Foreword to Lakshmi Saravanakumar’s novel, Huntsman

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The beauty of Lakshmi Saravanakumar’s novel, Huntsman, lies in how masterfully Saravanakumar weaves issues of ecology and wildlife, rights of forest dwellers, and the clash between the traditional and the modern in a plot that is as gripping as the moments one might spend sitting on a machan on a tall tree in a dense forest on a full moon night, anticipating the arrival of a tiger. Besides this, Huntsman is a study in masculinity and how an indigenous community – with their roots in forest and nature – works and the interpersonal relationships between the members of such a community. In Huntsman, there is the thrill of going on a hunt; there is concern for the environment and people who have traditionally lived in forests as the forests provide them everything that they need for their survival; and the cruelty and indifference of the moneyed and the powerful. But these are the big things. What I specifically loved in Huntsman were the details that built up the novel when the bigger issues were not being narrated. For example, the naturalness with which polygamy and polyamoury has been depicted. I am afraid I might give out spoilers, but I cannot not mention the relationship that Thangappan – the leading man, the eponymous “huntsman” of the novel – has with his three wives – Mari, Sagayarani, and Chellayi – and the feelings about other men that the wives might have. Then there is Thangappan’s masculinity which is fragile enough to be hurt by the disapproval of a child. I would just say that these details – apart from the important bigger parts which are already there – are what make Saravanakumar’s Huntsman such an engrossing and – I believe it is – important read.

The Old Man Who Read Love Stories by Luis Sepúlveda (the version I read was an English translation by Peter Bush) is one of my favourite novels and reading Saravanakumar’s Huntsman quite reminded me of Sepúlveda’s novel. Like Antonio José Bolívar, the eponymous “old man” in Sepúlveda’s novel, Thangappan too is a huntsman. Bolívar’s quarry is an ocelot, while Thangappan hunts a tiger. Just like the ecology in Sepúlveda’s Ecuadorian Amazon is shown to be facing an onslaught from the outside world, the Agamalai forest in Saravanakumar’s novel too is being threatened by the government-businessmen nexus. I read both these novels in their English translations and feel fortunate for it for both are such memorable works. Aswini Kumar’s translation from Tamil to English, from Kaanagan to Huntsman, embraces the translated-into language in such a way that there seems to be no gap between the language in which the story was originally written and the language in which I ultimately got to read it. The devotion to Goddess Palichi, Sadayan’s madness and visions of butterflies, and life in the settlement of Mokkanilai are, I am certain, as evocative in the Tamil original as I read in the English translation.

I often come away from the books and stories I read with my favourite lines from those works. My favourite line in Huntsman is this:

“Each star was the soul of a dead tribal.”

We are living in such bizarre times where, on the one hand, indigenous women are being recognised and honoured for their work in the preservation of seeds while, on the other hand, mangrove forests are being destroyed. The world appears a bleak place now and I hope stories like Lakshmi Saravanakumar’s Huntsman give us the insights that our world so badly needs at this time.

Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar:

For his debut novel, The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey, Shekhar won the 2015 Yuva Puraskar, was shortlisted for the 2014 Hindu Literary Prizeand the 2014 Crossword Book Award, longlisted for the 2016 International Dublin Literary Award,and jointly won the 2015 Muse India Young Writer Award.The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey was named by The Hindu in December 2019 as one of the ten best fiction books of the decade.

For his second book, The Adivasi Will Not Dance: Stories, Shekhar was shortlisted for the 2016 Hindu Literary Prize.

இவரது நூல் தமிழில் மொழிபெயர்க்கப்பட்டு ‘ஆதிவாசிகள் இனி நடனமாட்டார்கள்’ என்று வெளியாகி (எதிர் வெளியீடு) நல்ல கவனம் பெற்றது.

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