Literature

‘What Mother ought to know’, ‘Body and blood’ & ‘The parable of the sower’: Three Malayalam stories by Gracy in translation

Print edition : June 18, 2021

Gracy, the author of these stories, is a Malayalam writer whose first collection, “Padiyirangippoya Parvathi”, came out in 1991. She has published ten collections of short fiction, three memoirs and a short autobiography. She is the recipient of the Lalithambika Antharjanam Award (1995), the Thoppil Ravi Award (1997), the Katha Prize for the Best Malayalam Short Story (1998) and the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award (2000).

The stories “What Mother does not know”, “Body and blood” and “The parable of the sower” feature in “Baby Doll Stories” by Gracy, translated from Malayalam by Fathima E.V. (Harper Collins India, 2021)

Fathima E.V., the translator of two of these stories, is an Associate Professor at KMM Government Women’s College, Kannur. Her translation of Subhash Chandran’s “A Preface to Man” (2016) won the V. Abdullah Translation Award in 2017 and the 2018 Crossword Book Award for Fiction in Translation. Along with Nandakumar K., she has also translated M. Mukundan’s “Delhi: A Soliloquy”.

Three Malayalam stories in translation...

What Mother ought to know

She blazed in a deep crimson sari. It was while she was wondering whether she should braid her hair or tie it up that the doorbell rang. Unable to decide, she let her hair loose and opened the door. Noticing her husband recoil as if scalded, she laughed. He realised with dread that the pointed edge of that laugh was splitting open his old wounds. In a listless voice, he reminded her: “Don’t forget that you’re going to a house of mourning. And remember that it’s your own mother who has died.”

She burst into laughter: Isn’t it the death of one’s mother that one should celebrate?

Retreating from the battleground like a wounded soldier, he walked to the wardrobe. Carefully selecting a sari full of yellow flowers, he extended it to her. She waved it away disdainfully: “I hate yellow!”

As his expression turned pitiable, she took off her sari and, in an act of revulsion, threw it on the bed. Swinging swiftly towards the mirror, she stood staring at her reflection for some time. With fingers trembling in some memory, she passed her hands over her face. Her fingers crawled down her throat, lingered on her small breasts for an instant, and slid down. They stopped on reaching her belly. She interlaced the fingers of both hands, wriggled her shoulders, threw back her head and yawned widely. Never before had his wife seemed a greater stranger to him than at that moment. He feared that she would sprout jutting canines and her tongue would slide out, dripping blood.

Proving his fears utterly misplaced, she took out a rose-coloured sari from the wardrobe and began to drape it around herself. Braiding her hair unhurriedly, she said: “It’s too far for me to travel by scooter. Call a taxi.”

He cast an oblique glance at his wife lying back in the car seat, her eyes closed. He wondered how the stress of the past three months had disappeared into thin air at the news of her mother’s death. After all, what do you know about your wife anyway? he asked himself. Why would such a slim, fair girl marry a man as sooty as raw black iron? Didn’t your own reflection in the mirror startle you? He was certain that she could never love him. In the bedroom, she was always an ice maiden. In vain, he had tried to stir her with fingers and tongue. Anyway, he was relieved that she had at least given him a son. Whenever he telephoned his son, now studying medicine, he was tempted to ask him if femininity dissipated at the age of forty-one. He was sad that they never did share the kind of camaraderie that would allow him to ask his son that question. Hence, he repeated that question to himself. Some time ago, his fingers used to freeze whenever he touched his wife. These days, what could be discerned was something molten, blistering her from inside. His hand stretched to his wife, as if to check how it was now.

At his touch, she woke up startled, and her eyes flew open. Her heart pounded, agitated by her impatience. She was eager to see for herself and ascertain that her mother was indeed dead. Death must have appeared in the form of an illusionist in front of Amma who had never given a damn for anyone. She tried to imagine how, at the touch of his magic wand, the sarcasm that those red lips always wore as a wet sheen would have vapourised into thin air. Amma had always been proud of her imagination which compared her daughter’s irregular and slightly protruding teeth to a pair of herons in the field. She used to be furious when her mother’s proud breasts looked down upon her chest, smiling in sympathy. Those curly black tresses that covered the whole of Amma’s back and flowed down her shapely bottom sniggered at her straight-as-a-broomstick, bronzed strands. Hips that spread like wings on Amma did not even deign to favour her backside. When the suitor who came to see her made Amma stifle her laughter, sniggering that he was nothing but a black demon, she had decided instantly: A black demon is fine with me!

