The Writer’s Words: Lalitambika Antharjanam: Part Two

[Continuation of Lalitambika Antharjanam’s short reflection on her practice of writing.]

My first publication was a story titled ‘The End of the Journey’ (Yathraavasaanam) which appeared in the Malayala Rajyam Illustrated Weekly. It was an independent retelling of Sitadevi Chattopadhyay’s story that was published in the Modern Review.

In my early days as a short-story writer, Tagore was ‘God’ to me. The Tagore I had met through the translations of Puthezhathu Rama Menon and Kalyani Amma. And later, Bengali novelists like Bankim Chandra and others — and as I had close interactions with the Sriramakrishna Ashram since childhood, the influence of Sriramakrishna Paramahamsa and Swami Vivekananda helped to shape my ideas. My imagination gropes, to this say, in the shade of these mighty shadows (no, of illuminations).

If you ask me which of my stories I like the best — which of my offspring I like the best — I cannot give you a reply. Since I do not read again what I have finished writing, I can only say — all that you like are liked by me too.

An experience that may sprout in the mind as a story-seed is not always easily recognized. After much time– some days — maybe even some years — later, it rises to the memory. From the unconscious to the conscious mind. And you write it. The heat and mobility of reality might have waned by then. But the rawness of the incidents that inspired it would have given way to a more mature and new state. One does not submit to the story-seed. One makes it submit. But that may not be achieved, always. No one writes a good short story making notes for it from beginning to end. The end, too, is shaped as one writes. I have seen stories planned as tragedies turn into tales with happy endings, and vice-versa. Endings that arise as the characters’ experiences develop along with them are the right ones.

‘Inspiration’ (sic.) is truly the awakening of creative impulses. Behind great works of storytelling, there is likely to be great creative impulse. The irrepressible urge to give rise to molten, bubbling, ideas. There are those who claim that there is no such thing as the inspiration (sic.) and that it is possible to write without it. But if one starts writing, it will awaken — unless one is writing to get rid of a nuisance. I will not describe the sweet unease that lasts from the emergence of the seed of a tale till the birth of a well-shaped story from it. Because if such a sweet unease does exist, it cannot be described.

It is after all the images and experiences of real life that mirrors in fantasy and turns into the work of art. Maybe one did not mean it deliberately. Maybe it is not clear whose it is, how, when, and so on. Though in a complex way, it is still something that struck its inner world that fantasy traces. In Romantic stories, the idea may be more important. When people of similar mindsets write, there may be similarity. It is possible that one may be accused of stealing ideas too.

Among my characters who were purely imagined, I am particularly fond of the Punjabi girl in the story ‘A Leaf in the Storm’ (Kodungattil Oru Ila). That’s because she is purely a product of my imagination. I had not seen Punjab then. I had no direct knowledge of the refugees. I read in a newspaper article, an item about how abducted young women were exchanged. When I went to bed that night, this news item came to my mind, quite unexpectedly. And with it, the form of the young woman refugee, bearing the weight of unthinkable sorrow. I sat up and wrote the whole story. This symbol of the moral dilemma of womanhood is my favorite. Because her creation was entirely achieved through my fantasy.

I have never experimented with any particular style for a story. The style appears, appropriate to the tale that I narrate. It will be different for Romantic stories, realist ones, and sketch-based ones. The style that suits one will not fit the other. I did strive to experiment only once. I tried writing a story about the emergence of the human as a seed of life — I had hoped to write, step by step, a whole series on it. But because I felt that I did not possess enough scientific knowledge necessary for the subject, I gave it up.

No one probably starts writing with a full-fledged view of life. But it takes shape as one writes. It is impossible otherwise. The author’s view of life is visible all through the story.

Not meant for propaganda — but the ideas, wishes, aims, which became one’s own, they are circulated through one’s art. Good literature has such a side to it. Even Valmiki and Vyasa wrote in forms that could be circulated.

I believe that it is duty of the kalaakaaran (the male artist) — as well as the kalaakaari (the female artist) to take apart the narrow and decrepit rafters of social life and along with it, replace these the resources with which a reformed and healthy new abode may be constructed. Novels, short-stories, poetry — all of artistic creation can only be an instrument to this end.

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.

Continue reading “The Writer’s Words: Lalitambika Antharjanam: Part One”

K Saraswathi Amma: Ramani (Part 4)

“Then visits and conversations began to happen regularly. The familiarity soon grew into love before long. How sad! What a fool I was back then! Mr Babu started by addressing me as Ms Rani, then Sushama Rani, then Sushama, and soon, Sush. Mr Babu became just Babu to me.”

“The day before my oldest brother came home for the Christmas break, impatient to see me, Baby went back home for a visit.”

“I did not miss him so much in my brother’s presence. My brother loved me more dearly than life itself — to him, I merely said, rather lightly, ‘Cheta, that Babu over there is now my friend.”

