Urbanisation needs people to who work the dirty things behind the 'every thing is good clean and shining' life of the city dwellers. These people, who work non-stop in the background, live in the hidden quarters, work at odd hours, are the necessity of any growing city . Forced to live outside the city limits, their land and their life is encroached and driven away by the ever expanding need of the city, forced to shift themselves away, as the city grow. Sara Joseph in her short novel write about these marginalised people, whose culture, language, voice, thoughts and life are encroached by the pretentious mass of urbanised, mainstream population.
Invasion through out the history had those who control and those who suffer. The economics, religion, and physical and organised power always played a key role in colonisation and control. The invading power , however, need the service of these sidelined populace for their daily affair. The exterior brilliance of the society needed the dirt and filth to be cleared. Thus, every city, every social setting has people who are termed and identified to be the 'cleaners' for long time. These people, scavengers, the washerwomen, the cart pullers, the maids , gardners, security agents are 'housed' just outside the social strata. They have to be available at a calls length, but not within their 'identifiable community'. Sara Joseph, reflects our conscience to these people and their life in the mid 20th century Thrissur.
Kookanchira, in the outskirts of Trissur, was once the dumping ground of abandoned bodies and carcasses, before the group of people, scavengers and other low life settled in. Annie, now eight years, is born in this place among the other low class, after her family moved into this place. Her father had abandoned the family, leaving her and her mother among many aunts , the aging grand mother and a crippled uncle suffering from TB, bed ridden, spitting blood. His whereabouts are not known and the family is resigned to the fact that he is not to be expected. Kookanchira is infamous for its past glory, its criminals ( the gang of 14 rowdies), the other people of ill-repute. Even at school, a place for progressive thoughts and teaching, students from Kookanchira is looked upon with disgust and contempt. Annie, through her childish eyes, witnesses the slow but definite changes that takes place in her outskirts. The place, where many houses stood, was being taken by the rich from the city, producing documents from authorities to show ownership of the property. The fights and the resistance, can easily be soaked wet by alcohol, by brute force, by the might of authority or the ruling class. Hence, the place, which was once a grave yard, a place of wandering ghosts, of numerous legends is now become history. So is the history of kookanchira, a history of the place is the history of its people.
One of the attributes of colonisation, or invasion, of encroachment is the structural destruction of what existed. The culture, the way of living and the language in particular. It was so from the early days of invasion. The Spaniards and Portuguese in the South America, the English all over the world. It is the same within the country by the rich over the poor. Brahminism, dictated the standards, the structure and the style of language (sanskritisation) and the way of living and thinking. What is followed by the upper class people become the norms of the society. However, those sidelined and marginalised community, find their own identity through their language, their rituals and customs and even physical appearance.
Sara Joseph uses the language to an outstanding effort. The identity of the people is in their language. Language is the character here. The legends, the folklore, the politics, the daily life of the inhabitants unveiled through the natural progression of language. The language of the elite, is viable only for Annie's uncle, who is always bed-ridden. Annie, complains that she cant understand her uncle when he speaks in this language. This uniqueness in the narrative is that it often hard to understand ( even those who speak Malayalam) and makes it all the more difficult for translation. This is a hold no bar way of communicating. The idioms, the ample use of foul and unparliamentary language, the care a damn attitude for grammatical correctness the referential contexts and the other 'characteristics' of their spoken words make this an enriching reading experience.
While the focus is shifted to the narrative, one should not take the attention away from the story telling. Sara Joseph, cleverly weave the story, of the families shifting fortune, and through them the society that they belong and the larger population and the changing social and political scene of Kerala. A family of 7 women ( mother, grand mother and five aunts), a young girl and an invalid bed ridden male of past fury of rebelliousness, under one roof. Apart from the sporadic interjections, the voices are all of the women. Its the women who moves the daily score, with men busying themselves with alcohol or quarrel. Their might and demonstration of power are restricted to the public arena, but the control in the real sense ( despite a few beating they suffer after an alcohol induced reaction) is with the women folks. For Annie, her uncle is some one who is beyond her world. She know he taks about profound things, but have no connection with the world they live in. Its through her grand mother ( and her stories) she know the worldly wisdom. The men of her town, the women, the religion ( her grand mother is switched to Syrian sect while her mother remained Roman Catholic) , the authorities, the money lenders, whores, the neighbours and the ancestors are opened to her world through these womanly conversations and experiences.
Sara Joseph, uses these varied facets of story telling to some great effect. The language, the sociao political structure, the worlds of women, the perils of the new capitalists system, the issues of growing urbanisation, the prevailing caste struggles, the rich and political nexus combining their might against the unorganised, low class into a memorable little book with her insightful narrative. Brilliant in both style and technique, very refreshing reading experience.
ആലാഹയുടെ പെണ്മക്കൾ ( 1999)
D C Books
Samyukta , Wiki