Document Sample
Feminism? Feminist Literature in English is certainly not a recent
innovation. It has been there ever since perspectives on life were
recorded in the medium of literature, though it certainly has come to its
own of late of recent origin again is the feminist perception of
literature. Feminist criticism in its broadest implication has three
distinct subdivisions, each with its own adherents. The first two are
well defined and frequently practised without raising any ideological
outrage. These are: The examination and analysis of the portrayal of
women characters by themselves or in relationship with their male
counterparts, and the appreciation of female authors. What is noteworthy
is the fact than in the last few years these commonly accepted critical
practices have been overhauled to accommodate the possibility of
exclusively feminist perceptions of human relationship. The third
direction is that of the so called -˜prescriptive criticism' that
attempts to set standards for literature that is -˜good' from the
feminist perspective.   Feminism in the Indian context is a by-product of
the Western liberalism in general and feminist thought in particular. The
indigenous contributing factors have been the legacy of equality of sexes
inherited from the freedom struggle, constitutional rights of women,
spread of education and the consequent new awareness among women. The
Indian woman caught in the flux of tradition and modernity saddled with
the burden of the past but both to cast off her aspirations constitutes
the crux of aspirations constitutes the crux of feminism in Indian
literature. In literary terms it precipitates in a search for identity
and a quest for the definition of the self. In critical practice, it
boils down to scrutinizing empathetically the plight of women characters
at the receiving end of human interaction. Feminist English Literature
is a spectrum of many colors and shades- soft, prominent and strident.
The voices emanating therefrom vary from the traditional-but-conscious-
of-their-selves to exclusively self-seeking with a seeming vengeance.
When clearly articulated, well argued and precisely defined feminist
sentiments rather than mere faint echoes thereof can be traced even in
early works like Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Jane Austen's Pride and
Prejudice, one feels chary of dubbing feminism as merely a late twentieth
century phenomenon. The feminist perspective on literature- creative or
critical - whether in a third world country or elsewhere, has had to
confront issues of similar persuasion : male chauvinism, sexist bias,
psychological and even physical exploitation, hegemonistic inclinations
in not merely the male but also the female sections of society, the utter
disregard for the female's psychological, cultural, familial and
spiritual quests. Predictably enough the ways out suggested subtly or
propagated more avowedly have ranged from mild protest, seeking
accommodation through moderation, love and persuasion to carving out of a
self-sufficient exclusivist self.   The articles included in the present
anthology form an insightful sample of the incisive critical endeavour
being undertaken in our universities and higher institutions of learning.
They are in-depth analyses of works of feminist persuasion. The author's
and texts covered are unmistakably milestones in literature in English
across the world. The studies incorporated here include scholarly
articles on Kamala Markandaya's A Silence of Desire, Rama Mehta's Inside
the Haveli, Shashi Deshpande's Roots and Shadows, and That Long Silence,
Uma Vasudeva's Shreya of Sonagarh and The Song of Anasuya, Nina Sibal's
Yatra, Shobha De's Socialite Evenings, Anita Desai's entire corpus from
Cry, the Peacock to Baumgartner's Bombay. Kamala Das's creative
outpourings, Margaret Atwood's essay in giving her inner perceptions -˜a
local habitation and name', her rendering of feminine sensibility in The
Edible Woman, The quest- motif in the works of Jean Rhys, Anita Desai,
Geetha Hariharan and Margaret Atwood, A Doll's House, Frankenstein, Pride
and Prejudice, Virginia Woolf's Between the Acts, Ellen Glasgow'' The
Miller of Old Church, Toni Morrison's whole Range of Novels, and F. Scott
Fitzgerald's Portrayal of Women. Besides these erudite studies of single
texts, individual authors or a group of authors, the anthology also
includes lucid exposition of the varied nuances of feminism, interspersed
in different articles, preceding detailed consideration of texts under
study. Not merely that. Also included is a wide ranging study of the
treatment of the neurotic phenomenon in Indian English fiction with
special reference to the portrayal of the emerging self of women
characters. A quick glance at the range of these studies indicates the
wide horizon opening up for exploration from this perspective. A perusal
of the studies is bound to open up new vistas of appreciation and

  Feminists do not agree among themselves on one all-inclusive and
universally acceptable definition of the term feminism. Depending on
one's political or sociological observations and goals, one's individual
aspirations for womanhood and for humanity, one's understanding or
interpretation of the word woman, and several other factors, the term
feminism can mean different things and have a variety of functions ...
(T) here are several different theories of feminism, and there is much
discussion ... on what it means to be a feminist, what goals feminism
should have, and how feminists should behave. Feminism may be a
perspective, a world view, a political theory, a spiritual focus, or a
kind of activism.   It was thus that an American feminist and historian
of feminism, Sheila Ruth, wrote twenty-five years ago (Issues in
Feminism, 1980). In her words we see the in-determinacy as to the
meaning, nature and function (or utility) of feminism. Aware of these
shortcomings in trying to define the term Ruth proceeds to elaborate on
the specifics: 1. Feminists -œValue women in and of themselves, as ends
in themselves-•. 2. Feminists -œdo not accept the cultural images of
women as incompetent, petty, irresponsible, or weak. Rather ... (they)
... affirm ... (their) ... capacities to be strong, capable, intelligent,
successful, ethical human beings-•. 3. Feminists value autonomy for
individual women and as a group. They wish to control their -œpolitical,
social, economic, and personal destinies.-• 4. Feminists reject the
traditionally postulated female as well as male characteristics. They
value each quality, in either sex, on -œits own merit-• and how it has an
impact on -œthe quality of life-•. 5. Feminists reject the -œmyth,
ignorance, and fear-• instilled into women and wish to replace these
attributes by reality and knowledge. 6. Feminists pursue their objectives
fully conscious that for long women have been denied basic human rights,
such as the right to vote, to earn a living, to control their bodies and
to pursue knowledge (particularly of such disciplines as mathematics and
science. Understood in this way, feminism should aptly be called -
œWomanism-•.   Let us now begin by confronting the question, -œWhat is -
˜Feminism'?-• As the answer must inevitably lead us into numerous
disciplines such as history, politics, governance, sociology, culture,
literature and the arts and even biology, the meaning of feminism will
vary from the vantage of one field of enquiry to the next, one society to
another and, most importantly, from the West to the East. It will also,
as the second half of the twentieth century has experienced, show its
changing ideological and pragmatic content. What are (so the plural is
fully justified) the feminisms of Susan B. Anthony, Angela Davis, Simone
de Beauvior, Judith Fetterley, Betty Friedan, Sandra Gilbert, Susan
Gubar, Germaine Greer, Erica Jong, Marga-ret Mead, Kate Millett, Toni
Morrison, Gloria Naylor, Cynthia Ozick, Sylvia Plath, Elaine Showalter,
Patricia Meyer Spacks, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Gloria Steinhem and
Catherine Stimpson on the one hand and those of Kamala Das, Anita Desai,
Shashi Deshpande, Kamala Markandeya, Gita Mehta, Jai Nimbkar and
Arundhati Roy on the other? Many more names could be easily added. So,
whose feminism? Feminism's plurality must be accepted as part of our
introduction to the various literary, cultural and sociological
perspectives. It is de rigueur that one accepts the term -œFeminism-• as
an inclusive attributive.   If white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant women adhere
to a feminism, other groups of women, even within the same society, will
have sharply different ideas as to what constitutes their feminism. The
African Americans, the Hispanics, the Asian- Americans and other -
œhyphenated-• sub-groups in America and citizens of West Indian or Asian
origin in Britain will all have their own versions. The less affluent, to
say nothing of those who are on the fringes of society, must surely add
to this overlapping picture. And then, one must acknowledge the African,
Asian, European and other varieties. It is in this way that Asian-
American women posit their own variety of feminism, one that can examine
their unique place and role in a Western society they have opted for, one
that can focus upon their unique dilemma. Implicit in this analysis is
the attention one must pay to questions of a) assimilation, b)
homogenization, letting oneself go and become part of the melting pot,
the salad bowl or the mosaic (as these terms keep changing in the U.S.
