The Talking Plough – Summary

The Talking Plough is a translation of Ponkunnam Varkey’s “Sabdikkunna Kalappa”. It tells the story of Ouseph, a poor farmer and Kannan, his bullock.


Ouseph, the poor farmer loved his bullock,Kannan so much that he would forget everything else. The other farmers, therefore, used to call him‘bullock- mad’. Kannan was a true bullock. Every one marvelled at his prowess and stature. Both Ouseph and Kannan could understand each other’s language and thoughts. Ouseph would never use the whip or raise his voice on Kannan. He talked to Kannan as if he were a friend. Kannan needed no prompting in the ploughing field. He knew how and when everything had to be done. He understood everything that he was told. After the ploughing was over, he would be allowed to graze freely. But he would never touch the banana trees or the young coconut plants. As soon as the ploughing was over, Kannan’s body would be washed. He disliked being washed, but he would give way as he loved his master so much. Ouseph would feed Kannan gently with a handful of green grass and a few banana peels. He would pat Kannan affectionately and the bullock would begin to lick the dry sweat from his master’s body.

Kannan always insisted on Ouseph being at the plough. He would forget the pain and work listening to the ‘alap’ (music without words or sentences) sung by Ouseph. One day when Ouseph was in bed due to fever, Pachan, another farmer accompanied Kannan at the plough and started to sing an ‘alap’. But Kannan registered his protest by giving a severe kick on the man’s right leg.

Kannan had worked for Ouseph for twelve years without rest. But Ouseph could gain nothing out of it. The pull of social forces and fresh ways of exploitation under a decadent feudal system did not spare Ouseph. The unfortunate farmer had to mortgage his paddy field to find dowry for the marriage of his daughter, katrikutti. He was also forced to sell the bullocks, including Kannan for meeting the wedding expenses.

Ouseph was not present at the time of Kannan’s sale. He left the scene with tears. Kannan hated leaving the premises. He looked all around to see if his master was there. Ouseph was standing under the jackfruit tree silently wiping his tears.

When Ouseph fell on his bad days, the other farmers suggested him to try his fortune in Malabar. But his Malabar trips got postponed every day. He wanted to sell the small plot of land that was left at a reasonable price. Besides, he would like to see the little face of the baby that would be born to his daughter shortly.

After Ouseph lost his field, his plough,cob web-ridden, lay resting in the stable. Looking at it, he wished he were again in the field at the plough. He yearned for a pair of bullocks like Kannan and some acres of land. Ouseph’s wife Mariya reproached him for not fulfilling the parental duty of sending their daughter to her husband’s home with new clothes. Her mother-in-law and sister-in-law had begun to taunt her. But Ouseph had no money. Luck came in the form of a chitty that his wife Maria had managed to come into.

With the money Maria gave him, Ouseph went to the town to buy his daughter some new cloths. The sight he saw outside the Municipal building was a big shock to him. He met his Kannan with other bullocks that had been branded for slaughter. The poor beasts told him of the poverty of man’s kindness to living things. He bought Kannan back with the money meant for buying new clothes for his daughter. He took Kannan home. Maria and Katri who were eagerly awaiting Ouseph’s return from the market was distressed to see him come back empty handed followed by Kannan. Katri accused him of having cheated her. Ouseph tried to console her and told her that for him, Kannan had been a member of his family. But all his excuses fell on the deaf ears of the mother and the daughter. They began to taunt him. Where his own family failed to understand him, the poor beast succeeds. It died in the dead of the night because it could not bear to see the family hurting Ouseph. At the end we see the cob web-ridden plough above Kannan’s dead body and above Ouseph’s broken heart.

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