WRITING about women has been a defining point of Ambai's writing over the years. Most of her work has dealt with the politics of women in their everyday avatars. Most are usually ordinary women living under the rigorous strictures of their societies. But within these lives they seek to carve a small ready space for themselves. To read her, is to read afresh the struggle that goes on in a woman's life, a struggle for an internal totally personal commitment to the self. A commitment that knows no boundaries of caste, creed or one that refuses to be pushed into gender boxes.
Thus "Wrestling" is once again a fine story of a female singer who struggles with her own creative urges, literally locked in a moral combat with her husband (also a singer of repute). Even as she continues to nurture his talent, taking a backseat, she does not give up her love for music. One day at a concert, as his pupil fails to take up the expected passage; she steps in to his shock and dismay. The audience breaks into a wild applause leaving her to lead the song. Her husband feels he's been locked in a losing combat and has no choice but join in her singing.
"Unpublished Manuscript" was carried by Katha prize stories some years ago.
A powerful story that left a mark on the reader, one is again aware of the powerful undercurrents in human relationships. These silent spaces are finally broken by the main characters in the story who tell their sub stories through a series of plots. In a deft and somewhat scathing indictment of society, Ambai establishes her supremacy with the written word and her immense understanding of human relationships.
Even for those uninitiated into the vast treasures of regional literature, this slim volume is a veritable field of gems, one that sparkle long after the lights are out.
Ambai; Katha; price not mentioned.
CIRCA 1974. Cut to a hostel in a university campus somewhere in sprawling Delhi. Remember this was the time of the hippy movement, free love, free dope (if you got it) and thumbs down to the establishment. Add to this general chaos a motley crowd of students, each one "freaked out" in their own right.
The scene is set in the School of Planning and Architecture, where the Fifth year students are trying, most unsuccessfully, to submit their final year thesis on time.
The central character of this play is Annie (Anand Grover). He's typical to most colleges someone who's been around long enough to know almost each dark secret.
There's Radha, anti establishment and daring, Mankind committed to his roommates' welfare as well as his own and a string of others. Of course there is also Lakes the resident bhenji.
Life revolves around the usual idiosyncrasies of hostel life, the ups and downs of non-submissions and sarcastic teachers who of course are important to the entire cast.
But In Which Annie Gives it Those Ones became something of a trailblazer because it aptly conveyed the frustrations and idealistic dreams of a generation. The play's greatest attraction, apart from the characters that most students could and would identify with, was the use of language. It was a representation of how a language lived and breathed and acquired a distinct identity of its own.
In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones; Arundhati Roy; Penguin; Rs. 295.
SHE'S 15 with raging hormones and a fertile imagination, a perfect recipe for revolt and imaginary flights of passion. But Tenral is to be pronounced as softly as the south wind as our young schoolgirl informs us.
But then most don't. There is the most hateful Marathi teachers who breaks all the wrong vowels and consonants, clashing like discordant cymbals calling our young heroine Ten-draal. But seriously in between all the usual rigours of schoolroom afflictions, good friends and bad ones, Tenral leads a double life. One is the poker faced, studious almost brilliant hard working student, and the other lives in another world. A world where the English teacher and her dead lover soon acquire fervid gigantic proportions, enough to make even her die hard supporters snipe at her.
Tenral is unwilling to give up this exciting other life and soon finds herself drawn into the vortex. As the pace of her imagination increases, she readily conspires to add in new characters. But interestingly each one is linked to the English teacher. Things come to a rather chilling, if somewhat stupefying event, when Tenral visits her sick teacher and finds her in the midst of an epileptic fit.
Oscillating between school girlish pranks and a rather adult affair, Ambrosia for Afters leaves one wondering: where are the After Eights?
Ambrosia for Afters, Kalpana Swaminathan; Penguin; Rs. 250.
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