Ijaya: Can Indian middle class women ‘afford’ survival drama?

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Most women with a bit of ambition and dreams, in a patriarchal setup, experience a ’emotional displacement’. Though they continue to be part of the family, they become these not-enough-loving mothers or not-enough-attentive wives or not-enough-subservient daughters. All these “not-enough”s come into the foray because they are doing something else too, something else that may enhance their identity but not necessarily add value to the roles they are already playing. Poornima Malagimani’s Ijaya starts with these concerns: Can a woman in a typical household dream of becoming a writer? Even if the technology facilitates ease of publishing and wide readership to the new writer, can she sustain it? As a young gal in Indian middle-class families, one is constantly told, “do whatever you want, but after marriage.” But once married, it changes to “do whatever you want, but after your kids get married and settle down.” How does one circumnavigate such conditioning?

A recent movie, Tribhanga, takes the same concerns and tries to establish the point that not only the woman who puts her ambitions above family, but also her children continue to be displaced in society. Poornima, though, pushes Ijaya to another unthinkable extreme. The fight here is not to belong but to come back to the community. Her choices are questionable, not because they are immoral or unethical, but for being adrenaline-inducing and life-risking in nature. Does she elicit the same amount of sympathy and admiration the other heroes of survival dramas get? Though the writer repeatedly emphasizes chasing dreams and the dispensable nature of our “roles”, this novel provided a great chance to look at survival dramas from a gendered perspective—especially when placed in a middle-class familial structure like ours.

As someone deeply concerned with literature in Indian languages, to me, Ijaya seems to be nothing short of a dream debut. The language is so accessible (hello, naanu innu kannada kalii….taa iddini) to convert non-readers to readers. At the same time, the narrative brings up specific pertinent questions necessary to ponder. Though as a reader, one might have doubts about certain events and responses, one can’t resist turning the pages. The novel ends at a place where Ijaya 2.0 is born. I’d be happy to see a sequel to this novel. As a BWWer and a fellow-Indian-language-fiction-writer, I’m supremely proud of what Poornima pulled off with this novel. BRAVO! This book is already reaching a wide range of readers, and it will continue to do so.

(This is the third novel I could complete in Kannada. Tejo Tungabhadra and Ondu Badi Kadulu being the other two, I could see commonalities in all three. All of them are situated close to water bodies, rivers and seas. Death, displacement, ambition seem to be the common threads. Such enriching reads, I must say! I’ll write a detailed note in Telugu sometime soon.)

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