Who is S. Hareesh?

Updated - August 05, 2018 06:28 pm IST

Published - August 04, 2018 07:01 pm IST

As Kerala’s paddy-rich Kuttanad reels under its worst flood in recent times, the region’s most promising storyteller is fighting a deluge of religious hate. Award-winning writer S. Hareesh, whose stories are imbued with an undertone of caste and politics at play in daily life, withdrew his debut novel, Meesha (Moustache), barely into its third instalment in the Mathrubhumi weekly, after some right-wing groups did not take kindly to a “misrepresented” fragment in it. On Wednesday, the novel was published by DC Books, the premier imprint in Malayalam, with 5,000 copies selling out. That did not pass off uneventfully though, as copies were burnt in Thiruvananthapuram. The case has reached the Supreme Court, too; on Thursday, it asked counsel for the petitioner to produce within five days the English translation of the “objectionable” portions.

Why the controversy?

A conversation between two characters on the intent of upper caste women visiting temples in the narrative set in the feudal Kerala of yore was taken out of context and circulated on social media, imputing it to the author. A vilification campaign ensued, as Hindutva organisations and caste groups trained their ire on Mathrubhumi and the writer for “maligning Hindu women and temple priests.” In the face of threats and online abuse, also targeting their parents and young children, Mr. Hareesh and his wife shut down their social media accounts and switched off phones. When the periodical featuring the fourth instalment of the work was to go to press, Mr. Hareesh wrote to Mathrubhumi , withdrawing the novel. Explaining what forced the decision, he said he did not want to waste his life waging protracted battles for justice and he remained powerless to confront the forces that ruled the country. The withdrawal triggered another row, as fingers were pointed at the publication for arm-twisting the author to mollify the right-wing. It was put to rest when the writer took responsibility for his action.

What is the govt. stand?

Cultural activists and political leaders, mostly from the Left and and the Congress, rallied behind Mr. Hareesh. The State government, too, came out in his support. Writer Benyamin and others, while expressing solidarity, took exception to his “apolitical” stance, alluding to an earlier interview in which Mr. Hareesh had made disparaging observations about the organised Left. The charge was countered by another section that pointed out the subtle delineation of caste, power and politics in his stories.

What does he write on?

At 43, Mr. Hareesh works as a village assistant at Kaipuzha near his native place Neendoor in central Kerala. Rasavidyayude Charithram (The History of Alchemy), his first collection of stories, won him the Geetha Hiranyan Endowment Award of Kerala Sahithya Akademi. Mr. Hareesh draws on local lores, customs, histories and the lived life of people for his measured, often witty, literary expositions. There is an ongoing discussion on his stories, Modasthithanayangu Vasippoo Malapoley (Lives like a Mound, with Gay Abandon), and Maoist in his new collection, titled Appan released on July 28. If Modasthithanayangu… deftly unveils the ways in which caste manifests itself in routine life, Meesha is an epic tale of a caste-ridden society. In the preface, Mr. Hareesh calls the world of stories an “autonomous republic where characters enjoy boundless freedom” and, therefore, often behave irrationally, even absurdly, making all kinds of statements. “It angers me when they do so. At times, I feel they should exercise more caution, but they are absolutely free beings of an independent republic,” he writes.

What's in store?

Aeden , a recent film, was based on three stories by Mr. Hareesh from Adam . A more popular story, Maoist , is set to get a visual language in director Lijo Jose Pellissery’s newly announced film Jallikkattu .

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