Author MK Harikumar focuses on the great Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh in his Malayalam novel 'Vangoginu'
Photos: Self-Portrait of Vincent Van Gogh with damaged ear; author MK Harikumar
By Shevlin Sebastian
The whole world knows that the legendary Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh cut off his own ear, in a fit of madness, on December 23, 1888. But author MK Harikumar, in his third Malayalam novel, 'Vangoginu' (Surya Books), gives a different angle.
“According to my research, the painter Paul Gauguin, who was staying with him,
had a fight with Vincent over a painting, which one of them had done,” says Harikumar. “Paul had a sword. He was intoxicated. He swung his sword and cut off Vincent's ear. That is what I have written in the novel.”
What was interesting is that, according to history, Paul left the house the night of the incident and the duo never met again.
Adds Harikumar, “I don't think Vincent was so abnormal that he would cut off his own ear. Look at his work at that time: he was doing realistic paintings. I don't think a mad man could paint with so much of logic and clarity.”
Asked how he got the idea to write a novel on Van Gogh, Harikumar says, “I like his paintings a lot. He was a realistic painter, yet each of his works repeatedly speaks to us no matter how many times we view it. The painting is an object, yet, it is a living, breathing presence, with an underlying power.”
Harikumar is especially enamoured of 'The Potato Eaters'. It is a group of peasants sitting inside a wooden house, eating a bowl of potatoes. “It is a night scene, but their mood is communicated very powerfully to us,” says Harikumar.
Another painting which affected Harikumar was called 'Three pairs of shoes'. “Each pair represents life,” says Harikumar. “In one pair, it seems life is still. In another, turned to one side, it indicates a withdrawal from life, while the third pair, of which one shoe is overturned, could mean that the person who wears them has thoughts of suicide.”
Asked about the qualities of Van Gogh, Harikumar says, “Vincent was strongly creative, but weak in other aspects of his life. He had an affair with a prostitute. Then she left. Thereafter, he became an alcoholic. He was a loner by instinct. In fact, the only sustained relationship he had was with his brother Theo.”
And it was Theo who bought one work, even though Vincent had an output of 2100 paintings. “It is a tragic story,” says Harikumar. “And to think that his works sell in the millions of dollars these days.” (Examples: the painting 'Irises' sold for $53.9 million, while 'Portrait of Dr. Gachet' fetched $82.5 million).
Interestingly, in the novel, Harikumar, who has published several books of criticism, writes it like a journalist doing reports about the life and death of Vincent. “So, there are interviews with Van Gogh as well as his friends, and a prostitute called Rachel,” says Harikumar
Meanwhile, when asked about whether Malayalam readers are aware of Vincent, he says, “Definitely. In fact, the cutting of his ear is part of a lesson in schools. His birthdays are celebrated with write-ups in the newspapers. And serious readers are all aware of his greatness.”
Finally, in a clever marketing gimmick, there are ten covers. But it happened by accident. Artist Sabu Puthuparamban showed Harikumar four covers. “I said I wanted all four,” says Harikumar, the editor of Surya Books. “In the end we decided to make 10 different covers. This is a celebration of the greatness of Vincent Van Gogh.”
(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)