society, for example), c) resilience vs. resistance, etc. We are lead to
another question. How is such a variety of human situations to find
expression in literature, in the writings of the differing groups of
feminists? The needlessly sweeping generalizations will serve no purpose.
Beyond these strands of feminism, there is -œWomanism-•, a nomenclature
appropriate for the more human and humanist, open and accommodating and
less radical, con-frontationist, ideological and certainly less crabby a
vision in this chao-tic mix of evolving phases.   Consider the plight of
the African-American women. Centuries of slavery, the gross violation of
even the most basic human rights even in the post-bellum era right up to
the 1950s and the continuing racial discrimination and friction ever
since, despite the path-breaking legislation, record but one part of the
tragedy. They have had to face a threefold jeopardy: the white society's
racism and sexism and their own men folk's possessive, exploitative
stranglehold. Naylor's women characters, as those created by her sisters
in their common cause, are mute witnesses to this pain, humiliation and
injustice. What is the redemption for females of her world? Even fathers
are capable of inflicting shame and suffering. Caught between this
unending cycle of despair and violence, what is the escape route for the
women she portrays? (This example of the predicament of the African -
American women is, mutatis mutandis, applicable to women in every
society.)   With the emergence of feminist criticism (with its own theory
and aesthetics, as in Feminist Literary Criticism : Explorations in
Theory, ed. Josephine Donovan, 1975, A Literature of Their Own by Elaine
Showalter, 1977, The New Feminist Criticism, eds. Patrocinio P.
Schweickart and Elizabeth A. Flynn, 1985, A World of Difference by
Barbara Johnson, 1987, No Man's Land : The Place of the Woman Writer in
the Twentieth Century by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar,1988-1989, Beyond
Feminist Aesthetics by Rita Felski, 1989, Reading Black, Reading Feminist
: A Critical Anthology by Henry L. Gates, Jr., 1990 and many more), it is
but natural that literature written by women should be read, interpreted
and evaluated in a new mode based on a radically altered set of
expectations and values. (We assume that such aesthetic and critical
processes like reading, interpretation and evaluation are still valid in
academia where the notoriously anti-literature notions of post-
structuralism and post-modernism have not yet been dislodged). That a
patriarchal society's traditional hold is reflected in the way male and
female protagonists are portrayed in literature is but one index. While
contemporary writers exemplify this new feminist awareness, there have
been in the past similar voices crying against gender-based injustice
well before the dawn of the modern era and its concerns. A worthy example
of such early pre-feminist feminist is Kate Chopin and her uneven but
bold, starting and prescient novel, The Awakening, 1899. She was born
before the American Civil War. She lived in the highly conservative state
of Missouri and a somewhat freer state of Louisiana. She felt a kinship
with French writers, Maupassant, Mme. de Stael or George Sand, rather
than those writing in English. She shocked those around her by her
unconventional ways. She shocked her publishers and readers even more by
her candid and daring depiction of human sexuality, something which
writers, especially female, did not do at the time. These voices long
ignored or forgotten are now being rediscovered and reinstated, alas,
sometimes uncritically.    Feminism holistically, then, as a socio-
political program, advocates freedom, justice, equality, dignity,
compassion and other egalitarian values to benefit women everywhere as
they are the ones denied these considerations for long. The enormity and
complexity of the issues and claims involved must be recognized if the
long debate is not to be wasted in mere narrow-minded, fissiparous and
personal tendencies.    There is some truth to be wisecrack. -œWhat would
the Suffragettes have said about Germaine Greer or Kate Millett?-• For,
it is incontrovertible that the very nature of women's struggle has
radically changed since the days when the right to vote was denied. Now
from the concerns of middle-class women in North America and Western
Europe, the movement is enlarged to comprise the problems of women
everywhere whatever their class, economic well-being, race, colour,
nationality, religion, ethnic origin and the like. Feminism seen thus is
in fact a twentieth-century renaissance whose sometimes unavoidably
conflicting voices must be faced.    An illustration, say, of the life and
work of Sylvia Plath, might help. Through her poetry and fiction emerges
an anguish which is her feminism in an understated, almost apolitical and
nascent form. But are her pleas against society and contemporary
civilization itself more like an untraditional individualism for which
women must defy codes set by men? The strategies adopted by the women she
portrays is an indication of the stirrings of their feminist selves.
Shouldn't a woman long used to subjugation by a member of her own family
get even with him or her, i.e., get even with society? Similarly, if a
man has a fling, shouldn't a woman feel justified in having one herself?
Given such situations, getting even easily translates into vengefulness.
