The silent one
pp 165, Rs 250
It is quite an unconventional story where the presence of the ‘mouni’ or the silent one looms large. It has all the trappings of an interesting tale —
action, drama, humour and devotion. Add to it the uncanny ability of the storyteller to narrate well. Little wonder then that The Silent One was longlisted for the 2007 Man Asia Literary Prize.
Set in the picturesque villages of Tamil Nadu, the story revolves around the lives of simple villagers whose belief in the spiritual overrides all else.
The mouni, his periodic appearance and disappearance from the outskirts of their villages, his mystifying powers to humble all, irrespective of age and gender, his authority on the three Vedas, his quest to find the true meaning of life, his belief in the benevolence of the Supreme Being, and his ritual and severe penance, make him an eternal symbol of hope throughout the 165 pages of the novel.
Revolving around Pichaikuppan, a brilliant child who is on an eternal quest to find inner silence and truth, like his forefathers, the story relates many an interesting tale woven around the lives of people around him. While Rettai Mandai, all of 13, like many of his friends his age, is all set to marry an eight-year-old, he spots the mouni. So do many boys who are out to have fun in the river. Young ones never tire of listening to stories about the mouni. They always wonder as to his origin and purpose in life — ‘Where was he spotted the first time? From where did he come and where did he go?’
Endearingly addressed as thatha, though not old, the mouni is an enigmatic figure who confounds all by his power of silence. He never accepts any food or drink. No one has ever seen him put out his hand for anything. No one has seen him cough or sneeze or yawn. Sometimes, people wonder if his lips are stuck together. And yet, he commands reverence. Such is the power of the Silent One. His presence is all that is required to calm the storm.
Everyone — from the Kodumudi residents who try to rebuild their lives after a devastating flood to wood carriers who seek the comfort of Maruthorammai, their tribal mother — spins endless tales about the antecedents of the mouni. They piece together every little bit they hear about him. However, not many know that Pichaikuppan, who later went on to become the mouni, was a precocious child who yearned to be the master of the three Vedas like his forefathers and was triumphant in his efforts. He is way beyond the emotions of happiness and sorrow, widely regarded as the one who stands for all things divine.
In the words of an old priest who spends the last days of his life around mouni — “Sometimes, the divinity within us moves about in a simple human form. For our sake... Not that it has anything to do or not to do. Such men can roll the world up like a mat and walk away, tucking it under the arm.”
Though this book marks the author’s debut, it sure makes for a gripping read right from the word ‘go’. Like the many people in the narrative, the reader is left wanting to know more about the mouni. If nothing, the book allows a glimpse of a world that is not bound by our ideas of logic and reasoning. The reaffirmation of the ageless bond between parents and children, masters and pupils, and the perpetual pursuit for peace in the world, so celebrated in the novel, makes the novel engaging.
The simplicity of language and captivating characterisation further add to the allure of the book. The dramatic possibilities, wit and subtle humour of everyday existence are captured well in the depiction of various characters associated with Pichaikuppan and his parents.
Steering clear of verbal wizardry, the author lets the story flow in a realistic manner. However, at times, the reader feels overawed by the extensive use of Tamil words. As for the rest of it, one might say that it’s certainly quite a change to read a novelist who ‘elucidates the unsaid’.