Love is difficult. Complicated. Imperfect. Love, no matter its form, smell, weight, state of being, always has an aftereffect, not necessarily one resulting in the fabled ‘happily ever after’. Because love can come as a saviour or as a renegade. These are concepts Sharanya Manivannan understands all too well and gifts to us in The High Priestess Never Marries, her rhapsodic collection of ‘Stories of Love and Consequence’.
Sharanya’s women are luscious beings, fully aware of their desirability and powers of attraction. They simmer, they smoulder, they kiss ‘with teeth’; they fornicate fully, fiercely, sometimes furtively, sometimes softly, whatever their mood dictates; and then they lounge around in post-coital bliss in their lover’s ‘lungis like some female mystique’. They are sensual creatures in charge of their own bodies, their own pleasures, their own stories. No matter where their story is going, they are the game-changers who drive the narrative to their desired ending, even if that ending looks like heartbreak. But heartbreak is not really the end, for as the female narrators of these stories realise, they learn the arts of survival and solitude, mastering them, interring them in their bones. And it’s not surprising at all as, in Sharanya’s own words, this collection is ‘a work of feminist spirituality’.
“I would watch you from a farther shore. And if I could not teach you to love, I would teach myself how to live alone.” (Sandalwood Moon)
Her women also bring to mind Anais Nin’s observation, “No one but a woman in love ever sees the maximum of men’s greatness.” For, as bold, sexy and sexual as Sharanya’s women are, her men are their worthy equals, whether in bed, in the kitchen, on the beach, or in rooftop bars. And whether the men stay, leave or are let go, that is never the point of the story. The point is the learning of lessons and the continuation of the processes of breathing and being. For beyond the heartbreak is healing. And hope.
“We never considered there was another way to live, yet here we are: light years between everything we were and everything we have become.” (Afternoon Sex)
Apart from the female narrators and their lovers and friends, there are a host of other characters existing in this collection, either softly, on the edges of the pages, or loudly, like the lingering cry of the oppari singers. And above them all are the goddesses. Sharanya’s deep reverence for them comes from a rock-solid understanding of our myths and local parables, and her retellings of our ancient tales are truly her offerings of devotion to them. So whether she is describing their heartache, their betrayals or their marriages to mortals, it is with the adoring heart of one who is passionately in love with them, rather than as a detached observer.
“No matter where I find her or how, the goddess sings to me in red. In hibiscus and menses and tear-stained sclera. In battleground sunsets and iron oxide and freshly-committed lovebites.” (Ancestress)
I discovered Sharanya via the writing of a common friend and through a series of circumstances, she gifted me her collection of poetry, Witchcraft. Her poetry came to me at a time of great personal loss, and somewhere in her words and verses, my comatose spirit stirred. Even though there’s almost a decade separating us, I being older, it is Sharanya who has the wisdom of the ages. She has lived many lives and loves, learned from them, grown because of them and it is this learning that she imparts with such beauty, grace and generosity.
And yet, despite her gentle touch, she packs such a wallop. How can words so beautiful cut so deep? How can writing so light and seemingly easy, land so heavily upon your soul? How can such beauty slowly choke the breath out of you, leaving you gasping for air like a mermaid on shore?
The sheer power and beauty of The High Priestess Never Marries will leave you breathless, like great sex. Sharanya is not just an observer of life’s finer details; she is a collector of loves, lovers, moments and words. She uses language like an aphrodisiac.
The book is all Sharanya; colour, size and throbbing with life. It’s like holding her pulsating heart in your hand and watching it beat. And if ever there’s a fan club for Sharanya’s oeuvres, you can bet I’ll be applying for the post of High Priestess.