I am at Page 155 of a 407 page best seller in Malayalam called ‘ Manushyanu Oru Amukham’ . This book has won the Kendra Sahitya Academy award along with scores of other awards. It has been translated into English by Dr E V Fatima and published by Harper Collins, India as ‘ A Preface To Man’.
The story of a few generations of a family, along with those of related social and cultural milieu, and sharp political observations: this narrative structure has been used by many brilliant writers across the world. Marquez and his One hundred years of solitude is often a favourite reference point in such a case. How the Kerala cultural ethos changed- influenced by stalwarts in political, intellectual and spiritual arenas-along with the clear repercussions in the lives of the many members of the Ayyattimbilly household, of the Thachannakara village, forms the binding thread of this grand novel.
The thoughts that had powered the best men and women to become great human beings and responsible citizens, are revealed in different pages. We meet Kuttipuzha KrishnaPillai, the communist leader and poet, as a warm and unassuming guest in a chapter, who with piercing wit handles the venomous prejudice of a petty mind. The reader is forced to reflect on how various forms of prejudice continue as eternal monsters in society. They might change shapes and hues, but the underlying devils are the same. Intolerance and ignorance. Closed eyes and closed mind. Arrogance and Self centerdness. Lack of compassion and greed for power. And a way of encouraging life styles which give birth to many living dead.
In the first few chapters, we find that the protagonist Jitendran is dead. It is through snippets of his letters ( when he was a young man who thought for himself) to his loved woman, that the chapters unveil themselves. One striking paragraph which I liked earlier on went like this ( my translation:)
‘The first half of his life was one in which he ardently believed in something within: that would impart light to those coexisting with him in the world. That belief had been nurtured by certain assumptions built in his childhood about human greatness. However, unable to find a conducive medium for that light to express itself, his inner self had been set aflame in that period.
The second half was rather simpler in nature. The job he had habitually done-in utter disregard for misspending one’s human life- with the facade of an inappropriate severity, a marriage and marital relationship which started with debts and continued in debts, the shifting of a few houses with household materials stuffed into a mini lorry, the partitions of anscestral property which caused much mutual hatred between brethren and made God laugh, a few extramarital affairs he indulged in -which had nothing to do with physical pleasure- for the exclusive and ineffable thrill of committing a secret sin, a few bursts of hearty laughter hither and tither, a few pains extended in the form of gifts by friends and relatives, a few accusations and wrong doings-neither of which had any circumstantial excuses, the tonnes of medicines he swallowed for curing those diseases which would have healed by themselves, the boring scenes which occurred twice or thrice in a life time when it became imperative to pretend that one was acting responsibly…’
I am at the chapter which says – ( in translation) ‘A petty man never lets go of an opportunity to showcase his inherent pettiness.’
‘Chetta’ in Malayalam has many connotations: a small hut, a person of obnoxious meanness, a man or woman possessing aggravating pettiness….
I laughed out loud on realising the absolute truth of that statement. Oh Lord, how many times, how many times….one has witnessed that!!!
However, the author suddenly pulls the mat from under your feet. He makes you reflect on the etymology of the word and whom you are actually rendering unworthy in the process of thoughtlessly using such words.
Beautiful book. I am so happy to have another 250 odd pages to relish!