Jeever Madness
Happy Onam to all my fellow Malayalees!

Happy Onam to all my fellow Malayalees!

Selections from the Doctrine of the Forest series (2009) by Surendran Nair.

Ranjit Hoskote writes of Nair’s work in Voices of Change: 20 Indian Artists, edited by Gayatri Sinha:

"We  find ourselves assailed by drastically simplified, weapon-grade narratives that have been designed and launched on the fly. Such are the fictions that exercise the political imagination of many millions of Indians today. Volatile, aggressive, exclusivist in their tenor, these fictions are invariable disseminated and enforced by violent and intolerant methods. Can the artist’s counter-mythologies compete against such juggernaut fictions, which are backed by demagoguery, the force of numbers, and the will to power? His are, after all, an individual’s productions: by definition, they are episodic, tactical, and guerrilla-like. Can they prod the Indian political imagination in vigilance? Wrestling with these questions, Nair has kept the door of versatility open. He adopts a politics of lila, of play, of sport among appearances and realities…

[…]

Living and working in Baroda, Gujarat, as he does, Nair has witnessed the carefully plotted insanity of the Hindu Right from close quarters. This experience has sensitized him to the complexities of belonging, even if nominally, to a religious group; and to the responsibility  of employing imagery that originates in a religious context or a sacred vocabulary, against those who misuse it.” (55-6)

Vidya Balan in “Chalanam Chalanam,” a song from the Malayalam film Urumi.

Happy Onam to all my fellow Malus!

Happy Onam to all my fellow Malus!

Undertakers (2007) by Riyas Komu. Constructed out of wood, automotive paint, and iron.

Ullekh N.P. writes of Undertakers in Voices of Change: 20 Indian Artists, edited by Gayatri Sinha:

There is a medley of tombstones made of wood mounted on wheels—with a human heart engraved on one side and a star painted red with car paint attached to the other side. According to Komu, the work represents a situation in which the “earlier dead” offer last rites to the “newly dead” because nobody is alive to perform the ritual. (255-6)

Riyas Komu was born to a Malayali Muslim family in Thrissur, Kerala, though his work reflects a much larger scope than his personal background. A trip to Karachi inspired Undertakers, when Komu visited a cemetery that housed thousands of Muslim migrants from Partition. Reflecting on this history of violence and the contemporary insecurity in the city, Komu developed this sculpture to convey the perpetuation of violence in this region.

I recently finished reading The Girl in the Garden by Kamala Nair, a book that intrigued me because of its representation of Kerala’s Nair community, which I am a part of. The story follows Rakhee Singh, an American born girl of mixed Punjabi and Malayalee descent who returns with her mother to her ancestral village in Kerala and discovers numerous family secrets that irreversibly change her life.
Though the book is undeniably a page-turner, I found the first-person narration through Rakhee’s childhood perspective to be a bit clunky at times, as explanations of Malayalam words or concepts inevitably felt awkward and disruptive within the narrative. Also, the novel largely affirms the well-established and problematic trend in many works of diasporic fiction to valorize the site of settlement and represent the “homeland” as a possibly dangerous, ahistorical place, though this is complicated at certain points. Though issues of gender are much more dire and intricate in Kerala than celebratory discussions of the state seem to suggest, the novel does tend to generalize and vilify the status of women in the state, albeit in ways that shed some light upon the complexity of gender relations in matrilineal Nair homes. The book is definitely entertaining, but it is important that it is read and discussed critically and not as ethnography, as far too much fiction like it is.

I recently finished reading The Girl in the Garden by Kamala Nair, a book that intrigued me because of its representation of Kerala’s Nair community, which I am a part of. The story follows Rakhee Singh, an American born girl of mixed Punjabi and Malayalee descent who returns with her mother to her ancestral village in Kerala and discovers numerous family secrets that irreversibly change her life.

Though the book is undeniably a page-turner, I found the first-person narration through Rakhee’s childhood perspective to be a bit clunky at times, as explanations of Malayalam words or concepts inevitably felt awkward and disruptive within the narrative. Also, the novel largely affirms the well-established and problematic trend in many works of diasporic fiction to valorize the site of settlement and represent the “homeland” as a possibly dangerous, ahistorical place, though this is complicated at certain points. Though issues of gender are much more dire and intricate in Kerala than celebratory discussions of the state seem to suggest, the novel does tend to generalize and vilify the status of women in the state, albeit in ways that shed some light upon the complexity of gender relations in matrilineal Nair homes. The book is definitely entertaining, but it is important that it is read and discussed critically and not as ethnography, as far too much fiction like it is.

