Animal Farm

Animal Farm

Animal Farm by Professor A.L.I.

George Orwell’s seminal text, is an allegory that remains as pertinent to our status quo, as it was in the time he penned it.  Orwell intended his eponymous farm to be symbolic, and in interviews, spoke to his intention to speak to the Russian Revolution through his novel.  The story explores the tensions of the worker through the lens of animals, and the role of the ruling class through a farmer’s tyranny.  Sadly, this very dialectic and tension is exacerbated now, and the past ten years have seen movements from Occupy Wallstreet, to economic tensions leading to extreme polarization that brought about the elections of Trump, Brexit and nearly wrought France under the leadership of Le Pen.  Those on the bottom, exemplified by the domesticated beasts in the text, are the people, and it is to this population I wanted to speak to, and address the very realistic tensions that we face in this day and age.

For this reason, I remixed and re-released Animal Farm, to pay homage to this text, and to the tensions we face currently—and combined with the beautiful cover art by Adam Hunter Peck, hope to draw attention to the core message—that change is needed.

Early in the song, I state: “The battle of righteous souls, versus those sick, like a war in Benghazi, the blood of Qaddafi…” referring to a tension I notice daily on my social media timeline, which seems to between principled people and a polarizing media programming.  Global events are spun to be about one thing, when in truth, they are motivated by the same base desires as the farmer in the Orwellian framing, which is an insatiable desire for profit, or greed.

Later, I talk about how this tension, leads to coalition building by those who are divested, and are seeking change.  This group has symbolic leadership, which I speak to with the lines, “I carry Malcolm’s martyrdom, like Yuri Kochiyama,” and further emphasize this with the lines “I’m Caeser with Montablan, Conquest, part five,” which invokes the classic Planet of the Apes film where the Apes rebel and takeover. The idea of a revolution, is change, and when one is seemingly imprisoned by economics, or by politics, breaking free is a part of that change.  This is why I say, “like an ambulance Assata used to escape from prison, I seek a vehicle like Hagar’s quest for a vision.”

Escape from a practical system of economic servitude that the masses participate in is the whole, point, which brings us to the hook: “this world we live upon, is an animal farm; choose to be livestock, or choose to be armed; raise the alarm, like these Beasts of England; because their feast’s beginning, with our children.”

That chorus needs no explanation, as it invokes Animal Farm, the text, specifically—even referencing the song “Beasts of England,” which is the revolutionary song the animals in the book sing as they takeover.  I further elaborate the point, about oppression and tyranny with the lines, “we are the Injuns that feed their engine, brown spots in their field of vision; like colors in prisms, light division, sufficient, yet white imprisons; in missions, hacienda’s, (migrant) farms and plantations; globalization, this life is leased to own by corporations.”

It is truly a tension between corporations and people, where the people are beasts of burden, and in this framing, they are destined to come together as a result, since they are all being victimized.  Thus, the lines, “red; yellow, brown and black, given cancer and heart attacks; alcohol & cigarette packs, secret police, infrared tags; on minarets, prayer halls, even ten Gurus on the walls; doesn’t matter as long, as beard is long, silent prayer calls; whether in turban or veiled by curtain, were just beasts of burden.”

I hope this piece, helps spark that coalition building of all oppressed people, so we cease to be beasts of burden, and help usher in a better world together.

Peace.

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Tamil Identity, Nationalism and Imagination

The song Red Dot, about the old DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) flag, which belonged to a failed political movement of pan-Dravidian and/or Tamil nationalism is one that wonders what a Tamil nation state would have meant to Tamil peoples in the modern age.  Aside from a failed civil war for Tamil Eelam in Lanka, there have been no other Tamil nationalist movements that have lasted in the modern day.  Most Tamils living in the Diaspora ascribe their national identity to South Asian nations or to their adoptive homes.  Tamils who live in the Indian subcontinent, the islands of the Indian Ocean or South East Asia similarly identify themselves with pre-markers like Malaysian Tamil or Indian Tamil—the will for a pan-Tamil identity has all been lost.

As an artist of Tamil origin, living in the Diaspora, this identity became more real to me as I navigated my own consciousness and awareness around my identity in America.  The discovery of my late father’s loyalty to the DMK flag and what it represented only furthered the fuel of this fire.  This along with my own sensibilities around the injustices carried out toward my people in Lanka, created within me the imagination of a Tamil state.  It recalled the legend of Kumari Kandam, from which, it is believed Plato may have been inspired for Atlantis.  The lost Tamil continent that sank into the Indian Ocean.  The pseudo historical theories of the Tamil connection to the Mayans, the actual Tamil connections to East Africa and Yemen, and the journey of the Tamil, known as Damo, who established the Shao Lin Temple in China.  I wondered if I was such a global person because my Tamil identity was woven into the fabric of the world.

Then came the National Geographic documentary about the first genes out of Africa and lo and behold, the Tamil DNA marker shared the same markers as the Andamanese, the Papuans, and the Aboriginal peoples of Australia as the first out of Africa.  As I imagined the migration of my people over the water, I thought of my own spiritual connection to the sea and wondered if something deep in the fabric of my genetic make-up inspired my fascination.

