Koogai - The owl

Title Koogai - The owl
Author Cho. Dharman; transl. from the Tamil by Vasantha Surya
Publication Oxford Univ. Pr.
Size XXXVI, 368p
Language ENG ENG
ISBN 9780199456734
Topics Indian fiction--Tamil--Translated into English
Indian fiction--Social
Notes Koogai is almost an ethnographic document of the lives of the lower-caste people in Chitthiraikudi village and their near exodus to the slums of Kovilpatti. The novel abounds in instances of oppression meted out to the Dalits by the dominant middle caste groups — false cases, forced sexual assaults, insults and thrashings. The Owl on the other hand saves children, foretells future, guards the devotees and in many ways organises the marginal sections of the society. The Owl and the State, signified by the police, occupy the epic terrain of the novel. The narrative is not linear. The plot is made complex by the interweaving of songs, stories, dreams, nightmares and fantasies and lores of various deities. Aandaalamma, who was born female but did not become a woman biologically, turned into a fountain in the dryland. The details of trees and birds are no less a document of the ecosphere under discussion. The many proverbs and sayings bear the wisdom of the common man. The hierarchy of caste in all its ramifications is ever-present in the novel. Peichi, who lives in Subramania-puram surrounded by Dalits, is Kaali Thevar’s wife. Her daughter Maari is happily married to a Thevar boy. Krishna Paraiyar has converted to Christianity and is named Peduru. The protagonist, Seeni, who belongs to Pallar community, mocks at that name punning on the Tamil word ‘peththuru’ (cull out) thus: “Sounds like someone’s knees being pulled off … or eyes being gouged. I’ll have to remember it like that”. The Christian priest is supposed to have mixed the seed of karuvelam in the dung, thereby disturbing the land’s ecological balance. (Called ‘seemai karuvelam’, it is a menace brought into the region’s landscape. To directly blame the Christian priest is to undermine the impact of the colonial power.) The Arunthathiyars remain on the fringe, chattering away in Telugu, ill-treated by the dominant forces, including the Pallars. While Dharman has managed to address the inter-Dalit castes’ lack of solidarity and the ‘graded inequality’ among them, there is a definite positive slant towards the Pallars. This seems to be an impasse in Dalit writing in many languages, and definitely in Tamil. [The Hindu]
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