More and more, fiction becomes only a thinly veiled story of Plath's own
life comprising her real-life traumas (strained marriage, career hopes
and frustrations, unsuccessful attempts at suicide, etc.) are the lot of
the females she depicts. Freedom within the framework (-œbondage-•?) of
wedded bliss seems to be a contradiction. Defiance of conventions
dictated by men is her feminism. The strategy of one-upmanship adopted in
her stories points to the stirrings of are awakened female self, and of
Plath herself. Among the frontiers of knowledge sought to be broadened
in the wake of recent developments in theories of criticism, the
rewriting of the history of a people long oppressed, the search for their
origins (remembering Alex Haley's Roots, 1976, will be apt in this
context), letting them (i.e., the oppressed) tell their own tale and
thus, in the process, revise the histories written by others (i.e.,
mainly the oppressors) has been a necessary undertaking. Whether such -
œrevising-• has turned into -œrevisionism-• is a matter fit for a
separate, objective inquiry. But with the ending of colonialism (of
different kinds), with the gradual receding of racial, ethnic and other
hegemonic dominance on vast numbers of humanity everywhere, some
corrective steps in establishing and recording what has really taken
place in the past are overdue. Staying clear of old paradigms of the male
and the female, the oppressor and the oppressed, issues regarding -
œdisconnectedness-• and -œfemale bonding-• must also be addressed.    But,
even within African- American feminism, there is noticeable room for
pluralism, ambivalence and difference; the divisions and sub-divisions
becoming more and more visible with the passage of time, say, during the
second half of the twentieth century. It need not be surprising if Toni
Morrison and Alice Walker, Zora Hurston and Gloria Naylor exhibit sharp
differences while united on the general objective of their struggle.
The preceding discussion shows that finding a way through the maze of
scholarly sources and even dictionaries and encyclopaedias in order to
settle the question of what is an acceptable definition of feminism is by
no means easy. Let us settle for a working hypothesis : a woman must free
herself so that she does not depend upon another person (male or female),
a group or a faith (religious or ideological). Subordination to anyone or
anything is rejected. Nor, on the other hand, is it necessary for a woman
to be anti-man to prove her credentials. Such a one is a feminist.    Is
there, however, a new orthodoxy in place? Is there a new fundamentalism
reigning unchecked, unchallenged? Even a dispassionate questioning of
this new tide of feminism gets immediately branded as a heresy, a sign of
a fossilized academic mind, a reactionary, a colonial, even a stooge of
the Western capitalism and imperialism and so on. All one needs to do at
a seminar is to quote D.H. Lawrence, Henry Miller, Norman Mailer, Jean
Genet or Kingsley Amis approvingly, all hell breaks loose. A chorus of
protest and outrage will ensue to drown even the most determined speaker.
This is not a fitting climate for a disinterested search for a saner and
more harmonious future for all. It is as if the accumulated wisdom and
enlightenment of over three thousand years of occidental heritage all the
way from Homer, Sophocles and Aristotle down to John Ruskin, Matthew
Arnold, Saul Bellow and Norman Mailer have been rendered irrelevant. The
reader may judge the extremism explicit in such a mind-set and that the
larger cause of literature and literary culture (including that of
feminism) will not be served by it. Even the most diehard Kate Millett
and Phyllis Schaffley (two polar opposites, one a fire brand radical and
the other just as determined right wing conservative) must admit that
political or ideological extremes have never helped anybody down through
recorded history.   Let me state what I personaly believe in. I am a
pursuer of creative literature. I value that life which is of the most
unobtrusive variety of culture and civilization. Stripped bare of all
hyperbole, all rhetoric inspired only by one sort of political or
ideological bigotry, feminism to me is a vital part of universal human
rights. If the end of feudalism and colonialism and of whatever they have
bred, if the end of empires, militarist or ideological, and whatever they
have entailed has come about (and which may be an over- statement),
patriarchal and other forms of oppression and exploitation of women
through the world must also end expeditiously. How can we (men, i.e.),
deny more than half the population rights and privileges, dignity and
respect, equality of opportunity and status - which are already overdue
in most places? Let us, men and women, join hands across seemingly
formidable barriers created by history, circumstances, but mainly by
ignorance, mendacity and vested interests. To paraphrase the words of
E.M. Forster (taken from a different context), let us build the rainbow
bridge that will connect men and women. Without it both will be
increasingly redundant and meaningless fragments, mere arches awaiting to
be connected. Without it both will be unenlightened and unredeemed. With
it, human souls in our own technologically-driven, materialistically -
conceived life in the East and the West, will be capable of order,
proportion and sanity and above all, fullness that are latent in us. The
diverse roads of our souls will be clear and stretched far into human
consciousness which only the human imagination can gauge. Fragments will
cease and men and women will breathe exaltation. Such a feminism will be
an essential and vital part of humanism. We in India with our unique
ancient heritage, and without Western obsession with what has been called
an act of grand patricide, can tread the middle road.   Even as I am
rounding off this short essay I remember that it is the week of 8 March,
the International Women's day. For newspapers and news magazines it is a
field day. There were, however, a few bits and pieces worth noting. In
the opinion of some, women have made it. Women have a place in society
just as good as men have. There is no longer a suffering woman! All of
which means that feminism's objectives are met. Women finally have their
own place in the sun (as the expression goes). One even went on to
suggest that feminism as a cause or as a movement (literary, sociological
or political) is passe. So on and so forth in a clearly chirpy manner of
a Pollyanna. Obviously there is more to the subject than this breezy
optimism suggests, as others argued more sagaciously. Even in the
citadels of feminism and womanism (say, in North America and Western
Europe) gender discrimination continues to be a harsh reality. It is
girls and women who are expected, indeed ordained, to -œadjust-•
(whatever that blessed word means). Right from the cradle a conditioning
takes place (even with well-meaning parents) and in no times at all an
ignored, hurt baby girl develops into a repressed young woman in the full
gaze of a patriarchal society. The simmering anger and frustration may
remain slightly submerged; but there they are. In every facet of life the
old codes governing the sexes are still operative. Therefore, on all
counts there are battles still to be fought.   A civilization's aches and
agues are, inevitably, creative literature's concerns. Society, the
governing class and all the other seats of power and authority must just
as inevitably respond constructively - commensurate with the challenge.
Men and women of letters and literary critics not necessarily wedded to
any extraneous cause, whether -œprescriptive-• in their practice or not,
will in their own way, do their bit. I began with a reference to woman
scholar from USA. I shall conclude with the words of another, Susan A.
Ross, a leading advocate of women's rights:   The feminist movement was
born out of the realization that women's voices were not being heard,
that women's many talents were not being used that violence against women
and children was rampant in the world, that we could only make a better
world when all of humanity, men and women together, could fully
participate in the future. (Frontline, 24 September, 2004     Feminism has
been the by product of fission and fusion of diverse convulsions
consequent upon the compulsions of the time subsequent respond of the
human mind, of the particular sect, known as the -˜other', the -˜I am
home, this is home' (33), that could envisage the evangelical
Christianity of Britain and United States, wave of equal rights of French
School of nationalism, suffrage movement etc. otherwise known as
suffragette women's emancipation, women's liberation, women's movement,
feminism, social feminism, radical feminism, antislavery movements, etc.