Finally, there was the theory of the renowned linguist Susumu Ohno, who put forth the idea in the 1980’s that Japanese (held to be an Altaic language) was overwhelmingly influenced by Tamil, believing the connection to have happened over 2000 years ago in the Yayoi period of Japan.  Ohno was not the first to propose this connection, but as a linguistic scholar of Japanese he was by far the most qualified to make the claim.  Although Ohno is not without his detractors, his theory is backed by an sound argument that picks apart Japanese words and shows the Dravidian linguistic connection, grammatical overlap, relative pronouns, a likeness in word order, striking resemblance in the rhythm of each language and the presence of Tamil influence upon the Yamato kotoba, or words that existed in Japanese prior to the Chinese writing system.

In his book “Seeking the Origins of Japanese Language”, Ohno takes it further by looking at cultural development and influence on ancient Japanese customs such as those connecting with the harvest, religious ritual, and nuptial rites.  While Ohno’s ideas are compelling, they are not backed by sound archeological evidence, and rely on Ohno’s linguistic arguments alone.  As a Tamil, who has had great affinity for Japanese culture, I found his arguments compelling and again they tickled by imagination and I began to wonder, what if there were proof of this connection and influence.

I wrote Red Dot as a fictionalized narrative that begins with the Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu sending ships to follow the nautical path of Damo; it flashes forward to Japanese imperial soldiers being slaughtered by a combination of saltwater crocodiles and the British Indian forces in Rangoon during World War II.  In this imagined narrative these Japanese soldiers were coming to rescue their Tamil brethren from British colonial rule.  The narrative also examines the Moorish connection to Tamil, the dead language of Arwi, a combination of Arabic and Tamil, the Moorish bloodlines that mixed with Tamils during the viable and long standing Indian ocean trade.  The East African connection to Tamils both by trade and genetics and finally the little known fact of Tamil coolies who were converted into the Atlantic Middle Passage Slave trade via South Africa, though they only account for a small percentage of that trade having numbered two thousand, that genetic story is also a part of the American Slave Trade epic.  All in all, the song explores all these strands and ends on a black banner, with a red dot, or disc fixed in the middle.  Ironically its similar to the Japanese flag in construction, save for the black taking place of the white, and it imagines a place that has never been allowed to exist by Indian, French, Dutch, British and Sinhala hegemony and that is a pan-Tamil state:

TamilNation

In the world we live in Tamil nationalism is a footnote at best, but Tamil identity is very much alive and vibrant.  Linked to a language and culture that continues to thrive wherever it goes—from Trinidad to Toronto, for Johannesburg to Jaffna and from Malaysia to the Maldives, Tamils continue to have a profound impact.

Happy Tamil New Year! (Puthandu Vazthukal!)

Puthandu_Vazthukal_Tamil_New_Year

Puthandu Vazthukal! (Happy Tamil New Year!) by Professor A.L.I.

This morning my children awoke, like I did as a child, came downstairs with their sleepy eyes and looked upon the Tamil New Year display with mango, guava and green bananas representing the fruits of our people, betel leaves showing our fortune, turmeric for our health, gold jewelry passed down my family for generations, coins from places we as Tamil people have lived in the Diaspora, next to it is an open copy of the Tirukkural showcasing the spiritual knowledge of our people and a mirror to reflect on our past. Next to the table were gifts for my two children and this year we celebrated the new year of our people by playing Tamilmatic, a piece of art, telling the Tamil story of struggle, sacrifice and survival.

2pac in Tamil explores the impact of the Kavi, or poet on society

Tamilmatic, the album, is in a way, its own display for the Tamil New Year. For example we Tamils great each other on this day by saying “Puthandu Vazthukal!” or “Happy New Year!” and Tamilmatic opens with an introductory track that introduces the album, greeting the listener with a Sanskritic hymn/prayer that is cut short by a the nadaswaram, a Tamil clarinet, and affirmation of the Tamil culture. The rest of the album is like the Tamil New Year display itself. The song Vampire Kiss, talks about the history of the gold jewelry and Red Dot traverses the planet, like the coins on display, and speaks to the Diaspora of our people. The fruits of the album are Saint Thomas, Herstory, and Our Queen, which pay homage to figures from Tamil History who had a profound impact on humanity. Coolie High, Mappila! and Serendipitious showcase our survival and like the turmeric our health and longevity on this planet, in spite of the challenges we faced. 2pac in Tamil, which explores the power of words, of our Mahakavi, or greatest poet, Bharatiyar, and is like the holy text the Tirukkural; and Card Game, which tells the story of our people’s success, despite our hurdles and shows our fortune like the betel leaves in the New Year’s display. 

Our Queen tells the story of Queen Velu Nachiyar who defeated the British East India Company

Tamilmatic follows the following three branches of our global journey: the Coolie Slave trade, Post-Colonial migration and a refugee crisis stemming from a brutal war and it finds a way to remain upbeat and positive, like the impact our people have had on this planet. So please celebrate Tamil New Year with us by getting a copy of Tamilmatic on iTunes or Amazon, or streaming it for free on Spotify and through the music, walk the journey made by millions of Tamils.

