My first tryst with Ambai was a few years ago when I read her ‘a night with a black spider’ which won me over. A Red-necked Green Bird, her recent short stories translation by GJV Prasad is a contemplative treat to read. A series of thirteen stories with careful translation retaining the original flavor of the text, A Red-necked Green Bird is a portal to the mind of the author where fluttering thoughts are organized and penned down. A feminist by principle, Ambai’s stories feature bold female characters and touches upon several sensitive subjects of the society with unbiased perception.
Ambai gives the readers a glimpse of everyday dilemma with food for thought, as layers of the characters’ persona opens up with changing situations. From a lonely daughter dealing single handedly with her father’s illness and suppressing her desires; to the glitz and glamour –filled changing urbanscape which often leads to the dark alleys of crime, unemployment and subordination; from the changing relationship of a modern couple to women being stripped of all respect ; Ambai talks about them all.
Each story is commendable and sets a benchmark on its own but I have discussed three of the most touching and contemplative stories (for me) in this post.
The story of Kamumma, a dancer in her heydays and her relationship with Rajappa, shows the hypocritical faces of the so-called liberal society, which is still conservative and commanding in nature. When a woman defies all societal norms and lives life on her own terms, the society turns its back on her. She is labelled as an immoral and unethical woman and judged harshly. Her voice is forever suppressed in the humdrums of disrespect, criticism and condemnation. The woman in question always has a choice to voice her concerns or not to do so. But it is seen that many in power subdue these voices with full force such that it loses its power to opinionate. Interestingly, in the sensational interview Meghan Markle post stepping down from her royal duties, is asked by Oprah Winfrey ‘Were you silent or were you silenced?’ – a remark which sums up the state of many women across the world.
A Red-necked Green Bird:
No human being is perfect! Yet, one embraces their imperfection and proceeds to make the best out of what they have, to live a happy and eventful life. But what happens when those closest to you fail to accept your shortcomings and live under self-inflicted mental pressure caused due to denial? This story highlights two vital pillars of childhood – accepting oneself and parenting. One must first accept oneself the way they are, devoid of all inhibitions and then only they are able to confidently face the world and nullify any criticisms. Further, parents are the closest relation one has in the world. For special individuals, it is all the more that parents are aware of the situation, admit it wholeheartedly and support their children through thick and thin. Parental denial in these situations open the doors to identity struggle within the four walls first and the world later.
Swayamvar with no Bows Broken:
From Indian history to mythology, all speak of grand Swayamvar’s! Remember Arjun piercing the fish’s eye by seeing its reflection or Princess Sanjukta garlanding the statue of Prithiviraj Chauhan and eloping with him? In all the circumstances the women got to ‘choose their own’ companions. Ambai explores the idea of companionship through this story. After living a blissful life with one’s partner there may come a time when one’s better half is no more. But this does not mean that one cannot continue living on their own terms. One has the choice of choosing their companion at any stage of life and they deserve their decisions to go completely unjudged. However the hypocrisy lies in the fact that oftentimes near and dear ones fail to respect personal space and decisions; and take it upon themselves to dictate the future of their relations. Does Ambai’s protagonist going through a similar situation break through the bondage of relation or succumb to them discarding her desires and priorities?
Ambai touches upon human relations like no other while Prasad’s translation retains every essence of the original text. An interesting point by Ambai in the preface suggests ‘whether what are born from it are stories or various forms of myself’. Though a small sentence, an ocean of thoughts revolve around it. Are books really versions of the author – their thoughts, experience, prejudice and observations put together; or can authors truly detach themselves from their works? This may have various arguments, but to me Ambai has been the liberal torch bearer of feminist Tamil Literature very akin to the causes she stands up for and one finds reflection of it in her stories. Prasad’s sensitive dealing with the same and usage of Tamil language and phrases throughout the stories make A Red-necked Green Bird, a highly recommended ensemble of short stories which connects the world to Tamil Literature, culture and society.
No. of Pages: 200
Publisher: Simon & Schuster