It is directly related to the culture of the land and so we find
different tags, such as, the English feminism, the Canadian feminism, the
African feminism, the Australian feminism, the New Zealand feminism, the
French feminism, the Marxist feminism, and of the course, the Indian
feminism. The present paper intends to examine feminism in the Indian
context and its repurcusions on the writings of women writers of Indian
English Writing.   Talking of feminism in the Indian context, we find it
as an amalgamation of Western liberalism in general and feminist thought
in particular accompanied by the indigenous factors such as the legacy of
equality of sexes inherited from the freedom struggle, constitutional
rights of women, literacy drive generating awareness etc. Not only that,
if we look back to our scriptures, we may easily trace its flavour far
back in our culture and civilization;   Manu- Smriti (Manu's Code) though
accused of being conservative in providing liberty to woman, sanctions
due respect and right to woman is general.    -œYatra narayastu poojyante
ramante tatra devatah/ Yatra taastu na rpoojyante, sarvast traflah
kriyah-•   (Gods themselves abide in places where woman are worshipped or
kept happy Labours never bear fruit where women are not respected)
Sochati Jamayo Yatra   Vinashyaotyashu tat kulem -   (Annichilated will
be that family or clan where woman are in misery - the class or family of
a happy woman is bound to prosper.)   Obviously, it won't be erroneous to
postulate that feminism existed in the mind of the earliest mankind as a
sub conscious/ unconscious concern though not articulated distinctly. In
the Western world we find its seedling in the commonest credential of the
advocacy of the rights of women as the basis of similarity and
differences and thereby our explanations confronts the multiple tradition
: in the medieval Europe (Jean de Meung, Christina de Pisan, Marie de
Gouvang, Aphra Ben, Mary Astell, etc.) in the period of Enlightenment
(1770-1860, that talks of the rights of man reasons, natural law and
equal rights), in the suffergette movement (1860-1930) in the antislavery
and evangelical movements of 19th century in unitarian and Quaker
traditions, socialist or communitarian movement of Saint Simon, Fourier
and Robert Owen breeding individualist feminism (bourgeois) of socialist
feminism and to a great extent to the new dimension provided by the
decades to deconstrution of women of postmodernists in the 1970s and
1980s. The mediaval Europe was defender of woman's nature, the
Enlightenment emphasized on woman's rights in marriage, education and
employment (French, American and British early activists like Elizabeth
Cady Stanton, Margaret Fuller, Lucretia Mott, The Laugham Place Group
etc. Mary Wollstonecrafts'A Vindication of the Rights of women in 1792),
the suffargette movement could unite women of various backgrounds;
Freud's discovery of the unconscious and his ideas of penis envy, female
narcissism and female maschoism could bring revolutionery change in the
mental make up of comman man, Consciousness Raising groups of 1960s and
many books of the decades also, influenced, for example, -œThe Second
Sex' (Simone de Beauvoir, 1953) -˜The Feminine Mystique', (Betty Friedan,
1963), Sexual Politics (Kate Millet, 1969), -˜The Female Eunch (Germaine
Green, 1970) etc. The concept of universality (of 1960s) was challenged
by the working class, third world and black women; the circumstances
became mare disgusting as the woman was deconstructed in the 1970s and
1980s fragmenting the lot into different groups : in the Anglo American
feminist tradition radical liberalism came up, the French tradition (that
of Locan, Kristeva, Cisxus and the -˜Guoupe politique et psychoanalyse')
question of language, the construction of sexuality, the articulation of
sex and desire in the text was explored that was opposed to the notion of
a coherent subject, central to the work of bourgeois or humanist
feminism. All these development have direct or indirect influence on the
feminists of India, their work and their approach in defining their male
and female characters. The voice of feminism in Indian English writing
is not audible in the writings of the writers of the first generations.
Thereafter we have the voice of protest, an urge for order through
defiance, paying back the men in their own terms, without the dependence
syndrome etc. Nayantara Sahgal is, perhaps, the first writer in Indian
English writing whose novels tell us about the women who are oppressed by
marriage, by political circumstances and by accidents of history, by
violating the established norms, in her novels such as; -˜A time to be
Happy', This Time of Morning', The Day in Shadow', A situation in New
Delhi, -˜Rich Like Us, etc. In these novels women try to establish a
model. Raji Narsimhan is another writer with the novel, Forever Free'
where woman establishes a different model through defiance. Uma Vasudev's
-˜The Song of Anasuya' is yet another novel where woman establishes here
identity by paying back the men in their own terms. Ruth Jhabvala, Kamla
Markandya, Shahsi Deshpande, Anita Desai, Mamta Kalia, Imtiaz Dharkar,
Arundhati Roy, Shobha De, Lakshmi Kannan, Bharati Mukherjee etc. Play a
crucial role in pronouncing this particular voice. Actually speaking
Indian English fiction has a broad fare of the spirit of nationalism
which includes historical as well as socially and politically conscious
theme followed by psychological novels. It is a development from
historical romances to social raslism to psychological probings into
individual personality and consciousness. In the post independence era
the emphasis further shifts from a concern with society to a concern with
private life and individual consciousness pleasing on the exploration of
the inner world of a man. As R.S. Singh says,    -œThe history of Indian
English fiction is, broadly speaking, a development from historical
remances to social realism, to psychological probings into individual
personality and consciousness. The most remarkable trend noticeable in
the post independence fiction is the shift in emphasis from a concern
with society to a concern with private life and individual consciousness
placing its focus on the inner ecology of man-•.   (Singh, 1977, 167-68)
Meenakshi Mukerjee also claims in -˜The Twice Born Fiction', that, -œThe
Modern novelists exhibit a marked propensity towards depicting the
private life.-• (23) If we consider the first appearenc of women
novelists, we find four women novelists : Raj Lakshmi Debi with -œThe
Hindu Wife', Toru Dutt with -˜Bianca', Kerupabai, Satthianadhan with -
˜Kamla', -˜Saguna', -˜A Story of Native Christian Life and Shevantibai M.
Nikambe with -˜Ranibai', all before the turn of the 20th century.
Cornelia Sorabji proved to be the first women writer to appear with first
Indian English short story in the beginning of the twentieth century
having a considerable literary output. In the last quarter of the
nineteenth century we find the emergence of women writers of great
significance, on the one hand we find the birth of a new era of
emancipation for the Indian women on the other it was a commentary on the
rise of individualism. Great social reorientation allowed them ample
opportunities to participate in the social and intellectual life and with
the rise of individualism rise of novel is also to be traced. It is in
this age that we find the first generation of women writers such as Toru
Dutt, Swarna Kumari, Ghoshal, Krupabai, Santhanisthan and Sorabji
Cornelia followed by Hyotshan Bhattacharjee, H. Kaveri Bai, Iqbalunmisa
Hussain, Vimala Kapur, etc.; their works may be counted as reformistic,
sociological and autobiographical, though they have less literary merit
and most often ranked as insignificant and nonentities. After
independence we have major novelists right from Kamla Markandeya up to
the present one.   -˜Nectar in a Sieve' (1953) is the first novel of
Kamla Markandaya that brought her international recognition. The most
striking feature of her writing is the characterisation of women placed
against -˜historical, cultural, political and sociological environment of
a changing India. Women consciousness dominates in the familial
relationship of her novels. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala goes to the middle class
families and try to look into their problems of personal relationship. -
˜A Backward Place (1965) is remarkable for its depiction of three
European expatiarate women in a unique tone of sympathy and derision. In
-˜The Nature of Passion' (1956) we find the incongruities of human
character and situations, in -˜Esmond in India' (1958), there is East-
West encounter and marital discord and -˜The House Holder' is a social
comedy with a touch of irony self- analysis and the comic elements too.
