18avadhu Atchakkodu – Ashokamithiran – Kalachuvadu, 669, K.P. Road, Nagercoil 629001, Phone 91-4652-278525 – Rs. 175.
It is amazing how a writer can make a place as powerful as a character. Ashokamitran does it with this novel. The Twin Cities of Secunderabad-Hyderabad come alive with their residents and unique flavours. India has been declared Independent and Hyderabad has to join the Union, a move the Nizam resists. The cities and their inhabitants are caught in the turmoil.
The protagonist is Chandrasekaran, college student, son of a Government servant. A resourceful mother, a brother and sisters complete the family that lives in the Railway Quarters in Lancer Barracks. His innocuous routine is disrupted as conflict escalates and daily life becomes difficult with the imposition of rations and curfew. The beauty lies in the narration that alternates between third person and first. The story begins with an adolescent Chandrasekaran cycling his way from college and back to attend cricket practice.
Group rivalry, deceptions, letdowns… all that is common in such situations is aplenty here. Chandrasekaran’s friends include Muslims, Christians and Hindus. The populations includes Anglo-Indians and Parsis. Their habits, style and diction have been graphically captured. Not surprising, the author having spent quite a few years in the Nizam’s State. Fiction and fact blend with the civil war as the backdrop. The canvas unfolds gradually as the conflict pick up momentum.
Along with the changing political scene, Chandrasekaran grows too, the college lad reluctantly learning his lessons. Friends become foes while some totally disappear from the scene. He is still timid but shows courage and resilience, quite characteristic of a survivor. The current sucks him in and the reader finds the boy attending meetings and discussing issues although defensively.
The novelist scores in his description. Event, personality or emotion, the author’s pen draws the sketch with ease in simple, fluent and leisurely style that has humour. Gandhi is assassinated and news does not spread like wildfire. Communication is still in its nascent stage with the common man depending on the primitive radio that functions according to its own whims and fancies. When our protagonist learns about it, his young mind goes into a state of shock. He runs in darkness not knowing what in search of and collapses sobbing uncontrollably.
“Both cities have changed, naturally; but the years I spent there, 1931-51 have made an indelible impression on my mind,” says Ashokamitran, author who has won several awards and accolades. It was written during the 1970s but he remembers every detail. “Yes, it is a document, but most of those who shaped the characters are gone now.”
“The alternating style is not new but rarely adopted,” he says. “Straight narratives are preferred in Tamil. The first person is more a self-parody, the protagonist laughing at himself on several occasions. The third person account is more serious in tone. Readers find the style intimate in the English translation,” he adds. Gomathy Narayanan has translated the book (18th Parallel), the publisher being Orient Longmans.