Malayalam author S Hareesh won the coveted JCB Prize for Literature 2020 for his novel, Moustache. Translated in English by Jayasree Kalathil and published by HarperCollins India, the book has been praised for its impeccable confluence of myth and magic and described as “a fine work of Indian fiction by a highly regarded Malayalam author” by Tejaswini Niranjana, chair of the jury panel.
Originally published as Meesha, S, the novel addresses a wide range of issues plaguing the society at large through the symbol of a moustache, which withholds connotations of both gender and caste. Hareesh’s work is expansive and piercingly relevant. And in many ways is a fine literary example of a modern classic.
In the book, the main character Vaavachan gets to play the role of a policemen for his big moustache in a drama. The impact of it is such that the audience remains enthralled and later starts making up stories about him. And all this even though he has no single dial.
In an interview with Indian Express, the author had expounded on his procedure and inspirations. When asked about the research that went on to crafting multiple narratives, he said, “These are stories I grew up with. I have heard them from my childhood. So, I did not have to carry out any research before writing the novel. But I did wander around a lot, meeting a lot of old people who had stories to tell. I also found the works of Kavalam Viswanatha Kurup interesting. (Kurup, a native of Kavalam in Kuttanad, has written novels set in the region — Kayal, Kayalrajavu — and a study, Kuttanadinte Thanimayum Pattukalum). His use of myths attracted me.”
The book also met with widespread protests by certain Hindu organisations owing to things stated by a certain character about Hindu women in the book.
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