I am always suspect of travelogues, epic novels, and archival stories of myths of forgotten places. I am yet to come across a good one that holds my attention. ‘The Gods, Demons and People of Kunhimangalam‘ by Sunil Kumar N manages to do just the opposite. A vast expanse of a tale of mythical lores and historical happenings buried deep in the psyches of a land, Sunil Kumar’s book is a wonderful burrow to slip into.
Reading the book immediately suggests the difficulty and obstacles in compiling such a massive retelling of local legends. From the arrival of that perennial traveller, Ibn Batuta to the legends of Pulaya and the burst of communism in God’s Own Country, the author takes us on a spectacular journey.
The only trouble with the book is that it confuses the readers with its style. It is not a scholarly chronicle of the legends and the myths. It is not a fictional novel with the legends interwoven into a story. This is perhaps the only, and fatal, flaw in this book. Somewhere through the pages, it becomes difficult for the reader to discern the perception and involvement of the author in these legends. The author does not maintain a steady hand in the description of his stories. The variation between the subjective and objective presence of the author makes it a bit complicated for the reader to trust the veracity of his stories.
That is not to say the stories themselves are uninteresting. They are a wonderful mix of tradition, innocent myths and stories of simple men who morphed into legends with a healthy coating of time on their memories. It is this wonderful combination that makes it all the more interesting. These stories of a little known region in one corner of this massive sub-continent give a glimpse into the hidden wealth of legends our country is blessed with. The author has done an admirable job of delving into the histories of these people to bring out these stories. One just wishes he had done a more efficient job in the compilation process.
All in all, ‘The Gods, Demons And People of Kunhimangalam‘ is a wonderful read. If you don’t mind meandering a bit through the tales. After all, what good is travelling, if you don’t get lost.
Sunil Kumar K N Interview – The Gods, Demons and People of Kunhimangalam
Sunil Kumar K N is a Post Graduate in Law. He is currently working in Standard Chartered Bank as Head Trade Compliance and located in Singapore. Let us know more about his writing.
What inspired you to start writing?
It was one of the desires cherished within, during the days of my early childhood. But indeed the academic and professional priorities of life relegated the spirit into an unrealistic dream for years. In one summer, when my wife was away for a vacation, I thought of presenting a surprise gift, on her return. I tossed many ideas in search of a unique gift. After pondering awhile, I concluded that the most precious and unique gift I could offer her would be the fruits of my efforts. I thought of writing a story to her solitary consumption. Yes the unique gift, I once offered to my wife, unleashed a plethora of opportunities and strength of unparallel nature for me to write more and more.
What did you like to read when you were a boy?
While I was a boy I enjoyed reading stories from mythology and epics.
What is the greatest challenge in writing a book?
The greatest challenge in writing a novel or story is to synchronies the theme and the style of narration. Both are complementary, but many a times theme determines the narration or the narration moulds the theme. Like two feral horses of a cart, theme and narration attempts to dominate over the other and the writer has to drive the cart in right direction. Simply the Marxian theory that content determines the style does not work in novels. When the author keeps the reader in mind while writing, the choice becomes limited.
How much research do you do before writing the book?
It depends on the theme. When themes are close to your heart and incidents are out of your experiences, rather than research a debate with your inner soul will contribute more. But if the themes are historic or based on an incident heard or read, there may not be any end to research. I stand for maximum research as I want to create the historic scenes with acute precision. We need to research on the art and literature of that time to produce the symbols and language of the yesteryears. My present work is a mixture of events close to my heart and historic and mythical events of near and distant past. Thus I did a lot of research and did listen to my inner voice.
What motivated you to write the book “The Gods, Demons and People of Kunhimangalam”?
