The Sanguinarian

The Sanguinarian

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Review- Sita's Curse: The Language of Desire by Sreemoyee Piu Kundu

First of all, kudos to the author for daring to write on a topic deliberately suppressed in the annals of public debate in India.

Meera is a girl living in a nondescript village in Gujarat, with her twin brother Kartik and her parents. From the outside she is just another girl living the life her parents have envisioned for her within the defined patriarchal constructs of society- go to school, learn 'ghar-ka-kaam-kaaj' at home, and then once you pass twelfth grade, get married and settle down for a domestic life.

But Meera's mind and heart have a clandestine world of their own...a world where she slowly realizes her own sexuality, desires, her quest for true love and a passionate, fulfilling relationship and her bid for an identity of her own, as she blossoms into a beautiful adolescent, and undergoes many secret intrigues and encounters with people she comes across. At the same time, her world is turned upside down by a tragedy and that part of her life swiftly comes to an end.

Her new life begins as the daughter-in-law of the Patel family, who move to Mumbai and stay in a chawl in Byculla.

The real meat of the story lies here.

Sreemoyee deftly carves out a tale of how Meera survives in her new surroundings. Stuck in a loveless, soulless marriage and sharing a blow-hot, blow-cold relationship with her much older husband, she tries to find a little iota of love from him. Only to get either complete indifference or abuse- verbal,physical, emotional, sexual.
Her in-laws also humiliate her at every turn, blaming her 'planets' for whatever goes wrong in the household and cursing her and her family.=, and blaming her for not conceiving a child. She also suffers a miscarriage in this period.
The Patels also undergo a lot of changes through the fifteen years Meera is with them, interspersed with Meera's attempts to find love outside marriage, to find that one man who can both love her and pleasure her, to assert her sexuality, to be desired and cherished.
Until one day, July 26, 2005, when Mumbai is under the deluge of torrential rains, she finds her salvation- which also forms the climax of the novel.

Sita's Curse is more than a feminist erotica. It is not an Indian 50 Shades of Grey. It is a commentary on the hypocrisies of Indian society, the tyranny of the patriarchal constructs, which suppresses the identity, human rights and sexuality of a woman, taking away her right to make decisions regarding her body, her life partner, her career, her lifestyle. The hypocrisy that says to keep women shut within the four walls of a house to keep her 'safe' from outsiders...and then abuse and torture her within the house. It is a commentary on domestic violence and marital rape.

One must not be misled by the amount of sex in the book. To be fair, this is an erotica, and Sreemoyee has described the encounters in a passionate, colorful manner, and not a titillating way. She writes of sex both as a physical and emotional phenomena- which is not to be found in the other trashy, pulpy novels by most other Indian authors flooding the book market in India.

The amalgam of commentary on social psyche, sexual violence and sexual hypocrisy through the plot and the characters must be appreciated.

Also, Sreemoyee writes very grammatical mistakes or punctuation errors, and her lyrical, non-linear prose is a delight to my reader's sensibilities.

Meera must not be seen just as Meera (which has caused some reviewers to unfairly refer to her as a nymphomaniac), but as an epitome of all that is wrong with the prevalent attitudes towards women in India, as a symbol of every woman straining to assert her independence, her sexuality and take charge of her body and her life, as a symbol of every woman that longs to be seen as a human being and loved and cherished and pleasured.

Very few writers can co-relate love and sexual pleasure successfully- Sreemoyee has done that very effectively.

The only two nitpickings I will point out:
1. I would have liked a much bigger elaboration of Meera and Kartik's incestuous relationship.
2. I felt that the character of Amarkant Maharaj, under the guise of his piety, takes advantage of a young and gullible Meera, rapes her ( with the knowledge of her husband Mohan's family, who know Mohan is sterile) and tries to cover it up by some pseudo-spiritual clap-trap. It reminded me of Swami Nityananda, Asaram Bapu and all those 'God men' in jail for sex crimes against female devotees. I don't know how the author intended to portray him, but I would have liked it better if she had painted him as a rapist (and a nymphomaniac) on the basis of his actions.

Sita's Curse is an important book which needs to be read. Both for its level of writing, and for the issues and questions regarding women's autonomy it raises.

