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Travelling Across Time

G.J.V. Prasad

By Anand. Translated from Malayalam by Gita Krishnankutty
Penguin Books, Delhi, 2006, pp. 438, Rs. 350.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 12 December 2007

Once in a while you come across a book that you need to mull over, savour, read in instalments in order to derive maximum pleasure and benefit, go back and forth over, and let sink into your soul. This is one such book, a born classic. Normally one is told to write reviews of fiction in a tearing hurry, especially of good fiction for only such reviews can ensure the visibility of such books, make their shelf life longer than that of a bookworm. But Govardhan’s Travels does not need my review or any other; it just needs some intelligent readers to begin talking about it. It is the parent of all books, and the child of all, a book that will easily outlive most other contemporary fiction, even if it does not fly off the shelves immediately.   Anand’s novel had made an immediate impact when published originally in Malayalam as Govardhante Yatrakal and I was looking forward eagerly to reading it in English. One thing that one can be assured of is that Gita Krishnankutty’s translations will always read well in English, even while satisfying the reader who knows the Malayalam original, which is a no mean feat. Hence Gowardhante Yatrakal travels very well into this English translation.   This is not a novel to summarize or talk of the plot. It is a multilayered novel that travels across time and literary imagination, grounding itself in history, and giving us an existential view of the world that is lived on terms that we do not understand fully. Authors, characters, historians, philosophers, travellers, scientists, kings and other historical figures, mythical figures like Chitragupta and Yama, soldiers and common people meet each other, have their stories collide with each other to constitute a complex web of associations that point towards the contingent and unstable nature of human happiness and contentment given the conditions that define our lives, conditions that make impossible any acceptable, cogent, and complete definition of justice, lived out as they are in a constant game of tussle for power, a game in which most of us are mere pawns or accidental and accident-prone bystanders.   The novel begins with a prologue that sets out its terms and also introduces us to the protagonist, Govardhan. Anand says that the novel was forced on him because of the time he spent in and around courts in North India. Describing ...

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