Tag Archives: Malayali Writers

Arrack in the Afternoon – Mathew Vincent Menacherry

Like I said earlier, who but a mallu would call a novel, Arrack in the Afternoon? Our fondness for Bacchanalian pleasures tends to come to the fore almost everywhere. On to the book, the lone review that I read was insipid (the review, not the book) and all it really talked about was the sexual content. Here was another squeamish reviewer who missed the point. What’s with Indian critics and adult content? I was relieved to find that there was definitely more to the book than  just sex.

Mathew has done quite well with his debut novel. The story is about Varghese, a failed and drunken poet, who in a rare moment of reprieve from drunken stupor decides to end his life. And miraculously escapes from under the wheels of the truck. Karan, a conniving con man spots huge potential in the act and takes Varghese under his wings. Karan transforms Varghese into  a god man and together they progress into the sitting rooms, party halls  of the rich and famous. The story ends with Varghese returning to the life he left behind.

Characterisation seems to be Mathew’s strength. Varghese, as the reticent, intelligent and strong willed anti hero is likeable and real. Karan plays the sly and slimy fixer very well. Patricia, Varghese’s patient lover; Sabu, the good guy journo are well etched. There are several characters that are drawn from real life – the gang-lords, the socialites, politicians are easily recognisable. The narrative is easy paced, humorous for the most part. The language is also quite free flowing. The intimate scenes are anything but that, they are hard hitting and don’t seem forced into the plot. Mathew holds up a mirror to society with his book. Our generation’s need for godmen, exploitation on religious grounds, politicians leveraging religious beliefs, the sleaze in the upper echelons of the rich and the famous.

Now to some of the weaknesses, like many non-resident-Keralite authors the part in Kerala is forgettable. He just doesn’t get the essence like Anita Nair or Arundhati Roy. He makes errors with the mallu lingo with verbatim translations (its thozhilaliye and not thorillaline for labourers). The whole plot revolving around the one circus like act of escaping from the jaws of death seems too far fetched. Repititions could have been avoided, he keeps using the phrase ‘worthy’ to refer to people. The other irritant is his constant references to passing wind, gets a little nauseous.

My rating 2.75 on 5.

Published by HarperCollins.


Posted by on March 21, 2010 in Recommended


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The Village Before Time – Madhavan Kutty

I do regret missing out on the works of Thakazhi, O V Vijayan, M Mukundan, M T Vasudevan Nair and Vaikom Basheer in their original forms. I believe that at times the texture is lost in translations. However, Gita Krishnankutty who translated this book by Madhavan Kutty has done an excellent job. People who can understand Malayalam can comprehend the retention of the original nuances and the essence of the experience. There definitely is an art in translating and ‘The Village Before Time’ is a good illustration of that.

“Whether this book is fiction or memory is besides the point. There is an incredible abundance of characters and situations. This sheer exuberance leave us with a deep fictional experience”, says O V Vijayan. This is an apt summing up of the book, though I disagree on the exuberance part. The book is definitely not sprightly or joyful, it is realistic and simple. This is an autobiographical book narrated from the view of a young boy. It is a child’s perspective, and the child does not read into people or situations deeper than what is visible. It is for the reader to do that. The characters are people you meet in any village in Kerala, the events are not really unique and can happen in any family. There is this poignant part about Kuttimalu, his grand aunt. Her beauty is her curse like Midas’ touch. It really is heart wrenching despite the fact that it narrated with no artifice. The uncle Kittunni Nair, his friend Gopalan, the Post Master Abraham are delightfully Pickwickian. Paruthipally is strongly remniscent of R K Narayan’s Malgudi – the distinct characters, the buildings, the roads, the post office. The reader is also taken through Nair customs, beliefs and traditions including marumakkathayam (the matriarchal set up), and untouchability.   

One enduring aspect of the book is that Madhavan Kutty takes no stance, makes no judgement and peddles no philosophy.There is no plot, there is no deep delineation in terms of characterisation, no effort in symbolism or imagery and yet it keeps you hooked. One issue I have with the book is that there are so many characters that sometimes you have to flip back to place him or her. A family tree would have worked well.

Three and a half stars on five is my verdict


Posted by on July 14, 2008 in Recommended


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