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The Goddess of revenge

‘From the dark chasm of all-engulfing silence, you threw out a thunderous bolt of fire. It was a brave warning, an open challenge! It fell right inside the future generation and exploded…in its dazzling brightness, all the wrongs of that Goddess of Revenge stand forgiven.’ Tathrikkutty, Lalithambika Antharjanam’s heroine in her story Pratikaaradevata (The Goddess of Revenge), was a real-life character, one who had gone through the ordeal of ‘Smarta Vichara’ , a community trial, way back in 1905.

Like many young Nambudiri women of the previous century, Tathri too was married off at a tender age. Everyone thought her lucky as her husband was not too old and senile; as she did not have to live with co-wives; as the family had enough to meet her modest needs of food and clothing. Tathri did all she could to please her husband and managed to keep him happy for some time. However, insatiable and dissolute, he brought home his concubine. Tathri had to serve them food and make their bed. When she lost control and called the woman a harlot, her husband burst out: ‘Yeah, she is a prostitute. I brought her home knowing that she is one. I like prostitutes. Go, become a prostitute yourself!’ Tathri went away to her natal home.

A few years later, a damsel of maddening beauty and sharp brains, appeared in the locality. All the men around began to sing praises of her. Although she gave them the pleasure of her company, she told every one the truth about herself - that she was married, that her husband was alive – thus leaving the doors of escape wide open.

Finally, one night, the man she had been waiting for all those years, the one who loved harlots, came to her. When the morning was about to break and he was getting ready to leave, he told her,

‘ Never in my life have I met a woman so beautiful and brilliant as you are. If only I could spend my whole life with you!’

‘Sure you haven’t known a woman like me? Think of your wedded wife.’

The man turned to look at Tathri and recognised her. Screaming loudly, he ran away. Then ensued the shameful episode of the trial of Tathri Kutty in real life, and in the story. During the trial, Tathri listed 65 men and produced unquestionable evidence – rings, hip chains, silk shawl ... All of them, high-born men of money and power, were excommunicated along with Tathri. Although the story does not mention it, real life accounts maintain that the King of erstwhile Cochin ordered the trial to be stopped at some point for specific reasons.

Tathri ingeniously questions the slimy morals of our society in the story. She winds up the narration of her eventful trial with a series of questions to her listener.

‘Do you think that was the revenge of just one prostitute? Wasn’t that a settling of scores on behalf all the Nambudiri women who were suffering untold misery? Tell me, sister, who is more at fault- the men who make women fallen to quench their insatiable lust or the woman who slips and falls in her attempt to fight him? Who would you hate more? Who will you excommunicate?’

However, Antharjanam does not make explicit her stand on the Tathri issue, choosing instead a complex narrative strategy, leaving it to the readers to interpret the story as they please. The story of Tathri raises fundamental questions. Are we to take an action in isolation and judge it right or wrong? Isn’t the society that leads to it also responsible? Wasn’t Tathri a true martyr – one who sacrificed her life and future to shock a so-called upper caste community out of its complacency? To make it open its eyes to see the inhuman rules it inflicted on its people, particularly women? Wasn’t the voice of Tathri a clarion call for change?

(A fortnightly column on the many avatars of women in Malayalam literature. Sreedevi K. Nair is Associate Professor of English in NSS College for Women, Neeramankara, Thiruvananthapuram)

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Printable version | Jun 2, 2022 7:43:07 am | https://www.thehindu.com/books/on-tathrikkutty-lalithambika-antharjanams-heroine-in-her-story-pratikaaradevata/article7995938.ece