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Litanies of Dutch Battery by NS Madhavan

Posted by RB Kollannur on July 15, 2012

Note: This review is part of a weekly book review column that I write for City Journal, an English newspaper based in Thrissur, Kerala.

Published on 12/05/2012

Publisher – Penguin; Year of Publication – 2010; Pages – 312; Cost at the time of purchase – Rs 350; Purchased from Cosmo

Written originally in Malayalam as Lanthanbatheriyile Luthiniyakal, NS Madhavan has portrayed a fictional society drifting on an elusive isle in the backwaters around Kochi. Set in the period immediately after the British departure from Kochi, it brings forward the societal nuances of the people living in that era mixing it with the dynamic environment that they found themselves in. The 1950s was a tumultuous period for Kochi. After centuries of self rule, the kings of Kochi had been kicked out of power with the independence of India.

As the state integrated into India, it was exposed to many newer cultural and social influences from the much larger nation ranging from the songs of Saigal to sugar which used to be rare in Kerala. The British sway was on the vain but still very much evident. Communism was on the rise, and would have a lasting influence on the Kerala society later in the decade, extending the reforms of the kings to all the Malayali people. There were concerns of the changing order and hopes of a better future prevalent among the people. It is to this time that our protagonist, Jessica, is born.

Jessica is born as the daughter of the local carpenter in a tiny fictional islet near Ponjikkara off Ernakulam. While the story of her life bears a close resemblance to the life of Jesus Christ, beyond adding a certain predictability and curiosity to the story, it adds very little substance. As an only child, she carries the burden of her family, but that does not limit her free flowing character. She narrates the story from the view of a growing child which adds an interesting dimension as the book discusses serious topics like faith and communism.

While Jessica is the narrator of the story, the book is not centred on her. Chavittunadakam plays the role of a credible guest star with many of the characters in the novel immersed in the preparation of skit based on a mistranslated incorrect and exaggerated work from French medieval history. The plot goes awry when the Church who commissions the play asks to fictionalize it even further. Most of the characters have some level of artistic skill and craftsmanship including carpentry and cooking and there is a plethora of trivia available in the book on these professions. The book is peppered with tales from history of the Cochin islands adding to the fascinating backdrop of the novel.

The author has presented the characters in a jovial manner carefully revealing their ambitions and angst with everyday life. But it is his portrayal of the society that retains a lasting effect. He has managed to construct a humorous but nevertheless serious view of the events of early post independence Kerala.


One Response to “Litanies of Dutch Battery by NS Madhavan”

  1. […] 8)    Micro by Michael Crichton and Richard Preston – Published on 05/05/2012 9)    Litanies of Dutch Battery by NS Madhavan (Translated by Rajesh Rammohan) – Published on 12/05/2012 10)   The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino – Published on […]

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