Featured Poem

Alappuzha Vellam

This poem is joint-published in India by The Indian Quarterly and in the UK by Modern Poetry in Translation.

She, of Alappuzha.
She, of that soil’s charcoal-tints.

When she writes in poetry,
she writes, jalam!

Attoor the Poet asked:
It’s vellam, isn’t it?
She, of Alappuzha,
the girl with palm-thatch braids;
daughter of the muddy water,
rotting-coconut-husk-reeking water,
faintly-briny-tasting water,
bright-tea-burnished water.

For her, jalam
means the clear liquid
that reigns
in Wayanad, Nila-land,
hill-land, southern-land.
That which falls off the sky
and is un-fallen on the earth,
that which has no smell,
the gift of the deep,
colourless water which beholds
far distances, towering heights,
Water that does not wilt and lie still
in the plains.

It holds the gods,
charming temples,
daily worship, divine feasts,
year after year, festive flags,
trunk-waving tuskers,
the brimming crowd.

Alappuzha’s fine soil
gets the monthlies.
Thus is born, vellam.
It stains,
it washes, it bathes,
it stretches out in pain,
it gets up, walks,
it stays sleepless,
touching not its mate-water.
Untamed and sharp-tongued,
couldn’t care less
for clarity.
Fitful are its depths.

Their-Selves are their Deities.
Sacrifi ce lies sprawled on
its stones, all over inner worlds and out.
Oars, wheels, coir-spinning ratts.

The songs of the shattered throat.
Headless flagpoles.
The nod of the yellowed
palm-frond ears.

The monsoon that dances
all agog, like the beach at fish-thronging chaakara,
pitiless summer, spitting fire
as the white sand scorches, sears.
Vellam keeps step, it brims, it sinks.
Bowls and pans,
storing pots full,
fish-scaly skin that clings
stubbornly to them – the vellam’s pain.

Canals, boat-jetty,
Stone Bridge and Iron Bridge,
pond, backwater, rolling water-weed carpets,
the glow of coconut fibre-gold,
the tang of dissolved iron,
the sodden scent of sweat,
all in the waters of Alappuzha.
It wobbles, it dims,
dissolves in the distance,
melts into images
the birds alone see.

Decades have passed
and she’s homed in southern waters.
Yet while writing,
delving the depths of memory
she, of Alappuzha’s hues
she, of Alappuzha’s hair
still knows not: jalam, or vellam?
She turns, she knows
but she turns not, she knows not.

The throat stays parched.

NOTE: chaakara is a unique coastal phenomenon in which fish
congregate in large numbers due to the formation of mud banks
during the summer monsoon.

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About the translation:
» Read translator's notes
Anitha Thampi
J. Devika
Original language:
2017 Number 1 - Songs of the Shattered Throat

About the author

Original poet

Anitha Thampi

ANITHA THAMPI is a Malayalam poet with three collections of poetry to her credit. Her work has been translated into English, F...

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J. Devika

J. DEVIKA is a writer, teacher, translator, historian and interdisciplinary social-science researcher. She researches and teac...

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