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Where much of India is still not liberated in the mind

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Taming of Women by P. Sivakami (translated by Pritham K. Chakra-varthy is a stark look at Tamilian social structure, especially in the villages and small towns, where a woman has no real status or power apart from what she can inveigle her way into. Sivakami happens to be the first Tamil dalit woman to write a novel (in 1989), causing quite a stir for addressing patriarchy in the dalit movement. After a stint as a bureaucrat, she contested the Lok Sabha polls in 2008 from Kanya-kumari, and has floated her own political party.

Anandhayi is the gutsy wife of Periyannan, a landed villager who is looking to win contracts for various development projects planned in around the village. Even as she is suffering from labour contrac- tions  and is all set to deliver her fifth child, she grabs at a woman coming down the stairs of her two-storeyed home after visiting Periyannan:  ‘The han- dful of hair in Anandhayi’s hold swung several times before the woman lost her balance and fell to the groundscreaming,‘Aiyyo!’…

The woman shook the tangle out of her loose hair, carefully rolled it back into a neat bun, pulled the lone forefinger out of it, adjusted her sari to reveal a single pointed breast and sashayed out unperturbed… Anandhayi held on to the window bar and slowly rose with the crone’s help. The water had broken and there was a pool under her feet.’

Periyannan takes good care of his wife, six children and his aged mother, but does not curtail his tendencies to take sexual liberties with women, including midwife Muthakka. He acquires a mistress, Lakshmi, after becoming a big enough contractor.  Sivaka-mi exposes the bureaucratic style of functioning which exists to this day when describing the visit of the Collector, accompanied by a local MLA, the Commissioner, and other hangers-on, the village people with their petitions, the traditional welcome by women and children lost on the Collector who is a northerner, Periyannan and his rival angling for attention and the contracts.

Take a peep into the South India that exists a short distance from its big cities, places where men think nothing of running their hands up a woman’s thighs, where women slave in the fields and in the kitchen and have hardly any option but to compromise and keep going.

The Taming of Women by P. Sivakami
Penguin Books India

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