“Remember the Frenchman who asked his grandmother at what age we get free from the temptations of love. The old woman said she didn't know” The Doctor’s Dilemma, GB Shaw.
Sarah Joseph’s Alohari Anandam ( Per Capita Happiness) explores the winds of change that perplexes and confuses a Syrian Christian family in Kerala. Published in 2013, the novel deals with controversial themes such as loveless marriages, marriage of senior citizens and lesbianism. Joseph’s characters liberate themselves once the yoke that they carry become too much for them.
Emma and John Mathai are the senior citizens who decide to get married with the support of the young generation and Paul. The typical reaction to a couple who decides to get married so late- a widower and a spinster- are jokes laden with obscene humour. However, Joseph treats the theme with much sensitivity and her Emma is a lovely bride who rejects all makeup and finery on her wedding day that her niece Ishana has designed for her.
Ishana is the designer in the family who runs a funeral parlour and a beauty parlour. Joseph satirises the way in which all church rituals have become focused on clothes, jewellery and the aesthetics involved. On the occasion of a baptism, Ishana’s thoughts are entirely on the stone-vessel that she chose for pouring the water. She represents the new generation who sees marriage as a trap set to limit individual freedom.
The lovers in the novel Paul and Anu carry the burdens of their marriages. Paul is married to Teresa, a lesbian who is forced to marry him. Anu struggles to bear the weight of her loveless marriage with Cherian. When the idealistic Paul meets the dreamer Anu, they feel a strange comfort and are drawn towards the lovelight that they see in each other’s eyes. As Paul says:
“There are people who become happy with the little that they have...both among men and women. Not just that, the majority is like that. They try to unravel the knots of this world. Small achievements make them happy. Small losses hurt them a lot. Their longings for love are of a shallow nature. But there are people who seek themselves in their mates. They need a life of deep love. For them, marriage is a failure, if the lover doesn’t complement their mind, body, intellect and emotions. It is not necessary to have such a relationship within marriage and that’s when you seek another relationship” (Free Translation).
Joseph's novel Alohari Anandam, celebrates the joy of living and individualism. Through her beautiful and lyrical evocation of the Song of Songs, she recreates love as a Garden of Eden shared by those who want to experience the happiness of being fully alive, emotionally, spiritually and physically.