The Naxalite Movement had first erupted in the state of West Bengal in 1967 in the Naxalbari region of the state, hence the name. As a movement, it had reached the state of Kerala in 1968 and had continued till 1976. K.R. Meera, who had won the Kendriya Sahitya Akademi Award for Aarachar, translated by J.Devika and published by Penguin India in 2014 as Hangwoman, has graphically portrayed the physical and psychological tortures perpetrated during the Naxalite Movement in Kerala in her book, The Gospel of Yudas.
The writer has transformed the Biblical character – Judas Iscariot – and contemporized him with her fictional character of Yudas. The book chronicles, through the central character Prema, the turmoil and turbulence of the Naxalite period in the political history of Kerala. Yudas, whose vocation was to take out the dead bodies from lakes and gorges, after the police had flung them away, was known to in his village as ‘Croc’ Yudas. This was because he used to resurface out of the waters just like a crocodile. Prema is the daughter of the fiery policeman, Vasudevan, notorious for his atrocities on young Naxalites, living in their Naalukettu (traditional house in Kerala with a central courtyard, designed for the rich and the affluent). She gets attracted to Yudas and the novel traces their doomed and tragic tale.
Yudas had given away the name of Sunanda, a hardcore Naxalite as well as his ladylove in the novel, during police interrogation and later the concomitant physical brutalities. Such a tale of tragic love can happen only in God’s Own Country. Yudas keeps shifting places, but in some way or the other Prema tracks him down, the latter always being conscious of the fact that she is only a second fiddle to Sunanda. Sunanda gets caught and after sessions of torture by the police, dies. Her body is thrown into the gorge and fished out by Yudas. He tries to elude Prema, always, yet, as the author writes: “Only my love for him burned like an undying ember in the hearth. My youth was evaporating like a can of water beaten down by the sun.” Slogans like: “Naxalbari Zindabad” and “Long Live the Revolution” reverberate like the chimes of a grandfather clock, all throughout the novel. There is the central metaphor of the lake and the novel towards the end, chronicles the almost spiritual transformation of Prema: “My lake was lucid. The dusk had showered it with gold coins minted from sunbeams. Moonlight had poured molten diamonds into it.”
As readers, we have read much about the Naxalite Movement of Bengal. The police atrocities on the young rebels are known to us, thanks to the various books that have been penned both in Bengali as well as in English. Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland is a case in point. But little do we know about how the movement had gained root in states like Kerala. The Naxalite Movement, known as the ‘Spring Thunder over India’, had failed in achieving its final goal. It is through the fiery and daunting pens of the likes of K.R.Meera that we get to know about how the spring thunder had spread there.
But as I was reading the book, I couldn’t help but feel the hindrance of language. How I wished I had been able to read the original book, written as it is in Malayalam, the vernacular language of Kerala. This translated edition, done by Rajesh Rajamohan, who lives in Pennsylvania with his family, is good. But his sincere attempts to translate the original into English fails to deliver the richness and aroma of the soil of a Kerala home. I am more than confident about the fact that whoever has read or would intend to read the book, would definitely agree with me.
The book is quite puny, mere 150-odd pages. But it transports the reader to the minds and hearts of its principal characters. One gets definitely reminded of The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, which is again set in Kerala and speaks about an illicit love affair. K.R.Meera allows her readers ample room for personal interpretations. Instead of showing, she prefers to tell the readers about how the Naxalite movement had spread and how it changed into a whimper due to tough handling by the special police brigade as well as due to betrayers. The movement is the backdrop, around which the entire action of the novel unfolds. Yudas had carried a sense of guilt – of having given out the name of Sunanda- an act of betrayal, under physical torture. But does that mean he had betrayed the movement as a whole? It is for you, the readers, to decide.
Meera’s stories have been translated into languages like Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Hindi. She lives in Kottayam, where the early part of the novel is set, with her journalist husband, M.S.Dileep, and their daughter, Shruthi. Her fearless pen had been praised by, among others, Mahasweta Devi, the country’s premier feminist writer and social activist.