“There is no written history of Pulayar and Parayar (castes). Their history was dependent, as the slaves and servants of the kings and landlords. History cast their lives to the edges of the paddy field.”
There will always be some layers in the fabric of society which rebels against the other layers, thereby causing friction. As long as the friction is controlled, it stays, else it tears apart. Eri is a collection of investigative essays on the character with the same name. The characters that lived two generations ago, kindles the research-oriented mind of the author. Through this journey, he collects bits and pieces about Eri and tries to draw a picture of the character.
Eri, as a character is as good as any other such character in the folklores of Kerala like Kayamkulam Kochunni. The location of the narration is primarily in the hinterlands of Malabar. Eri is neither a Robinhood nor a saviour but is a man of immense knowledge. But his birth into a family from the lower echelons of the society prevents him from achieving the greatness or rather the success that he is capable of.
The book resonates with the travails of the lower strata of the society and the behaviour and injustice meted out to them. It also is a showpiece which portrays that knowledge is one of the tools which can lubricate and remove the friction between the layers of the society. Eri has a larger than life image, but that may have happened due to his achievement from unfavourable circumstances, a trend which the information and entertainment industry still upholds.
There have been many books which takes the reader through the fights of the working class and the rise of Communism in Kerala. This book portrays the social and political climate of a land before such revolts.
The book is not to be approached as fiction but rather as a well-documented collection of instances, the author has collected during his research. Also, there are many stories which do not have the character Eri in it, but has the burning (Eri – literally translated as burning or hot) and hot feeling of the lower levels of the society.
If you expect fiction, you may not connect well with the book. However, that does not demean the book. It is recommended for those who are interested in the tales of yore from Kerala with an undertone of a documentary.
-Reviewed by Gautam Sasidharan