Tuesday, April 02, 2013

A True Gift in Green

To know the mind of woman, he has to know first, the mind of the land.
Sarah Joseph is one of the celebrated women novelists of Malayalam literature and she has he has received numerous awards and honours such as Kendra Sahitya Academy Award, Kerala Sahitya Academy Award, Vayalar Award, Cherukad Award and O.V. Vijayan Sahitya Puraskaram. Her Malayalam novel Aathi was published simultaneously with its English translation Gift in Green by Valson Thampu in 2011. In her interview with Valson Thampu, Joseph speaks about how she modelled the land of Aathi on a island Valanthakkadu in Ernakulam district of Kerala. She was amazed by the lives of the people who subsisted in fishing, picking mussels and farming Pokkali rice. They earned as much as Rs. 300 a day picking mussels but never fished for more than that as they count on the fish and mussels as their fixed deposits. The author praises the subsistence perspective of the people of Valanthakkadu by basing a novel on their simple life.

The land of Aathi is pristine covered with water on all sides. The people lived the water-life, drawing sustenance from the water and the fields. Their water-life meant that their daily immediate needs were met from earth and water as they could collect enough food to feed the whole family just by working till noon everyday. The mangroves that surrounded the land of Aathi contained plenty of fish, which the people used to catch with their bare hands. During high tide, these fish and prawns were carried across to the rice fields, from where the people caught them. They also knew the secret of growing rice in salty waters. In Aathi, people from the ancient times lived the water-life, harvesting only what they need from nature.

The destruction of the pristine, land, water and its people starts with the advent of Kumaran, a business tycoon who sees in Aathi, the means of making money. With his coming, the modes of living such as the water-life and farming are replaced by construction of buildings resulting in pollution, creation of toxic waste and destruction of natural habitat. The novel also shows the environmentalist concerns of the writer as she describes the present-day issues of Kerala such as water contamination, lack of proper waste disposal systems, dumping of biomedical waste in rivers and waterbodies, the use of endosulfan to ensure profit in farming, the problems of landfilling, destruction of marshes disposal of plastic and biomedical waste and so on. However, nature cannot be exploited and contaminated forever and the waters of Aathi rise in a flood and purify the whole land.

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