Neypayasam: Madhavi Kutty ( Story Translation from Malayalam ) Part 2

Was it likely that the children had slept? Had they eaten something? Had they cried themselves to sleep? They were not mature enough to grieve. Or would Unni have stood staring when he had hurriedly carried her into the taxi? The little one had cried, because he insisted on boarding the taxi too. He had not comprehended the meaning of death.

Had he known himself? No. Had he ever suspected that she- always present in that house- would one day drop dead on the ground?  That too without bidding farewell to anyone?

He had peeped through the kitchen window when he had returned from the office. She was not there. The sounds of the children playing had risen from the courtyard. Unni was yelling, ‘ First class shot!’

He had opened the front door with his key. Then he had caught sight of her. She was lying  sideways, with her mouth slightly open. He had assumed that she had fallen unconscious due to dizziness. But the doctor had given the verdict at the hospital :

‘ Heart attack. She has been dead the past one hour or so.’

A deluge of emotions had engulfed him. He had felt unreasonably angry at her. How could she have just left like that, leaving all the responsibilities on his shoulders? Who would give bath to the kids now? Who would make them snacks? Who would take care of them when they fell sick?

‘My wife is dead,’ he  had murmured to himself. ‘ Because of the unexpected demise of my wife due to heart attack today, I request for two days leave.’ What a fine leave application that would be! It was not stating that his wife was sick; instead, it said that she was dead!

Perhaps his boss might call him to his cabin. ‘ My deepest condolences!’ He might say. Ha! His condolences, indeed! He had never known her. Her hair that curled at the tips, her tremulous smile, the soft gait… the boss had known nothing! Those were his losses….his alone.

When the door opened, the youngest child came scampering to him.

‘ Amma has not returned,’ he chirped.

How was it possible that they had forgotten everything so soon? Did he expect the body carried into that taxi, to return by itself?

He walked towards the kitchen, holding his son’s tiny hand.

‘ Unni!’ He called. Unni, got up from the cot and went to him.

‘ Balan slept off…’

‘ Hmm… did you all eat anything?’

‘ No…’

He removed the lids from the vessels kept on the kitchen ledge. The food that she had prepared for them: chappati, rice, potato curry, upperi, curd, and then Neypayasam-that she made occasionally for the kids- inside a crystal bowl.

Food that had been touched by death! No, they should not eat that!

‘ I shall make some upma, these have grown cold…’, he said.

‘ Accha..’, Unni spoke, ‘ When is Amma going to come back? Has she not recovered yet?’

‘May the truth have the patience to wait for a day at least’, he  brooded deep. What would be the purpose in hurting the child that night?

‘ Amma will come…’, he replied.

He washed two bowls and kept them on the ground.

‘ Let Balan sleep. Do not wake him up,’ he said.

‘ Accha…Neypayasam!’ the youngest said, and dipped his forefinger into the bowl.

He sat down heavily on the wooden block that his wife had used.

‘ Unni, can you serve? Acchan is feeeling unwell…a headache…’

Let them have the food. The food prepared by their mother- they would never be able to eat that again.

The children started eating the Payasam. He sat dumb struck, staring at that scene. After a while, he queried:

‘ Don’t you want rice, Unni?’

‘ No, the Payasam will do…it is very delicious!’

The youngest child smiled, ‘ Yes…Amma made yummy Neypayasam…’

He got up swiftly and hurried to the bathroom. He wanted to hide his tears from them.









Neypayasam: Madhavi Kutty, (Story Translation from Malayalam)Part-1

(Neypayasam: A traditional sweet dish of Kerala made of jaggery, clarified butter, rice, raisins, cashew et al)

We shall call that man ‘ Acchan’ ( *Father): the one who has  somehow organised the funeral rites at minimal costs and has shown deferential gratitude to his work- colleagues, before wearily starting for his home at night. The reason behind that nomenclature is because, in that town, only three children recognise his true worth. And they call him, ‘ Acchan.’

Seated amongst strangers in the bus, he started segregating every single moment of that singular day.

He had woken up on hearing her voice.

‘ It is Monday! Unni, get up now! Do not burrow under the sheets!’ She was waking up their eldest son. Dressed in her white sari- that had seen better days-she had then started working in the kitchen. She had come to him with a huge tumbler full of coffee. Then, then…what had happened then? Had she mentioned something memorable to him?  Even after he pondered for long, he could not recollect  a single word of what she had spoken afterwards. ‘ It is Monday! Do not burrow under the sheets!’ That lone sentence reverberated in his memory. He murmured the words, as if they were part of the Lord’s name. He felt that his loss would become irreparable if he forgot that sentence.