She got out of the car and went straight to the living room. As Amma lay stretched out, fully covered, she could not make out the changes that had come over her in the past five years. Sitting beside the corpse, she gazed intently into its face. Amma’s face was that of someone who did not seem to have had enough of living. The flush of sarcasm on her lips had not yet disappeared. With a vengeance, she bent close to Amma’s ear, the anger barely leashed in her whispered taunt: “You’ve finally lost control of everything, haven’t you?” She felt a wave of mirth cruise through the dead body. She trembled with rage. Grinding her teeth, she hissed: “Can’t you stop this at least now?” Opening her eyes like slits, Amma stared at her fiercely and parried, with a voice sharp like the tip of a needle: “I haven’t decided to stop anything at all!” She smirked: “Yeah, right. Aren’t you going to turn into a handful of dust in a few moments?” Embers of laughter glowed on Amma’s lips: “I will be born again. As your granddaughter!” At that, she smiled with derision: “For all that, there’s a time and certain requirements. Now that you’ve become a soul, no more can you do as you please.” Amma’s face twisted with obstinacy: “Then I’ll be reborn in your womb itself. You just wait!”

She laughed out loud: “This time, you’ve failed, you crone! My birthing days are over!”

The funereal house, which had been whispering, lapsed into silence all of a sudden.

(Amma Ariyendathu)

Also read: ‘The lies my mother told me’ by Ashita

Body and blood

Her love of the Lord ripened and Kunjumary became his bride, and though the wings were missing, she became Angel Mary. Every night, the Lord would descend into her dreams, arriving from heaven in clouds flocking about him like lambs. Nibbling upon the heavenly words from his lips, words that streamed about like scattered pearls, her heart flew into the burst of dawn.

A brilliant student, Sister Angel Mary had joined the church-run college to teach. Stepping into the department optimistically and hopefully, she was shocked into stillness. There he was, the Lord, seated on a chair in the department! Frozen, the toes of her left foot slightly raised, her fingers delicately and prayerfully spread, and leaning forward, Sr Angel Mary looked like a dove of peace. When the shadow of brightness touched his eyes, the Lord looked up from the heavy book he had been reading. Sr Angel Mary’s astonished gaze flew over the Lord’s peaceful blue eyes and the dark grape-like ringlets of hair that fell to his shoulders.

Unable to bear her curiosity, Sr Angel Mary went up to the Lord, held his hands and searched for the stigmata on his palms. Smiling calmly, the Lord said, “Time erased all the wounds!”

Sr Angel Mary raised those warm hands, tremulous as doves, to her lips, and wiped her streaming eyes.

That night, Sr Angel Mary did not sleep. Nor did the Lord descend from the skies to her.

The next day, Sr Angel Mary entered the Lord’s room anxiously. She disrobed him and searched for the throbbing sacred heart on his smooth hairless chest.

Again, smiling gently, the Lord said, “The path to the heart lies through the body.”Sr Angel Mary leaned against the Lord’s divine body.

(Translated by Mini Krishnan from Rakthavum Maamsavum)

Also read: ‘They fell silent’ & ‘They turned into water’ by S. Ramakrishnan

The parable of the sower

The Guru began another parable. “Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower. A sower went forth to sow. As he scattered the seeds, some fell by the wayside, and the fowls of the air came and devoured them. Some fell upon stony places, where there was scarcely any soil. As soon as they sprouted, they wilted, scorched by the heat. Other seeds fell among thorns. The nettles grew with the plants and choked them. The few seeds that fell on fertile ground sprang up and bore fruit.”

The band of disciples, snacking on LSD on the seashore, grunted assent and listened. Crawling forward on all fours, they prostrated at the Guru’s feet: “Guru, you’re great! Nonetheless, how about deciphering the relevance of the parable for us?”

The Guru drew deeply on the fumes of hashish. His heavy-lidded eyes welled with kindness as he surveyed his disciples: “Little lambs, do ye not comprehend this parable? The ones who sow are none but us. We set forth with baskets full of seeds. The seeds that we sow in barren women are eaten away by their barrenness. The seeds sown in virgins are aborted as soon as they begin to sprout. The seeds sown in whores are smothered by the pills they swallow. But it is the seeds sown in other men’s wives that sprout, thrive and bring forth abundant fruit.”

Thereafter, they boarded the barge and left for the opposite bank.

(Vithakkunnavante Upama)

Stories selected by Mini Krishnan

Reproduced by permission of HarperCollins India

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