Reading literature in many tongues: The story of his land

Thakazhi, a social realist, believed that the role of a novelist was to capture the sights and sounds of the world around him.

Written by Amrith Lal | Published: May 19, 2018 12:11:31 am
Kayar was published when Thakazhi was in his 60s.

Kayar (Malayalam)
Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai

Chemmeen, a love story set in the fishing community, is Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai’s most popular work of fiction. However, his finest work is Kayar, an epic stretching over 1,000 pages, which tells the story of generations of people in Kuttanad, the rice bowl of Kerala.

Thakazhi, a social realist, believed that the role of a novelist was to capture the sights and sounds of the world around him. He documented the lives of manual scavengers in Thottiyude Makan (Scavenger’s Son), Dalit labour and the politicisation of farm workers in Randidangazhi (Two Measures) and the bureaucracy in Eenippadikal (Stairway).

But Kayar, published when Thakazhi was in his 60s, was a departure. He focussed on telling the micro history of his own neighbourhood and people, but the long narrative ended as an open-ended reflection on the fate of Man, of peasant communities and agriculture caught in the whirl of time and changing production relations, relations between the farmer and land and nature. But Kayar is about stories — stories of ordinary lives, the magic of their ordinariness revealed against the panorama of time and space. He said he wanted to tell a story like the story-tellers of his childhood, like the way coir is made — coconut husk is spun into coir, which can be endlessly extended. Kayar recalls the Puranic tradition of story-telling, but has the epic grandeur of the Mahabharata. And, like the great epic, it is a human drama for all times.

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