I’ll write what i’ve to. If I fear about others, it’s higher to not write in any respect: S Hareesh

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For S Hareesh, creator of the Malayalam novel Meesha (Moustache), successful the JCB Prize for Literature this 12 months is a hard-won validation. When it first got here out in a serialised type within the Mathrubhumi journal, the novel — a piece of magic realism set within the fecund panorama of Kuttanad and which explores the complexities of caste and gender within the early 20th century —bought mired in controversy over a passage about temple-going ladies, which was taken out of context.

Hareesh and his household had been topic to vile on-line harassment, the novel was withdrawn from Mathrubhumi and an attraction was made within the Supreme Court to ban it (which was dismissed). DC Books then printed Meesha as a novel and the English translation, by Jayasree Kalathil, was printed by HarperCollins.

In a phone interview with ET, the 45-year-old, at the moment on go away from his day job within the state’s income division, talks about his writings and the reactions to them. Excerpts:

You have received quite a few awards. What does successful the JCB Prize imply to you?

This was a prize I actually wished to win. Because after Meesha was printed in Malayalam, it grew to become often known as a controversial work. Nobody went into its literary deserves. Even those that supported me would solely speak about whether or not the controversy was proper or flawed. That was not what I wished. When I write a novel, I would like folks to learn it. I felt readers in English would learn it in another way, not towards the background of the controversy, which a lot of them aren’t even conscious of. There had been much more critiques within the English media than within the Malayalam press, which centered on the controversy. Malayalam papers is not going to publish critiques — you wouldn’t have learn the information in regards to the JCB Prize within the Malayalam press both, not even within the obituary part! My hope is that the JCB Prize may even imply extra real readers in Malayalam. That makes me completely happy.

In the preface to Meesha, you wrote that the world of tales is ‘an autonomous republic where characters enjoy boundless freedom’. It’s ironical that the identical work triggered such a storm due to an innocuous passage.

Once I had completed writing it, I gave it to 10 of my associates to learn, earlier than it was printed. None of them mentioned something, particularly about this specific passage. I used to be astonished when the outrage broke out. I feel this was a inventive approach they (the correct wing) got here up with to get again at Mathrubhumi (a marketing campaign was concurrently launched to wean Hindu readers away to the right-wing paper, Janmabhoomi). There are so many works which have passages that, if taken be misinterpreted. This grew to become an argument beacause it concerned the correct wing.


How did that have change you — each as a author and as a person?

As a author, it has not modified me. I’ll write no matter I’ve to. If one retains fascinated by what different folks will say, one can not write. It’s higher to not write in any respect. On the way it modified me as a person, whereas I knew that Kerala was a savarna Hindu society, this incident revealed how deep that sort of pondering went. I couldn’t perceive why folks had been getting so incensed. Many individuals who had been indignant didn’t even know Meesha was a novel. Many thought I used to be a journalist at Mathrubhumi. They had been agitating with none sort of consciousness, or logic, which I couldn’t work out. For occasion, I’m at the moment staying in a rented home. My neighbour is not going to converse to me. I later realised it’s as a result of I’m the creator of Meesha. He’s the sort of one who wouldn’t even learn a brief story. I didn’t homicide anybody or rape anybody, all I did was write a novel. I can not perceive why somebody is not going to converse to me due to that. It’s very curious. (Chuckles)

Has the award modified their opinion?

Not actually. They are from a bit that doesn’t learn in any respect, they may by no means withdraw from their place. I’m not bothered as a result of I don’t encounter them. They nonetheless carry it up sometimes. They had unfold the falsehood that it’s a lewd novel. The JCB Prize helped change that notion. My acquaintances, like my neighbour, view the Rs 25 lakh prize cash with nice shock, as an enormous deal — in any other case, they’d not hassle even when I received the Nobel prize.


There are rising situations of intolerance. How do you see its impression on the humanities, together with writing?

It’s affecting it badly. Even 10 years in the past, in Kerala, folks would overtly criticise fascism. Now, there’s a actual concern although Kerala is dominated by CPM and the primary opposition is the Congress. But the media in Kerala has a concern of the Hindu proper wing, which they don’t have for these events as a result of the correct wing withdraws commercials and influences subscribers. You can see the impact of this in newspapers and magazines; it’s taking place in entrance of our eyes.

To outsiders, Kerala looks like a progressive state. Meesha, in fact, describes a society within the early 20th century riven by caste and gender discrimination. What has modified, and what hasn’t?

When it involves caste and, notably, communalism, Kerala is comparatively higher. When it involves gender, in some issues, I really feel, the north is best. Kerala society likes to faux caste doesn’t exist. But it’s there in our each day lives — in weddings, in funeral ceremonies. We used to cover it; now, for a while, it’s out within the open, together with communalism.


How does it affect the politics of the state immediately?

With the consolidation of Hindutva, it has come to a scenario the place events immediately really feel they need to appease that to go forward. Reservation for ahead castes was launched just lately. Earlier, there was no actual ‘Hindu vote’ in Kerala, there have been solely caste votes. Now, folks speak in regards to the Hindu vote. I anticipate it to solely worsen, like in the remainder of India. This revolves round an organisation that’s over 100 years outdated — the RSS, which has hordes of staff and might herald any variety of leaders. It can’t be overcome simply.

What are you studying at the moment?

I’m studying a few books. One is (Roberto) Bolano’s Nazi Literature within the Americas. Before that, I used to be studying Yoko Ogawa’s The Memory Palace. It’s not that I learn rather a lot, however I learn no matter I can get my arms on.

Do folks recognise you within the income division? Have you develop into a celeb?

No, probably not. Some folks recognise me however I reside in Kottayam, which does probably not worth writers or writing, you understand. When I received the Akademi award, which individuals learn about because it’s a query in entrance exams, somebody requested me how a lot was the prize cash. My reply — that I received `25,000 — was met with nice contempt. (Laughs)

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