The Prayer of Aalaha

After reading Sarah Joseph’s award winning novel “Aalahayude Penmakkal”, I’ve been haunted by the hidden fact behind the prayer of Aalaha. The writer has artfully employed two powerful symbols of ‘Amara panthal’ and ‘Aalahayude namaskaram’, in the novel. And among these two symbols, I got more enlivened in reading with this prayer alluded by Sarah Joseph. This symbol is powerful in such a deep way, that it evokes a sought of puzzle in every situation, guiding the reader to connect this situation with the symbol.

Diving into the core of the novel, the reader is drawn towards a mystical land named ‘Kokkanjira’, situated above ‘Gosayikkunnu’, where a low standard of living can be seen. The land is pervaded by scavengers, sluts, butchers and all those considered to be equal to a corpse. It’s the history told by Ammaama to Annie, an eight year old, through whose thoughts, the plot develops. Annie has also been primed with the actuality of spirits wandering all the way through ‘Gosayikkunnu’.

‘Kokkanjira’ is a cursed land, and Annie is being jinxed with the name of her place, by which she’s being humiliated by her friends and teachers. In this cursed land, each of the characters are suffering to their death, and the only relief that any reader could find in the whole book is the prayer of Aalaha, declaimed by Ammaama, the only one who knows it. It has been passed on by her ancestors, considering only a single person in the family being disclosed by the sacred prayer, near to the former’s death. Annie is in the hope that she shall also become the one who knows it. Being her son’s only daughter, and the youngest in the family, Ammaama has a special care for her. Annie doesn’t know who made the prayer of Aalaaha, but she got to know that the prayer works against satan. In unpropitious instances, Ammaama do render this prayer, which flares a streak of hope in the reader.

Amara panthal , as I mentioned in the beginning becomes an influential instrument in the novel. Annie believes that above it, there exists a life, where she and the people of that cursed land will never know any bitterness. The crest and abyss of Annie’s life is depicted through this symbol. Whenever Kuttipappan’s (Annie’s uncle) tuberculosis gets intensified, the amara dries off and it gets flourished when Chiyyamma’s marriage is fixed. Also, when urbanization begins to devour Kokkanchira, a portion of the amara panthal is rolled over by a road roller. And near to the finish, the amara panthal is getting quashed by the wild wind.

Sarah Joseph has thoroughly unfolded a fragment of society, where civilization makes it rotten, also manifesting a group of forsaken people, whose lives becomes execrable with the exertion of building up a civilized society.

The idea of schism has also been delineated in chapter one, named ‘Romakkarum Surayikalum’, through an incessant squabble between Ammaama, a Surayi, and Annie’s mother, a Roman Catholic. The writer then, adeptly elucidates the idiocy behind the notion of religious chasms, by the sudden change in Kochurothu’s (Annie’s mother) attitude, when it comes to family distresses, that she forgets the other is a surayi, and gives a helping hand. One such instance is when Cherichi ammaayi comes home long years after her marriage. When Ammaama cries out of happiness, Kochurothu too begins to cry, forgetting those two are Surayis.

” എന്തോരം കാലായമ്മേ അമ്മേനെ കണ്ടിട്ട്?”

അമ്മാമ ആനി കരയുംപോലെ ഉറക്കയാണ് കരഞ്ഞത്. അപ്പോൾ അവർ രണ്ടു സുറായികളാണെന്ന കാര്യം മറന്ന് അമ്മയും കരഞ്ഞു.

Towards the end of the novel, through the character of Ammaama, the writer again entrenches the certitude of inanity behind religious conflicts. It is when Kokkanjira is nearing to its demolition by flood, where Ammaama, who has turned amnesiac then, thinks of carrying her son Kuttippappan to Ollur Malakha. The old son of her is a TB patient, and in her mind, he’s still a two year old. Annie knew that Surayis doesn’t have a belief in Ollur Malakha, wherein the writer makes it clear through Ammaama herself, by her saying “ബോദാ പോയാ എന്തൂട്ട് സുറായി എന്തൂട്ട് റോമ?”.

Being the spearhead of feminist movement in Kerala, Sarah Joseph has fabricated characters of women who are physically vigorous and mentally potent. The character of Ammaama has astonishingly driven the engrossement of my reading of the text. She is definitely the strongest of all. Ammaama doesn’t even fear the spirits roaming around in Gosayikkunnu. Her words are not merely entwined of letters, but of great command and greater credence. Kochurothu too is presented before us as a determined Roman Catholic, who doesn’t allow herself to bend her knees before a Surayi, or anyone who tries to prevail over her. It is Kochurothu’s voice, that remains louder in the rallies, her tenacity being used as a weapon to combat with the dominating society. Kunjila, Annie’s Vallyammayi, who turned to be a widow at the age of fourteen is destined to become a midwife later. She has to take up on travelling with strangers day and night, which spells the freedom, a woman in the writers mind be need of. People couldn’t shut their mouth up for the ‘ugliness’ in her job. Even her own family couldn’t. She develops an affair with Kunjan compounder, which oust the order of his marital life, that leads him into committing suicide. Through the innocence of Annie, the writer contemplates in the mistake of two persons falling in love. She is here tearing off all the conventions, and embarks the need of forward-looking.

Aalaha’s daughters are evidently these women characters in the novel. The strongest they are, the toughest they suffer. And the prayer of Aalaha is used as a medium to picturise these miserable people’s yearnings and hope for a better tomorrow. The prayer, towards the end, seems to become more like a devil’s bargain rather than a God’s gift, for she receives tuberculosis from her uncle, the moment she learns the prayer from Ammaama.

The prayer has actually camouflaged before me, as a blessing for the people of Kokkanjira, but disappointed as it became tangible that it was indeed a symbol for their thrashing. Still, Aalaha’s prayer remains to be an enigma for me. Some distant land is waggling her arm, echoing the prayer of Aalaha, in Ammaama’s voice.

Image Credits: Instagram,@aliakbarvk

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