Legendary Pathumma and her goat

Pathumma and Goat / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP archives

Pathumma and her goat / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP archives

[Vaikom Muhammed Basheer (21st January 1908 – 5th July 1995) was a Malayalam fiction writer from the state of Kerala in India. He was a humanist, freedom fighter, novelist and short story writer. He is noted for his path-breaking, disarmingly down-to-earth style of writing that made him equally popular among literary critics as well as the common man. He is regarded as one of the most successful and outstanding writers from India. Translations of his works into other languages have won him worldwide acclaim. His notable works include Balyakalasakhi, Shabdangal, Pathummayude Aadu, Mathilukal, Ntuppuppakkaranendarnnu, Janmadinam, and Anargha Nimisham. He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1982. He is fondly remembered as the Beypore Sultan].

In the year 1985, Ramavarma Thampuran started a Malayalam newsweekly called ‘Preview’. Jamal Kochangadi was the editor in chief. The editorial team policy was to cover investigative journalism including photo-features. I was part of the editorial team. PREVIEW was one of the first few dedicated news magazines in Malayalam. Due to financial challenges, the magazine was closed after a  few issues. Those few issues did enhance investigative journalism in an effective way. Together, we did few good stories. One of the story was about the female infanticide practice prevailing in Usilampatti, Madurai District, Tamil Nadu. The infanticide story was done by Pattatu kumaran and I was the photographer.  We decided to do a story on Basheer’s characters of the noted autobiographical novel Pathummayude Aadu (Pathumma’s Goat; 1959). In this humorous novel, the characters are members of his family and the action takes place at his home in Thalayolaparambu. The goat in the story belongs to his sister Pathumma.

During those times, the tradition was to give the negatives to the agencies. Usually these negatives are neither archived nor preserved. So most of these valuable images are lost forever to the public. Due to my keen interest to preserve these images, I now have few images from this series of work that we had done. These images weave the story of this unique genius. Twenty years has passed since his demise. However, his memories and his words continue to vibrate in our heart. Basheer, Sulthan of words and legend, his real characters and the surrounding landscape continue to linger fresh in my mind. Salute you Basheer Ji. Thank you.

(C) All rights reserved. All the images published in this blog is copyrighted property of  contemporary Indian photographer Abul Kalam Azad. Text transcribed by Tulsi Swarna Lakshmi. Reprinting / publishing rights reserved by the author and prior permission is required for reproduction / re-publishing, For more information call {0}4175 237405 / {0}94879 56405  or mail to ekalokam@gmail.com / FACEBOOK – Abul Kalam Azad 

Advertisements

Periyakulam weekly chanda

“A peasant become fond of his pig and is glad to salt away its pork. What is significant, and is so difficult for the urban stranger to understand, is that the two statements are connected by an and not by a but” – John Berger

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

 

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Vettavalam is a Panchayath town in Tiruvannamalai District. Periyakulam Chanda (market) is near Vettavalam, about 19 kms from Tirvannamalai. This is one of the very few active Sunday chandas in Tiruvannamalai District. Variety of  cattle, livestock, roosters, pigs, horses, goats, turkeys, rabbits, goose, etc., are arrayed for sales.  Hand made equipment, country vegetables, dry fishes, etc., also become part of this chanda. These color market is vibrant with life and activities. The market becomes active quite early. Pork is prepared and served, often times along with alcohol… one can see several men and women sitting in the sideways and eating. In the age of super market and online shopping practices, these kind of places continue to be a social gathering space. More like a festival, during the weekly chanda, people from neighbouring villages come together, share and laugh, sell and buy, and enjoy this ancient practice.

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Not long before, animals were central to the existence of human beings. Not merely as leather and meat, but as an essential force that co-exists. Their entry into the life of humans was phenomenal. More as messengers and keepers of secrets, they communicated and started living alongside human beings. However, things have fast changed and now most of the animals are in zoos, distant and aloof, having been taken away from their natural habitation. In Tamil nadu, the animals continue to be used for many different purposes. Barter system is still prevalent in certain parts of the fast growing Tamil land. In many ways, the animals are still central to the life of these communities. However, this situation will soon change and animals will be forced to play a mere marginal role.  And, these animals might even become extinct, as their existential link with human beings is bound to change owing to the technological advancement.

