GOAT DAYS BY BENYAMIN!!
“Goat days” which has its original title “Aadujeevitham” in Malayalam is a novel published in 2008, about a depraved emigrant, working in Saudi Arabia, written by Benyamin. Benyamin painted the life of a migrant, Najeeb, as the lead role in this novel. Benyamin (born Benny Benjamin) first put this novel in print as a serial form in ‘Mathrubhumi Illustrated Weekly.’
I had a hit upon this novel through these series in ‘Mathrubhumi Illustrated Weekly’ before publicizing it as a novel, ‘Aadujeevitham’ in 2008 by Green books. Later the novel is based on the real-life events became the best seller in Kerala. The original Malayalam version, “Aadujeevitham” had over 70 reprints, making Benyamin, ‘an overnight sensation,’ and the novel as the top sellers in Malayalam.
AADUJEEVITHAM TO GOAT DAYS
In 2012, Joseph Koyippally, translated the novel into English giving it a name, “Goat Days” published by Penguin Books. The book portrayed the life of ‘Najeeb Mohammed,’ an Indian immigrant who went missing in Saudi Arabia. Likewise any other migrants, Najeeb too had a notion of earning enough money to send back home. But he eventually becomes a slave like life flocking the goats in the midst of Saudi Desert. Najeeb jockeys a hazardous scheme to find a way out from the desert prison.
In the introduction, Penguin Books India described the novel as “The strange and bitter comedy of Najeeb’s life in the desert” and a universal folk of loneliness and alienation. The English version, ‘Goat Days’, made a place in the long list of Man Asian Literary Prize in 2012 and the short list of the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2013.
I found it interesting that the novel is depicted in 4 parts- Prison, Desert, Escape, and Refuge. Najeeb, the prime mover of the novel, is a young man from Arattupuzha near Harippad, Kerala. He was a newly married one with a lot of dream about a better work and earnings from any of the Persian Gulf states. All the dreams got shattered at the King Khalid International Airport. He gets trapped in the hands of a wealthy Arab animal farm supervisor and takes away Najeeb to his farm where he was being used as a slave cum shepherd who got assigned to look after goats, sheep, and camels for around three and half years in the remote desert of Saudi Arabia.
He was forced to do strenuous work, kept half-hungry, denied water to wash and made to suffer more than what we could imagine. He was always held in control by the gun in his supervisor’s hand and also got frequently abused with a belt.
We could imagine and go through the mental business of a man who doesn’t know the language, places or people and moreover got isolated from human interaction. Najeeb slowly started to identify himself as one among the goats. He tries and wishes to be like a goat. He began to live the life of goats virtually by eating and sleeping with them. But still, we could see him keeping a ray of hope which brings freedom to an end his sufferings some or the other day.
At last, one night, Najeeb manages to elope from the horrible desert prison along with his friend Hakeem with the help of Ibrahim Khadiri, a Somalian worker in the nearby farm. But the triad gets messed up in the desert for several days, and during the time Hakeem succumbs to death out of hunger and thirst. But Najeeb and Ibrahim Khadiri somehow managed to find their way to Riyadh. There Najeeb gets himself arrested by the Saudi Police to get deported to India. But there also Najeeb had to spend several months in the Sumesi Prison before being sent back to India.
☆ Najeeb Mohammed is the prime mover of the novel. It’s a real-life character who had to spend that hell like life in the remote village for about three and half years and later in the Sumesi Prison in the number 13858 for several months. A friend gave him a visa as a helper in a construction company in Saudi Arabia.
☆ Hakeem, the young man who joined with Name to flee from the desert and but succumbed to death out of thirst and fatigue, was another innocent one who got trapped under another Arab and led a life similar to Najeeb’s.
☆ Ibrahim Khadiri is a Somalian worker in the nearby farm of Najeeb’s. He disappeared at the end of the escape.
☆ Arab supervisor of the animal farm
☆ Hameed- Another Malayali who led a similar life of Najeeb.
☆ Kunjikka- A Malayali who runs a restaurant there giving shelter to Najeeb after he elopes.
REALITY AND FICTION
I strongly felt the life of an ordinary man with a lot of dreams to lead a good life porting to Gulf countries and the fate kept something very worst for him in Aadujeevitham. It’s like I could smell the real life and feel the pain of a migrant who got isolated where everything is unknown to him. It’s even painful when we realize that the novel is based on a real-life incident. It can be marked as a wonderful creation in Malayalam literature. This novel has been translated into English, Hindi, Tamil, Arabic, Nepali and still, works are going on in translating it into many other national and international languages. This shows the popularity of the subject and the people’s response to the novel.
Najeeb represents the youth of that time who day-dreamed the luxurious life of Gulf NRIs. Without enough inquiries, Najeeb and his friend Hakeem blindly believed the friend who gave him a visa in return for Rs.30000. We could feel the pain of leaving back his pregnant wife in the urge to earn money for a better life from Gulf countries.
After getting kidnapped by the Arab Supervisor, Najeeb was so isolated, and he eventually led a goat life. He started to give names named for each goat due to its facial similarities to the people he knew in his life. When he led the life of goats, he even had sexual contact with One such goat which he named Ramani. Some may feel it as zoophilia or the abuse against animals or even vulgar, but I strongly feel it as a complete goat life when Najeeb is, drank, slept, talked and even had sex with the goats.
The novel comes with 43 chapters, and as an end note, Benjamin has added the situation to meet, to listen to Najeeb Nature and the decision to pen down them as a novel.
I have a solid belief that Benyamin dedicated his full calibre to paint in Najeeb’s life into a book. But in some notations, Benyamin forgot that this is a story of a man with education up to just 5th standard as he tried to make the beautiful sentence which is beyond Najeeb’s calibre.