You can buy the book from here:



Sunday, 28 December 2014

The Importance of Silence: Why we need to cut down on the noise

Noise. Of differing frequencies, pitches and oscillations. From different sources. Everywhere.
On the street. People shouting, screaming, straining to make themselves heard in the din. Vehicles honking, asking other vehicles to make way, or just announcing their presence.
In our homes. The TV on all day- especially the specter of news anchors moderating shouting matches on live TV, in the garb of 'debate'. The laptops or stereo systems blaring full blast.
On the 'social scene'. People talking out loud everywhere. Laughing, crying, bitching, mocking.
Sitting in the living room of my home, on the top floor of an  ONGC colony apartment building, all I can hear is the sound emitted by vehicles passing on the road outside the colony, disturbing my mental peace. Since Goregaon is a posh suburb, I don't see that situation ending anytime soon.
That was vehicles. Let's move on to people.
Why are we so loud as a species?
Why do we need to be making noise all the time?
Why do we feel the need to create a cacophony, a constant babble of sounds in which not one person can get in a comprehensive word in sideways?
Why do we detest people who like to remain silent most of the time?
Why do we treat people who speak less with suspicion?
Why do we need for everyone around us to open their mouths and keep yapping all day...even if most of what comes out of our mouth is inane, frivolous stuff?
Why do we chuck people of few words out of our social circles, and treat them like outcasts?
Why don't we aspire to become better listeners, rather than better orators?
Why do we want to stress our vocal cords to more than necessary?
Why do we need, in hospitals and libraries, signs that say 'SILENCE PLEASE'?

Why on earth can't we respect this thing called 'SILENCE'?
Silence is a state of being, in which your mouth remains shut and your mind speaks.
Silence is a phase of introspection, of spending some quite time with yourself, all by yourself. Of discovering who you are, of thinking about life, about things.
Silence is a meditation in itself. A time for thoughts, for enriching ourselves mentally, and even spiritually.
Even as an atheist, I like to go and sit in a church. Why? Because of the complete, pin-drop silence they have over there. The only sound being made when the chorus of people singing hymns.
I love libraries and bookstores for the same reason. They are places of complete, blissful silence. Where I'm not afraid of loud chatter bursting my eardrums and distracting me from my work.
From my study, or writing or reading.
Introverts are known to be mostly silent people. I have always been an introvert, staying lost in my books and laptop and music most of the time.
I talk very less, as compared to the extroverts around me, who are much more voluble and create, in certain cases, what I call 'noise pollution'.
I talk only to people I really like; the rest, I courtesy with formal greetings and leave it at that ( but there are people with whom I hit it off, such that, even though we meet after long periods of time, I can talk to them for hours on end).
I like to sit quietly and observe, or listen to people when they talk to me or among themselves.
A lot of my material for writing comes from this observation thing.
Does that make me quirky?
Yes, maybe a little.
But I respect my silence. I stake claim to one of my fundamental birthrights: THE RIGHT TO SILENCE.
I expect others to respect that right.
There is this place I like to go to, within the recesses of my mind. The Temple of Silence, I call it.
It is a place where I can think, ruminate, analyze, have epiphanies, collate information I have absorbed like a sponge, create poems, stories and novels.
To enrich myself intellectually. To use my tongue only when it is needed, to speak good of others and to say the right things when needed.
To give my time only to people whose mental wavelength matches with mine.
It is better to be in silence and read a good book, produce a piece of poetry or prose or article, or read a good magazine or science journal or watch a good movie/serial...rather than waste my precious time talking to people I don't even like.

The point of this LoNG lecture is to say: We must respect silence. We must respect it within us, and we must respect those within others too.
Silence is a virtue we must value in others...because we must learn to be better listeners, both to other people and to the language of our subconscious.

So, when are you observing your rite of silence? Do you have your own Temple of Silence you escape to when you feel the need to? How does it enrich you? How do you plan on cutting down the noise from your lives?

