The Canticle of Effort

Certain books call out to you. They have your destiny entwined in their pages. Back in 2017, when I read ‘Purappadinte Pustakam’, something in its sparkling originality touched my heart. I reached out to the author and offered to translate it to English. I felt that the world deserved to meet the wonderful characters; laugh and cry along with them. The author, V.J.James, always affable and humble, erudite and kind, responded encouragingly. The journey began there. As the famous quote from Dao De Jing goes, ‘ A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.’

Today, we have translated six books together. Three novels : Anti-Clock, Nireeswaran and Dattapaharam have been released by Penguin Random House India. Next year, we hope to see ‘Purappadinte Pustakam’ or ‘ The Book of Exodus’ published. James had to struggle for more than a decade to see his debut novel in print. It evolved over the years, stained with sweat and tears.

Ironically, though it was the first book we completed together in the year 2018, the book took its own time to come to fruition. It has made me believe again in the subtle magic of words. We control nothing; only the effort is our portion. And when the results arrive, we have to humbly bow before the occurrence.

In an interview, long back, James was asked:

‘When do you think your books will get to a global audience?’

‘I believe in Akshara Shakti : the power of words.’

That makes me pause. And I reflect on the somber truth behind it all.

For words to grace us, we have to deserve their benedictions. To read and write more, to make the receiving vessel sparkle and shine, that choice alone is left to us. When and how the blessings pour, that is still under veils.

Every day gives us an opportunity to ready ourselves for the unseen grace. Though the mood is dark and apprehensive, or cheerful and sunny, or stoic and serene, we have to focus on the work at hand. The toil itself is the canticle. When raised to the heavens, by singing with a pure heart, the answer surely comes.

May the Lord guide us all into more and more fruitful endeavors; while staying detached and committed.

A Beautiful Book : Purappadinte Pustakam, V.J.James

I chanced on this beautiful book in my mother tongue on a visit home. The title was alluring. ‘ Purappadinte Pustakam’ by Shri. V.J.James.

Translated it reads, ‘The Book of Exodus’. It is written by a writer who is a scientist by profession.

It reminded me of Marquez’s Macondo. Stories within stories within stories…about an isle in the backwaters of Kerala called Potta Thuruthu( an isle of reeds).

Elegant, simple, unpretentious . Addictive from the first page. A whole culture, way of life in the backwaters of Kerala stood revealed in some 280 odd pages.

Beautiful truths lay sparkling like sea shells in sunshine. Loss, love, lust, affection, guilt, ennui, erudition, religious discourses, geography, boats, shrimps, lighthouse, desolate souls, innocence, the monsoon, folklore, fried catfish, sarpasilla, poison healers, magicians, augurers, helpless humans…woven in exquisite language!

I was amazed at the  writer’s talent. Then I read that it had taken almost thirteen years for the novel to see light. And light it did see: spectacularly! It won the best novel award from DC Books during their silver jubilee celebrations in 1999.

Now many more books have arrived from Shri.V.J.James’ pen. One of his short stories has been made into a film starring none other than Mohanlal himself.

In his note ‘ An encounter with writing ‘aka Ezhuthanubhavam’, he writes that many had advised him lovingly to get his works cross the language barrier- step across the boundary of Malayalam language- and merge with world literature, by getting  it translated into English. He writes that ‘ I have humbly left it to my faith in the power of words: that a book will find its own way.’


An excerpt from this exceptional debut novel, translated from Malayalam… (The joy of words!)

“Folding the book, and switching off the light, Kunjootty hit the bed. As he lay there staring at the  circling beacon lights of the light house afar, he yearned for a deep sleep. Then a thought came into his mind: it was Sunday tomorrow.

He had a lot of confession debts to pay back.
He had stayed away from the Gods, preferring to stand behind the church pondering over many thoughts.Tonight, Kunjootty realised that it was no coincidence that he had enacted the role of Lucifer-that none were ready to take on – in the Bible play staged  on the church grounds all those years before. It was a malicious prank for him at that juncture, but then Lucifer from the play had entered his own life later!

Many sins were seeking forgiveness at the Holy feet of the Shepherd. He opened up five Holy wounds, accepted the sins, and then hanged those on the wooden cross.

His thoughts had started meandering again.
Was he asleep or awake?
Kunjootty tried to move his little finger, trying to prove to himself that he was not dreaming.

A strong wind blew then. The window panes banged  noisily, and flashes of lightning and thunder descended on the earth.
Everything was obscure outside.
The first harbingers of the monsoon had dropped on Potta Thuruthu.

A lagoon-traveller was continuing his  solitary sojourn even then. One of the strong western tempests, gathered strength near his path. The waves which were embraced by that natural force, rose sky high. The traveller, growing exhausted on being tossed up and down, started swimming in the direction of Potta Thuruthu. The wings of the night met each other at the sacred Ishan Kon- the North eastern spot, igniting fire! A thunder broke, with its ear splitting sound reverberating around. As the Fire spears from the sky descended furiously into the water, for the very first time, the lagoon- traveller found himself struck down into the depths of the lagoon, to witness its spectacular marvels. He lay motionless inside the palace of the mermaids and the sea- queen: watching the crystalline splendours around.