Tuesday, March 28

“What the Rains Foretold”: This book relates an origin myth of Kerala and its people

  • The book “What the Rains Foretold” by N. Mohanan has been translated from the Malayalam original “Innalathe Mazha” by Manoj Neelakanthan.

  • This work is an introspection into the mind of the protagonist, Vararuchi, and the tragic arc of his life. Young Vararuchi was an accomplished scholar, who sought to challenge destiny and overturn its writ. He was offered the coveted seat of the Royal Pundit at the King’s court, but demurs and declares he wishes to pursue the truth.

  • On hearing a prophecy that he is destined to marry the child of a Pariah couple, Vararuchi seeks to subvert fate. Later he marries Panchami, the beautiful and accomplished young daughter of a Brahmin, but learns she is the same child. They have twelve children, who are forsaken at his bidding as he pursues his quest for knowledge. The children grow into fine young people from different walks of life—religion, warfare, the arts and crafts—to become the progenitors of Kerala, a land that thrives with prosperity and contentment. The conclusion that blends repentance and forgiveness provides a cathartic resolution.

  • Read an excerpt from the book below.

Vararuchi strode farther and farther into the vast expanse of time. His quest took him from one school of learning to another, as the changing seasons wove their magic around him. In the splendid hues of the rainbow and in various fragrances they lavished themselves in his path. The changing air was picturesque. Drying autumnal leaves swirled around him in hazy circles even as the woods darkened in the arid air. Now and then the eye was tricked by the sight of a dizzying mirage. With the rains came the rainbow, and fresh young buds sprung up everywhere to welcome the showers. And then it was spring, laden with blossoms on the waters. The autumn woods trembled and leaves dropped silently to earth, even as a summer sped through the scorching heat in search of a cool glade. Unaffected by the changing colours and moods of nature, Vararuchi continued on his journey. Only his body showed some signs of the passing time; his determination and mind remained fixed. His education was boundless, encompassing every aspect of knowledge. He unravelled the mysteries of stars, planets, and astral bodies at the legendary Aryabhatta’s school of astrology. His experiments at the revered Kanaadan’s centre of learning led to an understanding of the very nature of this earth. He studied Ayurveda at the feet of the pioneering masters Charaka and Susruta. Discourses and debates under the tutelage of Brihaspati and Vachaspati invigorated his intellect and appetite for knowledge. In the arts, Mammadabhatta awakened him to a critical appreciation of literature and its principles. His instinct for language was sharpened by discourse and exchange at Kundakan’s. At the school of Chaarvakku, a world of physical sciences opened up new frontiers in Vararuchi’s thirst for knowledge.

Unending and laborious was his thirst to unravel the mystery of life, the secrets of joy and sorrow… His research went into every aspect of human understanding to discover the essence of life. It was a daunting task that required grit, concentration and enduring great tribulation. Throughout these seventeen years of immense struggle his mind was restless and insecure. Almost every day after a hard day’s work, his soul was disturbed by the helpless cry of the little girl.

However much he tried to forget he could not. From somewhere in the recesses of his memory, there echoed the cry, disquieting in its fervour, unsettling in its stillness. The helpless cry of a poor, newborn girl child. Try as he might, the episode remained unforgotten, undiminished. Memory shone through attempts to conceal it, at justifications in the name of wisdom, duty or purpose. The passage of time would only heighten the ghastliness of the deed. In the hours after his study, as he sought a moment’s rest, the memory would come unbidden, disturbing his peace and equanimity. Poor, helpless child; his conscience was laden with guilt.

What meanness, trying to kill a poor child! Could a scholar, a man of wisdom, stoop to such a lowly act? But then, his intellect reasoned, one can’t sum it up all that simply. What if you realized the truth of my intentions? If you knew that the child held the seed of a foreboding—one that could shake the very foundations of faith, of customs and tradition? You cannot be so harsh if you could only foresee the upheavals to happen, were the prophecy to come true. A Brahmin boy with a girl from a lowly caste? Unthinkable! Do I seem mean and self-centred? Is it unbecoming to think so? But am I not to look after my interests? And what right has another to hinder my ambitions?

