Set in the 1970s and 1980s, this novel traces the story of the young uruli thief, Vedaraman. When the head constable takes his fingerprints, he realizes that the boy has six fingers on his left hand. Shamed by his involvement in the theft case and the whispered scandal about him and the maid Kozhukatta Paru who had both breastfed him and slept with him, Vedaraman leaves home and village. Adrift in the wide world, he meets a series of well-wishers who not only help him in deepening his knowledge, but also expose him to the realities of life. He finds that his sixth finger glows by itself and he possesses supernatural powers of predicting future events. Ministers and businessmen are quick to recognize his yogic qualities. Vedaraman becomes Vedanji and then Vedan Baba with a god-like aura, and is installed in an ashram. Amidst this fame and glory, Vedan Baba finds himself a prisoner of a web of machinations. Will he be able to break the shackles and become a free man again?
The novelist’s sense of humour turns it into a fascinatingly searing tragicomic work of fiction that has several parallels in recent Indian history. Prema Jayakumar’s excellent translation captures in full the nuanced pungency of the original narrative.
K. SATCHIDANANDAN, Poet and writer
The Sixth Finger, portraying 1970s–80s south India, reads all the more relevant today, when the country has its burgeoning babas effectively competing with Hindu gods in number. Ashram debauchery comes so loaded with wry humour that vignettes of “spiritualists” blur with that of the morally-corrupt politicians and sensation-seeking journalists. Bids for another anti-Hindi agitation by Tamils and early phases of LTTE rebellion by the Tigers dot the narrative, that has its climactic build-up intact by translator Prema Jayakumar.
SREEVALSAN T., Outlook
The Sixth Finger . . . has been published in its English translation at a singularly appropriate time: what with the connections between politics, big business and religion growing ever stronger (and ever dirtier?), the story of Vedan and his sixth finger rings a bell. Prema Jayakumar’s translation . . . is competent.
MADHULIKA LIDDLE, The New Indian Express, The Sunday Standard Magazine
This book is a political fiction which has a satirical take on politicians, businessmen and godmen. He also mocks the fake sense of morality that exists in society at large. Throughout the book, the author has tried to make the reader uncomfortable with varying ideas of right and wrong.
MALAYATOOR RAMAKRISHNAN (1927–1997) started his career as an advocate and worked as a sub-editor in The Free Press Journal in Mumbai before joining the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) in 1957. Malayatoor wrote a semi-autobiographical work Verukal (‘Roots’), which won him the Kerala Sahitya Akademi award. In 1981, he resigned from the IAS to devote himself to writing. From 1981 to 1997, he wrote his other famous novels including Yakshi, Yanthram, Nettoor Mathom and Amritham Thedi, besides short stories and scripts for several films. For some years, he was chairman of the Kerala Lalit Kala Akademi.
PREMA JAYAKUMAR was born in Kerala and studied in Kochi and Bangalore. She does translations from Malayalam into English and writes for periodicals. Her translated works include Yakshi and Doorways to Death (‘Mrithiyude Kavadam’) by the same author among many by well-known Malayalam authors. Her works have been published by Penguin and the Sahitya Akademi. She has retold the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and other stories from the Puranas for Mango Books and Real Reads of the UK. Married, with one son, she stays mostly at Kochi, but loves to travel.