In her autobiography- Anudinada Antaragangey– poet Pratibha Nandakumar records one of her meetings with the naxalite poet Ajita where she suggests Ajita to put down her life in words. This suggestion is rejected by Ajita saying, “What is there to write? I have not created a revolution nor have I shaken the society. My revolution my struggle everything is in my inner world. I am struggling with my own self inside myself.”
In one of the earlier pages the author herself wonders if she should be writing an autobiography of not for she feels that she has voiced her life in her poetry. But when she pens her autobiography she documents exactly that which Ajita found too negligible a thing. From the very focus of her autobiography Pratibha begins subversion- which she is known for. While most of the autobiographies- especially women autobiographies- are either about the oppression and trauma they had to go through or their success against all odds, Pratibha chooses to speak , in her autobiography, mainly about her search for love.
This search for love and several relationships of love that Pratibha takes us through is a delicate matter and it must have required great strength courage and importantly sensitivity to write it for there is always a danger of a slight mistake in choice of words and articulation making love appear like lust. But the success of her autobiography is this, it comes across as love and not lust and retains the delicacy of the issue in its words and in its narrative.
Is the autobiography just about the quest for love? No. While speaking of her own quest for love, she unfolds before us her world and there we see the struggle of an individual and also the quest of an individual.
One of the earliest memories of life which the author speaks is her inferiority complex regarding her appearance. The author speaks of her teeth being the major cause of her inferiority complex. This beauty consciousness is formed not by the individual but has happened unconsciously. She speaks of how people would make fun of her teeth arrangements and how her teacher would give the role of the main performer to some beautiful girl who did not know to dance and not to Pratibha, who danced better than the beautiful, for her appearance. Pratibha in the later stage of her, following the fire accident where her body gets burnt, realizes that physical appearance is something unimportant. But sadly the world hasn’t grown up! She speaks of an emotional intimate moment with a person where the person, holding her closely, asks “are you burnt there too?” which angers Pratibha. She says how she felt disgusted and walked off. This act of walking off is protest and display of strength at once and at the same time. But what is more important is that the author feels bad about how she has been gazed by others and not by what is there. She has outgrown any inferiority complex regarding body and appearance. If from childhood to middle-age she has outgrown the inferiority complex and has reached a position of not attaching any importance to appearance, while writing the autobiography, by when some more years must have passed, the author has reached a stage where she challenges that even at the age of ninty she will wear jeans pant and dye her hair. She says this as a response to a boy who asks her if she dyes her hair. The world has not changed even after so many years. But the point to be noted in this declaration is that the author having grown from inferiority complex to acceptance to assertion.
The chapter where such a declaration is made ends with the author saying, “Get lost” (Thoo… Hograyya) which is a reflection of the confidence and strength gained by the author over a period of time. But the author is not the kind who defines her strength and confidence in the light of feminism or takes an oath to fight oppression completely and uncaringly destroy the oppressive structure. Her strength is a humane strength, acquired over years being subjected to oppression, violence and pain and suffering, which tries to understand the oppressor too as and when, through actions, subverting the oppressive structure and making space for the self and respect for the self.
The poet recollects in her autobiography the disturbed marital life of hers and her struggle within the frame of marriage. The husband is slightly violent and insecure too. An incident of being locked out of the house is recollected. That night when she had to urinate she had to go to a corner of the street and pass urine. Though the poet narrates this in good humor it must’ve been quite scary, embarrassing and humiliating too for a lady with two children to attend nature’s call in the open in an ungodly hour. From such embarrassing violence to the restrictions imposed to not attend functions to life threats is experienced by the poet. Yet, when a friend asks her why she tolerates all of it she says, “Because I love him,” and explains why the oppressor is an oppressor. To be able to understand, to be able to forgive, to be able to see the oppressor in a human light and as a human with his own limitation is also strength and not just to fight. The kind of struggle she goes through to get her husband treated is a painful experience to read. But in spite of all her struggle the husband ill-treats her. It frustrates her but still she tries to understand. That is her strength.
