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Thakazhi’s “Thahaseeldarude Achan”

On the cusp of change

Meena T. Pillai

A still from Thahaseeldarude Achan.’

Thakazhi’s ‘Thahaseeldarude Achan,’ staged in Thiruvananthapuram, was a textbook adaptation of the litterateur’s endearing story.

Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai stands for not only an epoch in Malayalam literature but an era in the social and cultural history of Kerala. The Malayali’s roots running deep into rivers and paddy fields of this land, folk songs and folk lore that resonate with dreams and aspirations of a race, a milieu and a moment, have all been brilliantly captured by Thakazhi’s pen. As Kerala celebrates the birth centenary of Thakazhi, a dramatic adaptation of his short story ‘Thahaseeldarude Achan,’ directed by R. S. Madhu was staged at Vyloppilly Samskrithi Bhavan in Thiruvanathapuram under the banner of KALA (Kerala Art Lovers’ Association).

Says R.S. Madhu: “As reading habits of Malayalis are on a decline, we wanted to bring on stage the magic of Thakazhi’s art of storytelling and present the lyrical charm of his narrative to new audiences.”

KALA Theatre has an ambitious project of performing those of Thakazhi’s short stories that are pliable to the medium of drama.

‘Thahaseeldarude Achan’ is almost a period piece attempting to chronicle the cultural changes in the mid-twentieth century in Kerala, during a crucial period of transformation from a feudal, agrarian society to a modern city culture. Yet it transcends its age and its concerns to gain an almost universal relevance and timeless significance, illustrating that human nature and life is almost the same everywhere.

It narrates the story of a Kuttanadan farmer who toils hard to bring up his motherless son, educates him and makes him a Tahasildar – a coveted government job in the highest echelons of a society that was largely rural and agrarian, but which was gearing up for the modern. But the educated son forgets his roots and his past, sucked into the trappings of urban civilisation. His rupture from his filial bonds and therefore his own roots is accentuated by the interventions of his city bred wife for whom the father is a nuisance – uncouth, uncultured, and therefore an embarrassment.

A strong, seasoned farmer used to the vagrancies of nature, the father remains undaunted by the fickleness of human passions. Although the city with its suave hypocrisies and casual brutalities overpowers him in the end, in the final disappearance, he becomes the conscience of the soulless city and its inhabitants.

The rustic simplicity of the father is well enacted by Ambi who was able to delve into the skin of the old farmer and portray with remarkable ease the sturdiness of the character and his moral resilience. Sherifa Ilyas makes a brave attempt to be the stereotypical urban shrew. All the other characters remain fairly unimpressive.

Sticking to the original

“I wanted it to be an adaptation that was true to the original. So the emphasis was on fidelity to the source and there was no attempt to make a free interpretation of the short story. My intention was to do justice to the master craftsman that Thakazhi was and therefore not to take any liberties or to lose the main thread of the story,” remarks the director, with candour. In an age which celebrates freewheeling interpretations and licentious adaptations, which eschews even acknowledging the original and severs the umbilical cord with the source at the first opportunity, this appears a rather quaint attempt with an old world charm to it.

It is, however, interesting to note the conscious attempt to erase or neutralise the markers of caste that were so powerfully present in the original.

Maybe not an outstanding adaptation but an endearing one for those who love the craftsmanship of Thakazhi in carving to perfection the small world of Kuttanad, which becomes for the Malayali a lost world, a nostalgic recreation of a bygone era of rural simplicity and agrarian values, far away from the sick hurries and divided aims so characteristic of the residents of contemporary cityscapes.

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