‘The Lesbian Cow and Other Stories’ steeped in blood

‘The Lesbian Cow and Other Stories’ steeped in blood

Book Title: The Lesbian Cow and Other Stories

Author: Indu Menon

Renu Sud Sinha

I ndu Menon’s book of short stories, ‘The Lesbian Cow and Other Stories’, translated from Malayalam by Nandakumar K, comes with a ‘statutory’ warning — “Not for the fainthearted”.

Blood, gore, violence, oppression, treachery, heartbreak and revenge lie at the core of these 16 stories. The protagonists, mostly women, and a few men as well, are usually at the lowest rung of a hierarchal society steeped in patriarchy. The central characters are often sans any heroic quality but when their dignity and life are stripped, layer by layer, they hit back with their meagre might, often taking their perpetrators over the edge, with or without them.

Everything about Menon’s writings is raw and savage — language, imagery, her multi-layered characters, even her description of beauty, whether of nature or human form.

Her women seem like a reflection of Menon’s own cherubic self — clad in Kanjivarams, sporting vermillion bindis — the traditional exterior a perfect foil for the inner liberated self, embracing their primal desires without any guile. That wiliness is only reserved for plotting revenge against their oppressors. Then no machination or sacrifice is too small.

In ‘D’, Pashumala, a Tamil Eelam sympathiser, makes her nephew’s pregnant wife a human bomb to avenge atrocities by the peacekeeping forces. Gond tribal Bashundhra, in ‘The Creature’, kills her rapists with a razor blade hidden inside her body. In ‘The Lexicon of Kisses’, Krishnakumar, one of the few male protagonists, finds closure for his betrayal when he pushes his old love out of his life... from a moving train.

Menon’s is a fresh voice rising against the hypocrisy of restrictive and moralising social mores. ‘Virgins Who Walk on Water’ is a tale of lesbian love that emerges triumphant over countless horrors of familial abuse, terrible beatings and forced marriage in a conservative society in no mood to accept ‘deviations’. The titular story, ‘The Lesbian Cow’ is about a bovine-featured nurse, whose pursuance of a patient is only stopped by her death.

Dubbed the new-age Kamala Das, Menon’s bold stance against everything authoritative — societal norms, patriarchal systems, traditions — makes her a worthy inheritor. However, Menon’s narratives are even bolder than her predecessor’s. Sex, à la Das, is not a dirty word in her writings that only reflect the reality of times. As a tool of punishment or domination, her description of sex forces the reader to face the ugliness of the brutal act, whether it is the rape of the body or the soul.

However, her pen doesn’t always drip savagery. It also writes about love that is tender and caring, and passion that’s not always fiery but has gentle hues.

Her stories are full of stench — of the unvarnished life truths, of suppressed rights, of unfulfilled desires, of ever-elusive justice. And like stench they rise sharply, forcing a placid, pretentious society to smell the reality of our times despite its covered nose.