Saturday, March 22, 2014

Idris, Keeper of the Light - Anita Nair

The latest from Anita Nair, one of my favorite Indian authors, is a departure yet again from all comfort zones. This time she ventures into the world of historical fiction, a time set in the 1600s in Kerala. Idris is the one eyed Somalian traveler who travels the world, seeking the measure of earth and man, has a golden eye in place of one pierced accidentally when he was young, and one suspects a golden heart too, because he genuinely seems to care for people he likes. (A bit like Zorba you suspect, but a very dignified version.) Idris, the traveler and trader, finds himself drawn to a young boy Kandavar, in a chance meeting. His own son it turns out, whom he had fathered in a night of passion on an earlier trip. Unknown to the boy and his relatives, Idris meets the mother, Kuttimalu, now a consort of another man. The equations are crazy, the caste lines, the young Kandavar's desire to be a Chaver and kill the Zamorin, and now the appearance of his father, whom he knows not. Anyway Idris stays long enough to influence the boy's thinking, has him train in the art of war in Kalaripayattu before he takes him away on his journeys, promising to return the boy after an year.

And so the travels start, of Idris and his son, the boy, Kandavar, and Sala Pokkar a khalasi and the ideal Man Friday. The trio go to Ceylon, to the eastern coast for pearl fishing and then to Golconda and its famed diamonds. In the diamond mines Idris finds Thilothamma, the regal, beautiful landlady, who lives like a queen and who has in her possession a lonely heart and a large diamond that her father gave her. The heart finds temporary solace with the arrival of Idris, but Thilothamma knows Idris will not stay. So she does him a favour. She tells his son that he must be blind not see that Idris is his father, they are so alike. Young Kandavar fears for himself, his mother and Idris, because if the likeliness is too obvious they will be killed or ex-communicated by their caste people in Kerala. As the book draws to a close Idris finds himself being pushed by his son and nudged back to the Kollur mines of Golconda, to Thilothamma, who has promised him a place with her anytime.

Idris is large in scale, much like the character, with no boundaries, and is packed with adventure. One does not know what the trio will encounter next, as they wind their way to Golconda, picking up an assortment of friends and animals, Golla, Musa, Vajra. The stage is now set for young Kandavar to take over and fulfill what he believes is his destiny. Idris, is quiet, looming and brooding as he wanders, one who speaks less and acts and thinks more. His women are interesting, both of them living on the fringe of society, spirited, carefree and strong women. They do not care to be nice or conventional.

Anita Nair effortlessly steps into the shoes of the Somalian traveller coming off the heavy brown police shoes of Inspector Borei Gowda and tells a new story without skipping a beat. They are very different men, these two, except perhaps for their habit of being drawn to women who think and live independently and dangerously. Idris is made of all the right things certainly, noble and passionate, a man of his own mind, courageous and proud. He will ask for no help but will get enough wherever he goes precisely for that reason. One wonders what will happen now to Kandavar, now that he knows the secret, how Kuttimalu will react, how Thilothamma will react and what will happen when they all meet. I somehow find that possibility very juicy in an almost Hindi serial manner.

Research is exhaustive, all those Arabic words, astronomy, ships, diamonds, 16th century, trade, geography, kalari, and so it must be for a book of this scale. I am glad we now have a South Indian hero, though half-Somalian, stepping up from the world of historical fiction. And an interesting one at that.Now for Kandavar and hopefully an epic fight.

Anita Nair's greatest strength is her courage to try new ideas, new perspectives and areas and step out of her comfort zone fearlessly. It is a wonderful way to stay alive, to think, and probably the best way for a writer to evolve into a great one. I would not know of many writers who would step out of the comfort of what they know works for them. It is this same courage that seeps into her characters and makes them unpredictable and adventurous, loveable and strong at the core. From men struggling to come to terms with their fathers, the ugly truth behind female foeticide / infanticide, murderous transvestites and eunuchs, women who feed their vain husbands rich foods so they become unattractive to other women and many more such characters have already come alive from Anita's pen. Almost all her books have challenged status quo, have taken the more difficult path even when the easier path was available, and that is a quality one cannot but admire and also try to emulate. And just for that, one cannot but say, good going Anita. Don't even pause for a moment. You're doing a fantastic job of telling fine stories.


Sapna Anu B.George said...

A good review of Anitas book , came from her link on her Facebook Harimohan... With this review good to meet you greet you an read you in blog world.

Harimohan said...

Thanks Sapna. Good to meet you too.


The review is nice. a well written but simple one . Yearning to read the book sir . Keep penning ..

Harimohan said...

Thanks Pot Pourri for dropping in and sending me a line. I do love your choice of movies and books. Nice.