The Trees Of Sea

The Trees of Sea by Velliyodan
Translated into English from Malayalam (Kadal Marangal) by P. Ramgopal
New Delhi: Authorspress, 2018, Pages 94, ISBN 978-93-88008-79-2
Reviewed by Amit Shankar Saha

Velliyodan Saimudheen’s collection of ten short stories, translated from Malayalam into English by P. Ramgopal, titled The Trees of Sea takes the shorter format of fiction writing to explore the contemporary realities of life in the world today. The collection is unique not because something wonderful is presented but because it presents the ordinary vignettes from the world but in a manner that will leave behind an indelible impression on the minds of the reader. Velliyodan lays bare the harsh reality which we often see from a distance through newspaper headlines or magazine articles. He brings them close with his touch of empathy, scaring us into acknowledging that there is something wrong with the world and that we are living in denial or amnesia or escapism.

Velliyodan’s stories are not happy stories but his stories also make us think whether there can be at all any happy stories in this world. When the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova wrote the line, “It was a time when only the dead smiled, happy in their peace” she could not have imagined that how appropriate it would be for the world of a Malayalam writer born in Kerala but living abroad, who shows us that all our happiness is fraught with unacknowledged sadness. But there is also a transcendence as the title story shows. It is the story of the Rohingya refugees forced to leave the Burmese territory of Rakhine. Miasha and Fathah drifting in their boat know that borders are barricades and “any wave in love with them, would break the thin walls that existed between their Life and Death.” All they have left to throw away the oars into the sea and lie in the boat with their eyes closed in total renunciation.

Velliyodan’s stories evoke pathos. In the opening story “Death Root”, the killing of Balachandran, the twelve-year-old son of the LTTE leader becomes a sort of meditation for the assassinator. In the story “The Abandoned”, the travails of the Syrian Tamajeed in his attempts to find an asylum abroad for his family become a mock Kafkaesque parody. There is no escape from misfortune as the predicament of Dhaya shows in “The Betrayal”. Sometimes it is neither sadness nor misfortune but something more grotesque that has been chasing us for years as Kunhanandan master encounters when he finds Vasantha in the street of the old prostitutes in the story “Clay Butterflies”. Even in the love stories “Yours Wholeheartedly” and “Cinderella”, a melancholy pervades leading to their tragic conclusions. But what is interesting in Velliyodan’s style is his literariness. Nowhere the readers feel being thrust a tragedy down their throat. The reader accepts the narration as an aesthetic experience. Often the end is felt not exactly as a twist-in-the-tail kind of end but definitely an end with an epiphany.

Velliyodan is a socially conscious writer. He knows about the condition of women, how they are treated as sex slaves in certain places, he also knows how political upheavals throw human lives in tatters and there is total indifference to the dignity of human condition, as well as how the plight of refugees in the modern world increasingly desensitize human beings. Velliyodan presents from the shocking custom of Muth’a prevalent in Iran to the seedy underbelly of Guanxi, China. The span of the settings of Velliyodan’s prose crosses boundaries and links human beings in their different cultures into the universality of humanity. He is not a historian or an anthropologist or a social scientist but only a writer looking at fellow human beings and looking in a manner that is comprehensively understood. In the story “The Tsunamic Dance of God” he depicts an old bed-ridden writer who has an unfinished novel who says, “When my life emigrated into the world of writing, I realized there was no need for a separate life-story.”

The copy of the novel might be lying amidst her saris or amidst the bundle of books. When the big house was sold there was no space for keeping the books. Her saris and maxis had become book shelves.
Sometimes termites entered through the doors of the thatched house to read the books. There were snakes too, which died of reading books. The hens pecked those snakes among the books. The hens never read books! It was a surprise that he searched for the book packets and brought them before him.

The termites had already edited the words and sentences that needed editing. (62)

This is the fate of all who inhabit Velliyodan’s world of stories and if we look closely we will find that this is our world too. We are all slaves of Time. But there is always a moment of transcendence, an aesthetic jump, a revolt and a will to continue despite all, just like the invalid writer at the estuary:

The waves came fast, they became thinner and thinner as they came nearer and nearer! He walked forward in staggering steps, with his legs which had been lifeless till then! (64)

About the contributor: Dr. Amit Shankar Saha is an award-winning short story writer and poet. He has won the Poiesis Award for Excellence in Literature and Wordweavers Prize (Poetry and Short Story) amongst other awards. His articles, stories and poems have appeared in newspapers, magazines, journals and books nationally and internationally. He is also on the Editorial Boards of many publications including being the Fiction Editor of Ethos Literary Journal. He has co-edited a collection a short stories titled Dynami Zois: Life Force and authored a collection of poems titled Balconies of Time. He is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at Seacom Skills University. You may checkout his blog.


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