The Malayalam writer P.C . Gopalan, who is better known by his pen name Nandanar, is famous for his stories on army life during the 1940s and 1950s. In his novels and short stories, he beautifully depicts the provincial Kerala life and nostalgia of soldiers. Amongst all his works, the one that touched my heart is his series on Unnikuttan, comprising of Unnikuttante Oru Divasam, Unnikuttante Lokam, Unnikuttan Valarunnu and Unnikuttan Schoolil. I owe a great deal to these books for inspiring in me a taste to read and appreciate Malayalam fiction.

Nandanar, through his inimitable style of narration, presents to us a bygone world of childhood innocence; one devoid of play station, Barbie dolls and amusement parks. The novels show us the games that children of Kerala villages played during 1970s; games that are now mere hearsays for our children. These include making bulls out of jackfruit leaves, playing ‘kutteem kolum’, the rustic brother of Cricket and ‘niravum rajyavum’.

The novel is mostly comprised of Unnikuttan’s musings about the life around him. He shows us the simplicity and freshness of the unique Valluvanadan lifestyle, intact with its paddy fields, savouries like kondattam and rituals like ‘taalappoli utsavam’ and ‘chaetta kalayal’. The five year old Unnikuttan is an observant young boy, with a colourful imagination and a daring spirit.

When the noNandanarvel opens, Unnikuttan is waking up from a beautiful dream in which a soda man with yellow beard sells soda in glass bottles with the characteristic round pebble lodged in its neck. His world consists of his parents, elder brother Kuttiyettan, younger sister Ammini, Muthassan and Muthassi. Nandanar subtly tells us about the social ranking of this family by portraying the number of servants in the house- Kaliyamma, Kuttan Nair and Mundi.  Growing up in a joint family, rich with its customs and conventions, Unnikuttan emerges as a loving, adjusting child who seldom troubles the elders. Though surrounded by people, we see Unnikuttan roaming about the house and grounds by himself. He seems caught up in a world of imagination, wondering about his Kuttettan’s life in school, Muthassan’s work in the fields, Kuttan Nair’s dexterity at handling the odd jobs at home and Ashari Velu’s skillmanship at carving beautiful furniture.

The chapter where Unnikuttan play acts his hero Velichapad’s antics using teak leaf and water, creating mock blood transport the readers right into a world where children lived at one with the Nature around them. Unnikuttan’s curiosity gets the better of him when he decides to sample a bit of Muthassan’s jaggery coated tobacco and falls into a dizzy sleep. He plays with the lamb and runs behind the calf.

While going to the temple pond to bathe with his Muthassi, he amusedly watches Basheer Mapla fishing in the overflowing canal running along the road side.  He eagerly picks up the cinema posters flying along tunnikutante lokamhe street and reads the letters he knows – ക, അ, ഉ. He bears with grace the patronizing sneer of school-going Kuttettan and the tantrums of three year old Ammini. In the noon time, when everyone else takes a nap, Unnikuttan finds respite from the sun’s blazing heat beneath the bamboo grove, where snakes are rumoured to lurk. He wonders how snakes eat their prey, like rats and frogs. Unfortunately, no National Geographic or Discovery come to his help and he solely relies on information passed down to him from Kuttan Nair.

We see, throughout this book, a childhood untainted by the hussles of city life, where children are free to explore the pristine beauty of Nature, where they learn more from experience than books, where they rely on their creativity for entertainment. I view this book as an excellent antidote to the technology-ridden world that our children are now exposed to, where they become alien to the intoxicating smell of new rain on parched earth, where they forget their roots to Kerala’s delightful traditions and where our language is fast losing its appeal to their tender souls. Because, whenever I feel like taking a plunge into my childhood memories, I eagerly browse through the gloriously innocent adventures of Unnikuttan’s world. The child in me still holds those oft-thumbed pages dear to her heart.

One thought on “‘Unnikuttante Lokam’: A World Lost To The New Generation

  1. I used watch the series by madhumohan on dooradarshan, adopted From this novel by nandhanar. So many years later, i studied same novel from my malayalam text book during high school. Now in my mid-twenties i was thinking about this novel and life of unnikuttan, feeling so good about those times and finding myself lost to the virtue of childhood, searching about unnikuttan in google and m here ♥

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