Konangi was one of the frontrunners who experimented with Tamil prose with verve and energy. This poignant story is one of his earlier stories, woven around two children in the deep, rural south, where childhood is often unsettling, filled with tension, and given to sudden dislocations on account of poverty.
The heart-wrenching reality of this tale is related in a solemn, sombre tone, rendering it even more convincing. In the deft hand of Konangi, the single naked lamp in their home, covered by a broken chimney picked up from an undergrowth of weeds and patched up with a leaf of paper torn from a mathematics notebook, becomes a mystical motif. The sudden decision by the father to relocate to another town in search of livelihood not only shatters the grim yet innocent lives of the children but also the composure of the readers.
This story is replete with delightfully fresh images—the trail left behind by the soot of the lamp hovers like a guardian-ghost, the lit end of a “beedi” in the dark looks uncannily like the eyes of a bogeyman thief, the rascally wind sneakily clambers up the wall to extinguish the lamp with a “gup” sound, to name just three. Since they were all vividly imagined by children, it was very important to retain their innocent charm. Konangi has also deliberately used short, staccato sentences in a few places to underline the starkness of the story. A highly rewarding story to translate.
Dilip Kumar and Subashree Krishnaswamy