Father Alphonse, a minor magician, chose not to go with the French when they quit Mayyazhi, in North Kerala. He stayed back to smoke hash and convert, to schoolchildren’s delight, stones to colourful candies. His daughter, Elsie, goes astray as only women can, through sex—the awful daring of a moment’s surrender. Later, Alphonse’s wife too would be unfaithful, in a carnal alchemy of betrayal.
A widower, Vaidyar’s compassion, like Alphonse’s, is not based on reason. It flows inexorably, like blood from a wound that won’t heal. His children grow up to become, one, a drunk, the other, a Naxalite on the run. Vaidyar suffers his grief sans hope or resentment, his spirit’s generosity inviolate.
What disturbs you about the two characters is their unconscious but acute distancing from politics and power in a town in transition. Fate works its puzzles, but Alphonse and Vaidyar stay helplessly themselves.
Mukundan’s craft is tantalising in its understatement. But the sadness of his vision wells up through the words, despite an unambitious translation, its spring secreted in history itself.