Friday, 26 December 2014

Staying Alive

 Staying Alive

The fog rolled in from the swamp, leaving its characteristic opacity on everything it touched, corrupting the air, leaving the vicinities it covered in a dull haze of bleakness, acting as an accomplice to the already downcast inky blue sky.
“God! It comes again!” a man called Marvin said, pulling his jacket closer around himself, looking out through the living room window, shivering slightly, watching the fog march on and obscuring everything within seeing distance.
The same thought, at the same time, passed through the minds of the twenty-five thousand five hundred and fifty four residents of Weeping Marsh, as they saw what Marvin saw, their eyes widening in fear as their minds made the connection, their bodies trembling with more than the biting chill of the cold weather.
“Oh our Father in heaven! Protect your children from the evil designs of Satan, who attacks our holy abode again!” Father McCallis muttered under his breath, making the sign of the cross and touching the crucifix dangling from his neck and resting on his chest, as a reassurance, as he too witnessed The Fog from the window of his living quarters behind St. Francis’ Church.
“Jack! Molly! Come in, now!” Brenda Tyler shouted from the front door at her children, playing outside.
Both children looked at their mother, their innocent eyes widening in surprise.
“Come in, I pray you, children!” Brenda shouted again.
Both the kids rushed inside immediately, and Brenda closed the front door, putting all locks and bolts in place.
She would not let The Fog touch her house. Ever.

Crazy Catherine smiled her buck-toothed smile as she watched The Fog, her eyes gleaming.
Her hands gripping the thick, round metal bars of the small circular window that belonged to her cell. Her cell in the asylum of St. Aloysius Center for the Criminally Insane, located on the outskirts of Weeping Marsh.
‘ As my eyes see the unearthly light,
The Fog rolls through Weeping Marsh,
Whom will it claim tonight,
I hope their death isn’t very harsh’
Crazy Catherine sang out loud, alerting the other inmates in the other cells.
They started banging their fists against the bars of their prison, eliciting a thumping, clunking music, shrill, high-pitched, as they sang along with Catherine, in chorus, filling the dank halls and corridors of the asylum with sounds never heard except on that night, every year.
Sister Bettina came out of her office, shaking her head.
“The crazies are at it again! What is wrong with these half-wits?” she muttered, gritting her teeth.
She summoned the other nuns, working under her, involved in running the madhouse, and they split up, going in groups of twos on the various wings of the various levels, trying to hush the inmates, but to no avail.
Because of all the crazies continued to stare out the windows of their cells, bang their fists against the bars and sing the verse which had terrorized Weeping Marsh for more than fifty years, serving as an omen of the catastrophe to strike the residents.
“It’s that horrible song again! How do they know when to sing it?” asked Ruby Singer to her husband Bob, lying beside her on the conjugal bed.
“I don’t know, they just do. Maybe they understand the true meaning of The Fog, being trapped in their own minds and all. I never understood this legend they keep referring to,” Bob replied.
“What legend?”
“You wanna hear it now, hun? I’m sort of sleepy right now.”
“Tell me…tell me what you know…”
“I don’t know the whole story…but some of my buds say that this fog thing…it … it kills people.”
“Yeah. Every year, on this every day, the fog rolls in from the marsh. This fog is different than the normal fog…it is thicker, colder and bleaker. Also, when it dissipates the next morning…people are found dead…that’s all I know.”
The Singers just moved in eight months ago…into Bob’s father’s house which was lying locked up in Weeping Marsh for many years.
They had no idea where they had chosen to come, trying to get away from the hustle-and-bustle of the city after their kids left for college. If they knew what Weeping Marsh actually was, they would’ve preferred the city or gone to some other ‘idyllic’ corner of the countryside.
“But how can a fog kill people?”
“God knows. I told you, I never was able to understand completely the mystery behind it. But I did hear them talking about some curse. There is supposed to be a curse on this place, for the last many years.”
“Curse? What curse?”
“I have no idea. My father left this place when I was very young…he told me about Weeping Marsh but never told me why he relocated to the city. My parents never talked about it.”
“Could it have been that your dad left town because of this curse-thing?”
“Maybe. He and my mom never talked about it- in between themselves or with me. So it was never important enough for me to ask him about it.”
“Huh. Well, I find it hard to believe that a simple fog can kill people. So I am going to stop asking you about it now, and we’re going to forget about it. Right?”
“Right. Good night.”
“Good night.”