She had packed  aluminium tiffin boxes with snacks, for the  children’s school recess. He had noticed the stain of turmeric on her right hand then. The children had joined him in the morning as he started for office-they had gone to town together.

He had not thought about her- not even once- at  his office. They had married after a year long love affair. Their families had not cooperated at all. Yet, they both had never regretted their decision. Of course, there had been hardships that had often exhausted them :the frequent bouts of illness which haunted their young children, and the precarious finances… She had slowly lost interest in dressing up. He had lost his capacity for bursting into a hearty laugh.

But they had loved each other. They also loved their three children. Three sons. They were aged ten, seven and five; and their faces were never clean. They were ordinary kids with nothing outstanding about them- either in beauty or intelligence.

Yet their parents often boasted about them:

‘ Unni is all set to be an engineer. He is always creating something or the other…’

‘ Balan- we should make him a doctor! Look at that intelligent forehead!’

‘Rajah is not even scared of the dark! He is very smart! He might join the army…’

Their residence was in that part of the town where the middle class lived. A flat with three rooms on the first floor of a building. A small verandah- where two people could just about stand together- abutted one room. A rose plant grew in a small flower pot in that space; Amma taking care of it meticulously. However, it had not bloomed till date.

On the kitchen wall hung various implements- spoons and their ilk. Near the stove was a worn out block of wood which Amma had used as a seat. She would be typically making chappatis, seated on the block, when Acchan returned from work.

He disembarked when the bus stopped. He felt a sudden flare of pain at one of his knees. Would it be the starting of rheumatism? If he were to fall sick, who would take care of the children? His eyes welled up suddenly. Wiping his tears with a rather soiled handkerchief, he quickly made his way home.

Would the children be sleeping? Have they eaten something? ( TO BE CONTINUED)

Virunninu Munpu : Before the Dinner ( Story by Madhavi Kutty, Translation from Malayalam)


Before the Dinner: Virunninu Munpu

Madhavi Kutty, 1961

That day too, they were getting ready for a dinner party. He felt that in their lives, the posturing before the mirror, and the careful checking of the face, were like the oft repeated chorus of a song. These occurred frequently and never changed their nature. The way she sat,  the way she combed her hair, the way she would ask stupid questions without turning to look at him…

She pinned up her hair and went to the bathroom to wash her hands.

“Which sari should I wear ?” She asked,  “Mohan, just decide finally and tell me…Blue or white?”

“White,” he muttered.

“But I have worn it for Mitra’s party last month. And we cannot rule out the same crowd from being there tonight… “, she said.

He straightened the knot of his tie and pulled on his white coat. Pursing his lips together, he walked away to the verandah.

“Oh, have you finished dressing so fast? I am just about to start…”, she called out.

Pulling a chair near the iron bars of the  balcony , he seated himself. The gardener was trimming the henna shrubs of their neighbour’s garden patch using huge scissors.

“Mohan!” The young woman called from inside the house.

“What is it?”

“I have a  feeling that those people would be there too for the party tonight.”

“What people?”

“Those people staying above us…”


“I heard the sound of the stitching machine in the morning! She must have been stitching her blouse for the party! What is the need for such miserliness? As if there are no good tailors in Calcutta!”


“Yet she goes out wearing such ugly blouses! I feel such pity for her husband…Mohan, are you listening?”


She appeared in the verandah momentarily , looked at him, and then vanished immediately. Her face was caked with rouge and face powder. He felt that it was the face of a cheap doll. He lighted a cigarette.

“She is so proud about the fact that she writes poetry! ‘ I am a poetess, why do I need beauty? ‘ That is her attitude! Now that infuriates me!  Even if she is not fair, if she carefully works on her  make up, she might escape being utterly plain…But..”

“Even if  she does not carefully work on her makeup, I find her beautiful,” he replied.

She appeared outside yet again; this time with a smile.

“Oh, Mohan! Now you are trying to vex me, aren’t you dear? No one can ever think that she is beautiful! Beauty indeed! Haha…”

He stared  for a few moments ,emotionless, at his wife’s  face and thin frame wrapped in white silk. Then for  some reason, he too started laughing.

