March 24, 2023


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Book Excerpt: Kalindi (Brahmakanya)- A Novel by Shridhar Vyankatesh Ketkar (Translated by Shanta Gokhale)

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An exclusive excerpt from Kalindi (Brahmakanya)- A Novel by Shridhar Vyankatesh Ketkar (Translated by Shanta Gokhale), published by Speaking Tiger Books, 2022.

1. Leaving Home

Intrepid champions of women’s education in the town were deeply grieved to hear Kalindi’s story. What can one say about Kalindi’s parents? They were filled with such disgust at her reckless behaviour that they swore never to see her face again. The townspeople were thrilled to have a spicy titbit to chew over. It is time we provided a full account of what Kalindi did to bring such shame on her family.

Kalindi was studying in the final year for her Bachelor of Arts degree. Her parents fully expected that, when she passed, she would be widely felicitated; that the news would appear in the press and her photograph in illustrated magazines. But now all their expectations were dashed. Kalindi had dropped out of college. That was not all. She had left her parents’ home to live with a merchant named Shivsharanappa as his mistress. Shivsharanappa, a Lingayat by caste, owned a tobacco shop in Bhavani Peth. His car had served to ferry voters when Kalindi’s father had stood for the municipal elections. Kalindi’s parents were naturally furious with Shivsharanappa. But what use was that? They could not even drag him to court for seducing their daughter. She was twenty-one years old after all. We have minted a coin that has turned out false they said to themselves, swallowing their anger in silence.

Kalindi’s father, Appasaheb Dagge, would even have married Kalindi to Shivsharanappa to provide a moral cover for an immoral act. But how could he do that? Shivsharanappa was already married. Moreover, his mind was not calm enough to allow him to think rationally about how this wrong could be made legally right. Appasaheb was angry with his daughter not so much because she had done herself harm, but because she had brought him infamy. However, given his family history of the last couple of generations, he could not be certain that any efforts on his part could have assured her of a better future than the one she had chosen for herself. We must recount that history to understand why Kalindi did what she did.

When Appasaheb Dagge married, his moral courage was praised sky-high, and his liberal spirit greatly applauded. Needless to say, the praise came chiefly from self-serving people. Appasaheb was young at the time and Kalindi’s mother Shanta was known to be a well-educated and beautiful girl. Well-educated did not mean university educated. She had passed the fourth or fifth grade at school. In those days, this meant well-educated when referring to girls. There were people who even declared vehemently that if Hindu society wished to think of itself as civilized, it could not refuse to accept a well-educated girl like Shanta just because her mother’s life was blemished. However, a suggestion had been made earlier to the mother by those very people whose hearts bled for social reform. They suggested that she should ‘put sentiment aside, look at the issue practically’, persuade the girl to convert to Christianity and marry a Christian youth.

It was common for beautiful, well-educated girls to become the subject of discussion in college canteens and even lawyers’ chambers. Appasaheb Dagge, who had recently been awarded a Bachelor of Law degree, had had an argument with a colleague about Shanta. ‘Why should the girl convert to Christianity?’ he had demanded. ‘Are there no men of courage in our Hindu community who will marry her?’ This question had travelled all over town and reached the ears of Shanta’s mother and the man she called her husband. A few days later the ‘husband’, Dr Chintopant, requested a meeting with Appasaheb. He praised Appasaheb for his liberal spirit and reformist views and, by the end of the meeting, had persuaded him to marry Shanta. Dr Chintopant then went about town praising Appasaheb for taking the reformist cause forward. While Dr Chintopant and some of his friends applauded Appasaheb’s progressive views, others declared him ‘an ass who has corrupted his caste by falling in love with a girl for her beauty’. Others went further. They wondered if there was not, perhaps, some grave flaw in Appasaheb himself, unknown to them. He must surely have some ulterior motive in agreeing to marry the girl. Some senior lawyers surmised that this could be Appasaheb’s ruse to gain favour with ‘Mahadeo Govinda’ (the term they snidely used for the reformist Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade), in order to ensure an early promotion to the post of Munsif for himself. Needless to say, nobody knew with any certitude Appasaheb’s actual feelings in the matter.

This is how he had put it to himself: ‘Brahmins are a liberal people. Those who are thrown out of the caste today will surely be taken back tomorrow while those who are in today and consider a daughter to be a blot on the family, will be out tomorrow. The brahmin caste will be thrown open to all. Once that happens, the age when a Matsyagandha, a fisherman’s daughter, gave birth to a sage will return and brahmins will be responsible for uniting all castes.’

Excerpted with permission from author/s Shridhar Vyankatesh Ketkar and Shanta Gokhale along with the publisher of Kalindi (Brahmakanya)- A Novel, Speaking Tiger Books, 2023.

About the Book

It is the early 1900s in Mumbai. Educated and financially independent, Kalindi Dagge dreams of living in a casteless and equitable society as a single mother—a life far removed from the one she had in the stifling world she left behind. A world where she was the daughter of a brahmin lawyer, Appasaheb Dagge, and the casteless Shanta; and the granddaughter of another brahmin and his schoolteacher mistress who rejected the idea of marriage. A world in which she was an outcast; the daughter of a man who rejected his caste but not his caste pride. A world where she had reclaimed her grandmother’s legacy and chosen, in defiance of family and society, to live as the mistress of Shivsharanappa, a Lingayat tobacco merchant, who later abandoned her and left her on the verge of suicide. As she rebuilds her identity now in the big city, she wonders what it would be like to start a new life based on love and respect with Ramrao, a trade union leader who shares her ideologies and dreams.

Shridhar Vyankatesh Ketkar’s masterpiece, originally published as Brahmankanya in 1930, has been hailed as brave and ahead of its times. This magnificent translation by celebrated author and translator Shanta Gokhale brings the classic alive for the contemporary reader, and we see how relevant it remains almost a century later.

About the Author

Dr Shridhar Vyankatesh Ketkar (MA, PhD) was a sociologist, historian and Marathi novelist. Dr Ketkar is widely known as the chief editor of the first ever encyclopaedia in Marathi, which comprised selected writings of Indian and European scholars, Maharashtriya Jnanakosha. He also published several scholarly papers, founded and ran three magazines and wrote six novels, each with a strong sociological theme. Brahmankanya (1930) was the fifth.

About the Translator

Shanta Gokhale is a bilingual writer, translator and theatre critic. Both her Marathi novels, RitaWelinkar and TyaVarshi, have won Maharashtra State awards. Her most recent books are her memoir, One Foot on the Ground, which won the Crossword Award for non-fiction, and Shivaji Park. She has translated Lakshmibai Tilak’s classic autobiography, Smritichitre, for which she received the Sahitya Akademi Award for Translation, and the novel Kautik on Embers (Dhag) by Uddhav J. Shelke, besides several plays. She has also received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for overall contribution to the performing arts and lifetime achievement awards from Thespo, Ooty Literary Festival and Tata Literature Live!.