Lakshmi Kannan’s Short Stories and Eschatological Dimensions

Article Posted in: Research Articles

Eschatological Dimensions: A Study of Lakshmi Kannan’s Short Stories “Please, Dear God,” “A Sky All around,” “The Turn of the Road,” and “Pain”

by – Dr. C. Isaac Jebastine & K.B. Karthiga, Vol.II, Issue.XXII, November 2016

Introduction to the Author:

Dr. C. Isaac Jebastine is the professor and H.O.D, department of English, Bharathidasan University, TN. The co-author, K. B. Karthiga, is a Ph.D. research scholar at the same department.


            Death is an inevitable part of human life. It continues to baffle mankind since time immemorial. Hence it becomes important to study how literature represents the essential human experience of death and also the relationship of the living with the dead. This paper attempts to examine how death and dying appear as tropes in four short stories of Lakshmi Kannan namely “Please, Dear God,” “A Sky All around,” “The Turn of the Road,” and “Pain.” There is an eschatological vein that runs through these short stories. This paper argues that not only the dying but also the living goes through the painful experience of death.


Death has been a great mystery for mankind since ancient times. And even today it has managed to elude human understanding and knowledge. Zygmunt Bauman, a sociologist, argues that though death is a reality in human life, it still remains inexplicable and unknown. Dying is also a harrowing phase in human life through which everyone has to go through one day. People encounter the experience of death in different ways such as by watching the death of others and also with the help of fiction one can have a feel of death (Bauman 1992). The German philosopher and literary critic, Walter Benjamin, is another scholar who asserts that what we seek in fiction is the knowledge of death that is denied to us in real life (Hakola Intro i).

This paper examines how literature represents the essential human experience of death and also the relationship of the living with the dead. Death and dying appear as tropes in literature whether the focus is on meeting it, surviving it, or even accepting it. This paper analyses the treatment of death tropes in the four short stories of Lakshmi Kannan namely “Please, Dear God,” “A Sky All Around,” “The Turn of the Road,” and “Pain” from various perspectives.

Lakshmi Kannan is a renowned Indian woman writer who has penned a novel, poems, and short stories in both English and Tamil. She has written four collections of short stories in Tamil under the nom de plume Kaaveri. These stories have been translated into English by herself. The stories taken for study “Please, Dear God” and “A Sky All Around” are from the collection Nandanvan and Other Stories (2011), whereas “Pain” is from India Gate and Other Stories (1993), and “The Turn of the Road,” is from Parijata and Other Stories (1992).

In all the four stories Lakshmi Kannan conjures up an eschatological dimension and situates “the reader between the realm of the living and the realm of the dead” (Indra14). The story “Please, Dear God” is about a woman Chandra who lies in coma in the ICU. Her husband Ramachandran, visits her daily with the hope that she would recuperate soon. He sees other patients in the ICU dying every day. There is a thin and decisive line that distinguishes the living from the dead inside the ICU. As observed by C.T. Indra, “The act of pulling the white sheet tightly over the head and tucking in the sides ‘neatly and decisively’, is the one symbolic act to distinguish the dead from the living” (15). Ramachandran poignantly pleads with and prays to God that the nurse who seems to be an expert in tucking the shroud around the corpse should not get a chance to do it to his wife. His devout prayers breathe life into Chandra and she recovers.

In the story “A Sky All around” too, the setting is the ICU where an elderly man, Varadarajan, lies in coma. The narration is from the point of view of the consciousness of the comatose patient. Lakshmi Kannan describes the minutest details such as his helplessness as he ‘hears” the doctors talk about him conclusively, his mute “reactions” to the queries of his family, and his inability to communicate with them. He goes to the region of the dead and meets his dead mother and his former colleague, Bhaskaran, who died of a heart attack. As Tulsi Badrinath rightly puts it in Deccan Herald review, “Lakshmi Kannan skilfully blends the auditory point of ‘view’ of a comatose patient in an ICU with his vivid astral travel across an ocean-like sky.” Before his dear ones’ prayers bring him back to life, he has travelled to the region of the dead and seen much about death. In both the stories “Please, Dear God” and “A Sky All Around”, death is fought with the gentlest of weapons such as prayer resulting in miracles.

Another story, dealing with the death trope, is “Pain.” It is a moving story that deals with the feelings and emotions of a woman, Padma, who is on her deathbed, suffering from cancer. The cancer which started initially in her uterus has also spread to her breasts with terrific speed. She writhes her body out of pain which seemed to bore the very marrow of her bones. Lakshmi Kannan relates her condition as that of being on a parole from Yama, death-God in the Hindu mythology. Padma’s husband, Seshadri, feels utterly helpless when a team of doctors unanimously predicts that Padma would not survive beyond certain point. The relations who visit the house after knowing the news start dissecting Padma’s body. One of the women even goes to the extent of commenting that Padma’s body is ready to be offered to the pyre as it has served its purpose of giving birth to two daughters. Padma’s elder daughter, Usha, protests against this kind of fragmentation and argues that her mother is one whole being. Padma has accepted pain and the imminent death with stoicism.

