Tuesday, May 18, 2021

A Call from Mother...


A poetic, in its language as well as in intent, the novel Sad Sally Salad by Chris Roy has the possibility of different interpretations. 

First, I was recalling The Vegetarian, a novel by Han Kang which won Man Booker International prize in 2016. The novel which gives importance to vegetarianism in life, taking a leap away from just our food habits, has taken non-violence to its extremity, if we can say so. Sometimes, it is inevitable and quite necessary to take certain principle to its extremity in order to understand it; see and stretch its possibilities properly and fully. Somewhere, Chris Roy is trying the same in this novel. 

Then, this novel gives prominence to maternal aspects by citing again and again the phrase “returning to Mother”. It has its own implications in India and perhaps in most parts of the world. Mother is the prime Goddess in different cultures. Maternal prominence in a family or society has its own implications on the other hand. There are many folklore songs and stories around such culture as well. Thirdly, mother always indicate protective, lifesaving, care taking sensibilities compared to manly forces. This novel is using all such multiple possibilities to its usage “returning to Mother”. In my language, Kannada (language of South-West state of India, Karnataka) there is a novel written by Dry Chandrasekhar Kamara, `Shiokara Soria’ which also upholds Maternal culture as against Paternal. He has written some more books like `Kari Maya’ (which literally means Black Mother), and a regular source of stories and poems from folklore of Karnataka. He has written a number of poems, plays and novels and presently the Chairman of Indian Academy of Literature. 

Third, and final, how this novel is seen in today’s Indian perspective is also quite interesting to me, being an Indian. After the upsurge of Right wing in politics almost all over the world, Cow Slaughtering is tainted with a different color. Today, we, the Indians see in it a different ideology, slightly distorted from non-violence as a stand-alone ideal. Non-violence was always an ideal for Indians, though the population as a whole cannot be categorized as pure vegetarian. But what the right wingers plead is not non- violence in its simple and straight meaning. For them, Cow is motherly and Godly and as such, they oppose the slaughtering of Cow and Cow alone. They are not against eating mutton, chicken or pork. So, the opposition and an urge to ban cow slaughtering all over India is not supported by others for the very same reason though they love non-violence, though they are pure vegetarians, though they too worship cow as holy and motherly animal. We, the Indians, cannot however, avoid seeing the novel by Chris Roy, which too is centered on Cattle industry, in this perspective. 

There is one more thing I think I shall share with you. In Kannada, there is a famous folk song. There is no single child who does not know this song. The song is about a cow. The song places my State, Karnataka at the center of whole world before beginning the story. 

One day, when it was almost evening, all the cattle which were grazing near the forest are about to return to the village hearing the call by way of melodious flute of the herdsman. However, one of the cattle falls back and gets separated from her herd while returning. There lives a fearsome Tiger which was hungry at that time. The Tiger stops the cow and when it is about to eat the cow, the cow speaks. It says, its calf at the cowshed is hungry by the time and she would go and feed the calf once and come back to the Tiger, who can then eat her at his pleasure. The Tiger, though initially doubts the cow, let it go on her promise to come back without delay. 

The cow will reach its shed and feeds the calf and advises it to learn living without mother. It also requests its fellow cattle to look after her `to be orphan’ calf as their own and not to bully it. The calf also cries asking with whom it shall sleep and who will feed it if not the mother. Cow’s only reply is, its Truth that protects all, as Truth is the Mother, Truth is the Father of all. And the Almighty won’t like you if you breach your words. 

In any case, the cow returns to the Tiger and humbly asks him to eat with all the passion. But the Tiger is shocked to see the mother coming back to be the food of a monster like him. He simply says, it would be unjust on his part to eat the Mother who is like his sister and jumps from the cliff of the rock and dies. 

There is a moment in the novel which makes me recall this folk song. The song has been adopted by Girish Karnad, eminent play/film director in one of his films, based on the novel by another eminent Kannada novelist, S L Bhairappa which opposes cow slaughter. (Later, Karnad regretted his decision to make the film, that apart.) 

For most of us, cow is motherly, earth is motherly, and nature is motherly. Is it because we exploit all feminine aspects of our life beyond all limits? 

A pretty small, poetic novel is a good read, I loved it.

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