The first of seven films looking at Indian artists’ responses to the city of Delhi features Gigi Scaria, a sculptor and video artist from Kerala. His work explores migration and displacement

Nalini Jameela reads from her autobiography, Oru Laingikatozhilaliyute Atmakatha (An Autobiography of a Sex Worker). Jameela, who has adopted her name to reflect Hindu and Muslim traditions, exploded onto India’s literary scene through her Malayalam-language memoir about her experience as a sex worker in Kerala. As expected, the book created an enormous controversy, which is recounted by J. Devika, one of Kerala’s top scholars of gender and the book’s English translater:

The furious debate around the book and its author, in which ‘inadvertent alliances’ between voices from the conservative right and the some feminists were formed, evoked memories of an earlier controversy over a woman writing her story. This was in the early 1970s, and the the controversy had been about the ‘revealing’ autobiography written by one of Kerala’s finest literary authors, Madhavikutty (Kamala Das). However, no two authors could be so differently located. Madhavikutty was born into an aristocratic Nair family, was the daughter of an eminent poet in Malayalam, and the niece of a prominent intellectual. She was already well known as a short story writer in Malayalam and as a poet and a writer in English when Ente Katha [My Story] appeare. Jameela came from a lower-middle class, lower caste (Ezhava) family, was removed from school at nine, and worked as a labourer and a domestic worker before becoming a sex worker. Later she became an activist and a filmmaker, but was not very well known outside a narrow sphere.
Now it seemed as if she had taken over the crown of thorns from Madhavikutty— who had once been disparagingly referred to as the ‘queen or erotica.’ (xi-xii)

Jameela’s autobiography is one of the top books on my reading list for the summer. I’m interested to see how much of this controversy is based around Jameela’s actual text and how much of it is simply based on the idea of a memoir like this.

Nalini Jameela reads from her autobiography, Oru Laingikatozhilaliyute Atmakatha (An Autobiography of a Sex Worker). Jameela, who has adopted her name to reflect Hindu and Muslim traditions, exploded onto India’s literary scene through her Malayalam-language memoir about her experience as a sex worker in Kerala. As expected, the book created an enormous controversy, which is recounted by J. Devika, one of Kerala’s top scholars of gender and the book’s English translater:

The furious debate around the book and its author, in which ‘inadvertent alliances’ between voices from the conservative right and the some feminists were formed, evoked memories of an earlier controversy over a woman writing her story. This was in the early 1970s, and the the controversy had been about the ‘revealing’ autobiography written by one of Kerala’s finest literary authors, Madhavikutty (Kamala Das). However, no two authors could be so differently located. Madhavikutty was born into an aristocratic Nair family, was the daughter of an eminent poet in Malayalam, and the niece of a prominent intellectual. She was already well known as a short story writer in Malayalam and as a poet and a writer in English when Ente Katha [My Story] appeare. Jameela came from a lower-middle class, lower caste (Ezhava) family, was removed from school at nine, and worked as a labourer and a domestic worker before becoming a sex worker. Later she became an activist and a filmmaker, but was not very well known outside a narrow sphere.

Now it seemed as if she had taken over the crown of thorns from Madhavikutty— who had once been disparagingly referred to as the ‘queen or erotica.’ (xi-xii)

Jameela’s autobiography is one of the top books on my reading list for the summer. I’m interested to see how much of this controversy is based around Jameela’s actual text and how much of it is simply based on the idea of a memoir like this.

Promotional trailer for Naalu Pennungal (Four Women), a 2007 Malayalam film directed by Adoor Gopalakrishnan, one of Kerala’s most celebrated directors. I saw this at a film festival in DC a few years ago and really need to watch it again.

The trailer doesn’t have subtitles, but the film is made up of four vignettes based on short stories by Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, each of which explores a different type of struggle faced by women living in Kerala’s Alapuzha (Alleppey) district. The final vignette, “The Spinster,” stars Nandita Das as an unmarried woman struggling to find a place within her younger sister’s house. Nandita Das is one of my favorite actresses and I loved this section the most, but the whole film is fantastic.

