From the beginning of world’s memory, the land called India has remained a mystery and it still is. To know what lies there , adventurous souls have set out to discover India. Tireless travellers desperate to find a sea route to India ended up finding other unknown landscapes.
Trade connected India to the world and Anita Nair in her book Idris :The Keeper of Light talks about a not-much-discussed aspect in India’s foreign relations – East African Trade. With Idris , Anita Nair steps out into the genre of historical fiction and has given a competent work.
The story unfolds in 1659 and the Somali trader and eternal traveller Idris Maymoon Samatar Guleed has landed in Malabar to attend the Zamorin’s Mamangam festival. A tall, dark and unusual figure, with a golden eye and passion for star-gazing Idris wanders through the land. Fate is an exceptional player and here at the southern land stretch Idris finds his 9 year old son, Kandavar, who he did not know existed.
Kandavar wants to become a Chaver- a warrior whose only ambition is to assassinate the Zamorin. To save Kandavar, his uncle sends him away with Idris. To make Kandavar see the world and understand life Idris embarks upon a journey with his son along the coast of south India,via Ceylon,Thootukkudi and Paliakkatta and ending in the diamond mines of Golconda.
Anita Nair is the wanderer’s writer. She opens up vast geographies inviting the reader to travel to those lands. She brings to the readers the 17th century south India and its beauty. Through the jewelled eye of a foreigner our native land is Idris is not a breath taking adventure, but it is the tale of a passionate traveller, who discovers himself while seeking the measure of earth and man. He is traveller, learner, a loving father, a fierce lover, a stargazer and an enthusiastic cook all rolled into one.
The author also creates an unusual lineage – the south Indian child of an east African. Kandavar is born out of a midnight tryst with Kuttimalu and later, the boy discovers the world with his true father.
The writing is strong and like the female protagonists of her other novels, Kuttimalu(Kandavar’s mother) and Tilotamma (Idris’ lover) stand out as strong and wilful. They are fearless to explore what they want from a man, rather than accepting roles which patriarchy assigns them.Another sriking character is Sala Pokker, who faithfully serves Idris as an aide and friend.
The ending leaves scope for a sequel as Kandavar returns to the comforts of home.The endearing, simple language makes this book an indulging read. The confidence of a well-researched author is the mark of this book.The book,available in hardcover is published by HarperCollins Publishers India Ltd and it was released in 2014.