Nayantara Sahgal, basically a political novelist, has a strong realistic
base, trying to adjust herself in between the personal values and
changing values. Her feminine sensibility appears to be unconventional
and of the time borders on clash of egos and subsequently divorce yet her
primary concern is to anticulate the voice of women. -˜A time to be
Happy', -˜The Time of Morning and -˜The Day in Shadow' are some of her
important novels that have autobiographical touch and the conflict
between the personal world of man-woman relationship and impresonal world
of politics. Needless to say that Anita Desai, Shashi Deshpande and
Bharati Mukherjee are taken as triad, becoming conscious rememblance in
dealing with the world of women, as Shashi Deshpande specifies, these
women writers present characters who speak of -˜the power of women, the
diviousness of women, the helplessness of women, the courage of woman-•
Where Shall We Go This Summer' brought Anita Desai an award and more
publicity and recognition, the theme is husband-wife alienations, a theme
that recurs in most of her novels.   Desai's other novels that matter
most are -˜Cry, the Peacock', -˜Voices in the City', -˜Bye Bye Blackbird'
and -˜Fire one the Mountains'. Her minute exploration of existential life
and internal character is remarkable. As Srinivas Iyengar feels, her
chief concern is -˜the inner climate, the climate of sensibility that
lours or cleans or rumbles like thunder or suddenly blazes forth like
lightening, more compelling than the outer weather, the physical
geography or the visible actions, her forte in other words is the
exploration of sensibility.' (464) Shashi Deshpande dislikes to be
categorised on the basis of being a women writer. In -œWriting from the
Margin-• she maintains, -œThe way. I see the world is coloured by this
fact of my being women, by the historical and social circumstances of
women's lives ... Nevertheless, when I sit down to write I am just a
writer my gender ceases to matter to me. -œHer novels -˜Roots and
Shadows, -˜That Long Silence, -˜The Birding Vine,' -˜A matter of Time', -
˜Small Remedies, -˜If I Die Today', -˜Come up and Be Dead' and various
short stories confirm her altogether different place. Jasbir Jian finds
in her book -˜Gendered Realities, Human Spaces : The Writing of Shahsi
Deshpande' that -˜there are at least three different traditions she
relates to, two which she acknowledge and the third which she does not.
The tradition of the nineteenth century women's writing in acknowledged
in many different ways as in her affiliations with women writers of other
Indian languages. She deals with the them of Indian family and the
unconventioned marriage (on the basis of love and romance) that indicates
a rebellion on the part of the woman in the Indian context at least.
Shyamala A Narayan points out in her Book Review that Jain believes that
Deshpande is a conscious artist and shows how she has achieved a certain
-˜Indian-ness' through -˜a multiplicity of intertextualities from
different cultures' and -˜a new integrated approach which embrances
different traditions of the oral and written cultures'. Bharati Mukherjee
comes under Indian diaspora writers with her chief concern for the
immigrants; the identity crisis, the conflict between two cultures,
racial diseriminations, etc. -˜The Tiger's Daughter, -˜The Middleman and
Other Stories, -˜Darkness and -˜Wife' are her prominent works. -˜Jasmine
is more a woman engaged in a quest of values. Other novelists who matter
in such delibrations are Sntha Rama Rau, Nargis Dalal, Jyotshna
Bhattacharya, H. Kaveri Bai, Iqbalunmisa Hussain, Vimala Kapur, etc. who
though wrote less, wrote meaningful. If we explore the present scenario,
We find more powerful writers like Arundhati Roy (-œThe God of small
things'). Manju Kapur (Different Daughters). Namita Gokhle (Paro) and
Shobha De (-˜Socialite Evenings') - all fighting with problems that the
present generations has to face.    This long journey of Indian women
English writers has experienced upheavals of different sorts and
categorisation of various scholars and assault of numerous critics.    The
progress and development of these women writers may be summed up as
fellows; as pointed out by observers :-    a) They started with accepting
the male superiority (male psedonyms) followed by raising voice of
protest and then a search for identity.    b) They started with the
description of historical and political climate, then creeped into social
periphery, individually family, cluminating in exploring personal and
woman life.   c) They initiated with traditional looks and influenced by
the global climate, at present dwell upon the inner world of the
individual both men and women.   d)      They dislike to be saggregated as
a different class of writers, that is, women writers.    These
observations tell us a lot about the women writers (Indian) in general.
No doubt women had to encounter the world that revolved round men only;
the feminist phase provoked them to protest and finally the quest of
freedom culminated in self discovery. And so we have stories of
encounters, dissatisfaction, restlessness, anxiety and embarrasment. This
is a desire to establish one's own world but not completely divorced from
the world of man; but as a complimentary body, a counterpart.   Meenakshi
Mukherjee ferels -˜the label women writers implies same set of
expectation and Anita Desai feels' the women writers are likely to place
their emphasis different from man. It may be the female psyche they are
talking of, we may cal it -˜radical feminism' coming out of the -˜privacy
and secularism' of their -˜sweet home' climate.   These writers wish to
establish that women is a being, not an appendage of man, not the -
˜other', not an addition to man, rather an autonomous being, capable of
finding her own way to salvation.   Post-feminism has arrived, feminism
is passe. The is the assumption but what, in fact, is the reality? Has
post-feminism arrived? And if so, is it a saga of victory or a narrative
of defeat? In November, 1999 we had seminar on Krishna Sobti's work, and
while there was a scramble by paper readers to place her in the feminist
slot, the writer herself took the position that her concerns were more
comprehensive and wide-based. At about the same time, there was a
newspaper report about an interview given by Shashi Deshpande where in
she has asserted that tired of being ghettoized as a feminist writer she
may as well give up writing. Others before her, writers like Anita Desai
for instance, had resisted being labelled as feminists and had rejected
all comparisons between the metaphor of birthing and creative writing. At
about the same time, I was reading Dalip Kaur Tiwana's literary
autobiography. Puchhde Ho To Suno (1995) in which she has discussed the
issue of being a woman writer at some length. It was evident that the
Tiwana was unwilling to be limited by the term feminist. The list is
endless both at home and abroad. Laxmi Kannan adopts a similar position.