 

 

2pac in Tamil

2pac_In_Tamil

2pac in Tamil

2pac is a global icon. Like Bob Marley before him, his music reverberates in the hearts of millions as it blasts through speakers around the world, just as his image captures the imaginations of his global fan base, on t-shirts, murals and posters. 2pac transcended Hip-Hop, like Bob Marley transcended Reggae. They became larger than the music and were intertwined with the values that were woven through their art, which they shared with the world. Foremost of these was an uncompromising devotion for standing up to oppression. 2pac was an opponent of hegemony, of predatory economic structures, racial inequity and political disenfranchisement. The spirit of 2pac stood and continues to stand against oppression, just like the icons of old that he inherited.

Exactly 75 years to the day before 2pac was assassinated, another like soul was taken from this world. A Tamil man from British ruled South India protested their oppression through his art and was also killed; though his death was tragic, like 2pac it did not diminish his poetry or songs, or throw shade on his message and ideals he stood for, which were the same as 2pac’s. The British government and authorities from Hindu hegemonic structures based on caste had already labeled him a pariah for his views, yet he remained resolute in his convictions and was struck down as a stalwart opponent to imperialism. He was an opponent to them, of the British economic divestment of his people, the racial hierarchies they imposed and manipulated and for Tamil nationalism. He is remembered as Bharatiyar, the mahakavi, or greatest poet in Tamil, or in Hip-Hop speak, the illest M.C.

Those who know Hip-Hop culture know that the most asked question in Hip-Hop is who is the best? The debate of who is the illest M.C. is one that seems so subjective that it can lead to seamlessly never-ending conversations or social media threads, with no true consensus. In part this is because people define “best” through various categories, from “rocking the party” to “best lyricism” to the “best content.” Beats, samples, production and engineering factor in as well and only further problematize the question. However there is one name that shows up on everyone’s list from the casual listener to the most stalwart of Hip-Hop heads, and it is the closest consensus that exists regarding this question and that M.C. is 2pac.

Tamils_Love_2pac

The Mahakavi and Illest M.C.

Bharatiyar was born in Ettayapuram, near the southern tip of India, in what would become Tamil Nadu. He was a pioneer in modern Tamil poetry and his work sparked patriotic fervor and nationalism and were part of a larger independence movement. He worked against gender stereotypes for women (though he still operated in a traditional mindset with his own life partner), and stood up against the caste system. He was exiled and imprisoned, but throughout his life was a prolific writer and poet and his songs and poems continued to inspire, as Tamil people fought for their freedom along with other South Asian peoples from under British rule.

2pac was a fetus while his mother fought for her freedom during the Panther 21 trial and grew to embody the values of his Panther family. He championed the power of the people and was the first erudite Hip-Hop artist to speak out against misogyny in his lyrics (though he remained a contradiction through his association with artists who were the epitome of misogyny). He had been shot, hospitalized, and imprisoned, yet in his short life, he was one of the most prolific Hip-Hop artists of all time and his music continues to inspire people throughout the world to stand up to the powers that be.

Can you see the connection?

Tamil_Hip-Hop

Tamil Hip-Hop 

Tamil people have long embraced Hip-Hop culture as a part of our own. Hip-Hop Tamizha may be a strong and recent example, but Hip-Hop may be strongest amongst Tamils living in the Diaspora. My brother Yogi B in Malaysia, or The Prophecy in Toronto are examples of Tamils embracing Hip-Hop culture and using the voice of Hip-Hop to make our presence known. Tamilmatic is an attempt to do just this and tell our story, explaining our impact on this planet and showcasing our deep values as a people.

Tamils love 2pac, because 2pac’s lyrics translate well to the Tamil struggle. Whether we talk about the Coolie Slave Trade, the post-colonial struggle and our Diaspora, or the war and the refugee crisis stemming from our fight for Eelam and the impact of the war crimes committed against our people, 2pac’s songs could very much form the soundtrack to our struggle. Just as Bharatiyar’s songs became the songs of resistance of our grandparents generation, 2pac’s lyrics spoke to the grandchildren living in the Diaspora.

So 2pac in Tamil is the first official video to accompany the release of Tamilmatic for this Tamil New Year’s Day and it imagines whether the souls of Bharatiyar and 2pac were intertwined just as the struggle for human rights amongst Black folk in America and Black folk in South Asia still is. It explores Black Lives Matter and champions the idea of global liberty and justice. Bharatiyar and 2pac clearly stood on common ground; they were both poets and revolutionaries and both were taken from the world too soon, and finally they both reminded us of how the power of voice can transcend death:

2pac in Tamil is my attempt to use my voice, to bridge the global struggle of my people with the problems plaguing our planet and state emphatically that 2pac is alive, because he lives through all of us, and through this, like Bharatiyar, he lives through me.

2pac in Tamil is a song off of the Tamilmatic album and is available for download on iTunes and Amazon, and for free streaming on Rhapsody and Spotify. 

