Mammoth misuse of the wild

Jeyamohan   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

A hagiography that calls itself a legend, unfolds as a biographical memoir, captivates the reader as a myth, progresses as a fable and ends as a parable. This would be how Jeyamohan’s much-celebrated novella, Aana Doctor, now published as a book in Malayalam, slips through the boundary lines of literary genres and makes itself a unique form of writing that mocks at all such classifications.

Narrated in a semi-fictional form by a fictional character, a forest ranger, who finds himself drawn into the magic vortex of Dr. K’s impassioned life in the wild, Aana Doctor is based on the true-life character of Dr. V. Krishnamurthy, a renowned veterinarian and conservationist.

It’s a breathtaking real-life adventure tale and a profound meditation on the mystic wild and the utter depravity of human civilization that creates wildness as it’s other. Beneath the straight narration, the book is multi-layered, addressing many different aspects of our lives, while striking a poetic chord every single time. The reader is riveted, and taken step by slow step and with bated breath, through encounters with burning forests of light, giant pachyderms, wild hyenas and other curious beasts of the jungle.

This might not be a great tale or the best of Jeyamohan himself, but it has such gripping resonances because the relentless, visceral detailing does not smack of a desire for either a melodramatisation or spiritualisation of the wild. It is born of a powerful yet understated passion to understand the meaning of the wild. For example, Dr. K. narrates how man’s pettiness is revealed in every journey he makes into a forest. The so-called elite and literati, who come in search of the wild, come laden with food and liquor, eating and puking in drunken revelry all through the forest green. With blasting horns, raucous laughter and blaring stereos, they disturb the tranquil silence, profaning the meditating mountains and humiliating each being of the wilderness.

The worst, according to Dr. K, are the so-called enlightened and politically conscious Malayalis, the most depraved of the lot and utterly despicable. He goes on to cite numerous instances when these self-styled pilgrims to the wild commit the vilest of deeds, breaking beer bottles in the forest, which, though deadly to all its inhabitants, becomes life-threatening to those majestic beasts of the jungle — the elephants. Such wounded ‘kings of the forest’ sometimes meet with a slow, agonising death. Unable to walk, these towering giants stand in silent excruciating pain as worms feed into their innards, and finally collapse in cosmic agony, as the herd circles around their beloved compatriot with an unbearable sense of grief and mourning. Finally, accepting grief instead of permitting it to obliterate themselves, the majestic beasts of the jungle return to the primeval forests, teaching man another lesson in survival.

Here is a book that is not concept-generated on a saleable idea but is profoundly felt and born out of real-life experiences, a triumph of both human will and sensitivity. Ecological crisis and the vulnerability of our fragile earth has always been a recurring motif with Jeyamohan, but with time, his writing has derived an overpowering compulsiveness, mature with rich enigmatic flavours, as is illustrated by this tale. The inexplicable nature of the wild, its refusal to be analogous with anything else anywhere, is what is so brilliantly captured by Jeyamohan’s lucid prose, which is as stimulating as it is thought-provoking.

The most compelling section in the story is the description of the worms on the rotting elephant’s body, worms that overpower the protagonist, literally and symbolically.

There is a metaphysical, soul-enhancing depth to this tale that makes it a journey both into the forest and into oneself. As one confronts humanity’s worst shame in one’s own image, the word ‘civilization’ is set afloat from its received understanding, a devastatingly stunning misnomer that only points to the inhumanness of the creature called man whose gluttony and avarice has irrevocably harmed each and every living fauna and flora of this earth. Jeyamohan gives us a vivid, touching and inspiring glimpse into the life of a man who understood the wild and dedicated his entire life in trying to repair the damages inflicted upon it by his fellow human beings. In doing so, he also offers the possibility of shifting gears in both personal and communal journeys from destruction to transcendence.

In a post-modern world, the story with a moral probably has no currency. And yet, Jeyamohan manages to pull it off, treading the dangerous terrain of a book on ‘healing’, and redeeming it through his incisive and telling style.

While it is easy to read this book as a beautifully rendered moral fable, it is, nevertheless, anchored on experience, maybe exaggerated slightly beyond the actual for the literary effect of poignancy. The dialogue with the author at the end is a must-read, one that brings new resonances to bear upon the teller and the tale. For the sensitive, there are purple passages that would sear the soul. Aana Doctor is a haunting novella that touches the heart of darkness, and which, through its passionate denunciation of humanity, might yield different meanings to different readers.

A fortnightly column on the best of fiction in Malayalam literature. The writer is Director, Centre for Cultural Studies, University of Kerala

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Printable version | Dec 3, 2021 9:20:51 AM |

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