Book: The Masculine of Virgin: Stories
Editor: Sarah Joseph
Translator: Translated and introduced by J. Devika
Price: Rs 325
Sarah Joseph wears many hats of activist,writer and teacher. She makes no bones about calling herself a feminist writer in Malayalam. She shuns pretences and unabashedly depicts her feminine,contradictory,emotional and vulnerable characters in everyday settings. They are Every Woman. While the stories may seem like The Madwoman in the Attic meeting A Room of Ones Own,their setting in Keralas patriarchal landscape anchor them. Her characters display an innocence,oblivious to the surroundings.
The son in the title story,The Masc of Virgin,asks his father a question: Appa,the masculine of virgin?… He held up the homework book as evidence. It was written there:
Cow: (Masc.) Bull
Mother: (Masc.) Father
Hen: (Masc.) Rooster
Virgin: (Masc.) …
The Masculine of Virgin is the first collection of Josephs writings in English,part of OUPs centenary volumes. The stories are themed around oppressive men,phallocentric idealism,burdens of motherhood and class conflicts. From Germaine Greer to Maya Angelou,from Mahasweta Devi to Kamala Das,women writers have been preoccupied with sex,hierarchies and territories. Quite often,the rhetoric of society is dictated by a male-centric vision of how the world should operate. It is no different in Josephs world.
She takes the most obvious narrative of male dominance,the Ramayana,to deconstruct notions of male hegemony. In Asoka,she reinterprets a crucial moment in the Ramayana,when Seetha meets Ram in the forest of Asoka trees after Ravana is killed. Seetha is to arrive in honour,cleansed and purified before the Victor. Theres nothing left in Lanka but ash and carrion crows. Seetha is led to the Victor like one guilty of an offence.
The Victors anger rises like flames fed on ghee. The corrupted one. She upon whom the covetous eye had lingered. She who had been seated on the lap of the Defeated. She who had slept in his home.
Through the story,Seetha speaks Sanskrit,reflecting the purity Joseph clothes the victim in. In the end,Seetha directs Lakshmanan to light her a pyre. It is her victory,as the Daughter of the Earth.
Josephs women are victims,victors,warriors and sometimes witnesses. In The Passion of Mary,one sees the grief and surrender of a mother,as she watches her son bear the burden of the world on the cross. Josephs imagery and metaphors are drawn heavily from nature the angry hiss of the rain,the glow of moonlight over the rivers parched sand,the wild cruel laughter of the wind lending poetry to dire situations.
And if sorrow is near,can laughter be far behind? In Dimwittude,which is a dig at Syrian Christians,their accents and attitudes,Gracykutty,of robust build,sturdy knee and a strong leg,develops cold feet when she is chosen to travel to outer space by the Indian Space Research Organisation. What worries her? She is an unmarried girl,going to outer space in the company of three men,and that too,to spend the night there. Think carefully,she tells herself: What is more important,chastity or outer space?
Sex has many faces in this collection: voyeurism,unrequited love-making,rape. In all the stories,the women continue with their daily lives. Escape routes are few,and indulgence is only available in fantasy. Josephs women give a free run to the voices in their head. Girl uninterrupted a privilege unavailable in the male world. Having made their peace in their fantasies,they live.
J. Devikas translation appears jerky in parts and sometimes fails to carry the magic of Josephs Malayalam prose,but for a non-Malayalam reader,it is a boon to read one of Keralas finest modern women writers.