The Book of the People-A book by Joshua Newton

27 May


“It was dark. .A cold wind blew over the hill and the trees swayed and the sleepless cicadas shrilled. By the hillside, through the deep green expanse of the trees and shrubs wild and sprawling , two frail figures ambled on. One tiny and the other frail, both women. One held a small hurricane lamp that allowed an orange gleam just enough for them to walk about. Two women in a pale orange light in the pre-dawn stillness. The path was wet from the night’s dew. Their footsteps seemed to intrude into the silent night that awaited a quiet dawn. The flame in the glass chimney flickered on, shedding barely enough light for the two to take tiny, careful steps. They had to do this before the dawn, before the sun came. The dictum said so. The older one was looking for herbs. ”

This lyrical passage introduces the reader to Biji Rajan, the masseuse , one of the ten people whose lives we become familiar with after reading Joshua Newton’s ,”The Book of the People”.
This passage is an example of the empathy with which the author has approached the small and big details , the twists and turns , the prose and poetry of the lives he unfolds for us.

They are not celebrities whose achievements would clamour out for their lives being recorded to inspire others to walk their way. There is no real drama..nothing that would make the book a nail-biting read and yet the way the extroadinariness of those ten ordinary lives is so surely , but subtly spelt out that they keep bothering you after you’ve put down the book.

Admittedly, some stories leave more of an impression than others. But yes, admittedly again, which of the ten stories gets under your skin may be different for different readers.

I think I was touched most by Biji, who healed innumerable people who approached her, with the love and empathy in her palms. May be the way she was introduced pre-dispositioned me into liking her. The little girl who grew up imbibing all the native wisdom and ethics of healing from her grandmother. Biji who emphasised that “most importantly we needed to love. If our hearts lacked love, nothing would work”.

Manu, who could never tire of elaborating on the “virtues of the wilderness”, and the intricacies of the lives of butterflies and who according to the author “had sprouted into a spirit that imbibed elements naturally belonging to a butterfly-lightness,swiftness,harmony, agility, silence and a love for the woods” , does not fail to impress either. What a charmed life, away from the hustle and bustle of the rat-race.

Koyamon, the native of one of the islands in the Lakshwadeep cluster ,whose life went through its crests and troughs, even as the waves in the surrounding ocean, went through the same routine endlessly and Peter Tomy, whose sense of right and wrong had been submerged way below the surface of his erratic and unruly youth and whose redemption came through an act of forgiveness of his mother-in-law , whom he had attempted to kill also stuck with me. So did Ravuthar, who trudged miles and miles into the forest to gather grass to thatch roofs, something that he had been doing all his life and which he continued to do with the utmost grace and submission to God’s designs.

Then there is Anand, the naturalist, who had eventually found serenity and harmony amongst the trees and plants of “spice Village” in Thekkady, where he lived and breathed in the luxriousness of Nature allowed to thrive with the very minimum of intervention . The boatmen whom one may accost on a vacation trip along the backwaters of Kerala and would as quickly forget once out of those environs, wouldn’t ordinarily invite a second look into their lives. Not anymore perhaps,,not after coming to know Radhakrishan , who had perhaps spent the major part of his life chugging along the vastness of those waters .Time had in the meanwhile changed the teenaged boy who accompanied his father on his cargo boat to a grey-haired man.

old boats

The author has obviously spent a lot of time getting to know these “ordinary” people. At places, one felt, the inclusion of all the tiny details became a deterrant to the smoothness of the narrative. But then again, those details were necessary, I guess to bring out the extroadinariness in their existences which would otherwise escape our notice, swamped as it were with the monotony of their everyday routines. One thing that they all shared in common was perhaps the peace with which they had accepted the place where they had found themselves eventually in life. There is immense wisdom perhaps in the realization that no life is ordinary .

Many times, one did feel that the narrative was by someone who was unfamiliar with the Kerala landscape and were witnessing things for the first time…but then the author has explained why that is so in his Note at the beginning of the book, “ This is what I belive:Our daily lives do hold moments of poetry. I’m not sure which part has won in this book though- the poetry or the rawness. Everything narrated is factual or based on facts. Persoanl life-stories are woven through their day jobs. Obviously, I stand the risk of being called a “faux naïf” examiner , somebody examining his own people as a foreigner and getting away with it. That’s okay. My interest was in drawing material from my own people to create something non-local, a kind of work that will resonate with readers anywhere.”

