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Beneath the Clouds and Coconut Leaves, new novel based on Indian culture by overseas Indian author.

Lies as a tiny state in the extreme south of India, gifted abundantly by nature's bliss, surrounded by coconut groves, paddy fields, greenly hills, valleys, rivers, canals and backwaters, Kerala signifies the term, 'the God's own country'. This Novel portrays the lives of the people in Kerala; belong to various castes and creeds, using an imaginary village called 'Brahmapuram'. Brahmapuram means the place of Brahma or the creator. It is an extremely odd society co-exists peacefully for centuries irrespective of their uncompromising beliefs and customs.

The story starts at dusk when Arjunan, the hero, gets down from a passenger bus at the village junction after serving nine years jail term for his Naxalite activities. His saga of existence starts there with the variety of strange village characters. He wishes to patch-up with his friends, relatives and neighbors. He tries to expiate for his past, which devastated the Brahmin Mana, the once rich and pompous Brahmin family where Ahalya, the Assassinated Ramabhadran Nambuthiri's daughter, her bed-bound mother and younger brother live pathetically.

With the help of hundreds of characters and their strange lives, the village life in this novel is portrayed realistically. Story starts when Arjunan gets off from a passenger bus in the village junction after serving his nine years jail term. He is in his early forties during that time. Village people alienate him at the beginning, but he gradually involves in their lives and regains his social status and respect. Arjunan unexpectedly gets chance to support Ahalya to establish a Garment factory, which later becomes a refuge to the many village girls including Sreekutty, Bhadra and Paulo's daughter Elsa who lead lives in misery. Ahalya's family also survives downfall while the women managed factory prospers overcoming many difficult situations. The age old caste discrimination is giving way to a new system based on humanity. The places in the big Brahmin Mana once prohibited entry for untouchables, now opened for all irrespective of their caste and creed. The new situation angers the high castes and some of them have determined to ruin the factory at any cost.

Will Ahalya and Arjunan become close and develop a relationship which is unusual in the village culture. How the difference of eleven years in their ages, difference in their castes where Ahalya is upper caste Brahmin and Arjunan is a Sudra, lowest of the four Varnas, Arjunanís marital status and fatherhood, Arjunan's involvement in the assassination of Ahalya's father- hinder their relationship. Will they survive all the calamities and unite at the end and what are the tragedies awaiting them- are the general questions a reader seeks answers.
Life of Sreekutty a Hindu village girl who becomes pregnant out of wedlock by a village boy called Sibi, Sibi's murder by an unknown murderer, and the unfolding of his identity at the end, rich parents who neglect their children and the price they pay for their default, Sibi's Christian parents' decision on Sreekutty and her son's fate, Paulo's illegitimate relationship with Bhanumathi, absconding and reemergence of Bhanumathi's daughter Bhadra and the mystery surrounding it, life of Mammad Kakka and family, distress of Paulo's father, wife and children due to his irresponsible behavior, life of Smitha a social worker, return of Vishnu Dathan Nampoothiri and Ahalya's recognition of her elder brother's association with criminals, Fate of Arjunan's son and wife, Arjunan's investigation against the drug cartel and its end; are some of the other stories narrated alongside with the main story.

Book Review by prominent personalities.
Dr. Sukumar Azhikode
Sanskrit/Vedic scholar. Calicut University professor and pro- vice chancellor, till 1986. His book,'Tatwamasi', has been awarded many prestigious awards in India.

"A simple story of people who retrace their steps to pick up life's broken threads to restitch them into a healthy picture of reunion. Using a unique style and structure, Moncy Pothen's vintage tale set in Kerala, the land of monsoon clouds and coconut palms, projects the human virtue that no one is alone."

Chief Editor, Gulf Today Daily, Sharjah, UAE and the recipient of the Journalist of the year award in 1997 by International Journalists Congress.

"I was very touched by Moncy Pothen's excellent presentation of life in Kerala, the southern Indian state, and every incident he narrates happens there every day. Beneath the Clouds and Coconut Leaves offers not simply glimpses into life in Kerala but deep insights into how the people there think. It skillfully uses Malayalam words, for which no equivalents exist in any other language, leaving no room for ambiguity."

"Beneath the Clouds and Coconut Leaves is a very refreshing work, and it is not an exaggeration to say that every Malayalee would wish to have authored it."

"A job excellently done. I rank Beneath the Clouds and Coconut Leaves a notch above every other book written in English about life in Kerala, including The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy, which won the Booker prize in 1997.

