Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Pethavan: The Begetter by Imayam, translated by Gita Subramanian

Pethavan: The Begetter
Translated by Gita Subramanian (Tamil)
xxxiv + 57 pages, drama, psychological

Thank you to Oxford University Press India for providing a review copy of this and other novellas from the Oxford Novella series. 

The young girl Bhakkiyam has fallen in love with a Dalit (untouchable) boy, breaking caste boundaries. The village will not stand for this, and has gathered in front of her father’s house to demand that he kill her this time. Her father, Pazhani, promises the mob that he will kill her the next day.

Then he considers what to do.

This is a story of a man put in a terrible position. His daughter has done something outrageous according to the ideas of the villagers. Pazhani, his wife, and the other women in the family have tried to change her mind for three years. But Bhakkiyam has held firm to her decision to marry the Dalit boy, despite being beaten nearly to death multiple times and suffering constant abuse from the members of her own family.

Pazhani does not want to kill Bhakkiyam. He has already promised to do it three times and not followed through. This is the fourth time, and the villagers will not let him escape without carrying out the deed. They will come and kill Bhakkiyam themselves, and her father as well. It has reached the point where something drastic must be done.

This terrible tale of caste anger and mobs is told in very simple language, mostly in dialogue with the bare minimum of description. This is incredibly effective, since it puts the characters’ words in the limelight – words that are sometimes contradictory. The characters are in such a terrible psychological state that they really don’t know what to do with themselves.

The translation is somewhat stilted and awkward. This is probably because of the difficulty of the text. Like many Bengali-language stories that I have read, much of the meaning of this novella is conveyed through using a local dialect, making it difficult, if not impossible, to convey effectively in English. The translator has chosen to render it into simple English, a decision that I think was the best possible under the circumstances. But the text seems a bit stilted as a result.

This was a really powerful novella about caste violence and a father’s love. Unfortunately these events are all too real, and happen too frequently in many parts of rural India. The author manages to convey the terrible impact of such an attitude, both on a family and on the village as a whole.

Pethavan: The Begetter is available in India from Amazon, in the US from Amazon and Indiebound, in the UK from Amazon and Hive, and worldwide from the Book Depository. 

Further Reading: 

"Truth and Lies," a short story by Imayam, translated by Lakshmi Holstrom (Words Without Borders)
"When hate begets hate," review of Pethavan by K. Srilata (The Hindu) 

Want to see more reviews of world literature and film? Follow me on Twitter or like The Globally Curious's facebook page!

No comments:

Post a Comment