Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Sunday, May 1, 2011

"Sweet Milk" by Kerala Das-കമലാ സുരയ്യ

"Sweet Milk" by Kamala Das-കമലാ സുരയ്യ-aka Kamala Suraiyya (2003, 3 pages, translated from Malayalam by Sindhu V.  Nair)

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.    Her native language was Malayalam, spoken by about 35 million people in southern 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.     (I have used her prior name in my post in conformity with the usage in the source for the story I read, The Little Magazine.)   Her work has been translated into French, English, Spanish, Russian, Japanese and several other South Asian Languages.

"Sweet Milk" is a very moving quite poignant story about a less than storybook marriage that never the less works for both of them.   I guess a lot of marriages wind up like that.   

"At work, he did not think of her at all. They had married, against the wishes of their parents, after a courtship of a year or two. But they never did regret it. Lack of money, the children’s spells of illness — they were often dejected. She became careless of her appearance. To an extent, he lost the ability to laugh.
Still, they loved each other. Their three children also loved them. They were boys. Unni, 10, Balan, 7, and Rajan, 5. Three boys whose faces were always smeared with dirt, who had neither outstanding beauty nor brilliance. But the mother and the father said to each other —
"Unni is always making things. He has a taste for engineering."
"We should make Balan a doctor. See his forehead: such a wide forehead denotes intelligence."
"Rajan is not afraid of the dark. He is smart. He should join the army.""

The story takes a terrible turn.    The man finds his as far as anyone knew perfectly healthy wife dead on the floor of their flat.     Das a very good job in her treatment of the emotions the husband feels, including anger at his wife.   "Sweet Milk" is short, you can read it in two minutes.    It made me wonder what I would feel if left alone in similar circumstances with my three  daughters, even though this is the very last thing I wanted to think about.  

"Sweet Milk" is in the end but a simple story, not a great work of art, not Virginia Woolf , but it did make me see very clearly the humanity in people whose lives are very different from mine.    There is real wisdom in this story.   I will read another one of her stories soon, I hope.

You can read it online at The Little Magazine.    I read it twice, it will stay with me.  

I hope others with experience with the South Asia Short Story will offer their reading suggestions.    For sure there are interesting parallels here with the Irish Short story.     I did yesterday discover a new to me very interesting Irish writer of "weird stories" (he was a big influence on H. P. Lovecraft) and will post on him soon.  

Mel u

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