A Rich and Poignant Life
Barnita Bagchi
FRAGMENTS OF A LIFE: A FAMILY ARCHIVE by Mythili Sivaraman Zubaan, Delhi, 2006, 207 pp., 395
June 2006, volume 30, No 6

Mythili Sivaraman has written an outstanding book. It is moving, angry, grounded in the everyday, and speaks, in true democratic spirit, to the common reader (its subject, Subbalakshmi, was one such avid, intelligent reader) and to academic specialists in history and women’s studies. Its focus is Sivaraman’s grandmother, the aforementioned Subbalakshmi, who lived from c. 1897 to 1978, in a Tamil Brahmin milieu. The title of the book might equally and aptly have been ‘Shards of a Life’; we have a powerful sense of jagged, sharp edges in the life of a woman who spent the long last years of her life in the throes of mental illness, who could not realize her cherished wish of going to Shantiniketan and having her daughter educated there, another of whose impossible dreams was to live in South Africa as an activist working for and with indentured Indian labourers there. Perpetually deferred, the dreams that surcharged her being eventually turned to nightmare; her epilepsy, which, Sivaraman point out, could have been treated had her husband chosen to use western medicine instead of spurning it

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