Book Review

The Glass Bead Curtain: Lakshmi Kannan

--Mohd Farhan

Publisher: Vitasta

Extent: 393pp

Price: Rs 299

Illustrating the stark realities of marginalized women in fiction is no less than a remarkable job. A succession of Indian women novelists has depicted the meaning of being a woman in India in their works in various ways. One of these novelists is Lakshmi Kannan, also known by her Tamil pen name, Kaaveri. She has three collections of poetry and two novels to her credit and translates her works from Tamil into English herself. Her most recent novel, The Glass Bead Curtain unfolds the story of a girl transforming into a woman in an Indian stereotypical society. The book reflects how such a transformational journey is painful for a woman craving for sports and books.

The novel gives a slight glimpse of metafiction. At the outset of book reader is introduced to a writer, Shailja, writing a novel called The Glass Bead Curtain, whose protagonist is someone  called Kalyani. Tall, tanned, Kalyani is an innocent child who loves the works of Charles Lamb, Francis Bacon and William Shakespeare. She nurtures the bond with her Irish tutor, Susan O’ Leary, who instills in her the sense of confidence and self-reliance. But all her hopes, passions and ambitions are stifled when she is married off as a child. Along with the end of her formal schooling, now she is often mocked by her female in-laws for her passion for books and for her height. But Kalyani finds solace in her husband, who encourages her to do what she loves.

The title of the novel is not really evocative, but the two child brides on the cover are really striking.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

The recurrent theme is the exploitation of women that is made to seem so natural that even the woman psychic cannot think out of the box and women in general accept it quietly. Under the pretext of religion, society and culture they are made to feel that quashing their rights is a legitimate phenomenon. Kalyani’s mother in-law, Ambujan, assumes that providing education to the girls is not only wrong but also inauspicious. For her ‘It is quite another thing when a family has a widowed girl [...] Because she has to do something with her life.’ The book mirrors the life of marginalized Indian women and also reflects the idea of a separate, mystical ‘feminine nature’ that is considered inferior to men’s in the society.

After her marriage Kalyaani is forbidden to continue her schooling because it is an ill omen and may create havoc for the entire family. Only widowed girls are allowed to go to school. Ambujan, despite being a woman herself, disapproves of another woman having any rights, in this case, Kalyani. The women, too, feel that stifling their freedom and rights and being relegated to the second place in society is normal. Ambujan is symbolic of such women, while Kalyani’s husband, Natrajan, a well-educated man, allows Kalyani’s studies to continue even after marriage and persuades her to make a career as a badminton coach she desperately wanted.

The entire story reflects the essence of these Simone’s words, ‘One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.’ It is really a poignant tale unveiling painful realities of how women are oppressed for the sake of culture and religion.   

The whole story is narrated effortlessly. The novel is packed with the examples of linguistic skill and compelling narrative; there are few Tamil terms interspersed with English ones in the book, but a glossary at the end makes it easier for the reader to understand. By writing this book, Lakshmi Kannan has really accomplished fighting for the cause of women. She has given voice to the silenced women through her brilliant women characters. The book provides a deeper understanding of different biases against women.                                                                                                                                                                         ............................................................................................................................

Mohd Farhan