International Women’s Day

International Women's Day

International Women’s Day and the Story of Queen Velu Nachiyar

International Women’s Day by Professor A.L.I.

International Women’s Day has its origins in both protest and socialist movements, but it has evolved to a day which functions as a lens for the myopia of patriarchy through which we normally see our world.  It is a time for us to pause and reflect, as well as to honor and remember, all those around the globe who’ve been marginalized by the patriarchal norms we accept as the status quo.   Considering our all-too familiar binary construction of gender, history is only half the story; hence it is only a half-truth, which is akin to a lie.  Herstory was an attempt to expose the whole story, and on International Women’s Day, it is incumbent upon all who breathe in the patriarchal air that deadens our senses to the feminine energy that surrounds us, to take a moment to focus on this metaphysical force and imbue our spirits with the feminine; this necessary invocation requires an anchor, and there are many to invoke who represent its power like: Fatima bint Muhammad, Zaynab bint Ali, Rab’a al-‘Adawiyya, Nana Asmau, Queen Nanny of the Maroons, Harriet Tubman, Yuri Kochiyama, Dr. Betty Shabazz, Valliamma, and Amina Al-Sadr, to name a few.  Each name represents immense power of spirit and the best examples of what human beings can become, and each of their stories are shrouded by attempts to dim their light in the smog of patriarchy.  Yet there is one place that stood above many others in honoring the feminine; giving it its proper elevated status and honoring this force, and it is in this place so many examples arose to champion the human condition using this power.  The place is South Asia, and it is here that the concept of Devi was constructed, and where women like Queen Velu Nachiyar arose to champion resistance and freedom; she will be the anchor through which we will explore the power of the feminine and celebrate this day as it should be celebrated, in hopes that one day, there will no longer be a need for a day to correct our myopic vision, since we will see clearly through both eyes and honor the entire gender spectrum of human contribution, but until then: Happy International Women’s Day and An Everlasting Victory to Queen Velu Nachiyar!

Rani Velu Nachiyar

She Made Patriarchy Call Her Devi!

The Devi

The Sanskritic concept of Devi was constructed two thousand years BCE, as a feminine form of the divine.  It was a way for practitioners of ancient Vedic faiths to understand a pantheon of divine beings, which included celestial beings who were perceived as mothers, consorts, and sisters to cosmological concepts.  Over time this term evolved and in the text Devi Mahatmya explores the idea of the ultimate truth and supreme power as manifest in Shaktism, a movement that was an important branch of Hinduism.  This term is still used in the modern era and its concept has continued to evolve even into vernacular usage that is divorced from its theistic origins, yet honors the power of the feminine.

The night before my father died, he awoke from a powerful dream and woke my mother. This is something he never had done in their marriage and according to my mom, he excitedly shared with her his dream in the pitch black night, which was about a vision he saw of a woman made of light calling him towards her; he referred to her as a Devi; he died later that afternoon, on the outskirts of the town he was born in, land once liberated from the yoke of British colonial rule by Queen Velu Nachiyar in a taxicab.  Unbeknownst to him, the day he passed fell on the lunar anniversary of the day that Fatima bint Muhammad died; and the great irony is that her adherents often refer to Fatima as the “lady of light”.

The great lie in the history of colonialism/imperialism of South Asia is that the South Asian peoples did not resist and the only form of resistance was non-violent and authored by Gandhi.  The second half of this lie was exposed in Herstory, but the first part is also not true.  While those tuned into South Asian history will be able to mention the Sepoy Rebellion as one specific example of resistance, it is still viewed as an exception to the norm.  Sadly this erroneous presumption is a result of patriarchal smog, which diminishes the light of numerous examples of resistance movements towards European control, all of which were sparked by the feminine.  Whether it’s the Mappila Rebellion, which came from the matriarchal Mappila community, or specific examples of leaders like Queen Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi or Queen Chennamma of Kittur who fought British interests in South India, or Queen Abbakka of Ullal who fought the Portuguese, it was the power of the Devi, which manifest itself in the spirit of freedom from the yoke of colonial oppression.  The first to fight against the British, in the middle of the 1700’s was Queen Velu Nachiyar and her story is truly remarkable, one worthy of our study and invocation every International Women’s Day.

The story of Queen Velu Nachiyar is one of extreme sacrifice!

The story of Queen Velu Nachiyar is one of extreme sacrifice!

Queen Velu Nachiyar

Born on January 3rd, 1730, Queen Velu Nachiyar was destined for greatness.  A daughter in a royal family, she had access to and studied the art of war as a young girl, mastering the art of silambam (the fighting stick), horse riding and archery along with the science of strategy.  She was a scholar of multiple languages beyond her mother tongue of Tamil, including Urdu, French and English at a time where few knew how to read and write in one.  She married a king, birthed royal heirs and shared a rule that was peaceful until it was interrupted by violence sparked by the greed of the British East India Company (BEIC), which wanted the lands she governed.  They killed her husband, and children, and she escaped into the forests, while the BEIC dismantled her rule and ensnared her lands just as they practically enslaved her people in servitude of wealth extraction.  She formed a guerilla army, made up of forest dwellers, struck alliances with neighboring rulers for arms, trained her forces and strategized a way to victory at great personal cost.  Her adopted daughter, Kuyilli, agreed to be the vehicle for Queen Velu Nachiyar’s victory, and according to plan doused herself in oil and stole herself into the British military stores, exploding their armory and herself into herstory books as the first human bomb (or suicide bomber in history).  This was the tipping point in the revolution and allowed Queen Velu Nachiyar and her forces to defeat the British and re-establish her rule.  She held onto the liberated lands for a decade, until she died and was South Asia’s first revolutionary.

