Law of the threshold

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In 1980s in Mysore there was a controversy over a book written by Polanki Rammurty. Polanki, as he was popularly known, was a Professor in the Department of English of University of Mysore. It was a book of literary criticism that ignited controversy and it was titled Sitayana. It presented a daringly unconventional interpretation of Ramayana. Polanki claimed he was offering a Freudian reading and opined that Sita purposely sends off Ram to chase the golden deer because, he suggests, Sita had a crush on Laxman and wanted Ram’s absence. There is much more in that book and I remember very little of it now. I faintly remember that he had something interesting to say on Laxmanrekha too. Sadly, it was a long time back that I read it and my memory is not much to crow about.

I remembered this when I recently read Malashri Lal’s book on Indian Women writers who write in English. Her book is titled The Law of the Threshold. It is admittedly a take on laxmanrekha. But I think it is an evocative phrase to describe Indian women writers. The law refers to not only the patriarchal law, the Freudian law; it also invokes the laws of Manu, and a host of other smritis, legends, myths that in the conventional Indian society produced a lasting male bastion. Patriarchy’s deployment of tradition is forever in the name of ancient laws and law books (samhitas). In Lal’s book there is this additional law coming from the interaction between the traditional ascriptive society and the colonizing culture. Threshold too is evocative as it marks the line that keeps in as well as the one that determines where one has broken the law. It is useful to refer to both the internalization as well as the subversion of patriarchy by women writers. Further it refers also to the different zones accessed by women in novels.

I have some questions about her conclusions, but that will be in another posting. But it surely is a useful framework that Malashri Lal offers in this book. It is therefore sad that the publishers, Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla, are so bad in distribution. I haven’t found this book in too many libraries in
India. Few bookstores keep it. It is definitely a study that deserves better attention.

If you find a copy, happy reading.        

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