“I am looking fine, right? There isn’t too much face powder on my face, is it?” She asked.

He made agreeable movements of his head.

“I get mad when I see her vanity,” She waxed on.

“Vanity? Where did she show off her vanity?” He queried.

“Imagine! You have never seen that? Lord, men are such fools! Haven’t you seen her walk?  The way she holds her head high, never looking down at the ground for  a moment?  Then that lopsided smile!  Her various  conceited  affectations…I feel so…”

“It is seven thirty now,” He said, getting up from his chair, “We have not yet attained the stature  for reaching late at cocktail parties.”

She trilled with fake laughter. Then turning on her heels, she went inside their bedroom.

He heard the  tremulous sound of a top whirling from the flat above theirs. It was followed by children’s laughter. He raised his eyes upwards. He wished that she was standing there- leaning against the iron bars of her verandah. What would happen? She might smile at him once. She might query whether his wife was hearty. Were these of any significance?

With a fury that had no obvious cause, he stamped at a flower pot with his shoe clad foot. All the flower pots on their verandah were full of thorny plants.

“I am ready!” His wife announced. She held a vanity bag of silvery satin in her hand.

“What happened to you ?” She asked,”You look so pale!”

He sat down heavily in the chair and looked down; his forehead was ensconced in his hands.

“What happened Mohan?” She asked again. He was extremely irritated by the thick fumes of her heavy perfume.

Without lifting his head he replied, “Please let me sit here   for a while. I don’t feel like going anywhere today.”

“What do you mean?” Her voice became sharp, “Not going to the party after committing? You have forgotten all basic manners! You are absolutely fine!  I know that. Get up now! Let us leave- it is quarter to eight now.”

The children staying in the flat above them, were still playing with the top: pulling at the thread. That sound rose like a sliver of excruciating pain and then thrummed within his heart.

“I am not going anywhere,” he announced.

“How childish you are, dearest!” She was sweet- talking him now. “It is your boss’s party! As if you have a choice! Can you afford to aggravate him?”

Yet, he continued to look down. He muttered, “I will not go.”

She caressed his hair, and then dropped kisses on his fingers.

“Get up darling!” She whispered softly , “We cannot have him vexed at us…”

He got up and then without glancing at her, crossed over the drawing room and reached the main door. She accompanied him with a smile.

“We have not yet attained the stature of reaching late…”, she teased. As they descended the stairs, she inspected his face. A smile? An angry, brooding silence ? She saw nothing. Consequently, she tried to change the topic of discussion.

“I wish it will not rain tonight! If it rains, even if I take extreme care, my sari will get dirty! The hems will get wet, by the time one gets inside the car! That is what scares me!”

When he started driving, a sudden rain fell all over the lane.

“I told you, did I not!” She trilled, “I knew it! My poor white sari! Oh my poor white sari!”

He thought that if she mentioned that sari one more time, he would most definitely strangle  her. His hands started shaking.

“Mohan! What happened to you today? Are you feverish? Your hands are shaking dear!”

“Fever?!” He burst into laughter. Praying that the unwanted laughter would cease soon, she sat there quietly. The rain drops kept dashing against the glass panes.

He kept on laughing for a long time. She realised that he did not love her. ‘Has he ever loved her?’ She wondered to herself. There was no answer to that question.

During the dinner, the host accosted her: “I think that you have become more beautiful…!”

Her eyes overflowed for some reason at that moment.












Pakshiyude Manam: The Scent of a Bird (Translation from Malayalam) Part 2

The Scent of a Bird : Madhavi Kutty, Pakshiyude Manam, 1961

‘…. Once upon a winter, a bird got trapped in my bedroom. It had pale yellow and rusty hues. Something like your sari’s shades. It pecked against the glass windows desperately; then flapped frantically trying to break down the glass. All in vain. Finally it collapsed on the ground. I crushed it underfoot, of course.’

After a few moments, he asked her , ‘ Do you know the scent of death?’

She raised her eyes to meet his own; but could not even whimper out a word. She knew the answer. Who knew about the scent of death, indeed the various scents of death better than her? It smelt of festering wounds,  of sweet orchards,  of sandal wood agarbatis…

Inside a small, dark room, her mother lay on a cot on the plain ground. ‘ I am not well my child…I am not in pain…but I am not feeling well…’ White maggots  had wriggled from within the wounds on her  mother’s leg. Yet, her mother said, ‘ I am not feeling any pain…’

Her father. When her diabetic father had collapsed one day, she had felt that a breeze  had blown in from  the orchards…The scent of sweetness had been so prominent…It was the scent of death too.

