The hoopla about dalit writing, I guess, is now died down. However, there are many writing about or centered around the people of lower status in the Hindu hierarchy that gain prominence. I guess most of them, were of experimentation with the language and the reflections of a counter culture. The social, cultural , historical , political and economical aspect of these lives being told from their point of view may not be very relevant to the current generation. But, there is a past of great struggle and oppression over many centuries, that are now being talked about.
Raju K Vasu's attempt to bring this into the foray, centering around the 'pulayar' community, looking at their life in the early decades of 20th century. They are untouchables, has to move away 60 ft, from the upper caste , cant drink water from the well, and no entry into the temples, or the temple streets. They were restricted to the hard labour for the Feudal lord, living in pitiable conditions. They were not allowed to cover their upper part of the body ( women included) and were subjected all kind of torture, humiliation and servility. Makeshift shelters to sleep, water from the river, toddy at the end of the night, quarrel over trivial matters, women and sex takes most of their time.
They depends on the upper caste for their survival. Working long hours to ensure the rich stays rich, living on meagre earning given by them, living in the place given to them they had no escape. Their women were often used for 'pleasures' by the lords, and any attempt to rebel were treated with exile, or even murder. However, the situation gradually improved during this period as social and political reforms took the state of Kerala by storm in the first half of the 20th century. It is this era, Raju K Vasu tries to recreate, in a style and language of those on the poorer side.
Neelay and Mylan, siblings , sons of Kurumban lives along the back waters of southern Kerala. Kurumban, who built the check-dam with the help of 'their gods' ( They are sure it is divine intervention as the stone refused to settle at the place for a long time), had to see its destruction after 25 years. It is said to be because of his young wife 'Valli's adulterous relationship, that the dam collapsed, as the God's were upset with it. Karumban, who married Valli after his wife died and only after his kids are grown up and started having their own family was aware of his young wife's other relatiohships. Kurumban did not live long after the collapse of the dam. Disaster stuck the family again, when Chirutha, daughter of Mylan was found dead, after being raped. Chirutha was everyone's favorite, capable of managing two families as the elders go for their daily labour. The young Namboodiri boy was suspected , but there is no way a low caste to get his justice in the legal systems. The young blood and the harbored vengeance, had Neelan getting rid of the culprit, killing him. As things turned out, every member of the family, except Mylan and his wife ( they can't leave the place of their daughter) moved eastwards, to Kanhirappilly and up in the high-ranges, working for the new rubber plantations of Christian rich, or with the Europeans in their Estates.
While the story per se, is nothing great to talk about, the interesting take on the changes in the social structure is handled pretty impressively. To Neelan and his team, the new place is something beyond their imagination. There aren't any talk about untouchables and every one is equal. Many of his relatives and friends from the lower caste are now converting themselves to Christianity, trying to get themselves accepted into the new lifestyle. However, the upper caste Christians aren't too happy to accept them to their fold, creating a new church for the converted 'pulayas', continue to keep them away from the mainstream. The converted Pulaya's continue to be tormented between the "God Jesus" and their own many Gods and ancestors that they carry with themselves. However, conversion to Christianity, helps them to earn the daily labor, which otherwise would have been deprived. This place also has no taboo, in wearing dress covering the whole body and there is no 'Feudal Lord' of the yesteryear , who demand 100% servility. The act of rebellious nature did start from their previous place. Ayyankali and the 'Sangham' are active at many places, and many youngsters are getting involved in their activities. However, the fear of repercussion is in the air and holding many 'pulayas' from taking open stand against their lords. But, they do their own way of rejection. Neelan's activities of pushing the 'Post-Man' into the mud, the act of murder to bring justice to the killing, the stealing of toddy and the resulted friction with the local Nair, who ended up in the well.. there are stories for the Pulayas to talk about over the mug of toddy and laugh.
The novel suffers from many things. One, the story line is wavery. It jumps from one thread to the other with no convincing progression. It also, lacks from its structural compilation. I get a feeling as a boat abandoned at the middle of the river allowing itself to choose its path and shore. A better arrangement of the chapters and the overall flow would have made this a better book. Raju K Vasu, like many new writers are relying heavily on the language to create the atmosphere and fails to develop the characters. Neelan, Chinnan, Kali and many others that take prominence at various pages fails to grow into the epical form. As he moved towards the last pages, the myths and the local legends of ghosts and other bodies take over the narration dampening the build up thus far. May be this would have been the cause of my disappointment. But there are brilliant passages at many places and some of the peripheral characters have brilliant caricatures. His writing is touchy and maintained the same level of control over the clever use of dialect. Despite numerous flaws, it still, is a good book.-----------------------------------------------------------
ചാവുതുള്ളൽ ( chavuthullal) 2011
Raju K Vasu
D C Books