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Francis Ittykkora After reading several pretentious and boring… - Ratheesh KrishnaVadhyar's Journal
January 16th, 2010
09:05 pm

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Francis Ittykkora

After reading several pretentious and boring short stories written by new generation Malayalam writers during 2001-2005 time frame, I had decided to stay away from Malayalam fiction for a while. Paleri Manikyam was a Malayalam novel which I read after a long time, and I liked it. Encouraged by that, this week I read TD Ramakrishnan's novel Francis Ittykkora, and it also was a good reading experience. Francis Ittykkora shows a new face of Malayalam literature, and with its innovative narrative structure and imaginative theme spanning to multiple centuries and continents, I think this novel would be a landmark in modern Malayalam literature.

The novel starts with an Internet chat transcript. Itty Cora, a US citizen and an "Iraq War Veteran", chats with a Malayalee girl named Rekha. Through a series of chat sessions and emails, Cora narrates his life story and the current problems he faces. His experiences are bizarre and disturbing, to say the least (Critic Asha Menon, in the back cover of the book, compares the book with Dharma Puranam in this aspect), and Rekha learns that Cora has recently converted himself to a cannibal(!), hoping to find a remedy for his problems, and also tried various violent black magic techniques at Peru. Cora says that his mother was an Italian, and an ancestor of hers was a 15th century pepper merchant from Kunnamkulam, Kerala, who had settled in Florence, Italy. His name was Francis Ittykkora, and Cora wants Rekha to find information about this person.

Rekha, with some of her close colleagues and clients, tries to find information about Ittykkora from various elderly people in Kunnamkulam. Soon, they come to know that there exists a set of 18 families spread over all continents of the world who are direct descendants of Ittykkora, and some of them still live in Kunnamkulam. All of them have certain strange customs and rituals which they follow secretly, and they have certain ancient books and manuscripts with them which are not seen by anyone outside the family. Meanwhile, Cora meets a mathematics researcher named Morigami in Peru, who had obtained some information about Ittykkora from various sources, and wants to get one of those secret family books continue her research. Through the adventures of Cora and Rekha and her friends, the blog entries of Morigami, and a few remaining pages of a moth-eaten old book about Ittykkora which someone had written during early 20th century (the author of the book was murdered), there emerges a larger-than-life picture of Francis Ittykkora, who was a multidimensional personality.

I have not read The Da Vinci Code yet, and I haven't watched the movie either; I know about its theme only from a high level, so I would refrain from commenting in detail about the thematically similarity Francis Ittykkora is having with this book. TD Ramakrishnan mentions in the book that his novel is not history and is just an attempt to create a story by weaving historical incidents and fiction. It can be considered as an achievement by the author that after reading this novel, we would feel that a person called Ittykkora really existed and that his name was purposefully removed from all our "fabricated" history books. This is an ironical and dangerous situation, since the novel itself is a collection of fabricated incidents, and so probably it makes us wonder how thin a line is present between history and fiction. To make things more complex, there are many biographies and historical incidents narrated in detail in the book (which match with the Wikipedia web pages on these subjects), in which fictitious incidents and characters have been inserted. Direct and indirect comments have been made about the private lives of historic characters starting from Hypatia of Alexandria to Alexander Grothendieck (who presently is said to be living in reclusion). There is a chapter in the book where a group of people discuss about Ittykkora the mathematician and the influence of Ittykkora and the "Hypatian school" on the 15th century Mathematicians of Kerala, where we see people supporting and opposing the status-quo of present written history. This part is cleverly narrated in a sort of journalistic style, by reading which the reader develops the impression of standing along with the author as a third-party observer, and then forming his own opinions on the subject. All this brings out various questions regarding the level of artistic freedom that an author can use while dealing with history.

The lifestyle of characters seen in the novel is very unusual for a Malayalam novel, I think. Even though the reader may get familiar with it after a few chapters, frequent blows are cast through digressions, like the detailed descriptions of a "cannibal feast". After all this is said, TD Ramakrishnan has indeed succeeded in creating an intriguing story - there is no doubt about that. Francis Ittykkora is a book that would tempt us to continue reading it till its very end in one sitting. And the way the author has skillfully assembled various real incidents and people into this story to give it a socio-political perspective, and the extensive study and research that might have possibly gone behind that, all has to be highly appreciated.

(10 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments
 
From:(Anonymous)
Date:January 17th, 2010 04:42 am (UTC)

Good Review!!

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Wonder how big the book is !! Alex Haley's 1977 title "Roots" had similar story syntax.

Rgds,
R. Srinath
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From:ratheesh
Date:January 17th, 2010 04:54 am (UTC)

Re: Good Review!!

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It's 308 pages long.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:January 18th, 2010 03:45 pm (UTC)

Re: Good Review!!

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Dear Ratheesh,

I will surely look out for it at bookshops here. Is it available to buy online?

Regards
Suraj
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From:ratheesh
Date:January 18th, 2010 03:49 pm (UTC)

Re: Good Review!!

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I think it must be available at DC Books Online Bookstore.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:January 18th, 2010 06:25 am (UTC)

Itty Cora is a trip...

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Itty Cora is a trip... it is a mad trip.

Wonderful narrative that can literally glue you to the book.

I truly agree to whatever you have written about this book.

It is a classic in its own right.

From:(Anonymous)
Date:April 17th, 2010 10:20 am (UTC)

Re: Itty Cora is a trip...

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I heared about this book yesterday. He was saying that its a very good book. Let me try to purchase it through online.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:January 3rd, 2011 04:43 am (UTC)
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Truly a well researched stuff. The author is audacious enough to look in to the world maths history and find arguably vulnerable points in its course and weave the characters in to it in a way which lead us in to a dilemma of what is truth and what is not.Truly a remarkable effort.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:April 21st, 2012 11:40 am (UTC)
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wonderful work. the only bad thing is the study by asha menon printed in the book.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:April 27th, 2012 02:19 pm (UTC)
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The Problem with our Malayalam Literature is that its fruits are either submerged or too high to reach. Here its just high for you to catch, say with a few jumps. Any way it made me search the Net for the Legendary Itty Cora.
I Didnt find any novelty in the diction. The USP is the incorporation of intellectual sexuality with the thrilling explorations into history, society and the world in general. Sex, anti religious stuff ( esp Islam or Christianity coz Hindus never care for any criticism) and some intellectual exercise always attracts Malayalee readers in general. But I think the Globalization was too much.
The Novel was able to break the pseudo conservatism of Malayalees. The " School" is a place where we need to find happiness. Take it from me. A few such school can eliminate sexual harassment in Kerala.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:October 1st, 2012 02:02 am (UTC)
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I was reading "Anita's Legacy" by Gurpur Prabhu, that mentions Anita to be the incarnation of Hypatia. I did not know about Hypatia, but knew a little about St Cyril (Koorilos) due to my kerala christian upbringing; and, then in the Hypatia Wiki page, the Malayalam novel "Francis Ittykora" was mentioned as featuring Hypatia.. And googling further I reached your journal. ..

One can only be amazed at the way in which modern technology takes you to the connected systems of knowledge(abstract communications) and only wonder how the knowledge systems grow..and how we assimilate more and more as we go..the links are our true contributions because knowledge by itself is eternal..it exists whether we see it or not..As a creator of the link, as we speak about, you do good. Please continue.
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