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Oru Manidhan Oru Veedu Oru Ulagam – Jayakanthan

by Venky

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Acknowledged by Jayakanthan himself as the favourite amongst all his works, Oru Manidhan Oru Veedu Oru Ulagam, literally translating to ‘A Man, A House, A World’, is a courageous exploration into the soul of a man in search of his legacy. A legacy that is compounded by incomplete bits of information which like obstinate pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, lies strewn in inaccessible places. Henry, the son of Sabapathi Pillai appears like a refreshing breath of fresh air in the nondescript village of Krishnarajapuram from Bangalore, following his father’s death. Possessing an Anglo Indian visage, Henry’s appearance soon takes on a mystical awe. Adding to his inimitable complexion, is a demeanour that symbolizes civilisation and etiquette and a rustic hold over the Tamil language. Jagged at the periphery and ragged in the centre, his diction is a cause for universal amusement.

A local schoolteacher, Devarajan takes to Henry instantly like a house on fire and an enduring bond of friendship develops between the two of them. Devarajan insists that Henry stay with him in his accommodation which the former shares with his widowed older sister, Akkamma and a sprightly young kid, peculiarly named, Mannankatti. Mannankatti is rescued by Akkamma and Devarajan from the clutches of an abusive father and assists with various chores around the house when taking a break from school. Devarajan without intruding into the privacy of his new friend, ultimately ascertains the reason for Henry’s visit to Krishnarajapuram. A dilapidated wreck of a house situated across Devarajan’s own property piques Henry’s interest no end and he spends an inordinate degree of time looking out from the terrace at the derelict house.

A meeting with the village chieftain further clarifies matters. Henry’s father, a previous occupant of Krishnarajapuram and a well-respected personality also happens to be the owner of the now neglected house. Dire circumstances which only Henry is privy to, forced Sabapathi Pillai to abandon not just his dwelling but Krishnarajapuram itself. Henry’s primary objective is not just to restore his father’s respectability in the minds of the villagers but also rebuild the house to its original state. The trials and tribulations which Henry faces as he proceeds with is mission forms the core and crux of Jayakanthan’ s absorbing book.

The sedate yet surprising elements forming the bedrock of life in a village enthralls the reader. The events described in the pages reminded me of my own formative years which were spent in a small village whose only advancements by way of modern technology were a sugar factory, a school, a movie theatre, and a couple of liquor outlets, all before a college was established. Henry’s unabashed joy in watching a group of cows passing by kicking up dust in the process, an unconstrained excitement in diving into a serene pool to escape the wrath of a resplendent sun, and utter amazement in discovering the joys embedded within a humble bowl of gruel, all evoked a sense of personal nostalgia. Henry is also pleasantly surprised by the unadulterated hospitality displayed by the villagers towards him, while staying bemused by the explicitly curious questions posed to him about his antecedents and roots.

Duraikannu, a garrulous driver who first offers a lift to Henry to Krishnarajapuram has a major role to play in the book. Duraikannu who was originally invested with the maintenance and upkeep of the now abandoned house belonging to Henry’s father also has a story to tell in so far as the house is concerned. How many multiple secrets does the house harbour? What connects a dead man, his son, a rustic lorry driver and a dilapidated house? The inquisitiveness, intuitiveness, intransigence, insouciance and innocence of the inhabitants of the village demonstrates the existence of an India that is carved out from the mainstream. Writing during a period where the difference between Indian and Bharat was neither a cliché nor a zeitgeist, Jayakanthan illustrates with a searing sense of depth and astonishing perspective the cleave between city and village. A cleave and not a chasm since at the end of the day everything boils down to the dynamics of human emotion which irrespective of geography or territory or urbanization, remains universal.

Oru Manidhan Oru Veedu Oru Ulagam – an irresistible work courtesy an extraordinary thinker who was way ahead of his time in word, thought and deed!

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