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A Bleak Landscape

Malati Mathur

By P. Sivakami . Translated from the Tamil by C.T. Indra. Co-translated by Prema Jagannathan
Katha Bharati Series, Sahitya Akademi with CIIL, Mysore, 2014, pp. 146, Rs. 395.00


The book appears at first glance to be undecided about its genre or raison d’être: is it a novel or an essay? Does it wish to tell a story or discuss/debate women’s issues? Being an award-winning book notwithstanding, this disconnect stays with the reader throughout the book. As one attempts to read the story, one is constantly distracted by the meta-fictional sub-text that runs across the bottom of the pages. This, to my mind, takes away from the impact of the story itself—this marrying together of a fictional enterprise and a critical treatise on the status of women. Another problem is that these comments are pretty much disjointed and do not flow coherently in a seamless account, nor are they always a commentary on what is being said in the fiction. So why have them there? Cast in the mould of the popular Vikramditya-Vetala tale, the sub-text meanders across many situations and discourses, often hopping from the mythic to the polemic with no apparent logic, bringing in Princess Diana, her lover Hewitt, Yayati, the indentured labour from India sent to distant lands, Mughal kings, menopause, celebration customs of indigenous peoples, the psychoanalysis of dreams and statements by Arutchelvi, Padma Swaminathan etc., on morality—all thrown together with happy abandon. The book describes the psychological landscape of a woman entangled in an extramarital affair. The book ends without any apparent resolution and it is left to the reader to interpret the endless baths that the lady indulges in at the end. There is a lot of philosophizing and dialogue that meanders across the book but actually seems to lead nowhere or reach any kind of an outcome. As regards the story itself, one wonders why the man and woman in the extra-marital affair bother to take the trouble in the first place. There is no sense of rapture or fulfillment, and even moments of stolen joy are rare. They are angry, say hurtful words to each other all the time. The book paints a bleak picture of women’s existence and seems to generalize their condition as exploited, bitter and miserable which would surely not be the case with all women in reality. Does the author wish to suggest that even if a woman wishes to escape the tedium and melancholy of a bad marriage into the arms of a (married) lover, she is doomed to stay ...

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