Verukal (Roots) : Novel Review
Verukal (Roots) by Malayattoor helped reinforce one of my convictions :- That there are infinitely talented authors amongst the regional language authors in India who simply goes unnoticed because they are unreachable to a wider audience. Ever the more reason for these gems to be translated to English and other languages. Though a large part of the work’s essence is lost in translation, it nevertheless helps in understanding other cultures and writing styles. Malayattoor Ramakrishnan had previously surprised me with his blessed writing through Yakshi, a psychological thriller. In Verukal he explores a completely different theme and appeals to a completely different emotion:- nostalgia and connection to one’s ancestry and lineage.
Malayattoor penned Verukal in 1966 and it is evident that he draws heavily from his life as an IAS officer. The novel is set in the conditions in which he grew up, a Tamil Iyer family. The initial mood the novel set for me was one of discomfort with the characters speaking in Tamil. But soon I started to love the conversations in the novel and by the end of the
book I was completely in love for the character and his family mileu. Verukal won Malayattoor the Kerala Sahithya Academy Award in 1967 which anyone who reads the book will immediately attest to be a well deserved accolade.
Verukal is the story of Raghu, an ambitious IAS officer and his family. Raghu is married to Geetha, a shrewish, modern and domineering woman. Raghu decides to build a new house which Geetha finds too small for her taste. She coxes Raghu into selling his ancestral property on the banks of Periyar, which would fetch him enough money to build a 4500 sq.ft home that would be to Geetha’s fancies. This is where Verukal enters its theme:- Raghu writes a letter to his elder sister Ammulu, saying he has decided to sell the ancestral property and asks her to make the necessary arrangements and sets of to his native village to seal the deal. From here the plot thickens and starts developing across multiple strands which all converge and find solace in Raghu’s final decision:- To not sell his ancestral property. How Raghu reached such a decision makes up the story of this novel.
Verukal is a journey through Raghu’s past and evolution into the character he is today, and while doing so it explores the themes and people who have come into his life. Malayattor’s golden pen deals with even the subtlest of emotions dexterously and to his credit, brings in a host of stories, which I am sure, every reader would be able to connect to. The smallest of quarrels between siblings, growing up to be an elephant in the room and ends up seperating them, memories of old people who often refuse to demonstrate their love, superstitions that dictate the life of common people, sweet memories of teenage love(Raghu’s infatuation to Janu, the mahout’s daughter is one of the most endearing memories in the story. I am sure it would ring a bell with everyone and bring back memories of that special person) and what not! Verukal is not just Raghu’s story, but of every one of us.
Verukal also has deeply disturbing side plots. The part where Ramu, infected with Rabies, dies is particularly disturbing. So is the portion where Kitchamani ends up killing his guard. When Malayattoor was desribing the scenes, I could not
help but see the image in my mind. And when Kitchamani ends up breaking Nair’s skull with the stone, I could hear the sound of his skull being crushed. “CRUNCH”!!!
Verukal is an invitation to a journey. It is also a reminder of many things that is amiss in our contemporary lifestyle. Kids who grow up to be plastic dolls, not knowing their parent’s affection, completely at loss to appreciate their mother tongue, people who embark on a journey in search of Gold, while forgetting their roots and languishing that development doesn’t reach their villages, even though it is in their power to effect changes, the impermanence of human condition where when the wheels of time turn a full cycle the poor turn out to be rich and vice versa, Verukal is a brilliant portrayal of seemingly simple lives which are complex when observed carefully. Some of the characters which appear to be negative in shade turn out to be a victim of its times and we end up sympathizing and often loving them. An example would be Saraswathy’s mother-in-law who finds fault with everything she does, but in fact is jealous of Saraswathy because she was widowed early and had to lead an ascetic and lonely life because the Society has imposed such restrictions on her.
Some of the characters stand out and make us acknowledge their presence. The headstrong Ammulu, Raghu’s sister is one such character. Being meted out a servant’s treatment by her own grandparents and completely ignored by her father, she rises in life with her sheer grit and determination. Laksmi, the pampered last child of the family, also has her moments. Another character who is very powerful is Paatta, Raghu’s grandfather. Raghu’s college life is filled with funny moments and reminds us of the fools that life makes out of us, despite our utmost effort not to succumb to such temptations.
Verukal was translated into English in the name Roots and hence is available to the non-malayali audience also. Verukal is not a story that will just entertain you, it is brilliance held captive in letters that will make you think. It is a wonderful analysis of the human mind.