My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Saga of Muziris
Lost in this land of myriad cultures and communities there are some stories which carry within them a narrative of an era which is similar to our present day yet different in so many ways. They show us a mirror image of what our country truly was – a collage of religions and beliefs and a nation that had lived in harmony with communities with different identities through centuries. I have often wondered where did those communities disappear to ? Is it possible that we only visit them in our books or do we find remnants of their buildings and artefacts around us – something that we can touch and feel and maybe hear voices from many generations ago.
The Saga of Muziris, written by Sethu in Malayalam under the name Marupiravi, and beautifully translated into English by Prema Jayakumar is a book that delves into a lost civilisation in Kerala, a maritime port which drowned under the same water which had earlier been it's lifeline. The book traverses between the present day lives of the residents of the Chendamangalam, the village of our protagonist Aravindam.
The blurb of the book states that “it is a tale of the glory and declined a major port, a hub of maritime trade in Kerala, which had mysteriously disappeared from the face of earth during the fourteenth century. Historians, archaeologists and academics, from the world over, had been looking for the lost Muziris, ever since.” Using this as the basis of the story, Sethu has woven a tale which traverses centuries yet does not take on the shape of a historical book. In the beginning itself Perumal, one of the main storytellers speaks about going to the village “To recall a place, a time, to regain it, to awaken history again.” We are drawn into the Saga of Muziris through the tales recited by the main characters – each one having his own story to tell .
What I loved most about this book is not only that it is a story within a story, but the fact that the author does not place you within a certain time frame. He takes you on a journey spanning the history of the Muziris without you realising that many centuries have passed as you read about the story. Azad’s statement about Egypt as a “ a land of bodies that never decay” summarises that beautiful country so well. When Perumal tells you the story of the Muziris the author says that “Some forms slid into the room from beyond the smoky curtains of history. Shapes that had not been seen before, words that had not been heard before”. The migration of the Jews of Chendamangalam reminds you of the fact that here was a community where many religions thrived together and that “ the story of mankind can be narrated in terms of great exoduses and migrations. A never ending search for greener pastures; a journey to find new places to feed oneself ; a journey to save one’s life”
The story is about the excavations at Pattanam, and how they encourage Aravindam to meet his friends and delve into their past history. Rambhadran and Appukuttan, Azad and Josa (and his eaglet) and “beyond generations…beyond centuries “ Kunkamma and Kichan they all are integral characters in the story.
Why do we enjoy reading a book? Because it takes you away into a world where fiction or fact blends into a story or a narration, where words are used to describe what you may have seen but have been unable to describe, where a fabric is woven using people, words, stories and unforgettable characters. The Saga of Muziris is one of those books where the author takes you through generations and centuries of Kerala history, enthralling you with deft sentences and gentle stories about his people. His words about the book describe it best -that it would not be a historical novel but “it would rather be a mix of history, fiction, myths and legend” .
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