Trisha Ghosal reviews A Woman Burnt (Originally Written by Imayam in Tamil and translated into English by GJV Prasad)
Upon a friend’s suggestion, I delved into ‘A Woman Burnt.’ I’m drawn to books that lay bare society’s hypocrisy. These fictional narratives offer a glimmer of hope, revealing that there are those who grasp the urgency of a mindset shift. These books, I believe, are the catalysts for change. So, I eagerly embraced this book the moment I read its blurb.
Imayam’s ‘A Woman Burnt,’ a translation of the Sahitya Akademi Award-winning ‘Selladha Panam,’ immerses readers in the harrowing world of a burns victims’ ICU at JIPMER, Puducherry. Here, Revathi’s agonizing journey, her body marred by burns, becomes a searing narrative that unveils the gaping societal divides of class, caste, and economics.
Revathi’s scars run deeper than her physical wounds. She defies customs, kindling the wrath of deeply ingrained gender and class prejudices. A headmaster’s daughter and an engineer, she falls head over heels for Ravi, a Burmese auto driver. Their love, intense and unwavering, leads Revathi to the brink of suicide when her family disapproves. A quiet wedding follows, but her family severs ties, considering this alliance beneath their class, stripping them of honor.
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Six years pass, and only Revathi’s mother and sister-in-law offer support, while her father and brother maintain a cold distance. Then, a call shatters their apathy as Revathi’s burning body is rushed to the hospital. The narrative takes a gripping turn, focusing on the events in and outside the ICU.
Narrative and Storyline
Imayam’s narrative style is hauntingly realistic, forcing readers to confront the unspeakable suffering of burn victims and their anguished families. At times, the pain is so palpable that it becomes a test of resilience to continue reading.
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The book becomes a scathing critique of male entitlement and societal complicity in the face of female suffering. Imayam’s prose, deceptively simple, sears with truth. He unflinchingly exposes the cultural and social norms responsible for the agony of women set ablaze or driven to self-immolation. The mindset chasms within society are laid bare, eroding our collective compassion and humanity. In pursuit of societal honor, we forsake the essential values of compassion, love, respect, and support.
GJV Prasad’s translation retains the essence of Tamil culture, evoking a profound sense of shame that such horrifying acts against women persist in our society.
The book’s power lies in its poignant quotes:
“In the whole world, there is nothing as debased, as shameless, as the heart.” – The heart knows no boundaries of class, creed, or gender.A Woman Burnt by Imayam
“As soon as I saw you like an infant getting lost in a huge festival crowd, I lost my heart.” – We are all lost in life’s chaotic crowd, seeking connection and understanding.A Woman Burnt by Imayam
“If she hadn’t had education, belonged to the right caste, and job, would she and Ravi have been the same?” – A thought-provoking reflection on the deep-seated classist mentality in our society.A Woman Burnt by Imayam
Imayam’s ‘A Woman Burnt’ is not just a book; it’s a searing journey that forces us to confront uncomfortable truths, a testament to the resilience of the human spirit in the face of immense suffering and societal indifference. If you seek books that shatter your comfort zone and provoke your thinking, this one is a must-read.
Have you read this heartbreaking story on resilience of the human spirit? What do you think of it? Drop a comment below and let us know!