The Writer’s Words: Lalitambika Antharjanam: Part One

[In this short essay, Lalitambika reflects on her practice of writing. It appeared as a prefatory note to her volume of collected short stories (Kottayam: DC Books, 2009, pp.xxix-xxxii)

It is the interest in life, after all, that urges one to re-create life. Fulsome works of art can emerge only from the brimming over of the love of life. The momentary interactions that the five senses make possible in an inner realm and turn into sensation. In that dream-like background composed of the truthfulness of reality and the colours of the imagination is born the impulse to literature — one could say, like the rays of sun falling on the moon and turning into moonlight. Dreams are more beautiful than reality. Though a seed germinates in the soil, it grows and spreads and bears fruit in the wide-open sky, truly. The seeds of stories are also like this. They become works of art only in they grow.

Poetry was the form in which I first began to write. Poetry is, after all, that which glows — or brims over –when a spark — or wave — of emotion appears in the mind. Not much of the story’s charm in that. No place for thought, either. If all that you have to say cannot be said through it, then other ways open. That is how I became the writer of stories. No other form can unite emotion and thought so powerfully to produce a powerful narrative. Especially when there are some other ends and aims to the passionate pursuit of art. There is no wonder that such people have ended up leaving the house of poetry and migrating to that of the story.

My first story, it may sound truly surprising, was a novel. Written when I was around 14 or 15. It was around the time I read Tagore’ ‘The Home and the World’ (translated by Smt B Kalyani Amma). That work attracted me immensely. I read it many times. I felt that Vimala, Sandeepan, and even that widowed sister-in-law were members of my own family. It was a usual pastime of mine to relate the stories I read to friends (who were mostly illiterate) of mine. That story however could not be related in that way. So it lived in my mind. I liked its style as well. In those days, a relative of mine, a poor Antharjanam, lived with us. She used to tell many stories. Mostly sad stories of her own life. That poor orphaned woman who was abandoned by her own husband along with her two children was however less bothered by her own misfortunes than that of hapless others. She would lament about her unlucky younger sister: “They used to say, the seventh-born girl you won’t get even if you beg! What beautiful tresses she had! What a bright complexion! Wasn’t that why they…”

She would wipe her tears and recount the tale again. Her sister was a beauty. The family was impoverished. The father was no more too. There was no money to pay dowry. It was then that some brokers approached the family. They said that no money was needed. The bridegroom was an embranthiri, a temple-priest, from the north. He’s a bit senior. That’s no matter, there’s wealth. He’ll take good care of her.

Maybe their brother thought — never mind, how is a penniless girl going to get a young and handsome husband? There would be no expenses. An important thing would get done too. If she’s lucky then everything will improve. So it was fixed.

They had no clue where he came from — or what family he belonged to. When she left with that portly man who didn’t even know her language, that fourteen-year-old hugged her mother and wept aloud — I am scared; Amme, I am afraid.

Mother and daughter hugged each other and wept. The brother had to work hard to push her into going away with him. Thirty years have passed. No one has seen her since then. No one knows where she is or even if she is alive.

This story shook my heart very badly. This was not made-up. Not hearsay. If I were born in a family like that, I too would have suffered that fate. Those wide eyes, welling with tears, and that cry: Amme, I am afraid, I am afraid — they stayed suspended in my mental world. It had to be brought out of it somehow — the attraction towards the novel that I had read earlier and the life of the story that I had just heard, I retold as a narrative — and wrote a novel. It was the story of Devaki — and of Dikshithar — and Mallinathan. Devaki is sold in a brothel by Dikshithar. A Bengali youth who visited her first, Mallinathan (it was his first experience, too) rescues and accepts her — this was how it went. I do not remember all of it. No one but myself has seen that novel. It lay in a box in our loft for some time and was eaten up by the termites. But that was my first story.

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