Thursday, June 14, 2007

Sketches from Memory

Laxmibai Tilak singularly championed the cause of girls’ education in Maharashtra in the early twentieth century. Sketches from Memory is her autobiography, tracing as it does her relationship with her scholar husband through his conversion to Christianity and her selfeducation.

Time Out
(Mumbai ISSUE 21 Friday, June 15, 2007)

The best-known of the classic conversion stories, Laxmibai Tilak’s Sketches From Memory has just been published in a new translation by Louis Menezes, a Jesuit priest now at St Xavier’s School in Mumbai. Unlike the OUP translation titled I Follow After, published in 1950, this translation is from the abridged Marathi version prepared by Laxmibai’s son D N Tilak, and published by Popular Prakashan in 1994. The original autobiography appeared in serial form in Marathi in the late 1930s.

Sketches From Memory is a compelling narrative and unexpectedly humorous. When she is to be “viewed”, Laxmibai consoles herself by thinking that, while her looks and complexion were “truly moderate”, it helped that her nose and eyes, “even if they weren’t proportionate, ...were all in the right place”. Her father had a mania amounting to madness about purity, and insisted everything brought into the house be washed, including salt and sugar. Of course, the concern for purity had its appalling side as well. The father performed rituals for 25 years because a Mahar had accidentally let a drop of water fall on him, and thrashed everyone at home for the slightest breach. Laxmibai’s father-in-law was just as appalling – burning his wife’s poems as soon as she wrote them, and virtually kicking her to death.

The core of the book is Laxmibai’s relationship with her husband, very different from that of her parents and her in-laws. She had a mind of her own, and when Tilak became a Christian she didn’t plan to become one too. But she has her own moments of truth. “Did god make castes,” she thinks, “or did man?” She then decides to “eat and drink from everybody’s hand”.

She attended Tilak’s prayer sessions, and began to like the prayers. “It was a new kind of joy, praying this way, to the god who dwelt within our hearts.” Eventually she too was baptised, but refused to be baptised by a foreigner. Only a fellow Indian would do.

- Eunice de Souza

The Author

Laxmibai Tilak

The Translator

Louis Menezes

Publishers: Katha
Cover Design: Geeta Dharmarajan
Cover Painting: Jagannath Panda
Category: Katha Non-Fiction/Autobiography
Statistics: 5.5" X 8" 408 pages
ISBN 97881-89020-73-6 [PB]
Price: Rs 350 [India and the subcontinent only]

Buy now!

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