**Yet another recognition for Sri M.T. TATA LitLive 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award**
This is not a review of the 1959 Sahitya Academy award winning Malayalam novel, but a humble effort to express the beauty of imagination, realism and literature penned by one of the most reverred contemporary Malayalam writers, Sri. M.T Vasudevan Nair. My failure to do justice to the work is accepted and would request others also to excuse me, if anything is wrong in the content below.
Before getting into the novel, need to mention that Nalukettu does not mean stone courtyard as some translations suggest. “Nalu” is four(4) and “kettu” is knot/tie/joint in Malayalam. Nalukettu refers to the traditional carpentry construction style where the wooden roof truss of tile thatched buildings are joined at their 4 vertices of a square structure. The join is done without the use of any bonding agent. The style of construction was widely prevalent in Kerala, till wood became a precious commodity and security of the large open courtyard in the middle started posing threats of security. Well, the point is that it’s not “stone courtyard”, but “four joins”.
Appunni, the protagonist, lives through his childhood, teenage and being a successful man. Whilst there are so many aspects about the novel that would strike each reader, the phases of life Appunni goes through and the way the reader is taken through him coming to age and understanding the world and life is the underlying current that runs strong through out the length of the story. The story also gives a great view into the socio economic conditions and dominant nature of the family heads at the time. Reading the story from another era, another generation is a look back at how much the same society has evolved. The same issues at that era no longer exist, but we have different, more complex social issues that has taken their place with improved socio economic and civic conditions. The basic premise of a joint family itself has got almost wiped out of the state.
Appunni’s father, Konthunni Nair was a fearless, self made and respected man in the village who was killed through treachery by his business partner. He was considered a rebel by the ultra orthodox community and his acts of mingling with people of different castes without any respect to the prevalent restrictions. Appunni’s mother belonged to the wealthy Nair family (Tharavadu), which is the Nalukettu in the story. They married against the wish of her family and hence was considered not part of the family any more. That would mean, Appunni also to be no longer part of the larger family. After Konthunni Nair’s death, mom and son are poverty stricken the once wealthy lady now has to work at the backyard of other houses to run her own. Portrayal of how much ego and false prestige ruled over humanitarian values even when it was closest family in question.
Appunni was good in studies and would start going to high school. As he enters his teenage, he gets annoyed at the growing closeness between his mother and Sankaran Nair, an aide at his mother’s work place. This provokes him to leave the home and go to the Tharavadu, where the head of the family (Valiammama) once kicked him out during a family event. Despite the inhuman treatment, he sticks on there and continues his education amidst the hardships. He earned scholarships more than enough to cover his education and expenses. All these days, his grudge towards his mother who has gone to live with another man keeps growing.
During this phase, the family itself goes through lot of unrest and demands of division of wealth. Uninterested and fed up of everything, he continues to focus on clearing the 10th standard, so that he can earn a job and get out from there. He faced difficulty in paying the exam fees of 15 rupees. Finally his close friend, Mohammed arranges the amount. It’s only after paying the fee that he comes to know that it was his mother who gave the money to Mohammed. Furious, but he had no choice, but to accept it. Clearing the exams in flying colours, Appunni is in the lookout for a job. He receives a letter from his Father’s old business partner, Seythali, the same man who poisoned and killed his father for money. Seythali asked him to come to Wayanad, where he can arrange a job for Appunni. He quickly packs up and leaves the bounds of his village. Appunni joins the tea estate and works his way up through 5 years to become a field surveyor.
Without any prior plans he goes back to his village, with lot of cash and unseen lifestyle for the villagers. A number of people come to meet him now that he’s got a deep pocket, only to listen to his verbal abuse. The Tharavadu is in sad state of affairs and the building itself is mortgaged for loan. The then head of the family (Valiyammama), who denounced Appunni all through his stay there had no much choice, but to beg to Appunni to help regain the Nalukettu, paying off the debt. Appunni buys the house with lion share of his savings through all these years and brings back his Mother and Sankaran nair to stay there. He no more has the grudge. Appunni has grown to become a man who understands all the events that happened in his life and treat each one to it’s merit.
Never explicit, the way evolution of Appunni’s thought process is portrayed from being a boy to a man who’s been through the hardships is admirable. There are so many more characters and undercurrents that explains the time and nature of the age in which the events take place.
Too long by now, closing off with the knowledge that I might have done sole injustice to the creative genius, but if one person picks up and reads the novel after reading this, I’d consider that Mission accomplished.
That might sound not too abnormal for some one from Kerala. But it’s got nothing to do with any of my grandfathers. Both of them did not have an elephant (AFAIK !). The title is that of one of the many amazing works of celebrated Malayali writer, Vaikom Muhammed Basheer. Known as the Sultan of Beypore, Padma Shri Basheer was a writer who went against/across the contemporary literary style of his era, defying oppositions and ultimately etching his unique mark in the Malayalam literature.
The protagonist of the story is a girl and the timeline is her life and events surrounding her growing up till her marriage, which happens to be far too delayed to the then societal standards. Kunju Pathumma,(can be translated to international standards as “Little Fathima”) the heroine grows up with an opulent childhood and gains unquestionable knowledge on Muslim religious beleifs from learned members of the society around her. Her father, Vattanadima (Literally translated as “The mad Slave”, and that was one of the real names used in those times) was the richest man in her village and commanded the respect for that. Her life though then takes a U-Turn as her father loses all his properties in family litigation. Her mother, prevailing from wealthy family, portrayed very much as a spoiled rich woman, would always boast about the elephant that her dad, “Aana Makkar” had. And there comes the title of the story, from the protagonist’s view point; Entuppooppakkoranendarnnu. The way, Kunjipathumma’s mother’s sandals are described as having the ivory tusks’ remnants of her dad’s erstwhile beloved elephant and the pride with which she walks wearing those sandals is a joy to read. The change in behavior of characters and the society when money flows out , is another picture that’s well laid through out the story.
The writer has taken a purposeful effort to question many a unquestioned religious beleifs, both explicitly and subtly. At the same time, he also portrays the real essence of religious teachings through the character and thoughts of Kunju Pathumma. Her concern and sympathy towards fellow beings and not just humans, truthful nature all throw light to what real essence of religion is all about. Through out the story there are instances where Shri Basheer refers to backgrounds of religious beleifs, quite a good repository to the curious mind. Not out rightly teaching these through verses or boring prose, but wrapping that within amazingly crafted humour and to the point sarcasm when required is just unmatched skill. The story is in Malayalam and it will be most enjoyable when read in the same, even though this has been translated to English. Much of the master craftsman’s works uses the literary slang prevalent in various parts of Kerala to it’s best effects. He’s been strongly criticized for his unconventional usage of language, but he always stood his ground and continued writing in the spoken language.
The writer’s appeal to the ultra orthodox society of the era was to stop clinging onto the past and come forward to the contemporary era. Something which was very relevant at the time. Had Shri Basheer been in the era of FB, Twitter and Youtube, not sure what his brilliant grey cells would have concocted out. Don’t forget the past OR Come back to the present ?? But one can be rest assured he’d have got the most likes on FB, huge number of followers and retweets on twitter and hits far more in number than Dhanush’s Kolaveri got on his Youtube videos.
Long Live Beypore Sultan : Salaam