Raghavan Atholi is a poet and sculptor. One of the early names associated with the rise of the Dalit Movement in Malayalam poetry, Atholi is described by his translator, K. M. Sherrif, as “one of the most powerful living poets in Malayalam”. Since his first collection of poems in 1996, he has proceeded to publish five more volumes. His novel, Chorapparisham (Blood Relations, 2006) won him the prestigious Basheer Award. He has also received accolades for his work in sculpture, including the Kerala Lalit Kala Akademi Award in 2004 and the Korea International Arts Festival Award in 2003.
Writes Sherrif of Atholi’s work: “He has forged a unique idiom and unique imagery, distilled from Dalit culture and experience. The fierce expressions and torrid images in Raghavan’s poetry appear destined to be lasting influences in Malayalam poetry. He has certainly been an influence on the rise of his younger contemporaries like S. Joseph and Renu Kumar in Malayalam poetry.”
There is a brutal irony, an impassioned and lacerating indictment of the status quo in the two Atholi poems selected for this edition. While ‘Texts’ reflects a deep disenchantment with the self-serving politics of a failed Left government in Kerala state, ‘Kandathi’ is a bitter comment on the predicament of an impoverished Dalit woman, waiting eternally for her world to change. (Kandathi, his translator points out, is also the name of Atholi’s own mother; the personal and the political are evidently often inseparable in Atholi’s work).
While the poems do run the risk of sounding occasionally overwrought in the English, their high-voltage electrical charge is unmistakable. A response to the tyranny of the state and to the still-alive horrors of the caste system, Atholi’s rage is fierce, his targets unambiguous, his denunciation unsparing. And who will not recognize the “graying firebrands” who have allowed their revolutionary ideals to be domesticated into soulless clichés, into “texts . . . served on a platter”?
Chavumazhakal, DC Books, Kottayam, 2008
Kanalormmakal, Avvaiyar Books, Calicut, 2007
Kathunna Mazhakal, Mathrubhumi, Calicut, 2007
Maunasilakalude Pranayakkurippukal, Avvaiyar Books, Calicut, 2004
Mozhimattam, Sahitya Pravarthaka Cooperative Society (SPCS), Kottayam ,1998
Kandathi, Currrent Books, Thrissur, 1996
Chorapparisam, (novel), Currrent Books, Thrissur, 2006
Kalladuppukal, (collection of sketches and cartoons), Dalit Service Society, Calicut, 2003