Velu Nachiyar Parade - International Women's Day

A parade honoring Queen Velu Nachiyar .

Our Queen

Queen Velu Nachiyar’s story is barely a footnote in HIStory, and “Our Queen” is an attempt to commemorate her more than a singular stamp issued by the government of India in December of 2008.  Her story is as symbolic as it is iconic—and it represents the power of the Devi, i.e. the feminine spirit as well as the will of Tamil people to be free.  “Our Queen” is the second track song leaked off of the Tamilmatic album as well as its first video, and it features the soulful singing of Tony Thomas, which wraps around the lyrics of a Tamil griot (poet/oral historian) who recounts the story of the life, death and struggles of Queen Velu Nachiyar.

The song and video invokes the spirit of the feminine, using the story of Queen Velu Nachiyar as an anchor.  Her light beckons through the smog of patriarchy like a lone lighthouse inspiring sailors with hope to navigate treacherous waters to shore; and this video, inspired by her story evokes other images of Tamil women, from soldiers in the army to tea pickers, representing her resistance and the people she liberated respectively.  The music video also portrays a simple sketch of her, and the placing of it in a forest clearing; it symbolizes the forest clearing she once hid in as she planned, trained and strategized for the victory of her people.

Celebrate International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day was born of protest and social struggle, and the lens it provides through the smog of patriarchy allows us to commemorate figures like Queen Velu Nachiyar and through her struggle and revolution become inspired to carry out our own—one that helps us dispel the half-truths of history and understand the human experience wholly and at all times.

Celebrate this day by making your own sign: “I need feminism because: _______” and fill in the blank in a way that reconciles your spirit with the feminine—and share it.  Share it, and tag/link this article, share it and use the hashtags: #Feminism, #OurQueen, #Tamilmatic, or share it with the video/song above.  Let’s link each story, with each other, so that these disparate lanterns representing the truth of herstory help dispel the smog of patriarchy forever.

I Need Feminism Because

I Need Feminism Because _________; #OurQueen #Tamilmatic

Each name represents immense power of spirit and the best examples of what human beings can become, and each of their stories are shrouded by attempts to dim their light in the smog of patriarchy.

 

 

Herstory

ValliammaHerstory by Professor A.L.I.

I have been duped; both my career and my education have been farcical parts of a grand lie that is perpetrated by an insidious system, which perpetually emboldens itself through the enforced inequity and disenfranchisement of its binary opposites.  Patriarchy is this evil, as it remains rooted in maintaining an illusion of male superiority in order to tip the scales in the favor of power structure and systems of knowledge that favor its interpretation of the world.  Like an overgrown and incessant vine, it chokes out the life of our mother earth, with the very umbilical cord that gave those who would champion its cause relevance in the first place.  Its branches can be seen in pronouns replicated by misogynists throughout time, the presumptions of normalcy of gendered language where words like MANkind means human being and HEroes are almost always “he’s”.  It manifests itself in the strange fruit of a gender wage gap and power imbalance.  The leaves of this evil plant spread from west to east, north and south, and the privilege of shade that it gives men is the strongest form of privilege globally, period.  This is why, under the weight of the realization of this, I find myself, as a man looking into the mirror and seeing the lie of my career choice to be an educator of history stare back at me—I was trained to be a HIStorian, meaning that I was actually trained to focus the light upon men, at the expense or at the absence of the feminine.  Herstory is therefore my attempt to not only make amends, but to help focus the light on those that deserve it and elucidate truths that are shrouded from the masses who unknowingly perpetuate a mirage of masculine superiority when they invariably participate in the systems manufactured by patriarchy for this purpose.  Herstory is a refocusing of the lens upon those who gave so much, never to be acknowledged for their contribution.  It is a challenged to “his” story, and a conscious attempt to rebalance the scales in favor of a just exposition of our collective human story.

Valliamma

Let us begin with the tale of Thillaiyadi Valliammai, who died, over a hundred years ago on February 22nd, 1914.  Known as Valliamma, she sparked a movement that had an impact upon the planet, yet her name is unknown to most.  She remains a footnote in the history of men who take credit for the inspiration she gave humanity and her profound impression upon the herstory of our planet is dismissed by pseudo-academics as unworthy of study.  She is hidden behind the aggrandized icon of a racist and shrewdly evil politician, who was also a sexual abuser of young women, yet is refashioned by HIStory as a wise sage and pundit, one to be revered and considered great, and a role model for all of huMANity.

