“a vixen’s courage in vixen terms” – this line from the poem Fox by the American feminist Adrienne Rich (1929–2012) is the epigraph of The High Priestess Never Marries: Stories of Love and Consequence, the first work of fiction by Sharanya Manivannan (@, WordPress, Facebook, Instagram) – a poet and columnist based in Chennai, south India.
Manivannan (born 1985), a Sri Lankan Tamil who grew up in Malaysia, has lived in south India for over a decade. Her first collection of poetry – Witchcraft – was released back in 2008. In 2015, she was specially commissioned to write and perform an original poem at the Commonwealth Day Observance at Westminister Abbey.
Her latest book buzzes with a curious description:
A Sri Lankan mermaid laments the Arthurian Fisher King; a woman treks to a cliff in the Nilgiris with honey gatherers of the Irula tribe; a painter fears she will lose her sanity if she leaves her marriage and lose her art if she stays faithful within it; one woman marries her goddess; another, sitting in a bar, says to herself, I like my fights dirty, my vodka neat and my romance anachronistic. The women in this collection are choice makers, consequence facers, solitude seekers. They are lovers, vixens, wives to themselves. And their stories are just how that woman in the bar likes it dirty, neat, and sexy as smoke.
Lush and inviting, The High Priestess Never Marries is a smart experiment in creative writing – many of its two dozen or so narrative pieces being longer than your average poem but shorter than your usual short story. These intrepid tales begin and end anywhere, yet seem dense and tight and whole. Different stories will mean different things to different people. Deep oceans, old legends, star-filled skies, turmeric, vermilion – all the environments and embellishments of this book – I felt, in the end, come together to explore and disclose a certain feminine mystique – ancient and eternal, brimming with desire, flawed, fertile, heartbroken. Most of all, irrepressible.
A few lines I liked:
DEEP WITHIN YOUR BEING
All of it is deep within your being, if not your body itself – sweetness, slow dancing, the knowledge that grief has no after, places of pilgrimage, exigencies, seasons of plenitude, red-light districts, the memory of mountains.
You have few rules for this particular life that has become yours, but each is of consequence. Be observant but vigilant, for the time for terror has passed. Love anyway. Praise every landscape that appears before your window, hold in equal measure the beauty of a cyclone and the miracle of a single woodpecker on a swaying coconut tree.
FROM PLEASURE TO PLEASURE TO PLEASURE
I want a boyfriend like a banyan tree. A man who’s a forest unto himself, with conspiracies of birds, and secret blossoms, and shaded places; a matrix generous enough for the world.
And into this forest I will wander, a beloved of the world, and walk beneath the aegis of his boughs knowing that the same love that roots them raises me. I will become entangled. I’ll hang a swing from his shoulders and spend all my life in his lap, swaying from pleasure to pleasure to pleasure.