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

This series is part of my ongoing photographic project in which I use lo-fi cameras to document the changing rural lifestyle and contemporary culture.

Abul Kalam Azad

3rd November 2014

(C) All rights reserved. All the images published in this blog is copyrighted property of  contemporary Indian photographer Abul Kalam Azad. Text transcribed by TSL Nadar. Reprinting / publishing rights reserved by the author and prior permission is required for reproduction / re-publishing, For more information call {0}4175 237405 / {0}94879 56405  or mail to ekalokam@gmail.com / FACEBOOK – Abul Kalam Azad 

“Esoteric gods, rituals and sacred symbols of Thirunangais”

The terms Aravaanis / hijras / third gender describe individuals who are categorized (by their will or by social consensus) as neither man nor woman. Transgender people are called as Aravaani in Tamil and their community is referred as Hijra in India. Tamil Nadu has an estimated population of 40,000 transgender people. In South Asia, most often hijras live in well-defined and organized all-hijra communities, led by a guru. Many work as sex workers for survival.  The Aravanis have a strong community fold and have defined understanding of norms and customs. They have developed unique lifestyle, rituals and beliefs and their interaction / exchange with the other communities is very effective and influential. In Tamil Nadu, the aravanis take active part in the film industry. Most hijras live at the margins of society with very low status and go through untoward mental, physical and emotional agonies. Respecting the dignity of the transgender communities, in the year 2008 Tamil Nadu’s civil supplies department recognised them and offered ration cards. This was the first time that authorities anywhere in India have recognised the group. “It’s a move to support these marginalized people. They exist and we cannot ignore them. We have to accept them as third gender,” said social welfare minister Poongothai Aladi Aruna, a gynecologist herself.  “We started with ration cards because it was the simplest thing to do. Other documents such as passports and voter identity cards will involve policy decisions of the Centre.” In April 2014, Justice KS Radhakrishnan declared transgender to be the third gender in Indian law, in a case brought by the National Legal Services Authority (Nalsa) against Union of India and others.

 

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad  / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad  / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad  / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad  / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad  / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad  / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad  / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Viluppuram is a Municipality in the Villupuram district of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It serves as the headquarters of the district, the second largest in the state. Koovagam is a very small village in the Ulundurpettai in Villupuram district, Tamil Nadu. Usually this village is like any other village without much activity. It has a very small temple made of stone. The presiding deity is Koothandavar, it would mean, “The God of dance”. The local people offer worship once a day to this God. Few outsiders come to this temple to get rid of their disease. There are no monthly festivals at this temple. But there is a great festival on Chithra Pournami  day (full moon that falls during the month of April-May) during which several thousand transgenders (third genders) from all over India participate in the annual gathering which takes place for fifteen days. This festival is dedicated to the presiding deity Koothandavar or Lord Iravan.

 

Esoteric gods, rituals and sacred symbols of thirunangais  - Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad

Esoteric gods, rituals and sacred symbols of thirunangais – Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad

Esoteric gods, rituals and sacred symbols of thirunangais  - Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad

Esoteric gods, rituals and sacred symbols of thirunangais – Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad  / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad  / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival pigment prints / 2012

The reunion of thousands of cult leaders and their members, cross dressers, transgenders and their lovers amidst the crowding / competing agents, clients, devotees, social workers, doctors, police, traders and also the presence of countless perverted / frustrated / aspiring spectators, occur at the open paddy fields adjoining a traditional, conservative farming hamlet.  Freely, fearlessly man marries man or man marries a third gender or man marries a Mohini as part of this ritual. The grand celebration of the marriage followed by dance, music, sacrifice, love, sex, ecstasy, sorrow and widowhood is performed in a highly dramatic way.

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad  / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad  / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad  / Archival pigment prints / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival pigment prints / 2012

This project is my ongoing photo project that I have been working since 2012. I have been using lo-fi cameras and intend to use both analog and digital techniques.

