Academic journal article Transnational Literature

If the Moon Smiles on the Mappers of Madness: A Critique of the Cartographers of Insanity in Chandani Lokugé's If the Moon Smiled

Academic journal article Transnational Literature

If the Moon Smiles on the Mappers of Madness: A Critique of the Cartographers of Insanity in Chandani Lokugé's If the Moon Smiled

Article excerpt

A girl bows to the Buddha amidst a crowd of lotuses and is asked to learn detachment. Petal by petal madness blooms and then mirror by mirror looks at other people's madness. The moon smiles at those who have sought to map madness. And the smile takes the shape of words, words that are cancerous growths on silence.

Chandani Lokugé's novel, If the Moon Smiled, grows under the shadow of this smile. If it is not totally unjust to identify the 'dominant' tropes of a text, we may say that, in Lokuge's text, they are place and body. Manthri, the protagonist of Lokugé's narrative, gradually becomes a schizophrenic personality, and one may be tempted to explain her tragedy in terms of the motif of 'place and displacement,' which is, as argue Ashcroft,Griffiths and Tiffin, 'a major feature of post-colonial literatures.'1 However, the predicament of Lokugé's protagonist cannot be construed simply as the case of a failed immigrant. She is a Sri Lankan girl, brought by her authoritarian husband to Australia after marriage, without any effort on his part to understand whether his wife is a willing emigrant. Nevertheless, Manthri's problem is not only that of an immigrant who lacks the capacity to adjust in an alien environment - it is deeply grounded in the issue of her gendered body, a body which is both a site of patriarchal inscription and a moving image of repetitive displacement - physical,ontological, and psychical. Again, the body is linked with the issue of the limitations of embodiedness, which also characterises the body politic.

The Buddhist culture in which Manthri grows up betrays a peculiar self-contradiction. It prescribes detachment in a situation where attachment is made necessary for women by the sexual division of labour.It teaches the Buddhist doctrine of universal impermanence and yet prepares the female body for a marital telos. Nirvana is not what the everyday world of this Buddhist society seeks; its pragmatic goals are ridiculously at odds with its ritual invocation of the trope of impermanence. Manthri, the little girl, 'blends her voice with his (the father's): "As these flowers must fade, so must my body towards destruction go."'2 However, just a few pages after, the mother, drawing on Yasodara'sdevotion to the Buddha, announces that Manthri will be a 'floral offering' to her husband who is now metaphorically linked to the figure of 'a deity.'3 So, the impermanent body of the girl must be prepared as a permanent offering for the husband-shaped deity - an absurd contradiction in the 'impermanence'-saturated discourse that is part of their everyday religious life.

When Mahendra, her husband, does not see any 'stain' on the 'crushed white sheet' after the coitus, he is appalled and the wife immediately becomes a 'serpent' in his misogynistic imagination.4 She tries to persuade him that she is innocent but he is rigidly fixed in his imagination of the woman's profanity. While on a pilgrimage with her daughter-in-law, Manthri's mother-in-law tells her, 'Look at the creepers, entangling everything like lustful cravings.' She then goes on to allude to Manthri's 'crime' that has ruined her 'innocent' son. What is more absurd is that this essentially sexist and patriarchal discourse on women's 'purity' is clothed in the referential apparatus of the Buddhist religio-philosophical doctrine. The offended mother-in-law says glumly, 'All is a maya.'5 Mahendra's mother is unhappy that even the emigration of her son to Australia has not been able to repair the damage done by the impure daughter-in-law.

What is interesting here is that all these Buddhistic translations of essentially secular anxieties and dissatisfactions actually hide a deep-seated postcolonial bourgeois ideology. And it is here that a conventional reading of Manthri's gendered body becomes problematic. Hermann Hesse writes in Steppenwolf:

He (the bourgeois) is ready to be virtuous, but likes to be easy and comfortable in this world as well. …

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