Ecologically speaking

Ecologically speaking

Sarah Joseph is a leading and beloved writer in Malayalam and perhaps the only one with caliber enough to attempt so ambitious an articulation on the subject.

Aathi and its people, their woes and worries, are showcased carefully and conscientiously in different storytelling modes, both traditional and contemporary. There is much euphoria and energy in the telling, despite the fact that the snapshots keep multiplying as more and more characters gain a tongue, a past, a story of their own.

And there really are some unforgettable people, some extraordinary situations in this allegorical tale which is issued like a warning to man on his relentless rape of nature. How long can this carry on, the pillaging and plundering of earth’s gifts? There is a small schoolgirl who lost her way and now only says ‘po-po’ (go-go) to everyone she meets. One can only imagine the terrors she went through to suffer such nightmares. Water will cure her, the girl’s mom is told.

There is another girl, aptly called Kayal (backwaters), who knows how to clear muddy, manually mauled water. There is a poet, Noor Muhammad, and Markose, Shailaja, Prakashan, Dinakaran, Sidhu…

Everywhere is the reminder of man’s brutality in the name of progress. “The moment Kumaran got down from the ceremonial boat, he was hailed with a deafening burst of crackers that shook the place. Birds in a state of serene meditation in the trees, bushes and paddy fields shot up to the sky, terrified. The sky grew dark. The age-old silence of Aathi was violated. The air became tense with the shrieking of birds and the flailing of wings. It stirred the waters.”

Gift in Green reminds one of all the pastiche-styled novels that tell the story in a piecemeal way or a deliberately interrupted way, in a rather flashlight view of events. But unlike, say, a Sei Somoy, the core here is more diffused than coherent — perhaps deliberately so.

There is a jerkiness to the tempo, an unevenness that stands out starkly against the deeply touching moments of the book. The challenge lies not so much in the myriad anecdotes within the book as with the reader’s ability to absorb the gravity at such breakneck speed.

Joseph explains at the book’s end: “Gift in Green is, above all, a book of stories and story-tellers. These stories have come down to us from an assortment of sources: the Bible, the holy Quran, Zen and Sufi traditions, the Puranas, folk narratives, historical events and those attributed to the life of St Francis of Assisi. These stories have been recreated and reinterpreted within the alchemy of Aathi.”

When Dinakaran is breathing his last in the end, his mother takes him in her lap. She calls out: “I can’t hold him. Please lift him a little.”

Nature is a mother’s lap, Joseph describes with heartbreaking sincerity. “In the lap of his mother, he lay. The mother’s lap: from time immemorial, the final resting place for the burden of every sacrifice and the refuge of every innocent person broken and bruised by the depravity of man.”

The canvas is vast, perhaps too vast, but this is a brave writer with an opinion going on record.

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