Translation Books

Kuttiyappan on the couch: ‘One Hell of a Lover’ by Unni R, trs J. Devika

Unni holds up a mirror to you and in all likelihood you won’t like the view

Malayalam short story writers have always loved the abnormal. Even when they capture the routine or the regular, they look at it so differently that the worlds are turned upside down in their narration, which often take the form of absurd allegories. Readers love this.

That’s one of the reasons why short story writers enjoy stardom in Malayalam. From Vaikom Basheer and Ponkunnam Varkey to Kamala Das, Paul Zacharia and N.S. Madhavan, hundreds of writers have flirted with the bizarre and produced literature of exceptional quality. Unni R. shares this genealogy.

He is a celebrity, his stories are read by the masses, while literary magazines feature him on their covers. Some of his stories have been made into films. This small volume does justice to that fame, by introducing him to English readers.

The collection has 19 stories, including some of his most popular, such as ‘Leela’, ‘One Hell of a Lover’, ‘Holiday Fun’ and ‘Blue Film’, which represent Unni’s literary journey quite judiciously. Unni blends craft and content so dexterously that the stories introduce readers to a literary experience that is clearly postmodern but with the charms of old-school storytelling intact. His characters are a psychoanalyst’s delight. From Kuttiyappan, with his curiously insane and perverted yearning to mate with a girl in front of an elephant in ‘Leela’, to the invisible and omnipotent lover, Matha Mappilai, in ‘One Hell of a Lover’ to Kunhikkannu of ‘Satanic Verses’ who has two roosters named Vladmir and Bukharin, Unni’s men are complex and absurd, especially when they try to express love.

Love, sex, power and politics form the four pillars of the narratives. Unni confronts the personal and the political with the philosophical naivety of an ancient raconteur and in the process mocks and exposes the hypocrisies of human life. Unni holds up a mirror to you and in all likelihood you won’t like the view. Which is why these stories are going to disturb you even if you are not familiar with the Malayalam milieu. J. Devika’s translation here is bland, compared to her other works, and misses the nuances in many places; the prose could have been tightened.

jinoy.p@thehindu.co.in

One Hell of a Lover; Unni R, trs J. Devika, Westland Books, ₹399

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Printable version | Feb 29, 2020 6:43:19 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/kuttiyappan-on-the-couch-one-hell-of-a-lover-by-unni-r-trs-j-devika/article29852482.ece

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