This is her story:

Valliamma was a young Tamil woman and a daughter of Tamil migrants (who were part of an early Tamil diaspora, which saw slavery re-legalized in a new system called coolie labor and which led to the spread of Tamil people throughout the planet) who found themselves in the apartheid regime of South Africa and here is where her story begins.  Valliamma did not realize she lived in an apartheid state when she was young.  In the early 1900’s women could not even vote in America, let alone feel they had power in the colonial world, or within an apartheid regime at that—and yet as a teen, Valliamma found herself protesting laws that were directed, ultimately at her womb, and those of other women.  Anti-marriage laws (promoting Christian marriages) and anti-miscegenation laws were designed to reaffirm patriarchal power structures.  Valliamma’s Tamil community was disproportionately affected by the former and in a patriarchal society, where women were already powerless in so many ways, by creating a law that makes marriages null and void, women are doubly targeted since “unmarried” women, especially those who have children or are pregnant could be classified as prostitutes and thereby be abused, imprisoned and/or expelled from the country and the only way out of this predicament by subjecting oneself to a marriage in the church meant that women had to endure another layer of subjugation under the masculine power structure and iconography of the Christian church in South Africa.

Valliamma was a teenager who, along with her mother Mangalam, decided to march from Transvaal to Natal, with women protesting the apartheid state.  This march was illegal, as workers needed passes to even leave certain areas, and she was arrested.  It was here that Valliamma started to develop a conviction for the idea of non-violent resistance and begin hunger fasts.   This was long before Mandela, Bobby Sands, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mohandas K. Gandhi ever engaged in such practices.  Even Gandhi had to acknowledge the inspiration he took from Valliamma, who he’d consider the first satyagrahi (a practitioner of satyagraha, or “the force of truth”, aka non-violent resistance).

In subsequent protests she was arrested, sentenced to three months hard labor, and spent her last days in Martizburg prison.  She was offered clemency, but refused.  It was this conviction that compelled, Gandhi, a young lawyer in South Africa at the time to visit her.  He writes in his Satyagraha in South Africa:

“Valliamma R. Munuswami Mudaliar was a young girl of Johannesburg only sixteen years of age. She was confined to bed when I saw her. As she was a tall girl, her emaciated body was a terrible thing to behold.

‘Valliamma, you do not repent of your having gone to jail?’ I asked.

‘Repent? I am even now ready to go to jail again if I am arrested,’ said Valliamma.

“But what if it results in your death?’ I pursued.

‘I do not mind it. Who would not love to die for one’s motherland?’ was the reply.

“Within a few days after this conversation Valliamma was no more with us in the flesh, but she left us the heritage of an immortal name…. And the name of Valliamma will live in the history of South African Satyagraha as long as India lives.”

Some assert that Gandhi’s input in the creation of the modern flag of India, was designed with the color scheme of Valliamma’s sari, which she held up, not having a flag of her own during one of her non-violent protests.

Valliamma StampClearly Valliamma has had a profound impact in the way human beings could change the world—and her impact on South Africa, South Asia, and movements all over the world including our own Civil Rights movement have manifest in ending colonialism, segregation and ultimately apartheid, yet her simple grave is shadowed by the monoliths erected for the champions of those other movements, but none more so than Gandhi, who has become its symbol.

In this past century when the human being who had the greatest impact on those last hundred years was posed by TIME magazine, the finalists were Einstein and Gandhi and I found myself both incredulous and overwhelmed by the sheer weight of ignorance the world had about this man.

Gandhi was far from being the embodiment of truth that HIStory would have you believe—if you ever sat with my father, he would give you an earful on how Gandhi single-handedly destroyed any hopes for Tamil and Dravidian peoples for having their own state, lied to them and re-imposed an Indian (Hindi) based hegemonic structure over them—this of course is my personal bias towards the man, although it is bolstered by my detailed reading of his writings, which belie his shrewdness as a politician.  He was a lawyer by training and the great irony of him being called the founder of satyagraha is that he frequently spun lies to effectuate his desired effect on the concept of India.

Racist Gandhi

Gandhi is championed as a symbol for equality when he actually fought for the enforcement of inequity in South Africa and later in South Asia.  If you read his South African writings you will find a man who was clearly prejudiced towards blacks, and racist, in that he emboldened the systemic framing of the African in the eyes of the European colonial masters with whom he was “educated”.  He states in a writing dated Sept. 26th 1896 that “ours is one continual struggle against a degradation sought to be inflicted upon us by the Europeans, who desire to degrade us to the level of the raw Kaffir whose occupation is hunting, and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with and, then, pass his life in indolence and nakedness.”  The term “kaffir” is akin to the n-word in the American context.  Yet even though Gandhi’s clear prejudice has come to light in his prolific writings, he remains a symbol for champion for a quality that he truly did not embody in mind or action.

