The Better Man- A Novel by Anita Nair


The Locale: The Better Man is set in contemporary India in a little fictitious village called Kaikurussi in the northern part of Kerala . This region was once known as Malabar during the British regime. After Independence, Malabar as a state/region ceased to exist.

Though Malabar has no geographical boundaries, no presence on a map of India, it still exists as a state of mind: laid-back, slow, to live and let live. So much so, the northern Malabaris treat the enterprising and hard-working southerners with a disdain bordering on contempt. A person from Malabar is so entrenched in the past that thinking of the morrow is almost impossible. And yet, there is a discontent that is almost palpable.

Perhaps this is the reason why the region that was once Malabar saw the growth of Naxalites [extremists who combined Marxism with violence against all organized systems]; still has the highest recorded number of lunatics and suicides in India and has fundamentalist political groups thriving side by side with communist strongholds.

Kaikurussi the village is in a little hollow surrounded by several hills. It has nothing there that would make any one come looking for it. It is neither the birthplace of a Mahatma nor a movement. No miracles have ever happened there. In fact, nothing of significance ever happens there to any one. [ So when something does happen to a person, he is revered to the point of worship.]

There is not even a road running through Kaikurussi or a river flowing alongside it. All Kaikurussi has to define its topography are fields, wells, a mountain and distant hills.

The Plot: An elderly bachelor and a retired government employee, Mukundan is forced by circumstances to return to Kaikurussi, the village he was born in. A village that he fled when he was eighteen. And now back in his ancestral house, he finds himself unable to cope. He is haunted by a sense of failure. For having abandoned his mother. For not measuring up to his still alive and domineering father Achuthan Nair's expectations. For having gone through life without really living it....

And then there is the village itself. Mukundan realizes that he has no role to play in the village. In fact, he discovers that what should have been his rightful place had been usurped by an upstart Power House Ramakrishnan.

In the first few weeks of his exile, he meets up with a wayward genius. Bhasi or One-screw-loose-Bhasi as he is known is a house painter and a practitioner of a mongrel system of medicine he has evolved by combining several kinds of healing processes - herbal cures, principles of Homeopathy..... Bhasi is deeply disturbed by Mukundan's anguish and decides to mend the cracks in Mukundan's much battered psyche. He cajoles, manipulates and shapes Mukundan's transformation.

But the superficiality of the change is revealed soon. Power House Ramakrishnan on a cruel whim decides to build a community hall in the village. And chooses Bhasi's piece of land as the site to build on. When Bhasi refuses to sell his land, Power House Ramakrishnan threatens to break his business and run him out of the village. As the richest and most powerful man of the village Power House Ramakrishnan was capable of doing just that and Bhasi knows this as well. So he turns to Mukundan to intervene on his behalf.

Mukundan sets out to save Bhasi's home but is completely swayed by Power House Ramakrishnan. The latter knowing how recognition-hungry Mukundan is and how easily he would succumb to flattery uses that as his weapon to sweep over Mukundan's objections and has him actually agreeing to become a part of the community hall committee.

Mukundan betrays Bhasi his friend and alienates Anjana, the woman he is in love with. [ Anjana is still married to another man and would therefore be considered an unsuitable love by the community hall committee.] Mukundan however does not perceive it as betrayal and stubbornly clings to the belief that what he has done is right.

But it takes the death of Achuthan Nair, his father to make him realize how empty his life was and would continue to be without either Bhasi or Anjana. He is stricken by both remorse and guilt. And the realization that he was no better than his father whom he had despised all his life. With this comes the real transformation.

Mukundan decides to make amends. And how he goes about it is an indicator to how much Mukundan has changed.

From a fastidious and colorless man lacking in courage to take even the slightest of risks, Mounding becomes a man capable of finding love and happiness. A man who discovers the varied vibrant hues of life. A man who emerges from the shadow of his father's personality to become a better man.

[ In many ways the essence of the book is: change is always possible; hope never dies; and happiness can be found. You just have to look for it and when you find it, take chances even if by doing so, the rest of the world might turn against you. ]




   Copyright© 2001-2005 Anita Nair. E-mail Anita