As part of her Native Women of South India – Manners and Customs series, Bangalore-based performance photographer Pushpamala N. reimagines classic paintings by Raja Ravi Varma to critique the ways that such idealized images have been the dominant visual representation of South Indian women.  I appreciate how these images specifically challenge the romanticized notions of gender in Kerala, where the status of women is much more complicated than many celebratory appraisals might reveal.

Happy Vishu (Malayalee New Year)!

Vidya Balan in Malu garb in the 2011 Malayalam film Urumi (The Curling Blade).
The film focuses on an imagined attempted assassination of Vasco Da Gama and the development of anti-colonial politics in Kerala. This is a movie I NEED to see.
The film also stars Prithviraj, Prabhu Deva, Genelia D’Souza, and Tabu (in a cameo).
Urumi is directed by Santosh Sivan, who also directed The Terrorist, an absolutely brilliant Tamil film about a young female suicide bomber.

Vidya Balan in Malu garb in the 2011 Malayalam film Urumi (The Curling Blade).

The film focuses on an imagined attempted assassination of Vasco Da Gama and the development of anti-colonial politics in Kerala. This is a movie I NEED to see.

The film also stars Prithviraj, Prabhu Deva, Genelia D’Souza, and Tabu (in a cameo).

Urumi is directed by Santosh Sivan, who also directed The Terrorist, an absolutely brilliant Tamil film about a young female suicide bomber.

"Oru Murai Vanthu" from the Malayalam film Manichitrathazhu

Another example of Indian horror film, Manichitrathazhu was remade four times in different regional languages, including once as Bhool Bhulaiya in Hindi. Though the plots vary slightly in each version, each of the films includes some variation of this scene.

sankit:

jeevermadness:

“Jiya Jale” from Dil Se

I’m bothered by the way that the Hindi film industry often relegates spaces like Kerala to the margins of the nation, and this song exemplifies that practice. The scene presents the state as absolutely foreign and exotic to “India” (meaning Hindi-speaking North India). The film’s sole definition of the state through the “erotic” backwaters and a scene of Shahrukh Khan practicing Kalarippayattu while surrounded by elephants suggests that Kerala exists outside of the space of the “modern” Indian nation. This is especially troublesome considering the fact that the film is directed by Mani Ratnam, who has brilliantly challenged  the marginalization of South India in his Tamil films Roja and Bombay.

absolutely love this song. especially love the choreography from 2:53 - 3:15, although they’re not speaking hindi so I have no clue what they’re saying there. 

funny thing about the commentary, however, is that kerala is one of the most socially developed states in india. other states should be learning from them. not completely sure where they were in their development process when this movie was release (c. 1999), but i’m fairly certain they have been ahead of the game for some time

Thanks for the comment, I should clarify because I was a bit vague.

At least within cultural texts like Bollywood films, urban spaces like Delhi and Mumbai—and often specifically the wealthy sections of those—emerge as the idealized representation of “New India.” My issue here is that this scene, like many other representations of the state, only characterizes Kerala as an idyllic, touristic foil to the urban, Hindi-speaking spaces of the North. I don’t think it would be problematic if it wasn’t one of the sole representations of the state that appears in the Hindi film industry. However, this type of representation solidifies the discourses that center an Indian identity around certain spaces and classes while marginalizing others.

On another note, many scholars have backed off from the Kerala Model of development, mainly because it does mask some of the very real problems that the state faces in terms of gender and class inequality, though there are definitely some positive structures in the state that could serve as models. The problem with many discussions of Kerala as of recently is that they either still frame the state in a way that refuses to acknowledge its issues or they depict the state as quaintly untouched by time. There is a need for more nuanced cultural discussions about the state that move beyond the imagery in the “Jiya Jale” scene.

"Jiya Jale" from Dil Se

I’m bothered by the way that the Hindi film industry often relegates spaces like Kerala to the margins of the nation, and this song exemplifies that practice. The scene presents the state as absolutely foreign and exotic to “India” (meaning Hindi-speaking North India). The film’s sole definition of the state through the “erotic” backwaters and a scene of Shahrukh Khan practicing Kalarippayattu while surrounded by elephants suggests that Kerala exists outside of the space of the “modern” Indian nation. This is especially troublesome considering the fact that the film is directed by Mani Ratnam, who has brilliantly challenged  the marginalization of South India in his Tamil films Roja and Bombay.