The trial of the abased woman was conducted briskly. Doubts gave way to clear evidence. Nothing will be left unproved. The King – you know who he is? The very incarnation of Lord Sri Rama! The Lord of Dharma! Is it possible to fool him? After imprisoning the Object, whose adultery had been proved, in the outhouse (the place for the polluted), her relatives and other Namboodiris met the King and explained the matter to him.

The order was communicated to the canonical investigators and the temple attendants.
The Special Investigator was also contacted, informed of the King’s orders and given the responsibility for conducting the investigation. Soldiers were sent to guard the women’s quarters. The country waited with bated breath. How many would be incriminated? What does the Object want?

It seemed that she was not satisfied with five or ten names. The sure signs of Kali! Undoubtedly, the beginning of Kali Yuga.9 In the outer yard of the palace, the traditional white cloth atop a black rug was spread to receive the King.

Just twenty years old! Alluringly beautiful! Urvasi personified, the most beautiful woman in all the three worlds. Paptikutty! The Goddess of Revenge!

The investigators woke up interpreting the Sankarasmriti and fell asleep chanting the Manusmriti. As they slept, the punishment for impurity, as yet unknown, began to take shape. Those keepers of the cellars of customs woke up with a shudder and looked at each other suspiciously. They argued. Can the age-old customs of a country be ignored? The King’s command – can it be opposed?

They sought a way out to atone for their own sins, finding peace by fiddling with their sacred threads. The investigators had lost touch with their natural instincts derived from the wind and the sun, and instead, sought answers in books.

It was time to declare the final order.

The light from the lamps made of wood reached all the way to the upper storey of the palace. As the smoke rose from the castor-oil lamps, the dark faces of the investigators grew hideous. The King was unperturbed.

Where is the Brahmin child to proclaim their pronouncements? The Chief Canonical Investigator rinsed his hands and stood up. Midnight, a time when the five elements of nature melt and fuse into one, stood still. The four directions – East, West, North and South – sang in praise of their guardian spirits. Time shivered and stood still within the four walls of the palace. Daylight hesitated to peep in, afraid of the guards.

His Highness the King arrived and sat on the throne.

Contentment reigned on his round face. An oil lamp beside him, fashioned from three metals signifying caste, religion and custom – bearing signs of a thousand flaws, patched up a thousand times—flickered and burned.

A Namboodiri wife turning to prostitution! And that too, on purpose!

A maiden confined to the inner quarters, never exposed to sunlight. The daughter of Thazhath House.That beautiful woman, who had mastered poetry and grammar.

How can it be explained? What is to be done? Ethical canons...customs...

What led to this?

Orders? Fear?

The King may be deemed cruel in observing strict justice. He belonged to the clan of Sri Rama, the One who had banished his own dear queen to the forest, suspecting her chastity.

This same King had risen respectfully from his throne to welcome the white-skinned foreigners who had come seeking to establish a factory. On his own, he had made an offer.
The courtiers sang praises of his limitless generosity. He was mindful of his heritage. The scion of the clan of Ikshvaku!

I offer you a place to build your forts and bastions.

I sanction the commencement of sea trade.

The presents offered to royalty – the sword and the silk cloth – were preserved. Daily prayers were offered at twilight.

The foreign physicians were given what they wanted in the tradition of Raghu. Those who came from Nazareth were welcomed in the traditional way, with a measure of paddy, and given a place to settle down. The Jain monks were welcomed with the eight auspicious objects. Special prayer halls were constructed from which Mohammed Nabi’s sayings reverberated.

Unity – Brotherhood – Secularism.

Even in the preparations concerning his nightly routine before he went to sleep, the King was scrupulous. He visited his wives by turn and blessed and enjoyed them according to their seniority.

The God of Dharma! The impartial upholder of justice. His subjects were punished for proven crimes, drowned in the backwaters with weights tied around their waists. He pretended to befriend the visitors, according them a status above the highest caste. He performed his routine duties sincerely for the welfare of the kingdom on which the sun never set.

While bowing to gun power, he insisted that his own soldiers use only bows and arrows and wear their long hair in topknots. He instructed the soldiers to leave their weapons in his palace. He slept on an intricately carved sandalwood cot and savoured erotic verses.

The air in the palace was still. The melmundu slipped from the King’s shoulders. His emerald chain was bathed in perspiration. His flabby chest heaved.

“You may begin.”

“Let the verdict be spelt out. Where is the Brahmin child?” The Chief Canonical Investigator’s lips were pursed. His voice hid itself in the pit of his throat.

The total destruction of Parasurama’s clan. Can it be borne? The concept of four castes was made by me.

I made it. For me. And for my grandchildren.

Yet a Kshatriya gives the orders. Perhaps he is interested in the welfare of the people. It may not be an act inspired by selfish indulgence, but by true feeling for the people. Perhaps, but so what!

The King became the very instrument of time.

The investigators who represented internal authority dropped their melmundu several times.

The Chief Canonical Investigator repeated the same question several times: “Do you wish to name anyone else?” He could not show any leniency.

What next?

The symbols of finality: the ritual of water being poured, signifying the severing of relationships, the closing of the gates and offering last rites to the dead, the offering of a feast of atonement to the pure-minded.

Oh my god! Oh!

Never before had rites been performed on such a scale. Sixty-four people.

“Need I say any more?”

“Enough,” the King ordered. “Enough. Let’s stop.”

Is anything else required to spell out the annihilation of the land of Cochin?

The Brahmin boy dipped himself in the pond sixty-four times and emerged dripping wet. An immersion for every polluted name called aloud.

Just naming a prostitute is a maha-papam, a great sin. And corrupting a pure woman? There can be no atonement for such a crime.

Excerpted with permission from Outcaste: A Novel, Matampu Kunhukuttan, translated from the Malayalam by Vasanthi Sankaranarayanan, Aleph Book Company.