She wanted to say all that; but her tongue had weakened by then.

The young man seated in the middle of the room was muttering even then.

‘You don’t know that, do you? Death smells like the feathers of a bird….You will learn that shortly enough. Do you want it now? Is there a time that you prefer most? This world lies shamelessly naked beneath the stare of the sun : would that time suffice? Or do you prefer twilight? What sort of a woman are you? Courageous or prone to timidity?’

He got up from his chair and moved towards her. He was a very tall man.

She said, ‘ Please let me go. I never intended to come here.’

‘ You are lying! How many times have you wished to reach here! You have wanted an easy end for such  a long time, have you not?  Are you not like a languidly flowing river which wants to  simply merge with a deeply sighing sea that is filled with gentle waves? Tell me darling, don’t you yearn for that endless caress?’

‘ Who are you?’ She struggle to sit up. The man’s fingers- she felt a loathing pull towards those.

‘ So you have never seen me before?’

‘ No…’

‘ I have come to you many times. You were hardly eleven the first time around. You had jaundice and was exhausted. When your mother opened the windows, you said, ‘ Amma, I see yellow flowers every where.’ Do you remember that?’

She nodded in agreement.

‘ Only your eyes saw those yellow flowers. I was standing amidst them. I was waiting to take you away…But you did not come with me that day…You did not know about my love for you. You did not recognise that I am your guide- not just yours, every single person’s guide and philosopher…’

‘ Love? Is this love?’ She asked querulously.

‘ Yes. Only I am capable of revealing the perfection of love. You will offer to me every single part of yours: your red lips, your dancing eyes, your seductive body…all of that…every cell shall be offered to me… As a reward for your sacrifice, I shall grant you freedom. You will turn into emptiness, but you will become everything.

You will be in the  hum of the seas, and you will move in the old trees when they sprout new lives in the rains. When the seeds cry in birthing pangs beneath the sodden earth, your cry shall arise along with theirs. You will turn into wind, into rain drops, into specks of sand…You shall become the beauty of this world…’

She rose and stood still. All her tiredness had vanished. With a newly acquired strength, she said, ‘ Perhaps you are right. But you have got the wrong person. I am too young to die. I am only twenty seven. I am married. I am a mother. My time has not yet come. I came in search of a job. It must be around twelve thirty now. Let me get back home.’

He said nothing. Opening the door for her, he gave her permission to leave. She hurried forward, searching for the lift. Her footsteps echoed balefully all around- or so she felt.

She stopped near the lift. The peon who operated it was not to be seen. She got inside and closed the shutter, before pressing the button. With the initial rumblings of a break down, it jerked to a start and then shot upwards. She felt that she was in the sky and that it was thundering loudly somewhere. It was then that she saw the board dangling inside the lift: ‘ Lift is under repair. Danger.’

It became dark all around. It was a darkness which made sounds, and growled ferociously. She never had to get out of the lift again.





The Scent of a Bird- Part 1 – ( Pakshiyude Manam by Madhavi Kutty ; Translation from Malayalam)


Pakshiyude Manam : Madhavi Kutty, Short Story, 1961.

The Scent of a Bird


It was after one week of their return from Calcutta that she had seen the advertisement in the newspaper.

‘Needed:  A smart, intelligent woman to be Incharge of our wholesale business. She should have basic knowledge about the designs and colours of clothes in vogue. Visit our office with  a self written application.’

The office building was situated on a bustling street. It was eleven in the morning when she reached the place. She was dressed in a pale yellow silk sari and was holding a white vanity bag. The building was monstrous: it had around seven storeys, innumerable verandahs and more than two hundred rooms. It had four lifts. Before each lift, there was a throng of fat business men, and executives holding leather suitcases. She could see no woman in the vicinity. Her confidence started waning. She regretted that she had ignored her husband’s objections to try for the job.

There was a peon standing near-by. She queried, ‘..Textile Industries. Do you know on which floor it is located?’

‘ I think it is on the first floor,’ he answered.

She felt that all eyes were focussed on her. She was mortified. Why was she standing amidst this milling crowd of sweaty men? Even if they paid a thousand rupees, would she like to  come and work in that building on a daily basis? Yet, she could not easily go back from there.

