How I came to read the book
I closed the gate after getting out of my Mom’s home’s compound. The turn-wheel turned and the latch fell into place with a clack. It was almost 9PM and I was sure Mom would have been waiting for me to come home to dinner. I stepped into the street lane of the main road connecting the village center and surrounding places. It was dark. Fortunately, still today, night is related to darkness in my village. However, since I was quite close to an intersection which connected the lane that lead to my house, to the main road, there was one street lamp and a few shops that were still lit. Junctions sleep late. Around 11PM, it was guaranteed total and utter darkness except for the light coming from the mobile phone screens of late night drunkards.
The shops alongside the road, adjacent to the house’s compound belonged to my Grandfather. Once he passed away, the ownership was transferred to my Grandmother, who, immediately transferred them to her two male children (my uncles). These shops consisted of tailors, phone booths, groceries, textiles, photography studios and foreign goods, most of them having been there for almost 15 years now. I took a few steps and crossed the first mobile phone accessories shop, when I reached in front of the Matrix. The tailor shop was named so far before the movie came out. They had shifted shops thrice within a 500m vicinity. The owner Ismail, known to everyone as Bava, was quite a popular character in our village. Apart from his lean, really lean figure, what made him a fan favorite was his quick witted conversations. A laugh was guaranteed whenever you spoke with him.
Along with him inside the shop, I could also see Shihab. I will refer to him from now on as Shihabka, where “ka” means brother in my mother tongue. Almost all the times, that is how you address your elders. He is the poster child of social activeness. Along with a real pleasant humor sense, he has an incredible charisma and a dedicated will to help anyone in need. I have never been able to figure out what his motivation is for being so helpful. Suffice to say he was the one who helped me find my accommodation when I moved to Bangalore.
The front of the shop had a glass wall. While locking down, they had a shutter in front of it which they would pull down and lock it to the latch on the ground. I waved at them. I could not resist going in. Who wouldn’t like a hearty laugh in between this busy life? We exchanged greetings and chatted for a while. Bava was busy since he had a lot of orders come in the previous days and the customers kept on calling asking whether their dress was ready. Shihabka and I were discussing about when we were both returning to Bangalore, as both of us worked there, in the middle of which he suddenly asked,
“Have you read Aadu Jeevidham?”
“No. As a matter of fact, I have not read any Malayalam stories”
“Then you should read it. Come with me. I’ll get you the book from my home”
He seemed pretty decisive about it and I thought it would be a nice experience too. I hopped onto his motorbike and headed for his home, which was on the fields, at the bottom of a small hill. It was almost 9:30PM. His Mom made Sulaimani (black tea) for both of us. Over tea, he explained about how elegant and creative the writing was. About how it would draw you into the author’s world and make you feel like you are living it. It was a short conversation and we left his place by 9:40. He dropped me off at my home and we parted exchanging Salams.
I must say I am glad that this happened in my life.
About the book
Last month, I finished reading a Malayalam Novel for the first time in my life. At some point in my childhood, due to the inspiration from my Brother and Sister, I started reading comic books, short stories, kids’ novels as well as classics. However, each and every one of them were in English. The only times that I had read anything in Malayalam were the stories and poems from my school text books. Since all of them were read with a sense of tension about the teacher asking questions on it the next day, I don’t remember any joy that I had derived while I was at it.
“Aadu Jeevidham”, translated directly to “Goat Life” in English, is the story about a typical Keralite Muslim man and his journey to the Gulf in search of livelihood. I must say, the most wonderful thing about the book is the language itself. I do not deserve to talk about it from a literature perspective as neither have I read other Malayalam novels nor have I learned the language too deep. I entirely mean that the language is wonderful from the perspective of the language being in ones own mother tongue. There are certain quirks and colloquial constructs that you have in your mother tongue which expresses the meaning of a word or a context much better than any other means of communication. Hence, although I have read quite a few English novels and stories in my life, this one novel got through to me the most.
To further elaborate on that, I was able to understand the emotions and feelings of the characters much better. I was able to picture the scenes much better and most importantly, it was like a conversation between a human and I. As if someone was telling me the story rather than me reading it from the book. Of course, this could be the case with every other book written in ones mother tongue since there is nothing that I have described here which is peculiar to this novel. I will just have to read more and see whether in terms of the language constructs he had used, this novel stands out from the rest of the others.
The novel talks about the dreams that a person would have and how reality dawns upon him to crush not only the dreams, but his entire life as well. Najeeb, the main character in the novel, is a jobless husband, with his wife expecting their first kid in 6 or so months. One of his friends tells him about an opportunity in the gulf, upon which, after discussing with his wife, he decides to take it up no matter what happens. After somehow begging and borrowing enough money for the commission and airplane tickets, he spends one last night with his wife before he leaves for Mumbai to catch the plane.
The conversation during that night is bitter sweet. They talk about how he would go there and earn a lot. How he would come back in a year and bring gifts for his newborn and his wife. Purchasing a Fridge and a TV, laying foundation for their new home and all other ‘luxuries’ that they could think of.
He leaves the next day for Mumbai and stays a day or two with his friends there. However, before he left for Mumbai, his neighbor’s son had gotten a Visa to the gulf as well. Hence, both of them were traveling together. The other person was a brash young kid, full of life and full of expectations.
The actual story begins when they reach the gulf airport and don’t find anyone waiting to pick them up. After waiting for a long time, they see a torn apart mini lorry revving up the road that leads to the airport. It stops midway and an Arab jumps out from it, wearing a white Kandhuura covering him from top to bottom and with a turban on his head. He walks here and there for a while looking frustrated and finally spots our two young gentlemen standing over there. He comes over, takes their passport, looks at it and then looks at their faces. After what looks like a face analysis, he gestures them to get in the truck. Happy that someone finally paid them some attention they jump in. The Arab takes them on a long ride. A very long ride, into the heart of the desert, where they reach during midnight. Najeeb gets down at some unknown place and sharpens his hearing. He hears the slight braying of a goat.
I do not want to give away what happens then and how the story develops. The author’s depiction of the desert is off the charts and extremely gripping. Maybe someday I’ll gather enough literary skills to do a rewrite of this wonderful piece of work into English.
A million thanks to Shihabka for making me read the book.