 

Abul Kalam Azad

31st october 2014

(C) All rights reserved. All the images published in this blog is copyrighted property of  contemporary Indian photographer Abul Kalam Azad. Text transcribed by TSL Nadar. Reprinting / publishing rights reserved by the author and prior permission is required for reproduction / re-publishing, For more information call {0}4175 237405 / {0}94879 56405  or mail to ekalokam@gmail.com / FACEBOOK – Abul Kalam Azad 

Southern Salt

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Salt, also known as sea salt, is a crystalline mineral that is composed primarily of sodium chloride ( NaCl ); a chemical compound, belonging to the larger class of ionic salts. Salt is one of the oldest, most universally, prevalent food seasonings and salting is a necessary method of food preservation. The taste of salt ( saltiness ), is one of the basic human tastes. While people have used canning and artificial refrigeration, to preserve food for the last hundred years or so, salt has been the best-known food preservative, especially for meat, for many thousands of years. A very ancient saltworks operation has been discovered at the Poiana Slatinei archaeological site, next to a salt spring in Lunca, Neam County, Romania. Evidence indicates that Neolithic people of the Precucuteni Culture were boiling the salt-laden spring water through the process of briquetage, to extract the salt as far back as 6050 BC. The harvest of salt from the
surface of Xiechi Lake, near Yuncheng in Shanxi, China, dates back to at least 6000 BC, making it one of the oldest verifiable saltworks. Salt was included among funeral offerings, found in ancient Egyptian tombs, from the third millennium, BC as… were salted birds and salt fish. From about 2800 BC, the Egyptians began exporting salt fish to the Phoenicians, in return for Lebanon cedar glass and the dye Tyrian purple. The Phoenicians traded Egyptian salt fish and salt from North Africa throughout their Mediterranean trade empire. In India, the symbolic act of salt has a different significance due to the ‘salt sathyagraha’. The Salt Satyagraha started on March 12, 1930, with the undertaking of the Dandi Yatra, by Gandhiji and 78 of his followers.
The triggering factor for this movement was the British monopoly of salt trade in India and the imposition of a salt tax. As a result of the contemporary British laws, the sale or production of salt by anyone but the British government was a criminal offense. So, while Salt was readily and freely accessible to laborers in the coastal areas, they were forced to pay money for it. Since Salt is needed by all, irrespective of geography… class/caste, religious beliefs and ethnic backgrounds, Mahatma Gandhi chose it as the focal point for the Satyagraha.
Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment Print / 2012

I had taken these images along the East Coast Road, also known as State Highway 49, a two lane highway in Tamil Nadu, India, built along the coast of the Bay of Bengal connecting Tamil Nadu’s State capital city Chennai with Cuddalore via Pondicherry. The salt, although an essential ingredient of one’s life, the farmers who produce salt are often exploited. They lead a tough life toiling in the hot sun. These photo sketches were taken during my road trip along the ECR stretch using lo-fi cameras.
Ekalokam collective, a firm set-up to merchandise art in every day life has published a photo-notebook titled ‘Southern Salt
Abul Kalam Azad
29th October 2014
(C) All rights reserved. All the images published in this blog is copyrighted property of  contemporary Indian photographer Abul Kalam Azad. Text transcribed by TSL Nadar. Reprinting / publishing rights reserved by the author and prior permission is required for reproduction / re-publishing, For more information call {0}4175 237405 / {0}94879 56405  or mail to ekalokam@gmail.com / FACEBOOK – Abul Kalam Azad 

“മുഖാമുഖം”

Meeting of two legends – MGR and Mammootty 
MGR, (Marudhur Gopalan Ramachandran; 17 January 1917 – 24 December 1987) is a popularly known South Indian film actor / politician. In 1977 he became the chief minister of Tamil Nadu – the first film actor in India to become the chief minister of a state. He remained as chief minister till his death in 1987. MGR is an inevitable icon in Tamil culture and even now his presence can be felt in the cultural, political and social life of contemporary Tamil lifestyle. Mammootty ( Muhammad Kutty Ismail Paniparambil; born 7 September 1951 ) is an Indian film actor / producer who has mainly worked in South Indian movies. During a career spanning more than three decades, he has acted in more than 360 films. Beside than his prestigious Padma Shri Award, he got five state awards, three National film awards for best actor. He was also honored a Doctor of Letters by the University of Kerala in January 2010 and by the University of Calicut in December 2010.
MGR and Mammootty / Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Silver gelatin print / 1980s

