Ever since I saw the movie Nan Kadavul I wanted to read Jeyamohan’s novel Ezham Ulagam. Nan Kadavul is a movie that had left a lasting impression in me, it changed my perspective towards movies, that is when I realized that not all movies need to be entertaining, there is a lot more to it. Having read the novel, I am finding it extremely difficult to express how I feel, it would be a gross understatement if I plainly say ‘I enjoyed reading the book’, and hence the blog.
Ezhan Ulagam is a novel that documents the day to day lives of beggars and racketeers who ‘own’ them, yes they are owned. It was extremely hard for me to digest the fact that they too live in the same world that we live in, death would be the obvious choice for fortunate people like us, if we have to live their life even for a day. More than once I simply closed the book and started to stare the skies without uttering a word, I just went blank, my thought process was empty, it was difficult for me to pick the book again and continue reading, such was the heaviness. The author has tried to explain the point that humans will still be humans even in the worst living conditions, they don’t become animals, and their willingness to endure explains the human tenacity to survive even in a world that is unimaginably dark and ugly.
The story is quite descriptive about the way beggars are bought and sold, it reinstates the fact that human slave trade is still pertinent, in fact prominent, despite the social, cultural and economic change that we have all witnessed over the years. Muthammai, a conspicuous character in the story is described as a heavy women with only one breast, dysfunctional legs, one arm, eyes that are almost covered by the thick flesh that hangs from her forehead and an inconceivable gory face. Muthammai cannot move an inch on her own, she has to be carried. She is forced to have sex with similarly handicapped ghastly beggars with an intent to produce more such filthy creatures, which are eventually sold or used as a tool for begging. She refuses to breastfeed her 18th newborn which is yet another grim that is terribly handicapped, she is ruthlessly kicked by Pandaram, the one who owns Muthammai and subsequently forced to feed.
The shockwave started there and continued till the time I completed reading the book. Beggars are transported like garbage from one place to another, the organs of a relatively healthy beggar Thorrapu is sold to a hospital, a female beggar Errukku who has a broken spine is picked and brutally raped by policemen and thrown out, she is picked from the streets by an NGO, Murugan an employee of the Pandaram fraternity, ties knot to make the officials believe that she is his wife, only to make her beg on the streets again, yet she considers him as her husband from then on.
The author also takes us through the other side of their miserable lives, they laugh, they cry, they love, crack jokes and make fun. They even feel sorry for their shabby bossPandaram when his daughter runs away with a local goon, they console him, overlooking all his brutalities. They seem to live a content, happy life in spite of being fed only once a day that too with leftover rotten food sourced from local hotels and made to stay in conditions that we can’t imagine of. Regardless of all the ugliness, they still continue to live ashumans with all emotions like that of those in the normal world. It was an overwhelming experience to read about their happiness.
Pandaram, who makes his living by managing a gang of ill-fated beggars, is a staunch devotee of Lord Muruga, his day begins with the darshan of his favorite deity. Pandaramabsolutely has no regrets nor guilt for making money at the cost of sufferings of the hapless beings. On the contrary, he happens to be a loving husband, a caring father of three children. He travels all the way to nearby town to buy bangles in the middle of the night to make his daughter happy. From his perspective, he is a god fearing, honest and humble person. He does not even consider the beggars as human beings, hence turns a blind eye to their sufferings and leads a guilt free life.
Over the years Pandaram sells all the 18 babies of Muthammai, but still her love for her kids never fade, she once says to Errukku that while breastfeeding a newborn, she feels as if the baby is trying to say something to her. Her only wish in life is to have sexual intercourse with a ‘normal’ man and give birth to a healthy baby with no abnormalities. The story begins with Muthammai giving birth to her 18th dislodged kid and ends with her being brutally raped in a marshland by another disfigured beggar bought by Pandaram for the lone reason, who unfortunately happens to be one of her own 18 kids that she had given birth to. She identifies the man to be one of her own children (hunch back, blind and one finger in the place of the hand). Her screams and scrambles fall into deaf ears and the story ends.. Heaviness in my heart as I write this, I was dumbfounded, it took me 2 to 3 days to come out of the intensity.
Ezam Ulagam is a novel that has to be read by everyone, the only hindrance while reading this book is the colloquial Tamil in which the book is written, author has extensively used Kanyakumari slang which is a blend of Tamil and Malayalam, it makes it difficult for an average Tamil reader but we get used to it after the initial chapters. Please do not restrain from reading this book just because of its dark and intense content. After reading this book, there is bound to be a change in our individual perspective towards life, you feel blessed and start to realize the value of life. My biggest takeaway after reading Ezhan Ulagam, “someone out there is a lot more happy with a lot less than what you have”, appreciate what you have rather being unhappy over things that you don’t.
A change within us becomes imminent after reading Ezham Ulagam