Be Careful What You Wish For

Yup. My not so truth scenario ended up being the truth scenario. And how. P couldn’t stop laughing when I reported 102 Fahrenheit and how displeased I was with it. Chortled in most evil fashion and said I had got what I deserved. So much for sympathy from friends. Family though is another matter. Suitable quantities of Kashaayam and Molagu Rasam and Paavam  happening to make me happy. Or I would be happy if I could stop feeling so (s)ick!

Silent Raga - Book Cover

I’m not sure if ‘The Silent Raga’ was the right book for a sick me to read this weekend. For one, blurb starts with ‘Where do middle-class, Tamil Brahmin girls go when they turn eighteen?’ and purports to tell the tale of Janaki who ran away to escape her dad’s plans for an arranged marriage and ends up with her ‘Cinderella’ like happily ever after as the successful, respected, veena-maestro second wife of a Muslim film actor. (I’m past 18, but should I?!). The Cinderella comparisons should not stop there. The Janaki of this story is taken out of school and made the ‘unpaid domestic’ at the tender age of thirteen upon her mother’s death, because ‘someone-has-to-take-care-of-the-house’. The tales of her life of drudgery in the agraharam with only music and a couple of equally ill-fated friends for company is told in flashback as she swans about South Bombay giving interviews to top women’s magazines, and doing mannats at Haji Ali. All this flashback brought on by her plan to go back home after ten years to meet her sister, Mallika.

The Mallika in the meanwhile, does flashback of her own story, remembering the gently domineering but  life-saving Akka, who abandoned her suddenly one day and left her to deal with a father who was going increasingly insane and the aunt with whom he had been having an adulterous affair for years. Mallika is now a USIS librarian / counselor in Madras, supervising many into the upper-middle class Tamilian dream of ‘MS in US’ and ‘Green Card’.

I can’t help but be critical of the author and the way he documents the Tam-Bram girl experience. I read the book straight through (despite the sniffles and the fever) which is the good part. But I kept nit-picking. Good Tam-bram girls do not boast of their garlic selection skills. The description of ‘menses’ and all that goes with it was awfully off. A certain flatness in the description of Janaki’s latter life in Bombay.  For all that though, he did manage to pick up the way that the households work. The power of the unsaid rules that every insider knows but can’t quite explain. The little hypocrisies. Well done Mr. Aseem Merchant. More particularly since you are Mr. Aseem Merchant.



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