Prasadam: Lalitambika Antharjanam

[This is an excerpt from my translation of her story included in the volume On the Far Side of Memory, New Delhi, OUP, 2018. It is a sharp critique of the reformism among Malayala brahmins, and of Reformer-Man who saw women as mere passive objects of his reformism]

I was thinking of those strands of grey hair. Eyes sunk deep into their sockets. The  wasted frame. She is only thirty-three, isn’t she, but still …!

Our first meeting was eight years ago on the dais of the community movement. How thick and dark her curls were then! Radiant health and confidence shone in those eyes. Her courage, and not just her persuasiveness, made her admirable. Standing upright like that, in that light – that was a sight no one could imagine.

From the audience rose cries of joy and victory. Highly inspiring it was, no doubt! The veiling darkness of many, many generations had been chased away. As she stood, garlanded, on the dais, the living symbol of Revolution’s great success, the entire audience broke into thrills of joy and pride.

She challenged frozen customs; she entered newer and newer activisms. The result was miraculous. Only that which can move, can make other things move. Like the early rumbling of thunder before the tempest, her voice found many echoes. The community woke up. The world turned our way, attentive now. Ideas that had lain on paper for the past twenty-five years were birthed into life through this single event…

A sudden tremor. Entrenched customs shook; their authorities reeled in surprise. Then they rolled their eyes; roared; prepared to hit back lurching in death-pangs. When they decreed that all those who went to her illam were to be cast out, more and more illams opened up to them. When those who stayed on with the cast-out were cast out, outcast status became respectable.  When her name was banned in the inner-quarters, many gave up that space so that they could speak her name. That was an exalted time!

“This dam built of shrivelled old bones will collapse under the force of the gushing stream of risen young blood,” she once declared from the stage….


It so happened that she missed, for some reason, an important event. That was seen as a ruse by some, as deliberate avoidance … there were some disagreements about resolutions … a reply and a reply to the reply. Many who were close now moved away in anger. A young man declared angrily: “So was it to reform these wooden puppets that we suffered so much? We taught them … spoke of them on so many forms … gave them a name … and now, look, do they have any gratitude?”

Is this claim not true? What weakness do our menfolk have, that must be removed? What is the use of community activism indeed? Will anything work without their benevolence? But that reference to gratitude made me furious. Gratitude, indeed … what a shameless word … what a heavy obligation … worse than slavery … did we suffer all the sacrifices and troubles till now for this? … Gratitude! … I admired that sister much more now.

This is indeed the trouble with all revolutionary movements. The sudden leap-up … and the equally sudden burning out. What burned got burned; what charred was charred. The remnants continue to exist as ugly as before….

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