It was her turn. Trying assiduously not to touch another body, she cowered in a corner.When she emerged at the first floor, she took a look around. The verandah seemed to spread out in all four directions and had huge doors opening into different rooms. ‘ Export and Import’, ‘Wine Business’ and such were written on these boards. However, even after checking multiple name boards, she failed to trace the one she was seeking.

Her palms had started sweating profusely by then. A person came out from a room nearby, and she stopped him with a question.

‘..Textile company…where is it located?’

He looked her all over with his shrewd, narrow, red tinged eyes. Then he said, ‘ I do not know. But if you come with me, I will check with the peon and guide you.’

He was a rather short, middle aged man. His finger nails were filthy. Perhaps due to that, she decided against following him.

She said, ‘ Thank you. I shall find out myself.’

Hurriedly she walked away and turned a corner. There was a new verandah with  many closed doors. Over one  closed door was written, ‘Dying.’

She smirked on seeing the wrong spelling. Instead of colouring the clothes, did they manufacture death over there? She pushed open the door, determined to get some clarification about her destination. Inside was a huge, vacant space akin to an inner courtyard; a glass topped table  and a few chairs could be seen. There was no one around.

She called out, ‘ Is anyone in here ?’

The curtains hanging over the entrance of the inner room swayed a bit. Nothing else. Gathering courage, she moved towards the chair at  the centre of the room and seated herself. She felt that unless she rested, she would not be able to move an inch further. A fan twirled above her in a desultory manner.

‘ What sort of an office is this?’ She  was left wondering. Leaving the door unlocked, switching the fan on, where had all the inmates gone? Since they were in the dyeing business, they would surely know the company that she was searching for.

Opening her vanity bag, she retrieved her hand mirror and checked her face. She reassured herself that she was well qualified for the job. Should she demand eight hundred rupees? They would be lucky to hire  someone like her. She was educated, came from a privileged background, had travelled the world…

She woke up on hearing the popping sound of a cork being pulled from a bottle. What sort of a fool was she! She had dozed off in a strange place! Rubbing her eyes, she stared around. A young man was busy pouring whiskey into a glass  containing soda. He was seated in a chair right opposite to her. His shirt was made of white terelene. Thick bristles of hair grew over the upper portions of his fingers. Seeing those strong fingers, a tremor of fear ran through her. Why had she come to this devil’s home?

He lifted his head and looked at her. He had a long face, it was reminiscent of a horse. He asked, ‘ Did you sleep well?’ Without waiting for her response, he lifted the glass and gulped down the drink.

‘ Are you thirsty?’ He asked.

She shook her head in negation. ‘ Do you know  where the Textile company is situated? After all, you are into dyeing business,’ she said, with a polite smile.

He did not smile back; instead poured himself another drink. His demeanour was as if there was infinite time for casual conversations.

‘ Don’t you know?’ She asked impatiently. If only she could get out of that place and go back home!

Suddenly he broke into a grin. He had very thin lips. That made his smile ugly.

‘ What is your hurry? The time is only eleven fourth five now,’ he said.

She got up and walked towards the door. ‘ I hoped that you would know. You are familiar with the cloth business.’

‘What familiarity? We are not into dyeing clothes. Did you not read the board? It is written Dying…’

‘ That means…?’

‘ What is written. Haven’t you heard of death? We arrange for easy dying.’ He leaned back into his chair lazily and winked at her. He was grinning broadly. She felt that the white smile had  completely enveloped  her eyes. Her feet became unsteady. She raced to the door. But her sweaty hands could not open the door knob. Helpless tears filled her eyes.

‘Please open the door for me. I have to go home. My children are waiting for me!’ She hoped that on hearing her plea, he would discard his cruel intentions and help her out. ‘ Please, please…open the door,’ she begged yet again. He continued to drink his whiskey and kept on grinning at her.

She started knocking desperately at the door. ‘ Don’t you dare harm me! What have I ever done to you?’ After some time, her sobs subsided. Exhausted, she collapsed near the unopened door.

He was murmuring in a soft voice. She could make out a few words…


To continue…











The Meat Of The Moon : Madhavi Kutty ( Story Translation From Malayalam)

Chandrante Irrachi ( The Meat of the Moon): Madhavi Kutty,1969


Her lover continued to sleep even when it turned eleven in the night. She felt no inclination to wake him up and send him to his home. Whenever he removed his glasses, the natural intensity of his face seemed to diminish. As he slept, she noticed the loneliness of a little boy on his face. A lost soul- no, a soul who had forgotten the way-a lonely little boy, was  tied inside the forest of mortality in that  aging body. She knew that she was deeply in love with him: the one who had witnessed his father’s death, the one who used to go to school in a bullock cart- wearing a sailor’s costume.

