What is madness? The society considers any deviation from what is accepted as normal as mad. The problem is, who decides what is normal. The society is compromise between individual desires and the collective needs.
Anyone who deviates, even mildly from this compromised median is considered mad. Life is both logical and illogical at the same time as the musings of Malayali madman, Aagi, record in his diary. What appears rational and logical to one’s eyes would appear irrational and insane to another. Madness is having thoughts and emotions different from the majority.
In the famous French comic series Asterix, the Gauls refer to outsiders, including the imperial Romans, as mad people, while the rest of the world considers the Gauls insane. Madness, thus, becomes a relative concept.
The outliers of any society are often considered mad. Madness strips the society of its pretentious garb of culture and tradition, and shows the warts of hypocrisy on its naked body. It is through the X-ray eyes of the insane that one can see through the gloss of a society and reach its soul. A society’s progress can be measured by the kind of mad people it can produce.
Diary of a Malayali Madman by the acclaimed Malayalam writer N Prabhakaran is a disturbing book. Prabhakaran’s North Kerala dialect is difficult to translate but Jayasree Kalathil has done an excellent job. There are five stories in the book: Wild Goat, Tender Coconut, Pigman, Invisible Forests and Diary of a Malayali Madman. The work is nuanced with attention to detail. The characters are surreal, sometimes weird and even bordering on the absurd, but they are raw and throb with life.
Prabhakaran breaks all the rules of story telling. There is no plot in most of the stories, neither does any character evoke any emotion in us. Sometimes, like life, the stories don’t make any sense in the first reading. Some don’t go beyond the level of an incoherent anecdote told by a mad man, exasperating and endearing at the same time. This book is not for the lay reader who wants to get vicarious pleasure of reading stories. Be prepared for some frustration as you waddle through the stories.
It is sure to tangle your mind. You may also have the urge to leave it half way as it is too much work to make sense of the stories. However, if you manage to read it through, you would have a second reading and perhaps, a third. If you are a connoisseur of art, you would understand the feeling better. It is like how an abstract painting makes more sense than a beautifully etched naturalist landscape. These stories which make no sense when given an overview, transform into something exquisite when we see it in detail.
Sometimes, even the multiple readings wouldn’t open the stories fully and this may make you feel frustrated. Yet, there is something that lingers in our mind after reading them, even when the reader fails to grasp the whole. It is a kind of intoxication, a delirium, a doze of insanity and it is a good feeling. After reading the book, the way we see the world and ourselves would undergo a subtle change. Maybe, the book has set free our inner madness.