Sarah Joseph. Aalahayude Penmakkal. Thrissur :
Current Books, 1999
149 pp, Rs. 65/-
Aalahayude Penmakkal (The Daughters of God, the Father) by Sarah Joseph, published in November 1999, has already won recognition as a unique novel in Malayalam, that fully transmits the marginalized history and experience of a historically muted subaltern group, in a strikingly new narrative technique. The Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, who introduced the term ‘Subalternity’ has pointed out that new literatures are created only when the experiences of various kinds of marginalization and the pathos of subordination are brought into the mainstream. In this sense the novel is the new literature, as it presents the waxing and waning of “world’s cheapest people living at the cheapest place, fit only for the dead and decayed”, and that too, through the life sketches of the doubly subaltern women of that group, belonging to three successive generations.
when townships are expanded, the suburbs are no more suburbs and the people who live there, forming the lowest stratum of society are pushed back and scattered. They are the ones who supply everything the town needs and demands. They simply live there, unorganised and uncivilized, totally ignorant of the developmental phases of their sub-culture. The onslaught of urbanization with its increased complexities of systems dismisses them. Once their suburb is urbanized and transformed into ‘clean city, green city’, they have no right over there; so every man, woman and child at ‘Kokkanchara’ has to live and die disposed as is the fate of every subaltern. In the Heraclitian deluge with which the novel concludes, the entire group is wiped away from the face of the earth and the new pavements and multi-storeyed houses that replaced their ‘Kodichiangadi’ will never acknowledge their existence.
The history and story of Kokkanchara is also the history and story of the women there, or vice – versa. From the very title to the last word, the novel strikes a deep and vibrant chord of feminism. Annie, the eight year old girl, is the female hero, performing the schizoid function of experiencing and narrating. It is symbolic that she never grows up and experiences the pangs and pains of womanhood. She is always the child and sees everything with child like honesty and clarity. Her focalization spans the past and present of the land as well as its people. It is amusing to look at the socio-political and religious upheavals in the state in the 1950’s through the prism of Annie’s imaginative yet realistic consciousness. Annie learns through the lives of her grandmother, mother and five aunts, about the different and difficult predicament of women. But she is strengthened and consoled by the fact that a day will come when, she learns the mysterious Aalaha’s prayer, which has a divine capacity to exorcise the evil. The moment of epiphany strikes her like a double edged sword. She has also become the sole possessor of the Aalahas prayer, but she has also become the sole possessor of her people’s subculture and damnation.
The uniqueness of the novel rests on the re-barbarisation of history through a set of symbols and the de- Sanskritizaiton of the language spoken by the subaltern group. Kokkanchara may remind one of a particular suburb of Thrissur, which has been once upon a time the town cemetery. But places like this are always there on the outskirts of any town. Oscar Handlin, the American ethnic historiographer has commented that the story – real orfictional – of the outskirts of a town any where in the world is the sign post of national character, gender and ethnicity. So, Kokkanchara is the signpost of a historical and universal phenomenon. The beautiful mosaic of symbols woven into the texture of the story confirms this, and at the same time makes the novel distinctly culture specific. The Aalaha’s prayer, and the amara pandhal are two interacting symbols that dominate and control the story. Similarly the de-standardized language, which is not the accepted dialect of Thrissur, but found only in the oral folk tradition, highly colours the narrative and makes it language specific. Even the names of characters like Cherichi or Nonu are destandardized to the extent that they are no more recognized by an ordinary speaker of Malayalam. But as mentioned earlier, these aspects make Aalahayude Penmakkal more an unforgettable experience than a couple of hours’ leisurely reading. No doubt, it will have a special place in the bookstands of literature.
MARIAMMA PANJIKKARAN. Teaches English at S.D. College, Alappuzha. Area of interest is feminist stylistics. Currently doing her Ph.D at the Institute of English, University of Kerala.