Poignant tale

Print edition : November 25, 2016

SHENBAGAM Ramaswamy was not only an accomplished creative writer but also a fine academic. A rare breed, she managed to deftly walk the tightrope between practice and theory. Unrecognised and unsung, she was never known to be a strident feminist; yet, the heart of her stories unfailingly touched on important and real issues concerning women. The lives of women who eke out a precarious existence unveil vividly before our eyes, jolting us out of our complacency. With her nuanced understanding and a fine eye for detail, she injected a fresh approach to every story she wrote.

This story is about a construction worker and her infant Sarosadevi (named after the yesteryear actor Sarojadevi whose movie she was watching when she went into labour), whose lives readers blithely assume they know all about. The poignant tale of the worker unfolds, not missing out a single injustice meted out to the likes of her—deserted by the husband, saddled with a baby who could only be left under the care of a mad, snuff-taking cynical mother, eyed by the wily mason, the list is endless. The almost-blind grandmother, the most unfit caretaker, stuffs snuff into the baby’s nose; the humour is as black as the coffee the infant is weaned on. Not surprisingly, it was a short-lived saga.

The almost invisible, poignant thread that weaves the stark story had to be retained with utmost delicacy. The old lady’s utter disregard for the child, rendered in such a matter-of-fact tone, horrifies the reader even more. Not too many people are aware of this wonderful writer, so it was even more important and relevant that we bring her writing to the notice of a wider readership.

Dilip Kumar and Subashree Krishnaswamy