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ആരാച്ചാർ Award winning novel AarachaarExecutioner is a story based on the Indian culture of caste and religion Set in Bengal it tells the story of a family of executioners with a long lineage beginning in the fourth century BC The protagonist of the novel Chetna is a strong and tenacious woman who struggles to inherit this professionAccording to noted literary critic M Leelavathy Aarachaar is one of the best literary works produced in Malayalam and follows the legacy of O V Vijayan's classic work Khasakkinte Itihasam The novel received the 2013 Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award It was also awarded the prestigious Odakkuzhal Award in 2013 and Vayalar Award in 2014 I'm still in Kolkata I think It's crazy how this book stays with you long after you've finished it and even moved on to the next book I think the protagonist in this book is as much the city as it is Chetna Grddha Mullick I'm not going to give a synopsis of the story that's not how reviews work IMOFirst off 3 cheers to the translator J Devika for a stupendous job of translating this from Malayalam Not even for a minute did it feel like a translated work which is a distraction for me esp if I know the original language which in this case I do She's got the nuances and the evocative nature of the prose spot on For once I didn't really mind not reading the originalHangwoman is a story of stories The history that permeates every second of the lives of the Grddha Mullick family finds a way to enter our world too We lose track of time of space and sometimes our self I loved the way K R Meera has used the hangman and his daughter as master storytellers and spun tale after tale of courage perseverance revenge betrayal and every other human emotion that has changed the course of history It's not just the hangwoman we read about it is also about all those before her who moved through their times so it all culminates in a single moment when she has to decide whether or not to pull the lever I was surprised to know that the author was never a resident of Kolkata and she merely visited the city a couple of times for the sake of the book It does not read like that The glimpses we get of the Bengali way of life authentic or not I wouldn't know is hard hitting and the imagery is unforgettable Why then have I given only 4 stars and not 5? Wellbecause of the textbook K R Meera heroine being a wee bit unbelievable I had this problem with Gospel of Yudas too the female protagonist in both books are alike they have extremely strong feelings towards the man and there just seems no basis on why and how the feelings got so powerful Somehow for me it doesn't seem real Maybe it's an exaggeration it's perfectly fine to do that in a work of fiction but for me personally the lack of plausibility when juxtaposed against the reality of the supporting narrative somehow makes it seem hollow and wellobviously exaggerated Might just be me That said I liked Chetna better than PremaHangwoman will always be a memorable read for me and it's arguably one of the best works in Indian writing Capital punishment is a sensitive uestion is it allowable for the state to kill somebody? On a purely metaphoric level most liberal people would say no But would your answer still be the same if the convict was say a sex offender who raped and tortured a girl to death? More so if she was known to you?Is justice involving the taking of a human life justified? Is killing by the state murder or justice? Is punishment justice or revenge? Is capital punishment a deterrent for crimes?All difficult uestions Most of us shy away from these I know I do but they have to be asked all the sameMeera does it and much through this novel However it is not a political polemic While asking these uestions the story digs down into our psyche to the subterranean depths where the archetypes lieAnd there the uestions asked are much basic and much difficult What does it mean to be a woman and a human being in today’s society?There are no easy answers Maybe there are no answers period they are not reuiredBecause the uestion is what is important Chetana Grddha Malik is a hangman's daughter and a potential hangwoman of the future as he has no male heirs other than the disabled Ramu Yatindranath Banerji is a convicted killer waiting for the hangman's noose a hanging in which Chetana will assist her father Phani Bhushan as India's first female executionerIt would have been all business as usual had not the TV channels got hold of it As with any controversial news item in contemporary India Banerji’s hanging becomes a national spectacle a chance to boost the TRP of the “reality” news channels Sanjiv Kumar Mitra of the CNC is the first to sink his predatory teeth into this juicy situation – and also into the beautiful and desirable Chetana He wants her to be the exclusive property of his channel on camera – and his off itAs the novel progresses and we move towards Yatindranath Banerji’s inevitable death Sanjiv and Chetana dance around a complicated concoction of lust filth deceit and death The ending when it finally comes after 500 pages is expected; yet fitting and devastating Meera is a terrific writer There is very little beauty in this novel; and there is a lot of ugliness That she has made it so absorbing so that one willfully endures so much unpleasantness is a tribute her skill as a wordsmithChetana’s hovel is situated on Neem Tala Ghat where people take their relatives to be cremated The novel has endless descriptions of dead bodies and mourning relatives narrated through her deadpan voice – interspersed with her father’s stories of his exploits as a hangman who has executed than four hundred people Among the people who are cremated there are murder victims too many of them young girls who have been raped mutilated and murdered by sexual predators like Yatindranath Banerji The narrative dances between two types of killing one by the state and one by the social deviants The narrator who is also the protagonist of the story does not take sides It seems as though Chetana just wants us to see it as it is through her eyes which has seen and absorbed a lot in twenty three yearsChetana’s home is also disturbingly full of the themes of pain and mutilation Her brother Ramu is a practically a vegetable – his limbs have been hacked off by the father of a convict Phani Bhushan hanged Phani Bhushan himself is a libertine freuently visiting Kolkata’s red light district Sona Gacchi His brother who stays with him is practically an invalid having been marked by the excruciating torture he suffered as a communist under The Emergency In this hell house the person Chetana is most attached to is her grandma who is than a century old – a crone figure who tells stories from myth legend and historyThe second theme is the “lust affair” it would be dishonest to call it a love affair between Chetana and Sanjiv The reporter makes no secret of his lust for her the first time he sees Chetana he tells her that ”I want to experience you at least once” The second time he sueezes her left breast This is highly symbolic IMO Kannagi the heroine of Silappadikaram burns down Madhura by tearing off her left nipple and flinging it at the city Later she is enshrined as an incarnation of the Goddess Durga But on this later The significant thing is that Chetana also lusts for Sanjiv and her left breast throbs every time she feels the hotsSanjiv Kumar Mitra who is a kleptomaniac needs Chetana physically as well as commercially He wastes no time in buying her time exclusively for his channel thus virtually owning her He wastes no time in marketing her as well as the misery of the murderer's and the victim's family He is a man without emotions only lust for riches for fame and for pleasures of the flesh and the hanging is only a studio production to raise the ratings for his channel As his family history is revealed towards the end of the novel we get an idea of what makes this complex creation tick Surprisingly the ethics of capital punishment is not discussed openly Rather the author cleverly presents it as A during Chetana's TV show her father's bombastic speeches to journalists justifying it and opinions of various characters both pro and con But the political subtext is very clear and most effective especially when various hangings from the stories told to her by her grandma are graphically described to us by ChetanaBut the most powerful theme is the undercurrent of frightening and bloodthirsty feminity which permeates the narrative – the punishing mother the toothed vagina that men have sublimated through their myths and stories and either locked up as the madwoman in the attic or elevated to a pedestal as goddess It is no accident that this novel is set in Bengal I feel as Durga’s fearsome dance of death is part of the Bengali psyche – and being from Kerala a state where women’s mysteries still manifest as an undercurrent in many festivals Thiruvathira being the prime example the author can very well appreciate itChetana can tie a hangman’s knot in seconds – she does that with her dupatta and uses it on would be molesters to great effect She feels connected to various legendary heroines of myth legend and history whether from her own family or otherwise who had used the power of the eternal feminine on hapless males the power of the soft seductress as well as that of the fierce Devi It is no coincidence that the earth from the front yard of the courtesans of Sona Gacchi is used to make the idols of the goddess for Durga Puja All the things described above makes this novel good What makes it great is its structureIndia has a great tradition of storytelling However the structure of Indian stories and myths are not linear in the traditional sense Starting with a central story the narrative meanders through a twisted path with many byways – and many a time the narrator takes detours Sometimes even the byways have byways branching off them It is uite common by the end of the story for the listener to be confused as to exactly where he is – but the bard keeps on singing and ultimately reaches the end tying up all the loose ends in the processThe Katha Sarith Sagara and the Mahabharata are two well known examples of the above techniue As one gets accustomed to the Indian timeless way of telling stories one starts not getting disturbed by the detours In fact one starts to savour them to relish them to enjoy each sub story which could be each made into an epic in its own right In fact many Mahabharata tales have become movies novels and plays in various Indian languagesThis is the structure Meera adopts and it is fascinating I have seen criticisms of the novel saying that it should have been edited down – and I strongly disagree Each of the chapters is an episode as well as a stirring tale in its own right and it is to be enjoyed as such India cannot be rushed So sit back in your chair ladies and gentlemen and travel along with this gorgeously terrifying executioner on the most terrifying and exhilarating journey of her lifeI guarantee that you will not regret it Chetna Now that's A FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH OMG The strongest and mightiest female character ever in Malayalam literature atleast in my humble opinion An extraordinary book that deals with the topic of Capital Punishment the long and fascinating history of the Hangman family of the Grudha Malliks and so much The atmosphere it creates in the reader's mind is just so intruiging and at the same time so haunting relevant scathing brilliant and reveting The story is so well crafted and is filled with legends myths and historical backstories which fits so so well with the situations and ties the whole story together and forms that perfect final picture We get than we could ask for the fascinating history of Kolkota the 1200 year old epic legends of the Grudda Malliks stories stories and stories and that's uite an offer I can't refuse And this perfect juxtaposition of the myths and imaginative with the realistic is what makes it uniue and specialMeera so perfectly and effectively attacks and criticises the outrageous inappropriate and disgusting behaviour of today's media the attitude of the society towards women and the the lower class the traditional system in India at that time and even now of profession being based on one's cast and religion and the book covers so many areas like love sex death life karma fate life after death and is full of profound philosophical thoughts and views The characters are so solid and well built and are very interesting Phonibhushan Grudha Mallik Dhakkuma Sanjiv Kumar Mitra Manobendra Bose and CHETNA like the hilsa fish that swims against the current for thousands of miles to finally reach it's destiny her character alone is enough to make this a masterpiece A uniue book that deserves all the awards and praise it got I read the original Malayalam language edition but I believe the English translation is eually good Shortlisted for the South Asian Literary Award Hats off to KR Meera for this brilliant book and hoping to see works of her in the futureThanks for reading 35Depressing grim powerhouse and yet beautifully craftedThe kind of book which shouldn't be kept on your shelf rather hanging from the roof with a noose around itIt was a difficult read because of extreme negativity of characters Had many sleepless nights due to thisWithin the main plot there are 45 50 short stories about hanging and deathUnbelievable descriptions of Kolkata coming from a Malayalam writer The writing is extraordinarily good I read the English translation 51 chapters and every chapter is packed with a punch Too bad I couldn't handle all that grimness Hated almost every charcterHighly recommended if you like dark and powerful writing

  • Paperback
  • 552 pages
  • ആരാച്ചാർ
  • K.R. Meera
  • Malayalam
  • 20 October 2014

About the Author: K.R. Meera

KR Meera is an Indian author who writes in Malayalam She won Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award in 2009 for her short story Ave MariaShe has also been noted as a screenplay writer of 4 serialsMeera was born in Sasthamkotta Kollam district in KeralaShe worked as a journalist in Malayala Manorama later resigned to concentrate on writing She is also a well known column writer in Malayalam

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