Introduction

Composed by Chemmanam Chacko and translated by Prof. K. Ayyappa Paniker, Rice is a trip down memory lane of the narrator’s native village. Upon returning from North India he realises a lot has changed, especially his favourite rice.

About the Poet

Prof. Chemmanam Chacko was born on March 7, 1926 in the village of Mulakulam in erstwhile Travancore. He has created a space for himself in Malayalam poetry. He is a master satirist who has fought many a battle with the system through his writings. The poet who has many literary works to his credit has always reacted to his surroundings with pungent verse.

Theme of the poem

The poem expresses the human urge to pursue materialistic profit over persevering heritage and traditions.  

Stanza I and II

I come home at the end of four years of research
in North India, having earned a doctoral degree
and generous praise for my work on making toys with husk;
bored with eating chapaties day after day,
I'm eager to eat a meal of athikira* rice.

It will be the planting season when I get there,
and my father—his handloom dhoti stained with yellow mud,
excited about the waters of the Varanganal canal—
will greet me from the fields below our house,
amidst the shouts of ploughing with several oxen.

The narrator is eager to return to his village after spending four years in North India studying. The usual diet there was chapaties and he terribly misses his athikira variety of rice. It will be the sowing season when he returns and he is very happy to meet his family and reunite with them.

His father, a farmer takes pride in his profession and will greet him with joy while the sowing is being carried out around them. The setting is beautiful, a village where there is greenery and joy, the chaotic yet beautiful image of farmers ploughing with their oxen, a typical rural Indian scene and a father and son reuniting.

Stanza III, IV & V

The oxen will stop when they see me
walking with my suitcase, and my father,
without smiling the smile slowly forming on his lips,
will call from the field: 'And when did you start from there?'

My little brother, carrying the tender saplings
to be planted in the field where the ploughing is done,
will run when he sees me, and call out loud
within earshot of the house: 'Mother, brother's arrived!'

Walking cautiously along the dyke
so as not to upset the baskets full of seed,
I'll reach home in good time, at last,
just as my mother drains the well-cooked rice.
O train, will you run a little faster—
let me get home quickly and eat my fill.

The chaos will subside when the village notices his arrival and his father will greet him. His little brother will gleefully announce his arrival to their mother as he rushes with rice saplings in his hands. The narrator wishes for the train to speed up as he misses all this, especially his mother making his favourite rice. He can not wait to taste those rice.

Stanza VI, VII , VIII & IX

The bus stops on the road across from the house.
When I left this place, palm-thatched houses could be seen
in the distance on the right--but now there's nothing,
except for trees. How the place has changed!

Rubber plants, twice my height,
now stand in rows around me on the ridge
where modan and vellaran* used to be sown,
and confuse my path as I walk home.

There's no bustle of men below,
no shouts of ploughing; and when I look,
the whole field is planted over with arecanut palms,
and in the corner, along the canal, stand the dealwood trees.

I enter the house. Beyond the southern wing,
my father's watching them fix up the machine
for making rubber sheets--how happy
and contented the look on his face!

The narrator finally reaches his destination, but he is surprised to find the palm thatched houses across the street, replaced with nothing but trees. Instead, he finds huge rubber plants, taller than him standing proudly in rows where rice paddies were sown. He is utterly confused, there are no farmers working hard in the fields, no chaos just cash crops planted along the canal.

The silence is deafening and he is not impressed with this new change. Upon entering his house he finds his father watching the rubber sheet making machine getting repaired with a content and happy look.

Stanza X, XI & XII

My father says, with obvious pride:
‘Son, we've stopped working on all the rice.
It was quite inconvenient. The farmer gained nothing-
only fools turn to rice-farming for gain.
This is better money--what good times!
The government gives rice to those who don't have paddy fields.’

My little brother runs in to meet me--
I, eager to have a full meal of athikira rice.
He's carrying the rations for the whole household--
He trips over something and scatters the wheat all over the yard.

Above us, a 'ship of the sky' roars northwards,
drowning my brother's loud cries--
the Chief Minister's off like an arrow to the Centre
to clamour for more grains, now flying high
above the cash crops, now growing tall like the trees,
since no one here promotes the farming of rice.
Can we get some husk from the Centre, too,
to make toys with it? I don't know.

His father shares with him how they now cultivate cash crops which yield more profit. His father is very proud of this new change but the same cannot be said about the narrator. When the narrator’s brother comes running, he expects him to have rice but instead he trips and scatters wheat, this saddens the narrator. Above them a plane flies.

The narrator sarcastically addresses the Chief Minister and asks him to get back the rice fields. The whole point of his four years of doctorate degree and making toys from husk was so that he could provide his people with an additional income and employment. Now that there are no more rice fields here, he sarcastically asks the Centre for rice husk to make toys.