Monday, February 28, 2011

Enmakaje - Ambikasuthan Mangad

For the last couple of decades, people of the northern district of Kerala are fighting the authorities(on one side) and the business magnates, trying to protect the land and the their living, against a deadly chemical. Enmakaje, a small village in Kasargod, become a symbol of the resistance ( and being its all enduring sufferer) of the movement against Endo Sulphan. The reports from various NGOs and Global agencies, project the gruesome effects of this chemical causes to the environment and the living creatures. The insects, the cattle , the reptiles , the birds one after other, either disappear or migrate to cleaner areas. Those who continued to live in the area suffered the most. Kids born with deformities, people dies of mysterious deceases, increase in the number of people with mental illness... the counts are numerous. But for the authorities, these aren't enough to act. They demand concrete evidence, facts and results of analysis. The sponsored 'fact finding missions' of Governmental agencies returns with reports showing lack of evidence. Most of these people never set foot in the troubled zone. It is this issue forms the background to this good novel by Ambikasuthan Mangad.

Ambikasuthan's Enmakaje is a place of hills, not one or two but in thousands.  Enmakaje is also a place of languages, not one or two but near a dozen. Apart from 'Tulu', Malayalam, Kannada, Konkani there are Marathi settlers ( Naiks) , Arab speaking people and Byari prominent in Enmakaje. However, this multi linguistic nature does not prevent people from communicating, as people can converse in at least 5 different tongues. Enmakaje is also a place of truth. There are numerous "steps of truth" around that place. Once you are on those steps, you have to tell the truth and only truth. The believe is that you will not be able come down from these steps if you are a liar. Enmakaje is ( or was) also a place of water , with its umpteen streams making it land fertile. There are no wells in the village as the water is abundant for every house in the village..

Now all these are history, as the government controlled and run "Plantation Corporation" has converted a substantiate part of the natural flora into Cashew Plantation. The trouble started when they corporation started spraying the pesticide known as "Endo Sulfan" under various marketing names. According to various report, and certain study's the ecological balance of the village is damaged for ever. People started dying of mysterious deceases. Kids were born with damaged limbs or other physical ailments. The number of mental patients have up beyond the normal rates of other places. Number of suicides increased. This was not a story of Enmakaje alone, but that of the other areas where the use of Endo Sulfan is prevalent spread across 7-8 villages in Kerala and a few in Karnataka.

There are protests and agitations, and typical in such cases through out the history and across the globe, these were crushed by the use of power. There were multiple committees and study groups sponsored by the government ( and hence by the Pesticide Lobby) which always returned with report giving 'Endo Sulfan' a clean chit. Even recently, a Central Minister came to the support of the Pesticide company in Public. However, every independent study shows the use of Endo Sulfan as the reason for these un-natural phenomenon in these villages. The water bodies are contaminated, the levels of Endo Sulfan in the blood samples are alarmingly high among residence. Even 'breast milk' samples, which is considered to be the purest food, was found poisonous. The impacts are also huge on the flaura of the area. There are no insects any more. Birds aren't seen. The common crow is a rarity. The hills once had a large number of animals are now vanished and bare. The resistive movements are active with many NGO organisations, but never been able to make any headway over the years. These workers are threatened by the mighty and was haunted by the authorities.

It is to this place is where Neelakantan and Devayani comes looking for peace escaping from every human contacts they ever had. After an eventful life at the Capital city of Kerala, disillusioned with life. His open house, with no door or windows, was a shelter for every one who is in need at Thiruvananthapuram. From lepers, to old people, injured to prostitutes .. every one found his house their home. Devayani, reached his place on one of such escapade  form the cruel animals of the society and stayed on. By destroying every evidence of their life, the two started of from South of Kerala to the northern part of the state. It is in one of the abandoned hill that they make their home. To the poor villagers, he is the silent saint, who never speak to anyone, not even to Devayani.  He seldom leave home. Devayani has an occasional travel outside, to the weekly market, buying essential. Their need is minimal. Eat the roots and fruits,or a rare rice soups.

Their encounter with the reality was accidental. The kid came into their life after Devayani found his parents hanging from the ceiling and the abandoned kids silent cry made her to bring him home. Neelakantan was angry, he did not want anyone else in their life, he reacted violently, ran out of home to the hill and jungle. The kid was silent, it made some sounds when in pain and hungry. The wounds on his body did not dry up. It is the tribal chief and doctor 'Panchi' who explained the cases to them. He is not a kid, but did not grow. There are many kids similar , some with missing limbs since birth, some with tongue hanging outside unable to put them in, some crippled and many with mental illness.

To them , it is the curse of the hill ( or nature in a broader sense). The 'jaDAdhAri hills' had a curse on the people and they are suffering this for their ancestors misdeeds. They have resigned to the fate and the occasional medical help they seek. A chance meeting with the Doctor, give him insights to the issues of Endo Sulfan. Hurt and sad, and his inability to cure and save the boy, drags him into the action scene from his self inflicted isolation from the society. Protesting in front of the Plantation corporation with the body of the dead child, and attacking and disrupting the helicopter which came in to spray the next round of pesticides, Neelakantan and the group started the resistance in a small way. Typical to such team, they too were soon branded as 'naxalites' and was arrested and tortured along with another activist.

There are characters typical to a cinema story. The minister, who has no time for the people, the local leader who has all the power and fan fare, the good fellow medical practitioner, the freelance press reporter, the group of silent victims ; each playing their parts in their own way.

Main stream literature that themed on environmental issues aren't many. Juan Rulfo's master piece Pedro Paramo is the work that came into my mind as I read this book. The village of Comala, with its wandering souls awaiting 'moksha'.  Unlike 'Comala', Enmakaje is real. Comala is haunted by its ghostly souls, but in Enmakaje, the souls are real, who suffers the fate resulted from human greed in front of us all. They also have no escape, until one day death release them from this. What is haunting us is these images, we have seen over the years, in news papers and other media.

Despite the propaganda nature of the novel, Ambikasuthan Mangad has done a good job with his narration. Except for the initial drag of getting into the groove and its documentary style of detailing , the language is in line with the tale. The beautiful mixture of myths , legends and folklore into the story did help to take this into a different level. He use the change of languages and tone effectively.  On the other side, none of the characters are deep or strong, and are very predictable. However, the book end fabulously.

We need more of such books, widely read and discussed.
Enmakaje  ( 2009 )

Ambikasuthan Mangad

D C Books

200 Pages

Rs 120/-


Sabina said...

I have started reading this book and as you said its narrated nicely. It just put you silent when you realize that it has happened in real and kids are still struggling with such uncommon deceases. Anyways it is a pleasure to think that Gov. has finally decided to ban Endosulfan.

Jayan Parameswaran said...

Good that you are reading this. Let me know , once you finish reading.

Sabina said...

I have finished reading it, 2 days back. but not with the effect of it.

rose said...

Beautiful description by Mr Jayan about this novel a wonderful write-up about this fabulous work

Fathi Hasnu said...

A good review.
But can I have a malayalam translation of the same?