“Someone is going to die tonight. I wonder who it will be,” Rosie Parker said aloud, staring out the window.
“Again…what is the story behind this fog thing?” asked her cousin Clara, who also lived in the city and was in the town on a visit.
“Well, I know only what the elders have told me. I have no idea how much of it is true…who knows how many of these tales are?” Rosie replied.
“Why would you doubt your elders’ version of the story?” Clara asked, frowning.
“I just think they, more often than not, embellish details of the truth to protect us. I mean, they think they are protecting us.”
“Anyways…tell me the whole story,” Clara persisted.
“Well…this was almost nine decades ago. Across the marsh, there lived a black woman called Ruth Williams. She is said to have been a witch- and brought down calamities on anyone who happened to cross her path, using voodoo and other such black magic instruments. But they could never prove anything. Suddenly, one day, the young girls and boys of the village started disappearing, one by one. Everyone suspected Ruth was doing it. She was killing the young girls and boys of Weeping Marsh and sacrificing their blood to the Devil whom she worshipped.”
“The townspeople went to her house, dragged her out of the house, and burnt her alive at the stake, at the market square. Then they threw her body in the marsh. From that time onwards, every year on this day, Rosie’s vengeful ghost comes back, in the form of that fog, and avenges her death by hypnotizing few of our people to commit suicide in different ways.”
“How does she hypnotize the villagers?”
“She sings a song. Mother tells me it’s a lonely, melancholy tune and has an effect on the townsfolks’ minds, so they do as she tells them.”
“Wow. A black witch coming to haunt the town where she was killed. I wonder who will die tonight,” Clara wondered.

“Will they ever stop singing that horrible song?” Sister Jude asked, as she and Father McCallis conferred in his office, watching the fog obscure the large, stained glass windows of the church and making it impossible to see anything outside. The church was located on the edge of Weeping Marsh, and the asylum could be seen from there, being only a few hundred feet away.
The chorus rendition of what was known as the ‘Omen of Death’ song in Weeping Marsh had, by then, reached the ears of every family within earshot of the church, just like it happened every year. No one could stop the songsters of St. Aloysius from singing, led by Crazy Catherine…no one could dispel the mad glint in their eyes, no one could possibly know that the ghost of Ruth Williams communicated with them in their dreams. No one could know the truths she whispered in their ears.
“They will stop only when this injustice stops, Sister Jude,” Father McCallis said, shaking his head.
“What injustice do you speak of, Father? She comes back on this day every year and takes away our people. She doesn’t even spare our children. Innocent lives are taken every year and we are unable to lift a finger to stop it,” Sister Jude retorted, her hands on her chest.
“You know what injustice I speak of, Sister. The injustice that was done to Ruth Williams and her family all those years ago. You know that the story about her being a witch and all is pure hogwash. She wasn’t the person she was accused of being. Our children think their parents and grandparents were heroes, having vanquished a murderer like Ruth- which she wasn’t. The fact is, our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents were cowards. They were way too big of cowards to let our children know the truth about what happened that night, almost ninety years ago,” Father McCallis replied, a pained expression on his old, wrinkled face.
“I know as well as you do about what really happened that night. But the children or their parents today have nothing to do with it. Why is Ruth taking innocent lives just to avenge her death?”
Father McCallis stood up from his chair, and banged his fist on his desk.
“Not just her death, Sister, not just her death! She is avenging the deaths of her children and her husband too! When will you understand? We have everything to do with it, Sister! Our children are all descendants of our forefathers who massacred Ruth and her family! That included your family and mine too. Your grandfather and a few others, including mine, raped Ruth, because she was a black woman living in a town where vestiges of white supremacy still remained! When she protested, they called her a witch and accused her of killing innocent children! When the truth is those children were kidnapped and killed by someone else! Ruth’s children and husband were set on fire in front of her, Sister! And then she was burnt at the stake, without being given a chance to speak the truth. We threw their bodies into the marsh like they were pigs or something. We buried the truth all these years, like the cowards we are, and let the wounds of the dead fester till they became like rabid dogs and started taking vengeance. Her children and husband were taken from Ruth, as was her dignity, and now she wants payback! Why don’t you understand?” Father McCallis yelled.
“They…they were protecting us…” Sister Jude started to retort, tears in her eyes.
“Protecting us, Sister? Please do not utter such lies in the house of our Lord! They weren’t protecting us- they were protecting themselves! From our judgment, from having to take responsibility for their crimes and face punishment! Only a few families, including yours and mine, know the truth about Ruth Williams, for all these years! We could have protected our children if we had told them the reality! We could have let them give Ruth and her family a decent burial and punish the culprits. But we preferred to keep mum, and Ruth decided to get her own vengeance. The child is punished for sins of the father, Sister. We are responsible for letting our own children die,” Father McCallis replied, and tears flowed from his eyes too.
“But we have to stop this…this madness…we must stop Ruth…”
“ There is only one way to stop Ruth…and that is to tell the truth about that night, and put Ruth’s angry soul at rest. Are you ready to own up, along with me and the others, for the sins of our grandparents, Sister Jude?”
Sister Jude opened her mouth to reply, and then stopped, all of a sudden. She froze, and her hands fell limp by her sides. Her pupils dilated out of focus, and her face became expressionless like a stone statue.
“Sister Jude?” Father McCallis asked, looking at her with his eyes wide.
But she wasn’t listening to him, because her ears were filled with another sound. The voice of a woman singing a song.
I keep the promise I made that night,
When you annihilated my beloved ones,
Your survival instincts you must fight,
Because to my tune of death you will dance.’
Father McCallis’s eyes went wide and his hands went to his chest, to the crucifix dangling there.
“Lord save us!” he whispered, seeing the outline of a human on the glass window right behind Sister Jude, highlighted against the diffused light coming from outside.
Sister Jude, let’s go. To your death.’
Sister Jude nodded her head once, then turned on her heel, and walked up to the window.
“Sister Jude! No!” Father McCallis yelled, pushing his chair backwards and running around his desk.
Sister Jude smashed the glass with three quick punches of her fists.
“Sister! No! Staying alive is important!”
Sister Jude rested her bloody hands on the jagged ends of the smashed glass and put one leg up, ready to step out into the fog.
“Judith! No!” Father McCallis shouted, running towards her.
He was stopped in his tracks. By the specter of the burnt body of Ruth Williams, standing in front of him. The only part not charred being her chocolate brown eyes, staring at him, the pupils burning like Hellfire.
No, Father. No. Do not stand in my way.’
Her words rang in his ears.
“But she’s innocent…” he protested.
She’s not. Her soul is damned to burn in hell. She will die for her father’s sins.’
Sister Jude stepped outside the window, into the fog. She picked up one of the shards of glass lying on the window.
Closing her eyes, she slit her throat, the wound going deep.
“Judith!” Father McCallis yelled, running up to the window, and getting a spray of hot red liquid right in the face.
He squinted through the fog, trying to locate the nun, tears flowing copiously down his cheeks.
“Judith,” he whispered, wiping the blood off his face.

