Translated by J Devika
[ this is an earlier version of the translation that appeared in my book Her-Self, published by Stree/Samya, Kolkata, 2005, For a fuller, annotated version, please refer the book]
[ ‘Anukaranabhramam’, Lakshmibhayi 10 (12) M.E. 1090 Meenam (March- April 1914-15): 457- 63]
I read the article titled ‘The Craze for Imitation’ by Puttezhattu Raman Menon B.A. We have been braving the reprimands of Granduncles and the contempt and derision of people and the newspapers; I am not at all surprised that Mr. Menon has launched a belligerent offensive.
Fifteen years back, we were ignorant women, uncultured and half-clad. With much exertion, we secured the permission of mothers and grandmothers to wear the bodice and the jacket. Yet, now that we have managed to cover our bodies appropriately, it seems that all of us have fallen into prodigality! What are we to do now? No matter what the Keralamahatmyam or any other sacred text says about the women of Kerala being brought from heaven by Parashurama to satisfy the needs of the Bhudevas, (Brahmins); about them being exempt from the rules of chastity; about the injunction forbidding them to cover their bodies, there are very few women today who gulp down all this unthinkingly. It is possible that Mr. Menon will agree to the fact that Malayalee women have few rivals as far as self-control and modesty are concerned. In most Malayalee families, women wake up early, and do not usually eat anything without bathing, praying and reading the Ramayana or the Mahabharata. If there are among us some who do not go to the temple, pray or read the Ramayana or the Bharata, then that is the fault of men. How many are the men who roam around with cropped hair, puffing at the cigar or beedi, caring naught for the world and sporting supercilious postures, ridiculing everyone else, simply because they have happened to pass by a school, or because their brothers or uncles have learnt English? The women drinking soda and lemonade at railway stations etc spotted by Mr. Menon were probably fated to be the wives of such men. Why are we, poor weak females, being blamed for this? If women are entrusted to such men who demand that their wives must be handed over to them, secured with a rope, to be ‘properly’ led, then Mr. Menon may find little consolation. Indeed, he cannot remain reassured that these women will not accept the round-basket and the cock’s feather as ornamental headgear.
The next complaint is that we are wasting a great deal of money in our craze for clothes and ornaments. In my family, our debts were cleared off recently by selling off a heavy Poottali (a traditional necklace) found in my grandmother’s box. Though Mr. Menon may be pleased to see us walk around in that heavy Poottali and huge Todas (large circular ear studs) sticking out on the sides like fancy peacock-feather fans (Aalavattom), we are rather scared that others may ridicule us, or hurl abuse. With a Poottali like this, all the ornaments we need, for me, my sisters and the children can be made; some money may even be saved. Yet, it so seems, we are all spendthrifts still! When was more money spent on feasts at ceremonies and rituals, now or then? In the olden days, the Tali-tying ceremony and feast had to be celebrated splendidly, even if all our assets had to be sold. Today many of us feel that such a ceremony is in itself unnecessary. Besides, many mothers conduct the tali tying in temples along with the infant’s rice-giving ceremony. But whatever happens, there seems to be no end to the rebuke that we squander money.
Mr. Menon seems to be quite disturbed that everyone has forgotten simple songs and melodies like Odum Mrigangale… and Kalyani Kalavani… Yes, many of us have begun to sing the compositions of Thyagaraja and Dikshitar. Mr. Menon is perhaps uncomfortable with this. Though many have given up games and amusements special to Onam and Tiruvatira, none of us has developed fascination for white folk; none of us has begun to imitate their dancing. And that seems quite unlikely a prospect. Though it was Parangoti who said that the vigorous dancing of mostly unclad young women was quite like the Negroes’ dance, it must be admitted that there is a grain of truth there. At this rate, Mr. Menon must be rather alarmed that we have lost passion for Mohiniyattam and so on. In older times, holding a Mohiniyattam performance in houses was considered a matter of great prestige. Many enjoyed such entertainment. Since he has found few words to commend the present-day abhorrence of people towards Mohiniyattam, it may be assumed that Mr. Menon would count its decline among the evils of reform.
Mr. Menon is of the opinion that all our ills stem from English education. If all English books were burnt, if all ravukkas and jackets were dumped in some lake or canal, if the older ornaments found favour with us again and Kalyani Kalavani… served once more as our major pastime, Mr. Menon’s anger towards us may subside a bit. We would like to know what education was that which prompted an Antarjanam—a woman forbidden the very sight of a (male) stranger – to take sixty-five paramours and cause them to be cast out of society. Some of us have attained higher education. Some of us occupy prestigious posts. Is it not far more honorable to live a life engaged in some respectable employment rather than to idle it away in depravity? Western women, Tamil women or Parsi women (most of us have not even seen the last-mentioned group) do not dazzle us. Some changes in dressing have been adopted in accordance with changing times. It does not seem necessary to take too seriously the words of those who believe that only such clothes as worn by Adam and Eve are acceptable. Why Mr. Menon should be so deeply perturbed by some women writing their names as ‘C. K. Amma’ and so on remains quite mysterious. These women do not stick these names on their foreheads. They are not agitated if others call them by their actual names. There is no reason to be alarmed if they use such fancy names in their personal letters and so on. On the whole, Mr. Menon’s article reminds one of the thrashing meted out by some old Grand-Uncles. They thrash others for good reasons, and for bad reasons. Very often the whipping would be for ‘telling the truth’, as if that were an offence. There will be very little good to be obtained from them otherwise. How much will others value the whipping or scolding of such Uncles? We have received no valuable advice from Mr. Menon. We see that we have been severely upbraided. We do have many faults. If they were recounted in a positive way, no one would have reason to complain. But it will of course be no surprise that we ascribe no value at all to Mr. Menon’s article, which has been written with the sole purpose of nagging us.