Monday, May 28, 2012

Persistently Incessant (About the Tamil documentary 'Ooya Maari')

Have we ever heard the name G.S.Lakshmana Iyer? For most of us the answer will not be in the affirmative, I believe. But, after watching the documentary ‘Ooyaa Maari’ one will wonder how this name was thrown into the oblivion of public memory while the life of the man on whom this documentary is made deserves to be found in the pages of our textbooks. ‘Ooyaa Maari’ (Incessant Rain) is a documentary by writer activist S. Balamurugan which introduces us a humble man who, against all odds, lived the life of a zealous social reformer who had dedicated his life for the upliftment of Dalits. In the course of his reformist life he gets ostracized by his own community and loses his wealth.  It was on Gandhi’s request that G.S. Lakshmana Iyer, a brahmin by birth, begins to work for the welfare of  Harijans in his locality. In his endeavour to keep his promise to Gandhi he faces many obstacles. Sheer determination and dedication helps him to overcome those obstacles.

The service he does to the Dalit people in his locality is not the superficial ones we usually witness from our so called leaders. Lakshmana Iyer is wholly dedicated in serving the Dalit community. He allows Dalits to draw water from his well. In those times water resources were used by the upper caste people as a tool to constrain Dalits and ensure their submissiveness to them. As he narrates, this act of Dalits drawing water from a well inside a brahmin’s house outrages other brahmins. They ostracize him. No one from his community comes forward to perform religious rituals at his home. He had to find a bride in far away Tanjore as brahmins in and around his town were unwilling to engage with his family in matrimony.   Unperturbed he carries on with his mission. Later when he becomes the Municipal president of Gopichettipalayam he digs wells in all Dalit neighborhoods. He also makes this town to be the first Municipality in the country to be manual scavenging free. As he says, he himself had volunteered manual scavenging during his prison days and knew its evils.   

He runs a hostel for poor Dalit children. He had to overcome obstructions like lack of money and people’s unwillingness to rent out houses for the hostel citing that Dalit students were going to stay there. His determination helps him overcome these and the hostel is being run even after his death.  

The life of G.S. Lakshmana  Iyer is neatly portrayed in this documentary and reveals us an unsung social hero. One cannot help but think that if there was at least one Gandhian  like  Lakshmana Iyer  in every district in Tamil Nadu, a lot would have been changed in the lives of Dalits in the state. As the commentator quips in the beginning of the documentary, this is not a story of an individual but an individual who had transformed into a man of society.  Lakshmana Iyer used to sing nonstop the patriotic songs of Subramania Bharathi and was called as 'Ooyaa Maari'- incessant rain- by his cellmates. But the Dalit people in and around Gopichettipalayam would give other reasons for calling him so.  

Balamurugan deserves all the praise for making this documentary which is rich not only in  content but also in presentation. The film has Lakshmana Iyer himself narrating things and towards the end it registers the death of him. This gives the documentary a sense of completion and perfection. Poet Lakshmanan’s voice over is majestic with subtle nuances of the region’s dialect which sinks well with the content.

For contact: S. Balamurugan, 54, Vallalar Nagar, Thondamuthur Main Road, Vadavalli, Coimbatore-641041. email:

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