Dr. C.S. Lakshmi, who writes under the pseudonym Ambai, in Tamil has woven magic through her stories. Translated from Tamil to English by Aniruddhan Vasudevan, A Night with a Black Spider is an anthology of short stories covering a wide range of topics. The stories steal a contemplative moment in time or depict a mythological sequence. They are realistic, relatable, practical, and philosophical. Her writings take you across the length and breadth of India as well as abroad. Though all seventeen stories written in A Night with a Black Spider are commendable; a few have a left an indelible mark on my memory. I would go on to discuss those in further details.
What seems like a simple trip made by a father and a daughter to the tailor in Journey 11, ends up reminiscing about one’s peers. As old age strikes many of the contemporaries are lost or taken away from us. The only respite then is living with their fond memories. Further, as one is bombarded with the news of their loved ones passing away, they are also drawn into a contemplative mood regarding their own time on this planet.
The titular story- A Night with a Black Spider- in this collection recounts the life of a middle-aged lady. Her life is full of struggles – a broken home, a lonely life and even lonelier nights. In the absence of having anyone to share her thoughts with, the protagonist starts narrating her life’s tale to a black spider. Loneliness is as exhausting as it sometimes is to have a number of people around. But it is for the readers to opine on which one surpasses the other.
Burdensome Days reflects how seemingly perfect made-in-heaven matches can ultimately meet claustrophobic and disastrous ends. The protagonist, for twenty-five years of her marriage, went on compromising her desires and ambitions. She was looked down upon by her in-laws and later her children; and was restricted within the confines of her home, politics, and office. This continued until she freed herself from the burdened cage and took a flight to lead her life her way. The message of women empowerment comes across very strongly through this story.
“Sankar, these are not things. These are what we are.” These lines from When Things Die perfectly sum up the story. Every little object in our possession is a reflection of our tastes, habits, personalities, and memories. The stories attached to these objects are often too many to let go of, in this lifetime. The attachment to objects can be seen as an individual’s reluctance to let go of worldly ties. Thus it can practically be interpreted as objects survive only as long as their owner does with their memories and experiences. The moment the owner is claimed by death, the significance of these objects withers away.
A Moon to Devour shows the story of many young girls who are betrayed and abandoned by their lovers after having been taken into confidence by them. But what sets this story apart is the single letter written to the protagonist be her lover’s mother which is in favor of a woman. The old adage that a woman is a woman’s worst enemy is shattered by this story.
A Night with a Black Spider also has social-centric stories. While Journey 17 deals in eve- teasing and how difficult is freedom for young girls in Delhi; Journey 14 talks about the prevailing caste system which forbids a staunch believer to even accept water from an individual from a lower class. Though Ambai has beautifully penned down these stories, however at times, the narration is confusing. At times, the protagonist is only referred to as ‘him’ or ‘her’ without a definite identity. Further, the opening story of the collection is a mythological chapter between Mahisasur and Durga. This story, however good it is, is a misfit with the rest of the stories of this collection, in my opinion. Having said that, A Night with a Black Spider is a delightful read, which I completed in a single sitting. The title attracted me most due to its uniqueness.
Here, I would mention Vishal especially, who gifted me this book for Christmas. A Night with a Black Spider is available in your nearest bookstores or can be purchased online through Flipkart, Amazon, and Snapdeal.