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Author: M. T. Vasudevan Nair
Translator(s)/ Editors(s): Gita Krishnankutty
Publisher: Viva Books
ISBN/UPC (if available): 9788130909608
In ‘ Bear with me, Mother — Memoirs and Stories,' M. T. Vasudevan Nair gives you a book that is as much about his life as it is about the craft of writing.
He is modest to the extent of being humble in explaining his creativity and credits most of his ideas to his mother, who did not live to see his career take off. Like he says in his brief tribute at the beginning, “She is very much there in most of the memoirs and appears directly in some of the stories in this collection. And her presence can be perceived in the background of the rest.”
His memoirs are full of his early days as a child, his difficult times as a student, the frugal household he lived in, and his mother who tried to maintain a dignified life while in the throes of poverty. The stories too are interwoven with real life incidents and sometimes it is difficult to tell the two apart.
MT writes, with nostalgia and longing, of a beautiful country he grew up in, of the Nila river, the flowers, the bathing ponds, all of which are now in the past. ‘Karkitakam' is one of the most evocative stories in the book where the young boy comes home in the expectation of a meal, only to find that a distant relative is being entertained by his mother, eager to keep up all the social niceties of feeding and looking after someone from her husband's family, even though she has really nothing at home.
The stories and memoirs can move you to tears with their intensity or make you laugh, for instance, at the naïveté of a young boy who steals money from the Goddess to buy crackers only to be duped by his friend, a cowherd.
The collection includes MT's famous stories — ‘The Soul of Darkness,' again based on a story told by his mother, and ‘Oppol,' which is a subtle and rather wrenching account of a young mother who has to leave her son behind so that she can marry. In ‘Seeds' and ‘A Birthday Remembered,' he goes back to his mother's memory.
While the latter is about his mother's violent encounter when she goes to demand more rice for his birthday from an oppressive uncle, ‘Seeds' is haunted by the shadow of his mother's death and a remembrance ceremony he does not believe in.
The stories bring alive a Kerala that remains in the memory of most of its natives. The bright colours, the yellow of laburnum, the thumba or kannanthali flowers, mangoes and jackfruit, the steaming rice, the ponds and the rivers. The stories and memoirs are textured with all this and skillfully blended with the seriousness of emotional ups and downs.
Apart from the excellent short stories, two narrations stand out in this collection. One is about his fan Balakrishnan Ezhuthachan who comes to nurse him when in hospital and refuses to go away (‘The Second Footfall'). He writes about the first time Balakrishnan came to visit him, a farmer who loved to read.
At the end of the meeting, he offered MT some money as an offering or dakshina. Finally when Balakrishnan is persuaded to leave the hospital, MT closes his eyes after some silent weeping, “in the peace and comfort of the knowledge that words were not completely useless.”
“The man who helps people die,” is the story of a man, perpetually drunk who comes to life during a death ceremony, what with his expertise in all the rituals. And no one believes that such an expert in death-related ceremonies could ever die. When he does, people are frozen in disbelief. He himself is unable to accept the fact that one day he too will meet his end.
That then is the glimpse of MT — from a poor hungry schoolboy, with a mother fighting to keep poverty at bay and relatives who are oppressive, to a writer inspired by Variath Kuttirama Menon, Vasunni Nambiar Master and Uncle Kuttan and with a longing and love for the beautiful land he grew up in. For those who cannot read him in the original, this is as close as one can get.