Readers Write In #436: Moga Mul

Posted on January 24, 2022


By Vikran MN

I can’t remember a book which made me this sad in the recent times. Books that make me sad doesn’t necessarily have to be the most impactful ones. For example when I read ‘The Mill on the Floss’ it got me really sad but when someone would ask me about my top five English novels I don’t think it’ll come up in the list. May be Moga Mul too could be that kind or maybe not, who am I to judge. If someone asks me suddenly what’s my favorite Tamil novel, I’ll easily point out ‘Kagidha Malargal’ because not only did it make me sad but it was super impactful through its literary style as well just like ‘The Catcher and the Rye’. 

But when I wanted to write about ‘Kagidha Malargal’ I couldn’t write anything about it, it would be evident through my review. On the other hand I could write and write about ‘The Catcher and the Rye’. May be it is a generic problem I have while I write about novels. Like films it is not easy to dissect and mention separate aspects. Or it may be due to fact that I don’t know to write about Tamil novels in English. May be I should attempt to write in Tamil and see whether it’d be of any good.

Moga Mul had a similar vibe to ‘Kagidha Malargal’ but not as stylish as that. Plus ‘Kagidha Malargal’ was similar to ‘The Catcher and the Rye’. I could easily go ahead and say I could have written both. It might appear as an overstatement for many but few of my friends would understand. But here in ‘Moga Mul’ it was more mature, not only content wise but the way the entire story was handled. There was not a single stylish element. The author Thi. Janakiraman, doesn’t overdo at any point. He keeps his skill in check. And what’s brilliant was it didn’t appear to me while reading. There are two types of artists, one who makes us go whoa through their making/writing and the other one who makes go wow by letting us know how much he has underplayed it. But he’s beyond that level because we couldn’t even recognize where all he has controlled his emotions. May be that’s how much involved he was in the book that it didn’t escape the boundaries, which is pure genius effort.

You can’t help but feel bad for Babu in this novel. Even though you feel a certain bit of sadness for Chellappa in ‘Kagidha Malargal’, it would be limited to only few people. But Babu is a universal, it may be harsh to say, but he’s a universal loser. Why should problems like this happen to a plain individual? If it had happened to Rajam, it would have been okay, I can give go so far and bring my sadistic side and say that it would have even been enjoyable, but for Babu it was pure agony. And these problems happen to him without taking any side and doesn’t make anyone villain. May be some would have hated his next door neighbor but it was just for a brief while. I’m sure Yamuna wouldn’t have been hated by any.

In a way it’s a feminist novel too. Like how Kamal doesn’t have anything to do, yet he’s the hero in ‘Aval Appadaithan’, Babu is the hero here. As simple as his name, he’s a simple man too. When the novel starts we get his interest towards music and admiration towards his friend Rajam, who appears to be a very profound man. But later when we feel that the whole story would go that way, Rajam just disappears. The departure was heavy. When Rajam says that his marriage has got fixed and it’ll happen in fifteen days, it reminded me of me. May be after giving hope I’d have gone out of some of my friends’ life just like that without giving any clue. It reminded me of one of my favorite scene in a Karthik film ( I don’t know which) where he and his friends walk in the beach and with each cut, one of his friends disappear and when finally two people are there Karthik would say he’d also leave. It is a beautiful scene. Generally the protagonist stays behind and makes us feel bad for his loneliness but here we don’t feel for the guy who appears for just a second. Rajam leaving Babu was like this. Even though Babu is the protagonist, Rajam would be the man everyone would admire because of his clear thinking, when he just leaves like that, it was shocking but the way Babu handles it, it was beautiful.

Having been titled as ‘Moga Mul’ it was evident that it was going to talk about lust and sex at some point of time but it’s not quite literal except for the brief moment here and there, in Babu’s terrace and in his room in Chennai. Otherwise it’s all about the tension and the feel. And in a book (or may be even in real life) it’s not easy to project a women’s life. In book it’s even tougher because it has to be literal but here the author makes us think what Yamuna would have really thought, whenever she converses with Babu. Especially the conversation with her after Babu tells about his interest in her was epic. Words were few but we could get the tension and we could know that there is a lot running in Yamuna’s mind than what’s being said. 

In fact the Yamuna character was handled in such a dignified manner. It’s easy to project someone like that as a bitch or being heartless. But here it was so proper. She just stays there in the frame. She neither rebels nor does she have the heart of gold. It was good to see a proper human being with emotions we couldn’t read. I loved the juncture where she says she left her mom and came out of the house. There wasn’t any judgmental views. It was lovely to see that she was not made a villi for that. I loved the people around her for that.

I don’t think any book could achieve this level of greatness talking about music and being passionate about it. When seeing a ‘Whiplash’ we get excited because we could hear the outcome. But in a book it’s difficult, that too for people who don’t know Carnatic music like me, it’s impossible to achieve that level of impact but this book does. It also gives a divine character in the form of Ranganna. Few characters would never go out of mind, like the thatha in ‘Unnal Mudiyum Thambi’ even though they’re not protagonists. Ranganna is one such gem. And the talks with Ranganna and Ramu about how one need not exhibit his talent to show his greatness was Roarkian without being Roark. That’s why it was even more special because at the end of the day Howard Roark was an adamant and idealistic character which passes off as inhuman or impossible human but being a Ranganna or a later stage Babu is very much possible with their shortcomings.

It was lovely to see a book with story set in pre independence era but doesn’t talk about the politics or the struggles. It’s a plus that it’s even unapologetic with the brahminical language. Only when you write without the need to be politically correct every time, best of art evolves and ‘Moga Mul’ is an example of that.