Meena Alexander

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Notes on

Nampally Road

a novel written by

Meena Alexander

The Significance of Rameeza’s Suffering in the Novel

Rameeza Be was a little woman who lived in a mountain village near Hyderabad. She came to the city with her husband. They went to see the celebrated ‘Isak Katha’ at Sagar Talkies. When the film finished, it was late at night. They started walking back to the house of some relative in the town. Suddenly a group of drunken policemen attacked them. Rameeza was raped by all the policemen. Her husband was violently attacked and his brain was beaten out. Later his dead body was recovered from a well behind the police station which was identified by his brother who was a lorry driver in Hyderabad. Rameeza became extremely ill because of the gang rape. There was a rumour in Hyderabad that Rameeza Be was hidden inside the police station so as to hush up the whole story of murder and rape. One day Ramu walked into the Gowliguda police station and enquired about Rameeza. The policemen became nervous and angry and shouted Ramu out of the police station.

Very soon the people got agitated and organized in small groups. They marched into the Gowliguda police station and attacked it. It was a gracious building built in the British style with stone steps, wooden pillars and whitewashed walls. They found Rameeza imprisoned in one of the cells. She was lying on the floor and Mira touched her forehead through the iron bars. The cell was broken in and Rameeza was taken to the house of Maitreyiamma. The agitators have brought numerous bottles filled with kerosene. Somebody lit a matchstick and suddenly the old wooden building of the police station began to burn. Within a few minutes hundreds of reserve police and gangs of Ever Ready men arrived on the scene. But they could do nothing as the building was completely destroyed. The rioters have already dispersed. A small number of rioters remained throwing stones and bricks at the policemen and they were immediately arrested and taken away.

Very soon the riot spread all over the city. The government tried to control the issue with all their might. The students were an active part of the revolutionary movement and so the classes couldn’t be conducted at the Sona Nivas College. The law and order situation was so bad that the normal evening shows of the Sagar Talkies was cancelled. Curfew was imposed for several days and it was removed only after the situation came under control. Once the city returned to normalcy, the birthday celebrations of the chief minister started. Limca Gowda arrived for the celebrations with a procession of horsemen and elephants. Trumpets and horns were played when he entered the venue of the pageant. Limca Gowda’s birth, childhood and youth were depicted on the stage in a highly dramatic style by inducing myth after myth into the episodes. The last stage was meant to be the appearance of film stars for singing songs in praise of the chief minister. A huge cardboard model of the ancient inner city of Hyderabad was displayed on the stage. Limca’s birthplace was specially highlighted in red light.

Suddenly a cracking sound was heard from the top of the cardboard city. A sheet of flame appeared and soon fire began to lick the entire stage. There was immediate confusion and people began run for their lives. There was a big sound of something exploding inside the cardboard city and thousands of wires, bulbs and cardboard pieces began to scatter all around the place. The wind rose high and firemen couldn’t control the flames. All around the pageant venue, people began to run in wild haste. There were men, women, society matrons, soldiers, sailors, peasants, street children, princes of state and poor sweepers of latrines. Within a few minutes the birthday celebrations organized with the effort of several months collapsed. Mira ran fast and escaped to the lotus pool behind the Public Gardens. To her great surprise, the water in the pool was found burning. A fire had been lit in the water. Mira remembered the ancient saying of Nagarjuna that if a fire is lit in water no one can extinguish it.

It was very clear that the people of Hyderabad had taken revenge for the rape of Rameeza and the murder of her husband by destroying the chief minister’s ambitious birthday celebrations. But more riot was to follow soon. When Mira finally reached home, Durgabai was found with some bandage in her hand. She mentioned to Mira that Ramu enquired for her. These words gave great relief to Mira because it showed that Ramu was still alive in spite of organizing all the dangerous anti-government activities in the underground. Another delight waited for Mira at the gate of Durgabai’s house. It was Rameeza Be who had recovered from her serious illness. Mira rushed to her and touched her hand. At that moment, she felt that there was some hope left for the poor people of Hyderabad.

Mira’s attempts to adjust with the UK society

Mira Kannadical was an Indian girl who completed her studies from the Midlands in England. The period spent in England was a real challenge to Mira. She found it very difficult to adjust to the lifestyle of Europeans. Mira was an Indian girl with her own individual ideas about life. But she had to adjust a lot while she studied in the United Kingdom.

From the very early childhood Mira was accustomed to eating with her right hand. But Englishmen never ate with their right hands because the fork is always held with the left hand. It is the knife that finds its place in the right hand of the Englishman. They cut the food into small pieces using the knife and the fork and finally take them one by one to the mouth with the end of the fork. The Indian way of eating with bare fingers is considered indecent in Europe.

