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Book: The Masculine of 'Virgin': Stories
Editor: Sarah Joseph
Translator: Translated and introduced by J. Devika
Price: Rs 325
Sarah Joseph wears many hats — of activist, writer and teacher. She makes no bones about calling herself a feminist writer in Malayalam. She shuns pretences and unabashedly depicts her feminine, contradictory, emotional and vulnerable characters in everyday settings. They are Every Woman. While the stories may seem like The Madwoman in the Attic meeting A Room of One's Own, their setting in Kerala's patriarchal landscape anchor them. Her characters display an innocence, oblivious to the surroundings.
The son in the title story, "The Masc of 'Virgin'", asks his father a question: 'Appa, the masculine of "virgin"?... He held up the homework book as evidence. It was written there:
Cow: (Masc.) Bull
Mother: (Masc.) Father
Hen: (Masc.) Rooster
Virgin: (Masc.) ...'
The Masculine of 'Virgin' is the first collection of Joseph's writings in English, part of OUP's centenary volumes. The stories are themed around oppressive men, phallocentric idealism, burdens of motherhood and class conflicts. From Germaine Greer to Maya Angelou, from Mahasweta Devi to Kamala Das, women writers have been preoccupied with sex, hierarchies and territories. Quite often, the rhetoric of society is dictated by a male-centric vision of how the world should operate. It is no different in Joseph's world.
She takes the most obvious narrative of male dominance, the Ramayana, to deconstruct notions of male hegemony. In "Asoka", she reinterprets a crucial moment in the Ramayana, when Seetha meets Ram in the forest of Asoka trees after Ravana is killed. Seetha is to arrive in "honour, cleansed and purified" before the "Victor". There's nothing left in Lanka but ash and carrion crows. Seetha is led to the Victor like one guilty of an offence.