Beyond the violin-shaped village...
Friday August 25 2006
Jyoti Nair Belliappa
By Shreekumar Varma
Puffin Books, Rs 175
Shreekumar Varma’s Devil’s Garden is one of those delightful children’s books which will please the adults as well.
The myth surrounding the Devil’s Garden (Chekuthan Thodi) is that when Lord Parasurama reclaimed a brand new land from the sea and named it Kerala, all the creature of the sea were displaced, and this included strange, supernatural and hostile beings. Having nowhere to go, they ran amok, threatening and destroying humans on the land. With the help of a grand ritual, the Brahmins (whom Parasurama brought in from the North to populate his new land with pure new progeny) shut these spirits and creatures inside a thick forest. This came to be called Chekuthan Thodi or Devil’s Garden.
The violin-shaped village of Pappudom (named after a rebellious old ruler, Grand Pappu, who refused to accede to the authority of the British) is separated from the forest by the River Tarangam. No one crosses the river or goes to the forest because of the wild stories floating around and government restrictions. The story is about Pappu, Grand Pappu’s great-great-great grandnephew and his friend KP. Pappu sees what he thinks is a monster in the river and quizzes KP’s grandmother. She is a treasure-trove of lore and fantasy, with her own story-telling techniques and an unfaithful memory. Soon after, KP’s cousin Unni disappears; and Pappu and KP decide to enter the forest to find him. Pappu also believes that if they run into danger, his granduncle will come to rescue him from Between Times, the region of ghosts and spirits. He has already been taken back in time once by the old ghost (in Back To Pappudom, Puffin Book of Funny Stories, 2005).
The book is full of colorful characters like a weird beggar who captures Unni, a roving old journalist named Lo (for Lohitakshan) who has invaded the forest, and his compositor at the press, Charlie, an old man with no particular ambition or will and KP’s young and wilful cousin Ammu who plays detective and follows Lo around. Humour, fantasy and a bit of doctored history are the main planks on which Varma has built the story. And there is a lot of local flavour.