Jayakrishnan simply loved girls.
He was at that particular age when girls bewitched him day and night with the mystic charms of snake groves full of forbidden treasures. That was why, when Shobha and friends asked him tongue in cheek, while licking up ice-cream in the College canteen, to accompany them to the seminar on feminism in the town, he jumped in with no second thought. The girls had winked in mischief while asking him whether he would like to go with them. Jayakrishnan roped in Antony also — just for moral support. Antony was the one who pointed out the pleasures in store — a half an hour bus ride with the girls, sitting side by side at the seminar centre, a few smiles bestowed on each other seemingly carelessly, a causal meeting of the eyes, if possible tea together and then the thrill of the return journey.
Jayakrishnan was in an euphoric state of tension as he sat just behind Shobha in the colourful shamiana erected in the public grounds of the town for the seminar on women’s emancipation. Shobha was leaning forward, listening intently to the talk. The back of her neck curved ever so gracefully. The chain she wore around it slipped down into the mysterious receses of her bosom. A strand of her hair loosened by the breeze, kissed her cheek indulgently and then backed off.
Gazing at all this, Jayakrishnan wanted to reach out and touch Shobha. He did lift his hand, but then withdrew it timidly.
It is not so easy to cross the threshold to manhood from the simple world of the boy. It is even more difficult to go on from the fascination of the first touch to the realisation that man woman relationship is actually just touch and go.
The woman on the dias was beginning to throw some light on the serious problems of feminine liberation. Jayakrishnan was not in the least bored. When the speaker made sarcastic comments Shobha would turn and smile at him. The dimple on her cheek would twinkle then. He was attracted even by the scornful slant of her eyes at times. At that moment Antony groaned into his ears “The old lady’s last liberation! Come on, let’s go and have a smoke”.
Shobha turned to him. He signaled that he would be back in the moment and with not much enthusiasm, followed Antony out.
The sunlight that had not ventured inside the pavilion was spread out over the whole of the maidan with not a single shadow. So Jayakrishnan could immediately see the lone tree at the end of the grounds and the small crowd gathered beneath it.
Somebody on the dias was splitting hairs on the ideology of feminism. Antony extinguished his cigarette butt in frustration and walked towards the crowd. Jayakrishnan, thinking that it might be a street circus, followed just to have a look and turn back.
The heart breaking wail of a five year old girl crossed the barriers of the crowd and fell on Jayakrishnan. Next to her was a worn out woman who looked like the girl’s misery hardened by age. On her lap lay a whimpering baby boy sucking at a shriveled breast. A man — must be the woman’s husband, guessed Jayakrishnan — walked towards her unsteadily, hitching up his dothi. He made a face at the onlookers and grabbing the woman by her hair, lifted her up.
Her straying gaze fell on Jayakrishnan too for a second. Immediately he felt himself jolted into an extraordinary awareness. The look in the woman’s eyes, so much like that of his sister, who had committed suicide jumping into a pond, so much like that of his mother who continued to drag her life on bearing the agony, pierced the core of his being and shook him up.
Jayakrishnan felt that the bombastic descriptions of women’s writing coming over the loudspeaker would be burnt out by the blaze of this woman’s gaze.
Finding her look inexplicable, he stared again at the woman.
Though not as smooth as Shobha’s, the woman’s neck curved just as gracefully and the tali on the sacred yellow thread clung to it with the same feminine elegance.
Jayakrishanan was confused by these similarities, hidden as they were under obvious paradoxes. Too young and inexperienced to readily comprehend this different dimension to woman’s beauty and unfathomable depths, he looked around at the others in bewilderment.
The other man waiting in casual stance for the real fun to ensue, were silent watchers. Into that silence the tragic question of the speaker in the seminar hall resounded foolishly “What is real liberation? What is woman’s emancipation?” A beggar girl coming around with her alms bowl to the gathered crowd heard the words and paused in wonder.
The huge tree, raising its gaze to the heavens even as its roots reached, down into the extreme depths of the soil and the breeze that touched everything but was not touched by anything at all, went on replying silently to the dilemma of eternal freedom.
Not bothered a whit by the presence of the crowd — which though a witness to all that happend interfered not at all — the man grabbed the woman by her hair, kicked her ruthlessly and shouted, “Get lost you bitch”. In the shock of the kick the woman fell over the wailing girl. The sucking baby also began to cry loudly.
A protest rose up in Jayakrishnan’s throat but came out as a strangled sound. Irritated by the untimely interruption of the free entertainment, the crowd looked at him angrily.
The man turned on Jayakrishnan like a barging bull and grunted bestially.
“Who are you to interefere? This is my wife. Do you know what that means? The woman I can spit on and kick up as and when I like. Who among you dares to ask?”
The crowd moved in admiration. Jayakrishnan, now silent, looked down at the woman’s bent face. It was as still as if carved in stone. Her jaws had tightened in a determination that seemed to strengthen by the minute.
Jayakrishnan felt that peculiar tightening of his chest once again — a sense of impending tragedy, the inevitable, un-escapable burden of existence.
“She is from a good family. Eloped with her lover, sold out everything and got to this pitiable state.” An old man explained to the people, spitting without sympathy.
Antony pulled Jayakrishnan away.
“What caste does she belong to?” Somebody wondered aloud — “Does she and the husband belong to different castes? Then the problem will get even more complicated, see if it won’t.”
A suppressed murmur rose from the crowd.
One man, combing out the ends of his moustache, bent forward and ogling shamelessly at the shrunken breast the baby still sucked, said “Sister, aren’t we all natives here? If you need any help, just give us a call.”
