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Najeeb’s dearest wish is to work in the Gulf and earn enough money to send back home He achieves his dream only to be propelled by a series of incidents grim and absurd into a slave like existence herding goats in the middle of the Saudi desert Memories. Way back in the 1990 s I remember reading a story by Ursula K LeGuin The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas It disturbed me greatly at that time It was about this perfect country Omelas where there was no sorrow or disease and everybody was happy There was only one catch Omelas was paying for this happiness through the misery of one child kept locked in a cellar and treated cruelly perpetually This was the pact that Omelas had made with the powers that be the misery of one human being in exchange for the bliss of one country uite a bargain if you think of itBut there were people when the truth became known walked away from Omelas because they could not make peace with the bargain They were the hope of humanity When I initially read the story I proudly said to myself that I would be one of those Now I hang my head in shamebecause in reality I do not walk away I stay there and enjoy lifeThe term Middle East brings to mind images of prosperous towns populated by beautiful people enjoying the glittering night life with wine and song all powered by the petro dollar What the casual observer misses is the depths of misery just below the surface the misery the novelist Benyamin has brutally portrayed in his award winning Malayalam novel Aadujeevitham Goat LifeThe story is narrated in first person by Najeeb your average lower middle class Muslim youth from Kerala in India He does not know anything of the Middle East other than that the Gulf is an endless source of prosperity Like many of his countrymen he also yearns to work there earn some uick money pay off his debts build a house and generally live a moderately good life However fate has something else in store for him whisked away from the Riyadh airport in Saudi Arabia directly into the heart of the desert by his Arab sponsor he is put to the job of tending goats This is not your pastoral idyll Najeeb is forced to stay all time in the open desert whether it is the blazing hot summer noon or the biting winter night He is given only Kuboos Arabic bread soaked in water to eat water and occasionally goat milk to drink He has only one set of clothes which he is supposed to wear continuously Baths are out of the uestion Najeeb tends goats sheep and camels without rest throughout the day Any small mistake results in horrendous beatings He slowly realises this is going to be his life from now on like the goats castrated and penned in till one day they make the final journey to the slaughterhouse He forms a deep kinship with the goats gives them the names of his acuaintances from home and talks to them regularly He rejoices when they give birth and mourns when they die Towards the end of the story as his humanity is almost totally stripped away he even sleeps with a she goatNajeeb is a pious God fearing Muslim True to the meaning of Islam surrender he surrenders to the will of Allah the all merciful This coupled with the fatalism that is the hallmark of most Indians Najeeb is the perfect victim the slave every owner would love to have But it is also this unuestioning acceptance of his fate that allows Najeeb to survive his ordeal for three and a half years Finally when he escapes that too is orchestrated by others even though ironically he is the only one who escapesThe depths to which human beings can plunge is narrated without any sentimentality or righteousness almost in the tone of a child which has met unfair treatment at the hands of its parents The tortures the sponsors mete out to their employees are mentioned so matter of factly that we catch ourselves flinching Benyamin tells the whole story in unembellished first person narrative while it makes for rather simplistic writing at times the voice of the protagonist flows through clearly The writer is all but invisible and that is the novel s greatest strength This is a brutal book which does not pull any punches But then it should not Thousands of the poor from India pay huge amounts for visas to the Gulf countries to agencies who fleece them mercilessly only to discover when they reach the Promised Land that they have sold themselves into virtual slavery By then it s too lateBenyamin does a great thing even though he does not walk away from Omelas he shines his light on the abused child not allowing us to forget its presence there Maybe in the end it s better than just walking away for the child too may ultimately get the justice that s its due

