Author: U K Kumaran
Translated from the Malayalam by Jayasankar Keezhayi
Genre: Historical Fiction
MRP: Rs. 620/-
When the rigid shackles of caste discrimination meet the intoxicating air of freedom, a fascinating historical fiction takes shape. Acclaimed Malayalam writer UK Kumaran’s Thakshankunnu Swaroopam, translated by Jayasankar Keezhayi, traces the sociopolitical churnings of early 20th century Kerala through the lives of over 100 intricately etched characters.
Spanning close to a century between the 1900s to the 1990s, the novel is set in and around the eponymous village of Thakshankunnu. With British rule on the wane and India’s freedom struggle gaining momentum, we see the winds of change sweep across this sleepy hamlet. The potters, stone cutters, coconut pluckers, grass sellers and other ordinary folk are drawn into the gathering storm. Their aspirations collide with rigid feudal structures, sparking acts of defiance.
At the heart of the novel is Ramar, a spunky lower caste boy blessed with empathy and wisdom beyond his years. His journey from childhood to adulthood mirrors the region’s own coming of age. Be it challenging casteist taunts at school or quietly depositing his hard earned savings in the bank, Ramar’s small rebellions foreshadow the larger rebellion to come.
Around him spins a cast of masterfully etched characters like the stoic Kannachan, the fiery tailor Kunhikkelu and the enigmatic Kelappan. The easy rhythm of Kumaran's prose draws us into their lives. We weep as a potter’s hopes are crushed by a powerful landlord. We root for a courageous girl who refuses to become a concubine. And we fume at the blatant oppression of so-called “untouchables”.
Yet, Kumaran eschews excessive sermonizing. Without downplaying the social evils, he gives us a balanced bird’s eye view of life in the Thakshankunnu of yore. The Jagratha processions and defiant slogans coexist with temple rituals and superstitions. The crackling idealism of the freedom struggle blends seamlessly with timeless stories of love, loss, kinship and belonging.
As with all great historical fiction, it is in the finely etched details that Thakshankunnu Swaroopam comes alive. The nervous energy in the air as Gandhi’s Dandi March inspires parallel satyagrahas. The curious crowd that gathers around the village’s first bus. The commemoration of momentous events like the hanging of Bhagat Singh. And telltale markers of the era like “Edison Master’s” disdain for modern technology!
While the novel sprawls across a lengthy timeframe, the broader historical developments never overshadow the human elements. Rural duties, urban jobs, weddings, funerals and festivals - daily life hums along even as the call for freedom gains urgency. Gentle nudges of humour enliven the most harrowing chapters. And the final culmination of the freedom struggle is notably understated, almost an afterthought.
The English translation by Jayasankar Keezhayi is smoothly rendered, retaining the essence of Kumaran's original prose. So effortless is the translation that one never feels like reading a work in another language. Keezhayi deserves praise for this fluent translation that introduces Kumaran's vivid world to a wider audience. Through his lyrical translation, the unique hues of Thakshankunnu come alive in a new linguistic palette.
As the novel gallops towards the finish line, we bid adieu to Thakshankunnu with tenderness and nostalgia. For hundreds of pages, it was as much our home as it was Ramar’s. We saw it suffer stoically and rise up in courage. Like all great literary sagas, this one leaves us with that rare, wistful feeling - the longing to return to a world we were never really a part of.
Thakshankunnu Swaroopam is a must-read saga that will linger in your mind long after you turn the last page. Pick it up for a glimpse of India’s formative years through the eyes of a region that made the transition its own.
If you want to purchase the book, do consider getting it from our link. We get a small commission at no added cost to you: https://amzn.to/3LKrmYO