Puttu (Termite Colony or Anthill) is a Malayalam novel by Vinoy Thomas, his second after Karikkottakari. Puttu narrates the story of the people in a place, Perumbadi. It is a remote piece of land where people from distinct places migrate to settle. These are people looking for a place to survive. All the families who migrate to Perumbadi have fateful histories and past lives they wish not to recollect. They find their new place for survival as their new lease on life. None in Perumbadi likes to dig into the history of others, because everybody has their own story to hide.
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People and places make a community in this Malayalam novel by Vinoy Thomas
In such an emerging community, Paul sir and later his son Jeramias Paul emerge as mediators to resolve the conflicts between people. Whether it is beef between people, a crisis in the family or marital issues, the opinion of Paul sir or Jeramias is valued as final and it is unequivocally accepted. After Paul Sir’s death, Jeremias carries forward the tradition of arbitration with due weight and diligence.
Through Jeramias Paul, Vinoy Thomas narrates the complicated lives of people, and their situations, reflecting upon the choices they choose or only have and, the consequences of their choices. Thomas also portrays that individuals are mere pawns in the hands of fate; sometimes the only thing they could do is stare at their own struggles and flow with the course of events.
The cost of being a leader
Thomas presents a plethora of lives in the novel; Bhavani daivam, Neerkuzhi Achan, Kocha Raghavan, Neeru Joseph, Louis and, Philomina Sister to name a few.
Each of their histories represents two contradictions; how they constitute a significant part of the emerging history of the place and if scrutinized through the lens of moral codes, how insignificant their lives can be.
It is here that Jeramias’ importance lies; like a social engineer he (re)moulds and connects the individual lives to the greater picture – constituting an army of oneness – of Perumbadi. Are his efforts for the betterment of an individual, a family, a community and to society-at-large successful? Do his efforts of glueing and mending the twisted, broken segments always results in happy endings? Why does the chief mediator of all families of Perumbadi fail to resuscitate his own family from impending death? These are some questions that the readers stumble upon and carry with them through the pages and, in their afterthoughts.
“Thangal shareerangalayi jeevichappol aazhathil verupidichathennu thonnippicha bandhangal kinavukalayirunnennum raghavaneppole ottappettavar mathramayirunnu thangalennu eppol thirichariyunnennum aa chiriyilundayirunnu. Athu manasilakkiyappol raghavanum pathiye chirichuthudangi” (288).
“The relations they had thought as deeply embedded roots, while they lived as body, were only fantasies; the realization that they were as alone as Raghavan was in their smiles. Raghavan also started slowly smiling by realising that.”
While this Malayalam novel by Vinoy Thomas highlights the themes of sex, questions of gender, identity conflicts, search for survival, morality and amorality of wealth and, the meaning of faith in life in general, the tone of black humour in many places will amuse the reader. On the whole, for one who wishes to traverse the conflicts and crises of humanity, individual as specific and as a member of the community, Puttu is an engaging and interesting read. Also, Vinoy Thomas again proves – his command over language, in terms of dialects and evoking linguistic variations in the conveyance of cultural specificities.