Saturday 27 August 2016

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.


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.

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.

AUTHORS: Manjul Bajaj
OUTLOOK: 21 April, 2014
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
  • Daily Mail
These pacy thrillers put two southern cities on the crime map
MAGAZINE August 24, 2016
The dark world Harry & Co inhabit changes little after 22 years
MAGAZINE August 24, 2016
How a brutal LTTE directive was lost in the static of intelligence
MAGAZINE August 18, 2016
A RBI governor remembers his doughty fights, but cuts down on the math
MAGAZINE August 11, 2016
Book Extract
Abused by a relative at six, Laxmi saw how patriarchy tried to crush her femininity. And she made it come back to crush them, ‘those straight men with wives and kids’.
MAGAZINE August 10, 2016

In 1999, India and France entered into a $3.5 billion deal for the supply of these submarines. The first of the 6 subs is out on sea trials for the last three months and is to be commissioned later this year. At this stage, a newspaper in Australia has revealed secret data on the submarines, plausibly stolen from India. Indian Defence authorities have ruled out any pilferage of data from India.

POLL STARTED ON: Aug 26, 2016
Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro is hosting the 31st Olympic Games from August 5 to 21. This is the first Olympics being held in South America and is going on even as a majority Brazilians are unhappy with their rulers. Here’s a quiz on some random Olympic facts and related trivia.
QUIZ STARTED ON: Aug 11, 2016