About a woman

The masculine of virgin: stories by sara joseph

A  formidable line-up of ladies settle down to tackle the unisex term, ‘virgin’. They are presided over by the dedicatee, the legendary Lalithambika Antarjanam. Devika gives a rather heavy introduction studded with quotes.

But we prefer watching Sarah as a universal creatrix: “Well, how did she know that this happened to me?” could be the silent reaction of many of her readers, males including, of course.

Death, decay and a listless existence do stalk women all the time but Sarah catches the moment when the experience is linked with the passions of the ‘feminine’. Gentle and ardent by turns, men and women are held back by reason but pushed forward by desire.
The toothache that rattles Radha’s brains in Cloves, the big hulk in Conjugality, the rages recorded in The Rain, the blackhole of marriage in Scooter…yet normal households: husband, wife, children.

Sarah tries other strands too in stories like Sweat-marks (dalit psychology), Coffee House (youth talk), Paapathara (female infanticide), Hark! (bonds fashioned by earth) and The Moonlight Knows (paranoia). Re-readings of Ramayana situations in Asoka, and Black Chinks tickles our memory-buds to get back to Valmiki. Jatiguptan and Janakiguptan belongs to this group and sounds like Sherlock Holmes reliving the murderous situations in his past like the Reichenbach Falls plunge. Sarah’s expert going in and out of a double twilight is adroitly convincing.

Sarah should be read carefully, word by word, as she presents her situations and characters, so that the experience of each individual reader enables him (her) to see woman as she is in this world of systematised living that is a help for growth and a hindrance for freedom. We ought not to come to Sarah with a head overburdened by criticism. She is brilliantly on her own and does not need any badge of feminism to keep pace with our times. “The intimidating pile of words — discourse — accumulated around her work” is for the doctoral student. For the common reader, it is enough to get in pace with Sarah’s musings as in Within Every Woman Writer: “Another day, imagine, the dirty dishes in the sink standing right up, talking, rolling all over the kitchen and the pantry and the dining table defiantly, all the while breeding waste-heap-babies that rocked! I fell flat on my face like a character in an absurd drama who had vomited her guts out!”

Well, violent emotions do need such images and we have no problem. Just read the twin stories: To the Sea and Vanadurga. A million tragedies are encapsulated in them. We see the little girl running away from male animals in the former story, but we cannot forget the inspiration for this verbal picture of Sarah. We have seen Nick Ut’s photograph of Kim Phuc, then only nine years old, like Sarah’s girl-heroine, but running towards the camera. Taken on 8th June, 1972, it was to win a Pulitzer Prize. But Nick Ut also saved her and today she is a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, a married woman with two children. But Sarah’s Durga had no Nick to save her, and Anitha watches her die, a ravished, half-open bud.

“Anitha took the child’s body home. Somewhere in the ancestral land, between Anitha and Sushama, a statue of the Buddha with a shattered head lies sleeping, covered by the soil. Anitha laid Durga in the wet earth and covered her with the wind, the rain, the leaves.”

If Durga had escaped this tragedy, in another five years she would be the Daughter who committed suicide in the title story, with a postmortem report: “Although Daughter was only fifteen, she bore a Son in her womb.” Emotions tightening up the throat while the mind begins to think cogently make The Masculine of ‘Virgin’ compulsory reading for the male of the human species.

Translated by J Devika OUP, 2012, pp 158, Rs325

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