Litanies of Dutch Battery (Malayalam, 2003)

ലന്തൻബത്തേരിയിലെ ലുത്തിനിയകൾ (2003, Litanies of Dutch Battery) is a Malayalam novel written by N S Madhavan (twitter: @NSMLive). N S Madhavan is a short story writer and a columnist. This is the first novel he wrote 33 years after he started writing. This is the first Malayalam novel that I listened to on the Storytel app.

The novel traces the life of a little girl born and raised on an imaginary island off the coast of Kochi. The novel, has for its back drop the period between 1951 to 1967. It looks at the influences of the rise of Communism in Kerala and the Church in the locality through the eyes of the girl. It goes through various histories that affect the area and various oral stories that the people here spoke of and are perhaps now forgotten.

The narrator on the app is Edakochi Salim Kumar, who is a kadhaprasangam artist. It took me quite a while getting used to his pronunciation of Malayalam words. But, once I got the hang of it, it was a great listening experience.

I have mostly read English translations of Malayalam novels. This is perhaps the first time that I had the patience to sit down and listen through an entire novel in the original Malayalam.

I am not going to review the book since I don’t feel qualified to do it justice. There are two parts that I liked in the book and I am going to put them down here for future reference.

The year is 1957 and news arrives in India of the Soviet success in launching the Sputnik satellite. The Communist party cadre in Dutch Battery are celebrating the win over America. Kids make fun of the cadre saying they launched balloons into the sky and hence the Soviet achievement is no big deal. The cadre explains that balloons fall back to the ground after travelling some distance but the Soviets used a rocket that flies at a high speed to escape Earth’s gravity and put a satellite into orbit.

There are quite a few references to ship building around Kochi and also references to war stories including one about Pakistan bombing Kochi and how one bomb fell on a newly reclaimed part of Willingdon Island in Kochi. People claim to have experienced a lights out but no one ever saw the bomb being dropped nor explosions.

There is a nice interview with N S Madhavan where he talks about his novel and some of the historical references that make it into his novel.

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