We hear only the success stories of Malayalees in the Gulf, but I wanted to highlight their sufferings in those desert regions through my writings, says writer Benyamin. When his Aadujeevitham, a novel based on the real torturous life of a Malayalee, who was a shepherd in one of the Arabian sheepfold in the Gulf got published, it became a new revelation in Malayalam literature. Probably, it was the first work in Malayalam that entered the longlist of Man Asian Literary Prize among 14 other works from Asia.
Benyamin, the author of Aadujeevitham, now considered one of the finest litterateur of Malayalam, explores the lives in and landscapes of desert countries like the Middle East and Gulf. A native of Pandalam, Kerala, Benyamin, whose real name is Benny Daniels, is working as a project coordinator in one of the electromechanical companies in Bahrain. He recently visited Chennai to participate in a literary festival.
“I left for Bahrain in 1992 for a job at the age of 21. In those eight years of bachelor life, I didn’t have any other work other than my regular job. After a while, I developed an urge to read Malayalam classics and new forms of literary works. Then I thought of writing since I had something new to tell the world and the result was some of my writings were published in Malayalam weeklies. In 2000, my debut collection of short stories Euthanasia, got published,” he says.
The collection fetched him Abudhabi Malayali Samajam Award. Till date, he has three short story collections, two non-fictions and five novels to his credit. In 2009, he was presented with the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award for his novel Aadujeevitham. The book has also been translated into Tamil, Hindi and recently in English as Goat Days.
Aadujeevitham depicts the story of Najib, a Malayali who travels to the Gulf in search of job and is picked by an Arabian sheepfold owner. Najib turns a slave there and becomes a shepherd, who spends life with goats. With the help of his other slave friends in other Masaras (Arabic word for sheepfold), he tries to escape in the desert. Each and every line of the novel had a poetical touch while narrating the incidents, though he is not confident with writing poems.
“It is truly a biographical sketch with some elements of fiction. The protagonist in the novel named Najib is a real name and a real character who lived in my village. One day my friend asked me to meet him. Najib reminisced his past and I decided to pen it down,” says Benyamin.
He added, “Before I get into writing, I did lot of studies about Malayalees sufferings in the Gulf through news articles published in newspapers and magazines.”
The English translation brought him in the place of Man Asian Literary Prize longlist last year. “There were around 15 writers and I was one among them. It was the first time, I think, a regional work got bigger attention. I was happy to be in the longlist along with great other writers like Orhan Pamuk and Hiromi Kawakami,” he adds.
So, will he tell only stories from the deserts? “I try to explore new stories of different places. But there are many stories from deserts that are yet to be told. Even if I tell the Middle-East stories, I will not follow any particular style of narration,” he says.
At a time when he is considered one of the best writers in Malayalam, City Express asked him about the present scenario of Malayalam literature and he responds, “Yes, it is far well now. Many new set of writers, most of them young, grab the readers’ attention through their works. Malayalees too came out of the habit of watching TV always. Gradually, they are becoming voracious readers and at times, writers.”
“Something haunts inside me and I want to share that with my world and so I am writing. You have to be very honest in writing because the readers have good knowledge about the subject and the story you are telling. It should not be available on the Internet or shown on TV. It is the challenge the new writers are to face,” says Benyamin.