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Revisiting the banks of Mayyazhi

'Kuda Nannaakkunna Choyi'

'Kuda Nannaakkunna Choyi'   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

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The river Mayyazhi will once again fire the passion and imagination of Malayalis, for the ‘Bard of Mayyazhi’ is back with new stories of the men and women, who, once upon a time, led their quaint, quiet lives on its banks. Forty odd years after his magnum opus Mayyazhippuzhayude Theerangalil, and his pioneering forays in charting the complex terrains of modernism and postmodernism in Malayalam literature, M. Mukundan once again surrenders his pen to the magic of his beloved land, Mahe. Kuda Nannaakkunna Choyi is about a land and its people whose erstwhile colonial domination is as much a part of their personal history and identity as of their dreams for a new India.

The story begins with the young man Choyi, who mends umbrellas, sailing on a steam ship to new shores far away from Mayyazhi. The narrative is placed squarely within its social and historical context. The narrator, a young boy himself, nevertheless begins with words of ripe wisdom, that their shores hardly see any ships anchoring, for they are too shallow and lack the depth required for great ships. This is the first clue for the reader that here is a tale that will narrate a history from below, a folk history of ordinary men and women who will not find mention in the larger historical narratives of the liberation of Mahe or its deeply ingrained French connections.

There is gentle irony in narrating the follies and foibles of the rustic folk of Mayyazhi. But there is also the dark humour of Modernist social satire, deliciously ambiguous and refusing moral closures. However what is most striking is the manner in which the political satire unfurls in magnitude only towards the fag end of the story.

But then we realise that what we had missed taking note of, in our enchantment with the vast array of richly painted characters, formed the most interesting parts of the jigsaw puzzle. The protagonist yearns for a red umbrella, but by the time it arrives from France, red has lost its thrall for the youth in him. It is in the effusion of saffron smoke in the end that we discover the reason for the disenchantment.

Even while the story is simple and charming on the surface, it is explosive in its climatic moments. With a simple brush stroke Mukundan transforms his most delightfully innocuous hero into a Machiavellian villain who can play according to the exigencies of the times. With him rests a truth which he has no qualms in modifying into a falsehood. There are no wasted lines, nothing superfluous or extra in these pages. In narrating a simple tale or just a tell tale, the primary purpose of the writer seems to be sketching the caricatures of those men and women who constitute an alternative history of Mahe, a history not narrated in official text books. Mukundan’s ideological slant is most revealed in those moments when he uses irony, satire and ambiguity with cultivated restraint and dexterity.

Mukundan seems happy in being a teller of vernacular tales, a creator of characters whose speech and mannerisms pulsate with the raw energy of a land that only seasoned writers can handle with poise and élan. He has once again proved his forte, to write honestly and movingly, without once resorting to sentimentality. He narrates the social, political and emotional ethos of the largely inarticulate populace of Mayyazhi in their own richly evocative dialect. Parodying our own postmodern virtual lives and our real interests in the lives of others Mukundan has unraveled, with mingled compassion and exasperation, what is most difficult to write about in India today, the rising ambivalences and compromises in our everyday lives in view of the irony of our present moulding its past. It is in an understated yet uncanny sense of history, and an unerring sense of vernacular identities and dialects that the novel finally triumphs.

(A column on some of the best reads in Malayalam. The author is director, School of English and Foreign Languages, University of Kerala)

Kuda Nannaakkunna Choyi

M. Mukundan

DC Books

Rs. 210

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Printable version | Dec 13, 2019 1:22:43 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/review-of-m-mukundans-kuda-nannaakkunna-choyi/article8188082.ece

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