Mira was a naturally right-handed person and trying to eat with her left hand made eating an uncomfortable ordeal for her. According to traditional Hindu belief, the left hand is polluted and hence it is not suitable for eating.

Mira had to make many other adjustments while she lived in England. Mira was given little lessons in table manners and etiquette by Miss. Foxglove who was the daughter of her hostel warden. She taught Mira how to hold her knife while eating, how to swallow food gracefully and how to wash them down with wine. Mira followed the example of Miss. Foxglove as best as she could but she failed miserably. Mira felt herself a great mockery. She even overheard Miss.Foxglove whisper to somebody else that Mira was ‘a brilliant child, but out of place in the Midlands’.

Mira was born in India a few years after the national independence and she didn’t agree to her mother’s decision for an arranged marriage for her. She went to England as an undergraduate student and spent several years there. Life in England was a torture to Mira because she couldn’t adjust with the fast lifestyle of the European people. She attended some dancing parties of the students but they disgusted her because of the loud music and the harsh lights. She even tried to go out every evening with a different boyfriend according to the western custom. Europeans considered it a permanent commitment or attachment to have the same boyfriend for a longer period.

Mira wanted to write a few poems so as to find out a separate identity for herself. She wanted to make up a personality that had some meaning and continuity in it. She wanted to establish what she was. She thought that by writing a few poems or even a few prose pieces, she could start to give a meaning to her life. The novelist makes it very clear that Mira had a complex inter-cultural personality because she was an Indian girl who got a colonial education.

Mira’s identity ciris

When Mira got a teaching job in Hyderabad, she gladly accepted it because she thought that going to India would give her a chance to establish a clearer identity for herself. Once she reached in Hyderabad, she felt that she was no more a girl in confusion but a woman of firm standing. In any case her mind had grown stronger. She could live her life fully only in her own country. Mira decided to make William Wordsworth her role model in life. Wordsworth was one of the English poets whom Mira read very closely as a part of her M.A. final year studies. He had written several poems on nature especially about beautiful places where he wanted to return again and again. He was a great poet and he haunted the memory of Mira. She loved Wordsworth because he understood suffering and desire that could not let itself free. Mira wanted to become a poet by achieving the clarity of Wordsworth.

When Mira started living in Hyderabad, she had minor problems about readjusting with the Indian society. Once Mira started eating with her left hand by mistake and this shocked many Andhrites who saw it. She started teaching English literature at the Sona Nivas College, Hyderabad. The professor allotted her the lectures on Wordsworth and Mira became a favourite among the students of Sona Nivas. During her free time, Mira continued her attempts to write poems. She had a good collection of little notebooks hidden under her bed. Ramu made fun of the creative attempts of Mira and commented that no one had the right to impose ideas on the readers. Mira explained that writing poems was a mission in her life. She was 25 years old and she hardly knew what she was writing. She was very much confused inside her mind in spite of all her western education. She wanted to become a poet so as to establish a new identity for herself. Otherwise her mother will dress her up in silks and gold and marry her off to some rich engineer or estate owner. Mira strongly felt that she may not be able to survive such a marriage. According to Mira, marriage was a personal matter and she will commit into a marriage only when she is fully prepared for the arrangement.

Mira’s search for identity makes a sharp turn when she sees Rameeza Be for the first time inside the Gowliguda police station. Rameeza’s sari was stiff with blood. She lay curled up on the mud floor of the prison room just behind the wooden desk. Her face was held up by the mud. Mosquitoes were buzzing over her and still both her eyes were open. She was breathing in a jagged, irregular manner. Mira gripped the cell bars and looked at her for a long time. She bent forward and put her hand inside through the prison bars and touched the damp forehead of Rameeza. The hair from her head was plastered in a light mat on her cheeks and it was held together with blood.

Very soon someone carried away Rameeza to the house of Maitreyiamma where she was given good rest and medical attention. It was a long and painstaking process but Rameeza finally emerged healthy because of the strong herbal medicines of Maitreyiamma. Ramu and Mira visited Rameeza in that house and her pathetic condition extremely influenced Mira. ‘I wished’, Mira wondered, ‘I could give up my own useless life in some way that could help her’. Thus, Mira finally found her identity. She understood that she was nobody else other than an ordinary Indian. The suffering of Rameeza Be was the suffering of an entire nation and Mira’s mission in life was to seek a solution to give relief to millions of Rameezas in India. Mira became half an Indian by returning to India and deciding to settle down permanently here. She became a full Indian when she understood that her mission in life was to serve India, her motherland.