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Literary Review

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TRANSLATION

Powerful story of love

NIMI KURIAN

M.T. Vasudevan Nair has told this legendary story of the master carpenter with finesse. NIMI KURIAN


The Master Carpenter, M.T. Vasudevan Nair, translated from the Malayalam by Gita Krishnankutty, Katha, Rs. 200.

ONCE again, thanks to Gita Krishnankutty, readers the world over can enjoy M.T. Vasudevan Nair's exquisite prose in The Master Carpenter. Set in the caste sensitive brahminical society of Kerala, the story of the master carpenter or Perumthachan is a powerful story of love, arrogance, restrictions of caste and the close, almost cloistered life, at the illam.

Everybody has heard of the great skill of the Perumthachan. He is not merely a carpenter, he is a sculptor and an architect too.

The screenplay begins at dusk with an old ambalavasi trying to light a stone lamp. But the wind is strong and the lamp is extinguished. A man lying in the tanner pandal close by gets up and strategically places a stone slab in such a way, breaking the path of the wind. He wears a sacred thread and he is mistaken for a namboodri. But he tells the ambalavasi that he is a carpenter who has been presented with the thread because he built a temple. Immediately the ambalavasi recognises that this is no ordinary carpenter but the Perumthachan. News spreads that the Perumthachan is in town.

He is summoned by Unni thamburan to the kovilakkam and is soon assigned the task of carving an idol for the temple. Perumthachan is irresistibly drawn to Bhargivi thamburatti. And in a minute of misunderstanding, he is not allowed at the consecration of the idol he so lovingly fashioned with the facial features of the thamburatti.

Years pass, and Perumthachan trains his son Kannan in the art and soon Kannan's fame spreads. He is considered as skilful, if not more so, than his father. Perumthachan is at times upset at his son's arrogance, his ability to unduly influence his clients and at times even a strain of avarice.

It is the Perumthachan's wish that he should be the one to build a Saraswati mantapam that Bhargivi thamburatti wanted. But with her long dead, would the young Kunhikkavu thamburatti agree to have it built? Because it was her mother's wish, she agrees and it is Kannan, not Perumthachan, who is called to do the work. Once again, as in the previous generation, there is an undercurrent between Kunhikkavu and Kannan. Unlike the Perumthachan, Kannan does not acknowledge his place in social hierarchy. He finds this stifling and refuses to succumb to it. So much so it leads to disastrous results and it is up to Perumthachan to restore the honour of the kovilakkam.

M.T. Vasudevan Nair has told this legendary story of the master carpenter with finesse, bringing to mind the old rituals and traditions and a world long since forgotten. He systematically builds up the suspense until ultimately the ending comes upon you surprisingly, almost shockingly, leaving you cold and unbelieving.

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Literary Review

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