Malayalam novel about a Russian novelist
Abracadabra By K. B. Ganapathy, Columns

Malayalam novel about a Russian novelist

August 8, 2021

Writing generally is a time-consuming work, no matter what kind of writing. It is also an exercise to the writer’s mind. And mind is like a knife. If you do not use it, the knife gets rusted and wasted. So also mind, if not kept engaged there is a danger of dementia and problems related to the brain. After all, you have to think before writing unlike talking — you may talk without thinking but not so while writing. Whether one is a lawyer, doctor, poet, novelist or historian, thinking comes first. Writing is only a lateral part. It is also a work done in long privacy, depending upon the subject one writes. Indeed writing is a creative exercise. 

It is not surprising, therefore, Perumpadavam Sreedharan, the author of the book I am reviewing here, makes the main protagonist in the novel, Dostoevsky, speak about writing a novel in the following words:

“This is something to be done alone. Like meditation, like a silent prayer, so esoterically, so solitarily.”

But novelists belong to a different class. Their creative juice seems to flow from an eternal spring. Otherwise, how can they produce masterpieces in such numbers, volumes?

These thoughts crossed my mind as I was reading a Malayalam novel titled ‘Oru Sankeerthanam Pole’ translated into English under the title ‘Like A Psalm…,’ translated beautifully by that distinguished Indian English Poet A.J. Thomas.

The original in Malayalam was written by that acclaimed novelist Perumpadavam Sreedharan. His is a household name in Kerala. That he was a winner of Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award and several other honours need no repetition while introducing such a brilliant, creating writer of fiction.

However, ‘Oru Sankeerthanam Pole’ is considered his masterpiece. It had made publishing history in Malayalam running into 80 editions and selling more than 2,50,000 copies till date since its publication 24 years ago.

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The translation in English is warm, in a simple narrative,  touching on every aspect of human life and relationship. That is the very reason why it makes a compelling reading. It is a small novel of 175 pages in English but its original in Malayalam must be extraordinary for sheer reading pleasure. Well, if this translated book could be so riveting, it is anyone’s guess how great an experience reading the original Malayalam would be. The creative genius of the writer Perumpadavam Sreedharan is seen in his daring a subject in a foreign location and unrelated to Indian characters.

The story focusses on a crucial juncture in the life of that iconic, world famous Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky, who is known as an alcoholic, habitual gambler and worse, an epileptic. With all these weaknesses (?) he could produce so many voluminous books, among them the “Crime and Punishment,” is considered a masterpiece. I have read this book (now forgotten) some 50 years ago in Bombay. Now again this opportunity to read a novel about him. I am still wondering if there is a mix of fact and fiction. No matter, book makes an unstoppable, interesting reading.

Osho Rajneesh makes a reference to Fyodor Dostoevsky in his book ‘Nirvana: The Last Nightmare.’ He writes: 

“Fyodor Dostoevsky has    written a book, The Idiot. It is worth reading. The book is about a very simple man …. very humble, unique. But because he is humble and unique and simple, the crowd thinks he is an idiot. If you try to live your life in your own way, you will look like an idiot.”

Anyway, let us leave these opinions behind and focus on this novel. Where is India and where is Russia? Where is Kerala and where is St. Petersburg? Who is Perumpadavam Sreedharan writing in Malayalam language and who is Fyodor Dostoevsky a novelist writing in Russian? Yet                          this Malayalam novelist has created a novel, a novel relating to a Russian situation! Sreedharan has shrunk the world for us readers, presenting an aspect of Hindu idea of a universal man conceptualised in the euphemism “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.”

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Before my readers wonder how this Malayalam novel came to my notice, let me reveal that like many events in an individual’s life this too happened by mere chance. My friend Raghavan, had gone                                                to his native place in Kerala and came back with about six Malayalam books translated into English and gifted them to me. Though sick of reading books during these pandemic days, I chose this one at random and did not put it down till I finished.

Interestingly, the introduction to this book reveals that the author Sreedharan visited the city St. Petersburg, he so lovingly describes in the novel and  also Dostoevsky’s home, a good 23 years after he wrote this book! Must have done considerable homework on the theme of the novel and the characters before writing this classic of a book. An example of hard work producing good books.

Nearer home, we have Dr. S.L. Bhyrappa, a Kannada writer, whose every book (and they are too many) has the hallmark of hard work  and research of this kind preceding its writing.

My salutations to these authors.

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