Deepak Unnikrishnan: “My English is incomplete without my parents’ Malayalam”
The people of Kerala are well-versed in the Gulf narrative. A multitude of Malayalam movies—from Varavelpu to Pathemari—and literary works like Benyamin’s Goat Days have dealt with the theme.
Raised in Abu Dhabi, author Deepak Unnikrishnan’s debut Temporary People adds the lesser-discussed perspective of the children of the migrant population to the canon; but, in the universal lingua franca.
“During my teenage years, I could see myself growing an attachment to the Gulf layered over my parents’ nostalgic narrative of home, in Kerala. After I left Abu Dhabi for my studies in the USA, I realised that a lot of my conversations hung around the city,” says Deepak, about how the idea of three generations, including his grandmother’s ‘Persia’, his parents’ immigrant destination, and his own childhood memories, helped shape his novel over a 13-year period, after the publication of his collection Coffee Stains in a Camel’s Teacup.
Playing with words
Ask this author—with roots in Thrissur—what his migration to the US brought him and he would say an exposure to a great number of authors and visual media beyond the Malayali and Hindi ones he grew up around.
Sifting through his various influences, even the language employed in his debut (like naming his sections ‘chabter’) exudes his multi-cultural living experience.
“Language needs to keep the essence of sounds alive. My English is incomplete without my parents’ Malayalam, the Hindi from the Indian school education and essential Arabic.”
Currently, an academician at New York University, Abu Dhabi, this MFA graduate’s work has also been lauded for its stylistic approach blending ‘visceral realism and fantastic satire’.
“It’s about toying with the imagination of people and also about storytelling. People opine that one should operate strictly within either the fantastical or the realistic realms. I like reading pragmatic writings but hail from Malayali culture which has operated on myths for centuries,” says the 36-year-old, whose book talks of intelligent cockroaches and a farm which cultivates Malayalis.
Constantly on the move between Chicago, a city he calls ‘home’, and Abu Dhabi, Deepak says that another book from his pen is a distant possibility fueled by his encounters with more books and authors.