Friday, November 1, 2019

About my Race: A Song by Poykayil Appachan : Essay Questions

Updated
Kannur University
Common Course
Readings on Kerala (1A02ENG)

1. Poykayil Appachan's poem "About my Race: A Song" is a criticism of written histories. Elucidate.
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2. Poykayil Appachan's poem "About my Race: A Song" attempts to locate the intricacies of Dalit life in Kerala. Explain.
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3. How does Poykayil Appachan's poem "About my Race: A Song" represent the people belonging to his race?

            In his poem "About my Race: A Song", Poykayil Appachan foregrounds the question of race.  The poem is translated into English from Malayalam by Jessica Sudhir M. The concept of "race" refers to the evicted and marginalized first people of Kerala. Poykayil Appachan was also known as Sree Kumara Gurudevan. He was a revolutionary Dalit leader and social reformer hailing from Central Travancore. His parents worked for a rich Christian family as slaves. He started his work as a preacher at the age of seventeen. However, he left the church later and started his own organization called Pratyaksha Raksha Deiva Sabha. He attempted to organize the early inhabitants of the region. He was also a member of Sadhu Jana Paripalana Sangham which social reformer and Dalit leader Ayyankali founded in 1907. Appachan's speeches and songs contributed to the democratisation of society and polity. "About my Race: A Song" depicts one such example, which he recited in the Legislative Assembly of Tiruvithamkoor in 1921.

            "About my Race: A Song" opens with a concern about numerous versions of history that exist in which the downtrodden people of the land are not present. On the contrary, historical narratives about other prominent races or castes are many in which the first nation people are poorly represented. Appachan problematizes the conspicuous absence of the references to first nation people in the history of our country. It is important to note that the way downtrodden people are portrayed in mainstream history is still a point of debate. Appachan uses the plural term "histories" to denote the existence of parallel narratives. According to him, none of those narratives does justice to the first nation population, the earliest inhabitants of the land.

            There was no one to write the history of the poet's race because his race was the earliest inhabitants of this land. Poykayil Appachan invokes the analogy of a scribe to invoke the idea of dissemination of knowledge. The earliest inhabitants were ignored because no one wrote their history. This thought grieves the poet because he realizes the importance of written history. The absence of his race from the histories of the present time saddens the poet. Colonial forces have used writing as a tool to construct identities. Such an agenda was never part of the first nation communities, especially in premodern times.

            The poet wants to write a story about how the earliest occupants came to be regarded in Kerala. He reveals that he is not ashamed to reveal openly the weaknesses of his race if any. His race has been called "the cursed progeny" by the mainstream society. Poykayil Appachan intends to deconstruct popular notions regarding the marginalized race of the first nation people. 

               The poet dismisses any sense of "shame" associated with the present condition of his race because he understands that shame is a product of the mainstream culture. He does not see any fault in openly narrating all the weaknesses of his race. The politics of marginalizing the first people is largely fuelled by the mainstream culture to authenticate its supremacy. Everything that does not fit into the mainstream notions of cleanliness, beauty, and intelligence, shall be viewed as aberrations and blamed. Appachan subverts this discourse by dismissing any sense of shame.

            The poem, "About my Race: A Song" has eight stanzas. The reference to divinity or "God" appears in the final stanza of the poem. The poet asks how God can allow the injustice of racism to continue. The poet refers to the God concept endorsed by creationism. According to this concept, God is a supreme being who created every living and nonliving entity on the earth. The question asked by the poet reflects the hopelessness felt by him on witnessing the reality of racism. It is interesting to meditate on how the poet arrives at the final question. He states that the mainstream forces in the culture of Kerala blame the first nations without any inhibitions. Before, bringing God into the poem, the poet asks, if racial discrimination would continue endlessly. This question gives the poem a tone of hopelessness, which is cemented by the final stanza.

REF: Multiple Modernities, edited by Board of Editors, Kannur University, Cohin: Hornbill Publishing House, 2019. Print. 

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