Her stories Friday Review

The beginning of the end: On the works of the late Geetha Hiranyan

‘A unty, how do I end my story?’ Shilpa the aspiring teenage-writer asked the woman who had the pretensions of a writer. ‘Easy…just draw two thick lines at the bottom and that’s it’, the writer gave an instant solution.

This light-hearted conversation on ‘ending’ occurs in ‘Shilpa is Writing a Story’, the last story written by Geetha Hiranyan, that gifted Malayalam writer who left this world all too soon, in her forties.

Endings are important, whether it be in stories or in life itself. But in both, it is difficult to plan. All one can do is to draw the line and fall silent, when it happens. It is possible to read into the stories Geetha wrote towards the end of her life, particularly in this last story, tips on how one can cross over the line with ease and grace.

Geetha herself walks in as a character in her last story. She is the one who has the airs of a writer and it is she who gives that easy solution to the perennial problem of ending a story. However, a few lines later, the writer character is described thus: “Leaning back on propped up pillows, she looked like a butterfly with broken wings. With a smile on her lips, she turned to Shilpa’s father and asked, ‘People will say, look at poor Geetha Hiranyan, she’s writing stories even on her sick bed – won’t they, Mohana?”

The writer-character is treated with ample empathy, as are the other characters in the story. The omnipotent writer laughs at the pretensions of the writer-character whose seemingly silly advice reinforces the idea of her emptiness. Why did Geetha wear the motley when she could have donned the mantle of greatness? Does it come from the realisation that it is all one towards the end? That, what ultimately matters is the compassion that fills the mind and the smile that lingers on, in the face of cancerous pain and disillusionment?

A smile most compassionate and genial softly wafts through the entire story. Shilpa, her parents, her father’s woman-friend, her aunt and uncle, her little brother and even their Maruti 800 car appear as lovable characters in the story. Touches of humour come up like bubbles and spread peals of merriment. Shilpa’s little brother is ‘the fiend studying in grade nine’. The whole time when he is at home, he rushes about this way and that, raising pandemonium. He is therefore described as a place of unrest, a bit of Kashmir.

Yet, Shilpa and her brother are on good terms. When she gets home on weekends, she greets him, ‘How are you, stupidaaa?’ and he promptly replies, ‘I’m fine, how are you, stupidee?’

In spite of her mother’s repeated requests, Shilpa’s father did not exchange their old Maruti car for a new one. So, to her mother, all owners of Maruti 800 cars were ‘penniless swine who could manage to pay just about two lakhs rupees’. Her parents had at one time found in each other their dream companions but their love had taken mysterious ways and at the time of the story, they were an ideal couple before the world but played the roles of ‘the wrecker’ and the fierce Bhadrakali, in their personal moments. Her father eternally played the ‘Umm…Master’ at home. Whenever her mother spoke, he kept humming ‘um’, ‘um’…, whether the conversation was about the renovation of their house or the marriage of their neighbour or the jackfruit tree that had borne fruit in their backyard. Yet, Shilpa knew well that he had not totally lost his power of meaningful conversation. How else could he lavish such sweet compliments on that aunty whom they once visited on their way back home on a weekend? No relationship in the story is perfect whether it be that between husband and wife, or mother and daughter, or friend and friend. Many are the emotional scars sustained by the characters yet with the passage of years, a deep sense of acceptance of the near ones dawns in their very being. It is this feeling that makes life a celebration towards the end.

How does one end the story of life well and make a gracious exit? Geetha tells us to take ourselves lightly; to laugh at ourselves, to wear the motley and to discard the gown of seriousness; to cherish relationships in spite of their imperfections and to master the art of healing ourselves.

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

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Printable version | May 7, 2021 1:12:18 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/on-the-works-of-the-late-geetha-hiranyan/article7891469.ece

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