The crowd laughed in glee.
The speaker in the seminar hall was raising questions of contemporary significance — What is the masculine gender of prostitute? What would you call a male virgin? — with increasing ardour earning the applause of the rapt listeners. The challenges thrown out by the speaker rained down on the crowed — like a weak downpour unable to wet the roots deep down.
The beggar girl threw a coin from her alms tin at the woman and walked away singing out loudly.
At that the crowd also dispersed in some haste. As he dragged Jayakrishnan away Antony said,
“Guess what? I have an idea. Why go back today itself? Let’s take a room at a lodge. When everybody leaves, we can try to line in that woman — she will be an easy prey — she has those hungry children to feed.”
Just then girls began coming out of the seminar hall, all enlightened by new concepts of feminine liberation and man-woman equality. Catching sight of Shobha among them, Jayakrishnan’s heart missed a beat. But each passing girl seemed to look at them with excessive hatred, as if each man encountered was an enemy to be defeated compulsively. Shobha and friends turned their heads in scorn and walked away from the young men.
Antony, feeling as if kicked at for no wrong knowingly committed, responded in ugly frustration.
“Let them go to hell. We shall rent out a room and stay the night. If not those beauties, there are hundred others ready and willing to please. Come on Jayakrishnan.” Thus Antony made his momentous decision then and there.
That might witnessed two separate incidents — thwarted adolescence crossing into the world of cruel, violent manhood and a mother committing suicide along with her two children. As the poor woman’s vanishing off the face of this earth turned into a newspaper piece of transient news value, equality, liberty, why even existence itself transformed themselves into glorified falsehoods gaining eternal standing.
Translated by Sulochana Ram Mohan Malayalam
Women’s writing in Malayalam is full of contradictions and confusing idealisms. For a wholly literate state with educated and working women on the increase, women’s writing has not gained the accolade it deserves, nor has it even been properly defined and studied. The number of women writers is also not encouraging. Women find it difficult to open up or put themselves into their writing as they are very much bothered by social taboos and familial considerations. Add to this the fact that “pennezhuthu”, the Malayalam coinage for women’s writing, has been given a demeaning connotation and you get a good picture of women shying away from writing as women, for women and of women.
Right from the times of Lalithambika Antharjanam, Rajalekshmi, K. Saraswathy Amma and then the controversial Kamala Das women short story writers have been scarce here. The second generation of women short story writers include P. Valsala, Chadramathy, Gracy, Sara Joseph, Sara Thomas, Nalini Bakel, P.R.Shymala, etc. Ashitha is one of the prominent writers of this period. She stands out from the rest in the way she uses Malayalam and the themes she deems suitable for this particular genre.
Ashitha’s short stories are very much that — Short, Succinct, Sharp. She polishes each one of them with love and care till they are perfect. As she herself says, her vocabulary is limited because her basic education was not in the mother tongue. Though this causes frustration at times, her very deficiency has turned into the best advantage she could have had because she has learnt to use few words to convey a world of feeling. Like the noted writer Uroob before her, Ashitha has contributed a lot to bringing beauty and grace to the Malayalam language used for fiction.
Ashitha began writing very early and she was fortunate enough to be recognized from the first. Her contributions to the Mathrubhumi Vishu edition and Grihalakshmi story competition won prizes and much praise. As a short story writer she has gone on from success to success with an award to mark each phase she has passed. She has bagged almost all awards for young writers and also the Edasseri Award and now the Padmarajan award for the best short story of the year 2000.
Ashitha’s earlier stories deal very much with the inner world of woman, her thoughts, feelings and mental make up. Later she began to write of woman juxtaposed with society — the problems she faces when coming out of the house. But recently Ashitha has found another dimension to her writing. Her long association with the late Nithyachaithanya Yathi and her natural aptitude to the philosophical has made her seek the ultimate meaning of life or even life after life.
Ashitha’s published works are “Apoorna Viramangal”, “Vismaya Chihnangal”, “Oru Sthreeyum Parayathathu”, “Ashithayude Kathakal (short story collections), “Mazhameghangal (novellas), “Rumi Paranja Kathankal”, “32 Russian Kavithakal” and “Shivena Saha Narthanam” (translated works). At present she is working on a translation of the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Laotse. His profound meditations on the functional and eternal reality fascinates Ashitha. A book for children is also all set for publication. This multi talented writer with a penchant for the beautiful and the metaphysical has also written haiku poems, a volume of which will be printed soon.
The story published here “Glorified Falsehoods” conveys Ashitha’s views on woman’s liberation strongly and surely. She is a writer who has always tried to understand the limitations of the Malayalee woman and liberate her without impunging on her womanly sensibilities. Equating woman with man has not been one of her slogans. Building up woman’s confidence by opening up the emotional empty spaces between man and woman, Ashitha visualizes a better world for both the sexes. In a wonderful metaphor she has used in this story, she sees woman’s liberation as that of the huge tree — which even while has limited means of movement, spreads it roots deep down and leaves all around, offering shelter to all and stability to life. Man’s liberation is similarly compared to that of the wind. It travels freely and touches all but in return, is not touched by anyone or anything. When you combine these two types of freedom, you get the whole — just as man and woman are two integral parts of a whole.
ASHITA. Noted short-story writer in Malayalam. Known for her sensitive portrayal of life. Much acclaimed for the felicity of her style. Has won many awards.
SULOCHANA RAM MOHAN. Promising short story writer, poet and translator. Has published critical studies of the stories of Chandramathi and Ashitha.