Doris Lessing was disappointed that The Golden Notebook (1962) was read
as -œa feminist tract-• which pushed her literary experimentation into
the wilderness. In a 1972 introduction to The Golden Notebook (Second
edition), Lessing is of the view that the women's movement is -œobsolete
and parochilal-• in the face of impending global disaster-•. And Madhu
Kishwar, the editor of Manushi, wrote in 1989 (No 61) an editorial titled
-œWhy I do not call myself a Feminist-• in which she gave several reasons
for not preferring the term.   Other reasons which prompt me to look at
this phenomenon more closely are the unseemly scenes which have taken
place in our Parliament each time the Women's Reservation Bill has been
presented. The downgrading of women-employed jobs and professions,
continued discriminations and the recantations abounding all around right
from Betty Friedan to Kamala Das. As early as 1987. Susan Faludi in her
book Backlash : The Undeclared War Against Women examines the strategies
which -œaimed to divide and isolate women at a crucial moment in the
struggle for equality, independence and autonomy-• looking at the
failures and tracing their causes (Smith xiv). Faludi scrutinizes the
myths which are being floated about equality and freedom, substantiates
her conclusions with data and writes :   The truth is that the last
decade has been a powerful counter- assault on women's rights, a
backlash, an attempt to retract the handful of small and hard-won
victories that feminist movement did manage to win for women ... The
backlash is at once sophisticated and banal, deceptively -˜progressive'
and proudly backward.   These beliefs, positions, approaches and trends
are contradictory and complex and compel one to look at the whole
movement being referred to as post- feminism very critically. Apparently
what is at stake is also very varled : ideologies and epistemologies,
literary aesthetics and social structures, Again, does post-feminism
celebrate the achievements of feminism which in themselves are not
insignificant, or does it signify a return to the same old universalism
and masculine normative patterns? Positioning the -˜post' raises its own
questions. Position is both a noun and a verb and carriers several
meanings: locate, post, placement, reversal. Which one is the real
meaning? Locating the -˜post' i.e. what are the real reasons for the post
position? Or is there, in my choice of this word, a desire to find out
whether this post is post-essentialist feminism, post-western feminism
(where India is concerned) or post-radical feminism? Feminisms are
several and they are culture specific. The feminist discourse in India
has, at times, gone all out to differentiate itself from the feminisms of
more affluent societies primarily because of cultural reasons? Thus, when
the whole issue of positioning the -˜post' or locating it in terms of
time and concerns arises, context becomes important despite the existence
of parallel factors being present in most cultures.   Feminist theory is
not one, it has several different theoretical approaches and positions
but whether it is socio-economic, psychological or literary, its two
primary concerns are power and freedom. Both have traditionally been
denied to women, placing them on the margins. It is these margins which
are being redefined or shifted through a shift to post- feminism in
literary aesthetics. Gayatri Spivak in her essay -œMarginality and the
Teaching Machine-• has observed that there :   can be no universalist
claim in the human sciences. This is most strikingly obvious in the case
of establishing -œmarginality-• as a subject-position in literary and
cultural critique. The reader must accustom herself to starting from a
particular situation and then to the ground shifting under her feet.
(Spivak 53) Thus post-feminism emerges not merely as a -˜post' phase but
perhaps part of feminist strategy to renegotiate the margins, to prevent
feminist aesthetics from reaching a dead end in the manner in which Dalit
aesthetics has done, and from being trapped in confessional and
victimcentred narratives. Women's writing if about women's experience, is
still devalued. It defines the readership and confines it to the level of
-˜sharing' and -˜consciousness-raising' writing. Its evaluation and
critiquing are still largely male-centred and dispute its very validity.
The subtexts are often ignored. It is important to know who is reading
women's writing and how it is being read. Intepretation rather than open
out a text may, at times, limit and strait- jacket it.   The multiple
concerns of feminism have led to its affiliation and engagement with
almost every discipline and with every contemporary movement, but its
basic approach has been one of questioning, a suspicion of knowledge as
well as the history of knowledge. This is a necessary first step, if one
wants to stand outside the layers of imposed systems of thought and to
comprehend the nature of stereotypes and to stand outside them. And this
questioning has gone far beyond the questioning of any other struggle
before it, before it, for instance the class struggle or the colonial
struggle for the relationship between women and social structures is far
more intricate and more deeply embedded in society than any other.
Education, marriage, family, morality, linguistic constructs, custom, law
- all these are important elements or self-construction. The post-
feminist position is the third stage in the feminist struggle. Here, I am
not concerned with phases : they have been many more, but stages. The
first was a concern with the right to equality and political rights and
the second with emphasis on alternative perspectives and epistemological
structures. Both of these failed to destroy the binary oppositions. The
first still held -˜man' as central, with woman being a -˜no-man' with
aspirations to become one, the second privileged differences, motherhood
and the self. The third stage, the post feminist one is at one level an
attempt to demolish these binary oppositions and at another an effort to
redefine power and freedom. It is an attempt to extend the area of
women's roles and of their questioning of relationships in order to drive
home the point that the self does not exist in isolation. Debates have
centred on the connection between gender and epistemological structures,
temporal and religious frameworks, theorizing and revising our
understanding of existing knowledge systems. But none of these debates
have settled any issues, they cannot be treated as final and universal,
or universally accepted. The social reality does not permit this
optimism. Despite the affiliation of feminism with activism, and the
support extended to it through affirmative state action and empowerment
strategies, the movement, in India at least, still remains on the
margins. It is both an anathema and a challenge, and also a matter for
serious consideration. Have our consciousness- raising strategies failed?
Is the state support half- hearted? What has the law done to enhance
equality? Is its splintering into class attitude responsible for its
marginality? These all need to be thought about and debated but the
greatest obstacle has been the concept of -œtradition-• which has been
rigidified and is increasingly being reshaped in conservative and
reactionary modes.   If, in the west, women have had to question the
findings and conclusions of the Enlightenment philosophers and of men
like Rousseau, Darwin and Freud, in India it is the writings of men like
Manu and the masculine interpretations of myths. Manu surfaces everywhere
- in convocation addresses, college functions, women's assemblies
(specially when chaired by men), public meetings and assembly speeches.