Outside that house- situated on the outskirts of the town- the rain was pouring down heavily. Through the ventilators, a breeze from yonder- crossing  the thorny plants and trees on a hillside-entered the room, moaning like a wounded creature.

‘Beloved,’ she called bending low, ‘ It is past eleven- should you  not be getting up?’

He woke up startled: with a wide eyed gaze. ‘ Eleven? Why didn’t you wake me up earlier?’

‘Don’t go tonight. Stay with me,’ she said.

He got up and wearily sat down at the edge of the cot.

‘I am so groggy. How will I drive all that distance?’

Gazing at his body- gleaming like a flame in the light- she gently closed her eyes. Her heart sang: ‘Your body has reached my pyre- no, bed-carrying its secret destiny…I cannot escape now, Your body is like a golden harvest of  ripe grains. It has been created from the meat of the full moon…’

‘Now it will be past midnight when I reach home. What excuse shall I give today?’ He asked her.

‘Why don’t you stay the night with me? Won’t you give me one night?’ She asked him.

‘You know very well that it is impossible. I cannot act so irresponsibly.’ He said.

Seated on the stool before the mirror, he wore his socks. Tied  the laces of his shoes. His hair- a mix of steel and black  curls- reflected on the mirror.

‘Don’t you feel any obligation toward me?’ She asked.’ I am your kept woman, your slave: do you feel no obligation towards this unfortunate woman?’

‘I love you,’ he said mechanically, ‘ I love you even when you tell me about your colleague. I will love you even if you marry him. You know that very well.’

‘What is the cost of such a love?’ She asked.

‘I don’t know,’ he replied.

‘Shall I marry him? Shall I become his wife with your permission? Tell me, do you have no objection at all?’

‘Why should I stop it?’ He asked,’I am a man who is aging fast. A married man. He is young and handsome.Your colleague. I do not think that you will stop even if I were to object.’

He moved towards the door, while she lay on the bed.

She called out to him: ‘ I will give him an answer tomorrow itself. I am greatly relieved that you have no issues with it.I will have to stop seeing you. But eventually I shall forget that pain. My dear, you are so compassionate.’

‘I will see you next week. Call me tomorrow afternoon,’ he said.

At the  sound of  the door banging  shut, she felt that she had been shattered to bits. She was a woman, she was a fragile piece of  glass. She felt that every tiny shard of glass wanted to hurt her, make her bleed..

She picked up the phone from the table, and woke up the young man who was in love with her. ‘Hello’, he said: ‘ Hello!’


‘Who is it? Mini, you?’ He asked.’ How come you are awake at this time?’

‘ Today, you asked me if I wanted to be your wife. I thought I will give you an answer now. That is all.’

‘What is the answer?’

‘ It is not possible.’ Putting the phone back into its cradle, she snuggled under the covers and closed her eyes.

She was convinced that for her- who was accustomed to the arms of a man who was successful in all aspects of life-there was no satisfaction  to be gained from  marrying  an ordinary man.


Note: For the sheer power of the narrative from the other woman’s perspective: not a whiny, complaining tone, mind you- but  that of a woman in control of her destiny- I found this gem of a short story written by Madhavi Kutty in 1969, an iconic piece of feminist writing.

It was when I read Telugu writer Volga’s interview ( She won the  Kendra Sahitya Academy award in 2016 for her book Vimukta:  Translated as The Liberation of Sita, Harper Collins )that I realised  again that the mind’s freedom to question  everything was the greatest gift of existence.

She mentioned about a classic Telugu short story by a famous writer in early 1920s when Sita jumped into Ravan’s pyre instead of stepping into the Agni Pareeksha.  She was speaking of how intolerance has increased in society nowadays, since Vimukta- a series of stories showcasing Sita’s bonding with Mandodari, Soorpanakha, Ahalya et al..was pilloried by some.

Inexplicably, another memory came: Of reading that great short story , ‘Sunstroke’ by Ivan Bunin. Perhaps it was the nonchalance of the women in both  stories which bemused me.

And then, I could not resist translating this gem!



