'Meesha' book review: A bewitching phantasmagoria
KOCHI: Had it not been for the controversy, every fan of serious writing in Malayalam would now be celebrating the emergence of a truly outstanding writer—S Hareesh. His debut novel is a stunning exhibition of classy writing, the type of which Malayalam has never experienced before.
In the main story, Vaavachan, the son of a Pulaya called Paviayan, a converted Christian, but never goes to the church, gets to play the role of a policeman with a spread-out moustache in a drama. He doesn't even have a dialogue. But the audience shudders when he appears. Even after the show ends Vaavachan refuses to shave off his moustache and goes out into the wild.
The names Mr. Moustache (Meesha) and Vaavachan are interchangeable in the novel. He then becomes the dreaded man with a moustache as people make up stories in his absence. It gets to such a point that people are up in arms and launch searches. Even the police come hunting for him.
Here is a sample of what the novelist makes out of Vaavachan's moustache:
It has spread out even more. Vaavachan now can hide in it for the rest of his life. (P125). In a funny flight of fancy Hareesh even suggests that the moustache of Air India's mascot was inspired by Meesha!
But, in reality Meesha himself is concerned only about finding his path to Malaya and meeting the woman he likes, his holy grails. Later in the novel, it turns out that Meesha was not just one Vaavachan, but characters from the folk songs, a many-faced man, like Ravana.
Why did he create such an unconventional character? He harks on the unknowability of human nature and writes, 'even when a father and his son walk hand in hand, they are strangers.' (P 304)
Meesha even dies twice in the novel. All this is intricate, masterly and convincing to boot, particularly if you are like a kid who just wants to hear stories, as the novelist says.
Hareesh is a man of stories. As the narrative gathers steam, plenteous stories gush out like a fresh spring from each chapter. The novelist uses the Meesha myth to frame the grand tale of Upper Kuttanad. He also states how Kuttanad was formed. We can see our landscape standing up proudly with real place names in Kerala. Hareesh is from Neendoor, and he uses the place and its surroundings very well in the novel. The land sketch is so elaborate that it acts like the convention of the labyrinth in Latin American fiction. A character even states how this land could have trapped Tippu Sultan. Meesha is also the first convincing attempt to bring in Magic realism technique in Malayalam.
The second and final chapters stand out with the intervention of the narrator and his kid.
Hareesh, it seems, is a lover of the masters of the world literature. This novel may be James Joycean too in the sense that it hides more than what meets the eye. He writes like a man possessed, particularly in the last quarter of the book.
There are cameo roles even for Swathi Th irunaal, Uthradam Thirunaal, a few Europeans along with crocodiles, birds and all sorts of flora and fauna. It is as if the landscape itself is speaking. Even the crocodiles and tortoises have dialogues. Irreverence, mockery, fun, irony, black humour are all having an orgy in the novel.
It is as if he has sprinkled names of animals, plants, places, customs and so on collected in a 100-page notebook. Malayalam should be grateful for the retrieval of these words alone. When pitted against this, the language used by most writers is sparse, journalistic and forgettable.
Meesha Vs Khasak
O.V. Vijayan's, 'Khasakkinte Ithihasam' has been seen as the apogee of novel writing in Malayalam. But, when you pit it against 'Meesha' it just cannot hold up. Apart from the smattering of existentialistic shading given to the protagonist Ravi, Vijayan's forte too is a description. Hareesh crushes Vijayan with his brand of descriptive brilliance, which is so robust and reassuring. Suddenly, most of Vijayan's once-famous usages like ''Sayahna yaathrakalude acha vita tharika...'' etc look vacuous, if not pretentious. If Vijayan's style can be described as apologetic and laboured, then Haraeesh's approach is like that of a marauding pugilist.
Is it a flawless novel? No. It is anachronous. There is nothing in it for the smartphone-scratching generation to relate to, except perhaps the recent floods. There is very little intellectual or emotional respite in the book. It lacks any intimacy apart from the delightful flow of language.
The silence of the writers' community is deafening. Indeed, some writers stood up in support of the novel. But where are the reactions to the work itself? The Malayalam literary lores say that some writers quit writing when Khasak first came out, apparently realising their own impotency. Meesha is the biggest whack yet on the face of the generally banality-ridden Malayalam writing in the past few decades.
Who should take up this book? Serious lovers of language and literature. Who should not try to read it? Consider this--some parts are prurient and explicit. There is also smut. You can decide.
Meesha is like multilevel fireworks that cannot be explained in a short article. However, it was unthinkable that someone will ever redeem Malayalam fiction with a novel of this magnitude. Well done, Hareesh!