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 

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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

 

 

‘Comrade’ Krishna Pillai

'Comrade' / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad  2004 / 30"x40" C type prints

‘Comrade’ / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad 2004 / 30″x40″ / C type prints

This photograph is from my series called ‘Untouchables’. In this series, I had used the scanned images of the found analog photographs from my family album and manipulated it in the digital format. Those days, family albums were not merely photographs of one’s family alone. The family album is indeed a clear presentation of the family’s whole life, interests and political views… a collection of  photographs of our leaders, the heroes of the land, the gurus, the favorite cine starts etc., become a part of this valuable family treasure. During early 2000, I had returned to my home town in Mattancheryy, Cochin, from a decade of sojourn in North India, London, Paris etc.,.  The nomadic way of living had created an earnest desire to get back to my roots… I craved for familiar surroundings. That’s why immediately upon my return, I created a body of work titled ‘Black mother – Heroine of Silpattikaram’. I had used up most of the reserve film negatives for this series and was not getting access to films in Cochin. Even though I had exposure to digital technology starting early 1990s and had been specially trained in Europe, I was still not fascinated to use the digital medium.  The familiar smell and working with chemicals in the darkroom was more captivating for me. To get over this phase of ongoing transformation, I started scanning some of the family albums and reworked on it to create this body of work. In this particular photographic image titled, ‘Comrade Krishnapillai’, I had positioned images of Gandhi, Guru Narayana and the famous poster Stalin E’ Morte (Stalin died). This very famous image of Gandhi standing in front of the British Prime Minister’s house, 10 Downy street was taken before  Indian independence.  Narayana Guru is a Philosopher and Social reformist. In the 1953, when Stalin died, the followers of Trotsky had released this famous poster Stalin E’ Morto.  The upfront iconic portrait is that of Comrade P. Krishna Pillai. Com. P. Krishna Pillai, one of the founder leader of the Communist Movement in Kerala died on 19th August 1948. Krishna Pillai was one among the four persons who formed the first Communist Party group in Kozhikode in 1937. His death came during his underground life due to a snake bite. Exceptional skill for organisation, unflinching communist consciousness, dedication, love for fellow human beings and boldness marked the unique personality of Com. Krishna Pillai.

I am very grateful to the photographers / designers who had taken these iconic images. This is the first time I had used photographs of another photographer for my photographic work. Usually, I am a witness of the event, or portrait, or the building that I am photographing. In this particular series of my work, I am not the witness. Another photographer is the witness, and I use their never faded powerful document. Hence the totally dramatic and fabricated set-up.

27th September 2014

Tiruvannamalai

(C) All rights reserved. All the 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 

Muthappan and Toddy

Muthappan and Toddy / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad  2014 / Archival pigment prints

Muthappan and Toddy / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad 2012 / Archival pigment prints

 

Mid 2012, I had gone to Wayanad to meet my friends. There are few places in Kerala, where one could get good Toddy, a natural alcoholic beverage created from the sap of various species of palm tree such as the palmyra, date palms and coconut palms. It is also known as kallu (in South India). Toddy, along with fish and meat is offered to Mutthappan, the principal deity of Muthappan Temple, also called Parassinikadavu Muthappan temple, located on the banks of the Valapattanam river, Northern Kerala.  Muthappan is a manifestation of two mythical characters called Thiruvappana and Vellattam. According to the local tradition the presiding deity is a folk deity and not a vedic deity, but there are recent attempts to associate the deity to Vishnu or Shiva. Rituals of the temple is unique in that it does not follow the Satvic Brahminical form of worship, as in other Hindu temples of Kerala. The main mode of worship is the a ritual enactment of both the characters of Muthappan, through a traditional dance known as Muthappan Theyyam. For Malayalees, drinking is a social phenomenon. Their use and abuse of alcohol is immense. Toddy shops and Muthappan, both are very much a part of Northern Kerala culture. In the current political context of Kerala, Toddy appears to be a healthy alternative. HAIL MUTHAPPAN.

 

26th September 2014

Tiruvannamalai

(C) All rights reserved. All the 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