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Moustache by S. Hareesh

The book by S. Hareessh was originally written in Malayalam. The original was called ‘Meesha’. The book has been recently translated to English. It came out in the month of January this year and has been published by HarperCollins.

K. SATCHIDANANDAN Vavachan is a Pulayan who gets the opportunity to play a policeman with an immense moustache in a musical drama. The character appears in only two scenes and has no dialogue. However, Vavachan’s performance, and his moustache, terrify the mostly upper-caste audience, reviving in them memories of characters of Dalit power, such as Ravanan. Afterwards, Vavachan, whose people were traditionally banned from growing facial hair, refuses to shave off his moustache.

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#Repost @read.dream.repeat • • • • • • Delhi, India //Each of us is made of stories told to us. If we look carefully, we can see a train of murmuring stories following each person like the royal mantle following an advancing King. Some people are not flesh & blood, but fully made up of stories// . Moustache (originally Meesha) is a story of how big stories spread in small villages & what becomes of them. Essentially about Vavachan who leaves an impact with his hefty moustache more than he's supposed to, playing a policeman on stage with two appearances & no dialogues, much like his social existence. Belonging to a community that bans facial hair, he refuses to shave & continues on a fate he's set for himself. But it's is much more. It's not one story but many, all intricate, rich in flavour. With no particular storyline, there's a natural flow. The symbolic significance of Vavachan makes him more stories & less person. This story comes from a writer who engages intently with the social & cultural history of his land, writes in a nuanced way of its various shades & colors; to a translator who understands the 'politics of language' & attempts to do justice to the vastness of the story. . I liked how the narration changed as the language took various forms, different in different settings. You eventually form an opinion of each & every character that comes & goes. The author sets up a background story for each of them, despite the role they have. While that shows a great skill, some of the descriptions felt irrelevant. Also loved how it's not just a story of men in a particular society, but women as an important part of it, women who stand mostly at the receiving end as a reflection of the beliefs the said society holds. . Amid the social characteristic of the story, the writer also invokes our interest in the political reality, addressing power dynamics in the society. The story is layered with shades of satire & apart from all this complexity & the sociopolitical themes, what is also commendable is the writer's ability to draw explanations of nature and natural settings. . One difficulty I faced was the confusion keeping up with endless characters. . A 3.5/5!

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Endless tales invent and reinvent the legend of his magic moustache in which birds roost, which allows its owner to appear simultaneously in different places and disappear in an instant, which grows as high as the sky and as thick as rainclouds – and turn Vavachan into Moustache, a figure of mythic proportions. Set in Kuttanad, a below-sea-level farming region on the south-west coast of Kerala, the novel is as much a story of this land as it is of Vavachan and its other inhabitants. As they navigate the intricate waterscape, stories unfold in which ecology, power dynamics and politics become key themes. Originally published in Malayalam as Meesha, S. Hareesh’s Moustache is a contemporary classic mixing magic, myth and metaphor into a tale of far-reaching resonance.

About the author

S. Hareesh is the author of three short-story collections: Adam, which received the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award, Rasavidyayude Charithram, and Appan. He is also a recipient of the Geetha Hiranyan Endowment, the Thomas Mundassery Prize, and the V.P. Sivakumar Memorial Prize. 

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