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In Search of Freedom


Ratna Raman

ONCE UPON A LIFE: BURNT CURRY AND BLOODY RAGS: A MEMOIR
By Temsula Ao
Zubaan, Delhi, 2014, pp. 248, Rs. 395.00

VOLUME XXXVIII NUMBER 10 October 2014

We know the past can be changed. We can choose what we should believe, we can choose what we should remember. This is what frees us, this choice frees us to hope….  Amy Tan in The Opposite Of Fate (cited in  page (i) of  the Memoir. I have never read any book by Temsula Ao. She has several novels and poetry collections to her credit which I have not stumbled upon. What I have read over the last few days is A Memoir, a poignant account of her days from the time she was a little girl to the present where she resides, resting around a long lifetime of hard won achievements and deserved success and ease. Born in a Naga household, the author lost both parents, the most significant anchors in a child’s life, as a young girl. Her father succumbed to a mysterious tooth ailment all of a sudden and grieving for him, her mother too died shortly thereafter. Orphaned and poor, young Temsula Ao is sent off to a distant residential school for education.  Her early childhood and years at school unfold in Part I and Part II  of the memoir. Part III details her life as an adult.    School stories of hardship and deprivation, fictionalized autobiographies dot the background of literature written in English, in the nineteenth century. Charlotte  Bronte  and  Charles Dickens record the traumas of their childhood years in  Jane Eyre (1847) and  David Copperfield (1850) respectively, providing  insight into the difficult and punishing systems at work in the backdrop of  world of nineteenth century schooling. The other school stories in the twentieth century written by Enid Blyton, Anthony Buckridge, Charles Hamilton aka Frank and Hilda Richards moved away from this serious fictionalization and sanitized real world problems,  giving us delightful accounts of narratives in which a lot of fun was  had by mostly well-fed and looked after  kids. Temsula Ao narrates with great simplicity details of her childhood years and pens down memories of her parents which are retained through fleeting impressions, oral accounts, old photographs and associations.   The early years for Temsula and her siblings brought in their wake a largely disjointed process of everyday living, exacerbated both  by the death of their parents and little material comfort. Her recounting of the low thresholds of pain, hunger and frustration are very moving. Significantly, this record of what it meant to grow up and ...


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