How's my Luck now?

Reflections, views and descriptions during my stay at IIM Lucknow from July 2004 to March 2006

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Location: India

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

'Kaalam'

I read this Kerala Sahitya Akademi award-winning book by the Gnanpith Award-winning Malayalam author M. T. Vasudevan Nair (translated by Gita Krishnankutty, Disha Books, 1998) recently, courtesy a friend. Besides the desire to read a new story, I was also curious to know about the people, the customs and the way of life in Kerala. This book provides an excellent look into this.

The story is about Sethu (Sethumadhavan Nair), and his life from adolescence to adulthood. As one character remarks late in the story, "Sethu is in love with only one person, himself". Thus, at every major stage in life, Sethu takes a very short-term view and acts opportunistically, leaving close relatives and loved ones behind without concern for their feelings. Moreover, he either fails or doesn't succeed as well as expected in each venture. He is an intelligent person, though, and he realizes his failures and tries to analyse himself, but doesn't really take actions based on this thinking.

As the novel progresses, the conditions in Sethu's village continuously deteriorate, almost all people experience great difficulties in earning a livelihood and in maintaining their relationships with others. This makes it a fairly depressing read. However, the novel is not written in a melodramatic way. It is almost a stating of the occurrences, but it is still quite touching. These ravages of time are captured in the title of the novel.

One gets a very good idea of Kerala's way of life and customs here - the matrilineal joint-family (tarawad) system which is disintegrating, the system of contractual marriage (sambandham), the caste system (with namboodiris, nairs, menons, cherumans, etc.), the ceremonies, the day-to-day life and worries, etc. It is also interesting to note that Hindi movies seemed to be very popular in Kerala at least in this period (late 40's - early 50's), as films like 'Badi Bahan' and 'Gul-e-Bakavali' are mentioned, as is the "beautiful song" - 'suhaanii raat dhal chukii' from 'Dulari' (whose story is also touched upon). A very nice read, and the translation too is good, with the liberal use of Malayalam words supported by a glossary.

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