T Janakiraman’s novel The Crimson Hibiscus is, at one level, the story of an ordinary man prematurely burdened by duties and responsibilities. Equally though, it is the story of an entire era and of that complex eco-system called the joint family. This sensitively translated, beautifully produced novel is a quintessential small-town big story tied as it is to place and to the larger context of being human. The translator manages to retain the distinct flavour of the original and we are never away from the Tamil linguistic and cultural context.
Sattanaathan grows up in a family that understands only the language of trade. His older brothers are both tradesmen. Chinna Annan runs a small grocery store in Sembanur, while Peria Annan is engaged in wholesale trade of paddy and ghee in Chidambaram. Keen on book-learning, Sattanaathan who is the only one pursuing education, is the odd one out. Sadly though, the universe has other plans for him and following the death of Chinna Annan, he is forced to abandon his books and take over the reins of the household. There is an inevitability to this that he cannot and does not quarrel with. This is the path that Sattanaathan must take and it is the one he embraces fully. Before his plunge into a householder’s life, he finds brief companionship in the tiny flowers growing in abundance on the ridges of the fields. This constitutes the novel’s pastoral moment, a poignant interlude that is soon to be interrupted.