Manoj Neelakanthan, translator of the book

But this was the voice of cultivated thought and cold reason. Confined to its quest, its morality was a bounded one. If this was all that mattered, what was the trepidation that he felt, as though of a clamouring at the walls? Into the stronghold of his convictions something had wormed its way in—unheeding, unbidden. It was indifferent to argument, reasoning, and loud assertions of right and wrong. Though it was unassuming, rather weak in stature, an all-too-human sentiment, remorse at the wrongdoing had pervaded deep within him. He couldn’t wish the innocent voices away; nor could he reason with them, for they passed unchallenged— the underdogs of justice. It was as though his defences were breached, not in combat but rather by a foregone conclusion. In the stillness of his nights, the pleas grew loud and shrill, shattering his calm and tearing at his very being. Poor, helpless child.

‘Vararuchi!’ a voice reprimanded him. ‘There’s an ebbing in your penance, a slackening in your quest. Are you a weakling that you cry like this?’

Truth be told, beneath the resolute young man he now appeared to be, there was a struggling child, with a trembling heart. From childhood his mother had been an abiding influence on him. The memory of her love overcame him.


The tired voice of his brother resounded in his memory. Vararuchi winced. His brother had never known a moment’s rest and had borne great hardships—all for him, so that his younger brother might become a man of learning, a great man. And what had come about in the wake of it all? The years of unremitting toil had taken their toll. Vararuchi remembered only too well the hastily scrawled note his brother had left behind:

My dear child,

Listen carefully and do not be troubled by what I’m going to say. Circumstances make it difficult for me to stay here any longer. While I can I’ll cross the border and escape to Nepal. Far away from everything we know, I hope to find protection there.

But don’t you worry. Your aspirations lie in the realm of learning, of wisdom. And there’ll be none happier than me to see you become a scholar. As for me, I’m a sinner. Your coming with me shall only wreck your dreams.

And that shall not be. The world we’ve come into has been a harsh one and our life until now has been a bitter experience. From the ashes of our humble beginnings you should rise tall. You are blessed with superior intellect and reasoning, and you alone can make all our dreams come true.

Pardon me for leaving you like this. You know well there’s no one I care for more than you in this whole world. Though from afar, your brother awaits news of your rise to fame and fortune. And I certainly wouldn’t wish to darken your glorious endeavour with the shadow of my presence.

In the prospect of us meeting sometime, somewhere, in happier times.,

I remain,

Your loving brother.

Sharp, rushed scribbles on the rough palm leaf. That was the last he had heard of his brother. And he had chanced upon the note much too late, Vararuchi thought bitterly. It was on the auspicious night of the new moon, marked by fasting, that he had paid a visit home. The premises looked long deserted, like a home abandoned in flight. There, on the porch by the gate lay a sheaf of leaves loosely tied together: his brother’s farewell note.

Somewhere along the way, the momentous little note was forgotten. But the lines remained, etched in his memory. What desperation had driven his brother to go away? Stories abounded. One he had heard later shook him; he couldn’t believe that his brother had been driven to such an act. Of a theft…the royal gold at the temple where his brother had served…but that couldn’t be. Why would he ever do something like that? Could he have committed such a crime, perhaps, on account of his younger brother’s education? Vararuchi receiving the education he had always wanted meant, of course, fees, offerings to the Master—so many expenses. Coming to think of it, Vararuchi had always been provided for.

‘…Circumstances make it difficult for me to stay here any longer.’ Indeed, he could well imagine.

That was the last he had heard of his brother. He did not know what fate had met him since. The road to Nepal was rife with treacherous mountain passes; the forests there were home to wild beasts. Could it be, Vararuchi shuddered but then dismissed the thought, of cannibals that inhabited those jungles? An overwhelming sadness came over Vararuchi. Looking back, his life had been an endless saga of hardships, a bitter childhood borne on poverty, hunger, need. Mother, father, brother—everyone beloved to him—had succumbed to the harshness of fate.

Excerpted with permission from What the Rains Foretold, N. Mohanan, translated from the Malayalam by Manoj Neelakanthan, Niyogi Books. Read more about the book here and buy it here.



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