Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Man-Woman Relationship In The Novels Of Anita Desai

Seema Chauhan
Research Scholar (English), 
Uttar Pradesh Rajarshi Tondan Open University, Allahabad.

                The theme of man-woman relationship in Anita Desai’s novels reveals her consummate craftsmanship. Mrs. Desai sincerely broods over the fate and future of modern woman particularly in male-chauvinistic society and her annihilation at the altar of marriage. The novelist however dose not challenge the futility of marriage as an institution but discloses the inner psyche of the characters through their relations. In Desai’s novels most marriages are proved to be unions of incompatibility. Men are considered to be rational whereas women are sensitive and emotional. They have their different attitudes and interests so they look at thing in different ways and react to same conditions differently. Mostly women have been both culturally and emotionally dependent on me, any disruption of attachment or affiliation are seen not as a loss of relationship but “a total loss of self,”1 which are then seen as neurosis. The relationship between family and insanity as suggested here is relevant to the study of Anita Desai’s characters.
            Anita Desai has explored different aspects of feminine psyche which also includes man-woman relationships. The novel Cry the peacock is a family play mainly concerned with the theme of marital discord between husband, Gautama, and wife, Maya. The play is about maya’s cry for love and relationship in her loveless wedding with Gautama; the peachock’s cry is an implication of Maya’s anguished cry for love and life of involvement. Anita Desai has dealt with a sterile woman, highly sensitive and emotional who is married to Gautama, a busy, prosperous, middle-aged lawyer. The husband is too much engrossed in his own affairs to meet the demands, partly temperamental, partly, spiritual, of his young wife. Gautama’s sensibilities are too rough and practical to suit Maya. Albeit Gautama is a faithful husband who loves and cares her in his own way yet Maya is never satisfied and happy. Usha Pathania, a noted critic, remarks: “Marital relationships are established with the explicit purpose of providing companionship is sadly missing in the relationship between Maya and Gautama.”2 The novel exposes an impression of marital inconguity and unhappy conjugal life. As Kohli points out, “No other writer is so much concerned with the life of young men and woman in Indian cities as Anita Desai is.”3
            The relationships between man and woman point out the plus point and minus point of brides and bridegrooms. Wedding is a union of two souls and two bodies. It is to be established very consciously and carefully. General situations in society are such that no apt time or notion is offered to these affairs. Its outcomes are the clashes, desperation, obsession, alienation and loneliness. “In Indian Society, if a marriage is successful then credit is seldom given to a female for her contribution to make it successful. If a marriage becomes unsuccessful then the woman is sometimes held responsible for the same.”4 But this notions are not accepted by the self-conscious and self-respecting woman in our society. P.F. Patil again suggestes it that, “All marriages in Desai’s novels are more or less business transaction. A marriageable daughter is handed over to the male-partner without considering the delicacy of her mind and feelings. She has to fulfil either the parent’s responsibilities or the relatives demands with diferent intentions.”5 Maya’s marriage with Gautama is a fine instance of her father’s friendship.
            Anita Desai not only portrays the feminine of a common woman but also the subnormal bordering on abnormal woman. The women who are under so much of psychic pressure that they cannot be known for insanity but then they are explicitly normal. The first character that comes to our mind is that of Maya who is hypersensitive and because of her alienation she is almost a mental wreck. Ann Lowry Weir, a remarkable critic, rightly assesses the character of Maya in terms of man-woman relationship through Indian ethos and culture. In this way, in his critical estimation the critic suggests:
Maya is an Indian, and her thoughts have an Indianness about them, despite their disturbed state. She reflects on Indian weather, Indian flora and fauna, Indian religious and mythical figures.6
            Anita Desai in Voices in the city has depicted feminine sensibility mainly through the delineation of man-woman relationship. Firstly, the novel presents an eccentric and inconsistent figure of a conjugal life through Nirode’s parents. The marital conflict changes Nirodes’ parents into psychic demon. The father diverts into a drunkard, adulterate and dishonourable being quite different from an easy-going, sports loving and fond father. The mother is converted from a sweet, sensitive, consummate beauty into a coldly, practical and occupied woaman having no human heat and delicacy even for her own children. Amla’s remarks about her own parents’ incongruous conjugal relationship are obvious.
            Monisha and Jiban signify the most usual and painful instance of conjugal conflict. This paradigm presents an acute complication and heart-crushing agony. Monisha’s winding journey towards her horrible ending paints her physical and psychical diversion in black, mourning colous. From a simple, silent sensitive, beautiful mildly self-centred girl, she transforms into a sterile, insame, diary-writing woman.
            Monisha lives in her husband’s house, shares his bed, serves his family, alleged of stealing juban’s money and it is Jiban who mildly covers her burnt body and begs forgiveness from her relatives. Her death in the end parted the bondages that sequestered her soul and body in the life.
            Indian male-chauvinistic families expect woman to adjust. The opposite tendency of the family members, hostile social conventions and backgrounds make these marital disharmonies as they exist in Indian male-dominated society.
