Voice of Women Publication : Sri Lanka
Introduced by Alka Nigam
In this new novel, “The Outsider”, Jean Arasanayagam is caught in the act of self-searching. In the process, she finds her psyche tormented by an acute sense of rootlessness and her present ,since it does not spring directly from her past, hostile. (She belongs to a Dutch Burgher family by birth and embraced Tamil culture after her marriage with Thiagarajah Arasanaygam). The complexity of the situation deepens when she realises that the tension is not so much between her two identities of past and present but between her “selves”-the “selves that pop up from within , both known and unknown, and “selves” outside her.The “selves”outside are those of other women in the family with whom she linked herself by marriage. The female- female relationship presents a kaleidoscopic shift of feminine feelings , often conflicting ones. The daughter-in-law has a sense of awe for once queenly grandeur of her mother-in-law, anger and hurt for her supercilious rejectionof one who does not belong to her hierarchy and ultimately a sense of deep pity for her reduced , finished fate , and of relief for an ironical reversal of the role of the outsider with her daughter-in –law –- the oppressor ends up being an outsider herself . These floating feelings are , however, restrained by the pristine compassion and tenderness of the daughter-in-law. She feels for and therefore identifies herself with her mother-in-law who is in a state of utter loneliness. But this pity is not without a tinge of irony for her ignorance.
In fact the author’s quarrel is not with the arrogance , callousness and egotism of her mother-in –law but with her own self—longing and loneliness, fear and defiance, rebellion and acceptance. The underlying conflict in the relationship between the two states remain unresolved . Jean does not pretend to have the final resolution to this conflict. She knows many conflicts , including this, remain unresolvable. To accept what we are and what we feel and to come up with that , with no intention of “telling it slant” is part of an effort to define female consciousnss with extreme honesty . In the novel there are no masks , no hypocrisy. Rage and rebellion are seen in their nakedness.
Although the work of Jean Arasanayagam derives mostly from masculine tradition, the flashes of vibrant strength emerge directly from her feminine experience. In the present novel , the tradition from androgyne to femininity is complete . The transition to female vocabulary and seemingly trivial incidents not only expose the identity of women in a ritualistic power structured society but also evaluate the complex value system of the society . Thus the novel , placing the personal experience of the author at the centre, tries to assess the destiny of women in culture and presents the interlocked realities of both –the female reality and culture.
Simone de Beauvoir’s remark that men go for transcendentalism and women for immanence , is probably true . But contrary to her belief immanence does not necessarily shut them up. The tormented self of Jean has widened its field immensely; endangered by the encroaching dread of existentialism , it still has enough vitality left to sweep away all the accretion of the ordinary. A part of her self identifies itself with the larger crisis of her nation. The individual tragedies of the victims of bombing are interwoven with the tragedy of her family and she certainly reaches the apex of brilliance when in condensed prose she describes her two visits , one to Sanguvely and the other to Kandaswamy Kovil.The smooth, flat, bench bed of Sittappah with “the tall palmyrah palms with their dark ruffled fronds” and “the tall-leaved mango trees, nelli, vembu, illupai and rustling coconut palms” all around and the ecstatic cries of frenzied devotees “Haro, hara! haro hara!” haunt long after the novel has been closed.
Jean has widened her creative field . In the novel she gives ample evidence of her deep insight into the human psyche. The reader will find this novel particularly stimulating as it takes us right into the painful recesses of her heart.
(An ardent admirer of Jean’s works)
Banaras Hindu University