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Multiple Avatars of Indian Women

Anita Balakrishnan

By Lakshmi Kannan . Translated from Tamil by the author.
Orient BlackSwan, Hyderabad, 2014, pp. 228, Rs. 350.00


Lakshmi Kannan’s volume of translated short stories contains selections from her previously published stories. In the author’s note Kannan explains her reasons for choosing these stories: they were the ones that elicited the strongest reactions amongst her readers and often generated controversy.   Lakshmi Kannan focuses her gaze primarily on Indian women in their various avatars: daughter, wife, mother, student, working professional, though some of the stories do have male protagonists. In most of the stories, she reveals her characters negotiating the schism between traditional expectations regarding women and the new possibilities precipitated by modernity. As a writer and translator Lakshmi Kannan faces a difficult choice; whether to foreground the Tamil of the original or to dilute and universalize the source language to make the translation more accessible to the non-cultural reader. Kannan also brings to her stories her wealth of knowledge, mythic, spiritual and literary. This is particularly evident in the title story, ‘Genesis’ where the two main characters, fellow scholars at an American university, are drawn to each other due to their mutual compatibility. But the Indian woman is so severely inhibited by the weight of cultural expectations and traditions that she cannot interact freely with Bill, the American researcher. The story focuses on the moment of inspiration and lays bare the workings of the creative imagination. The poignant ending emphasizes the price to be paid for playing safe.   With deft strokes and sharply observed descriptions, Lakshmi Kannan creates characters who are trying to negotiate the slippery slope of modern life while simultaneously following age-old social mores and religious rituals. This is familiar territory with novelists as disparate as Kamala Markandeya, Shashi Deshpande and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni exploring the ramifications of this conflict in their fiction. What sets Lakshmi Kannan apart is her seemingly effortless ability to capture the flavour of the Tamil brahmin milieu. Her deep knowledge of the Indian classics and philosophy enables her to introduce an intertextual dimension to her stories. ‘Genesis’, ‘The Coming of Devi’ and ‘Urvashi’ are good examples of this.   Many stories in the collection have a feminist slant, with the women characters chafing against the restrictions imposed by a patriarchal culture under the guise of maintaining traditions. A deep irony undergirds the narrative of ‘The Coming of Devi’. Set against the backdrop of the installation of a Devi idol in the temple, the story brilliantly weaves together the stranglehold of ...

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