Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction, Yiddish Literature, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality historical novels are some of my Literary Interests





Tuesday, August 8, 2017

"A Home Near the Sea" - A Short Story by Kamala Das








Works I have read so far for Women In Translation Month - August, 2017

1.  "Happy New Year" by Ajaat Cour - Translated from Punjabi
2. "The Floating Forest" by Natsuo Kirino- Translated from Japanese
3. " A Home Near the Sea" by Kamala Das - Translated from Malayalam



"A Home Near the Sea" is the third short story by Kamala Das upon which I have posted.  In 2011 I read her "Flight", in 2015 I read "Sweet Milk", which can be read online in Little Magazine.  (My post has a link.) Both of these stories center on a marriage, as does today's story.  "A Home Near the Sea" was translated by Khushwant Singh from the Malayalam language, one of the official languages of India, spoken by 35 million in Southern India.

As the story opens Arumgugham's wife, during a frequent quarrel brought on by him losing a decent job because he was drunk at work, has just hit him in the head.  This has happened before and he has learned to suppress his anger. Because of this they have been homeless for a year or so:

"They had been homeless for nearly a year. He liked the languor of this life but feared the monsoons and the days when no edible food would be found in the garbage heap outside the Ritz Hotel. Hunger always picked up quarrels with him and abused him again and again for having got drunk enough to lose a fine lucrative job. True, he had been irresponsible. Why, on paydays he used to stop at Anna’s paan shop and drink five glasses of hooch which went down like a sword of fire and made him confident. To remove the smell from his mouth, he ate two paans filled with brown chunam and tobacco bits...."

The wife is telling her story to a young beggar man.  She tells him she was once young and comely, with a rich suitor but because of her husband she had lost her youth and beauty.  The man suggests she should look for a job as an Ayah, a helper for the children of a rich family.  He tells her she would get four meals a day and the work would be light.  Of course she longs for this but feels it is beyond her reach.
She begins to almost flirt with the younger man. Such jobs were most often done by women from a Dalit Caste (Untouchable).  Their membership such a caste is confirmed below:

"‘Whose fault is it that I do not own a house?’ continued the wife shrilly. ‘You sold my ornaments. You lost your job. And we were pushed out of our hut. Who was at fault? You or I? Was I not always a dutiful wife to you? I have not slept around with other men like other women of the slum who waited for their husbands to leave for work to begin waving out to passengers on the slow train. I did not want to earn that kind of money. This good-for-nothing man of mine brought me nothing. Not even on Diwali day did he get me a new sari! I suffered in silence. But now I have turned bitter. I talk back to him. I even hit him when he irritates me.’"

Inexpensive prostitutes in India were normally Dalits.  The woman suggests the man stay with them, they know where to find food from the garbage of nice hotels.

The young man begins to talk to her of music, he can sing beautifully.  She begins to cry.  As the story ends, the woman gives their only blanket to the departing man. Her husband is very mad.

One of the stated goals of this Women in Translation Month for 2017 is to focus on literature about marginalized women, short stories about Dalit women are the epitome of such works.


Kerala Das (1934 to 2009-Punnayurklam, Malabar District, India) was born  into a sucessful and prominent family.   Her mother was a famous poet, her father was  involved in the marketing of Rolls Royces and Bentleys in all of India. She also wrote in English but her short stories, which will be her lasting legacy, were in Malayalam.    She also had a weekly newspaper column for many years in which she discussed issues relating to the lives and rights of women.   She wrote about,  at the time,  near forbidden topics such as the sexuality of women.   She was socially and politically active.   At one time she was director of the forestry commission for the Malabar district.  She ran for Parliament and lost.  In 1989 she converted from Hinduisms to Islam.   She changed her name to "Kamala  Suraiyya.     Her work has been translated into French, English, Spanish, Russian, Japanese and several other South Asian Languages.

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