Joe D' Cruz is an eminent Tamil writer who established for ever his place in Tamil literary field with his first work: 'World surrounded by Ocean' (Aazhi Choozh Ulagu: a phrase from Kamba Ramayan). His second work 'Korkai' is about the ancient port town Tuticorin. The epic narrative of 'Korkai' traces through multiple layers an inner chord of spiritual struggle between an earth-bound goddess tradition and an imposed system alien to that tradition. A dwindling, community leadership almost becoming endangered and ultimately extinct was painfully aware of the loss. Joe d Cruz explains this from the retold memories about a community leader, a generation or two ago.
Thonmichael was not as much interested in positions of power and leadership titles as he was charged when it comes to his community's concerns. It is said that after he assumed position, in a very short period, he started giving life to abandoned traditions. He cried in inner agony how the Catholic religion that had demanded the lives of thousands and thousands of Parathava fishermen as sacrifice, was today presiding as a mute witness over the destruction of their very social fabric fiber by fiber. He would often lament, with a pained heart, what faith these foreigners had imported here which was not there already in our people. Reviving the old tradition, on the day of his coronation (as community head) he would go and get Darshan at the Goddess temples of Kanyakumari, Madurai, Thiru Uttarakosa Mangai and Korkai Santhanamari and do special pujas there. ('Korkai', pp.21-22)
However the destruction of the Goddesses traditions was done by forces that knew what they were doing. There were precise political and power equations involved. However amidst the waves of ocean and away from the grips of temporal power structures, the conversations of simple fishermen portrayed in the novel, bring out the socio-political equations of theological imperialism:
“Hey, I am talking about the white man. Arabs and Greeks before him came here only for trade but not for planting his flag here and govern over us.”
“Now this… this is really a fair statement”
“OK… They trade and they even capture power… Let them do that. But why should they propagate their religion here?”
“Oh… that? That is because, even with all his military and trade, people here will see him as an enemy and outsider. This he knew. To change that perception completely, that is possible only through religion. This he knew. We sing hymns to our Virgin Mary as 'standing on the crescent moon and wearing sun for her robes, and twelve stars on her crown'. Now, if we are told to worship Santhana Mariamman instead of Virgin Mary will we then do it?”
“What kind of thing you are talking?”, Lonchin asked.
“That is exactly what the white man has achieved. Boy! Know one thing for sure … Our Santhana Mari Amman and Our Kanyakumari Amman are no ordinary goddesses. In this expanse of ocean, they alone are our protection. Remember that.” ('Korkai', p.79)
The novel presents individuals who resist the powers of establishments which are imposed on their community. And that results in a paradox. While the imposed power structures have alienated the Parathava fishermen community from the other communities of the land, the individuals within the community who resist the power structures stand alienated within the community itself. And is it this alienation within, that has made these individuals realize the eternal embrace of the Mother who is waiting for her children to return?
When fishermen leave the terra firma and find themselves amidst the roaring waves, at the mercy of the primal forces of nature, the Goddess returns to the memory of her children in all her glory, untouched by patriarchal theological covers. Joe de Cruz portrays the moment of the resurfacing of the Mother, through various conversations studded throughout the novel:
From the stern came Philians voice, “We have crossed Kolachael tower and now Kumari light is visible”
“Then break a coconut for Kumari Mother” said Lenchin. ('Korkai', p.87)
The next wave wrathfully entered the deck and retreated back with the ropes and other things from there.
“Aamu… we have left Her whom we worshipped for generations and are doing today many other things. Santhana Mari please save us and get us safely to the shore. When in the sea we cry to Santhana Mari and when we reach shore we go to Mary? We will come one day to your own temple Mother and we will light the lamp and we will celebrate your festival.” ('Korkai', p.145)
The whole novel can be seen as a cyclic narrative that starts with a previous generation of community leaders feeling the widening spiritual vacuum created by the imposed structures and ends with a descendent of this vibrant community feeling the complete alienation in the end of his life. And both hear the voice of the Eternal Mother calling forth her lost children. The fishermen community, whose more democratic traditional social structures have been usurped by power structures that are pyramidal with string pullers elsewhere, is today undergoing the awakening of a new consciousness which is actually as old as the dawn of human race itself.
Swami Vivekananda once gave a moving picture of a global spirituality that is always alive and whose true inner fire no proselytizer can destroy:
Here is the selfsame Old Shiva seated as before, the bloody Mother Kâli worshipped with the selfsame paraphernalia, the pastoral Shepherd of Love, Shri Krishna, playing on His flute. Once this Old Shiva, riding on His bull and laboring on His Damaru travelled from India, on the one side, to Sumatra, Borneo,
Celebes, Australia, as far as the shores of America, and on the other side, this Old Shiva battened His bull in Tibet, China, Japan, and as far up as Siberia, and is still doing the same. The Mother Kali is still exacting Her worship even in China and Japan: it is She whom the Christians metamorphosed into the Virgin Mary, and worship as the mother of Jesus the Christ. Behold the Himalayas! There to the north is Kailâs, the main abode of the Old Shiva. That throne the ten-headed, twenty-armed, mighty Ravana could not shake — now for the missionaries to attempt the task? — Bless my soul! Here in India will ever be the Old Shiva laboring on his Damaru, the Mother Kali worshipped with animal sacrifice, and the lovable Shri Krishna playing on His flute. Firm as the Himalayas they are and no attempts of anyone, Christian or other missionaries, will ever be able to remove them
What Joe D Cruz has captured in the local flavors of his literary masterpiece, is that sound of Siva's drum, that music of Kali's dance and the beauty of Krishna's flute - an emerging spiritual consciousness whose roots are deep and connect across entire humanity obliterating the barriers of space, time, nationalities and cultures. He has captured the spirit of a people so unique to his own community and yet so universal to all communities across the globe who have lost their original identity to imposed structures. It is the voice of the truly silenced souls that is crying out through his pen. And those who can hear are indeed blessed in their heart for theirs is a tomorrow of harmonious co-existence not only among communities and nations but also with the entire planet.
Yuva Bharati joins the Tamil world in conveying its congratulations to Joe D Cruz on the occasion of his novel 'Korkai' winning the Sahitya Academy award. D' Cruz has come to Vivekananda Kendra camps to enlighten our young workers about the roots of history and the problem of identity. That he received this on the 150th year of Swami Vivekananda's birth centenary makes us feel happy and proud.