chalk scrapes/ On the blackboard,/ when you walk in straight lines, march in tune/ To the drumbeats of uniformed discipline/ While lip synching to the national anthem.’

I have been unable to mention some beautiful poems like ‘Portrait of the Woman as Young Woman’. Meena Kandasamy is mentioned in the Introduction. I, for one, have been following her prose and poetry closely with respect.


LETTERS TO NADEO DHASAL: Poems by Chandramohan S, Published by Desirepaths Publishers, 401 Shree Prutha Residency-2, Shubham Park, Gotri Road, Vadodra 390 021

Price Rs 150 US$6

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A Cultural Feast at Kozhikode

                      With Anand, Zacharia and Sashi Kumar at a panel discussion

There was much more than book talk at the Kerala Literature Festival held at Kozhikode from February 2 to 5. It was a cultural feast. Its sweep was breathtaking.


From morning till late evening, all the four KLF venues on the beach were agog with activity. Three forums, named Ezhuthola (Scroll), Aksharam (Letter) and Thoolika (Pen), witnessed kaleidoscopic changes as one set of writers and activists stepped aside after discussing a subject for 90 minutes and another set stepped in to discuss another subject, possibly before another audience as there was constant shuffling of listeners. 

There were panel discussions, face-to-face encounters and intimate chats. 

Apart from the leading lights of Malayalam literature, new-generation writers who are currently making waves by exploring new areas employing new techniques also participated in the discussions.

KLF was not about Malayalam writing alone. The presence of Indian writers in English and writers in other Indian and European languages presented interested persons with a rare opportunity to acquaint themselves with literary developments elsewhere too.

One venue, named Vellithira (Silver Screen), was devoted exclusively to films. It witnessed continuous screening of films, long and short, curated by C. S. Venkiteshwaran. 

The rich fare included tribal dances and a shehnai recital by the legendary Ustad Bismillah Khan’s grandson, Nasir Abbas Khan.

KLF ventured beyond the worlds of literature, arts and culture and covered several issues of contemporary relevance such as Gender, Caste, Religion and Democracy.   

According to Ravi Deecee, Chief Facilitator of KLF and Secretary of the DC Kizhakemuri Foundation, organizers of KLF, more than 300 writers from India and abroad participated in the discussions on about 120 topics. He avers that wide participation by writers and diversity of topics of discussion make KLF India’s largest literary festival.

                            Bindu Amat in conversation with Norwegian writer Runo Isaksen

This year’s was KLF’s second edition. K. Satchidanandan, Director of KLF, said it was organized drawing inspiration from the success of KLF1 and learning lessons from its weaknesses.

No body in Kerala perhaps has better credentials than the DC establishment to organize an event of this magnitude. And no person perhaps has better credentials than Satchidanandan to head the effort. And certainly no place has better credentials than Kozhikode to host such an event.

The ultimate credit for the success of KLF belongs to the people of Kozhikode who made the festival their own. Its leading citizens were part of the organizing committee, and a large number of students volunteered their services to make it a grand success.

                                     A view of the audience at one of the four venues

Enthusiastic people moved from one venue to another to become part of the events that interested them most. There was so much on offer that I doubt if anyone went away without the feeling that they could not attend every event that interested them because of time constraints and overlap of events.

There are unmistakable signs of rot spreading in Kerala society. KLF will do well to explore the social scene more deeply in the coming editions.