Rain is synonymous with Kerala. As a Malayalee (person from Kerala), I naturally love the monsoon rains. The title itself drew me to the book. This is not just one book. It has many books within it. The book is a mixture of 34 fictional stories, poems, non-fiction, essays, POVs from writers in Kerala, or writers writing about Kerala. Also, all the stories are not about rain.
The book starts off with the first story which tells us about where the rain is born. This short non-fiction account is taken from the book ‘Chasing the Monsoon’ written by journalist and travel-writer Alexander Frater. He recounts how he witnessed the rain being born at the southern-most tip of Kerala. He is at the Kovalam beach with a bunch of weathermen, journalists and other enthusiasts. The south-western monsoon clouds make it’s first landing here and thus the rain is born. This place Kovalam is just about 50 km from my hometown Varkala. Thus we probably see the first monsoon rains in India and never even knew about it.
Next is a short fiction by Shashi Tharoor called ‘Charlis and I’. I loved the way the author has woven the progress of the different castes through the various policies in Kerala. But still, it is a simple, heartwarming story about a few boys. His language is impeccable. On a similar vein is the story ‘A village before time’ by V K Madhavan Kutty.
The book also has translated works of Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai’s ‘Chemmeen’ which I am familiar with as a famous movie based on a fable. Similarly, I enjoyed reading the translated ‘The Blue Light’ by Vaikom Mohammed Basheer, ‘The first Lessons’ which is a snippet from O V Vijayan’s ‘The Legends of Khasak’. I simply loved ‘Karikatam’ by MT Vasudevan Nair. It really makes you feel the hunger pangs of the boy in the story. Salman Rushdie’s ‘The Moor’s Last Sigh’ also features here. He talks about the Jews of Kerala.
Arundhati Roy’s ‘God of Small Things’ with its incredible metaphors leave a lasting impression. Another sombre take is ‘The Hangman’s Journal’ by Shashi Warrier. Included in this list is a short fiction by Anita Nair, called ‘The mountain that was as flat as a football field on the top.’ It is a beautiful coming of age story. I absolutely loved ‘The Bonsai Tree’ by David Davidar. The immediate thought I had was I should get my sons to read this, or tell them this story. It shows the impudence of youth and the way they think against their parents, the angst of every teenager. And there is more fiction which I haven’t covered here.
Most of these authors are new for me. I intend to dig out their works to read some more.
If you think this is enough, wait. I have not even started on the non-fiction. The non-fiction authors also sound like the who’s who of writing. It includes my favourite William Dalrymple with ‘In search of doubting Thomas’ which tells the rise of Christianity in Kerala. Ammu Joseph brings out the reality of Kerala very well. She tells about a woman’s position in Kerala which shows high numbers when reporting their progress, but on the ground, how it is not the truth. It was hard hitting. Abu Abrahan’s ‘Where everything is different’ had many of the questions I ask too. Because, unlike Kannadigas, Telugus and Tamizhars, Malayalees have different festivals, rituals. Who else celebrates Onam in India? The language is also mix of Aryan and Dravidian languages. It is branched from Tamil with heavy doses of Sanskrit.
Then there is Bill Aitken’s ‘The power of one’ where he writes about Babu Verghese whose vision and foresightedness has brought alive the thriving tourism of Kerala. Other biographical snippets include ‘Marthanda Varma’ by C V Raman Pillai, ‘Footballer’ by Ravi Menon, ‘Stalinist and Indian : EMS Namboodiripad’ by Ramchandra Guha.
And there are still more..
I wish we had more such books which are easy to read and lets us decide if we want to read an author further. I am also grateful with the translated works. I never knew what a great story teller Vaikom Mohammed Basheer is. If his translated work is so good, I can only imagine how the original Malayalam will be. We need audio books in Malayalam, seriously. Now I want to read more from this author.
Any other recommendations based on the authors mentioned here?