Koladu by Madhavi Kutty (Story Translation from Malayalam)


Koladu ( The Goat):

By Madhavi Kutty aka Kamala Das written in 1969.


When she was forty three years old, her mischievous elder son remarked : ‘Amma, you remind me of a goat.’

She joined his laughter.But on that day, when the rest of them went out, she took up a mirror and sadly examined her own face. She contemplated on the ways of  fortifying her skinny cheeks to make them fuller; thinking that it might end up fortifying her life too. When she had her youthfulness and her lush body, she had never slept alone on a mat laid out on the floor….But she was disinclined to stare at the mirror for long, pondering on such matters. The milk was beginning to boil in her kitchen.

By toiling endlessly from dawn to dusk, she took care of her family. Her body was pale and slim, and  seemed fragile in certain places. But she never complained and never collapsed  with fatigue. Because of that, as she staggered from the bathroom to the kitchen and back -carrying buckets of water-neither her husband nor her grown up sons ever bothered to give a helping hand.

She was neither educated nor sophisticated.Occasionally, they would  loudly praise her famed abilities in cleaning and mopping the house, in cooking their food and in washing and ironing their clothes. Whenever she heard their adulation, she would smile- exposing her deteriorating teeth.

Once her younger son got her a goose berry when he returned from school. That day, standing in her dark kitchen, she shed tears of joy. With the passage of time, she became a disgrace in his eyes too.

When she said that she would accompany him for the school drama, he said: ‘No need, Amma. I will be embarrassed.’

‘But why? I will wear my silk sari- my wedding sari…’

‘No…No need for you to come.’

Two thin legs moved around in that small house constantly; never resting. Finally that machine also became faulty. She caught a fever and  her stomach started aching. Neither ginger nor rasam could assuage that pain. On the tenth day the doctor told her husband: ‘Please shift her to the hospital immediately. She has acute jaundice.’

The children who were reading their school books were horrified. When a helper hoisted her onto a gurney in the hospital, she opened her eyes wide and cried: ‘Ayyo! I think the pulses are burning on the stove.’

Her husband’s eyes filled with tears.


Listen to this story in the original.







Moonnamidam- 3D vision and a film review

Munnamidam aka ‘ The Third Space’, is a short film produced by actor Jayasurya, starring Rachana Narayankutty and RJShaan. It deals with seventeen minutes of an intimate encounter of a married housewife with a 13 year old daughter and a recently divorced  Facebook friend- to put it succinctly. The film is drenched with rain, violin, sindhoor conspicuously spread all over the sensuous lady’s forehead, her desires and her decisions. The movie has been garnering many rare reviews and awards even as I type this note. And it has been uploaded in YouTube.

Few observations:

1. Why is there  a deep necessity even today, in  Indian film making, to justify seemingly ‘ unacceptable/ punishable/ wayward’ behaviour in women  with a root cause ?  Here, the woman’s spouse is openly exploring his third space. Consequently, she is  reaching out too.  See, it is all okay.

Sorry, I do not see. Why on earth give such an explanation, to explore third dimensions? Leave it to your viewer-please do not underestimate our sensitivities.

Ever seen Bridges of Madison County?  A married Meryl Streep romances a passing photographer, lyrical poetry of Yeats accompanying the affair, for less than a week. The need/ justification/ explanation for third space, is left to the viewer. The root, as I could understand, was that both understood Yeats in that desolation. Autumn leaves and Nat King Cole will bring that alive anytime to the viewer.

In  the Om Puri and  Rekha flick ‘Aastha’, the viewer is left with a choice to make his/her own conclusion. Did Rekha succumb to the call of money or was it an innate tendency to walk the fire?

Next time around, leave out the explanation. If  they explore any space, fourth or fifth space included, let your hero or heroine take the responsibility consciously. There is no strength in blaming another’s action for your own choices in life; as I view it.

2. I wonder on the film maker’s psychology of highlighting the’marital symbols’  – a purplish red sindhoor drenching her forehead, so conspicuously, as the lady gets cosy in her obviously  planned encounter with her friend! I saw the mangalsutra dangling too ,  even as she admits to love and desire.In Aastha too, Rekha had copious amounts of sindhoor over her hair parting, even as the haunting ‘ Panaah’ song was being rendered. Both heroines, Rekha in the 80s movie and Rachana in the present age movie, wear traditional sari, with matching jewellery. I do not remember if Rekha wore silver anklets that jingled as she walked.

Symbols have powerful messages within- subtle or obvious.

