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A Significant Life
Apr 02, 2004 09:01 PM 16738 Views
(Updated Apr 02, 2004 09:20 PM)



Instantly moving, and instantly gratifying ? that?s Phaniyamma for you. A microscopic view of a society riddled with inane rules and regulations, caste system and prejudice, Phaniyamma succeeds in two ways ? first in bringing about a subtle, but significant message, and second by not adhering either for or against the concepts in the book.

Does this book endorse a cruel tradition of society? Or does this book in fact question the hypocrisy of the society in a very subtle but significant way? ? Phaniyamma?s greatest strength lies in the narrative which works both the ways.

Meet Phaniyamma in a small village, who is married off to an older man as in the norm of child marriage. The astrological stars have predicted a great match and wonderfully glorious long life of happiness. However, stars couldn?t have been in a much displaced position ? Phaniyamma grows to be a widow at 12.

A society riddled with inane rules for widows. Widows must shave their heads, wear whites, eat once a day, stay away from others and practice the madi - the act of purification in daily work. In addition, a widow must work day in and out till her dying day. In an effect, she has been punished for her man dying. Witness Phaniyamma in such delirious settings in a highly prejudicial and rule based society, trying to understand her widowhood, even before she knows herself as a woman.

A widow woman leads her in a mindless existence, adhering to all the rules and dharma of the society. Phaniyamma never knows how it is to be a mother, how it is to be a woman. Phaniyamma shuns the union of man and woman for her cause, her destiny. Travel Phaniyamma a victim of social prejudice and hollow rules which move her mentally, but she doesn?t speak a word against them.

Years later a woman in the same household cannot accept that her whole life is going to while away as a widow. A Muslim family needs help to bear a child. Society has changed, rules have been mended, and life a little more luxurious than it could have been. Meet Phaniyamma then, the victor, as she supports the woman in her household, and then again she helps the Muslim family ? her life free from the moral obligations of the rustic society.

The victim and the victor ? Phaniyamma is both.


The original book was written in Kannada by M. K. Indira which won the Sahitya Akademi Award for the best book. The translation in English by Tejaswini Niranjana also won the Sahitya Akademi award for best translation. A movie in the same name swept the national and local awards as well.

The writing is simple, straight and to the point. No extravagant details, no overtly done situations. A journey of 113 years covered, well within 160 pages, perhaps indicates the strength of this book. The author herself mentions in the beginning that she writes the book because she thinks something is of significance to be told to us ? which is exactly true.

She brings about Phaniyamma as women who stuck to the rules laid out by society and lead them without questioning them. As a devout woman, her life was of peace and brining about help and peace in household ? a respected woman, Phaniyamma is the moral example of a woman not questioning the society but fulfilling life?s obligations.

But ever without mentioning it or asking the reader to think upon, the author brings about the other side of the society in the reader. A gripping narrative succeeds in forcing the reader to question the very morality and rules of the bygone society, without ever hinting at it once through the eyes of the protagonist. Its in the strength of Phaniyamma as the victim of society and the eventually the victor within the very society that leaves you sad and happy at the same moment.


A superb book ? not to be missed by book connoisseurs.

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