The room I stayed in too had the gifts of the sea, the fresh breeze and the sand. It was just for a night but I was bowled over by the hospitality of the staff and students of MES Ponnani College established in 1968. I remember the simplicity of Kunjumohammad, the cook in the men's hostel. At the crack of dawn he came around to my room as if to ask what I was doing there. Thank fully he spoke Hindi. I asked if tea could be had. He said yes, at 7. When we got talking over tea I asked him about his life. He told me that he was very happy working at MES. The authorities were very understanding. Though he had received many offers to join elsewhere, he preferred to stay put. What would his wife do, if he went away? Their only son was in the Middle East. For breakfast he rustled up some delicious upma which was given with 2 bananas.
The title of the seminar 'Dar Voz' i.e. 'Give Voice' was resonant with Spanish and Portuguese overtones. The imperative mood called upon the delegates to present the focus areas of the seminar with diligence and honesty. The areas were transgenders; sex workers, Dalits, and slum dwellers. This was a bold theme for the Department of English, MES Ponnani College which is affiliated to the University of Calicut. A.M Ameera, seminar coodinator and Professor Abdul Ali, Head of the Department, with the Principal Prof. A.M. Rasheed steered this 2 day event on 28-29 January 2016 to its safe harbour.
The book exhibition and sale at the venue under the gracious trees invited book lovers to peruse translations of Che and Plath. I came away with Ram Puniyani and Sharad Sharma's Communalism Explained - a graphic account (www.explainedseries.com, 2014); Retrieving the Beauty of Blackness: A Brief Study of the Evolution of Dalit Poetry in Malayalam by S. Chandramohanan (Raven Publications, Thiruvananthapurum, 2011), and Pranayasatakam - a bilingual volume of verse in Malayalam/English by Thachom Poyil Rajeevan (Matrubhumi, 2013). The poetry book was beautifully illustrated with paintings by Kavita Mukhopadhyay. These are wonderful efforts by small, alternative presses to publish books relevant to local issues and contexts. These issues are often sidestepped by mainstream publishers. There was also a book on Iranian film and Kerala historiography.
It was spell-bounding to listen to the likes of Teesta Setalvad, Dr. Ram Puniyani and Kalki Subramaniam who addressed the plenary sessions. Murugan founder of 'Child Care' also touched our hearts as he shared his experience of trundling around with his rickshaw picking up homeless children from the streets and caring for them. The students and the volunteers endeared themselves by their smiling demeanour and willingness to make you feel comfortable. After the first day's proceedings I had an impromptu poetry reading with the students reading one of my poems which featured Ponnani from my self-published collection A Peace of India: Poems in Transit.
Convenient trains connect Madgaum station in Goa with Ponnani which is in Mallapuram district in North Kerala. The nearest rail-head is Kuttippuram. The 12618 Nizamuddin-Ernakulam Mangala Express and the 16346 Thiruvananthapurum-LokmanyaTilak Terminus Netravathi Express are good options. Of course a stop at Calicut / Kozhikode is mandatory to pick up the famous banana chips, black halva, jackfruit chips, banana bits coated with ginger, and of course the Kerala bananas themselves.
The last time I visited Kerala was for a seminar on film organized by NSS college, Pandalam in 2013. Do view my blogpost of the trip on this blog. Go to the 'Label' menu on the right and click on Pandalam for the blogpost 'Tripping in Pandalam.'The abstract of my paper read at Ponnani is under the label 'Slums in Goa.' A poem I wrote on sand mining on the ancient Bharatpuzaha river is listed under the blogpost 'Tears of Sand' (2011).