Publisher: Aleph Book Company (An independent publishing firm promoted by Rupa Publications), Price: Rs 599
Manu Bhattathiri's 'The town that laughed' is the story of Karuthupuzha and its bunch of simpletons whose lives flow on as the tranquil river that gave this town its name.
We are not exactly told at which point of time the story is unravelling - but we can make a good guess that the story is set sometime in the mid-1980s or early 1990s when radio was the sole gadget meant for entertainment, even then it was turned on and positioned in the westerly direction for accurate weather forecast.
The advent of internet and smartphones was in the far future and the town moved on, happily enjoying the antics of their ex-inspector Paachu Yemaan who assigned drunkard Joby to escort his niece Mini back and forth to school. A series of subplots played their part before the idea was planted in the bald head of Paachu Yemaan, once the terror of the town.
The characters that orchestrated this quirky move include his wife Sharada, who fired the notion as a last-ditch attempt to salvage her husband who was rotting in his retirement days, and a good-hearted barber Sureshan, whose sole intention was to keep Joby away from his bottle as much as possible. And as a wobbly Joby lunges forward a cycle seating chirpy Mini, it sets in motion a series of events that triggers a laugh riot at the local police station and provides themes for a new-gen photographer.
Bhattathiri's characters could remind you about the quaint villages we had seen and learned to love in Sathyan Anthikad movies in Malayalam. And the writer has been able to take that everyday characters and infuse in them an energy that is highly endearing.
The unlikely bond between the little girl and the drunkard cycle-wallah, and how they talk to his she-dog Laila, instead of one another, to bypass the uncle's instructions will leave you with a gleeful face.
And we also get stories within the novel too, when the drunkard finds sense enough to tell Mini tales that border along the mystical.
The novel, however, sheds its jovial mood towards the end, and that at least some may find unsettling.
However, the ending casts only a small shadow over the book that seems to celebrate the everyday lives of rustic Kerala villages/towns that are fast fading into the oblivion.
Pick it up and you may find yourself taking a trip down nostalgia.