Prof. Bridget Joseph M.A.M.Phil.
Retired Professor, Assumption College, Changanacherry, Kerala. Former Co-coordinator of undergraduate courses, School of distant education, M.G. University. Former Resource person for Post Graduate Courses in English, M.G University. Former faculty at the International Embassy School, Dammam Saudi Arabia.

Moncy Pothenís novel, 'Beneath the Clouds and Coconut Leaves' gives a panoramic view of the socio-economic life in Kerala in a realistic manner, threading along the warp and weft of the Kerala community.

Arjunan the hero and Ahalya the heroine are mythological names. Arjunan is the ideal fighter in the eternal battle between right and wrong; Ahalya stands for the curse-befallen society that needs a stone-like persistence for its final liberation. The novel is full of meticulous descriptions of the coconut land filling the air with the flutter of the Coconut fronds and the fragrance of the paddy fields. The vernacular expressions in the novel add to the Kerala flavor of the story.

Safi Abdi
-Safi Abdi, a writer from Somalia , has been living in Dubai for the past five years. She has so far Authored two books; A Mighty Collision of Two Worlds and Offspring of Paradise.

"Beneath the Clouds and Coconut Leaves" is Author Moncy Pothenís first novel. In this promising work, Pothen portrays with perfect ease the day-to-day affairs of a kaleidoscope of interesting personas; a mixed bag of good and bad apples, who are at once as predictable, depressingly backward, as they are exotic.

Arjunan, the central character, is an ex-convict whoís been jailed for his radical political views. Arjunan's only fault, however, is that he so fervently wishes to propel his community into an era of social maturity and equality; and to this end vows to rid his people of all kinds of social ills such as the evils of the oppressive age-old caste system, modern day corruption, lying politicians and greedy landlords. But the way Arjunan chooses to fight his war, he later realizes as he falls into the clutches of a violent rebel network, is anything but sensible. So when Arjunan is finally released from prison he returns to his ungrateful village where he is greeted with hostility, treated like a fool and bombarded with accusations, slander, physical abuse, and worst, falls victim to an overzealous villager who stabs him in the dark of night. However, all is not lost, and having tasted the bitter pill of his earlier unbridled enthusiasm, Arjunan soon learns to redirect his energies in a way thatís more in sync with the environment in which he lives. With the help of his adopted brother and confidante, he once again immerses himself in the lives of his neighbors and fellow villagers. However, instead of arms, heated slogans and terrifying methods as means of persuasion, he now learns to take a more tactful approach. And it is in this sane calm milieu that he soon grows and finds the real gems of his village; notably a group of a younger generation of women, who are educated and forward looking; and itís through the energies of this association that Arjunan is soon able to reach his goals of social justice and equality.

Reading "Beneath the Clouds and Coconut Leaves", one can not help but reflect on the kind of situation that more often than not plunges well-meaning social activists, such as Author Pothenís hero, into the often troubled waters of mindless radicalism. Today, we hear so much about terrorists, be they Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jew, etc. Author Pothenís novel explains in a logical manner as to how and why such good-intentioned individuals are driven to such extremes. Through the pages of this balanced novel we learn a very important lesson: There are no quick fixes to any social illness, however dire the condition; at the end of the day, itís perseverance, patience, prayer and true understanding of the situation at hand, and not half-baked reprisals, that will do the job. Author Pothen should be applauded on his ability to handle such revolutionary ideals as social enlightenment and welfare issues in such a backwater setting; a rather laid-back rural community where change is frowned upon and things can only move at a snailís pace. Linguistically, the book should delight all with its generous imagery and plethora of picturesque descriptions. The kaleidoscope of exotic characters, Hindus, Muslims and Christians, living side by side in peace and amity, also adds to the overall warmth of the novel.

Allana Joy Bourne.
Newspapers in Education Program Specialist, The Seattle Times. Adjunct faculty, Seattle Pacific University .

Extremism, now more widely termed, terrorism, is on the lips of every human being and on the front pages of the worldís newspapers every day. But we still long for love and love still thrives. This poetic novel by Moncy Pothen plunges us directly into the forests and paddy fields of India from the 1960s to the 1980s, describes the delicate and heartfelt awakening of love in two lives, and has roots in ancient Indian tradition. Can you forgive a terrorist, if he has participated in the murder of your own father? Like the heroine, Ahalya, we live in complicated times, where black and white give way to shades of gray, and in Beneath the Clouds and Coconut Leaves, we hold our breath to witness which will win the battle, love or hate? Like the hero, Arjunan, we are fighting to win that battle within ourselves.

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Submitted by Beneath the Clouds and Coconut Leaves, posted on Thursday April 13, @07:53AM

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