Saturday, September 13, 2008


I have always cursed myself for never managing to learn to read or write Tamil. Circumstances always prevented me from learning Tamil. I always wanted to read the masterpieces of Kalki, Jayakanthan, Sujatha and many others, but I had to console myself with the condensed summaries written in various blogs and book reviews.

Yesterday I found a gem from a bookshop in Moore Market, Tyagu-Oru Manithanin Kadhai, by Sivasankari, translated in English by Uma Narayanan.

It is the story of a brilliant young boy, who grows up and becomes an alcoholic.
The story starts with a grown up Tyagu ruminating on his life as his father’s dead body lies before him and he is waiting for his step-mother to come so that he can perform the last rites for his father. He goes to the bathroom takes a swig from his whiskey bottle, which he has artfully hidden in the cistern in his western toilet. He drinks the entire bottle and is so disoriented that he is not able to perform the last rites of his father.

We learn that Tyagu’s father was a hypocrite, a learned man-a Sanskrit pandit who terrorised his wife and children. His insatiable craving for sex, is a recurring theme, Tyagu adored his mother a beautiful woman-compared to a Ravi Varma painting.

The events of his life flash by, his young sister Vasu meeting an accident, falling into a coma, and eventually dying. Then his mother too died. To his utter shock his father remarried and brought an ugly woman home. Tyagu could never recover from the shock. No one could take his beloved mother’s place.

He completes his M.Com and hunts for a job for over a year bearing the taunts of his stepmother and father. In utter desperation and disgust with himself he is frustrated beyond redemption, he meets a friend who invites him home and offers him a drink of whiskey. For the first time in his life he tastes alcohol and thus starts the journey of Tyagu. Finally he gets a decent job in Madras and later transferred to Calcutta, he is relieved to leave the confines of his father and stepmother.

Then he gets married to Ganga a girl of his father’s choice. They are a complete mismatch. They have a boy named Kannan. Tyagu by now has become a manager drawing a salary of Rs 3000. His dependence on alcohol keeps increasing.

His wife leaves him and goes to Maduranthakam to stay with her parents. A chance encounter with Nana-Narayanan a childhood friend, sets the story in motion. Nana was a wastrel as a young boy and passed his S.S.L.C. in his second attempt. He has passed his MBA and now works in a high post in an international company. The two meet at the club and slowly Tyagu realizes what a failure he has turned out to be and how Nana an irresponsible young boy had reached such great heights of success.

Tyagu breaks down into tears and Nana take sit upon himself to save Tyagu, as many years ago it was Nana who had tempted Tyagu with the first cigarette. Nana and his wife Vidya help Tyagu and get him admitted to an alcohol de-addiction center. A psychiatrist Dr. Reddy treats Tyagu and slowly Tyagu comes out of his shell and during the course of the treatment Tyagu reveals his fear and deep hatred for his father, his extreme love and admiration for his dead mother, the sorrow of not having been able to help save Vasu’s life, and the intense dislike for his stepmother. In about 15 days Tyagu is cured of his craving for alcohol and prescribed a medicine called disulfural.

There is a brilliantly written section of the novel where Tyagu is given a glass of whiskey, he drinks it and within a couple of minutes the dilsulfural pill starts acting and Tyagu suffers severe chest pain and palpitation, he is quickly administered oxygen and returns to normal, Dr. Reddy warns Tyagu-“We saved you now, but if you drink whiskey again you will die. You should never ever discontinue the medicine that I have prescribed.”

Meanwhile Nana and his wife Vidya persuade Ganga-Tyagu’s wife to return to Chennai and start a new life with Tyagu. Things slowly return to normal and Ganga's scepticism is replaced by love for her husband. Her intense craving for a daughter, and Tyagu's inability to satisfy his wife's sexual needs once again creates rifts between the two. Meanwhile Nana gets a promotion and transfer and leaves for Manila. The intense friendship between the two is portrayed in the scene where Nana breaks the news of his transfer to Tyagu.Then Tyagu discontinues the tablets for about 20 days and starts drinking whiskey again. One night he returns emboldened by the alcohol within him and has sex with Ganga, and finally he satisfies her desire.

The conjugal success boosts his desire for alcohol and he once again becomes an alcoholic. Ganga becomes pregnant and everything looks fine. Then Tyagu loses his job for drinking in office and once again there is a domestic fight of epic proportions as Seshan-Ganga's father comes curses Tyagu-"You will end up an outcast on the road and not a sigle soul will come to help you."
He takes his pregnant daughter, pays Tyagu's debts leaves him on the road and goes to Madurantakam.

Tyagu is offered shelter by his drinking mate Aravindan, for a glass of whiskey Tyagu stoops down to the level of barking and howling like a dog. In a fit of anger he punches Aravindan and is promptly kicked out of the house. Tyagu realises that Seshan's curse has come true. He stays in a mansion and spends all his money on drinking even refusing to eat.
Nana returns from Manila and is shocked to learn about Tyagu's failures.
At one point he ends up drinking hooch to satisfy his quest for alcohol. He vomits blood and realizes the end is near. He looks out of the window and sees a dog that gets stuck in tar, he wants to help it but he is too weak to leave his room. Eventually the dog dies.

Tyagu decides to commit suicide and tries to buy sleeping pills, when he is unable to buy them, he settles for rat poison. A man suddenly appears and says-"You want to commit suicide?"

The man takesTyagu to his house promising him a drink and lunch. He finds out the details of Tyagu's life and then says he is a member of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Eventually he and his friends tie up Tyagu and inject him with a sedative. He wakes up to find himself looking at Dr. Reddy and Nana.

The good Samaritan had contacted Dr. Reddy found Nana and transported Tyagu to the de-addiction center.

Tyagu' eyes filled with tears as he saw his friend Nana again. Nana informs him that Ganga had given birth to a daughter-Vasu. Tyagu feels happy.

God had given Tyagu another chance to live, as the sun rose and the first rays of the dawn filtered through the window Tyagu thanked God, he decided he would become a reformed man and be a good husband and father.

The story ends on this positive note.

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