“The day after my brother returned, Babu too came back with sunken eyes and emaciated body. Where your parents unwell, I asked him, and he replied, I have no parents. After a while, eyes welling with tears, he told me: “I had just a younger sister, and she died last year. It was terribly painful to live in the house that I had shared with her.”

“In a week, he was back to normal gaiety. When we were parting after the joyful banter that day, Babu who was loath to part with me, found a ruse, and though eager, he put on an indifferent face, and said: ‘The moon is bright tonight. Sush, it won’t be hard for you to cross the terrace near your room and come down into the garden behind the house? If it suits you, do come? At 12 o’clock. I will wait under the big mango tree.”

“My conscience chided me that night. But I consoled myself that Babu will not persuade a young girl commit follies — the memory of his younger sister will deter him, at least. I did not know then that the man who strives to fulfil his desire will not care at all for the dangers that his female partner may face.”

“Time flew, with the tete-e-tetes at dusk and the nightly unions. The exams arrived. A week before the exam, when we parted at night, I told him, “I will not be able to come until the exams are over. After the exams, too.’

‘Yes,’ replied Babu. ‘But if I ask something of you, promise me that you will not refuse?’

The next moment, not knowing what I was going to hear, I said, ‘Will I oppose your wish? Good! I hereby take us witness all this around us, I promise that I will not refuse you. Are you satisfied?’

‘Then,’ he said, standing up. I got up with him. He held me and moved us — me and his tall erect body — into the moonlight and said: “I am leaving this place tomorrow. I will never come here ever. Our relationship is ending now. My request is that you should never try to search for me’

“I felt a terrible stab of pain and fatigue, as though I had taken a heavy blow. The brightness and joy I had felt hitherto just vanished. I woke up from that blissful dream. In that moment I saw the enormity of danger in what I had thought of as just amusement till then. I trembled; my legs faltered. I leaned forward. ‘Your fall that day, Sush, was the conclusion of our love, just as your earlier fall was its beginning,’ he said, helping me to lean against his chest. A little while later, when I regained courage, I felt ashamed of my weakness, loosened his grip, and moved away. I told him: ‘I will not violate my promise. But if someone else tries to search for you, Babu, I will not be responsible.’ “

“A demonic smile distorted his face. He asked, ‘Why should anyone search for me? Do aristocratic families permit marriages between people of different religious faiths?’ “

“That question left me trapped again. I spoke, without revealing my defeat: ‘Do you know in how many the rage of vengeance will be aroused if I shed a single tear? Money and power can do anything. I have powerful relatives all over Kerala who can do anything to you, Babu.’

“Babu’s face turned pale at this but his voice was still calm. “Never mind. I have extracted revenge for my sister Lina. What do I care now?”

“Babu was silent. He had never looked like someone of a different faith. But from the name Lina I guessed that he was Christian. I shuddered at the thought of my future. But soon I raised by head high. Babu wept as he said, ‘Alas, Rani, our parents died when my Lina was just twelve. We were helpless. A dirty old miser, a relative, took us in making me commit myself to marrying a dirty daughter of his. I just wanted to save Lina from the agony of knowing want, and so agreed. I left Lina in his care and came to Thiruvananthapuram to study. It was hard to part with her. But who had the money to travel frequently? Thus, sacrificing my will, willing away my life, I protected her. For what? Just so that her tender young heart and abundant beauty would be sacrificed to a Hindu murderer!'”

“Babu laughed hard; he sounded like he was going insane. He continued: ‘That is why I took my revenge tonight. My sister loved him not knowing his name or place, not wishing to know. He seduced her. Made her immature heart believe him. Then destroyed her.'”

“His face blazed with anger and his eyes were overflowing: ‘In the end, the sadness in her letters drew me back home. Paying no attention to the family’s scolding and chiding, I went to her room and asked her why she was sad. She wept as she told me that she had loved someone without the family knowing and hat he was not to be seen now. A fragmented story, with no hear nor tail! But what came after?’ Babu roared again: ‘Lina told me that I was to become an uncle because of that man’s treachery! He disappeared at that news. My dependence did not give me even the time to think about how I could rescue her from the impending humiliation! If I threw aside everything, took her, and ran away somewhere, would that not be the worst ingratitude? In the end, seeing no way our, I told her to guard the secret well and that I would find a solution when I returned – and came to Thiruvananthapuram, with a burning heart. For the fear of the person who had spent the money, I appeared in all the exams. But I did not read the question paper, nor did I write any answer. I returned home at midnight after the exam. Will I ever forget the withered face, Lina’s face, in front of the lit lamp? God! How beautiful she was! Her joy at seeing me gave me some comfort. She told me that she had found a way out and that she would tell me about it the next morning.’ “

Sushama fell silent for some time. Then she said, “How terrible, the greatest curse from God is to be born woman! A compassionate heart; a dangerous body. I was in the terrible fallen state in which I had to ask what solution she had found.”