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Kerala Redux

Sabina Pillai

By Binoo K. John
Harper Collins, New Delhi, 2011, pp. 265, 350.00


It has been a while since we have seen a story about Kerala, written in English and replete with its local flavour and fervour.As a result Binoo K. John's new book catches one's eye.  Known for his three previous books, all non-fiction: two travelogues about Malabar and Cherrapunji and one on the English language in India, a ‘quasi-academic book' as he calls it, John's versatility as a writer is put to the test this time around. In his latest offering, The Last Song of Savio de Souza, he debuts as a novelist after confessing to two aborted attempts at writing fiction in the interviews that followed its publication. The shift from nonfiction to fiction is undoubtedly difficult. It requires one to master a different set of skills and the effort can show. Is John able to tell Savio de Souza's story well is the question we must ask. The story is engaging enough, set as it is in a place called Puram, clearly a shortened version of Thiruvanthapuram. Forming its core are two intertwining thematic tracks of a family saga of poverty and sacrifice and the portrayal of the larger social reality of their world where unknown to them and others like them, religion has become an industry, manipulated and managed by vested interests.  The family story of the de Souzas takes centre- stage against this backdrop of a social reality in the state of Kerala.   Puram has many sick and suffering in body and spirit, who become willing ‘freelancers in faith' looking for succour, be it at the Bheemapally mosque or the churches of Vettikad, Vellakanni or Resurrection, much to the alarm of their respective custodians. This inherent competition amongst them is underscored to illustrate how the ‘little' people in Puram are only pawns against the might of religion and the state. The miracle at Bheemapally mosque, where the mad Ayesha Bivi becomes sane after many years, sends Father Vattukattil Joseph into a tizzy as he sees a direct threat to the faith in the miracles of his own church. Added to that is the growing challenge of science as he ruminates about the rockets being launched from the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station nearby. He needs to think of ways and means to keep his flock intact. And so enters Savio, the ‘saviour'—he of the golden voice that mesmerizes every congregation.   But actually it is his ...

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