An Excerpt from Samatvavaadi: Act Two

[Pulimaana Parameswaran Pillai’s Samatvavaadi [The Egalitarian] continues to be one of the less-noticed gems in Malayalam drama from the 1940s. One of the nameless characters of this play, referred to in it as ‘Younger daughter’, is perhaps a powerful voice questioning gender inequality. Below is the translation of Act Two of the play. In the first act, the character ‘samatvavaadi’ murders the ‘prabhu’ (the aristocrat), who is the father of his beloved (called ‘Older Daughter’). What follows is a dialogue between the aristocrat’s ‘Younger Daughter’ and her Lover.

K Ayappa Panikkar, who wrote the introduction to this edition of the play, remarks that it militated against the realist trends of its time, bringing in a pure of absolute form, ideas and world-views onstage. In other words, the women who speak in favour of tradition and who defy it in the play, and the other characters as well, appear artificial and designed to challenge realism.

Yet I cannot help remembering that these were the years in which many of the first-generation feminists including K Saraswathi Amma, but surely not just her, were speaking precisely the language which Pulimana makes the ‘Younger Daughter’ speak in.]

Act 2

Scene 1

[The spacious front-drawing room of the Aristocrat’s house. Black-coloured curtains hang in the windows and doors.]

Lover: You don’t know what you are doing. That man may have murdered your father, but he is your sister’s lover. Your sister loves him.

Younger daughter: I will destroy him.

Lover: Don’t be stubborn. If your sister testifies against him — that will be like her sending him to his death by herself.

Younger daughter: I don’t need similes… that woman knows her duty towards her murdered father.

Lover: You taught her that.

Younger daughter: She knows it.

Lover: A pity!

Younger daughter: You are uttering that for a hundredth time!

Lover: I can’t help saying it again.

Younger daughter: Can’t help refusing to listen to it again.

Lover: We don’t suit each other.

Younger daughter: Didn’t you see?

Lover (stunned): I believed…

Younger daughter: …in nothing. You are unable to believe in anything. Saying ‘a pity!’ all the time, such a person can’t believe in anything!

Lover: I believed in you.

Younger daughter: You disbelieved in me.

Lover: A pity!

Younger daughter (exasperated): Chhe! Stop saying that. You have wasted me, saying that again and again. I wanted to love. To laugh exuberantly. You said — a pity! The tender shoots of everything sweet in me just dried up! It is an evil incantation! You recited it over and over and turned me into a monster!

Lover: Not my fault. You are all like that. Monsters. You want to play ball with human hearts.

Younger Daughter: With hearts? But you have congealed venom there, instead of hearts! Why them do you speak of hearts? Let others speak of the heart.

Lover: Because of you —

Younger daughter: Because of me –?

Lover: I have not known a moment of peace in my life!

Younger daughter: You too, are the scion of an aristocrat.

Lover : Am I not to have a life of pleasure?

Younger daughter: But you do not possess the intelligence for that … you never had to think of anything. You had everything. You were given everything.

Lover: I was my father’s darling.

Younger daughter: You were loved. You never even had to think. And you lost the ability to think. But even the mind of a wasted person needs a space to move in. You created yourself, worshipped yourself. You’ve never known want. Your imagination created it. You wept and tears flowed around yourself. You were under an illusion that all are out to cheat you. You believed only in your own goodness. A truly clever chap!

Lover: How you love to accuse me! This is meaningless otherwise.

Younger daughter: You ended up with a weak body and base mind. Our parents made a pact — that we should be married.

Lover: (aroused by memory) You were just fourteen then!

Younger daughter: You had great freedom in my room!

Lover: A lie!

Younger daughter: My father was the son of a rogue. We have no blue blood. You have no health, but you are well-born. The rich man will do anything for aristocratic trappings. You had great freedom in my room.

Lover: And so — I did not take any such liberties, did I?

Younger daughter: You were a fool. You just piled obscene words on me. Dirty, boring, obscenities.

Lover: (lowering his head) But you liked them then.

Younger daughter: Yes, then… when I began to dislike them you started reciting — “a pity!” … If only you were a man! When my heart bloomed and brimmed over with the sweet nectar of virgin desires… to my youth, to animation, to love, your useless manhood just kept saying, “a pity, a pity!” (looks up) My life! What have I turned into?

