Social novel

KALLIKKATTU EDHIKASAM (Tamil): Vairamuthu; Surya Literature (P) Ltd., 22, Fourth Cross Street, Trustpuram, Kodambakkam, Chennai-600024. Distributed by Thirumagal Nilayam, 16, Venkatnarayana Road, T. Nagar, Chennai-600017. Rs. 200.

VAIRAMUTHU IS basically a lyricist, popular among Tamil-speaking people across the globe. As an accomplished poet, he has published nine collections of poems for the discerning readers. His writings have also extended to genres such as novel, essay, biography and travelogue. In fact, 20 of the 32 books he has published in the last 30 years are in prose, testifying to his many-sided talent.

Kallikkattu Edhikasam (the epic of Kallikkadu, in literal translation) is the seventh and the latest of his novels. It tells the agonising tale of a marginal farmer of a riverbed region of the Theni belt in southern Tamil Nadu. Poverty and indebtedness characterise rural life here, as elsewhere. The author adds an additional factor — the imminent threat of total destruction of a cluster of villages from the construction of a dam across River Vaigai in the 1950s — as an element of pathos.

The protagonist of the story, Peya Thevar, is a well-built and strong-willed down-to-earth person tied down to family commitments. His life is full of challenges, for among others, a good-for-nothing son who turns into an anti-social element and demands partition of the family "property", his elder daughter who pesters him for money due to pressure from her husband, and another daughter who returns to stay with him after her husband goes to jail in a murder case. Life thus becomes a prolonged struggle for Thevar.

Helping him in meeting the challenges is his wife during the early stages of his life, but when she falls sick and dies. Thevar is left alone to continue the battle. He has another source of support in a friend and confidante, Vandikkara Naicker, an honest moneylender of a neighbouring village.

The agonising moments in Peya Thevar's life have been brought out in a splendid manner. He comes out unscathed confronting every challenge with indomitable courage. But this does not last forever. When the threat from the dam becomes very real, he like everyone in the affected villages of the region, is thoroughly shaken.

He could not think of a situation in which the entire community, who have lived together for centuries sharing with each other moments of happiness and helping each other in times of distress, will have to live in far-off, unknown places. But soon the people of the villages realise that they have no other options.

The deluge does come all on a sudden swallowing the villages. After taking his near ones to places of safety, Peya Thevar wages a heroic battle against Nature in order to salvage articles of sentimental value from his sinking home, including a handful of sand with which he and his wife once built their home. In the process, he is drowned. The novel thus closes on a poignant note, evoking sadness that will linger long in the minds of the readers. Vairamuthu has carefully etched his characters in their rustic charm, with all their strengths and weaknesses.

His effective and eminently readable narrative in the regional dialect goes back and forth to encompass the lives of the people of three generations. Liberal use of images and occasional resort to proverbs add to the value of the novel.

The author, whose family was among the displaced ones, has brought out with passion the rural community's beliefs and rituals relating to events from birth to death, their hopes and fears, and attachment to their land and cattle.


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