Last weekend was preparation for a special edition of an Anthology for Llanelli Writers Circle’s twenty-fifth year. John has contributed his crime story: 2014 winner of ‘Family Connections’ and his ghost story:2011 winner of ‘Better Late than Never.’ I submitted the first chapter of ‘Outcaste’ which won the same President Shield for short stories in 2010 and the Shirley Edwards Award 2009 for travel and ‘Sense of Place.’ I also included a short piece of ‘The Waiting Room,’ in light verse.
Now for a brief rationale of the ‘Outcaste.’ I have always been intrigued by the inequalities in the social order, which unfairly shuns people, either through status and riches on one hand; and at the expansive inclusion of all of humanity, by saints and sages on the other.
At the end of my very first tour of India, as a child, I contracted typhoid and was bedridden, unable to get to the outside-toilet, in my ancestral village. An improvised temporary latrine dug, just outside the front door, was emptied daily by an outcaste-woman, shunned by the neighbourhood. This must have caused a deep impression. What would it be like to be a human being born in that ostracised stratum? This is a question, which could have led to this tale.
How does a girl embedded in the lowest rank of caste system, rise from her circumstances? For the story to develop, she had to rise above, but still had to be on the edge of society, in order to overcome challenges, even as opportunities came her way. This was perhaps, when the idea of being rescued by a devadasi arose, in a time when devadasis were respected. This meant that I had to set the story in the South; incorporating the outcaste, the devadasi, a king and a saint. I may be giving out spoilers, if I explain devadasis and outcastes.
The story draws a picture of both. Coming from a traditional background, my father didn’t want me to train in dancing because of this association, much like ‘Don’t put your daughter on stage, Mrs. Worthington!’ The term devadasi was usually said in hushed, disapproving tones.
She was not a courtesan, but literally a temple-servant. I will let my character speak, as she introduces herself, “Yes, Darling-Chellam! Originally devadasis were celibate all their life. A lot of ancient puranas record singing and dancing girls for worship at the temple. Many places of worship. had as many devadasis in proportion to the wealth of the temples. A devadasi has to dance to satisfy her own soul, usually unwatched, offering herself wholly to God or Goddess. Then local kings often invited temple dancers to dance in their courts, and on these occasions they became rajadasis. My full name as a devadasi is Kama Dhayini, to grant all desires; it is my duty to take care of myself in every way, in order to give pleasure and sukha/happiness.
The truth is that devadasis play a significant part in Indian temples: we take part in the cleaning of temples, lighting lamps, singing devotional songs and dressing the images and best of all: dancing in devotion to the deities. We are custodians of all the arts; especially in dance and music.”
I wanted to show a person, without any privileges despite all the trials in life, had the capacity to grow and succeed, especially when nurtured with unconditional love.