The Gospel of Yudas by K. R. Meera – Love and Allegiance in Political Turmoil
22nd November, 2016
This is the story of a Naxalite burdened by guilt and a girl who falls madly in love with him.
The Gospel of Yudas takes place in a riverside in Kerala. The Naxalite movement has weakened while the people who were involved in it still bear the brunt. Prema, daughter of a former policeman who tortured Naxalites during the Emergency is attracted to Yudas, nicknamed Crocodile Yudas. He earned his nickname because of his vocation – recovering dead bodies from the river. For Prema, Yudas is not a mere infatuation in her fifteen-year old mind. She sees him as her key to freedom from her family and kin. However Yudas laughs it off as child’s play when he comes to know of it. Prema’s stubborn mind nurtures her obsession with the ex-Naxalite and fires up her admiration for him as she grows older. Yudas has secrets of his own that weigh him down from leading a normal life. Slowly we are introduced to his old political comrades and how he is plagued with the guilt that he gave their names when the police brutally assaulted him. Prema tries to free him from the burden of guilt that he carries and in doing so attempts to find for herself what freedom is.
Like his namesake, Judas sees himself as a traitor who betrayed his friends to the State. He is driven mad by this guilt and finds solace in alcohol. He is filled with remorse for caving in and not sticking with the Naxalite ideologies of unity and loyalty.
Equally interesting is Prema’s fascination with a person like Yudas and his ideologies. What could attract a girl to a man who dives for dead bodies and is usually in an intoxicated state? Though the book does not give definitive answers, it is a joy to follow Prema through her journey to win back her love.
The book is set in the backdrop of the Naxalite movement. The Naxalite Movement derives its name from the Naxalbari region of West Bengal where it emerged from, in 1967. The movement reached the state of Kerala in 1968 and continued till 1976. The book does not say much of the history of the movement. It focusses more on the emotional burden the movement unraveled on the common people.
Meera is successful in opening the reader’s eyes to the turbulence that shook the State during the Naxalite movement. The book is an even more engrossing read if you have heard stories of the political scenario during this period – murder of Rajan and unity among Naxalites. The language in the book is not descriptive. Yet in few words, the beauty of the riversides, the turmoil in the minds of the survivors of the movement and Prema’s angst for love come alive. There were portions where I cringed from the macabre account of violence inflicted on the Naxalites by the State.
I particularly enjoyed the elegant way in which the book handled love in the midst of such scenarios as well as the subtle humour in various passages. There is a meeting between Prema and a police officer who served the State during the rise of Naxalite movement. When she meets him as an adult, he is an old man and she finds it difficult to believe that the man before her is the same man who was described as a terror by her father in her child hood days. This is one of my favourite portions in the book.
The translation by Rajesh Rajamohan does not disappoint. However at occasional junctures in the book, there were abrupt clashes into the shortcomings of a foreign language. I do not think these would be evident to a person who does not know the original language. However, to someone well versed in Malayalam, there are portions where the original meaning (often humour) could not be conveyed with English words. I would not hold this against the English version of the book as some things cannot be conveyed in the same ferocity in different languages.
Final Verdict :
I experienced laughter, anger and grief as I read the book. The Gospel of Yudas is an unapologetic account of the fate of Naxalites and the degrading effects of guilt on the living, both the ideologists and the policemen. Above all, this is a love story of Prema who was obsessed with Yudas, since the age of fifteen and spent her life trying to redeem him of his guilt and convince him to give their love a chance.
Title : The Gospel of Yudas
Author : K. R. Meera ; Translator : Rajesh Rajamohan
Publisher : Penguin India
Published : 2016
Language : English
Pages : 150
Rating : 4/5
Much thanks to the publisher for a copy of the book. All opinions are my own.
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K.R. Meera is an Indian author, who writes in Malayalam. She won Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award in 2009 for her short-story, Ave Maria. She worked as a journalist in Malayala Manorama, later resigned to concentrate more on writing. She is a well-known column-writer in Malayalam.