Articles / Interviews: The Better Man

Sunday Tribune
The tale of a modern prodigal son
(By Priyanka Singh)

"THE Better Man" by Anita Nair is written in a style that is both lucid and refreshingly fresh.

The novel is an account of a man’s growth — how he develops from being a man with selfish concerns into a man with a wider concern which extends beyond himself.

The story is about prodigal Mukundan, a government employee, who after retirement decides to go back to his native village Kaikurissi which he had left when he was 18 years of age to escape the tyranny of his domineering father who leaves his mother for another woman.

On his return to his ancestral house, he is haunted by his mother’s ghost which he believes wants to kill him for not taking her along. He is forced to relive the memories of his childhood days which were punctuated by terrifying moments.

Back in the village, Mukundan wants social acceptability even if it means sacrificing his friendship with Bhasi and his love for Anjana.

The cameos in the book are crafted in a manner which is brilliant, with each having a haunting past that is integral to the plot.

There is one-screw-loose Bhasi whose broken heart brings him to Kaikurissi.Once an English lecturer but now a mere painter and a healer, Bhasi believes he is chosen to "bring forth from the churned-up mind of some wrecked psyche a luminous and complete mind".

Entrusted with the job to paint Mukundan’s house, he senses Mukundan’s vacuity and takes upon himself to "peel the scabs of his festering soul" and let the fear seep out. Their friendship is thus forged. With Bhasi’s help, Mukundan is able to overcome his latent fears and is a changed man.

However, when an ungrateful Mukundan supports "Poor House" Ramakrishnan (a nouveau riche) in his plot to buy Bhasis’ land to build a community hall, Bhasi is broken and leaves the village. Then there is Anjana, a school teacher whom Mukundan falls in love with.

Married to an insensitive man, she is drawn to Mukundan’s charming manner and gentle ways. Both decide to live together until such a time her divorce comes through and later get married. However, Mukundan’s betrayal of her trust also casts a shadow over their love. Not willing to play the second fiddle to his fancies, she shows him the door.

The character of Mukundan’s father is the most convincing. A fire-spewing terror in his youth, it is hard for him to reconcile himself to the frailties that accompany old age. His supreme effort to defy old age and hold on to his ebbing strength makes him a truly pitiable character.

Used to living in his father’s shadow, Mukundan is made to realise that his father inspired respect, for at least he had the "courage of his convictions", a recurrent motif in the novel. The revelation comes when his childhood servant Krishnan Nair reproaches him, saying,"When he (Achuthan Nair) believed in something he stood by it no matter what the world thought of him. Do you have that courage..... If you think you are a better man than your father, let us see it".

To make amends, Mukundan gives Bhasi a piece of his own land and seeks Anjana’s forgiveness. He tells Bhasi:"All my life I wanted to be my father’s equal. But now I want more. I want to be better than him. I want to know what it is to love and to give. And in turn, be loved."

Mukundan’s evolution as a better man is his own; Bhasi merely is a catalyst in the effort.

There is a lesson for everyone in this novel. Mukundan learns that happiness cannot be had by being the cause of someone else’s unhappiness. Bhasi learns that man cannot control and change another man’s destiny. Man cannot play God.

Achuthan Nair, but for his age, would have realised that man is not an island and cannot live in isolation. When the fiery strength of youth diminishes in old age, tyranny is least useful.

"The Better Man" is reflective of the moral fibre of society. Besides being a statement of courage, "The Better Man" is a victory of human will over human weaknesses.

Small doses of philosophy and profundities make "The Better Man" a simple but affecting book and well worth a read

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