being brown

The Silent Raga

Ok, I must write about this book. I have just finished reading the Silent Raga by Ameen Merchant. The novel is the story of two Tamil Brahmin sisters, Mallika and Janaki. They are brought up in a strict agraharam in a small town near Madras. Circumstances make Janaki run away from her exploitative agraharam life and she does the unthinkable. She marries a Muslim film star called Asghar from Bombay. In her wake, she leaves Mallika to deal with the repercussions of the step she has taken. Mallika has to deal with an increasingly unscrupulous and unreasonable father, a busy-body aunt, Gayatri chithi and the scorn that the rest of the agraharam has for the family. The story is a narrative that shuffles between Mallika and Janaki who are made to reflect over the happenings of those long years when in a bid to offer the olive brach, Janaki asks to meet Mallika ten years on.

like a dry martini!

like a dry martini

The novel is brilliant because of two characters. The development of the characters of Appa and Gayatri chitti is truly superb. Although one might well ask what I know of Tambrahms, having been brought up in typically non tambrahm areas in different cities of the country, I think all tambrahms, even the city bred ones can identify characters like appa and gayatri chithi in their large circle of tambrahm acquaintances. Appa is the typical patriarchal, obnoxious, know-it-all male prototype tambrahm that one so often encounters at weddings. Gayatri chithi is the loud, outspoken, crass, resourceful and selfconfident female prototype that one might again encounter at weddings. Both these are the typical people we hate to associate with but have to at some point or the other because they happen to be a favourite great aunt’s children.
That a parsi man (I presume Ameen Merchant is one) can so totally comprehend life in an agraharam for two girls is truly breathtaking. I can only imagine what his mental discipline might have been to imagine something so wholly alien to his experience. Thumbs up, for that great effort.
The end of the story was anti-climactic and abrupt. Almost as if he grew tired of it and wanted to finish it off. But I loved every moment of it anyway. It is not often that one gets such a honest, sad and at the same time hilarious account that holds a mirror to ones community.


3 responses

  1. Ayun

    Perhaps it takes an outsider-observer to best comment on a community and its idiosyncrasies. I’ve added this to the list of things I should read.

    June 30, 2010 at 2:58 pm

  2. Sonali

    Interesting book. I guess it’s relevant to any household with 2 daughters.

    July 1, 2010 at 2:29 pm

  3. sumanyav

    yes, it is relevant to any household with two daughters…though i still think that it is amazing that a parsi man can describe typical tambrahm lingo in such an amazing way.

    also, one thing i felt that could have been done better was Janaki’s dilemma (which i am sure she might have had before running away). he barely touches upon that and that makes it a tad bit unrealistic.

    Ayun, i agree. But how much must an outsider be steeped in it, to produce such a genuine work??

    July 1, 2010 at 7:21 pm

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