Watch out: Spoilers Ahead:
Set amidst the Naxalite movement during the Emergency in the 1980s’ in Kerala, The Gospel of Yudas by K.R. Meera is a story that revolves around the two lovelorn protagonists, Yudas who is lost in love in the past and Prema who is deeply affected by the Naxalite ideology and falls head over heels in love with Yudas, whom she in her youthfulness dreams of as an ideal Naxalite who will save her.
Yudas’ past looms large in his psyche, affects his movements and his mindset. To try and run away from his past, he moves from place to place and dredges corpses drowned in different water bodies close by to eke out a living. He lives frugally and through his nomadic life attempts to wander away from his past – a past that is marred by betrayal, vicious torture and loss of his beloved. Yudas was tortured for participating in the Naxal movement and his betrayal haunts him much like his Christian namesake, Judas. It is this betrayal that does not allow him to accept Prema’s infatuation. He runs away from her while she keeps searching for him far and wide, trying to uncover the secret that lurks in his eyes and shapes his rejections.
Translated into English from Malayalam by Rajesh Rajamohan, The Gospel of Yudas is a short and quick read that is flush with depth and metaphors.
The metaphor of death, life and love intertwined together runs deep throughout the story – be it Yudas’ profession or his obsession with his betrayal or even Prema’s need to be with him and to surpass Yudas’ dead beloved. But death always catches up with them both. For Prema it is the horrific stories about the Naxal torture that her policeman father relished and spewed out from her childhood or her own brother’s bloated corpse being removed from the lake. Similarly, Yudas’ character is equally attached to death and cannot seem to break away from its shackles no matter how far he runs.
Yudas’ character, for me, was far better etched out than Prema’s whose only central characteristic was her obsessive love for Yudas. Although the critics hailed The Gospel of Yudas as a coming of age novel, I failed to see the transformation in Prema’s character or her growth. It was indeed Prema’s attempts to delve deeper into Yudas’ past that suffused his character with several layers that crisscrossed often. This gave his character more depth which also unfortunately made Prema a one dimensional character who since her teenage years seemed to have been confusing revolution and love or interchanging them mistakenly. It was neither a character I could relate easily with nor could garner any empathy for.
Apart from the very flawed female character, however, The Gospel of Yudas, though succinct and short, poses difficult questions to its readers about morality, idealism, love, revolution among many other aspects. It particularly, through the character of Prema’s father who is a policeman, raises the troubling question regarding the policemen’s conflict about their duty, their humaneness and doing what is right.
The writing itself is crisp, clear. Brevity drives in the depth of the feelings and immensity of the trauma that the characters face. The laconic writing is a hallmark of the story.
So if you are interested in reading a novel that presents to you a little bit more about Naxal violence, creates characters burdened with love and past (and in Yudas’ case both!) while using sparse language, The Gospel of Yudas is the book for you.
Have you read The Gospel of Yudas? What did you think about it? Share in the comments below!