A Dream of Faith
In remembrance of Kundukanni, Chithrangi and Rohith Vemula
May 22nd, 2023
Illustration by Shiva A.
Remembering and remembering
With a sharp twinge:
They die soon.
I hear the Parai drum
Tenanting my dream
brutally playing over my flesh,
Singing curbed agonies.
I covered melancholy with pieces of my body
To narrate a piece of a poem – in my next dream.
In the dark night,
Through the broken path,
With unreleased grief and hungry stomach,
a young boy migrated from his colony
to survive when his aaya 1 Kundukanni died.
She was possessed by an unknown spirit, they said.
On crossing the graveyard,
Vettiyan 2 with a beedi beating the resurrecting bones
while the dead breathe out the ashes everywhere
Forming a pinkish dawn atmosphere over the pond.
And he imagined her smile turning into ashes.
To wash down this grief,
He walked towards the pond.
Seeing him coming,
a four-legged reflection ran, frightened.
In his childhood,
When his toy horse fell and broke,
Anticipating his tears, Kundukanni told him,
“Periyasamy Thatha 3 took it to a nearby village
to make it into a real one.”
He recollected her stories
While walking calmly towards the horse
like a monsoon drizzle with two legs
to quench his long forbidden wish—to ride.
Tried and failed more than once -
He finally won, sat on the horse, and rode.
Aaya is a Tamil word that means oldest or foremost woman. It is usually used as a kinship term to refer to Grandmother.
Vettiyan refers to the person who burns corpses/ digs graves.
Thatha is a Tamil word that means oldest or foremost. It is usually used as a kinship term to refer to Grandfather.
Standing magnificently in the scheduled cemetery
where the bones of my people still burn
As the sun rose,
He entered the village Melatheru 4
To disturb their beliefs and faith.
Witnessing an untouchable body sitting on the horse,
Riding with a fistful of self-respect,
a sickle took his half-leg.
While the polluted horse melted in the kerosene,
he stood on one leg - closed his eyes, and remembered Kundukanni
as death touched him.
He then roamed the Melatheru streets,
entering the villagers’ dreams.
Many worship him as a God,
some as ghost
And few consider him an immortal warrior;
A warrior who rode a horse to reach the stars.
Years from now,
his fossils turned into totems inside temples,
A glorified village deity.
The descendants of his killers worship him,
Polishing a Jatara 5 over his spilled blood;
Fearfully and only that.
I write their story that passes;
a fate strongly fixed in Manu scriptures 6
turning to feed the roots of banyan trees in my village;
Standing magnificently inside the Scheduled cemetery,
Where the bones of my people still burn.
After all, I wish to only believe
Nondi Veeran, 7 my ancestor, took their last breath
With a little bit of freedom.
Not succumbing to the darkness.
By remembering and remembering,
They become my faith and hope
to chase our lost dreams in universities.
Melatheru literally means ‘Upper street 'and usually refers to the main village where the dominant caste people reside. The spatial segregation of villages in Tamilnadu is sharply demarcated in the naming patterns.
Jatara is an annually conducted fair around the workshop site of village deities, saint or goddess. It is a point of convergence of cultural practices and economic activities.
Manusmriti is a set of rules in a book that sanctions many forms of discrimination and justifies them. Dr BR Ambedkar famously burnt the copy of Manusmriti on 25th December, 1927 as a symbolic act of liberation from its norms.
Nondi Veeran is a Folklore deity, whose name translates as the ‘One-legged brave warrior’.
Roy is a researcher and writer from Neyveli, Tamilnadu. He has a background in anthropology with a Master's from University of Hyderabad. Also, he is an Urban fellow from Indian Institute of Human Settlements. His research and practice is informed by the history of anti-caste culture and politics. His areas of interest lie in understanding the intersections of policy, politics and development. He works as a researcher at a social impact organisation. He writes poetry as an archive of his lives, dreams and feelings.