Unni R has come out with his first Malayalam novel and it shouldn’t be much of a surprise to those who are familiar with his style of writing that it abounds in satire and absurdity. From the title itself to the plot and premise, it catches your attention and raises too many questions just out of sheer curiosity before even starting reading. And if you’ve experienced his brilliance on screen with his short films such as Kullante Bharya or Bridge then you won’t be disappointed with this one. Personally, I am a huge fan of those two short films and I would not say that from a narrative angle, this novel is better than them, but it is on a league of its own.
For starters, as I’ve mentioned before, it is a satire, comically written, depicting the slow loss of reasoning and the casual abandonment of logic by the people in a town. When the crowing of a cock distracts and foils the prayer meeting for fallen soldiers held by Chaakku, he decides to take official action against the said cock which belongs to a senile old lady, and files a complaint to the police station stating that the cock is a threat to national security and that it disrespected the martyred soldiers of the nation. From here on, we can observe an exponential decay in loss of common sense in the townspeople and an exponential increase in the number of supporters for Chaakku against this criminal animal. Amidst all this chaos, there is one character that retains his sensibility and asks the most rational of questions, Kochutten – a young man with a lot of revolution in his blood. The so-called ‘heinous’ actions of the cock unite the town irrespective of caste and religion and they band together to protect their town.
The satire and comic tone in the first half of the novel takes a shift towards a somber atmosphere as the atrocious crowing of the cock becomes more and more problematic. The people come to ‘realize’ that it is an issue of national security and also one which could threaten their way of life in this town. We, readers, have the same thought process as Kochutten who is anchored on his rational thoughts and shares our same feelings – “It’s a cock, it will crow when it feels like, right?”
To me, Prathi Poovankozhi felt like a parody of recent events and people and yes, it was relatable. It was also felt like a warning to the levels of stupidity we can stoop to, not as individuals but collectively as part of a community. A crowd is always fickle minded and easily swayed and there is nothing more dangerous than a crowd led by an idiot. The fictional town in which the story revolves around doesn’t lack intellectuals or people with common sense; it’s just that they don’t want to go against the collective opinion.
I was also able to look at this novel politically, as it attacks the idiocies that plague our land and portrays them in the light of a gentle reminder – a sort of warning if you will – as to what can go wrong in the near future if things run their course as it is now. Kochutten can be seen as the voice of reasoning, the man who stands against the absurdity of the whole town, and he is a martyr of their ever-increasing insanity. He also represents the liberal thoughts that are being looked down and seen with suspicion these days. He is the curtailed freedom of speech and freedom of dissent that is slowly slipping away from the hands of the people in this country. The last part of the novel sees Kochutten being ostracized by the town and becoming more of a despised character.
It is a very short novel but if you read between the lines and look at the characters with a liberal mind, you can see that these could be the people that we are living with. All it takes is one stupid notion to set things off. Unni R attacks not just a section or particular religion or a political party; he is mocking them all and at the same time targeting the human condition and its shortcomings.
Reviewed by- Davis Jose