Found this speech by the late Girish Karnad, theater colossus– the First A.K. Ramanujan Memorial Lecture. He speaks about the litterateur and translator AK Ramanujan himself.
“He was among the first of Indian thinkers to take a serious look at oral tales, lullabies, proverbs, songs, in fact, at the richness of the world of women. He was a much-acclaimed translator from Tamil and Kannada”.
Karnad speaks about the Ramanjuma the collector of oral folklore, the translator and ethnographer. He collected Kannada proverbs and swear words and he translated Vachanas, poems composed by eleventh-century poets. It was while he was studying abroad that he realized that Indian folklore had such deep roots.
“Oral tales are narrated on different occasions in different contexts, but the context that had been totally ignored even by Indian scholars until then was the kitchen.”
This is such a delightful read! Karnad talks about the kitchen where the women weaved their stories for children of different age groups. He talks about folktales as symbolic of women’s agency, something that was lost in translation and in prose. Reading this story was the highlight of this speech for me….
“A housewife knew a story. She also knew a song. But she kept them to herself, never told anyone the story or sung the song.
Imprisoned within her, the story and the song were feeling choked. They wanted release, wanted to run away. One day, when she was sleeping with her mouth open, the story escaped, fell out of her, took the shape of a pair of shoes and sat outside the house. The song also escaped, took the shape of something like a man’s coat, and hung on a peg.
The woman’s husband came home, looked at the coat and the shoes, and asked her, ‘Who is visiting?’
‘No one,’ she said.
‘But whose coat and shoes are those?’
‘I don’t know,’ she replied.
He wasn’t satisfied with her answer. [So they had a fight.] The husband flew into a rage, picked up his blanket and went to the Monkey God’s temple to sleep……
All the lamp flames of the town, once they were put out, used to come to the Monkey God’s temple and spend the night there, gossiping. On this night, all the lamps of all the houses were represented there—except one, which came late.
The others asked the latecomer, ‘Why are you so late tonight?’ ‘At our house, the couple quarreled late into the night,’ said the flame.
‘Why did they quarrel?’
‘When the husband wasn’t home, a pair of shoes came onto the verandah, and a man’s coat somehow got on to a peg. The husband asked her whose they were. The wife said she didn’t know. So they quarreled.’
‘Where did the coat and shoes come from?’
‘The lady of our house knows a story and a song. She never tells the story, and has never sung the song to anyone. The story and the song got suffocated inside; so they got out and have turned into a coat and a pair of shoes. They took revenge. The woman doesn’t even know.’ The husband, lying under the blanket in the temple, heard the lamp’s explanation. His suspicions were cleared. When he went home, it was dawn. He asked his wife about her story and her song. But she had forgotten both of them. ‘What story, what song?’ she said.”
–The Flowering Tree by AK Ramanujan
Reading this lecture is a cathartic experience.