Mathilukal (The Walls)

October 7, 2010
By Susan Mathen

Vaikom Muhammad Basheer is one of the greatest writers in Malayalam and has raised Malayalam fiction to international standards.

Staying true to the elements that make any Basheer novel an absolute pleasure to read, Mathilukal also has an easy conversational style of writing, subtle humour that makes the reader chuckle, smooth unfolding of the plot, and a metaphor running right through the story. While you reach the end of the novel, you witness a stark reality- an almost disturbing metaphor to certain events or feelings in life. The metaphors are what make his novels endearing.

The main characters in this novel are Basheer himself, his fellow inmates in the Travancore jail, a female voice belonging to Narayani from the women’s prison, and the walls that separate the men’s prison and the women’s prison.

Basheer’s Mathilukal is about a person who is mechanically living out each day in the prison till his sentence is over. He gets renewed hope and energy in his monotonous life in the prison, when he starts interacting with a female voice from across the walls, from the women’s prison. They fall passionately in love, exchange tokens of love across the wall, device a code to signal when they want to listen to each others’ voices, and so on. There are priceless conversations between them from both sides of the wall. There is new meaning to his hitherto dull life. He now has a reason to wake up to each day, to look forward to hearing Narayani’s voice, and to replay each of their words a hundred times before he falls off to sleep. They even strategise on how to catch a glimpse of each other…

Pick up this novel to know what happens to Narayani and Basheer. The beauty of this novel lies in its simplicity, and in the author’s ability to bring a twist to the idea of freedom and imprisonment. It leaves us thinking about this notion for atleast some time after finishing the novel.

A beautiful read in Malayalam, misses out some of the poetic brilliance in the translation, but still worth it. This novel was later made into an award winning movie by Adoor Gopalakrishnan starring Mammootty.

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Mathilukal (The Walls), 4.2 out of 5 based on 27 ratings

This post was submitted by Susan Mathen.

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  • http://www.ingoodbooks.com Dhimant Parekh

    Fantastic review Susan :)

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    • geetha oommen mathen

      this is interesting..keep on writing!!!

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  • http://www.thebetterindia.com Anuradha Parekh

    Thanks for sharing about this book. Any idea where we can get a translated version?

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