She, one of my readers, has raised a very authentic question. How can a woman who's so suppressed... or at least ... so reserved suddenly go into something so bold and how can she allow any man to talk to her in such explicit manner...in my novel ‘The Dark Abode’.
Prameel KP tries to answer this on her essay ‘Silence and Voice of Indian woman in The Dark Abode’ published in Changing Face of Women in English Literature: The Flaming Spirit a collection of essays, edited by Professor K.V. Dominic and published by Gnosis, New Delhi in 2012.
Silence and Voice of Indian woman in The Dark Abode
Prameela K P
(Dr. Prameela K.P, the Malayalam critics, writer, poet and translator has been awarded with Devi Shankar Awasthi Samman for her Hindi book ‘Kavita ke Stri Paksha’ on 5. 04. 2010. She is the first person from South India to receive this award meant for Hindi writing.)
The Dark Abode is a realistic novel by Sarojini Sahoo with latest encumbrances and discussions of this time in which we live in. Its popularity and bombardment with Translations in different languages are proving the timely intervention of the novel. It is a story of an unseen but profound relationship between an Indian, specifically Oriyan housewife Kuki and her Pakistani counterpart, painter Safiq. They are connected through the net, physically very far but emotionally very near. They exchange their hopes, hugs, day-to-day affairs, likes and dislikes, preferences and quarrels, philosophy and humanity in full spirit. There was nothing to hide between them, as the relationship was purely personal. It was spontaneous, going beyond all barriers stipulated by the system.
Kuki was wedded to an engineer and has two kids. She is the same middle class Indian trophy wife, with daily chores and stipulated schedules. Being educated, she is little bit upset over her transformation as a normal housewife. She loves her husband and he does everything to her. When she finds a friend, in her lonely days time, she is happy to talk. Slowly his enquiries and indicted remarks make them in love. He persuaded her to join with him for a free life for which she was preparing. But the man is a Pakistani, Muslim and someone who does his work with a free mind. He was indicated and caught by the military regime for his connections and got punished. Same time, Kuki’s husband, Aniket is also sent to a foreign company by his employers. She is alone and perplexed. In the moments of crisis, Kuki realizes that her love and solace of life are falling apart in two countries, sexes, religions and systems. Being in the middle, She can only maintain silence with a sigh. The story speaks loud and send it message around through a seemingly silent protagonist.
The Novels is centred in Kuki, her middleclass ideas, perceptions of life and living style. Like, any other Indian woman, she possesses the family, children, husband and their small world. The whole family is equal to nothing but Kuki. When she drives herself into a new love, the family shakes a lot. But it is essential for her since she has caught in between patriarchal settings and lover turned husband. Whenever misogynous characteristics pulled her back, instinct for freedom drives her towards the computer through which she enjoyed the multitudinous of love. All her outer-layered conflicts and difficulties are driven by the ambitious nature of any middleclass housewife. When she finds a parallel and safer inner world, she drives alone into it with utmost care. Indeed, the Novelist outstandingly co-relates a number of socio-political and international issues in the fabric of its main story-line, like terrorism, anarchism of the military regimes, freedom of expression in art, problems of polygamy in Islam, plurality of gods in Hindu culture, communalism, huge divide between rich and poor, rural and urban, Hindu and Muslim, hostility between neighboring countries, distressing work-pressure on youth in the present corporate culture etc to enrich the dimensions of the literary piece. These accessories make the story profoundly convincing and thought provoking. Most appealing factor is that the whole problems are knitted in a well-narrated love story of an ordinary woman.
Indian village women are traditional. They are slowly getting urbanized, semi educated, partly westernized. They believe in freedom, but not on the price of home and its given protection. Duality between thoughts and practices is the main thing they face everyday. Neither she objects to the older systems nor accepts the newer ones totally, even though both have partial goodness and bogus in them. She rightly needs freedom and self-reliance with in the family, which she feels, not possible in the patriarchal set up. Kuki is the real representative of Indian, Hindu woman, who values her relationships, but aspire for a democratic approach in it a villager turned semi-urban, a lover turned wife and mother, an educated turned unemployed house wife, who always dreams for free movements and economic self reliance. She is not at all boisterous in explaining herself- “ When you see me and touch me, you will realize that I am an ordinary human being with my own sorrows and grief, doubts and dissatisfactions, I am no goddess; I possess no divine powers. I hunger, I thirst, I crave for sex; I have my own aspirations and ambitions. I also pretend; I also lie; I also betray Aniket and live my life behind a mask…” (Sahoo: 54) Author here puts forward the followings incentive thoughts for the reader, through the portrayal of Kuki in The Dark Abode.
1.She tries to explain sexuality in her own view.“ Sex is just a game for him. I am yet to discover what orgasm is. You will be astonished to know that I have not been kissed for last fourteen yeas. I know it probably seems very unnatural.” (Sahoo: 57)
Women are bodily beings. Imperial, Feudal values imposed on Indian woman, specifically Hindu woman always projected them as objects. The caricatures in art and protagonists in the earlier texts depict them in men’s view. During the age of Woman writers, she has started to talk about their body, slowly accepted her body and sexuality. Here Kuki opens up her mind. Sahoo could fill the psychic space of Kuki through each word and sentence of the novel. Writing Emails and using ultra modern techniques to communicate makes it more effective. Sahoo uses the possibilities of cyber world, widely accused for its misuse and negative communication to create inter connective surroundings for Kuki.
2.Women are fetching not only physical outfits but also emotional solace at home and she has a right to ask for it.
Rothblum Esther, Professor of Psychology, University of Vermont viewed that “Heterosexual couples fall into more traditional roles once they marry”(Quoted in Carlin Flora’s column in psychology today, September-October 2004, p.27). On larger view, household responsibilities are not very easy, but always unpaid, unnoticed, under-valued to which house-wives got acquainted during the long years of marriage. Couples get practiced to accommodate each other, but always men in dominant position. Men rarely try to note that what are the individual wishes of his wife. The custom prevailing in our country always says that wife is happy with the husband. She has no separate individual wishes. Thus, He also believes that the food, clothes, shelter and children are her happiness. Aniket often breaks this perception while Kuki rightly finds it contradictory to her choices and interests- “ After marriage, I discovered that Aniket was not very sensitive or open to understanding female psychology.”(Sahoo: 57). Bhabha and Spivak (Bar Moore-Gilbert 2000: 454) have deliberated this state of Indian woman: ‘Indigenous patriarchal tradition is a burden on Indian Hindu women and this manipulate voice of Indian women accordingly”. