It is definitely a prodigious task for an author to write a story based on an autobiography. It will have real characters and incidents. The risk burgeons out if it is not an adaptation and the author has to stick to real incidents and characters. A skimpy or superfluous sketch could mar its real objective. But Xavier J has pulled the right strings to make Nilaykkatha Symphony, an autobiography by veteran journalist Leela Menon, into a beautiful novel titled Veyililekku Mazha Chanju.
The story starts with Leela, the protagonist being diagnosed with cancer. Slowly the life of Leela Manjari, a small girl from a nondescript village called Vengola unfolds. From a village belle who loves birds, trees and plants, she quickly transforms into a name to be reckoned with, in the field of journalism.
Leela brings to the fore many characters and incidents. Her friends Kamala Das and Sugathakumari who stood by her like a rock during her illness and Prema Vishwananthan who brought her to the world of journalism and her child-like husband Bhaskaran are significant few among them. Without diluting its essence, the author has narrated the Vypeen hooch tragedy, Aruvakkode potter women’s woes, Sooryanelli and many other reports which once shook Kerala.
Perhaps, Xavier might have faced the biggest challenge from the original work itself. Nilaykkatha Symphony could be categorised into three parts - Leela Menon’s childhood, her life as a journalist with ‘The Indian Express’ and her life after that. How would one condense these three parts that have been written elaborately? It might definitely have been a nerve-racking job. But, surprisingly, with ease, he has fine-tuned the original work into a novel by picking the right elements. He has compressed it so efficiently that in no way has it affected the essence of the actual work, placing the dialogue in the apt place.
Leela used to wake up in the morning by turning to her right side. It was her mother’s instruction. Otherwise, things would go go wrong, she used to say. And one morning, blood dripped out of her right nose. Even when she was diagnosed with cancer and given a span of six months to live, it was one of her unfinished stories that haunted her and kept her moving for she felt restless till she completed it. She borrowed a pen and paper from her doctor and sent the news to the bureau. This undaunted spirit pushed her on even while she had to encounter various hurdles in the form of illnesses from cancer, to bypass surgery and later to facial palsy. And Xavier could successfully bring out this indomitable spirit to the readers.
At the outset the work proceeds in a poetic way, but soon turns into a stubborn fiction being obstinate not to embrace any sort of creativity. Perhaps, the author had to do it as the nature of events demanded it, but it is a bit of a strain for the readers who have not read the autobiography. The same poetic tempo is not seen throughout the work. When the novel switches over to the narration of her life as a journalist, the reader is likely to be in a dilemma as to whether they are leafing through the autobiography or a novel. It could have been avoided.
The novel starts with a third person account, but at times it slips into a first person narrative. Though it moves parallel to the original work, the novel could have been rendered in a way that it could transcend the readers.
Xavier J is a subeditor with the Malayalam daily, Janmabhumi. His other works include Kadal Malayodu Paranjathu, Zeebravarakal and Rathriyude Pakalurakkam.