Perumkulam, Kerala’s village of books, brings out a novel written by 21 writers

Writing ‘Mahatama Granthasala Kakkakkunnu PO’ was seen as a creative means of staying occupied during lockdown

June 10, 2022 06:11 pm | Updated June 11, 2022 10:56 am IST

Bapuji Smaraka Vayanashala at Perumkulam

Bapuji Smaraka Vayanashala at Perumkulam | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

One work of fiction and 21 writers, one each for 21 chapters of the novel. The ‘writers’ are bound by their connection to Bapuji Smaraka Vayanasala (Bapuji Library) in Perumkulam near Kottarakkara. The Malayalam novel Mahatma Granthasala Kakkakkunnu PO, published by the library, and released on December 21, 2021, is now being translated into English. The translation will be released on July 3 by Malayalam novelist Benyamin. 

“The book is about how a village finds itself through books and reading,” says V Vijesh, secretary of the library and the brain behind the project. The detective novel came about as a lockdown project for members of the M Mukundan Aradhaka Kootaayima (fans collective of author M Mukundan) affiliated to the library. The writer is also the patron of the library. 

One of the little book boxes placed across various locations in the village

One of the little book boxes placed across various locations in the village | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“More than its literary worth, the enterprise and the process of its creation make this work special. I thoroughly enjoyed it,” says Sutheeshna BK, an English teacher atGovernment Higher Secondary Boys High School, Kottarakara. She wrote chapter 10 - Neela Vagagal Kaattilulayumbol; she translated it too. A Malayalam songwriter, this is her first attempt at writing prose. 

The novel

The novel | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

The idea was mooted during a Google Meet, in 2021, of members of the Mukundan fans’ group. More than its literary worth, the goal was to stay creatively occupied during the lockdown. Once the theme and plot were finalised, the next step was finding the contributors. Not all contributors belong to Perumkulam. Sutheeshna, for instance, is a colleague of Vijesh, also a school teacher. She has however been part of some of the activities of the Bapuji Library. Another contributor, Ajayaghosh Chakravarthy, from Pathanamthitta, is Vijesh’s former student. Vijesh has written chapter 19 of the novel.   

“Since we couldn’t find 21 ‘writers’ from our village, we called for contributors via the library’s Facebook page. We did the same when it came to the translation. Some of the writers translated their portion of the novel. However, not all were confident about being able to do it, so we got other people in, via an announcement on the library’s Facebook page,” Vijesh adds. The number 21 was chosen as it takes as many days to form a habit.    

The story is about how Bapu, a West Asia returnee, helps people in his village crack a code hidden in the eight books left anonymously in different parts of the village. Only a careful reading of the books would reveal the mystery, which lures people back to reading and to the revival of the library that was going to seed due to negligence. 

Before they set about writing the novel, the would-be writers decided on its progression so that it would be cohesive despite the multiple authors. Once completed, each chapter was posted in the group so that the writer of the next chapter could pick it from there and continue the story. Each person chose the chapter they wanted to write. 

For Ajayaghosh, writing was easy as the Political Science student of Delhi University dabbles in writing and has written short stories. “Here, however, since 20 others were involved, it was a different experience,” he says. He wrote chapter 17. Undergrad student Sreelakshmi R Raj, pursuing a degree in Malayalam at NSS College, Pandalam, did her homework before she started writing.

A village for reading
This is not the library’s first literary venture. In June 2021, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan declared Perumkulam the State’s first Pusthaka Gramam (village of books). The year before, in 2020, inspired by US-based Little Free Library - a book-sharing movement through bookcases placed in public spaces - the library placed bookcases with books at various locations across Perumkulam. Bapuji Library is now registered with the Little Free Library and shows up on their map of ‘little libraries’.  

“Some contributors like Sutheeshna teacher and Sulochana Palliserry are writers. My work was to feature with theirs, so I researched the structure of a novel and other stylistic aspects before I started,” she says. Sreelekshmi, who edited the book, says the experience would help her in the future when she turns an author. The editor of the English version is Anilkumar Pavithreshwaran.  

The Malayalam edition is in its second reprint. No price has been fixed for the book, “Readers can pay what they think is the worth of the novel. Payments can be made to the QR code printed behind the book, these will go towards the upkeep of the library,” Vijesh says.  

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