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Published on: 04/16/23 6:18 AM

Book review: What the Rains Foretold by N. Mohanan

When the past finally catches up

Mohanan`s story What the Rains Foretold (Innalathe Mazha) is a retelling of a popular Kerala folklore, which involves the growth trajectory of a young Brahmin man named Vararuchi who turns his back on the position of king`s Royal Pundit and all the comfort that entails, to head off into the unknown, a Seeker in search of Truth.

Packed with lush descriptive passages and sometimes overwrought prose, it is an interesting tale nonetheless. Vararuchi`s journey to the pinnacle of truth is a long and arduous one, with a life-changing lesson at its zenith. En route,  he learns much about self-control, providence, willfulness, hubris, pride and its fall, and most importantly, that the Truth is not merely one truth. The reader is taken along on this quest and Vararuchi`s epiphanies become theirs.

Vararuchi`s pilgrimage is to traverse the ocean of knowledge and understand the labyrinth that is the human condition.  He is warned that the life of a karmayogi calls for  great strength of character, a free spirit and keen insight, and he is more than confident that he is equipped with all three qualities. For a while, the reader too is confident about the exemplary young man`s prowess and capabilities.

And so Vararuchi learns astrology from Aryabhatta, Ayurveda from Charaka and Susruta, debates and discourses from Brihaspati and Vachaspati, literature, language and physical sciences from masters like Mamadabhatta, Kundakan and Chaarvakku, mind-body remedies from the great sage Dhanvantari.

A disquieting endeavour

He suffers much pain, misery, self-doubt, disquiet,  but that only strengthens his resolve. Then he sees and listens to two clairvoyant birds perched high up on a tree and they talk of his future. This future involves a young girl from a  lower caste; it is not a future the young man likes or desires, so he attempts to tweak it with casual cruelty. And in a way, his actions by the banks of the river Shipra seals his future.

For a long time thereafter, he has to live with severe guilt over his action.  Then at 35 years of age, Vararuchi meets a nubile young woman and succumbing to her charms, marries Panchami. H seeks to mould her to his image of the perfect wife of a Seeker, and to that end, forces her to abandon every child they have, twelve in all.

In an electric  finale, Vararuchi comes face to face with the Truth he has been seeking all these long and hard years, and it is a sucker punch. Panchami comes into her own, full of dignity. The couple also come to face to face with their twelve children, all who later become prominent citizens of Kerala: Mezhethol Agnihotri the priest,  Rajakan the washerman, Uliyanur Perunthachan the master craftsman and carpenter, Vallon the farmer, Vaduthala Nair the warrior, Uppukottan the merchant, Akavoor Chathan the physician, Pakaanaar the weaver, Paanaar the folk musician, Naraanathubrathan the wise madman, and their sole daughter Karakkalamma, the dancer. Their twelfth child is now a  formless divine being who is worshipped by millions far and wide.

There is quite some purple prose employed in the telling but at its heart, Vararuchi`s story is an intriguing  one, with of course, lessons to be learned by the reader if they are so inclined. There is a strong Buddhist element to it too, through the voice of Vararuchi`s elder brother who becomes a Buddhist monk.

What the Rains Foretold By N. Mohanan, translated from Malayalam by Manoj Neelakanthan.  Thornbird/Niyogi Books. Rs 395.171 pages.

N MohananNiyogi Bookstale of a seekerWhat the Rains Foretold

Sheila Kumar • April 16, 2023

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