P. Sathyavathi is among the front rank feminist storytellers in Andhra and Telangana states. Her literary oeuvre is too voluminous (seven novels and five collections) to permit detailed mention in these columns.
As I sat down to sample her works with a view to draw a symbolic literary portrait of hers my eyes landed upon an extraordinary story Avida (That woman) from her Melakuva collection. I thought it encapsulated the entire universe of her feminist and humanist philosophy.
The story throws light on the areas of darkness festering our family structures where, like bats. we hang our prejudices and misanthropic tendencies.. It derives legitimacy from highlighting the role of property in defining the profile of life in a family and using tradition, an invisible and authorless force, to create hierarchies. An entire man-made freewheeling manifesto governs the minds of men who do not hesitate to cheat their own siblings no matter they are widows. The everydayness of these realities is so ubiquitous that they fail to arouse us from our moral coma.
Woman is Sathyavathi?s favorite protagonist and for most of her stories the locale is the family, the birthplace of inequities and the republic of conspiracies, rivalries and betrayals. I chose Avida because it offers a synoptic glimpse of her feminist credo. This story opens with the barely mourned death of an old man and traverses through the moral ruins of the life that preceded it and the aftermath too. The old man is a widower with two children, a son and a daughter. In the evening of his life he remarries a woman twenty years younger than him. The way the story swings between a funereal present and a past that is its context is a sample of the structural artistry of this ace storyteller.
Avida also comes to the wake and sits unobtrusively, away from the mourners. Her presence doesn't surprise them but occasions a round of innuendos and acid-dipped barbs within her hearing, speculating she had married the old man for the sake of property. After the last rites and after all the relatives and mourners, barring the old man's son and daughter, the climactic truth bursts out. The daughter asks Avida what made her marry an old man like her father. She tells her that after the death of both her parents in an accident, she found shelter in an ailing uncle's place. The old man was a friend of the uncle. When he heard his friend was worried about the future of his ward, the old man offers to marry her. Avida agrees to marry him despite knowing he had willed his property to his son and daughter by the first wife. This piece of revelation stokes remorse in the old man's daughter Roshni who cringes for erecting a wall between herself and her father and blaming the stepmother for that. A cathartic end.