The Stone Laughs and
La Sa Ramamirthan (La Sa Ra) is a much-loved Tamil writer. His two sequential novellas, The Stone Laughs and Atonement, are expertly translated from Tamil by Padma Narayanan.
Both novellas are infused with mystical elements, philosophical truths as well as ordinariness of the events. At the background, these are studies of human relationships. La Sa Ra, through his character Dharamrajan, explores various predicaments of life.
Dharamrajan had been orphaned early in life. His uncle, a temple priest, brought him up. He started his career as a travelling salesman and later worked in a bank where he helped Gomati get a job. After twelve years, they met each other quite by accident and the two tried to catch what all happened in their lives in the intervening period.
The only solace in Gomatiís disillusioned married life was her son, Prashanth. To meet the debts of her gambler husband, she had to hold her jewels as security with Manekchand. Dharamrajan showed a touch of concern for Gomati and made an enormous sacrifice. He worked for Manekchand as a cook, who treated him not less than a brother. One day, he stole the cloth bag containing Gomatiís jewels. It was his misfortune that the Seth died on that particular day and the suspicion fell on Dharma. The first novella ends here.
The second novella picks up the thread, in which the protagonist tries to reconcile his past actions to be "at one" again.
Dharma was given a prison term of five years, but because of his good conduct, he was out after just three-and-a-half. The more he struggled for detachment, the deeper he was entangled in relationships.
All circumstances and events pushed him harder towards his destiny. His married life was a complete disaster. His wife and dancer daughter left him because they were taken in by the vision of stardom, fame and fortune. Despite all adversities, his devotion for Goddess Kamalambikai was a constant source of comfort. At the end of the book, the author tries to plug the holes in the narrative. He brings all significant characters together and gets the protagonist to unfold his actions.
The writer is able to strike a chord with the reader and hold his attention to the end. La Sa Raís greatest virtue lies in his use of arresting symbolism and musicality in his work.
The reading is easy and one feels a sense of Tamil originality. Padma Narayanan has succeeded admirably in capturing the essence, flavour and the subtleties of the original. Above all, there are no awful errors that seem to mark translation.