Mayilamma (1940–2007) was an illiterate adivasi woman whose iconic leadership of her community against the unrestrained extraction and pollution of water by Coca-Cola put the nondescript village of Plachimada on the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border on the global map of environmental activism.
Mayilamma: Oru Jeevitham maps the rise of eco-activism in Kerala alongside the realities of consumption, globalisation, widening socio-economic inequalities and the rising ecological burdens borne by the marginalised poor. Swarnalatha Rangarajan and Sreejith Varma’s English translation brings this important Malayalam text into the domain of international environmental justice writing for the first time, and shows how—in a classic David-and-Goliath struggle—this frail fifty-year old widow became a symbol of the global resistance against the multinational soft-drink giant.
Mayilamma’s life story—of an earth-carer intensely involved in the protection of livelihoods and local neighbourhoods—adopts the traditional oral mode of narration, central to the construction of the collective memory of tribal communities. It allows the reader to visualise the ‘slow violence’ of fissured earth narratives, such as the stories of toxic buildup, water pollution, deforestation, accelerated species loss and loss of habitats.
The connection between rootedness in the local and a sense of belonging to the global ecosystem is best understood through life narratives like Mayilamma, a story that translates the mantra of ecology—everything is connected—into a web of concrete relations that includes not only the ecological, but also cultural, economic and political processes. This is a must read for students of environmental studies, ecological activists, and everyone who feels responsible for their only home—the earth.
List of Images
A Note on the Translation
The Plachimada Story: A Time Line
Mayilamma: The Life of a Tribal Eco-Warrior
A Dark Night’s Poem
The Unblinking Eye of the Peacock Feather
Notes from Plachimada
‘I Never Dreamt I Would Write an Important Book Like This!’
An Interview with Jothibai Pariyadath
‘After a Bath, One Would Feel Giddy—As if There was a Heavy
Load on the Head!’
An Interview with Mayilamma’s son, Thangavelu, and his wife, Mini
‘Our Community Seems to be Changing’
An Interview with Mariyappan
‘Are You Sanyasis Who have Wandered into the Protest?’
An Interview with Vilayodi Venugopal, Chairman of the Plachimada
Anti Coca-Cola Agitation Committee, in January 2016
Jothibai Pariyadath, the transcriber of Mayilamma: Oru Jeevitham, is an acclaimed Malayalam poet, writer and translator. She published her first poetry collection, Pesamadantha, in 2009, and has translated the poems of Vladimir Mayakovsky into Malayalam as Mayakovskyude Kavithakal (2012). She received the Coimbatore Kerala Cultural Centre’s literary prize for 2012. Her blog, Kavyam Sugeyam, featuring her recitations of more than five hundred Malayalam poems, is hugely popular.
Swarnalatha Rangarajan is Professor, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, Chennai.
Sreejith Varma is Assistant Professor, Department of English, Christ Deemed-to-be University, Bengaluru, Karnataka.