By Lalithambika Antharjanam
Translated into English as Agnisakshi: Fire, My Witness by Vasanthi Sankaranarayanan
The only novel of one of Kerala’s leading women writers, Lalithambika Antharjanam’s Agnisakshi is a telling account of a woman’s life glowing as though purified in the ‘fire of sacrifice’. Set against the history of Kerala, and life, customs, habits, and culture of the Namboodiri community, along with the fervent cries of the Indian National Freedom struggle, the characters act out their unforgettable roles: Tethi, the dazzling but disappointed bride who renounces worldly life; Unni Namboodiri, whose adherence to the Vedic way of life destroys his personal happiness; and Thankam, Unni’s Nair cousin and the mighty Aphan Namboodiri’s daughter, seeking her own liberation from the past. Originally serialized in Mathrubhumi Illustrated Weekly and published as a book in 1976, it offers a moving portrait of upper-class, upper-caste Kerala society just before and after Independence while recounting a woman’s struggle for social and political emancipation. It won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1977.
About the Author
The Sahitya Akademi Award winning firebrand writer who helped shape Kerala’s feminist literature and was an active participant in the social reform movements of Kerala in the early 1920s—Lalithambika Antharjanam was born in 1909 to a traditional Namboodiri household in Kottavattom in Kollam district, Kerala. Her chosen form was the short story, which she described as ‘the art form best suited to the powerful interpretation of a comprehensive union of thought and emotion.’ In over a hundred short stories written between the late 1930s and 1970s, Antharjanam depicted the plight of Namboodiri women in Kerala while also shedding light on the effects of the Partition in Punjab and Bengal. Agnisakshi was her only novel while her autobiography Aathmakadhakkoru Aamukham (An Introduction to Autobiography) is also a very significant work. Besides this, her published oeuvre includes six collections of poems and two books for children.