books, culture

How I Remembered “The God of Small Things”

I read a CNN news published on October 24, 2008 which kept on going back to my mind. The news is about a socially acceptable practice in India called “polyandry“, more specifically “fraternal polyandry“. Polyandry is a polygamous marraige in which a woman is married to two or more husbands at the same time. Fraternal polyandry happens when a woman is married to two or more brothers at the same time.

The particular news above tells of a story of two brothers sharing a wife for economic reasons. They can’t afford to divide the land they inherited so what could be a better way to preserve their possession than to share everything. Including a wife. Their young sons are also talking about sharing a wife someday. Well, I guess, Indira Devi, the wife featured in the news is “luckier” compared with the others who are married to three or four brothers. I enclosed “luckier” in quotations because that is my perspective. I come from a world where monogamy is THE tradition. Being “lucky” or “unlucky” is a matter of perspective. Oh, well, this discussion deserves another post.

How I came to remember “The God of Small Things” by Arundhati Roy is serendipitous. I read this book years ago. The only connection between the two is India. Nevertheless, I remembered this book which had me troubled for weeks. Alright, now there are two connections. The news above and the book were troubling.

“The God of Small Things” is a beautifully written book despite the circumstances falling on the characters. What stuck me really is the fact that a young man’s personality can be defined by one singular moment… minutes can extend into a lifetime if those minutes are too traumatic. Rahel and Estha are the central characters, though other characters are more interesting. They had a traumatic childhood brought about by the drama of the people that came before them. Take for example Baby Kochamma who fell in love with an Irish priest and in her desire to be with him, she converted to become a Catholic only to discover that the Irish priest has converted to Hindu. Baby Kochamma is central to the tragedy in the lives of the twins. The twins mother, Ammu, has an even more tragic love story. She married the father of the twins to escape the cruelty of her father only to leave him after being an abused wife. She fell in love with an “Untouchable” and this is where the drama went fullscale. Estha was molested by a food vendor as a young boy. This incident, together with the circumstances surrounding the death of their mother’s lover, was too much for him to handle he became a recluse. The twins were separated at age 7 and only saw each other again at age 31. Their pasts and their separation may have been too much for them they committed incest.

Aside from the incest element in the novel, it is the molestation of Estha which lingered after I read the story. It could have been because I chanced upon the novel after a very, very dear friend confided that he is gay. He, too, was molested during his childhood. This is far from making a conclusion that gay men become what they are because they were molested as boys.

Roy tackled a very sensitive subject. It’s impact on me may have been magnified because I read it shortly after my friend’s confession. The news above kept on going back to my mind maybe because it shakes my own personal belief in how a world should be.

As I read the readers’ comments on the news, I was even made to see that others feel strongly and yearn to be respected for the life they choose to live. Being different does not mean being wrong. We just choose which kind of life we want and where and with whom we will be happy with.

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