“Grandpa! Where are you going?” Rosie Parker asked, running after her grandfather.
But he didn’t turn back to reply, and continued walking away from the house, carrying a shovel in his hand, his ninety-eight year old body stumbling side to side. His eyes clouded over, only one song ringing in his ears.

‘I keep the promise I made that night,
When you annihilated my beloved ones,
Your survival instincts you must fight,
Because to my tune of death you will dance’
“Rosie! No!” Clara shouted, pulling her cousin away from the back door.
“We have to go stop him!” Rosie yelled, her hand outstretched.
“Stop whom?”
“Grandpa! He suddenly walked out with a shovel in his hand, without saying anything!”
“What? Where is he going?”
“I don’t know!”
“Let’s go find him then!” Clara said.
But as both sisters reached for the door knob, it shut in their faces with a loud BANG.
“What’s happening?” Rosie asked, shocked.
“I don’t know!” Clara exclaimed, equally shocked.
Rosie tried opening the door, but it stayed firmly shut.

Barney Parker walked on, towards the swamp, a voice guiding him onwards. Staggering through the fog, oblivious to the chill, he entered the thicket of trees which formed the entrance to the swamp. He walked on through the trees, until he reached some sort of a clearing, semi-circular in shape.
Then he started to dig.
Next morning, the fog would clear from the town of Weeping Marsh, only some of it being left in the surrounding swamp.
They would find Barney Parker in the swamp, his brain blown to bits by his own gun, clutched tightly in his one hand. His other hand clutching a note.
My father, Bertie Parker, raped and killed thirty four young children of Weeping Marsh, and stayed silent when they put the blame on Ruth Williams. He also participated in the murder of her and her family.
                                                                                   Barney Parker
They would find Father McCallis kneeling by the bloody corpse of Sister Judith Brennan, crying, a crucifix held tightly in his hand.
Sister Bettina and her fellow nuns would find the ‘half-wits’ of St. Aloysius Centre for the Criminally Insane sleeping peacefully, their singing having ceased as soon dawn broke over Weeping Marsh and the fog started to recede.
The inmates slept serenely, a smile on their faces, their arms crossed over their chests.
As the ghost of Ruth Williams watches over all of them, unseen, unfelt, reading their minds, selecting her next victims.

Copyright @ Percy Kerry 2014