Monday, October 6, 2008

Realities: The smell of Joseph

She cannot escape the smell of Joseph. They are not married but she spends every night in his room, sleeps on his bed. There is no sex between them though. It is only an arrangement to save money.

Joseph is the night watchman at the wedding center where she works. He does not need his room at night. She models expensive saris and fabulous jewelry till the shop closes - dressed up all day, continuously smiling at potential customers, turning and twisting all the time to show off the wares from different angles.

She needs a place to sleep. Joseph and she come to an arrangement of convenience. He would be on duty before she wraps up for the day. She would be out of the room and on her way to work before he returns in the morning. She pays Joseph an amount which is much less than what she would have had to pay for separate accommodation. And the man gains some extra cash.

But she cannot escape the smell of Joseph that hangs heavily in the room.

This is the theme of the well-written short story ‘The smell of Joseph’ by a first year engineering student, Ashwati Sashikumar. It was chosen for the first prize in the recent Sree – Malayala Manorama Short Story Competition by an eminent jury consisting of T. Padmanabhan, P. Valsala and CV Balakrishnan.

I am highly impressed and at the same time somewhat disturbed by this nicely crafted piece of fiction. As the jury mentions in its citation, it is different, and contemporary. To me, it brings to light certain realities of life, which, in the normal course, most people would not have been aware of.

Why does the heroine of the story go in for this highly susceptible but nevertheless basically honorable arrangement? Back home in a remote village there is an aging and sickly mother who needs medicines, younger siblings who have to be educated. That may sound mundane, but truth is sometimes so. It is a value system that is still found in Kerala and perhaps in other parts of India as well.

That is something noble – a silent sacrifice unknown to the world.

Next time I see a pleasant sales girl in a shop attending to the customers, I would wonder whether she too suffers from the smell of Joseph.

Thank you, Ashwati and Malayala Manorama for bringing us this story.

Also see: Short Stories By Abraham Tharakan



Very nice; the title is intriguing enough for the reader to want to know more.

And the reality behind the glamorous model transcends all distinctions - gender, background, job style, everything except poverty.

kallu said...

Interesting and as you say, slightly disturbing. They say this mode of room sharing is common in Dharavi, Mumbai. But for such a young girl to be sensitive to this issue is truly remarkable.

Murali RamaVarma said...

Dear AT Sir,

Absolutely fine observation and writing. While on a week's visit to Kerala, I happened to read this short story. Had the same feelings most impressively expressed by you.

Thank you.

Swarna said...

Thanks for bringing that to notice. Provides several insights - on city life, on models' compulsions, and on platonic relationships. One can easily imagine that the story could have been twisted a wee bit to make it 'sell' more (which seems to be the norm for many novels to be acceptable to the publisher)

Abraham Tharakan said...

Thanks for the comment, Raji.

The title is actually a translation of the title of the original story - 'Josephinte manam'. It is quite catchy.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Thank you, Kallu.

I was not aware that such room sharing arrangements existed. I found the story quite disturbing.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Murali, we not only seem to think alike but also read the same stuff. Thanks for the comment.

Please do contact me when you come to India next.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Yes, Swarna, the story has depth. And it does take a twist. Actually I should have added one more sentence - 'How long can the girl bear the smell of Joseph?'