So.Dharman is an important tamil writer, who has documented the lives of the Dalit community in his previous works such as Koogai. He is a natural successor to the writings of Ki.Rajanarayanan , Poomani who captured the rural lives of tamilnadu. Their stories are rooted in realistic portrayal of rural lives in tamil literature. They are masters in capturing reality in a photographic natural free flowing style. So.Dharman has captured the dalit life, the odds faced by them in rural life even today in his previous works. His previous novel Koogai captures the conflict and oppression faced by Dalits. சூல் his latest work which was awarded the best novel of year 2016 by Vikatan in their yearly awards, is a slight shift from his Dalit forte. It still is the rural life that Dharman explores but its in its entirety not just the Dalit but the whole of the rural life.
Sool has an interesting form as a novel, for eighty percentage of the novel the rural life exists in a timeless expanse. Timeless in the sense there is no clear indication of the time of the novel, still one can guess the time through incidents coming from outside. It gives us a feel that the rural life, its customs and traditions exist in a manner which is timeless, that has not changed from a long time. There is a certain rhythmic circularity and order about the rural life like that of the rains which bestow it with all the wealth. Rain is crucial to the rural life, every prosperity of the village stems from it. Hence we are introduced to the rural life with the NeerPachi ( Neer in tamil is water, pachi is the one who regulates the flow of water to the farms) who manages the Kanmaai(the tank in which water is stored), and regulates the flow of water to the village farms owned by the families. The management of Kanmaai is central to the rural life as it ensures the availability of water for farming. Every year before the rains arrive the excess silt deposited is cleared of from the kanmaai so that the capacity is not diminished. This silt as it is mineral rich is equally distributed to the farm families to be used in their land. The Neerpachi also monitors the Kanmaai for places of weakness and ensures that the trees and bushes around the Kanmaai are not destroyed because they act as natural fences to the Kanmaai. This integral management of the resources is well documented in the novel. The rural life captured by So.Dharaman is highly interdependent not just among the people living also the birds and animals which depend on the farm for survival. The agriculture as the first form of economic activity also creates ancillary work for carpenters, ironsmith, potters whom depend on the farm family for their life. The village is well contained and managed autonomously, we see very little impact from outside.
The rural life is highly religious and mythical and firmly believes in the idea of karma, especially the repercussions of bad karma. The novel also shows the formation of rural deities, a way in which the village attone’s for collective mistakes or how it remembers the great sacrifices people made for the village.
These deities live and protect the life of people in rural life. The novel is full of amazing stories on heroic sacrifices especially the life of Koppulaai who being chid-less manages to become the loving of the mother of the entire village.
The novel takes dramatic turn after the arrival of the modern democratic government. Indian independence was achieved during the heights of modernity where people genuinely believed that modern science will radically change the world. So post Independence the government initiated steps to reform the agriculture practiced in rural villages and it in excited zeal was not in any mood to study the current practices prevalent in rural india. It completely reverses the holistic water management done by the traditional NeerPachi by appointing a government employee with very little first hand experience.
The rise of atheistic politics and complete disregard for the rural beliefs literally killed any morality. The newly elected rural head chief, who is a native of the same village completely disregards any tradition inspired by the
atheism promoted by his leader is corrupt to the core. He gets Puramboke land which is land belonging to commons written to his name. And he forces the Neerpachi to divert water to this land against practice that water from Kanmaai is used only for the Nanjai land. On Neerpachi’s refusal appoints a government employee to oversee the Kanmaai. The destruction of the Kanmaai is slow and painful it reads like the destruction of all traditional knowledge and life.
The yearly removal of silt is stopped , which reduces the collective capacity of the Kanmaai. The pleas of the people to clean the Kanmaai was mostly ignored saying that things take time in government dealings. The water level in Kanmaai goes down, the non availability of the silt reduces the organic capacity of the farm land. Government ill introduction of Seemai Karuvelam tree from Australia as fences, grow in such breath take pace it sucks the already depleted water table.
The government also introduced the Silpa kendai a type of fish which continues to destroy native fish even today. The scant regard for the environment and the traditional agricultural practices is a classic case of throwing the baby with the bath tub.
It is understandable that our rural life was plagued with issues like caste system, the practice of untouchability etc but it also had years of traditional knowledge. It is unfortunate that we gave scant regard for our ancestors knowledge in agriculture. It is something which continues to impact us even today.
Important work ,