Oru Sankeerthanam Pole Novel Review Essay

Thiruvananthapuram: In a first in Malayalam literature history, the novel Oru Sankeerthanam Pole by Perumbadavam Sreedharan is reaching its 100th edition. The book on the life of Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky and his love affair with Anna who later becomes his wife has broken all records in the history of Malayalam publication. The author is waiting for a date from chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan to release the 100th edition. He also plans to conduct 100 events in connection with the release of the book.  The widely acclaimed novel was first published in September 1993.

Mr Sreedharan said he was a great admirer of Dostoyevsky from the time he read Crime and Punishment at the age of 19 while he was in his village Perumbadavam.  "I have read all the books written by Dostoevsky and also his biographies and other works. It was this great administration which led me to write the book," he told DC. This book also saw the emergence of the strong relationship between a publisher Asramam Bhasi and the novelist. The book was published by Mr Bhasi's Sankeerthanam Books which published books of this single author only. Mr Sreedharan said he was an elected member of the director board of the Sahitya Pravarthaka Sahakarana Sanghom at that time. There was an allegation that writers wanted to get elected to the Sanghom to publish their books.  "Hence I decided not to engage the Sanghom in the publication of the book," he said.

 

"It was in this context that Mr Bhasi who was one of my friends and a tile factory owner took up the publication. Later, the subsequent editions of my books published by other publication companies were also published by Mr Bhasi. As he had no book depots, the distribution was through DC Books." The novel revolved around the life of Dostoyevsky from the time of his meeting with Anna till their union. Dostoevsky could not write a single page of his novel the Gambler even though he promised his editor Stelovsky that he would complete it within a few months. He had not written a single page yet. He recruits a stenographer, Anna to speed up the completion who slowly discovered that Dostoyevsky who was seen as an alcoholic, gambler and epileptic had a deeper characteristics of his personality, which slowly progresses into the emotion of love. The novel delves deep into the mind of Dostoyevsky and exposes its loneliness, weaknesses, pain and spiritual agony.

Tags: perumbadavam sreedharan, oru sankeerthanam pole

Location: India, Kerala



Filmmaker Shiny Jacob Benjamin travelled on wings of creativity with three eminent writers during the making of her new docu-fiction, In Return: Just A Book. The fact that one was 19th century Russian literary great Fyodor Dostoevsky and the other two were contemporary, eminent writers in Malayalam did not create any barriers when she embarked on the unforgettable voyage with the three wordsmiths.

Shot in St. Petersburg and Kerala, the film has been selected for the Indian panorama section of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in the documentary (non-fiction) category. The award-winning filmmaker says the idea of such a movie was born when a group of friends were discussing the influence of Russian literature on writers and readers in Kerala. That is when Ratheesh C. Nair, director of the Russian Cultural Centre in the city, came up with the concept of the film, In Return: Just A Book.

In the sixties and seventies, beautifully illustrated translations of Russian tales for children were widely available at affordable prices. As such, many young readers grew up with stories set in the erstwhile Soviet Republic. As the readers grew up, it was natural for them to gravitate towards Russian classics by some of the finest writers in the world. Noted author Perumbadavam Sreedharan was one such reader and in 1993, he wrote Oru Sankeerthanam Pole (Like A Psalm) - a Malayalam novel about Dostoevsky’s affair with his stenographer Anna Snitkina, which became a runaway hit, with the book going into several reprints, 77 at last count and still counting. More than two-and-a-half lakh copies of the novel have been sold and it has been translated as well.

They wondered about the possibilities of making a short film based on Perumbadavam’s encounter with the book and also a trip to St.Petersburg where Dostoevsky lived. When Paul Zacharia agreed to write the script for the documentary, Shiny was convinced that she would be able to turn it into a film. With Baby Mathew agreeing to produce the film, all the obstacles were erased and filming began in earnest in 2015 with veteran K.G. Jayan as cinematographer.

Shiny saw the film as an exciting opportunity to explore the creative aspects that linked the two writers, erasing barriers of time, space, language and culture.

“One has to remember that this was a work of fiction inspired by Perumbadavam sir’s reverence and admiration for Dostoevsky and it was written by someone who had never travelled to Russia. The Malayali author had written the book while living in a little village in Kerala but his characters were protagonists in a famous novel set in Russia. Oru Sankeerthanam Pole centres on 21 days in Dostoevsky’s life when he was writing The Gambler. It was a particularly trying period in the Russian’s life as he was heavily in debt. In addition, he would have had to pay a heavy penalty if he failed to complete his book within the stipulated period. Perumbadavam sir focussed on the difficult stage in the Russian’s author’s life and wrote a moving novel that has stood the test of time,” points out Shiny.

She adds: “The challenge was to capture that literary spark that inspired a writer in Kerala to write a best seller about an episode in another country without ever stepping out of his village. It is a docu-fiction or you could say it was my attempt at visualising magical realism. The film has Perumbadavam sir walking in the footsteps of his favourite author, imagining Dostoevsky’s characters coming alive in the streets of St. Petersburg and visiting places that figure in the Russian writer’s works and life,” says Shiny.

While Perumbadavam appears as himself in the film, the Russian characters were enacted by theatre actors in Russia. Shiny says she cherishes images of the author’s emotional reaction as he visited Dostoevsky’s study and tomb. Twenty-one years after he wrote Oru Sankeerthanam Pole, he released a new edition of the book at the house where Dostoevsky lived in St. Petersburg.

The 77-year-old author agrees that it was an emotional and creative high point in his life. “In my youth Russia was my dream destination, not the Russia of Lenin and Stalin but the Russia of Tolstoy, Pushkin, Gorky and Dostoevsky. And Dostoevsky was my favourite author. His novels and life inspired me to write Oru Sankeerthanam Pole,”says the writer.

He says it was a dream-come-true to travel to his idol’s homeland and walk the same paths thatDostoevsky had walked, visit the places where his famous characters lived and just be in St. Petersburg. “After that dream-like trip to St. Petersburg, life goes on an even keel for me. But I felt as much at home there as in my village in Perumbadavam or in my home in Thiruvananthapuram,” says the author with a laugh.

All praise for Shiny’s film, he says that he enjoyed the filming and the film. He adds that all during the filming he remained a faithful disciple of Shiny’s!

“The movie has been made in such a way that it feels that the entire journey could be a dream, a figment of his imagination …,” says Shiny.

In Return: Just A Bookwill be premiered at Kalabhavan in the city on November 17, before travelling to Goa for the IFFI.

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