Of Traitors and Cadavers
There’s nothing like a book that arrests you from the moment you set your eyes on it. K.R. Meera’s The Gospel of Yudas is that kind: a book that you don’t hold in your hands—it holds you instead. You don’t turn the pages at your leisure, but the book turns you in whichever direction it pleases—back to apparitions that haunt and forth to descriptions that stun. The Gospel of Yudas is a feat of genius.
But let’s begin at the beginning. Green, crystalline waters lap at the edges of your consciousness even as the woman that floats in them, face turned up and eyes closed in a surprising gesture of ecstasy, rebellion and serenity touches you unspeakably in a hollow crevice of your heart. This woman is fulfilled, though absolutely oblivious of her state and surroundings. She just is. Suspended between worlds in a universe all her own. And that is the cover.
You can’t pass this book without picking it up, turning it over in your palms and trying to conjure up the worlds it holds inside. And when you open it, the first person you meet is Crocodile ‘Croc’ Yudas, who dredges up dead people from the bottom of the lake. “When the corpses swimming face down like crocodiles were turned over, their faces, nibbled at by the fish, would give one a cardiac arrest.”
Rajesh Rajamohan, translator of the book from Malayalam, has done a sterling job of bringing the story to life in another form. Translations often tend to lose the lyrical quality of the original but this one flows with the force of the waters that pervade it, buoyant in its form and striking in its strength.
The story is narrated by Prema, daughter of a former policeman who took great pleasure in torturing Naxalites during the Emergency at the prison camp of Kakkayam. His family isn’t spared his tyranny either and Prema finds herself longing for freedom from this feudal home. She is instinctively drawn to the Naxal ideology, for it is the direct antithesis of her father —and speaks of freedom and revolution. The child Prema finds herself waiting in vain for the Naxal hero to arrive and rescue her. And then she finds Yudas. Das, the former Naxal, who turned himself to ‘Yudas’ for he believed himself a traitor. Like Judas.
The book revolves round the memories of the Naxal movement during the Emergency and then to an endless revolution of the inconsequential human against the grinding stone of the ‘big’ man and the State. In true journalistic fashion of its creator, the book gives the other side a chance to have their say—the police chief who claims “we were just tools at the state’s disposal”, and “it was destiny that decided to declare the war.” Makes one wonder if Meera is just putting forth the mind-set of this character, or trying to back off from taking sides by grandiosely absolving everyone of blame? Putting time and destiny into the picture, putting everything into the hands of state machinery is to take away all individual responsibility. And that is to depict humans as puppets—which is not entirely true. An individual needs must take responsibility for whatever he unleashes upon the world.
More likely, though, the purpose of these ruminations is to put forth contrasting views and ask you to draw your own conclusions. To wonder what it’s like at the bottom of the lake, where the fish nibble the dead into a human coral.
(This review was first published in Financial Chronicle newspaper)