He becomes the final defence of those who feel threatened by feminist
questioning of social structures and power relationships. Confronted by
this kind of a social situation, how do writers respond to it? Where are
the strategies which they adopt to counteract this?   Pandita Ramabai
took him head - on. The High Caste Hindu Woman (1888) is an analyses of
Manu's position and exposes its in-built gender biases and the nature of
its authoritarian control over women by controlling all that goes to
constitute or develop the self as well as identity. Though they are words
often treated as synonyms, I would like to make a distinction between
them, identity being a characteristic or a condition which distinguishes
a person and self being the individual consciousness as seat of
subjective thought and action. The first is marked by external factors
like class, caste, status and the rest of it, while the second, self,
depends upon body, mind, intellect and emotions, in short in the control
a person exercises over these. Control over the body implies the
acceptance of a person as a contigent being, and in the case of women
immediately focuses attention of biological existence. Sex, rape,
marriage, procreation, birth control, abortion would all be important
areas of concern. Body implies the right to be. Emotion is equally
relevant for it implies the right to feel, to respond, to relate.
Intellect, the region of thought, presumes the right to know, to think,
to have ideas, and mind the right to take a decision, to make a choice,
in brief to act. But women have very limited freedom and even less
control over these four constituents of the self. Either society,
religion or tradition control them and more often than not religion,
tradition and morality are used to exclude women from power and knowledge
and reinforce patriarchal authority. We have examples of this in the
nationalist discourse (Chatterjee), in the aftermath of the partition
abductions (Veena Das) and in the developmental policies (Nirmala Buch,
also see Banerjee). A very recent example is the Supreme Court judgment
which by recognizing male illicit relationships in the garb of justice
for the children of those relationships victimises the monogamous wife.
Yet, despite these controls exercised by society, there is a native
tradition of feminism which can be traced as far back as possible. It
exists in the Ramayana and Mahabharata, in the folk songs which provide
space for critiquing, in the writings of women which Susie Tharu and K.
Lalita have traced in their two volumed authology Women Writing in India.
There is also a nineteenth century intervention perceptible in the
several writings which are now being recovered or reprinted. There has
also been an ongoing struggle against tradition as efforts have been made
to shift the margins of the boundaries.   This feminist tradition is not
always and not necessarily female. Men have contributed to it at several
levels, in many ways and to different regions of thought and experience.
But it is literary tradition which concerns me here. Men have been
sensitive enough to question the closing-in of boundaries. Some major
examples are available to us in Tagore's Yogayog (1929), Sarat Chandra
Chatterjee's Shesh Prashan (1931) and Jainendra Kumar Jain's Tyaagpatr
(1937). While Tagore focuses on the nature of incompatible marriages, and
a woman's lack of freedom in her responses, Sarat Chandra Chatterjee
projects, through the character of Kamal, a woman who survives with
dignity through widowhood, a fake marriage and loneliness. She defies
social norms, is at times ostracised but is never really without self-
generated strength which helps her to sustain herself. Mrinal, the young
woman, in Jainendra Kumar's Tyaagpatr is an illustration of a woman
struggling to reconcile her personal desire for freedom and love with the
moral norms defined by the patriarchal society. The system doesn't allow
her to laugh, to love or even dream; it does not allow her to relate, and
finally it does not even give her the option of submitting. She finds her
self, in whatever limited degree, outside marriage, and relationship
outside respectability, as an abandoned woman. Both her body and mind
refuse to be controlled. But throughout this struggle she does not
abandon her personal sense of morality.   Yet none of these writers is
read as a -˜woman's writer' and the debates they initiated are not viewed
as irrelevant, even if they are not perceived from a feminist
perspective. This is not necessarily the case with women writers. Most
women writers who protest against being labelled as feminist are doing so
for a variety of reasons, some of which can be stated as follows : the
reader - critic reads them selectively and glosses over their subtexts;
the media and the market view them as woman-to-woman writers, i.e. women
who write about women and address a female readership; a lot of research
and reviewing is confined to this slot and stereotypes them; they are
identified with victim - literatures and this limits the perception of
their experimentation or aesthetics; feminism is still not viewed as an
individual's right to grow, but as militant rebellion bent upon
indiscriminatingly destroying all social and moral codes or the -˜new'
woman is seen is a promiscuous one; moreover binary oppositions continue
to exist. Writing has often enough rebelled against the methodologies of
criticism; post-feminism appears to be another such example, seeking to
explore other ways of realigning the margins, necessitating a second look
at the recantations, at the backlash and evolving definitions of freedom.
The relationship between feminism and post-feminism is a much deeper one
than the word -˜post' indicates. The connection is perceptible in the
choice of themes and the way these writers explore these themes. Krishna
Sobti's Mitro Marjani is primarily read as a text celebrating female
sexuality and an oft-quoted passage is the one where Mitro indulges in
praise of her own bodily beauty. Not only is Mitro Marjani (1967) read in
separation from the rest of her work which in itself is fair enough, but
it is read as a representative novel encompassing all her work, glossing
over the variety of themes and issues, styles, approaches, linguistic and
aesthetic experimentation in the rest of her work. The novel in itself is
about much more than female sexuality. It is about the dynamics of family
life, about patriarchal structures and paternal authority. Fathers are
either absent or old and weak, and without power. The novel opens with
the performance of the shraddhas in the memory of the ancestors, but the
shraddhas have become a mere ritual and no one has the time to remember
them (10). Gurdas, the father of three sons, is now relegated to a back
room and his main channel of communication with the rest of the family is
through his wife Dhanwanti. It is the maternal link which is emphasized
when he addressed his sons -œDhanwanti ke putro-•. Even where the
authority appears to be vested in men, it is wielded by the women. The
space which is dominant is the domestic space and a great deal of action
takes place in an around the kitchen. And as the novel progresses,
Phulwanti, the youngest daughter-in-law, compels her husband to move out
of the family. Sumitra, the -˜Mitro' of the title, is temporarily sent
away, and Suhaag, the eldest one exercises authority through her
prospective motherhood. The narrative is about man- woman relationships,
woman-to-woman relationships and the power which is latent in them. Mitro
questions the whole husband-centred female existence and the moral values
generated by patrillineage (78). She defies all social norms towards that
end. In fact, her act of drawing attention to her body is also a defiance
of the norms. It is the beginning of a subject- position, a rejection of
the male gaze, a shift from the purely ornamental beauty for which women
are appreciated and trained to cater for. Mitro is different from both
her sisters-in-law, one who is preparing for motherhood and the other who
is concerned about property and riches. And even as motherhood is
privileged, it is the family which is problematized. Banwari, the eldest
brother, defends his brother Sardari, who is Mitro's husband, -œSardari
mein koi dosh nahin, amma, woh jarnaili naar chhote mote mard ke bus ki
nahin-• (86). Mitro's character has none of the wilyness which is
traditionally associated with sexual seduction or seen as belonging to
the women's art of manipulation, treya chiratr, as it is often referred
to. Her responses are spontaneous and her actions transparent.
