Myth as metaphor in feminist fiction
An exploration of the psychological states represented by the ancient myths of India marking Pudumaipithan's growth as a creative thinker.
SAPA VIMOCHANAM Penniya Siru Kathaikal (Tamil): Pudumaipithan; Sri Shenbagha Pathippagam,New No. 24, Krishna Street, Pondy Bazaar, T. Nagar, Chennai-600017. Rs. 45.
One cannot fault the publishers for tuning themselves to the `in-phraseology' for selling their books, even if they are by a famous writer like Pudumaipithan. More than half a century after his passing, he still remains a name to reckon with for his no-nonsense recordation of cancerous poverty and societal complexes.
How can we speak of the value of female chastity in a `Ponnagaram' context? Or, is this Pudumaipithan's vision of neo-chastity where Savitri still tries to save her Satyavan from death? Who can tell?
Though Puthumaipithan himself brushed away inlaid implications in his work ("I am just making fun of people whom I like and others whom I dislike.") posterity has given the status of a classic for several of his stories. One of them is `Sapa Vimochnam' (1943) based on Gautama's curse that rendered Ahalya immobile as sculpted stone.
Essentially a purveyor of the passions of the flesh (the widow Sarasu, the abandoned Rukmini, the traditional Kalyani, the spineless Parameswaran), Pudumaipithan's imagery also partakes of the sulphurous currents that keep the human body in thrall.
The opening of this tale, for instance: "A sculpture on the wayside. A surpassing loveliness that could raise passions even in a bundle of spent-up tissues. So intoxicating to the senses as if a rare sculptor was born just to expend all his dreams on this figure. But there was a deep sorrow in the eyes of the sculpture. It defied verbalisation and killed the infatuation of the onlookers and immersed them in distress. This was no strange dream of a sculptor. This was the result of a curse. This was Ahalya."
Nearby is Rishi Gautama lost in centuries of tapasya. Viswamitra comes with Rama and Lakshmana. Ahalya is redeemed from the curse! Gautama and Ahalya live together from now on but the past remains a shadow in their life together. How to get a perfect link for the individual and the society so that the latter will accept Ahalya's purity?
When Sita returns from Lanka and speaks to Ahalya of her fire-ordeal as if it were an everyday affair in a woman's life, Ahalya freezes back into the sculpted stone. Et tu brute!
There is a feverish glow about Pudumaipithan's Ahalya that does make the story feminist in essence. But the story is more than that. It is an exploration of the psychological states represented by the ancient myths of India and marks his growth as a creative thinker since he wrote a story on the same subject in 1934.
A pity the artist in him did not write more of this kind but spent precious ink on stories like `Gopalapuram' and `Vazhi'. No feminism in such pieces. Merely tear-jerking for his times.
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