The Tamil Brahmin community has for me been an enigma, mainly because of their rites and rituals that begin or close any event of everyday life. The rich symbolism in lifestyle patterns, the pragmatically intelligent womenfolk, the shrewd menfolk and the sharp children have always piqued my interest in knowing the culture of this segment of society that has remained strictly within the confines of its natural habitat.
So, when the opportunity of these cloistered confines opening up through Lamps in the Whirlpool, an English translation of Suzhalil Mithakkum Deepangal, presented itself to me, I looked in to discover a world very different yet similar. A quick read of the 116-page novella left me wondering about the strident normalizing of orthodoxy and patriarchy in the world within and without.Thanks to the initiative of the Tamil Nadu Textbook and Educational Services Corporation to identify and translate contemporary Tamil literary works into English, non-Tamil readers now have a chance to experience the angst in Rajam Krishnan’s Suzhalil Mithakkum Deepangal (1987) through the translation by Uma Narayanan and Prema Seetharam. The central metaphor of the novella rests on ‘boat lamps fashioned from leaves, each carrying a lighted wick’, set afloat on the river Ganga at the hour of the evening deepaarati.