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Monologues of Mahalakshmi by Nihar Satpathy


Monologues of Mahalakshmi by Nihar Satpathy 

Reviewed by

Dr. Prakash Chandra Pradhan


Department of English

Banaras Hindu University

Uttar Pradesh, India


Monologues of Mahalakshmi | Novella | Nihar Satpathy |

Bird Nest, 2020, pp. 88, INR 150

ISBN: 978-93-88824-92-7

Monologues of Mahalakshmi by Nihar Satpathy is an original attempt by the author to revisit the narrative of Lakshmi Puran written by Sri Balaram Das in the 15th century. Sri Satpathy has   presented the narrative in a new style and technique though he has retained the values aimed at inculcating them among the Odias. He has brought out the dilemma of Mahalakshmi   who reflects on the two evils of the society, namely negligence of women and caste discriminations. The monologic structure of narrative apparently seems to be based on Lakshmi narrating her story. However, the narrative invites the readers to participate and interact with her. The dominant voice of Lakshmi is to raise an awareness among the Odias, both men and women.  They must understand the situation of a woman in Odia culture and society because women are often relegated to the back door and treated as inferior in status rather than being considered as equal which is their rightful claim. Sri Satpathy has actually emphasised this aspect in his narrative although he has nowhere presented Lakshmi violating the norms of a true Odia woman who always maintains her sanctity for establishing an order in the family. The author is conscious of this important typical cultural trait in his narrative.

The book begins with Mahalakshmi narrating her story of returning home after a quarrel with her husband, Lord Jagannath. The narration draws a parallel between what happened to women hundreds of years ago, and what is their situation in the contemporary society in the 21st century. Mahalakshmi does not believe in feminist ideas which might disturb the peaceful tranquillity of an Odia society. Of course, she does not appreciate certain patriarchal ideologies and norms which are irrelevant and irrational. These are therefore irrelevant and they have no standing to continue any more in our culture. Women need more space of their own individuality and justified freedom for their existence and identity. Further, she believes in a social order where both men and women should have to live together for a better and healthier society. Sri Satpathy’s Mahalakshmi in Monologues of Mahalakshmi is more human and less godly. Mahalakshmi seeks permission of her husband for an outing on her day of worship, the first Thursday of Margashir. While seeking her permission, she was doubtful if her husband had fully agreed and permitted her to move around the city to have an interaction with her devotees. That is because Lord Jagannath asked Lakshmi to see that her visit to her devotees did not affect cooking and other domestic chores in the temple that day. This is how a woman does not have a space of her own, and even a free time to her own fulfilment and desires. The authorial voice is critical of the patriarchal mind-set of the society: “Lakshmi, you should remain within the boundaries of the town when you go out. And before leaving, you should also ensure that the cooking for the day is finished in the temple” (p 13). Satpathy’s Lakshmi, like Balaram Das’s, also attires herself best in good clothes and beautiful ornaments. That is the case with most of the women to make up when they go out. Mahalakshmi walked in the streets to see how her devotees prepared themselves for the occasion of her worship that Thursday. She was much impressed with the Alpana decorated on the floors in the doorsteps of her devotees to welcome her on that fateful day of Margashir.

Though Balaram Das has not made any divisions in his narrative poem, Satpathy has however presented the story of Mahalakshmi in a new style in his Monologues. He has adopted an alternate mode of narration dividing the book into ten chapters. The second chapter in the book therefore has been presented in third person narrative technique where Mahalakshmi tells us the story of the two brothers, their sufferings and miseries after her departure from the Temple soon after her quarrel with her husband. This chapter is reflective, and here Lakshmi tells the story from her memory and perspective. Narration from memory is an important technique to arrest the attention of the readers to certain important issues the authorial voice emphasises. As is the case in ‘Introductory’ chapter, so also in chapter 3, Lakshmi tells her own story in the first person narrative style. In the long chapter 3, Lakshmi explains the detailed procedures of her Puja to Sadhavani, the trader’s wife, one of her devotees who has been much more anxious to know about it. She has also advised the trader’s wife to follow a lot of dos and don’ts in her life. Chapter 4, written in the 3rd person narrative, deals with the untold sufferings of the two brothers, Lord Jagannath and Lord Bhalabhadra, when they were roaming the streets as beggars. In chapter 5, Lakshmi’s interaction with her favourite devotee Sriya, an untouchable woman, is very interesting. Impressed with the sincere devotion of Sriya, Goddess Lakshmi grants her boons, and then comes back to the Temple in a hurry to look after the domestic chores. This chapter elucidates Mahalakshmi’s kindness and concerns towards the downtrodden people and untouchables. Goddess Lakshmi has no discriminations. She loves Sriya because of her simplicity and sincerity in keeping the house clean, and worships her with a deep sense of devotion. However, her love for the untouchable Sriya has a turning point in the story. Soon after her return, there has been a serious quarrel between Lord Jagannath and Mahalakshmi because of his elder brother’s objections to Lakshmi’s love for the untouchable Sriya and her visit to the houses of downtrodden and untouchable people in the city. The quarrel pertinently brings out the dominance of patriarchal culture in exploiting women and the downtrodden people in the hierarchy of the society.

