Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Neipayasam : A Malayalam short story by Kamala Das : Translated as Sweet milk by Sindhu V. Nair with TLM
I happened to come cross a notice about the death of Kamala Das in a newspaper. Since she was mainly a writer in Malayalam, or so I thought, I was not surprised that I had never heard of her before and was not acquainted with any of her writings. Since, however, the notice of her passing away was widely published I thought she must have been sufficiently well known to justify this much attention. I should add though, that I did not know of her and of her writing was essentially a matter of my own ignorance for Kamala Das has written both in English and Malayalam. Some of her Malayalam work has been translated in other languages including English and numerous scholarly papers and books have been published on her work. Her autobiography, My Story, though controverisal, is critically and widely accalimed. She was a poet and an author of international renown, a fact that is amply witnessed by the glowing tributes paid to her in her many obituaries.
Her poetry is mainly in English and her work in Malayalam consists of short stories and a number of novels. Just to have some idea of the style and content of her writing I downloaded one of her short stories Neipayasam which is available as Sweet milk in an English translation in the little magazine. I was not expecting to find what I read. With some 1023 words in the English translation it is literally a short story but it is like a hurt, trivial when sustained but enormous in its delayed impact. No distracting imagery and no superficial verbiage. A touching tale beautifully and sensitively told.
The story appears as if it is based on a true life occurrence and the emotions of a grieving husband and a distressed father are superbly portrayed. It is a tribute to the insight and skill of the author that she could look into the soul of her character and describe it so perceptively.
I wanted to keep this blog strictly impersonal but this story has moved me so much that an episode from my own life experience will not be out of place here since there is some congruence between the two.
My wife complained of chest pains and was taken to hospital.
I visited her in the afternoon. She was in good cheer and I saw no reason for me to feel concerned about her illness.
The next day we received a call from the hospital that her condition had worsened, that we should reach there without delay. She was in a coma.
When I read these lines in the story:
Sitting in the bus amongst strangers, he went over every second of the day.
Woke up in the morning to her voice. "Unniye, don't go on sleeping covered like that. Its Monday." She was calling the eldest son. She then moved to the kitchen, her white sari crumpled. Brought me a big glass of coffee. Then? What happened then? Did she say anything that should not be forgotten? However much he tried, he could not remember. "Don't go on sleeping covered up like that. It is Monday." Only that line lingered. He chanted it to himself as if it was a prayer. If he forgot it, the loss would be unbearable.
I vividly recalled the emotions which went through me.
Sitting by her bedside in a state of confusion compounded by sheer helplessness I kept on thinking about the sequence of events that had brought us to that pass but my mind had gone completely numb as if all memory had been wiped out from it.
I envied Achhan for he had the consolation of the one sentence memory that he could chant like a mantra of life and death - Unniye, don't go on sleeping covered like that. Its Monday.
At that point in time I could give anything to hear her speak a few parting words which I could treasure or briefly open her eyes and cast a last look.
The anguish of that moment still lingers with me.
But there was nothing, a tangle of wires and tubes supporting her belaboured breathing, a fading suggestion of life on a robotic screen, running erratic curves of a quasi existence, which some forty eight hours later turned into straight lines and the machine emitted shrill noises of death.
I had never done serious cooking before, at best, Spanish omelette, baked potatoes, boiled rice and red lentils. Though emotionally drained and physically exhausted I opened the freezer door to see what could be done.
It was with great difficulty that I suppressed a desire to cry but my eyes were filled with tears which started flowing down my face.
There was enough cooked food in the freezer to last us for weeks.
Posted by szlogolept at 9:04 PM