‘Papathara’ by Sarah Joseph: A Story for Daughters’ Day


Female Foeticide,  female infanticide, dowry system, degradations, humiliations, dowry murders…the saga of the girl child caught in a searing, powerful short story in Malayalam by Prof.Sarah Joseph.

Papathara : The Ground of Sin


Writing Boards Sweet As Honey

Great writing fills me with awe, and a sense of reverence. It can be in any language, any length, any genre- the only litmus test is that something deep within changes colours, to shine a bit more brightly.

As usual, the train chugged its way to the Northern plains, near the bounteous Ganges, from a land surrounded by ocean and sea waters. The language with which I was brought up, Malayalam- as sweet as sugar cane and honey to my starving senses, came to redeem me again; through a fabulous collection of  vernacular writers speaking on their writing destinies.

M.T.Vasudevan Nair speaks about a forgotten poem – “Toys”, which was about a father detecting a child’s toys, after he goes to bed sobbing due to a scolding.

A piece of horseshoe, a broken bangle piece, a segment of a chain,one nail..The father realises, that to the young child, all these held value, which he himself could not see. Similarly,  as an adult , whatever he considered right and wrong, the young child child could not see.

In the same way, we gather much in the life’s journey. We keep it aside. Later, when we retrieve it, it has a curiosity value. There is the smell of life in it, there is a hidden question. It is when one feels like that, that one creates a story, poem or words out of it.”

Sara Joseph speaks about her radiant mother, who was her first story teller..

I was watching how her  movement’s boundaries were getting limited with age. First, she would wait for me by the road side, then, behind the gate, then it became the verandah, then behind the front door, then within the small square of her room, then on a cot, so small in width…

Subhash Chandran draws a parallel  between mothers and writing boards.

Every writer is following his mother. The relationship need not always be cordial.There are those raging within. Yet their language and the structure of their words, follow a pattern- of their own mothers.What about a writer born to a dumb mother? He will start writing about the unheard conversations he had with his mother…

Little children cannot understand the complications of our rented lives in this earth.In many houses, in many times, using writing boards as varied as a grinding stone to one’s own mother, we try to capture those onto paper sheets, in vain. I remember the unknown writer who said that man is the only animal who dies before he reaches his full growth…”

As I stop translating, my eyes fall on two lines from another article.

The great blue sky, the only house in this world

Universal love, the eternal light within.”

In that world, language is not relevant. The language of human imagination and heart- only these matter.


That Thread Of Life

Picture 186

In the Greek mythology, Theseus had entered into the maze of Minotaur, and come out alive, with the help of a thread. Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos, had taught him to trail a thread behind him as he ventured into the labyrinth, and not lose way. The story says that he went inside, killed the halfbull-half man Minotaur, and escaped with the victims.

“The thread of life”, can mean different things to different people.

In women, it could be a space to be themselves, where they can just breathe free. But somehow, that is a tough and dangerous word, in our society, across the globe.

From Mukhtar Mai to Sarah Palin, from the nameless girl in Afghanistan who became the Time Magazine’s face, by getting her nose and ears cut off , such “ breathing space’ has faced acute and suffocating hostility.Many a normal woman faces it too, on a daily basis, when she yearns to simply look at the moon and sigh…without giving any explanations to anyone.

Dr.Clarissa Pinkola Estes, has chronicled in a brilliant study, ‘Women who run with wolves,” about the need for maintaining the ‘wild soul within”. She explains with the help of stories, myths and fairy tales the need for retaining and nourishing “ the spark of creativity ‘, that we are all born with, for sheer, good, mental health!The great danger to be avoided she says, is “over domestication” of the wild soul.

The voices of the mob that keeps telling, “You are supposed to look down, keep quiet, not think that, not feel that, not voice that…because good women CANNOT/WILL NOT/SHALL NOT do so! “

“Remember the woman in the film ‘ Red shoes ‘, who was asked to sacrifice her dancing skills, for love and acceptance.” Dr.Clarissa teases the reader.

“ Do you know what she said?’“ If I stop dancing, I die.”

It is often as simple as that. Something dies within, if the voices are silenced. And how often, how cruelly, all in the name of “being loved.” Ha!

By a strange coincidence (there are no coincidences, a voice tells me:) I have encountered some terrific women writers, in the recent months. They are from different languages, but they all speak the same human tongue and they are all damn brave women.

Bhama, the Tamil writer, who wrote “ Sangati” and “Karukku”, showcasing the depravities and humiliations that Dalit, Tamil women were subjected to, and still endure.Such provocative and powerful prose, such brevity of expression! She highlights the ability to laugh and be irreverent, as great survival skills of women , who are patriarchy’s victims. The ones who fight, walk around with that symbolic sharp weapon in their hands.

Sarah Jospeh, famous Malayalam writer, who in ‘Otthappu”,  writes of a woman, attracted to the scent of freedom on the other side, away from the system of “accepted divine path”. The heroine is a nun who throws away her wimple. Her ‘Daughters of Alaha”, is a book I am yet to read. Her pen is fiery, her voice fearless, her spirit, unconquerable. She is a woman who certainly runs with the wolves.

Shivani, brilliant Hindi novelist and writer who wrote ‘Apradhini”, slashes out again, her own path.Ira Pande, in a moving article on her rebellious mother Shivani, writes “He who gathers knowledge, gathers pain. My mother’s itinerant travels and hugely popular stories about men and women and their lusts and longings were drawing much adverse comments from the hidebound Kumaoni Brahmin community that she belonged to and had married her daughters into.She was perceptive, quick witted and rudely dismissive of bores. People were afraid of her sharp powers of observation and of being presented as a character in her stories, warts and all. Her family and relatives wanted her silent and obedient like other women, her age.They suffered with every word she wrote and rejoiced at every story she did not write. Various relatives sniggered and erupted as they told me about how nothing-but nothing- had prevented my mother from reading and writing in the hour of family crisis. About how she had casually worn red even after her husband had been cremated; about how she, a widow, would think nothing of going and reading her stories on the radio before the mandatory first year of mourning for her husband was over.’

And in the most perceptive lines, Ira Pande, daughter of her mother, showcases how the unspoken stories made her mother “howl” at night..“We were often jolted awake by a strange howl emanating from her bedroom in the dead of the night. It was the howl of a wounded animal, inhuman and disembodied, and it froze the marrow in our bones every time. Could it be that her spirit craved a freedom denied her in real life? Could it be that over and above that which she recorded, there was a lot that she had seen and experienced which remained unsaid and, in the dead of the night, it was this that was crying out to be released?”

I sit, dumb struck at that line.

How many more of us are doomed to howl out in the middle of the nights, our unvoiced yearnings?

How do we teach our daughters to have courage to trust in themselves, and go exploring their own inner gifts- far beyond the safe paths laid out for them by the “prim and proper” society?

How do we create an environment where talent (meaning gold coin in Arabic), gifted by the Greatest Power, be cherished, nurtured and celebrated, improving human condition?

Maybe we can start by just giving people breathing spaces, within our own homes. Age and position regardless.

The most precious of love will blossom out then, as the woman looks at the moon and laughs loudly.

No questions asked.