For those of you who may feel my critique harsh and cite examples of how Gandhi championed the cause of the “untouchable” only further the argument.  It was Gandhi who first labeled this community as harijan, or “children of God” and many in the west clouded by white liberalism have praised this as an attempt to uplift a community that was downtrodden in South Asia.  The term harijan itself is highly problematic, at best it is a term that sweeps all Dalits (yes this is the proper term) in a Hindu hegemonic framing and at worst it is linked to an earlier term of devadasi/a, which ultimately means bastard.  It referred to the illegitimate children of the priestly class that often lingered near Hindu temples according to Dr. Velu Annamalai.  Gandhi was not interested in equity nor equality inasmuch as he was interested in the creation of an “India” that merely shifted control from European elites to Indian ones—a light brown patriarchy in exchange for a purely white one.

Finally there is Gandhi the saint—(trigger warning) who held a practice of sleeping with young, nude women often teenagers in his bed, which Gandhi argued increased his spiritual energies.  Gandhi did not engage in sexual intercourse with these women and some dismiss this as tantric practice but there are several expositions about these girls, who experienced all the after effects into adulthood of sexual abuse and molestation.

“Gandhi was married at age 13 to a girl about his own age and at age 37 took a vow of sexual abstinence. In spite of this vow, he found a need to fondle prepubescent and early adolescent girls. He took such girls to bed with him to overcome, he said, his “shivering fits” in the night. His female companions, who came from his inner circle — all certified virgins or young brides — entered his bed naked in order to warm him with their bodies. Some of them also administered enemas to him. Among the young girls, there was rivalry as to who would sleep with him, and one of his girl disciples reported that his bed companions had a difficult time in restraining their sexual impulses since he often rubbed against them and touched them in erotic places. Although his closemouthed house guardians were fearful of public reaction if news of these “pedophilic” sexual interactions were publicized, Gandhi continued to engage in them until his death. Gandhi did not have sexual intercourse with them, but obviously the touching and feeling were very important to him. If he had lived in the United States, he would have been sentenced as a child molester” (Bullough, 1981).

For those probing their minds for culturally relativist arguments, please re-holster your white liberalism for a moment and ask any person from South Asia if this behavior seems appropriate—and if you find no one from South Asia to ask, perhaps you should cut down on your chai lattes and references to yoga till you sort it out—Gandhi was a pedophile and sexual abuser, as well as a racist and political opportunist and so the real question is to ask yourself why he has been championed as a role model for the opposition of all these things?

Gandhi PedophileWhy Gandhi?

Gandhi represented patriarchy under the veil of inclusion and equity—and this, I argue is the very reason why he has been championed as a symbol, while Valliamma has been relegated to the annals of HIStory.  The Guardian, in an expose of his sexual abuse outlines his real relationship to femininity and feminine power:

“Gandhi believed Indian women who were raped lost their value as human beings. He argued that fathers could be justified in killing daughters who had been sexually assaulted for the sake of family and community [honor]. He moderated his views towards the end of his life. But the damage was done, and the legacy lingers in every present-day Indian press report of a rape victim who commits suicide out of “shame”. Gandhi also waged a war against contraceptives, [labeling] Indian women who used them as whores.”

From victim blaming to the divestment of power holistically, Gandhi envisioned a world that was the most palatable to his male privilege.  One in which his own abuse of young girls would go unquestioned by his masses of followers for decades.  This is not his erudite narrative, but it is the effect of his influence that finds India, a country he helped to found, one of the lowest on global gender equity indices where rape culture runs through the fabric of social norms and behavior.  While Gandhi did not create the patriarchy he clearly benefits from, he reinforces its fervor and strength.

Now try and imagine a different world.  Imagine it is Valliamma, who is the symbol for equity, equality and justice that Gandhi is now.  Imagine she is the saint to be revered and cast as a role model.  Imagine it is her visage that appears on Indian money, just as her sari waves on the flags above its governmental buildings.  And imagine her words as the inspirational quotes that adorn trendy t-shirts worn by hipsters and are used by organizations like Challenge Day to effectuate change in the world.  What you have imagined is a world stripped of over-arching male privilege where honesty is championed and the mirage of masculine dominance fades away like the false illusion it is.

Herstorian

Story of Valliamma

No longer insult my intelligence by calling me a historian, a student of history or a history instructor—I no longer wish to sit within my male privilege and passively continue to advance a farce upon others through the usage of this nomenclature.  Instead, honor academics of this social science who step away from the subtleties of patriarchal exposition with a new title: herstorian.

In my effort to be a better herstorian, the first song off of my soon to be released Tamilmatic album is dedicated to the story of Valliamma, and it follows in my tradition as an artist of telling the stories of the women who never get credit for the impact they’ve made on the planet like Fatima bint Muhammad, Zaynab bint Ali, Assata Shakur and Nana Asmau, to name a few.

Herstory is Valliamma’s story but it is also to story of so many other women, relegated to the footnotes of HIStory– if they are ever mentioned at all. The lyrics track her narrative and rightfully dismiss those who would usurp her impact, as their own. The refrain extends beyond her singular narrative and poses question to the patriarchal hegemons, asking the following questions:

“Why does her name not in history?

Why does she threaten?

Why is she scary?

The power of her spirit, why do your fear it?”