MGR and Mammootty / Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Silver gelatin print / 1980s


This image of MGR and Mammootty was taken by me during MGR’s visit to inaugurate the silver jubilee celebrations of C.T.T.U. (Cochin Thuraimuga Thozhilali Union). The trade union was very popular in Mattancherry. Mammootty’s father-in-law was one of the key leading official of that independent Trade union. I am a big fan of MGR. This was the first time I am meeting MGR. He came from Madras (Chennai) to Cochin (old airport). Most of the journalists and photographers took images of his arrival and went ahead to do other chores. I was an independent photographer during that time and I took this opportunity to be with MGR and stood there watching this legend. Soon after his arrival, the organizers took him to a guesthouse in Wellington. I went along with MGR to the guest house. On the way to the guest house he waved to the Tamil workers who had gathered in front of their settlement which was in front of the airport. I was the only person around, who could communicate with him in Tamil, eventhough it was broken. So, he started asking many questions in his husky voice. Whatever I understood, I responded. He was a soft attentive man… After few hours of acquaintance, I politely and ambitiously asked him whether he could remove his white fur keepa and his sun glasses… I was curious to capture his curly hairs and eyes… Most of his political pictures are with these iconic symbols. My dream was to photograph the artist in him… he laughed… and after a brief silence, he said, “come to Chennai”. I never went to Chennai and never met this legend again.

MGR / Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Silver gelatin print / 1980s

MGR / Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Silver gelatin print / 1980s

Mammootty / Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Silver gelatin prints / 1980s

Mammootty / Photograph (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Silver gelatin print / 1980s

This meeting must have happened during the 80s. First time I met Mammootty when he got married to Sulfat who is from my neighbourhood. Since then I meet him in the juice shops, market, etc., He used to hang around in his moped. During that time he was not famous as a film actor. He had acted in two or three movies in uncredited roles. Mammooty showed interest to act in theaters. My father’s brother and his friends were running a theater rehearsal camp. Mammootty was part of this play performing in a small role as the revolutionary child of a Muslim landlord. My father’s brother Ismail was the Muslim landlord, the main character of the drama. Sri NK Latheef was the author of the drama and it was directed by OS. Hameed. The rehearsals were conducted in my house terrace. Later we had gone to perform in a nearby remote island called ‘vallar paadam’. I was the asked to be the photographer for this performance as well as, I was the ‘prompter’ for the drama. After this performance, Mammootty started acting in the film, Vilkkanundu Swapnangal, directed by Azad, written by M. T. Vasudevan Nair, and starring Sukumaran in the lead role. His first full length character was in the 1980 film Mela which was written and directed by K. G. George. It is during this time, when Mammootty was becoming popular, this particular meeting between MGR and Mammootty happens diring C.T.T.U Silver Jubilee Celebrations. I never met Mammootty again. Mammootty is a great lover of photography and he likes himself being photographed. Most of these negatives of Mamootty, including his wedding negatives, the drama performance negatives were burnt in a fire incidence.
27th October 2014
Abul Kalam Azad
(C) All rights reserved. All the images published in this blog is copyrighted property of  contemporary Indian photographer Abul Kalam Azad. Text transcribed by TSL Nadar. Reprinting / publishing rights reserved by the author and prior permission is required for reproduction / re-publishing, For more information call {0}4175 237405 / {0}94879 56405  or mail to ekalokam@gmail.com / FACEBOOK – Abul Kalam Azad 

 

Magnetic light of the fire mountain

Photos of the gods

Photos of the gods / Archival pigment prints / 24"x24" / 2008 - 2010

Photos of the gods / Archival pigment prints / 24″x24″ / 2008 – 2010

My first encounter with the Agni Shylam was incidental. Aruncahala hill is considered as one of the important elements ‘fire’. Geologically this hill is dated to be older than Himalayas and theologically Arunachala hill is equivalent to Senai, Machapuchare and other holy hills. Dravidians (nature worshipers) worship the hill and perambulate the 14 km circumference through out the year. The recurrent references to hills, caves, saints, idols, angels, gods, and goddesses during my early childhood religious (Islamic) surrounding made me search for the deeper essence of nature and nature worship. Even though I came here incidentally, I realised that this is a place that celebrates light, an important ingredient for my medium. I was being pulled by the magnetic light of the fire mountain.

