Osha, a sacristan of Kochi-Creole origin leading a soulless life mired in a past obscured by fantasy and insanity, happens to find a gold key from a freshly-dug grave. That puts him in on incessant and obsessive hunt for its lock that may have answers for his befuddled existence.
Johny Miranda’s Requiem for the Living, published by Oxford University Press, revolves around this well-crafted metaphor and Osha embodies a community which is on an unavailing search for its identity and roots while battling a present which is as mythical and unreal as their past.
The novella is about how the marginalised Kochi-Creole community in the coastal city, the poorest of the poor left with nothing but ‘outlandish surnames’, fights to find its space.
Known as ‘Parankis’ (the community descended from the dependants of the Portuguese who had ruled the city four centuries ago), these people lead a life strung together by weird religious practices, rituals, tradition and customs.
While the author says that his work captures the life of the Anglo-Indian community with all its inherent rituals and customs, he has adeptly woven in the community’s religious eccentricity and the self-destructive spirit of its men who are weighed down by their inner rebellion. While Osha, who dared to think above the rest, gets sucked in his perpetual quest for an identity, his father-in-law embarks on an insane search for divinity.
Johny Miranda who published the work, Jeevichirikunnavarkku Vendiyulla Oppees, in Malayalam in 2004, says the ‘quest for identity’ in his work was never intentional.
“These are just raw materials for a work of fiction. Though I don’t overlook the fact that my experiences and those of the people who lived with me might have heavily influenced my work,” says the author.
The book is heavily laden with elements of magical realism - Juanna Mamanji could cure anything with her concoctions and could lie atop a leaf of a plantain tree without it breaking from her weight - a projection of their past where reality and unreality blend in well.
“There is no superficiality. Our lives are innate with surrealist elements. It is just that we don’t realise many,” says Miranda who reinstates that even the elements of magical realism can be a perfect raw material for a fiction.
“My aim was to entice the reader and give him an exciting reading experience,” says the author. The book has been translated by Sajai Jose. “Johny Miranda uses highly idiosyncratic style in his writing. The challenge was to translate it. There were many unfamiliar words, I had to do a bit of research in this regard,” says Sajai.
Sajai says he did not believe in contributing anything of his own to the work. “I have stuck to the original style and it is such small things that creates the overall effect of the book,” says Sajai Jose.