“The Turn of the Road” is another short story of Lakshmi Kannan which reminds us that death is inevitable and unpredictable too. In this story the father goes to a hospital for his by-pass surgery and he expresses his desire to go to the Perumal temple after his surgery. But unfortunately he dies the day before the surgery. His son wants to fulfill his father’s desire by slowing down the ambulance which is carrying his father’s body in front of the temple. But he is unable to do so as the priest admonishes him saying that the Hindu religion does not allow to take any dead body to the premises of any temple.

In all the four stories, death occurs as a result of some kind of disease: coma, edema, renal failure, cancer, and heart disease. While Chandra in “Please, Dear God” has slipped into coma after a routine surgery for burst appendix, Varadarajan in “A Sky All around” has been in coma for several days and has developed edema (accumulation of serum in tissues). Padma in the story “Pain” suffers from cancer. Mahadevan in “The Turn of the Road” has some problem in the functioning of heart and undergoes angiography and catheterization. He dies the day before his by-pass surgery. As observed by Sudha Rai, Lakshmi Kannan presents “individuals helplessly trapped by disease and acute illness in wards and ICU’s” (33).

Owing to disease each of the major characters in these short stories experiences excruciating pain. Though Varadarajan in “A Sky All Around” lies in coma, he is very much alive to the happenings around him. As he narrates the story by himself, the reader is able to understand his pain as a comatose patient. When the doctors press his legs to confirm whether he has sensation, Varadarajan cries out: “Aiyyo! It’s paining….That’s enough, stop it for God’s sake, STOP! Now all of you are not just pressing my legs, you’re also turning and twisting my toes so mercilessly. Amma, I’m in agony” (Nandanvan 186). In fact, it’s pitiful that no one can actually hear his mutterings. Finally, he appeals to his dead mother: “Aiyyo, Amma, save me from this torture. Come. Come soon…” (Nandanvan 187). In addition to this physical torture, he experiences mental agony too. On seeing his wife Kanaka’s sobs, he tries to comfort her but in vain. At last when the doctors say, “‘We’re sorry. We tried our best but couldn’t save him,’” Varadarajan cries out silently: “No, no! I’ll come through this alive! I can hear Kanaka’s prayers. I can hear the chanting of Ganesh, Chitra, and Revathi. Please have faith in the prayers of my family (Nandanvan 196).

Pain has become all pervasive in the titular short story “Pain” in which Padma who suffers from cancer submits to pain. It is expressed in the following lines:

“The frontier of pain. At first it was pain, pain all the way. Varieties of pain. After an initial apprenticeship in suffering, she had got habituated to it….The blue veins turned purple and were swollen into throbbing ropes, pulling and tearing at the muscles and tendons, the body curled in hopeless surrender as the pain went on in uninterrupted waves, boring into the very marrow of the bones chillingly. When the nerves pulsate explosively I wonder how this fragile human body even has the strength to register the entire range of the pain in all its variety and depth?” (India Gate 54)

            Mahadevan in “The Turn of the Road” is also subjected to a similar sort of pain during his angiography and catheterization. The doctor while inserting a catheter, a thin, long tube into his vein persuades him saying, “Don’t be afraid, you won’t feel any pain. You’ll only feel some discomfort, that’s all” (97). Mahadevan wants to retort but his inability to speak is expressed in the following lines: “Some discomfort…Hmm…It’s easier said than endured….‘Discomfort’? What a mild word. Here you’re, torturing my body without even aneasthetising…” (Parijata 97, 98).

            Not only the dying but also the living goes through painful experience. Chandra’s husband, Ramachandran, in “Please, Dear God” goes to the hospital every day to see his comatose wife in the ICU. He keeps staring through the glass pane of the ICU ignoring his hunger, fatigue, and discomfort. He is deeply moved by the death of other patients in the ICU and fervently prays to God: “‘God, save everyone here, save Chandra and that one, and that one there, and that…don’t let them die yet’” (Nandanvan 69). C. T. Indra opines that “Lakshmi Kannan superbly internalises the consciousness of a desperate human mind in fear of death” (14). Just as Ramachandran prays to God in Sanskrit, in Tamil, in English using a few verses from the New Testament, quoting Buddhist incantation of Tibetan monks in order to save his wife, the family members of Varadarajan in “A Sky All Around” chant the Gongyo and daimoku (the supreme Law of Buddhism) in unison inside the ICU. In both the cases it is the firm belief of the living in prayer that brings the dying back to life.