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Of the lush verdant landscape of his village and of his loving family haunt Najeeb whose only solace is the companionship of goats In the end the lonely young man contrives a hazardous scheme to escape his desert prisonGoat Days was published to acclaim. This is one of the best work of fiction I have ever read in Malayalam A land mark book We can feel the pain and emotions that the author would have undergone while writing this book The book is as raw as life could be and as beautiful as life should be Being an author myself I could associate with the afterword in which the author describes the process of writing Writing itself is a tough task writing so beautifully so lyrically is nearly impossible Benyamin has achieved the near impossible writing a great piece of fiction while keeping the reader engrossed like he is reading a pot boiler That is the mark of a true classic There are popular books that are page turners but very poor in literary value and then at the other end of the spectrum there are good literary works that intimidates an average reader or even perhaps bore him to death Good literature is that which makes the reader engrossed and enthralled at the same time Aatujeevitham is one such work Future generation will refer to this work as an example of how a beautiful piece of literature should be written Great indeed

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In Malayalam and became a bestseller One of the brilliant new talents of Malayalam literature Benyamin’s wry and tender telling transforms this strange and bitter comedy of Najeeb’s life in the desert into a universal tale of loneliness and alienation. Benyamin s Goat Daystranslated from Malayalam Aatujeevitham is based on a real story And so it is far haunting than any fictional account you could read of despair and hope loosely comparable to Thousand splendid sunsSet in 1990s when the Gulf moham was prevalent in Kerala the book describes the story of Najeeb Mohammad who leaves his pregnant wife and mom to work in the gulf Destiny has other plans and he finds himself pushed into a life of slavery rearing goats in a vast desert Najeeb accepts it as Allah s test of his fortitude and devotion and undergoes unsayable horrors In the midst of this all he develops a bonding with the goats giving them names and thus holds on to sanity The book is an achievement in the sense of making the reader go through as much sadness and depression as the main character The gory details can make one suirm but the hope in the face of utter gloom is sort of uplifting In mounting the odds the book keeps getting worse and worse with the only hope being the first chapters that assures you all is well at least temporarily The end is all too easy maybeThe unsaid fear on foreign shores or new cities is something I am well aware of So personally it is just a nightmare of every traveller in a way An achievement and a haunting portrayal of life on unknown shores

10 thoughts on “ആടുജീവിതം

  1. says:

    Way back in the 1990's, I remember reading a story by Ursula K. LeGuin: The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas. It disturbed me greatly at that time. It was about this perfect country, Omelas, where there was no sorrow or disease, and everybody was happy. There was only one catch: Omelas was paying for this happiness through th

  2. says:

    Sitting in the air conditioned lounge of a coffee shop, sipping on freshly brewed coffee and mumbling that life is becoming dull to a good lo

  3. says:

    ‎Aadujeevitham is not a cliche story of gulf malayalees..it's about the pain and sufferings of protagonist najee

  4. says:

    This is one of the best work of fiction I have ever read in Malayalam. A land mark book. We can feel the pain and emotions that the author would have undergone while writing this book. The book is as raw as life could be and as beautiful as life should be. Being an author myself, I could associate with the afterword in which the a

  5. says:

    A supremely good read. Recommend very highly.This is the story of Najeeb, a not so well to do youth from Kerala who goes to Gulf to make money and ends up suffering unimaginable horrors. This is based on a true story and what a story it is. Everything from how little Najeeb dreams of, how his friends in Mumbai help him, how not knowing the language made him scared in the airport is supremely well described. Once the pa

  6. says:

    Was a stunning read, made authentic by the malayalam language which I was reading after than a decade. I was totally immersed in the story, to the extent that I felt a discontent even while leading a highly covetable affluent life, according to the standards of the protagonist. I dreamt weird, scary dreams, fe

  7. says:

    Original Malayalam title: ആടുജീവിതം (Aadujeevitham) winner of 2009 Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award.Though its said to be fiction, but actually is inspired by (many?) true lives of Malayalis. They say "The grass is always greener on the other side" and our protagonist Najeeb leaves behind his fami

  8. says:

    'Goat Days' is an unusual novel: probably quite unlike anything else you'll read this year. A relatively rare translation from Malay

  9. says:

    Benyamin's Goat Days,translated from Malayalam (Aatujeevitham), is based on a real story. And so, it is far haunting than a

  10. says:

    I can't believe what I just finished reading. The Author's note have left me all broken. Yes, I am heartbroken. The story might have a satisfactory ending but it still breaks my heart to read what I have just read.It's a very beauti