In her maiden novel ‘THE TamBrahm BRIDE’, Kausalya Saptharishi brings out the drama relating to the tortuous trials and tribulations helplessly undergone by a sensitive, reasonable and highly cultured woman called Shalini (Shalu) — the main character under a continuous assault and torture of unforeseen events, of petty and wicked persons in the shape of prospective bridegrooms and their parents and devious procedures and ground rules laid down by astrologers, matchmakers and NRI grooms with cosmic pretentions — before she finally succeeds in winning a suitable life partner for herself.
In a breezy foreword to this novel, J Murugavel says: “The story of Shalini whose parents are in search of a suitable Tamil boy for her, passes through many familiar but tortuous path of obstacles marked by stars, officious matchmakers and a variety of egos characteristic of boy’s families. Narrated in gripping style and detail, the story may appear — on the surface — to be humorous but mirrors in reality, the poignancy and deep disappointments of many a bride or her parents in search of a suitable boy. This is the world the author, with uncanny and astonishing insight into the psyche of this society, is able to unravel with competence”.
Whenever I read a novel, I don’t bother whether it is “important” or if it will “live”. What does it matter, what a novel is after all ? If you want a definition of a novel, I would only say that it is what makes me laugh or cry or yawn, what makes my toe nails twinkle, what makes me want to do this or that or nothing and let it go at that. All that matters about a novel is the enjoyment of it, however tragic or comic it may be. All that matters is the eternal movement behind it, the vast undercurrent of human grief, folly, pretension, exaltation, or ignorance, however lofty or unlofty, the intention of the novel. Viewed in this light, all that I can say is that Kausalya Saptharishi has succeeded in producing a moving novel. Ernest Hemingway(1899-1961) rightly said “When writing a novel, a writer should create living people, people not characters. A character is a caricature.”Applying this yardstick, Kausalya Sapthrishi has indeed succeeded in creating living people in her maiden novel.
Kausalya Saptharishi is a US based freelance journalist whose writings have appeared in varied American and Indian publications including The Washington Times, Hinduism today and India Abroad. This is her maiden novel.
Kausalya Saptharishi declares that her main aim in producing this novel is to give a deeper message. Let me put this in her own words “A girl in the arranged marriage market in India is not a commodity for sale but a living, breathing and thinking individual in her own right. Furthermore, the 21st century and the modern times we live in, call for a change in the mindset of the boy’s side who should realise that the girl’s side is not any the lesser for giving birth to a daughter instead of a son”.
In the bits of spicy conversation and animated talks of her characters, Kausalya achieves a multidimensional effect through her multidimensional language. No discriminating reader can miss the effect she achieves through her verbal associations and the incantatory power of her words. She seems to be an aroused creator who, with a flourish of trumpets, declares to us with fiery gusto and enthusiasm : “I want to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race”.
We can see Kausalya Saptharishi’s sardonic humour in the following descriptions and sayings.
“The man who has a daughter should swallow his pride and be willing to bend over backwards to marry her off”.
“The girl is a commodity and should be beautifully gift-wrapped according to industry standard specifications and smartly marketed in the competitive TamBrahm matrimonial market which is strewn with imported grooms bearing hefty price tags”.
“A girl’s worth is primarily measured by the colour of her skin and not so much by her education, her talents or even her temperament. Wheatish to very dark girls are either automatically disqualified or are given consolation prizes (the rejects)”.
“When an alliance is fixed, the boy is put on a pedestal as the star Mappillai – to – be while the girl is relegated to the kitchen and given a crash course in cooking”.
“On the wedding day, the girl has the pressure to look nothing less than stunning, even if the boy remains complacent about his appearance ( his earning power takes care of his shortcomings, you see)”.
Incidents, events and episodes relating to bride-viewing are described hilariously with a great sense of subtle humour, tinged with pathos, sadness and sorrow. For instance, when a boy’s father rejected Shalini, according to Kausalya Saptharishi, this is how it happened: “Sorry, we cannot take this forward”, said the boy’s father in an accent that harked of his Thanjavur origins mingled with American Capitalism. A potent combination of filter coffee and Pepsi”.
How a prospective bride finds herself under a cruel siege has been narrated as follows : “In the TamilBram arranged marriage game, a prospective bride generally finds herself in a Catch 22 situation. If she openly proclaims her career goals, she is at risk of being viewed as someone who will be too ‘fast’ or ‘independent’ to fit the traditional mould of a daughter-in-law. However, if she comes across as too home-loving and career shy, the boy’s parents wonder if she will be accepted by their son who has demanded a modern day working girl who should also be a dutiful daughter-in-law. The girl has to smartly prepare her answers in advance of the bride-viewing and ensure that they will please the boy as well as his parents. It is another matter if anything has to be to the girl’s liking”.
Shalini was rejected 25 times. Finally she succeeded in finding a suitable life partner. And what moves us all is what has been said in the Postscript. Two things happened to Shalu immediately after she set foot on American soil. First she became a born-again patriot. She became touchy about other Indian Americans being unduly critical of India. She also became a serious student of her own great and time-defying heritage. That is why perhaps Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) declared in Chicago in 1893: “True human feelings, passions and emotions are indeed the gastric juices of the soul”.
Reading Kausalya Saptharishi’s remarkable maiden novel, I am reminded of the writings of the great American woman novelist and poet Gertrude Stein (1874 – 1946). In her book “The Making of Americans” which is a disjointed union of unrelated units, Gertrude Stein hoped to project the history of “the old people in a new world, the new people made out of the old”. In this book she viewed life as a monotonous round of ordinary events. She made this plain by amassing all the banalities, platitudes, and trivialities of human existence and recounting them with unwearying and unchanging regularity.
The exciting and brilliant way in which she has woven the web of the story of Shalu brings to my mind the observation of Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) “Fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners.”
Journalism may allow its readers to witness history but it is creative fiction which gives its readers an opportunity to live it. A novel is an impression and not an argument. A novel is never anything but a philosophy put into images. All in all, Kausalya’s maiden novel gives as a general view of the wonderful stream of her consciousness as a creative writer. What strikes us first is the different pace of its parts. Like a bird’s life, her novel seems to be an alternation of flights and perchings. The rhythm of her language expresses this, where every thought is expressed in a sentence and every sentence is closed by a period. The resting places are usually occupied by sensorial imaginations of some sort. She has sought to give through her work a feeling of uninterrupted time, how it melts in our grasp and is gone in the instant of becoming. In short, she gives us a sense of the overflowing moment and the ‘continuous’ present in the sense in which William James (1842 – 1910) would have approved.
Finally after completing this novel, I felt that the following immortal words of F.Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) rushed to my mind like a cavilcade: “Mostly, we authors must repeat ourselves—that’s the truth. We have two or three great moving experiences in our lives—experiences so great and moving that it doesn’t seem at the time that anyone else has been caught up and pounded and dazzled and astonished and beaten and broken and rescued and illuminated and rewarded and humbled in just that way ever before.”
(The writer is a retired IAS officer)
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