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Multiplicity as Strength and Vulnerability

Vinod C. Khanna

By C.N. Srikantan and Sarah Joseph. Translated from Malayalam by Vasanthi Sankaranarayanan
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 157, Rs. 250.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 1-2 January-February 2006

This slim volume provides the reader more than what the title page promises. Besides the immensely readable English translations by Vasanthi Sanakaranarayanan of ‘Ramayana retellings’ by two outstanding contemporary Malayalam literary figures, we have the very useful author’s and translator’s notes, as well as a lucid introduction and highly informative Afterword (on the Ramayana in Kerala) by the well-known scholar and literary figure, K.Satchidanandan.   The translator’s note tells us how she became “disenchanted with the myth of the ideal man”(Rama/Raman), a process reinforced by growing acquaintance with feminism and the women’s perspective. This is the background to her being attracted to Sarah Joseph’s short stories which she sees as “not mere subversions of the original, but a modern and feministic reinterpretation of the Ramayanam itself.” The translator also goes on to explain why she agreed with the OUP suggestion to include in the volume Nair’s Kanchana Sita (the Golden Sita). Like Joseph’s stories, this play is, Vasanthi tells us, not only pro-woman, but part of the “subversion of the Ramayanam” in Kerala, and presentation of a new interpretation.   Kanchana Sita is a powerful play, whose appeal transcends any ‘subversive’ intent its eminent playwright may have had. What we have here is a dramatic confrontation between love and politics, between human values and duties of a ruler, as defined by the royal priests. The latter come across as ruthless and heartless arbiters of even Rama’s destiny. Torn between his intense love for the exiled Sita (at this stage Rama is unaware that she has survived the dangers of the jungle) and the demand of his priestly mentors that he marry a second time so that he can perform the Ashwamedha sacrifice, he turns to Lakshmana and asks Do you think Raman’s hands will move to touch another woman? His brother’s helpless response is a mere :O Maharajan! Rama, in a line which captures the depth of his despair, exclaims: Maharajan! A synonym for the killer of his own soul.   The highlights of the play of course is the questioning of Rama from various perspectives, ( including that of Bharata, Hanuman and Valmiki i.e. not limited to a specific feminist point of view) of which the most memorable lines have been given to Lakshmana’s wife and Sita’s sister, Urmila. Reacting to Rama and Lakshmana’s elevation of ...

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