Somewhere, someone took a conscious decision of getting this heroine ( who uses Facebook, whatsapp and state of art mobiles) to be bedecked in sari, sindhoor and shimmering , jingling anklets. By the way, the sari was coloured red. Like her bindi and sindhoor.

Silvery, jingling anklets  around her ankles bring to mind Savitry – the eponymous heroine who walked behind Yama, seeking her spouse’s life back. At the sound of her delicate footstep, the Lord of Death had to stop.

Lakshman Rekhas were obviously spread  all over the place.

So was the film maker showcasing the story of an innocent, traditional housewife and mother getting seduced by new age calls to sin? Was it trying to show us the victory  of tradition in her sanctimonious refusal to indulge physically, though every other sanctity has been long shattered? That what matters is abstinence, the reining in of the sinning body, and the rest can be brushed under the beautiful carpets above which rocking chairs rock on?

So who was true at the end of it all?

The woman who was having a full fledged affair, who dressed up for her lover, who tries to attend phone calls like a devoted wife, who claims to love her spouse, and who discovers her ‘ strength’ at the last minute?  The one who goes behind her angrily retreating lover, tempting him saying that he should have endured in his persistence for  her love, just for another minute? Who to the tunes of romantic violin and flute, gives advice to her daughter telephonically,soon after,  on what is  her true strength?

( Was there not a movie called Meghamalhar that also expostulated  about sacrifice?)

The man who came  with the clear intention like a cat after midnight, only this was early afternoon,  who could frankly not understand why the lady was acting like the rain – playing both hot and cold. Who tells her while leaving, that in his belief, an indulged moment is better than a wasted one?

The unseen third presence, denounced viciously by both  protagonists in the movie, making his unwanted presence  very vocal, through regularly monitoring phone calls?

Or the next generation child, wondering on her mother’s strength?

I think of Zorba the Greek. Both the wonderful novel and the classic film. Zorba, as alive as the Blue green Aegean Sea!

The honest to earth living and sinning.

The simple truth of being true to one’s own self!

Of how he taught the scared hero to acknowledge his desire for the beautiful forbidden one.

In Madhavi Kutty’s story, an old woman cries aloud on her death bed for a silky green blouse and golden jewellery that she was never allowed to wear! It had been the freedom fighting days, espousing simplicity. The woman inside her, starved of sensual beauty, in the dying mad frenzy, forgets all earthly rebukes and cries out for her birthright! I need my beautiful silk and gold – before I die!!Probably I have never encountered a more brilliant depiction of a woman’s desires strangulated by society!

Among all the  depictions  of Madame Bovarys and Anna Kareninas, flirting tragically with death along with the forbidden third space,  the lessons were clear enough. Certain things will not change in society’s perspective-Russia or Italy or Timbucktoo.

But then, there was the tantalisingly beautiful Chinese film, ” In the mood for love.”  A third space of whispering yearnings , far away from the madding crowd.

Certain truths, like certain lies, are crystal clear to the human eyes of the viewer.

Either you love, or you do not.

Either you face the truth, or you do not.

Dumbing down truth, courage, desires is  definitely not  the manifestation of strength of character.

Something inside me tells, that if the film were to show one shot of  the next day, nothing would have changed.The woman would  continue to  live in  her pretty  Doll’s House, Ibsen would agree, loving another. The unseen master of the house would keep checking periodically, her presence, whenever he gets ‘time ‘ from close encounters of the third kind.  The freewheeling cat  shall roam free, with a probability to return home to roost. And  probably licks his whiskers , happily, after learning the art of persistence.The next generation grows up imbibing some weird moral philosophy of giving up what you truly want, and not having the courage to face your own self.

Apparently the film is based on a real life tale that the writer( also the hero) heard from a friend. Yes, truth can be stranger than fiction. Balachandran Chullikkad had written many such short memoirs in his Chidambaram Smarana compilation.

‘ Above all, to thine own self be true- thou cannot then be false to any one.’

Love is after all a four letter word.


And I get my feedback.

” Her loyalty was towards her daughter. Not towards the two men.She wanted to be a good mother and role model for the child. That is the significance of the daughter’s call. The child is the centre of her life. Others are transient wishes which come and go as far as she is concerned. It is easy to be a lover. But rarely do we have true friendship. Blessed are those who can see the grandeur of the Universe in their beloved.”

I bow to that wisdom. With gratitude and love and humility.