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Backwater ballad

With his blood-smeared hands, he sticks a flower on the yam leaf in which the meat is wrapped. He hopes the flower would ward off the smell of the meat which the woman, his lover, loathes. She turns around and picks the currency notes stuffed inside her blouse. He wouldn’t touch them, he wants them placed on his account ledger. He washes his hand, takes up the notes and breathes in the smell of his forbidden love.

Writer and director Raj Nair’s second Malayalam novel `Kadalasupakkikal`, set in Kuttanad is replete with such images that combine tales of fleeting romance, an interminable quest for identity and people perennially doomed to loss and despair. His central character Krishnan, a weak man by nature, straddles (figuratively) places and generations to draw out shades that reflect casteism, political divides, vain ideals and aimless revolt. Raj’s grandfather Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai surfaces as a character in the novel set in a fictitious village named Kotteli. Thekkethile achan appears as a fatherly figure for Krishnan. Kuttanad, with its unique geographic milieu and even more unique inhabitants, has always been a fertile ground for literary creations. S Hareesh recently adapted and fictionalized the characters and the myths from Kuttanad in his novel Meesha (the award-winning ‘Mustache’). “There is a distinctive geographic identity about Kuttanadu which probably no other region can boast of. It is inhabited by common people, mostly agricultural labourers, and there is this network of canals and paddy fields which provide a breeding ground for rich literary narratives. Thakazhi paved the way with Randidangazhi, which was a sea-change from the tales of Malabar and South Travancore. Modern novelists take this to a new level by weaving together the lingo and the myths,” says writer and critic Pradeep Panangadu.

Raj draws on his rich childhood experiences, visuals and memories from the village of Thakazhi to plant characters that border on the real and the mythical. Veluparayan, a swarthy bundle of muscle, moves around the village, bruising male egos. His loin cloth barely covers his swollen scrotal sac, he evokes a sense of primal manhood; his fellow villagers writhing with rage and jealousy. “This novel is set in Kuttanad in the post-Independence era. It spans generations and cuts across places through the main character Krishnan to etch the changes that swept the nation,” says Raj, who started writing the novel five years ago.

He says that his choice of setting of the novel was natural. “ The uniqueness is that they all are inherently farmers including my ancestors (and Thakazhi). They have taken up other professions due to necessity, like the main character’s family. That is unique of our motherland, Kuttanadu. I liked that concept, an ideal ground to portray my tale, it is fertile naturally… both people and soil,” Raj explains.

According to him, this work is an attempt to rediscover the Indian psyche through an insignificant citizen, his village, its inhabitants, myths and beliefs. “ To me this is an honest endeavour, a portrayal of the truth of lay people, their language, their philosophies of struggle, their enigma,” says Raj.

He clarifies that his roots are still in Thakazhi, a village where he grew up with his grandparents. “This is not a historical novel, it’s purely fictional. Different periods are essential for storytelling. This is a story of villagers and our own sense of identities,” he says in the introduction of the novel.

The tragic tale of Krishnan depicts a thousand similar tales of those who vanish into nothing after spending their entire lives for others. “This is an elaborate narrative, where ghosts gain life and the living turn into ghosts and it branches out into varying aspects of identity,” says renowned poet Sachidanandan in a review of the novel. The novel was released on Friday as part of Thakazhi literary festival.



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Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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