Friday, October 28, 2011

The main character is Delhi

Mukundan's new novel expected to make an impact

By Shevlin Sebastian

One of Kerala’s leading writers, M. Mukundan’s 496-page magnum opus, ‘Delhi Gathakal’, will be released at a public function in Thiruvananthapuram on November 1. The novel, the 18th in the acclaimed author’s career, has, as its main protagonist, the city of Delhi.

Mukundan had traveled to Delhi in 1962, as a young man, in search of a job, and over the next four decades, while working in the French Embassy, he has observed how the city has been transformed from a small village, which had wheat and cauliflower fields, to a megapolis.

“Today, Delhi looks as beautiful as Paris or New York,” he says. “But the changes are cosmetic. Underneath, there are poverty and suffering.”

The novel begins with the Chinese aggression of India in 1962. “That war was a historical jolt for the Left movement in India,” he says. “The Left was counting so much on China and its Premier, Zhou-En-Lai. In fact, in the Kerala of those days, we talked more about Zhou, rather than Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Nehru.”

Mukundan also describes the impact of the 1965 and 1971 wars against Pakistan on the people of Delhi. But the most important section is on the 1975 Emergency which was imposed by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

“I have written about the forced vasectomy of thousands of young men, and the impact of the Turkman Gate demolition [many people were killed by police firing when they protested against the demolition of their homes],” he says. Mukundan has also described in detail the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984 and the subsequent anti-Sikh riots.

Asked whether he did a lot of research, Mukundan says, “Not much. I just had to check a few dates and facts about certain events. Otherwise, I had experienced many of the events first-hand.”

The novel’s hero is Sahadevan, who, like the author, went to Delhi as a young man and got a small job in a travel agency. Apart from Sahadevan, there is a Communist trade union worker, Sreedharan Unni. “In total, there are fifty characters,” says Mukundan.

Meanwhile, the publisher, DC Books, is betting heavily that the book will do well. So, instead of the usual print order of 2000, they have gone for a record 10,000 copies, priced at Rs 275 each. “It is an impressive novel,” says A.V. Sreekumar, Senior Associate Editor of DC Books. “We expect the book to have a similar or bigger impact than 'Mayyazhippuzhayude Theerangalil'.”

Of course, it would help sales if the younger generation is interested. But Mukundan is optimistic. “Of late, I have visited several schools and talked to students of Class 10,” he says. “They told me they read fiction. I was surprised when many students asked questions about my novel, 'Kesavante Vilapangal', which is a complex work. So, I am optimistic that youngsters will buy and enjoy 'Delhi Gathakal'.”

(The New Indian Express, Kerala)