Notwithstanding that anticipatory bail, I would’ve personally vouched for the poetry winning if it had not been for the sometimes lengthy detailing, such as the one on vermiculture in Anand’s story , which almost seemed to come as an interruption. I think the story of Suresh the “kalaripayattu practioner failed to hold my attention for the same reason.

candy crash


Posted by on May 27, 2014 in Books


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9 responses to “The Book of the People-A book by Joshua Newton

  1. Sam Santhosh

    April 25, 2019 at 8:26

    Hi Nadira,
    Nice review of the book. I came across the book by accident at a small resort called ‘Quiet by the River’ in Malayattoor forest area, recently taken over by the CGH group. The seventh story was a pleasant surprise since I know Manu well. He is now helping me build a medicinal plant garden at Cheruthuruthy near Shornur. Joshua has been able to capture Manu’s spirit nicely and any time spent with Manu is a fascinating journey into Nature’s innumerable paths. I think the Manu Joshua wrote about was 10 years back, and luckily for all of us, Manu has continued his Naturalist’s journey without getting corrupted.
    Btw you can reach Manu at


    Sam Santhosh

  2. Sharp Little Pencil

    June 10, 2014 at 8:26

    My aunt and uncle lived in India for a time in the 60s, but they were privileged and pretty much stuck in American industrialization. Yuck. These sound like stories of real people. I know I will enjoy the book, despite the few overly wrought parts. This is an excellent review, giving us all just enough of the story to not only take note of its merits, but to come back and see how our opinions of the characters compare to yours. Lovely. Thanks! Amy
    PS Thanks also for stopping by and commenting on “Words Fail Me,” a piece that reflects more violence to come, unfortunately, now that Americans think they are cowboys and cowgirls. Peace.

  3. souldipper

    May 28, 2014 at 8:26

    I enjoy books written by “somebody examining his own people as a foreigner”. We foreigners miss so much that I appreciate having some of the everyday things pointed out.

    I agree – a balance is welcome as to how much description to give…but then, it may be the author’s objective. I’m intrigued by the woman with the healing hands who knows the power of love.

    I also read the review – I respect an author who doesn’t back away from a sensitive topic. Good for her. See, I think I’d learn lots from that read…!

  4. dreamingthruthetwilight

    May 28, 2014 at 8:26

    Thanks a lot Jamie. You’ll definitely find the book interesting. If you like it , do share. Then I’ll feel bold enough to ask the author for a commission LOL!

    I’ve been missing out on a lot of reading here. My little grandson keeps me busy during the day and I have to slink in to access the net when he is asleep. And after his Mom picks him up in the evening, there are those chores around the house , some TV serial watching and yes Facebook , which has become a little bit of an addiction. But I’ve told myself that I have to get back herefor longer spells.

    Lots of love to you Jamie 🙂

  5. P C JAIN

    May 27, 2014 at 8:26

    Hi Nadira
    Tks for sharing a nice story. I am missing out on yr poetry.

    • dreamingthruthetwilight

      May 28, 2014 at 8:26

      Thanks Jainsaab. Yep I am missing writing poetry too. Kya karen….nothing is coming to my fingertips now.:-)

  6. Jamie Dedes

    May 27, 2014 at 8:26

    You make this book sound appealing and I want to go on the hunt for it, Nadira, an apparently satisfying collection of short stories. It’s interesting that with short stories we can tell the ordinary but that doesn’t work with novels. I think that’s the attraction of short stories. It’s also interesting that in the U.S. and India, we birthed the short story but England, the birthplace of the novel, didn’t come to it until late and didn’t do it as well as the American’s and Indian’s …

    … and I see that the book is availabe from in Kindle version. Mr. Newtonn owes you a commission, Nadira.


    • Sam Santhosh

      April 25, 2019 at 8:26

      I could not find the book in Amazon Kindle


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