But that doesn’t mean she submitted herself to patriarchy and male violence. She finds loopholes within the existing structure to make space. She cooks good food and then gets permission to go watch films. She recollects an incident where she tells her husband that if he expects her to be a house wife of the traditional kind he should also be a husband of the traditional kind, which means he alone should work he alone should go out to pay the electricity bill, water bill, bring vegetables etc. The husband ends the discussion by brushing off her argument. The escape from conversation is not just the triumph in argument but also an indication that patriarchy in its strictest sense is a chain to men too. So, the loosening of patriarchal system, in any which way, is to liberate not just women but also men. In that sense Pratibha subverts the existing structure and validates her acts by turning the master’s language against the master and makes space for herself and makes her position respectful.
The most memorable part of the autobiography is the methods in which the poet is living the way she wanted within the oppressive structure in between restriction and violence. She says that one of the tool was lying. An incident of going for a movie is narrated. Pratibha tells her husband that all her colleagues are going, which is a lie, and goes for the movie all alone. Her husband turns up near the theater when the movie ends, to pick her up and she waves at unknown ladies to make her husband imagine them as her colleagues. One falls for the way in which a dream was lived and how a path was found for the self when it looked impossible, without trying to make any value judgment on the act of lying. More interesting are her acts of late night love letter writing and addressing the cover to one of the newspapers so that even if the envelop is caught by the husband it is assumed that some story some poetry is being sent to a newspaper.
The unbearable violence is dealt by turning the acts of violence and oppression into jokes and laughing about it. Pratibha not just laughs at her tragedies but also teaches the same art to her colleagues. The strength of Pratibha and her colleagues stem from this ability to laugh at tragedies than mourn over it which can kill their morale. Lying and laughter becomes saviors of the poet amidst all troubles of life.
Apart from lying and laughter there is something else which makes life beautiful for her and gives her the strength to keep marching. It is as she says the life of her inner-self, her relationships of love. In an interesting episode narrated by Pratibha she meets a poet with whom she had a romantic relationship through letters but had never met. When they meet the man asks her, “had coffee?” which by its sheer dailyness disappoints Pratibha. She says that the man who used to write letters appeared different in flesh and blood and in his question because of its dailyness. So, what were the acts of writing letters for Pratibha? What was the act of writing poetry for Pratibha? Were they attempts to live that which life did not offer? Interestingly, as narrated in the first chapter of the autobiography, when expressed the desire to write an autobiography on her quest for love her husband reacted saying, “so you want to write on a non-existent imaginary love…” Was the quest for love also a way to find meaning in life and search for that, like writing, which life did not offer? Is there a similarity between the act of writing and the quest for love? Pratibha’s autobiography raises these questions subtly.
Remembering her days of recovery from fire accident she recollects all her pains and immediately breaks into an emotional phrase saying more than everything what pained her was the fact that “he” did not come to meet her. She also tells that she feared doing IAS, once, because she feared that if she becomes an IAS officer she will become a bit distant from human company. This need to belong to someone, to love, to be loved is the driving force of the life. The thirst is such that it can scare the ones who come near. The thirst is also such that it doesn’t allow her to kill herself. Her act of swallowing sleeping pills and then immediately informing about it and saving herself is not an act of cowardice but love for life. She is once told by a man, “you don’t love me, you love life,” which she tells us in the autobiography. She loves life even when caught by the barrenness of life. It is also this quest to quench the thirst once before the play of life comes to an end, which makes revert from suicidal plans. This episode also reveals that love is very essential for life, even if in the form of a search for love.
When the film Slumdog Millionaire was released Harsh Mander who works also with children, especially street children, decided to take some street children to watch the film. Following the film viewing he discussed the film with them to know what they thought about the film and later wrote an article on the views of children. In that article Harsh Mander, in the last paragraph, writes, “The most beautiful observation that the children made while assessing the film made about their lives, was that Jamaal was able to overcome his circumstances not because of the chance of his winning a game show. This does not happen in real life. It happened, they said, because he found love. In the film, it happened to be the love of a girl that Jamaal encountered. But in life, it could be the love of an elder, a mentor, a friend: anyone who really cares…”
It is in search for such love that Pratibha journeys the path of life, as we see it in her autobiography- Anudinada Antaragangey. While the absence of any names frustrates the curiosity of the reader it is not important as to who made her move or how she moved. What is important is to see what made her move. The only remedy for love is to love more. That is the most moving part of the autobiography.