Source : The New Indian Express
Eight months later, the 254-page novel was done. And it is a highly engaging one.
On most days, when he was writing The Town That Laughed, Manu Bhattathiri would wake up with images of the fictional village of Karuthupuzha in Kerala. He would get up, get ready and go for a walk, while mulling over what he was going to write. Then, at 7.30 am the Bengaluru-based author
would sit at his desk and write for exactly one hour. “I deliberately did not do more,” he says. “When you stretch it, the sweat shows.”
Eight months later, the 254-page novel was done. And it is a highly engaging one. Written in a relaxed style, Manu, with deft sentences, is able to bring the characters alive and cast a spell on the reader.
These are people, many of them eccentric, who inhabit most small towns and villages in India. In ‘the town’, there is the local drunk, Joby, and the just-retired Inspector Paachu Yemaan, who is bleakly suffering the loss of power and prestige, Paachu’s long-suffering but inwardly strong wife Sharada, the barber Sureshan, the local cops, Inspector Janardhanan and Constable Chandy, Joby’s wife Rosykutty, the love affair between Kannan Maash and Ambili Teacher, among many other interesting people. It is an affectionate and humorous portrait of human beings and their foibles.
But village life is an unusual subject for Manu since he grew up in the northern part of India, in places such as Boleng in Arunachal Pradesh, Tezpur in Assam, and Udhampur in Jammu and Kashmir. His father worked in the Border Roads Organisation, which builds roads for the Army.
But once every two years, the family would spend the summer vacation at Manu’s maternal grandfather’s village of Cherupoika in Kollam district, Kerala. “There was an aura to the village as far as I was concerned,” says Manu. “It was so different from our life in the north.” As a boy, Manu was enamoured of the village folk, and the beauty of nature. “There were a lot of paddy fields around, a small river, and
dense foliage all around,” he says. “You could always get a fresh smell.”
And to top that, his grandfather, M N Vasudevan Bhattathiri, a Sanskrit teacher, was a fount of stories. “They were usually tales from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana,” he says. “But it is not that I have been told the stories in exactly the way I have heard it. Instead, I mixed my memories with my imagination and produced some original characters.”
Incidentally, this is Manu’s second book. His first book, Savithri’s Special Room And Other Stories, also dipped into the memories of Cherupoika. And it was well-received both by readers and critics. In fact, the book was short-listed for the Crossword Book Award (Fiction) for 2018 and was on the long list of the Tata Literature Live Award for 2016.
In his daily life, Manu runs an advertising firm, ‘Cheers Communications’, with partner Sudhir PR. But he has regrets regarding his career. “In advertising, your desire to write is falsely fulfilled,” says Manu. “You are only writing headlines and body copy. It set me back by 15 years.”
Asked whether he has more books inside him, Manu smiles and says, “I have a library inside me. If I keep my focus and interest levels, I could write many books. But the publicity that is given to books and authors is a bit disappointing these days.”
Not to forget the intense distraction of readers because of the mobile phone. “I agree,” says Manu. “People read five pages of a book and then they decide that they now need to check their mobile phones. Because of screen addiction, there is a persistent need to look at the mobile, laptop, television or the cinema screen. We need to do something about it. Otherwise, we will become shallow and superficial.”