From Malabar To Dutch Galle

Nair brilliantly captures the music of many tongues as she traverses the different terrains.
Idris: Keeper Of The Light
By Anita Nair
Fourth Estate | Pages: 380 | Rs. 599

Setting—historical and geographical—is the star of Anita Nair’s sixth novel, Idris: Keeper of The Light. Starting in 1659 AD, the novel follows the life of Idris, a Somalian trader travelling to the Malabar coast to attend the Zamorin’s Mam­angam festivities. Idris has cut ties with his past and is now an eternal traveller, someone without an address or attachments. Fate brings him face to face with Kandavar, a nine-year-old son born out of a night of passion with a Nair woman on a previous visit to the area, and gently ruffles the calm surface of his detached existence. The boy dreams of becoming a Chaver, one of a group of ill-fated warriors who hurtle towards certain death, sworn to assassinate the Zamorin, bound to a tradition which requires them to ave­nge some long-forgotten ins­ult to their honour. Intending at first only to dep­osit the accidentally discovered son saf­ely at his home, Idris slowly finds himself drawn into his life, unable to ignore the call fatherhood makes to his soul.

Advertisement opens in new window

Idris’s reluctance to abandon a newly found part of himself and the boy’s family’s desire to disown him—propelling him towards becoming a Chaver—come together in the shape of a rambling journey for the man and the boy, along the southern coast from Malabar to the Dutch trading settlement at Galle, with detours to the pearl fisheries at Thoothukudi and the diamond mines at Golkonda.

The sentences have balance and poise, and Nair brilliantly captures the music of many tongues in various lands.

The early parts of the book, which recreate life inside a Nair tharavad and inside a kalari for training warriors and delve into the social mores and rigid caste laws of the time, work to near perfection. The details of the voyage by sea and life in the ports and trading posts are meticulously researched and make for a fascinating read. However, the details of the setting seem to completely dwarf the lives of the characters and there are segments when Idris, his son and his assistant seem like mere hangers-on in a history canvas. But the novel comes together magnificently in the last part, with the entry of the stat­ely Thilothamma, and Idris appears to be suddenly vulnerable in his twin quest for love and diamonds.

Advertisement opens in new window

Nair’s prose unfolds like an Ang Lee film, as a vast geographic panorama sweeps in front of the reader’s eye, frame by exquisite frame. Befitting the scenic backdrop, the characters are remarkable in their physical beauty—whether it is Idris, tall, dark-skinned and jewel-eyed, Kandavar’s mother, the sensuous Kuttimali, or the splendidly solitary Thilothamma. Animal lovers will like the fact that four-legged creatures are a constant part of the narrative—Maccanto, the dog; Musa, the cat; Vajra, the ox; and Aam­ira, the horse...they are all lovingly created and always close by to give comfort. The individual sentences are zen-like in their balance and poise, more beautiful for the absence of extra words. Nair brilliantly captures the music of many tongues as she traverses the different terrains.

Meditations on the meaning of life run through the Idris: Keeper of the Light, blending well into the story for the most part. However, if the book has a flaw at all, it is that it sometimes finds itself on the wrong side of the fine line that separates the profound from the platitudinous.

READ MORE IN:
Next Story : Tale That Only Connects
Download the Outlook ​Magazines App. Six magazines, wherever you go! Play Store and App Store

Post a Comment

You are not logged in, please Log in or Register
THE LATEST ISSUE
CLICK IMAGE FOR CONTENTS
REVIEW
Review
A.C.N. Nambiar was Azad Hind envoy in Nazi Germany, an associate of Bose and Nehru and later a diplomat. His glittering life has been told at last.
MAGAZINE March 16, 2017
Review
A gimlet-eyed Gulzar deals with intolerance, a gloating media, persistent injustices, and a failed national project. All are skewered in startling imagery.
MAGAZINE March 16, 2017
Review
This slim novel stews in the passionate juice of wronged love. The protagonist, symbolically wedded to deep Krishna love, rages on.
MAGAZINE March 09, 2017
Review
A Pakistani immigrant family returns to Karachi from Chicago. For the children, it’s a bewildering can of worms, as well as a sentimental education.
MAGAZINE March 09, 2017
Review
An able administrator, Sreedharan was a stickler for integrity, efficiency and good business practices. This non-eulogistic account serves us well.
MAGAZINE March 09, 2017
read more>>>
Advertisement

OUTLOOK TOPICS :

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

or just type initial letters