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Triveni: ಶರಪಂಜರ (Sharapanjara; Cage of Arrows; The Mad Woman)

Kaveri and Satish seem the ideal couple. Both are good-looking, intelligent and educated. Kaveri was destined to marry a relative who was good-looking but not intelligent. So when Satish turned up, her parents were very glad. The two actually met on a bus. He saw her and fell for her at once. She got off the bus and he lost her but managed to track her down with the help of a friend.

Satish had a good job so they were well-off, able to build their own house (which Kaveri loved and her mother-in-law hated). People envied them. The couple had two sons – Aravinda and Ashoka. Kaveri had hoped for a daughter but there was still time. Kaveri had to admit that she loved her husband more than she loved her children. They went out frequently and had lots of friends. Satish said that she was his wife, his friend and his mistress.

However, we know from the beginning of the book that things are not going to work out. Kaveri has a nervous breakdown not long after the birth of Ashoka. There is no evidence of any depression in her family. It may be post-partum depression but that is not made clear. Whatever the cause, it happens gradually. It first becomes really apparent when the couple go to Srirangapatna. They are walking by the river, when Kaveri cries out It’s lost! It’s lost! It is never established what is lost but she repeats it. Things soon gets worse and Satish has to have her committed to a mental hospital. He is told it will take six months to cure her. It takes two years.

During her absence, she does not see her children at all. Satish does visit and is horrified when he sees her at her worst, curled up in a ball in the corner of the room. His sister, Vijayakka, whose children are grown-up, comes to stay and help, as does his mother. The boys, particularly Ashoka, who was still a baby when his mother left, see Vijayakka as their mother. We also learn that many, who had envied the couple’s happiness, are not sad to see what has happened.

We see her return very early on, near the beginning of the book. The first thing she notices is that the garden has not been looked after. She sees the neighbour peering out of her window – they had been friends – and waves to her. The neighbour hides behind the curtains.

In the house, the children are far from welcoming. Ashok hides behind Vijayakka and Aravinda flees when she tries to hug him. She wants to get back into her previous routine but no-one will let her. She feels as though she has recovered, while they feel she must rest and take things easy. She is not allowed to sleep with Satish (who shares a bed with Ashok). She must not be involved in any of the household tasks but leave everything to Vijayakka. When she goes into the kitchen to ask for a knife (to peel an apple), the cook flees, thinking that she is going to stab him. She is like a guest in relative’s house.

Things get worse. She tries to get back into the swing of things but cannot. She goes to the local shop, where they have always shopped and orders a few things. The owner sends an assistant to the house to ask if it is all right. She finds this out and shouts at him and everyone , of course, says she is still mad. There are numerous instances of this sort of thing happening to her.

Satish does not help. It is clear that not only does he no longer love hwe, he is no longer physically attracted to her. He rejects all her approaches. When she suggests that they should try for another child, he says that it is not going to happen, because insanity is inherited. They remain in separate rooms. Vijayakka continues to manage the household. Even when Kaveri’s mother comes, things do not improve.

It gets even worse when she overhears Satish describe her to his sister as only a breathing corpse and, when she comes to him, it was placing rotten food in front of a man who had just risen from a banquet. Finally she tells her mother that she is already dead.

Triveni makes it very clear that Kaveri is more or less recovered and that the responsibility for her lack of reintegration into society, the family and the household lies with others, particularly Satish. He even say that things would be better if she had died, as then he could remarry but now, social convention will not allow him to divorce her.

It is a very sad tale and very much a feminist one. Kaveri makes every effort to get back on her feet but is thwarted at every step. As she points out, if she had recovered from a physical illness, this would not be happening. The book was published in 1962, when those recovering from mental illness almost certainly were not treated as they should be, in India and elsewhere.

Publishing history

First published by Ḍi. Vi. Ke. Mūrti in 1962
First published in English 1962 by B. R. Publishing
Translated by Meera Narvekar