Sri Satpathy’s book contains a foreword, an introductory chapter, “Fast-forward” (5 chapters) and “Rewind” (4 chapters).  Through this structural arrangement, Sri Satpathy perhaps wants to achieve certain objectives that make the book different from Balaram Das’s book.  Chapters 1, 3,5, 9 (Fast-forward) and introductory chapter constitute the part of the story Lakshmi narrates from her perspective; and chapters 2,4,6,8 and 10 (Rewind chapters), which are alternately written to the odd numbered chapters in the structure of the book, are described by Lakshmi in reference to what happened to the two brothers, Lord Jagannath and Balabhadra after her departure from the temple soon after the classic feud between her and her husband on that fateful day. So the “Fast- forward” chapters focus on the miseries, sufferings and realizations of the two brothers, and the “Rewind” chapters are more reflective in nature, and focus on the centrality of Lakshmi and her arguments, viewpoints and importance. These chapters also critically examine male chauvinism, patriarchal ideologies as well as the beautiful relationship between husband and wife in Odia culture. Moreover, the entire book is a critique of the Odia society, both good and bad aspects of the culture, the joys and pleasures of Odia family life.

Mahalakshmi had never thought of deserting her Lord though she wanted the brothers to realise her necessity and importance in their life. Like all women, she was angry because she was emotionally hurt. As such she took the help of a number of deities and gods entrusted with specific powers such as Saraswati, Vishwakarma, Agni, Sun god, Astabetalas and so on to fulfil her mission of bringing the two brothers to the knees so that they could understand the significance of a woman like Lakshmi in their lives. She also wanted the brothers to realise how there should not be any discrimination between castes in the society. Achieving these fits when the two brothers realised their mistakes, Mahalakshmi returned to her “private sanctum at the corner of the temple compound, while the two lords took their places at the sanctum sanctorum of the grand temple” (p 88). Satpathy’s Lakshmi finally pleads that her diplomacy/action has no mala fide intention, and also it should not be construed as “a vindication of feminism” (p 88).  That is because she respected the male folk, her “consort Lord Jagannath being the foremost among them” (p 88). Despite the fact that Lakshmi indulged in a lot of gimmicks in her war against the wrong ideologies in patriarchy, her ultimate goal is not to harm her Lord. This cultural ethos is prevalent in Odia culture even today. Of course, in the circumstances there have been certain changes in Odia society. However, basic tenets of Odia culture - the depth of relationship between husband and wife and a peaceful coexistence of all castes without demeaning the lower castes – are still continuing.

Sri Satpathy’s Monologues of Mahalakshmi is an important book in this perspective though the narrative of Lakshmi has been delineated in a different mode and style. The distinctive way of presenting the narrative in the alternate mode of “Fast-Forward” and “Rewind” is definitely refreshing, and adds more flavour to Balaram Das’s culturally enriched book, Lakshmi Puran. Monologuesof Mahalakshmi does not contradict the former book by Balaram Das in its effort to bring an order in the society in the context of values and culture of Odia family. Both the books are complimentary to each other.  Sri Satpathy’s book presenting the narrative in a new mode adds to the values portrayed in the original, and the book itself also explores certain new ideas and vision. The book thus contributes much by providing pleasure and enlightenment. It is quite engaging, and gives us a pleasant reading experience. The colloquial simple style is not an obstruction to present the powerful thoughts Sri Satpathy tries to focus on. His mastery of English language is commendable. Often his style attains poetic flavour with a high degree of poetic sensibility.  It is an oversight on the part of Sri Satpathy to commit two typographical errors on pages 25 and 29. Inadvertently he has written Jagannath Das which should have been Balaram Das.  The book is a sincere effort to refresh the story of Mahalakshmi to bring in certain contemporary flavour for drawing our attention to the key issues of our culture and society. It does not dilute the spirit of the original story. It however enriches it in a significant way because of the issues already discussed in this review.