            The relationship of the living with the dying or the dead also forms a vital part of the study. The purpose of existence of Padma’s husband Seshadri and her two daughters Usha and Prema in the story “Pain” undergoes a sea change after knowing Padma’s bout of cancer. Seshadri recedes quietly as he is unable to see the suffering of his wife suffering and the daughters also become more pensive and sadness surrounds the girls like a soft cloud.

            Literature also discusses death-related social issues and the resultant emotions. For instance, in “Pain” Padma’s elder daughter, Usha, protests against the dissection of woman’s body when her mother’s body is assessed on utilitarian terms by Seshadri’s aunt: “Just see how this cancer has timed itself. It had taken care to grow in her uterus and breasts only after Usha and Prema have been born” (India Gate 55). Padma’s aunt, Pattamma, goes a step further and issues passport to Padma for dying: “But one should be consoled that when she goes, she would go as a Sumangali, bedecked with kumkum, haldi and flowers on her person. She is lucky that way” (57). On hearing all this, Usha defines womanhood as given below: “Amma is one whole being. She is Padma. She is a person, having a homogenized existence….Is that all she is worth, giving birth to us as an ultimate atonement for being female?” (56). Outi Hakola and Sari Kivistö assert that “Literary descriptions of death are thus not merely preoccupied with the painful scene of dying or individual loss, but the concept of death can be understood more widely as a site of many projections and fantasies and as a metaphor of many social issues” (Introduction viii).

Another social issue related to death surfaces in the story “The Turn of the Road.” As averred by Christine Gomez, the hypocrisy of religion is being questioned in the story as “his father’s death alienates Mohan from the rituals of his religion, which refuse entrance to his father’s body within the temple that he had loved to visit while alive” (23). The same religion which believes that god dwells in our living body becomes restless to dispose the body when someone is dead in the name of purity. In an Agraharam, people are impatient to dispose of a dead body. It is far worse in villages as the villagers do not even cook any food until the body is taken out for final rites.

Lakshmi Kannan draws our attention to the Christian practice of keeping the dead body in the church before taking it to the graveyard and in many churches the graveyard is in the premises of the church. This particular aspect of Christianity is appealing to the readers.

Padma in the story “Pain” brings before her mind’s eye the image of the Arlington cemetery. This attests to the fact that death is a leveler. In the graveyard there’s no gender discrimination or caste discrimination or racial discrimination or class discrimination. Once the body is placed beneath the earth and covered with greenery, then the decomposition starts. There is no bias in the process of decomposition. Beneath the soil, equality is maintained.

As death and dying are viewed from various perspectives in literature it is necessary to investigate how people approach death—whether it’s survival or acceptance of death. The characters Chandra in “Please, Dear God” and Varadarajan in “A Sky All around” manage to survive death with the help of the prayers of their dear ones, whereas Padma in “Pain” and Mahadevan in “The Turn of the Road” accept and submit themselves to death with stoicism. Padma welcomes death as it liberates her from the world of distress and pain.

In an interview with Sudha Rai, Lakshmi Kannan points out the fact that

“These (death) experiences take man and woman to the very brink of existence. While some people crumble and get crushed under this kind of adversity, a few others are amazingly resilient and courageous. The existential struggle with the uncertainty of life brings out the best in them. I am drawn to the two seemingly contrary traits—an indomitable human spirit on the one hand and a graceful acceptance of destiny or mortality on the other.” (33)

            The treatment of death and dying in the four short stories of Lakshmi Kannan has been examined from various perspectives and at different depths of meaning. It can be argued that the awareness of the finitude of life will help in structuring one’s life in a meaningful way. At the same time one should understand the ubiquitousness of death and view death not as the opposite of life but as a part of life.


Works Cited

Badrinath, Tulsi. “Soulful Delights.” Rev. of Nandanvan and Other Stories. Deccan Herald. 28 Sep. 2015. Web.

Bauman, Zygmunt. Mortality, Immortality and Other Life Strategies. Cambridge: Polity Press. 992 Print.

Gomez, Christine. “From Balanced Feminism to an Androgynous Vision.” Rev. of Inru Maalai,

Ennudan. The Book Review 18.6 (June 1994): 23-24. Print.

Hakola, Outi and Sari Kivistö (Ed). Death in Literature. UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014 Web.

Indra, C. T. “Phenomenological Explorations – Introducing Lakshmi Kannan’s Short Fiction.”

Nandanvan and Other Stories. New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2011. Print.

Kannan, Lakshmi. Nandanvan and Other Stories. New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2011. Print.

— . India Gate and Other Stories. New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 1993. Print.

— . Parijata and Other Stories. New Delhi: National Publishing House, 1992. Print.

Rai, Sudha. “A Conversation with Lakshmi Kannan.” Nandanvan and Other Stories. New Delhi:

Orient Blackswan, 2011. Print.

Explore More in: Academic Research Paper

Read More Articles: