A Kitchen in the Corner of the House

This book is a collection of stories about the female lived experience of Tamil people. Yeah, let that sink in for a bit. It’s not a short read, rather, it took me quite a while to get through it. The book charts the lives of Tamil women, across class, caste, religion and socio-economic strata. I read it as an e-book because Archipelago were offering it for free but I might pick a copy up at some point. It’s the sort of book you keep.

The book is written by Ambai, which is the pseudonym of feminist author C. S. Lakshmi and was published in 1988. I found that in some ways it was representative of its time, but the wider themes of being a woman are timeless and universal. The translation is high quality, as an example, consider this

“Of course a woman reads Camus too. She reads Sartre. She also reads the Tirumandiram, Akka Mahadevi, and the Sufi poets. But when the entire family is engaged in creating the head of the household, a man, she has to find the nooks and crannies where she can create herself out of the evidence of her own being. It is because she continually asks herself philosophical questions concerning Being that she is able to redeem herself and come outside from the grave-pit of daily living. She lives in a world full of symbols. “Why are you at the window?” is the question underlying her life. The window is the symbol of the world outside. Her freedom lies outside the window.”

And so, you can see, it’s a book you go slow with, and savour. There are some elements which are foreign if you (like me) don’t know much about Tamil people and cultures. But if you are interested, let this be the book that guides you through the customs of one of the ancient groups of people in the world.

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