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Published in the 16-31 Jan 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

In Tamil, a book of poems on the Gujarat carnage released
By Meena Kandasamy

The hideous three-pronged shadows of the gleaming, bloodstained trishuls, have buried the last ray of light that was left in Gujarat. For a land that has been hounded by every natural calamity from the devastating plague to massive earthquakes, there is no longer the serenity of the Sabarmati to return to. Blood has etched the scarred landscape. Hatred and malice have been systematically force-fed, innocence has been indoctrinated into doing the worst possible crimes under the garbs of religious duty. And Modi’s second term symbolizes the unholy trinity that has come to characterize Hindutva: Fascism, Fundamentalism, Violence. 

Muthumari releases Thottakkal and Hasnar receives the first copy. From left: S. Peter Alphonse, Thiru. Veerapandian, Jawahirullah, Abdul Razak, Periyar Dasan, Abdul Rehman, A. Marx and Aloor Shanavas

So, while Praveen Togadia, aims to leap to the south to distribute trishuls, Muslims in Tamil Nadu are busy penning their poems in memory of the Gujarat genocide. Recently, on 27th December 2003, Thottakkal (‘Bullets’ edited by Aloor Shanavas) containing 49 Tamil poems on the state-sponsored genocide in Gujarat was released at the Sir P.T.Thiyagarayar Hall at T.Nagar in Chennai. In this anthology there are the poems of anger, the poems of war, but somehow what predominates are the poems of suffering and sorrow. Poetry is foremost catharsis: here, almost every other poem speaks of pregnant womens’ wombs being seared apart, of the children roasted, of the fire which still continues to scorch. Reading through the volume, one is left wondering as to what happened to the concept of ‘hyper masculinity’ of the Muslim male that the Orange Order has so fancifully depicted. In sharp contrast, the most poignant and tear-jerking poems in the collection have been written by men. 

Suddenly the whole ‘conqueror’ theory of the Sangh--which projects Muslims as being the evil conquerors--falls flat, nose down and squashed. Conquerors write history, not poetry. Poetry is the legacy of the oppressed, the fuel of revolutions. Beginning with Black poetry of the African Americans to the Marathi Dalit poetry, verses have been used as weapons of war. So, today when we see a minority community that has been bamboozled into writing poems to come to terms with trauma, it shows the ugliest face of the oft-quoted lie: Indian democracy. In a stark manner, the irony becomes palpable, it is not the aggressor who writes of the bullets, but it is the targeted. 

Thottakkal is the poetic chronicle of one of the most brutal genocides that has taken place the world over. Every page carries with it the photographic impressions that capture the open-mouthed horror of the state-sponsored genocide. There is the post-modernist breaking down of the system, there are no page numbers in the volume, no numbers for the poems: showcasing the fact that with emotions there cannot be preferences or partialities. No matter how much the anthology presents a victimology, there is no masking the fact that within every tear lies the power to retaliate. 

The drama and the tension stepped out of the pages of the book, and they came to dominate the book launch function. The book was released by Muthumari, a Dalit woman of the Kizha Urappannur village in the Madurai District, who had a mixture of human excrement and water poured on her head for daring to spurn the advances of an oppressor caste man. The first copy of Thottakkal was received by Hasnar of Coimbatore city, who lost his son during the communal riots that shook the city in the year 1997. By combining the worst instances of casteist and communalist atrocities in Tamil Nadu, and by bringing forth its victims to play such an important part in the function, the publishers of this book have set a remarkable trend. 

Other notable and distinguished invitees were: anti-caste secular activist and intellectual Prof. A. Marx, President of the Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam Prof. M. H. Zawahirullah, General Secretary of the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee S. Peter Alphonse, the poet Abdul Rehman, Prof. Periyardasan and Sun TV anchor and talk-show host Thiru. Veerapandian. The intellectuals participating in the meet stressed on the need to take this genocide to various forums: ranging from the appointment of international truth/inquiry commissions to putting the Modi government on trail in the international court of justice. It presented a picture of shared grief, with the boundaries of ‘your’ and ‘mine’ disappearing. It was about collectivist sorrow and collectivist dissent. Qutubuddin and Zaheera, Best Bakery and refugee camps were words that were repeated over and over, every new repetition trying to bring in catharsis and consolation. 

For a faraway and distant Tamil Nadu to respond to this confounded atrocity, shows the state of the Muslims in the country. And what is fostering their unity? Their coming-together has not been any internal force, nothing other than the campaigns of hatred unleashed by the Sangh Parivar. But no matter how much the Sangh forces the ghettoisation of the Muslims, their isolation shall never be permanent. Appreciably, some of the strongest voices that speak out against the Gujarat genocide have been from the (mainstream) intelligentsia, from secular artists who have been spontaneous in their solidarity. Take the brilliant example of the poem The Murder of the Gods by Eelam Tamil poet Kasi Anandan (now in exile in Tamil Nadu): 
A few Doubts…/

Gujarat-- / Is it Gandhi’s Womb? / Or tomb?

With the chanting / Of ‘Shiva Shiva’ / The trishuls / Tore the guts / And smiled…

Is Shiva Love? / Is Shiva Murder?

You fought / For the temples… / A question--

In your Temples / Are the Gods / Bathed in tender-coconut water? / Or in Blood?

You say / He is there / In the pillars / He is there / In the specks.

Will He / Be there / In the bodies
You burnt? / Or not?

In Gujarat-- / All that was murdered
By you / Was it the Humans? / Was it the Gods?

Or take the poem 'Unable to Sleep' that was recited amidst great applause at the Conference against Brahminic Terrorism organized by the Peoples’ Art and Literature Association at Tanjore in February 2003:

I am not able to sleep / Somebody / 
Please help me
When I close my eyes / Only corpses come
And unable to answer / The questions 
Of the corpses that come / I am not able to sleep

Those who have the answers / Please help

To bury / The corpses within my eyes / 
Is an impossible task for me.

I leave this / To you, itself. / One by one
All the two-thousand year old / Corpses…

Look closely / The tongue of one has been sliced away / For having heard the Vedas

For another / The penis has been sliced off
For having loved / One of another religion…

The corpses that come / From the mortuaries / Of the Manusmriti / Every one of them
Scream with questions

In the line / Of these corpses / The two thousand five hundred / Corpses of Gujarati Muslims

The voices of those / Who became corpses
By fighting against-- / Are destroying / My sleep…

‘Take revenge / Take revenge
Now… / Now…’

From now / I cannot sleep

Those with answers / Come and join
With me.

The most significant lesson learnt is that it is essential to expose. It was seen in the bright and daring eyes of Muthumari, in the firm resolve of Hasnar, and in the honest voices of the poets. What is needed are such efforts all over the nation, from people of every language. 

In these poems there is an immediate tone of urgency in the voices, it appears as though Gujarat burned just yesterday. And it is not just a torrent of tears, it is also a torrent of bullets. It does not stop with being a many-voiced dirge about the death and destruction, it also contains the seeds to settle the scores. 

Tamil readers may order copies of the book Thottakkal from Vaanamm Publications, 12, Venkatachala Achari Road, Pudupet, Chennai - 600 002. Tel: 044-32686759. Price: Rs 60

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