Inquilab's revolution

Print edition : January 19, 2018

Inquilab, a 2014 photograph. Photo: V. GANESAN

The Sahitya Akademi honours posthumously the Tamil poet Inquilab, known for his biting criticism of governments, but his family, deferring to the views that he held dear, refuses to accept the award.

“Virudhugal gowravapaduthum, pinamaga vazhnthal enpondorai…” (Awards will honour me if I were to live like a corpse.)

–The Tamil poet Inquilab

These anguished words of the poet Inquilab, who died last year, on December 1, in Chennai at the age of 72, justify his family members’ sentiments when they refused to accept the Sahitya Akademi Award announced for him this year. Inquilab was selected for the award on December 21 for his collection of poems “Kaandhal Naatkal”.

“We are content that Inquilab’s writings have reached the common people. That is the biggest recognition a writer can boast of. Therefore we do not want to accept this award in honour of his views,” the family and the Inquilab Trust said in an email to the Akademi. The email sent recently to the Secretary of the Akademi concludes with the lines of the poet quoted in the beginning.

Calling him “the voice of the voiceless, oppressed, underprivileged and backward people”, the letter continues that recognition for a person like him “is to remain a people’s poet”. It further explains that Inquilab had his own views on such awards and felicitations. He has written: “I don’t write expecting awards and felicitations; instead I foresee opposition, condemnation and repulsion.”

In his lifetime Inquilab faced a lot of such antagonism. “That did not stop even after his death. The face of the government may change, but the mask remains the same. He refused to accept such awards from governments even during his lifetime. Today, oppressive forces of hatred such as casteism, communalism and religious fundamentalism are dancing. At a time when the voices of dissent are getting smothered, it is not proper to accept the award as it would amount to a betrayal of the writings and life of Inquilab,” the letter notes.

Inquilab’s daughter Ameena Parvin told the media that her father had spurned awards and shunned any recognition from agencies that were not in sync with his ideology.

He returned the Tamil Nadu government’s “Kalaimamani” literary award, which he received in 2006, in protest against the State government’s failure to save innocents in the ethnic strife in Sri Lanka. He, in a letter, pointed out that the award “pierces him like a thorn”. In one of his poems he said that these State government establishments would recognise those who lived and those who were dead and those who “live like the dead” [referring to himself].

Though associated with the “Vanambadi poetry movement” of the 1970s which was known for infusing social and Marxian elements in poetry and gave little importance to literary flourish in its initial phase, Inquilab maintained the lyrical quotient in his poems. This Marxian leaning could be discerned easily from his work “Kanmani Rajam”, which strongly criticised the moral bankruptcy of politicians.

Inquilab (1944-2016) was born into an orthodox Muslim family as S.H.S. Sahul Hameed at Keelakkarai in Ramanathapuram district in Tamil Nadu. He chose Inquilab, meaning revolution, as his pen name. True to his name, he revolted against the social evils that he observed around him. At the age of 12, he wrote his first poem, on the harassment of a little girl who had been abandoned in a dargha as a mentally ill child.

Taking up Tamil as the main subject of study in school and college, he taught the language at New College in Chennai. He was in relentless pursuit of an ideology—from Periyar’s Dravidian nationalism to Tamil nationalism to Marxism-Leninism—that would put an end to the different kinds of oppression in society. In one of his works, he pointed out that his pen was operated by “the eyes reddened by the heat of honesty; trembling lips that demand rights and raising hands against cruelty”.

D. Ravikumar, writer and the general secretary of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), said that had Inquilab been alive, he would have attached no importance to such awards. And with just one poem, Ravikumar said, he had made the underprivileged to stand up against oppression.

Like many other youth of his time, the poet too joined the Dravidian movement. “But the silence of the Dravidian leaders who were ruling the State over the Keelavenmani massacre of 44 Dalit farm workers and their families pained him and forced him to lean towards communism,” he said.

“Manusangada… naanga manusangada,” (Human beings, we are human beings), his signature poem referring to the Keelavenmani massacre and the class and caste oppression, is one such fiery expression of his anger against the massacre. It talks about the anger and anguish of the people on the margins and has since emerged as the “freedom song of Dalits”.

The poem powerfully flags the social exclusion of Dalits, the arrogant dominance of caste groups that operated in league with the State government. He also mentions in the poem an incident that happened in the 1980s, in which four Dalit children from Kolappadi, a village in Perambalur district of Tamil Nadu, were allegedly murdered for drinking water from a common well.

The poem goes like this:

“Kolappadi kinathu thanni pullaya suttathu;

Thanniyum theeya suttathu;

Intha andaigalin sattam entha mirasai thottathu;

Sathaiyum, elumbum neenga vacha theeyil veguthu;

Unga sarkarum, courtum athula ennaiya oothuthu.”

(The water in the well at Kolappadi burnt the child;

The water too burnt like fire.

Which mirasdar was touched by the law of the rulers?

The flesh and bones are steaming in the fire you lit;

Your government and court pour oil on it.)

Inquilab strongly believed that his pen would play a role in ushering in a change that would one day ensure a society he was dreaming of. The virulence of his poems was almost infectious. His works primarily carried the victims’ voices, surprisingly strong and bold. “Can any poet transform words into burning pieces?” Ravikumar asked. Though he could be compared with many of the writers and poets of the Left, the immediate comparison with him would be another Tamil lyricist, Pattukottai Kalyanasundaram. “He continued to write on women’s liberation and Dalit emancipation, which the Dravidian rulers who came after Periyar forgot,” Ravikumar said.

While Inquilab sang on casteism, Pattukottai sang on class struggles. “Manusangada” poignantly portrays the sufferings of the oppressed, while Pattukottai talks about the world where man eats man, suggesting the exploitation of the poor. It is no wonder that people called Pattukottai “Makkal Kavignar” (People’s bard) and Inquilab “Makkal Pavalar” (People’s poet).

The rationalist poet did not allow his political ideology to curtail his views on other issues. He criticised the Tamil Nadu government’s stand in the celebration of the 1000th birth anniversary of King Raja Raja Chozhan. The king, he believed, was an exploiter of human beings.

Almost all his works, which won laurels and rave reviews from across the world, talk about society and its inequality. “Kanmani Rajam”, one of his famous poems, criticises the moral emptiness of today’s politicians. “Avvai” was his first modern Tamil drama, in which the mythical old woman poet “Avvaiyar” was portrayed as a bold and young bard. His other works include “Manimekalai”.

Inquilab, as Ravikumar pointed out, would live in the memories, “singing the song of humanism”, until his dream for a casteless society is realised.

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