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Brushtu (Outcaste)
 Prashant Nair reviews a translation of Matampu Kunjukuttan's highly acclaimed novel, "Brushtu"

Over a period of time I decided to read the English translation of the Malayalam novel "BRUSHTU" or OUTCASTE.

It is a true-life story about one woman who decided to try and stop the evil ritual (which was equivalent to excommunication) that was practised against the Namboodiri women who happened to stray away from the restrictions imposed by their community.  The Namboodiri men had freedom to do whatever they wanted.  This used to happen a long time ago.

Some of you may recall the talk by Dr. Jancy James about women of Kerala in our last annual meeting.  Against that background it is interesting to note that although there were recognition for women's contributions in the society of the time, women in the high caste community had to suffer due to such bad practices like Bhrushtu.

In the present story one particular woman Paptikutty had rebelled and suffered for it.  The Namboodiri men took her to court, where she announced that if she were to be outcasted then her lovers would also have to be outcasted, as they were equally guilty.  Eventually the court had to accept her argument and for the first time the men had also been punished.  I understand that the Namboodiri community, like other communities of Kerala has since reformed, and the Namboodiri women enjoy better rights.

This book also gives the reader insights to what life would have been like with the Namboodiris way of life.  I would recommend the reader to read the book a little at a time because the beginning can be a little difficult to understand.  It is only half-way through the book that the main story begins.  It is a good book for any mature reader, especially Malayalees, because this is what happened a long time ago, in short, it is fact of our heritage.

The author of this book Matampu Shankaran Kunjukuttan was born in 1921 in Kiraloor, Kerala.  He had a traditional upbringing, steeped in Sanskrit and Vedic recitals, and for a while he taught at Sanskrit school at Kodungallur.  He has written 8 novels, some of which have won national awards and been made into films.

The translator Vasanti Shankara Narayanan was born in 1936 and holds a PhD in cinema.  In the introduction Shankara Narayanan says “It is not merely a novel, but a detailed portrayal it represents.  Above all, it is a moving piece on the human predicament — tragedy and comedy, pleasure and pain, strength and weakness, love and detachment.”

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