It’s been that kind of week; first Nirmal Verma died after a long illness, then Amrita Pritam died yesterday, and just as the last fireworks were fading into the Delhi night, I heard that Madhavan Kutty had died of a heart attack.
The Village Before Time, the book for which he was best known, captured his memories, in fictional form, of growing up in a village near the Bharatpuzha. The lives of its inhabitants are so intricately bound up with each other that it’s hard to pick an excerpt that offers a glimpse of his writing, but this’ll do:
When water collected in the ditch on the left of the path, we always gathered to watch the little fast-moving insects called ezhuthachan chaathis that looked as if they were writing on the water. They wrote amazing stories in languages that looked sometimes like Malayalam and sometimes like Tamil. It was because they wrote ceaselessly like this that they were called ezhuthachan chaathis, after Ezhuthachan the well-known Malayalam writer, the father of Malayalam writing. I was familiar with his work, having heard Amma read his versions of the Ramayanam and the Mahabharatham.
Gopalan declared they could write a whole Ramayanam at one sitting. “Can you read it?” he asked. I looked hard to see what I could make out.
“They write three thousand words a minute,” said Gopalan. “At such great speed, how would you be able to read?” We could not make out which epic they were transcribing, all we knew was that the words were divine.
Family and friends will be gathering at Kerala House near the Jantar Mantar in Delhi at 12 noon tomorrow (Wednesday, November 2) to say farewell to Madhavan Kutty; the cremation is at 3 pm at Lodi Road crematorium.