Published on Countercurrents.org, by K.A. Shaji, 13 March, 2008.
At the time of his birth, Pokkan’s umbilical chord looked like the bloated, elongated seed of the mangrove tree, and people affectionately tweaked his name to ‘Pokkudan’, a play on his physical condition. It was this kid with the bloated umbilical chord, born to untouchable pulaya parents in a Kerala village in the early 1930s, who went on to become the legendary Kallen Pokkudan, a name now synonymous with mangrove conservation not only in the state, but all over India …
… COLLECTING THE seeds of the mangrove trees was strenuous work. Besides, the swamps were choked with waste. The seedlings planted initially didn’t take root because he didn’t know the techniques well. But when the 300 seedlings he planted the following year grew, Pokkudan’s work began to be noticed. Soon, the media, environmentalists and forest officials arrived on the scene. With Pokkudan’s help, the Department of Forests set up a mangrove nursery of around 30,000 seedlings. Youth clubs organised campaigns about the need to preserve mangrove forests. People began to put up resistance against destruction of wetlands in the name of development.
In Kerala, Kallen Pokkudan is the last word on swamp ecosystems. He talks of a Dalit’s oppression in the same breath as the slow death of an ecosystem. “The birds that roam the skies and nest in mangrove branches, tree heads, paddy fields and river banks also have a life similar to ours. As a Dalit, I had always tilled the earth for others. Maybe that’s why I tried to go deeper into the possibilities of protecting mangroves.” The idea of man as a child of nature is complete when he says, “If someone asks me how I want to be known in future, I would say Kandal Pokkudan /Mangrove Pokkudan. (full text).