Lover: What madness is this? What impatience? Why is it today you…

Younger daughter: Impatience. Events are about to take birth on the arena of the future. On the scroll unfurled by time, fate marks our paths … Hopes await with bated breath outside and behind each and every exit of this house. Do you not know any of this?

Lover: I know nothing.

Younger daughter: I know it. Clearly, in detail.

Lover: Your face is now very flushed. Whenever you feel troubled your face turns red, like this. Do you know how beautiful you become then? There is no one as beautiful as you.

Younger daughter: You arouse me now … what is my beauty?

Lover : Your beauty —

Younger daughter: Is it my spiritual beauty? My sacrifice! Commitment to service! Compassion! Are these my beauty? Am I Sheelavathi? The chaste wife who will not look at another man’s shadow, even? Is that the beauty you see in me?

Lover: (in surprise) Your sacrifice! Your service! Your compassion!

Younger daughter: Enough. I know that I lack all of these. And knowling that well, you still say that you love me. You still call me beautiful. For what?

(Lover remains silent)

You have no answer. The beauty of my body. The heady attraction to my perfect figure. Isn’t that the truth?

(Lover remains silent)

You men never admit your weaknesses. For Woman, I admit, male flesh drives her crazy with desire. But he thinks that the Woman’s seductive power is Man’s weakness. He is shy to admit it.

Lover: (not comprehending) I can admit, Man’s weakness is Woman. When I see you — my courage fails. What all are the resolutions I make when I come here each time!

Younger daughter: Don’t you know that I am a cruel woman?

Lover: (unthinkingly) Yes. (Suddenly) No! That is …I mean…

Younger daughter: The poor thing! The protoplasm that represents the primal evident form of life-force, in order to swim and reach its female mate, must be possessed by an immense passionate attraction. In men, that has grown into a clear slavishness.

Lover: That’s because the heart is surrendered? What can be done? If a man loves a woman, he is her slave. She is, for him, the mistress of his heart, the mother of his progeny, and the Pole Star of his life.

Younger daughter: That protoplasm probably said nothing of this kind. It probably did not know so many fancy words and was not so conceited. It just needed a mate.

Lover: Is the protoplasm the human being?

Younger daughter: No, much worse.

Lover: You want to speak in this confusing way. You used to say such sweet things once!

Younger daughter: I used to say foolish things then.

Lover: You knew how to smile then. You would be sweetly coy when I touched you. Now you utter peals of disgusting, frightening laughter. Stride around like a thug. You are all civilized now, having passed all those exams! That is why. But — Good God — what a transformation!

Younger daughter: I know how to pretend a smile and act coy even now. But back then, I wasn’t acting. My smile and my coyness are all dead. You destroyed all of it. Today, I just have fake stuff with me. My weapons.

Lover: Weapons! … Tell me , who are you?

Younger daughter: Woman! … Can you recognize the Woman? You have not seen her. You have seen only female forms shaped within the sanctums of men! Not women! You breed chaste wives; how can Woman grow there?

Lover: Stop raving. The models for the world of women–

Younger daughter: Woman’s model is Woman.

Lover: What about Sita and Savithri, then?

Younger daughter: They are perversions. (Suddenly) Do you know any history?

Lover: You make me such a fool!

Younger daughter: Do you know how colonisers rule? By handing out honours and medals to some of the slave nations, by distributing shiny caps, making them servants devoid of self-respect. They will be pointed out and this will be said of them — here are our model subjects! Shining exemplars! The colonising power of the clever man. The Chaste Wife of the model created to rule the world of women.

Lover: Excellent. Sita, Savithri…

Younger daughter: Aren’t you sick of that refrain yet? Please leave. Do not test my patience further. Do not drive me mad. Hear this and shudder: my models are Radha, Pingala, Mariam! They are my models. Models of Woman.

Lover : (with force) Whores! No, no you are joking. You can’t be like them. You are good. You can’t be so.

Younger daughter : Cchi! Do not deny my Womanhood … leave … I am part of that eternal seductiveness called Woman.

