Love, Money, and Mammachi

There are few moments in the novel that we get Mammachi’s perspective and one of the most striking to me was on page 160-161 where she slips Margaret Kochamma money and the author recounts her history with Chacko and the women he slept with. Even though Margaret is English, Mammachi looks down on her and considers her below her son as her father was a shopkeeper. However, she also hates Margaret for stealing some of her son’s affection from her. After Chacko saved her from her husband’s violence,

Mammachi packed her wifely luggage and committed it to Chacko’s care. From then onwards, he became the repository of all her womanly feelings. Her Man. Her only Love.

Even though Chacko continued to have sexual relationships with women from the factory, Mammachi chalks it up to a Man’s Needs and to further separate their relationships from love, she slipped them money so that she could consider their time with Chacko a service payed for and Needs met rather than something more complicated would end in a feeling of replacement. She attempts to do the same with Margaret Kochamma and since Margaret never finds the money or tries to give it back, Mammachi can consider her “just another whore” and resents less her son’s attachment to her.

In this passage, Roy continues her capitalization of improper nouns like Men’s Needs to emphasize that just as the children place utmost importance on adult concepts they don’t understand, Mammachi has created something that, while important enough to deserve capitalization in her mind, maintains its air of mystery.

The passage also further characterizes Mammachi and illustrates the importance of money to her. Every problem she faces is confronted with her wealth or social status, including the way that she feels betrayed by her son. However, it is interesting that unlike many more wealthy people in the US that view Marxism as a direct affront and threat to their livelihoods, neither Chacko or Mammachi treat it that way. To Chacko, it is a romantic notion to be considered in theory while he enjoys the comforts of his home and his “feudal libido”. Mammachi considers it dangerous in the wrong hands but of course in her beloved Chacko’s it is acceptable.

Finally, I think that Margaret Kochamma’s obliviousness is also an important facet of a continuing theme in the novel of her willing ignorance of the culture of the people she is staying with. It also makes an interesting parallel with the hotel guests’ response to the Kathakali dancers in a later chapter. The guests and Margaret Kochamma are both missing the vital conflicts going on around them and unwilling to go beyond their narrow concept of Kerala and its customs to understand either the great ancient drama unfolding before them or the complicated family relationships they are being wrapped in.

This passage furthers so many ideas and themes present throughout the rest of the novel and illustrates the complex relationships between Mammachi, Chacko, and Margaret Kochamma. While it is only a couple of pages, it is in my opinion packed with meaning and context vital for the rest of the book.