Othappu does not exactly mean ‘The Scent of the Other Side’, as readers may tend to think, looking at the subtitle! It is a word to be found in the Malayalam Catholic Bible meaning ‘to stumble’ or ‘to falter’ from the straight way of the faith and to turn to evil ways (p. xx). It is the resultant scandal when someone chooses to go against the accepted norms of religious and, therefore, social behaviour in the Catholic community. And so the novel begins with the protagonist, a nun, deciding to leave the convent to assume the ordinary garb of a lay person and seeking the way of her ‘body’. It is the doomed tale of Sister Margalitha’s love for a priest Karrikan, their decision to defy religious edicts and find a life together, while facing the unpardoning, cruel, social ostracism meted out by a shocked community.
Sarah Joseph does not paint a picture of idyllic forbidden love, alluring in its scandal value, with voyeuristic relish. This is a harsh take on religious bigotry, social sanctions, blind faith, and the stifling brutality of the immediate family when they realize the stigma that will attach to them by this act of defiance.