Photos of the gods / Archival pigment prints / 24"x24" / 2008 - 2010

Photos of the gods / Archival pigment prints / 24″x24″ / 2008 – 2010

I started observing and visiting the town regularly. For almost twelve years I didn’t take any photographs, I was immersed into the mystical dimension of light. In the year 2011, I moved to Tiruvannamalai. ‘Photo’s of the gods’ is one of the earliest series (12 photographs) that I made in Tiruvannamalai. All the analog images of the ‘Photos of the gods’ series is taken along the 14km girivalam path. Everyday, I encounter these sculptures as mundane objects, but then these are owned and worshiped by millions of people. For me, ‘Photos of the gods’ series is a symbol of Dravidian culture and identity. It is not a philosophy but a dharshanam (visual culture) in Dravidian (pre-vedic / paganistic) society. May be, I am worshiping these forms at my subconscious level or I am using them as contemporary art objects for my art practice. Either way, it makes me feel that I am part of the pre-hindu (vedic) society and I look this images as a parallax of the culture…

Photos of the gods / Archival pigment prints / 24"x24" / 2008 - 2010

Photos of the gods / Archival pigment prints / 24″x24″ / 2008 – 2010

Photos of the gods / Archival pigment prints / 24"x24" / 2008 - 2010

Photos of the gods / Archival pigment prints / 24″x24″ / 2008 – 2010

Photos of the gods / Archival pigment prints / 24"x24" / 2008 - 2010

Photos of the gods / Archival pigment prints / 24″x24″ / 2008 – 2010

Photos of the gods / Archival pigment prints / 24"x24" / 2008 - 2010

Photos of the gods / Archival pigment prints / 24″x24″ / 2008 – 2010

Photos of the gods / Archival pigment prints / 24"x24" / 2008 - 2010

Photos of the gods / Archival pigment prints / 24″x24″ / 2008 – 2010

Photos of the gods / Archival pigment prints / 24"x24" / 2008 - 2010

Photos of the gods / Archival pigment prints / 24″x24″ / 2008 – 2010

19th October 2014
Abul Kalam Azad

(C) All rights reserved. All the images published in this blog is copyrighted property of  contemporary Indian photographer Abul Kalam Azad. Text transcribed by TSL Nadar. Reprinting / publishing rights reserved by the author and prior permission is required for reproduction / re-publishing, For more information call {0}4175 237405 / {0}94879 56405  or mail to ekalokam@gmail.com / FACEBOOK – Abul Kalam Azad 

A Devil in God’s own country

They call it God’s own country. We call it Keralam. It was part of Ancient Tamizhagam. It is a beautiful strip of land mass along the western coast of India. In fact Keralam lives in the minds of people, in memories, in songs and in general nostalgia. This land is a land of imagination, anxiety and restlessness. Those who could put up with it continue to live there and those could not just get out of that place and go elsewhere. They see the land from a distance. Those who have left for economic reasons look at the place with intense nostalgia and those who have left it for intellectual reasons look at the state with a sense of detachment tinged with affection that people show for estranged beloveds. It is a familiar and unfamiliar place for many. It renews itself through the changes in its topography. Trees give way to concrete buildings fitted with air conditioners, wastelands turn into malls, imagination migrates into cyberspaces and monotony of daily lives merges with incestuous relationships. We underline our achievements with literacy, heightened sense of morality, schools, colleges, hospitals and the proliferation of all other ideological state apparatuses. In short, whether we live in Keralam or not we are a sort of happy people with pain hidden behind our intellectual and emotional veils.

Hari Narayanan's room / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives / 2012

Hari Narayanan’s room / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives / 2012

I am an insider and outsider at the same time. I am born to a Tamil Muslim family but was brought up in Kochi. Growing up was interesting as Kochi had a history of migration, colonization and imagination. And from there I understood what a nation means. I was fiercely attached to my place of growing up. I breathed the winds of history and registered in my eyes the remnants of past and the evolution of the present. But the time came when I was in college pursuing my degree. The sails had filled with air and the mast was up, the ropes were untied from the dock and the siren was blown. My journey then onwards has been in the boats of silver nitrate coated plastic films. I sensed life through images. Each time I came back with new equipments and experiences I saw a different motherland- a changing Keralam.