Lover: Destructive seductiveness! The beauty of the deluge. Your beauty!

( leaves)

Younger daughter: (as if in a dream) Destructive seductiveness!

A Malayali Woman in Delhi : Lakshmi N Menon in Politics

[Below are some translated excerpts from G Kumara Pillai’s biography of Lakshmi N Menon, and the obituary published by the Mathrubhumi newspaper at her death in 1994. These excerpts through much light on the induction of women into politics during the Nehruvian era. Kumara Pillai’s account projects her as a paragon of virtue in public life, endowed with all the qualities valued in Gandhian politics — simplicity, honesty, diligence, efficiency, humility, forthrightness. More importantly, it reveals the manner in which women who were not active in political parties, but pursued politics otherwise – as champions of women’s rights – could be inducted into politics in the Nehruvian era, unlike later times.

Continue reading “A Malayali Woman in Delhi : Lakshmi N Menon in Politics”

Mahila Samajams Must Belong to Ordinary People: G Vasumathi

Translated by J Devika

[This essay which appeared in 1960, is an echo from the 1930s, The voice may well be that of the woman shaped by the Malayali ‘Renaissance’ — that of the Navoddhana Mahila, so prized by the Kerala Model enthusiasts later, for being the moderniser of family life. The Navoddhana Mahila was one who identified herself as an active domestic subject, the bearer of the new values of her modernised community, such as modesty, thrift, efficiency, and committed to the duties of the modern wife and the mother. ]

Continue reading “Mahila Samajams Must Belong to Ordinary People: G Vasumathi”

Some Obstacles in the Way of Equality Between the Sexes: Kochattil Kalyanikkutty Amma

[This is an earlier version of my translation of the article that appeared in my book Her-Self, Stree/Samya, Kolkata, 2005. For a fuller, annotated version, please refer the book]

Kochattil Kalyanikutty Amma (1908-1997), also known as Mrs. C. Kuttan Nair, was born at Thrissur. She graduated in science subjects from Queen Mary’s College, Madras, and had a long career as a teacher, which proved quite turbulent, especially towards the end. She was prominent as a contributor to magazines, and known for her keen interest in women’s education, active participation in the All-India Women’s Conferences and support for contraception. Her travelogue, ‘The Europe I Saw’, written in the 1930s, was widely read. In 1991, she published her autobiography titled Pathikayum Vazhiyoratte Manideepangalum (The Traveler and the Wayside Lamps), which won the Kerala Sahitya Akademi’s award for best autobiography in 1993. Continue reading “Some Obstacles in the Way of Equality Between the Sexes: Kochattil Kalyanikkutty Amma”

An Organization of Our Own: Kumari Saraswathi on Women Organizing

Translated by J Devika

[From the style it seems that this was probably written by K Saraswathi Amma, and ‘Kumari Saraswathi’ was probably one of her pseudonyms. In this amazing essay, the authors offers a feminist analysis of women’s mass organizations of political parties. It is impossible to disagree with the opening parts of the argument, just as it probably impossible to agree with the last, concluding argument. The latter marks the difference between the first generation of feminists and the present one.] Continue reading “An Organization of Our Own: Kumari Saraswathi on Women Organizing”

Come Back! : Lalitambika Antharjanam

[These are excerpts from my translation of her story included in the volume On the Far Side of Memory, New Delhi, OUP, 2018. Lalitambika’s distrust of the repression of the body despite her great admiration for Gandhi was palpable, and this story illustrates it well.] Continue reading “Come Back! : Lalitambika Antharjanam”

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] Continue reading “Prasadam: Lalitambika Antharjanam”

Realism: Lalitambika Antharjanam

[This is an early version of my translation of this story included in the volume titled On the Far Side of Memory, New Delhi: OUP, 2018]

[This brilliant take-down of  the hypocrisies of men who advanced progressive realism in Malayalam literature of the 1940s, brought Lalitambika many enemies and the equivalent of ‘trolling’ those days, in a ‘reaction-story’ by none other than Takazhi Sivasankara Pillai, who accused her of sexual frigidity] Continue reading “Realism: Lalitambika Antharjanam”