Saturday, June 22, 2013

My Grandfather had an elephant - Vaikom Mohammad Basheer

Basheer belonged to the golden age of Malayalam Literature. His writings exude wisdom that he gathered from a life filled with rich experiences. His life was one of sheer variety, spent along with sufis, Indian freedom fighters, jail time and even mystics in the Himalayas. The times were that of hope,  romanticism and humongous change hitherto unseen. Having suffered from mild bouts of schizophrenia occasionally, his writings unsettled those who swam about in the well of insanity that normal life is. These factors combined and the malayali was blessed with some masterpieces of literature.

The language Basheer used in his books was that of the layman. The endearing lingo of the Malabar combined very well with the sophisticated humour that the villages of Kerala has abundantly. As a kid and a student of Malayalam, Basheer's books had captured my imagination and in a school project where we were asked to study and present about an author, Basheer was my choice. I do remember making a speech about his work and the impact that it had on an age old society grappling with new realities. But time (and a career in engineering) has withered away the details.

It was perhaps my subconscious pulling my attention to what it wants, but a couple of years back while visiting DC Books in Cochin along with my Dad, my eyes fell on Basheer's books again. It was duly purchased and transported to Bangalore, but then in the battle of conflicting priorities, the little book lost. The book "Ente Uppuppaakkoraanendaarnu" (Translated: My Grandfather had an Elephant written in the Malabari Malayalam Lingo) was gathering dust in a cosy corner of my bookshelf until finally last month it came out. All I took was a couple of hours to finish reading it.

The story is about a girl brought up in an atmosphere of conservatism, shallow mindedness and dogma. From a little girl ever so enthusiastic about life, as the novel progresses, she turns to a pretty teenager who wonders at the meaning of various customs, traditions and values that's typical to her society. She tries to understand them and come to terms with them but to not much success. As a young adult towards the end of the novel she meets the love of her life - a fine, self-assured young man with a modern outlook. As she grows up, there are a series of unsettling and turbulent events that happen at the household which has a dominant say in the evolution of the story and that of the protagonists.

The point of this post is not to summarise the plot of the novel, so I am not going to divulge any more details. But any guesses on what's the significance of the book's title? There was a time when owning an elephant brought lot of prestige to the owner and his family. Only the richest of the rich could afford and the owner was seen nothing lesser than a lord. And such 'lords' generally had descendants who would be just not up to it, lose sight of reality completely and all that they have is false pride in their lineage.

Through the innocent eyes of the main protagonist, Basheer throws open the windows to a society that exults in its lineage but has lost sight of reality. The book is a harsh criticism to the dogmas and irrationalities of a society and a stern reminder of its uselessness. Through powerful sarcasm, razor sharp wit and the courage and conviction of truthful thoughts, Basheer will shake you up the way he shook the society a generation ago.

1 comment:

Sree said...

Good one.. I had read it too and got mesmerized on the simplicity through which he explained things.. Realized it is very difficult to detail things simply..