            N.R.Gopal aptly points out that, “The life of a woman like in the given circumstances is never happy and the result is that she burns herself to death. Her impending death by suicide has been poetically described by Anita Desai even before her actual death which comes later in the novel”.7
            Where shall we Go This Summer? Is an extension of Cry, The Peacock – the theme, the atmosphere, the characters, though matured, producing the similar effects to a large extent. It presents another intense commentary on the incoherence of man-woman relationship that renders Sita and Raman, the wife and husband, spiritually homeless. Sita’s psychic plight too is similar to Maya and Monisha. She is also oppressed and depressed with loveless wedlock with Raman.
            In this novel Sita quakes at the views of giving birth to a fifth child. She becomes so upset that she decides to go back to the Island of Manori-that piece of land in which memory and desire, romance and reality, the beautiful and the sinister are inextricably mixed together.Against all the sane advice she goes to the magic island in advance stage of preganancy. She dwells in the world of frenzy, feeling that going to the Island and thereby to the world of childhood, she could prevent the biological process of delivery.
Sita felt to make a compromise to live with her husband and travel alone mentally and emotionally. But after witnessing that tender scene in the garden one evening of a young woman being tenderly caressed by a man, see suddenly became acutely conscious of what she was missing in her life. Later on it became improbable for her to make any compromise. Hence she escaped to the land of magic where she had spent a pleasant with her father. But she found that time had made it spoil there also-on the place and its people. She feels suffocated by the “Vegetarian complacence,” “insularity” and unimaginative way of life of her husband and his people.
This intense realization bring her back to painful reality, forcing her to retrace her steps back toward the safety and slavish security of her house in Bombay, to wait resignedly for the birth of her child. Sita takes more wise step then Maya and controls herself and she acts before a peril can take place.
The man-woman relationship between Raman and Sita is based on the class values, of principles, of confidence even, or between normal, double social standards and the iconoclastic attitude of inflexible honesty. It is an encounter between the adjustment with disappointment, as Raman puts it and the ability to say the great No if and when needed, as trusted by Sita. This is not solely a case of an emancipated woman revolting against the slavish bonds of marriage. It is much more than that, it is a question of basic truth that is better and naked and can neither be hidden, nor be halved to suit individual.
Anita Desai’s next novel Bye-By Blackbird appears to be an authentic study of man-woman relationships abused  by cultural clashes. R.S.Sharma has rightly said that, in the novel “the tension between the local and immigrant blackbird involves issues of alienation and accommodation that the immigrant has to confront in an alien and yet familiar world.”8
Sarah’s identity crisis is to be seen in a later authorial reference in the second chapter of novel. If a girl marries in a similar custom and culture it is very easy for her to adjust to her new home and family members. But inter-caste, and inter-culture wedding causes settlement problems which are not easy to overcome. For Sarah’s situation the problem becomes more intricate for she has married a man whose caste was once ruled over by her own class in spite of ‘progress’ and modernity-old prejudices die-hard.
In the novel Sarah’s problem is human. She wants to remain as a real person either in England or in India. She attempts to remain a sincere wife and hence her marriage life is not undone. Sarah’s husband had been playing riddle albeit not as consciously as she. But he also realizes falseness of his existence in England and Sarah too knows it well. As a wife Sarah does well. Of all wives of Anita Desai Sarah is the best in comprehending and helps her husband. We have all our praise for this alien wife who comprehends her husband, his family and country which she would concede, once in India.
Thus, we see in the context of man-woman relationship that Sarah’s parents avow her and her husband. But the remarkable thing about Sarah is that she is a dedicated wife and even though she endures suffering and psychic torture, she does not hesitate to leave her native country and go for a good tour to India.
Anita Desai’s fire on the mountain creates the problems of man-woman relationship as a basic component part of uninteresting family life. She initiates with Nanda Kaul who finally discharges all her unloving husband and his world. The novel depicts the agonized cry of Nanda Kaul, an old woman who has had too much of the world with her and so longs for a clam, retired life. Nanda Kaul rejoices at least at the outset of her alienated, loveless and affectionless life. Nanda Kaul’s wedding is quite based on physical passion and circumstantial convenience for the male. Nanda Kaul becomes a mother of many unwanted, uncared children. She always arranges the dinner table as a house-wife. Externally everything appears to be smooth, but internally Nanda Kaul burns with a fire of frustration.
On the contrary, Mr. Kaul keeps his beloved Miss Davidson, a teaching staff. He invites her to his separate bedroom. But Nanda shows the frozen smile on her face. She looks his family and his house with commanding confidence. The situations which she faces, upset her and she feels to remain a widow. She is always waiting with a singular, burning, soul-destroying hatred for her husband to cease living, Nanda Kaul lives like a ‘recluse’.
The reality about Nanda Kaul’s husband is that he had never loved or cherished her. He had carried on a lifelong affair with Miss David whom he had not married only because she was a Christian but whom he had loved all his life. She appeared face to face with reality when she was informed of her friend Ila Das’s rape and brutal murder. Thus, the fire on the mountain had destroyed everything for her.
