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My Life Amidst the Mangroves By Kallen Pokkudan

Kallen Pokkudan at Kannur Collectorate for Chitralekha's dharna

Kallen Pokkudan was born in 1937 to Aringalayan Parotti and Kallen Vellachi in Edakeel thara, Ezhom panchayat. He was their third son. He had to stop his formal education after class 2 but amassed a wide wealth of knowledge through his experiences and work. At the age of 18, he joined communist politics. When the party split, he joined CPI (ML). He has been imprisoned in jail for his role in farmer’s protests. He spent time in remand and then underground for his alleged role in the murder of goons of landlords during the Ezhom farmer’s struggle in 1968-1969. He later left the communist party politics and spent most of his time in anti caste and environmental activism. The ecological use of mangroves as hiding places for prawns and other shell fish has been recognised in Kerala due to his work. He has won numerous awards for his environmental work. He has spoken against the casteism of left parties in Kerala and has come under attack for doing so. His environmental activism has a strong anti caste politics, a fact that mainstream, savarna commentators tend to erase by abstracting him as only an environmental activist.

Kandelkaadukalkidayil Ente Jeevitham (My Life Amidst the Mangroves) is one of three books about Kallen Pokkudan’s life and experiences. Here is a translation of a part of a chapter of his autobiography so he can be read and appreciated by Ambedkarites who cannot read Malayalam.

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Old notebook

A few months back, I started writing my autobiography in an old notebook. All human beings will have a story of their own to tell. Don’t I also have some things like that to tell the world? Definitely, I do. But one problem really bothered me. How can someone who can’t read or write Malayalam, an ordinary man, write his autobiography? I do not know how many letters are there in English and Malayalam. Though I have heard of the alphabet, I haven’t learnt anything by heart. So a few small memories, a few cases to do with mangroves which have possessed my heart, some politics that shook me which have found places to hide in my heart – I gave up my attempt after writing about these in a language that was not very elaborate. I didn’t even feel like reading once, those notes written in a slanting, dirty handwriting that nobody could understand. Maybe I thought it might be useful for my children, but I didn’t tear up that notebook either. Recently, by chance, I saw that notebook which contained my autobiographical notes with my third son, Jithu, who is a poet. He read each page with astonishment like someone who had found a treasure. I realised when I saw his expression that my handwriting would cause a headache to anyone reading what I had written. “Jithu, my son, just give me back that notebook”, I told him. But he did not let go of it. Why does he need that book? Maybe he is searching for his father in those incomplete notes. After that I didn’t tell him anything. I forgot about all that.

Does a pulayan have a life history?

Does a pulayan have a life history? What life history? When everyone else passes away or dies, what is there to say about a few lives that rot in death, some people may ask. I wish these friends who view this attempt with suspicion, a long life! Just like politicians, musicians, scientists, saintly mahatmas, all human beings can have the stirrings of the coming together of soul and body. The lives of farmers and fisherfolk are so different and filled with so many more incidents than those of the people mentioned before, for sure. But to write these we need words. Words, words. When people who live in the lower rungs of society start using words we pass through new worlds of knowledge and experience. Do you readers still have any doubts about how different words will be when they smell of the fresh earth, the raw fishes, the freshly cut paddy?

Kallen Pokkudan spent most of his time in anti caste and environmental activism. The ecological use of mangroves as hiding places for prawns and other shell fish has been recognised in Kerala due to his work. He has spoken against the casteism of left parties in Kerala and has come under attack for doing so. His environmental activism has a strong anti caste politics, a fact that mainstream, savarna commentators tend to erase by abstracting him as only an environmental activist. He passed away on 27 September 2015.

Translator: Gee Semmalar