MADURAI: Eminent novelist Poomani, 67, has won the Sahitya Akademi Award for Tamil Literature, 2014, for his fictional, historical novel Agnaadi, a fascinating narration, yet a painful story of the infamous 1899 Sivakasi riots — when the Nadar community fought the oppression by dominant communities and demanded entry into a Hindu temple.
Poomani has narrated the history of subaltern people living in Karisal Bhoomi (black soil) in the interior part of southern Tamil Nadu in his literary works. “Caste and religious politics pursued for ages by Indian society have not yet been eliminated. Rather, they are operating powerfully in the 21st century but covertly under the vocabularies of democracy and secularism,” he said.
“Of course, I am jubilant for receiving this prestigious award for Agnaadi, but I can’t hide my contempt for caste and religious politics that is shaping current history,” he stated.
Born in a Pallar family of marginal farmers in 1947 in Andipatti, a village in Thoothukudi district, Poomani grew up hearing stories from his mother and others. “Though I slowly developed interest in listening to stories of people living in Karisal Bhoomi, the literary works of Ki Rajanarayanan of Kovilpatti inspired me to take up writing seriously,” he said.
Poomani didn’t restrict himself to reading literary works of Rajanarayanan but visited him, and it helped him develop a unique writing style — depicting the life of subaltern people with their geographical imagination. But the disturbing memories of the Sivakasi riots, which he observed among people when he grew up, made him write Agnaadi. While the novel traces the migration of the Nadar community following the ‘upper cloth revolt’ in Kerala to Tirunelveli and neighboring districts during the Colonial era, Poomani’s intriguing explanation brings out various historical facts of 170 years — the continuing struggle of the community over temple entry; their emergence as a strong economic force and conversion to Christianity which the members of the dominant community perceived as a threat and which culminated in the Sivakasi riots.