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A perfect bhel-puri of desire, betrayal, sex

Published : Aug 19, 2018, 12:31 am IST
Updated : Aug 19, 2018, 12:31 am IST

Domestic violence, acid attack, purdah system witch hunting, environmental issues are presented in a drama form in the last story, “The End of Ages”.

The Birth of Kali by Anita Sivakumaran, Juggernaut, Rs 299
 The Birth of Kali by Anita Sivakumaran, Juggernaut, Rs 299

There have been many works, in the past as well as in recent times, attempting to unravel the world (everyday routine life) through the word (religious scriptures) but rarely has anyone tried to question, criticise or rather interrogate the sacred with the sword of simple mundane world. The present work, a mythic-motif, with a feminist Freudian angle, stirs you, startles you, sometimes makes you uncomfortable but at the end, never fails to amuse you.

Our life is spotted with innumerable suspended moments, “agar aisa hota!” What if Sitai planned her own abduction? What if Lakshmanan found Surpanakai irresistible and slept with her? What if Kali consumed Sivan as well? The author, using a subaltern approach and through the voice of a woman, tramples the patriarchal notions with her own interpretation of Indian mythological tales. Anita Sivakumaran delves into the minds of women, or should we say, those qualified as “ideal Indian women” and she presents their inner mysterious world of desire, hope, revolt and despair.

Sometimes we become prisoners of our own image and feel trapped in the cage of morality, as was the case with Sitai who, in this version, preferred to step out of Lakshmanan’s circle and “let the demon out”. Sitai asks testing questions, “Is screaming less becoming of a woman than running? Why is the river a woman? Why are giving things feminine?” Land, occupied and cultivated, the rocks when they are broken down into soil, are feminine. The hard axe and the mountain are masculine! Sitai’s mind is a beehive, her desire a thousand buzzing bees. She wishes not only for a band of musicians, jesters, silk shawls but also for her release even in the form of Raman’s death. She wants to be free, an unattached woman-not daughter, not wife, not mother. Sitai wants to come out of the cage of marriage encircled by Manu’s law.

Akalya the chaste, famous for her quiet beauty and wifely duty but cursed into a stone for a thousand years, is tired of being the pure one, the righteous one and “while peeling small onions the colour of inner labia” for her husband’s lunch, Akalya’s mind invents naughty references. And yes, she knew exactly it was Indra, not her husband. When questioned by her husband, a sage, the one who could shake mountains, Akalya firmly replied, “I had him and I sent him away”.

Who can be termed as a good woman? The one who is obedient, whose duty is to make the “so” happen, even if she is married to a thief, a blade of grass or a stone. But how can Draupadi be a good woman if she has five husbands, beds them one after the other, in the same one-room hut? Where do they sleep? How to solve this “five-headed serpent of a marriage”? or the puzzle of who chose whom? Was it Bhishma, a man with no taste for life, a virgin saint or Sikandi, Amba in the previous birth, becoming part of the enemy that one is destroying?

A woman has the same passions as a man. The same feelings of love, anger and jealousy. She also has the same capabilities like Kali who “cannot hear the roar of battle over the roar of hunger, whose stomach is a bottomless pit and the hunger will not be sated” but in a “frenzy of hate and desire, Kali tramples Sivan’s body into the dust”. All the creatures wail, the skies tremble and the gods perish one by one in the heat of her ecstasy. Kali exclaims, “I am spent… I have no desire to have a child, to begin life, to preserve it. I have no desire because I have spent it”.

In addition to gender, the author also attacks the hierarchical nature of the caste system through the story of Karna, born in a toiling class but given a new “Kshatriya” identity by Krishna. By distorting this story, by giving a high parentage to Karna, status quo was maintained. “Karna is not celebrated as a hero among the lowest and the downtrodden… His death does not spark a revolution”.

The book offers not only a window to traditional customs like levirate and a comment on Northerner versus Southerner but also questions the prevalence of evil practices in the modern age. Domestic violence, acid attack, purdah system witch hunting, environmental issues are presented in a drama form in the last story, “The End of Ages”.

Anita Sivakumaran has used fresh, original expressions and she makes you smile with her wit and not so subtle humour. What occupies the head of menopausal women? “...deprived of distractions and bored out of their skulls, Vasudeva and Devaki copulate continually. What else is there to do in an eight by six cell day in and day out?” “A gold-plated joke”, “Not all are morally constipated”, “How could you not believe when a person said, ‘I saw with my own eyes’,” are just some glimpses of her style.

In sync with her poetry collection, Sips That Make a Poison Woman, Anita Sivakumaran, in the present work, The Birth of Kali, releases the captive women, unleashes their repressed desires and paints a topsy-turvy world — a perfect “bhel-puri” of desire, passion, betrayal, gastronomy with the right sprinkling of “sex”. Unfortunately, the title story fails to capture the mind of Kali and the last story seems out of place. But most of the readers agree with her statement on evil practices that “when the bull of dharma stands one-legged, Kaliyugam is upon us — The End of Ages”.

Kulbir Kaur teaches sociology at Shyama Prasad Mukherji College, Delhi University

Tags: book review, the birth of kali book