Nevertheless, she brings into the household something of a public woman's
approach thus redefining the area of -˜respectable' man-woman
relationship.   The mother- daughter relationship between Mitro and her
mother, is also crucial to the meaning of the novel. Roles do not
confine. Mitro's mother transgresses the boundaries of conventional
motherhood, and mitro senses in her arrival for her husband's affection
as it her womanly presence which imposes itself on Sardari. It is this
aspects which is responsible for the sensual abandon in the Mitro-
Sardari relationships and serves as a basis for a return to the now
redefined family circle. Mitro challenges the notion of a passive female
sexuality and in the process frees the sexual act from a primary
responsibility towards procreation and motherhood from the image of a
protective feminine figure. Dalip Kaur Tiwana in Puchhde Ho To Suno
writes that perceptions of Indian womanhood are broadly classified into
the Devi and not-Devi, and this is a division into the good and the bad,
the domestic and the public space, the wife and the whore. These
boundaries blur in Mitro's life as she makes a place for herself on her
own terms in her marital home.   The image of motherhood as a protective
feminine principle is also under attack from several directions and
several women writers have challenged it, more specifically Anita Desai
whose early novels abound in absent mothers, ailing and weak ones or
possessive and domineering ones. But it is in Journey to Ithaca that the
idea of a biological mother is superceded by that of a spiritual mother.
In this it stands half-way between a woman's role as procreative mother
and the image of the Mother Goddess. Motherhood is traditionally
venerated in Indian Culture, but it doesn't free the woman from her body.
Manu perceived motherhood to be the main purpose of a woman's life and
placed a mother a hundred times above the father. And Sudhir Kakar is of
the view that one of the dominant narratives of this culture is, -œDevi,
the great goddess, especially in her manifold expressions as mother in
the inner world of the Hindu son-• (Kakar 131). But the theory of
maternal superiority, Angela Carter has pointed out in The Sadeian Woman
: An Exercise in Cultural History (1979), -œis one of the most damaging
of all consolatory fictions-• and it places women out of history, where -
œfertility governs all decisions, choices and relationships-• (106).
Motherhood, it needs to be understood, subjugates the female body, and is
primarily an asexual relationship without power. Moving from absent and
surrogate mothers to Laila in Journey to Ithaca, Desai negotiates the
concept of motherhood in a different manner. It is through denial of sex
and the renunciation of all bodily desires that Laila becomes the Mother.
She is not a familial being. Her parents are of the view that she have
been dance group and finds her way to India and wills her way to
Motherhood through an active act of self- assertion. Montu-da, one of her
biographers, describes her transformation as an act of transcending a
separateness. Finally, when she is taken into the Master's fold, he
pronounces her to be Shakti and says:   ?     Thou art Durga   ?
      Mother of us all   ?   Thou art Kali ? The Divine Force    ?   And
Parvati ? Sweet Goddess of the Mountains (290)     Contrasted to Laila,
who is transformed into Lila, are other mothers like nonna and sophie,
mothers who despite their wish to protect their children have to let them
go. Through these portrayals Desai is not merely deconstructing
motherhood, she is also questioning the institutions of marriage and
family which obstruct the process of individuation, freedom is a rare
commodity.   The intricate web of human relationships as it is
instrumental in the development of the self is also a dominant concern in
Shashi Deshpande's novels, each of which focuses on a different issue -
loneliness, clash with male ego, the degree of freedom within marriage
and the extent to which one can approximate independence. Roots and
shadows (1983) are about the nature of adultery. When Indu has a physical
relationship with Narendra, it is not infidelity to her husband, nor is
it an involvement with him; it is merely the use of something she owns,
in order to show that she cares for him as a human being. There is no
feeling of guilt attached to this act. In her 1991 novel The Binding
Vine, she goes on to juxtapose two kinds of rape-one within marriage when
the unwilling Mira is married off to a man much older than her, and
another outside marriage when Kalpana's masi's husband rapes her. But it
is in her most recent novel A matter of Time (1996), that she subtly
debates the whole issue of individual freedom. The novel has three parts-
The House, The Family, The River - and each title carries within it a
meaning. -œThe House-• is the body; it is also memory and lineage, the
coming together of all different elements. Houses again signify
enclosures and domestic space and are of special significance in the work
of women writers. -œThe Family-• consists of three generations - Shripati
and Kalyani, husband and wife, living in the same house but on different
floors and who have not been on speaking terms for the last thirty years;
their daughter Sumi and her husband Gopal, who have just separated and
this separation has brought Sumi and her two grown up daughters to the
parental home. The third generation is that of the grand - daughters just
at the threshold of life. The third part -˜The River' is about self-
introspection and about immersion in the river waters which clean and
purify. It is also about the stream of life which flows.   Despite the
concerns with silences, rape and estrangement, these novels are not about
women but about social institutions and the nature of freedom. Love need
not destroy, possess or absorb or annihilate. It can stand aside and let
the other be free. At one point in the novel there is a reference to the
Mahabharata and to the year which the pandavas had to spend in anonymity.
Draupadi takes on the role of Sairandhri and Arjun becomes Brihannala.
The question is why? Draupadi perhaps to be free of her five husbands : -
œTo have the pleasure, the liberty of being alone, her own mistress, not
to have to share her bed every night with a husband-•, and Arjuna in
order -œto opt out of the male world of war and violence, of relating to
woman only as lord and conqueror-•. He chooses to be the eunuch
Brihannala, so that he can -œenter the gentle world of women, of music
and dancing and become an insider in this world-• (86). These choices
stress the point that the self if not one single, inviolate being. There
are several selves shifting place and jostling with each other. A matter
of Time is also a novel of absent fathers, or fathers who opt out of
responsibilities. What is difficult is for the women to be rid of their
unseen presence. Both Sumi and her daughter Aru struggle to get rid of
the oppression, to find the means to be on their own. Freedom, when it
comes, brings with it its own burden. Gopal is aware that Sumi by not
bringing in any legal action against him is giving him his freedom while
at the same time learning to build a sense of freedom for herself (222).
As the three generations are housed together in the same space, it comes
home to Sumi that one of the reasons Gopal has withdrawn is because a
house full of females is -œlike a zenana-•. (Her father had also
withdrawn after her brother had got lost. What does this signify?) Gopal
had once admitted it is not easy to be the only male in a family of
females, as one feels so shut out. Sumi is also aware that a single-
sexed household is not balanced enough; it is lopsided. It lacks the
tension essential to the act of living (60). Moreover, it continues and
perpetuates the marginality of women. It is significant that femini

Related Articles -
Email this Article to a Friend!
Receive Articles like this one direct to your email box!Subscribe for
free today!

Shared By:
mr doen mr doen mr
About just a nice girl