And then goes onto predict emphatically, invoking both Abrahamic & eastern apocalyptic imagery, that “Your leadership [patriarchy] lost, for she [the feminine] shall inherit!”

Tamilmatic is an album that explores the contributions of Tamil people, and is slated for an April 14th, 2016 release date, which coincides with Tamil New Year 2016.

Professor A.L.I. is a socio-political Hip-Hop artist and educator from the Bay Area. His previous works include the following full-length albums: Carbon Cycle Diaries, Emerald Manifesto, Das Ka Rebel, X Factor and now, Tamilmatic.

Special thanks to Lauren Santo Domingo for editing.

 

 

Bury My Tamil Heart At Karbala

Bury My Tamil Heart At Karbala by Professor A.L.I.

My hemoglobin fills the chambers of dodo quill pens.

My heart, recycled parchment; my third eye: the lens.

Lifted by thick aroma, Appa’s savory sambar angrily boils!

Just like Tamil tea picking blood when no diamonds or oil–

Distract the mainstream with the genocide of filtered coffee drinkers.

Who cares about an island of demons faced with extinction?

My mother’s grandfather was blessed by a cobra’s boon.

Yet my father’s cousin died by its poison, after five transfusions.

I tried to grasp at Saint Elmo’s fire and hold a stellar fossil.

These old tales linger like scent of mountain jasmine in my nostrils.

Yet like lotus pollen, it explodes forth, carried forcefully by the winds:

British Wind, French Wind, Portuguese Wind and Arab Wind.

Indian Monsoons bring floods that release the shadow’s venom.

Just as the comfort of cotton lungis are exchanged for harsh denim.

The feeling of cold scales gliding across one’s feet is icy concrete.

Lost in asphalt jungles while our umbilical cords recede back into sea.

Once recognized as royalty in the heart of merchant barter.

I roamed as a slave; freed by the second son of the Prophet’s daughter.

From Kerala to Karbala, I travelled with Adam,

And pondered my existence, as I spun like my atoms.

I became a dervish, around the source of my passions.

Vow of silence like Buddhists and tried to speak with my actions.

I trekked to a village in Malabar named after Ali.

Where a girl was born, who’ll one day, birth me.

Could she see, facing west from Malabar shores?

The house in the desert, where Imam Ali was born?

I’ll never know, as Sita is now one with her mother.

Her ashes ripple atop Pacific waves as I shudder,

Torn And Mad In Loss; I was The Angry Man In Limbo

A T.A.M.I.L., empty (M.T.) without Ali (A.L.I.) I ail, slow.

Like a waking dream inscribed on the back of a holy tortoise.

A primary source of an archetype bereft of remorse.

Mercilessly repeating in every land, for everyday since

On Ashura, “Muslims” murdered Fatima’s prince!

I cried when I heard the story, like I cried for the womb that bore me,

For the father that once ignored me, while I was an unborn seed.

I was circumstance’s orphan, bombarded, searching for cover!

So when my Amma died, Fatima Az-Zahra, became my mother.

And I began to see Hussain everywhere, in every innocent soul.

I plunged into sea of my waking dreams, and the son of Ali spoke!

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TAMILMATIC

 

tamilmaticTAMILMATIC: Releases on Tamil New Year, April 14th, 2016.

Tamilmatic is the latest album, from Professor A.L.I., a Bay-Area based Hip-Hop artist and educator of Tamil ethnic origin.  “This is a Hip-Hop album that tells the Tamil story of Diaspora & [our] post-colonial survival, [it] captures lost narratives and showcases the Tamil spirit; in both English and Tamil,” says Professor A.L.I., and was co-produced by the artist using Tamil music samples and as a result is a true example of cultural syncretism.

Professor A.L.I. spits rhymes in both English & Tamil on the album, exploring figures from Tamil history like Queen Velunachiyar (who sparked the first rebellion against the British East India Company in South Asia), Thillaiyadi Valliammai (the ideological mother of Non-Violent Resistance, Anti-Apartheid movement & South Asian Nationalism), Saint Thomas (the Apostle of Jesus, martyred and buried in Tamil Nadu, South India), and Subramania Bharati (Tamil poet and freedom fighter).

The album also explores themes related to the Tamil experience such as the Coolie-slave-labor system, the multi-layered Tamil Diaspora, the Mappila Rebellions in Malabar, Tamil-Moorish contact and connection, the Tamil separatist movement in India and the war for Tamil independence for a Tamil Eelam in Ceylon.

The beats on the album were co-produced by frequent Professor A.L.I. collaborator: Blue Jones.  The album was mixed by D. M. Adams and was mastered by Glenn Schick.  Tamilmatic is a testament to the adaptability and Tamil people, who have been flung far and wide from being wage laborers and indentured servants in the Middle East, to woven into the fabric of the Maldives, East and South Africa, to their historical importance in Laos and Malaysia, to having linguistic and political influence in Singapore, India and Ceylon, and finally by having a multi-faceted impact on the West through burgeoning Tamil populations in Norway, Germany, Australia, London, Toronto and the United States.

Stay tuned to this page for exclusive videos as we get closer to Tamil New Year and the release of Tamilmatic.

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