Clear Light of Day is a significant novel in the sense that it does not delineate the traditional theme of Desai’s fictional world rather we get a fresh addition in the treatment of man-woman relationships at the hand of the novelist. In this novel Desai does not write about the tension and coherence between husband and wife but about that between brother and sister. Bim, the chief character of the novel, is free from physical torture of an incompatible wedding: she chooses to take no part in marriage so that she could dedicate herself to look after her mentally retarded brother baba, her old Mira Masi and her younger brother Raja. Bim and Raja are very close to each other. Other character Tara and Bakul’s wedded life is similar to the wedded life of Maya and Gautama; but it presents a lesser point of insanity and perturbation. The novel delineates a pathetic picture of a widow Mira Masi who is customarily destroyed by her relatives and society.
In this novel, we see the growth of Anita Desai’s attitude to the theme of man-woman relationships. Time has played the significant role in their relationships. Not only Anita Desai herself said it in the novel but at the end of the novel there is a quotation from T.S.Eliot’s “Four         uarter” i.e. “Time the destroyer is time the preserver”. D.H.Lawrence points out that “The great relationship for humanity will always be the relation between man and woman. The relation between man and man, woman and woman, parent and child, will always be subsidiary.”9 R.K.Srivastava, has rightly said that “the man_woman relationship becomes more important due to rapid industrialization, growing awareness among woman of their rights and individualities, and the westernization of attitudes and lives of the people.”10
In Custody, a typical novel of Anita Desai, delineates different sorts of man-woman relationships. The novel does not deal with either a sensitive and highly strong woman protagonist or any intense introspection bordering on neurosis. The novelist presents a male protagonists, Deven Sharma, “ a diffident and awkward hero” coming through the trials of life with a positive vision and self sufficiency. The novel is about an unheroic, unimpressive and unassertive lecturer of Hindi in a degree college near Delhi. He is married to an insipid wife Sarla who is miles away from her husband’s literary pursuits. Once again the novelist presents an ill-matched marriage which is the favourite theme of Anita Desai. In this novel, there are two aspects of Deven’s role as a husband and a lecturer and he is a failure in both of them.
In the novel we find Nur Shaeb who rejects his uncultured ugly wife, the more glamorous temptress, Imtiaj Begum. Here female’s physical beauty is magnified at the cost of his first wife’s feelings.
Thus, we see that the two wives Sarla and Imtiaz Begum do not revolt against their obsession and the hegemony of thir husbands. It is only because they are uneducated and having no source of income they are totally dependent on their husbands. They feel about their torment and deserted attitude of their husbands but having no means of their livelifhood they remain their submissively.
Baumgarter’s Bombay is a significant novel based on different plan and Mrs. Desai has explored different aspects of feminine psyche which also include man-woman relationships. The present novel is quite different from her preceding novels. It is about a rootless man without family in India. The family is only present, albeit not in realistic level but at the psychic level in the memory of the hero, Baumgartner.
In this novel the novelist does not delineate the insanity and tension between husband and wife. The whole incidents move round the single protagonist. He has no wife and hence no family. His unhappy childhood and lonely youth have made him and introvert. Both Baumgartner and Lotte suffer terribly from loneliness and homelessness. But their attitudes towards life in India are different. Baumgarter tries his best to be accepted by India whereas Lotte does not feel any such need. She lives in India throughout her life as an outsider and never tries to avow India or be avowed by her. She always pines for the company of her native countrymen. Thus the novel presents different sort of man-woman relationship.


1-       Jean Baker Miller, Towards A New Psychology of woman, Allen lane, Penguin Books, 1978, p.87
2-       Usha pathania, Human Bonds and Bondages: The fiction of Anita Desai and Kamala Markandaya (Delhi : Kanishaka Publishing House, 1992) p.14
3-       Suresh Kohli, Indian Women Novelists in English, Times Weekly, 8 November, 1970, p.3
4-       P.F.Patil, The Theme of Marital Disharmony in the Novels of Anita Desai; Indian Women Novelists, Set 1: Vol. 2, ed. By R.K.Dhawan, Published by Prestige Books, 1991, p.128
5-       Ibid, p. 128
6-       Ann Lowry Weir, The Illusion of Maya : Feminine consciousness in Anita Desai’s Cry the Peacock : Perspective on Anita Desai, R.K.Srivastava (Ghaziabad : Vimal Prakashan, 1984) p.154
7-       N.R.Gopal, A Critical Study of the Novels of Anita Desai. New Delhi Atlantic publishers and distributors, New Delhi, 1995, p.25
8-       R.S.Sharma, Accommondation and the Locale in Anita Desai’s Bye-Bye, Blackbird, The Literary Criterion
9-       D.H.Lawrence, Morality and the novel in David Lodge, ed. 20th Century Literature Criticism (London : Longman Group Ltd., 1972) p.130.
10-    Ramesh Kr. Srivastava. Perspectives on Anita Desai. Ghaziabad Vimal Prakashan, 1984, p.XXVI

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