When I first encountered Enmakaje, it was already much praised in Kerala as the powerful little book that aroused the Malayali’s moral conscience towards the unspeakable tragedy wrought by the unbelievably-callous aerial spraying of the insecticide Endosulphan in north Kerala, over some of the most lush, verdant areas of the State. It was criticised by some for what I thought was a very interesting experiment with form: it begins as fiction, slowly shades into a historical account of the beginnings of the anti-Endosulphan struggle in north Kerala, and then shades back, in the end, to fiction again. For me, Enmakaje was much more than an activist tale. It was a determined effort to renew the Malayali self, through a prayerful weaving and imaginative retelling of the many stories that have shaped us. Reading of Neelakantan’s and Devayani’s stories, one remembers these stories, but differently. For example, what if Raman and Seetha left Ayodhya forever, renouncing its sickening power games? What if Adam and Eve voluntarily renounced Paradise? What if Vararuchi’s wife had rebelled in the origin-story of Kerala, of the Parayi petta panthirukulam?
Juggernaut has just published my translation of this gem of a book, and the title of the English version is Swarga: A Posthuman Tale . Below is an excerpt from the book.
It was past midnight.
Jayarajan started from his sleep and sharpened his ears for sounds from outside.
He shook Neelakantan, who was fast asleep, awake. Neelakantan woke to darkness assailing his open eyes. He was frightened.
‘What is it?’
In a trembling voice, Jayarajan said, ‘Something is happening outside. I can hear noises.’
Neelakantan’s throat was parched. He asked in a loud voice, ‘Who is there outside?’
Jayarajan noticed his fear in the dim light of the lantern.
‘Not human beings. Something like a storm and strong winds . . . I can’t make out much . . .’
Neelakantan’s breath returned.
‘Oh, that! Must be the wind . . . I’ve been scared ever since you came in . . . it’s just that I didn’t show it. You lie down, I’ll see you off tomorrow morning; put you on the first bus back. It is not at all safe for you to come and stay here again.’
Jayarajan got up.
‘Come, let’s go out for a bit.’
Neelakantan yawned. His voice was lazy. ‘The rain and wind will go their own way. You should lie down.’
Jayarajan took his hand and made him get up.
‘I’ve seen quite a bit of rain and wind too . . . but something extraordinary is happening outside.’
Neelakantan began to listen, alert now. There was a whole symphony of unpleasant sounds rising outside.
Taking care not to wake Devayani, they opened the door and stepped out.
They saw the most unbelievable sights on top of the Jadadhari Hill.
The huge trees were shaking hard, writhing, in the wind. From the clouds above, golden-coloured lightning-snakes descended, falling on the tops of the massive trees and enveloping them. As if from the impact of the lightning, the tall trees bowed as low as the ground, seeking to shake off the golden serpents . . .
In the next moment, the wind came hurtling like a demon’s hand, swooping up the trees. The branches clung and cleaved to each other as if in a paroxysm of desire, and shivered as though in the throes of an orgasm. And then, the lightning-serpents returned, and the whole cycle began again.
Startled, Jayarajan asked, ‘What is happening up there?’
For a few moments, Neelakantan had no words. He kept watching the hill’s frenzied dance and then said, ‘Terrible thunder and lightning. And the wind and rain besides. All of it together, that’s all.’
But even as he said those words, he knew how inadequate they were. Human language was too limited to describe this miraculous phenomenon. It was too vast to be comprehended by puny human consciousness.
‘Look, it is raining on top of the hill,’ Jayarajan pointed out. ‘Some of it is falling here too. But just see – there is not even a sign of rain or wind anywhere near here. Here the trees are still as if they have stopped breathing. It is a miracle . . . let me call chechi.’
‘No, she will be scared.’
Jayarajan remembered Devappa’s words. ‘On the night of the Kozhikkettu in Bhagyathimaarkandam, no one goes out!’
‘Two years ago, on a night like this, I heard the jungle sway like this around midnight. I thought it was a storm and did not go out.’
‘I think,’ Jayarajan said and stopped.
‘Is this really Siva’s dance of destruction, the thandava? Isn’t this the Jadadhari Hill?’
Neelakantan asked, ‘Are you a believer?’
‘No. What about you?’
‘I haven’t been to temples or shrines after I began to see things differently . . . In my view, Siva is Nature itself. Siva exists in every leaf, every flower. The thandava that you mentioned–’
‘The dance of destruction of Siva, who swallowed the divine serpent Vasuki’s deadly venom! This is it! Is this thandava- Jadadhari Hill’s, Nature’s – that means Siva’s – own attempt to shake off the terrible chemical poison, so like Vasuki’s venom, the Kalakoota?’
‘You tie up everything to your consciousness of the environment!’
Jayarajan pointed out: ‘See, the wind’s grasping fist now eases. The lightning retreats. The rain and thunder depart. The trees stand up straight once again.’
Neelakantan nodded, his eyes wide open and filled with the magic in the air. Yes, the dance of destruction was now ebbing.