I enjoyed the many stories in the book that won the JCB Award for Literature – the Malayalam book Moustache by S Hareesh and translated into English by Jayashree Kalathil. While much has been written about the book by others, the aspect I loved about the book was the geography of the place.
The book is set in the Kuttanad region of Kerala, where the lakes and marshes were drained slowly and the region was converted into a rice fields. The book can be a seen as a collection of stories tied together by a theme . A popular South Indian way of telling stories. There is a Tamil classic called Gopalapuran by Chi. Rajanarayanan that also uses geography and stories in a similar to tell the story of a place and its people.
In between the stories, you get to know how the land was slowly claimed from the lake. How the water was controlled on a daily basis, what happens when it rains, the paths of the rivers that drained into the lake and how they became part of the man-made landscape, the human labout that made it happen, the people who controlled the transition, how steam power changes the way water was controlled and even how the system has changed when the region transitioned to using roads instead of boats for commuting and transportation.
The story of water is one of the undercurrents that runs throughout the movie. I felt that it was better expressed than the gaze of toxic masculinity and the caste dynamics that is the main theme of the book.
For those who don’t know it yet, Hareesh is also the writer of Lijo-Jose’s Jallikattu, India’s entry to the Oscars this year. If you have seen the movie, you can imagine the kind of imagery that this book also creates in your mind about Indian men or specifically Kerala men.
When I read the book, I had another imgery in my mind’s eye. Orhan Pamuk was right when he said – They Stole Our Memory at the Movies and in my mind’s eye, I had G Aravindan’s movies in my mind.
Each chapter in this book could be a movie or Netflix series and these stories are held together by a strong thread or in this case, a moustache.
Coming back to Kuttanad. The region lies below sea level. It stays that way because of how humans control the flow of water in a region which is extremely wet. And now that I have read this book, I would like to read more about it.
If you have read a book or seen a documentary that goes into the details of the geography and hydraulics (?) of the place, please do share it with me.
Drinking water in Kuttanad after 2018 floods – India Water Portal
Kuttanad now – Down to Earth