"Culture is the widening of the mind and of the spirit"
~ Jawaharlal Nehru

Village before Time

Siddhatha Butalia reviews the book by V.K.Madhavan Kutty, translated from Malayalam by Gita Krishnankutty.
Publisher: IndiaInk, New Delhi, 2000.Rs.250.pp180.

Set in the author's village of Paruthipully in Kerela's Palghat district, The Village Before Time is written as much, if not more, for the author himself as it has been for the reader. Reminiscent of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mocking Bird, Kutty spins together a myriad tales from his childhood. Memories play as important a part in the book as Kutty's own interpretation of the flashes in his mind. Seen essentially through the eyes of a child, it takes the reader into Paruthilpully till the village itself becomes the only realm of existence as it was for the child Madhavan.

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Village Before Time Kodampally at the outskirts, and Palghat, sixteen miles away, seem like other island villages of their own, rarely featuring in the lives of the residents. Faraway cities like Koazhikode and Calcutta, whose existence was known, might as well have been stars in the night sky for the child. The village had its own 'islands of religion and castes' with the majority Nairs being the most distinctive.

Like most childhood recollections, there are flashes of incidents, thoughts and emotions, often unrelated but nonetheless having their own impact on the memory of the writer. The characters of various individuals also stem from remembered incidents, whether it is Kachi Amma's thoughtfulness or Kittunni and Pangunni Nair's lechery.

Madhavan KuttyAs the reader sees the characters through the eyes of the author, he automatically develops an emotional map for the characters. Even if it is a description of Abraham the postman, one finds oneself viewing the character as someone in one's own life and inventing an involuntary emotional response. Events which are remembered as having occurred could be the author's own experience as much as it could be influenced by childhood friend Gopalan's ceaseless cache of rumors and other sources of village scandals.

Because memories are not interwoven and sequential, none of the characters are allowed to develop far enough to become pivotal, and yet they leave their own stamp in the multiplicity of episodes. Some episodes leave a more vivid impression on the author, like seeing a goat's fresh carcass that causes the relinquishment of meat thereafter. Some have a more subliminal impact like the instinctive obeisance while passing the Thiruvorthu Temple.

To a reader with no knowledge of the complicated caste structure or the rural way of life, some events may seem inexplicable, indeed. But the book has obviously not been written with the intention of being a sociological study. It has been written with a narrator's delight in story telling and perhaps, as a cathartic liberation from childhood, real and imagined. It is not an exciting story. There are no profound truths. The book hardly belongs within the realm of the electronic age. In fact, it is the kind of story one would have expected to hear in the days of yore when evenings were long, time hung heavy and one sought to be told a story. And one was always satisfied, more or less.

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