Wednesday, March 04, 2009

General Chathans - VKN

Its been a long time since I read a Malayalam book. Wanted one that can lighten my mood, and there is none other than VKN , I can look forward to. I have read this book 15 or years ago and it still gives me the same excitement. General Chathans is originally written and published in 1972, soon after the War with Pakistan , which also saw the separation of Bangladesh into a new country.

The story starts with Chathans, a local leader of the ruling left party in his small village ( padinhattukara). His raise to fame starts with the acquisition of the public land and building huts for the farm labourers , which will be inaugurated by the Minister. While there are rebellion in the local camp, on the naming of the new settlement and Chathans has to concede to the demand of the rival factions, he does use this chance to get what is needed from the minister. With some smart manipulations and black mailing ( the minister with his alleged "un-natural" sexual preferences) , and with the help of the powerful Ittoop , the publisher, he manages to get one of the previously un-published poems, the prestigious State Literary Award on his name. He was also able to get this included in the state syllabus for the high school students, thus ensuring business for the publishing house. It does not end here, as he now wants to get the Central Literary Award and the Jnanpith for his book. His political clout and his popularity in the central Kerala, makes him an important ally for the ruling Nationalist Party at the Centre. The elections are imminent and for them to return to power, they would need at least 10 seats from Kerala, which would be possible only with the support of Chathans. It is for this, the 'middle-man' takes him to Delhi and arrange his meeting with the Union Defence Minister. India is at war, and the deputy chief of the Armed Forces is on leave. There is a dire need of someone to lead the forces successfully against the Pakistan at the West front and China from the North. Chathans volunteer to take the role, considering the need of the country, willing to sacrifice his personal life and pleasures. With his natural wisdom and drive and by leading the forces from front, he manages to destroy the enemy tanks, smashing all the F-14 of the competition ( thus winning friends from the west , who wanted him to repeat this every year , so that their sales get a boost) and advancing into the enemy territory. He manages to win the war single handedly, thus getting all the accolades, to the displeasure of the Chief of the Army. The novel ends after General Chathans takes control of the country as its leader.

VKN is noted for his wizardry with the language. This book is no exception. His effective uses of Tamil, Hindi, English , Telugu phrases with his in-imitable translations are outstanding. Outrageously humorous, witty to a level of insult, this political and literary satire is a phenomenal work.
General Chathans
DC Books

150 Pages
Rs 70/-


Anonymous said...

I applaud your enthusiasm and admiration for VKN and his humorous and satiric writings, which I share. I think he easily qualifies as the best humorist we have had in Kerala in the prose tradition.

I have wondered, though, in the past about two targets of his satire: the Tamil Brahmins and the so-called Dallit community.

Those two groups in general, I thought, might not fully understand all the Dhvani-s in VKN's writings although some individuals in those groups might. If your target cannot laugh with you, then your humor is not good enough--this is my view.

A set of other targets of VKN satire, the Nair and Namboodiri communities, can "get" the joke and even joke about themselves very well. They have even patronized the humor traditions such as Koothu. Therefore I think they can be butts of satiric aggression as they can fully "take" it.

If you apply my logic to, say, people with disabilities, you will appreciate my point. No one thinks that it is high quality humor if the writer is making fun of disablities.

I am sure you remember pieces like Ambi and Neelam Vendakka Raaman where VKN's comic genius takes aim at Ayyar-s.

I was quite surprised to find out that VKN's father was a Tamil Brahmin.

Kuttikriahna Maaraar did not like Kunchan Nambiar kind of satire for other reasons. I have problems with Nambiar phalitam too because he deflated the central conceit of the Itihaasa-s and Purana-s--the conceit that the characters are really superhuman. So, deflating the characters is easy, but hardly the stuff of humor in my view. Perhaps one can target some of the excesses such as Bheema's appetite.

Anyway, just some thoughts. I am not dogmatic about these at all, so please dont misunderstand me.

Brain Drain said...

I agree with you on the point that a good humour, should be enjoyed by all, including those who are involved directly or indirectly. That is the decay in the current writings. The new genre of writers, get to a level of insult in the name of humour, causing annoyance to the readers.

On the other point on singling out communities and people, I have a slightly different opinion. I thought he hasn't singled out any community or group on a purpose. I think he was critical on most of the community, Nairs to a larger extend. The priests, Politicians, writers, Namboodiris.. all of these were treated with his wit at various level.

The success of a writer is when one is able go beyond the individual / religious / community level of humour to a level where these take the lesser prominance over the subject being treated. I think, there in lies the success of VKN.

Thank you for your thoughts and I appreciate that.

Anonymous said...

Thinking about VKN leads one to a broad look at the Malayali traditions of humor.

I have always felt that the the "most Dravidian" Malayali literature and art (I am aware that I might be criticized for the "essentialist" nature of this generalization) is terribly serious. The main Dravidian rasa-s, to use an Indian analytic category, are veeram, raudram, bhayanakam, adbhutam, etc. When there is some humor that is not the refined and complex kind one finds in the Chakyar traditions or much later in VKN.

I think it is the Namboodiri culture which introduced large doses of haasyam into Malayalm lliterature and culture. The namboodiri hasya tradition must hark back to the Rg-Vedam, where there are prahelika-s and other material that may have a joking intent to it. Definitely the rasa of Valsalyam was quite uncommon and Cherusseri is almost certaily the pioneer.

Furthermore, the hasya element might have an origin in the biliinguality of the namboodiri-s rooted in Samskrtam and Malayalam. Daily use of two languages can give one an outsider kind of observational power and VKN uses his facility with three languages very well in creating humorous effects.

In Shakespeare too one can see abrupt switching between Latinized English and "vulgar" Anglo Saxon terms that creates hasya rasam. Some say that Shakespeare had another dualism --the one between Catholicism and Protestantism. He was most certaily a Catholic sympathizer whereas his patrons and audiences were shifting away from the old faith and beginning to persecute Catholics.

The non-namboodiris had only one language and therefore did not have this "outsider" perspective that allows for hasyam to flourish--I would contend.

Even now, you can see that Malayali-s do not laugh at the "humor" in Tamil films and I think that is because of the transforming effect the Namboodiri-s have had on hasya rasam in Keralam.

Some essential Malayali writers such as MT, Madhavikkutty, Sugathakumari, and T Padmanabhan have no humor at all in them and they project this deep Dravidian "angst". In contrast, the namboodiri poets like Akkkittam and Paalooru have an undercurrent of humor even in their most tragic poems.

These are just a few rambling thoughts. I wish someone with more critical and historical skills would seriously look at the roots of Malayali hasya traditions.

jiju said...

bravo........thanks for the admiration for our favourate payyan.....