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Ratna Raman

By Anita Nair
Fourth Estate, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 380, Rs. 599.00


Anita Nair locates Idris: Keeper of the Light in the seventeenth century and draws our attention to a period of time chronicled by the better known Gregorian calendar between 1625 AD to 1661 AD. (AH 1034- AH1071 according to the Islamic or Hijri calendar.). Examining life in Malabar in the 17th century, Nair draws the reader’s attention to the fact that the State records (Gandhavari) mention the Mamangams of 1647 and 1671. The Mamangam, a twenty-eight day trade fair and festivity in the month of Magharam, was held every twelve years from the Sangam Period onward. Traders from different parts of the world converged on the town of Thirunavaya on the Malabar coast for this event. The Mamangam became part of blood feuds between two warring groups over protectorship and rights from the fourteenth century onwards. The blood feuds continued up to the eighteenth century. The Gandhavari is silent with regard to the Mamangam that should have taken place in 1659 on the banks of the Nila river.   Anita Nair’s book powerfully evokes the pulsating beauty and vibrancy of the seventeenth century Malabar Coast, its practices and its people. The book’s prologue introduces us to a young boy caught in the Khamsin (Hot dry desert wind in the Spring season) on the caravan road to Karakash Valley in 1925. The first chapter resumes in the year 1659, wherein Anita Nair evokes for us the missing Mamangam. Thirty-three years after the collateral damage inflicted by the Khamsin, we meet another silent young boy, hidden by the shadows of trees. The boy is planning to join his older relatives, the Chavers trained in the martial art of kalari, who are on a planned ambush and kill the Zamorin (the ruler of Thirunavaya) when a man with a strange glistening eye ‘blacker than his black with a head bald as an egg and shaped like one’ stops him in his tracks. The tall black man with the glistening eye announces that his name is Idris Mayoom Samataar Guleed of Dikhil, and that he is ‘an eternal traveller seeking the measure of earth and man.’   The narrative moves back by another ten years and we see a younger Idris, travelling through Kozhikode, where he shelters near the bathing pond of a large house and has an inexplicable erotic encounter with a lissom Nair woman Kuttimalu. Idris’s realization that the young lad in front of him is his ...

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