Monday, January 12, 2009

The Toss of a Lemon 3

So Hanumarathnam has laboured to create a middle ground: a detailed map of the holdings for Sivakami to walk through with her eyes and mind. Hanumarathnam has accurately portrayed those properties: real and perceived distances, sizes, and productive capacity of each plot. It is not simply a matter of drawing a map to scale; one must choose what sort of scale: physical? psychological? This map has to show how a property relates to its owners, to itself, to tenants, to the community. This is business—not geography, not math.

(Padma Viswanathan, The Toss of a Lemon)

As in my previous post about The Toss of a Lemon, the context is astrological: Hanumarathnam's horoscope has predicted his death, and he is preparing his wife Sivakami for her widowhood.

The "detailed map of the holdings" described here is for someone who will never see the land described by the map: at the time when the novel begins (around 1900) a respectable Brahmin widow remained in total seclusion from the public eye, so Sivakami could not walk the lands to inspect them.

The reader of a novel is not forbidden by custom to inspect the landscape a novel describes, but the novelist is no less involved in an "accurate portrayal" of the "real and perceived" and the relationship between them than Hanumarathnam is. The novelist may not do so for "business" purposes, but here, the novelist is closer to the businessman than to the geographer or the mathematician.

There are echoes here of the starting point of my last post on this novel: "He finds knowledge more interesting than ignorance." But I'll just let them remain echoes for now.

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