Friday, January 13, 2017

Bale Bale Magadivoy, directed by Maruthi Dasari

Bale Bale Magadivoy
India (Telugu), 2015
137 min, romantic comedy
Directed by Maruthi Dasari
Starring Nani and Lavanya Tripathi

Lucky is a young, good-hearted plant scientist with one major flaw: a mental disorder that makes him get distracted incredibly easily. This interferes with his life in various ways, and now it is interfering with his ability to find a girl and get married. When his father arranges for Lucky to meet the father of a prospective bride, Lucky gets distracted by a series of random events in full view of his prospective father-in-law – leading him to believe that Lucky is a terrible human being.

When Lucky accidentally runs into the girl, Nandana, he falls in love and tries to conceal his problem of forgetting everything. Many of his actions turn into (or are passed off as) incredible philanthropy, and Nandana falls in love with him partially because of his apparent goodness. But how long can he keep this up? Will he ever get the girl?


Lucky’s habit of forgetting things is treated as a disability throughout the film – and not just because he thinks he has to hide it. Throughout his life, his father has told him that he will never amount to anything, or be able to get married, because of his forgetfulness. And it does significantly impact his life - he has trouble carrying out the simplest tasks because he forgets about them halfway, and he has a lot of trouble with accidentally giving away his belongings – including his father’s car!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Jeevichirikkunnavarkku Vendiyulla Oppees (Requiem for the Living) by Johny Miranda, translated by Sajai Jose

Jeevichirikkunnavarkku Vendiyulla Oppees
Requiem for the Living 
Johny Miranda
Translated by Sajai Jose (Malayalam)
87 pages, ethnography, family drama

Thank you to Oxford University Press, India for providing a review copy of this book. This is part of the Oxford India Novellas series, which translates short works from Indian languages into English. 

An oppees is a prayer for the dead. This novella tells the story of a people who are eligible for an oppees in every way, while yet alive. - Author's Note

Josy (Osha) Pereira is the latest in a line of church sacristans in a village near Kochi, Kerala. His family belongs to the Parankis - a Christian group with mixed bloodlines due to centuries of Portuguese rule and trade in the area.

In a winding narrative, Osha tries to explain his life to the reader: his grandmother Mammanji's almost magical religious/traditional healing abilities; his father's desertion of the family in order to go on pilgrimage; his own hapless marriage and inability to connect with his wife; and, most importantly, his unique community and the religious and cultural values that it reveres.

Women and Men

As noted by J. Devika in her fantastic introduction, one of the central issues in Osha's story is the struggle between men and women in this community, and in Kerala as a whole. While Kerala is widely regarded as one of India's most developed and progressive states - with the highest rate of female literacy in the country and a higher percentage of women in the population than men - the actual story is much more complex. Keralite women do work outside of the home, and many have jobs that are considered "man's work" in the rest of India. Historically, several of the ruling groups have also been matrilineal, tracing their lineage through the female line and placing the elderly women in the family in a position of great power (but limited mobility).

Perhaps related to this history of female power and (limited) autonomy, Keralite society brims with an existential crisis of masculinity. This is reflected in many ways: restrictions on women's movement and strict gender separation in some public places and transportation; high rates of crimes against women; and a tendency toward machismo on the part of men, who feel that they must prove their manhood. This last aspect (expressed primarily through the need to be right at all times, even if demonstrably wrong) that has been particularly pronounced in my dealings with Keralites during the year I lived in a village near Kochi.

This novella does a great job of depicting these ideas and attitudes. Osha's life is dominated by powerful and influential women, and he does not know how to deal with this. He feels emasculated: why does he have to rely on his mother or grandmother, and why are his male relatives so ineffectual in comparison to them? Osha's existential angst, which he treats with alcohol and laziness, highlights this major problem in Keralite society.

Ethnographic Details

This novella is unique in that it is written by a member of the Paranki community from Kochi, a forgotten and marginalized group that does not fit into Kerala's highly stratified and purity-conscious society. As the translator notes in his introduction, much of the culture depicted in the novel is unfamiliar even for Malayalam readers: the "extremely local references" to Kochi Creole/Paranki culture and religion call for a detailed glossary of terms and rituals, provided at the end of the book. 

Osha also seems to be aware of how marginal his community is; he often stops to explain the significance of various rituals, terms, or clothing. This adds an additional flavor to the narrative: he is evidently addressing someone outside of his group, and wants to reveal something about his heritage and life. Luckily for the reader, this provides a detailed look at this fascinating religious, cultural, and ethnic minority, the history of which is further elucidated in J. Devika's introduction. 

While I did not like this story, per se, I do recommend this novella for the ethnographic information it provides about Keralite society and this particular community. If you are at all interested in cultural mixing, Indian Christians, or minority communities, I highly recommend this book. 

Further Reading: 

"Tribute to Cochin Creole Portuguese," an interview with Dr. Hugo Canelas Cardoso by K. Pradeep (The Hindu)
"What Led to the Decline of the Matrilineal Society in Kerala?" by Sheryl Sebastian (Feminism in India)

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Monday, January 2, 2017

Mini Review: "Egg" by Priya Sharma

Fantasy, horror
July/August 2016

This is the first of what I call "Mini Reviews:" short reviews of short stories by diverse authors that are (usually) available for free online. My New Year's Resolution is to post two of these Mini Reviews per month in 2017, in addition to the usual long post per week. Wish me luck! 

After failing for years, a woman will do anything to have a child. An old hag offers her the opportunity to do so – if she is willing to face the consequences. All of the consequences.

This story considers two interconnected issues. First, the significance of having a child of one’s own, especially for women. The narrator is willing to go to any length to have her own child, and will not even consider adoption. Is this because of the social pressure to have a child? Or because of some deep, internal yearning? Some combination of the two? The source of this desire is unclear, but it comes through strongly in this narrative.

And second, the difficulties of having a child with special needs. To care for her child, Chick, the narrator needs to do things she would never have considered. Just one example is that Chick will not breastfeed; instead, she will only eat worms that have been chewed up and placed in her mouth! Despite her disgust, the narrator puts the child’s needs before her own and does what is needed. However, this puts an immense strain on her, especially after Chick fails to grow and is unable to show any affection. Is all of this care worth it if she never receives anything in return?

You can read the story for free online here. I'd love to hear your thoughts below.

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