With a smile I take pride in my Keralam. It is here that you see a temple, a mosque and a church squatting at the same square with loudspeakers spreading the same messages of love, adoration and worship in different languages and tones. Below the sound waves the cacophony of life moves on. When I zoom into the religious zest of people here the cacophony fades out and when I focus on the people religions become a blurry image. Along the streets new gods look at me; perhaps they are not new gods. They have been there for a long time exhorting people to fight for their rights. The triumvirate of the religion of Marxism- Marx, Engels and Lenin- sit pretty at the glossy flex boards the way the triumvirates of any religion sit authoritatively. Intense heat of summer months drive people behind these flex boards and hoardings. That’s how politics give shelter to people in my state. But isn’t it a world phenomenon?

Hari Narayanan's room / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives / 2012

Hari Narayanan’s room / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives / 2012

Hari Narayanan's room / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives / 2012

Hari Narayanan’s room / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives / 2012

Keralam consumes everything that comes its way- literature to cinema to tandoori chicken to Chinese food. Consuming becomes a spicier affair for a Malayali in Kerala because it is always tinged by intellectual resistance. And one could see the silver and golden lining at the horizon. Former fields where rice grew and the distances where hills merged into the foliages of trees and airbrushed by the fronts of coconut trees amongst which small little temples with a lonely devotee lighting up a single lamp visible from a distance like a wandering minstrel’s humming of ecstasy, all have been now barred from vision. In their places there stand large hoardings with slender bodied female models selling off gold ornaments. In Keralam women don’t look like the models in the billboards. Still they starve themselves to buy gold. People say gold is an investment. So has become the purdah. I see the advertisements of burqa all over.

Hari Narayanan's room / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives / 2012

Hari Narayanan’s room / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives / 2012

Each Malayali is like a hummingbird that makes its nest. Malayali flies away to different places only to come back to the state to make their concrete houses. They make it and then fly away, leaving the forlorn relatives to live in these places as security guards of someone’s ego and pride. Intellectual Malayali lives in a sepia tinted time and space. He sings old songs, he sees classical movies and he argues endlessly over cheap liquor. Drinking liquor has levelled the status of Malayali. If drinking had once determined the level of intellectual quotient of a Malayali (intellectuals always reeked in the smell of alcohol), today Keralam is a landmass of intellectuals who have embraced the life of bottle; gold and booze have become the two guiding principles. Literature happens in intervals of waking up.

Hari Narayanan's room / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives / 2012

Hari Narayanan’s room / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives / 2012

Artists, film makers, singers, dancers, office goers, factory workers, labourers and idlers understand Kerala only when they move out of the place and see it from a distance. If so, this place is like a coral reef full of glittering fish that never want to move away from its soothing aqua blue. Men live like film stars and women like characters in serials. Those who live elsewhere keep thinking of the possibilities of living such a life in Keralam once they come back for vacations. Everything is complacent here. If someone is allowed to drink tea and read newspaper, if someone is allowed to watch all television news, if someone is allowed to lead a procession to a temple or the secretariat, if regular supply of liquor is not cut, if gold is bought, if dowries are arranged, if deviant sexual activities are conducted, everything is fine with a Malayali. It is very difficult to be a different Malayali in Keralam.

Hari Narayanan / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives / 2012

Hari Narayanan / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives / 2012

If you are different you should be a devil. Harinaryanan is such a Devil in God’s own country. By portraying his life and the objects in his living space, I want to see how difficult is to be different in God’s own country.

[Hari Narayanan, contemporary South Indian percussionist. He lives and works in Calicut, Kerala.]

2nd October 2014

Tiruvannamalai

(C) All rights reserved. All the text and images published in this blog is copyrighted property of  contemporary Indian photographer Abul Kalam Azad. Reprinting / publishing rights reserved by the author and prior permission is required for reproduction / re-publishing, For more information call {0}4175 237405 / {0}94879 56405  or mail to ekalokam@gmail.com / FACEBOOK – Abul Kalam Azad 

Published in Gallerie  / July 2013 Issue