The eponymous village in my novel, Kunhimangalam is the place of my maternal ancestral home. I had spent a significant portion of my childhood at this place and carry rich memories of the village life in seventies and eighties of Kerala. Just for my curiosity I was jotting down some peculiar and queer incidents, I had experienced in my childhood. That was the beginning of the work. The first narrations of those humorous incidents sowed the seeds of this novel. Then I took the matter more seriously and wrote some stories from the ballads. That dramatically changed the appearance of the work. I started to research more on the village history and was convinced that the land is a treasure-trove of information, incidents and matters arousing immense curiosity of tangled myth and reality. Slowly the structure of the novel developed delving upon the past, present and future of the village and the ever transforming village life. What motivated me the most is the strange and queer incidents uncovered in the land of the gods and demons.
Can you tell us more about your latest book “The Gods, Demons and People of Kunhimangalam”?
It is the story of a small village, Kunhimangalam(Kunhimangalam, a picturesque village spread over four hundred square kilometers is in the northern part of Kannur district in the state of Kerala that formed a part of the erstwhile Malabar region of the Madras Presidency of the British Empire in India.) in north Kerala. It is indeed a long journey of two millenniums in the past, present and future. The novel untangles the myth behind its origin; witnesses the transformation of life from kingship to the world of democracy; nudges the bucolic life of the present in a humorous but sensitive way and prophesies on the future direction of such oasis in the days of globalization and integration.
Village is the central character of the novel. Other characters appear in the scene to perform their respective roles and disappear behind the curtains, sooner or later. They include normal mortals, historic personalities, dreaded fiends and indeed the mighty immortals.
The gods of Kunhimangalam are not mere mythical characters or legendary heroes of the stories, but the champions of real life. They appear and live among the local folks in different forms and mould. Whenever, summoned in devotion they appear before devotees, in their ornate and sumptuous form. The folk art of ‘Theyyam’ is the ultimate form of godly charm. The performers metamorphose into gods and demons. Though belong to the blemished class, performers of Theyyam attain supremacy over the elites and subjects alike without the tethers of caste or creed. There are enlighteners and conjurors that stand between the worshipper and worshipped. They speak the language of the gods while, communicating to the spectators.
In this world of mortals and immortals, the story develops into plutonic plain. It digs deep in the history and myth of the land and people. The novel depicts the transformation of a land and its people over two thousand years. The language and style have been constantly changed in order to represent each period. On the choice of the language I have relayed on the language of the ballads and folklore. Throughout the novel myth and realities are tangled and I didn’t try to untangle the same as I believe the life is always a mixture of myth and reality. However, while narrating the influence of independent movement, I tried to do maximum justice to the freedom fighters to rely on the recorded facts.
A conscious attempt has been made to use the parallels familiar to the English readers, even while exploring the local experience. But the unavoidable local usages and slangs have been explained with the help of footnotes of minimum in number.
How did you come up with the idea of writing historical fiction genre book?
History is my passion, though I didn’t get the opportunity to study history during my academic days. Same was I am deeply fascinated by mythology and folklore. I recognize customs and practices as a keyhole to life in the past. It is very curious to know how our great great forefathers lived and what motivated them to pull on. As a writer I want to recreate the history through my works.
Who are your favourite authors?
Among the present generation writers, my favorite is Hilary Mantle. I am much enthused by the recreation of Victorian era through her works like Bring up the Bodies. I am deeply impressed the by the style, narration and language of her work. The same way Amitav Ghosh’s works on Opium wars, like Sea of Poppies too attracted me. In the list of masters I like the writing style of Charles Dickens very much. I am an ardent fan of famous Malayalam Novelist late OV Vijayan. His language is marvelous and quite impressive.
How much time do you dedicate to writing on a daily basis?
I don’t keep a specified time on daily basis for writing. Most of my time is taken away by research. Once the matter is ready for writing, I try to sit and write on one stretch. Normally weekends come very handy for my writing.
What words of wisdom would you like to give to aspiring writers?
Write only when you are ready with all your research and internal pondering. Never write under time pressure, or with a pre conceived notion to make the work popular or the plot for the movie etc. Don’t hesitate to correct and re-write till you are satisfied.
Source :- http://www.writerstory.com/sunil-kumar-k-n-interview/