An year and half back, if I remember right, when I met Sri Matampu Kunjukuttan at his place, among various things he spoke, a hint about a new novel came out. Story of an old Konkani Brahmin, put in the jail for over 70 years, was shot at, on the day of his release. An old vengeance, an old settlement of score, by a member of the Portuguese (converted ) family, was behind this. He said, the story has to begin from here and he hasn't thought beyond this. During the evening, a small 200 page notebook, was opened in fron of me, and in his impeccable, clear and classically styled hand writing, the letters and words came out of these pages . "വാസുദേവ കിണി" with an underline, and the first chapter of the proposed novel , sprang up . Thus, I can probably boast, of having witnessed the creation of this new novel, before anyone else had seen. On every visit, I made a point to enquire about the progress, and I came to know that the same is then given to a magazine, "Kesari", for publishing it , a chapter a month. Publication in a book for was imminent and it is now available for a larger audience ( I am not sure what is the circulation of Kesari and how many of its readers has taken notice of this novel).
From the initial dramatic set up, begins the new novel. 90 year old Vasudeva Kini, released from the jail after 70 years , 10 months and 1 day, was shot at exactly 30 mins of his freedom. Francis Dsouza, descendent of the family who served the Portuguese army on their days of power, had delivered the task entrusted in him by the generations. His father, waited for 50 years at the gate, and Francis took over the charge after his death. The task is clear, you have to shoot the man in 30 mins of his coming out in the open; one shot, not one less or more. The fate had another outcome in mind. The bullet, probably due to the weariness of the shooter, and lack of concentration there of., did not cause the intended damage. It managed only to caress the newly liberated man before giving up its plight. The curiousness of the reader is now ignited, as one expect the writer to get into the flashback of the DSouza - Kini affair and the rivalry resulting in the 70 year jail and the shoot out. However, the canvas which Matampu, is exploring is beyond the family feud , but the cruel and ethnic conflict suffered by the earlier generations at the arrival of the colonialism in the country.
For many centuries, the shores of Kerala was known for its trade, mostly the spices, largely controlled by the Arabs, en route Istanbul and to Europe and by China in the east. Barring a few skirmish, these trades by and large had been peaceful and was within the spirit of trade ( give and take). The scenario changed with the arrival of Europeans, and as is their greed, they wanted to take control of the trade barring the rest, and going a step further, wanting to control the area and its resources. Now, the tradesmen become owners and rulers of the land. The first mission of the Portuguese ( Vasco Da Gama) was with the intention of trade, but the next one led by Kabral, paved the seed of colonisation in the land of spice. Keki N Daruwalla's novel 'For Pepper and Christ" is an interesting account of these early days of Portuguese. The Portuguese control did not last long, as they were defeated by Zamorin and by Dutch and were forced to leave Kerala, settling up north in Goa ( Gomantak, the original name, as Matampu refer in his book). A rule lasted more than 400 years, until 1961 when Indian Army marched into Goa to liberate it from Portuguese. The early days of their rule was marred with large scale conversion of the people into their belief ( the Bible, the Coin, the Gun: Holy trinity - Petal of Blood , Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o ). Forcing the people to eat cow-meat, a taboo for the cow-worshipping Indians, holding them by force and using all the means to stuff the meat inside their mouth. Once you are eaten the meat, you are outcasted from the society, by the rigid Indian Social norms. Having no other option, most of them had then converted themselves and followed the belief system of their masters. A few who resisted, escaped from Goa, and moved south towards Kerala and settled in and around the area of current Cochin and Trissur districts. A large settlement of konkani Brahmins, in Kerala, had a history of fleeing from Goa. on a similar case study, there is a sizable amount of Tulu Brahmins ( Embranthiri), from the South Canara District , ran away from their home land to escape forced conversion by the Mysore Sultan's Hyder Ali, and Tipu Sultan. The Tamil Brahmins, from Tanjavur area apparently came into Kerala , during the invasion of Malik Kafur. Interestingly, all the conversions are largely directed at the higher strata of the Social life, mostly the Brahmins. The lower caste, were usually left alone for they have no financial or social power.
Matampu's hero, represent this group of migrated Konkani Brahmins who settled in Karuvannur, a village in Trissur District near Arattupuzha temple. Apart from the attempted murderer Kini, had another person waiting for his release. 71 year old Sheetaladevi, widowed on the day of her wedding ( the last day of the wedding ceremony). Widowed but virgin, Sheetaladevi had a divine dream , in which she was to join Vasudeva Kini in the remaining of her life. Taking him along to her small house, she took the responsibility of rejuvenating the old man. 71 year of silence, made the old man to loose his words, but his thoughts are reconstructed from the grumble of his stomach by Sheetaladevi. The rest of his life, is to establish a kingdom which is free from the clutches of all religion. Karuvannur, the middle of Kerala, the river, at the centre of the 44 rivers that divide the land of Kerala, has become the symbolic center of transition : the old to the new, the history and reality, the cruelty and the compassion, the confinement and freedom, the thought and action. A new beginning has to happen at the middle and spread like a wave in the pond.
Vasudeva kini is the liberator. He has emerged from the dungeons of darkness ( self inflicted) to show the light to the world. A new world order has to begin from the ashes of the history. The wise man has no words as the 71 year old silence is muted his voice. Its left to your intellect to listen to him, and understand him. The meaningless vengeance has to end with the firing of the gun. Neither the hunter nor the hunted knows the reasons behind the rivalry, and its the same with the readers, as the novelist does not indulge in the reasons of the rivalry. It is senseless, and what is needed is a world beyond the historical learning. The perpetrator is now dead at the feet of his victim after seeking pardon for the undoing of the generations of his ancestors. The new world, the new Karuvannur, is free from all those black pages of history. Its a new beginning.
Largely told through various flashbacks, Matampu develop his theme of colonisation and conversion, with historical perspective and social importance. A subject, which not many historians ( leave alone writers) attempted to put their hands on. Matampu's gifted ability with the language, those 'old school' way of forming polished sentences, is the strength of the book. The structure is not flawless, the plot per se is not strong, but the context with which it has to be read is important. His reading of these hidden pages of history might be subjective. It is his interpretation of those pages and as a fiction writer, he uses his freedom and flexibility, to the best of its effect. This might be controversial if one decides to look through the narrow angle, but this is worth the effort.
വാസുദേവ കിണി ( 2013 )