Young and impressionable, Prema is deeply infatuated with Yudas, the enigmatic man who dredges corpses from the bottom of the nearby lake. Longing to be rescued from the tyranny of her father, a former policeman who zealously tortured Naxalite rebels during the Emergency, Prema dreams of escape and finds herself drawn to the Naxal political ideology. Convinced that Yudas was one of the inmates at her father’s prison camp, Prema believes that only he can save her. But Yudas is haunted by secrets of his own, and like his biblical namesake Judas Iscariot, he bears the burden of crushing guilt. In her passionate pursuit of the mercurial Yudas, Prema is plunged into a world of terrifying truths and insidious lies. Ferociously powerful and utterly absorbing, The Gospel of Yudas raises alarmingly relevant questions about the politics of allegiance and the price of idealism. It is also a deeply human story about remorse, redemption and love.
Thoughts : I’m sure you’ve all heard of K.R.Meera and Hangwoman. It was on everyone’s recommended reading for 2014 ad 2015 (and mine in 2016). So when I heard that she’d written another book that had been translated, I squealed and requested a copy from the publisher.
The story revolves around the Naxalite period in Kerala and the aftermath of it. We follow Prema, who is 15 when the story starts, and her awful drunkard/retired policeman of a father who misses the torment he meted out to suspected Naxalites and decided to get drunk and abuse his wife and daughter instead. Yudas, a corpse collector who retrieves corpses from lakes after people have drowned is a “failed” Naxalite who was also tortured by him.
Prema meets Yudas after much anticipation and the rest of the story is about her love for him and what it makes them all do. It’s not a love story though; it is so much more than that. It is a story about fighting the past, of fighting oppression, of abusing power and of the damage done to people around us without realising it.
The entire novel paints a picture of Kerala’s lush landscape with flowing water and greenery which is really stark in contrast with the desolate tone of the whole book. Yudas’ past follows him everywhere, if not literally then atleast in his mind and he spends his days trying to make up for whatever imagined wrong he has done. And Prema spends her time trying to repay the debt that she imagines in her mind, trying to make him forget his lady love, Sunanda.
Yudas, is named after Judas, because he feels that he has betrayed his people and his movement. He keeps correcting Prema whenever she calls him Das. “Yudas” he says, insistently. Simple lines like this makes you realise the level of his self imposed torment. And Prema, in her on torment, follows him wherever he goes for twenty years, trying to dispel his demons and make him love her back.
K.R.Meera is an author who writes in a simple style that somehow, still conveys a depth of emotion. At 150 pages the book in tiny but the novel’s brevity doesn’t take away from its depth and the insightful reader will love the many layers she’s masterfully added to it. I do think the translation could have been better, while it was good, words like ‘puke’ and ‘boozing’ felt out of place in a book like this. But don’t let that dissuade you, the book is still a brilliant one and the author proves that simplicity beats opulence when it comes to writing. It will remain in your mind for much longer than others ten times its size.
Note : My mum enjoyed this a lot as well and here’s what she has to say, “I’ve seen one or two processions where people were asking about missing people…aka, missing in police custody. You get the feel of that terrible period clearly in the book.”
P.S. I think the new cover of Hangwoman was done to match this? Not sure, the colours go so well together!
I received a copy for review, opinions expressed are my own.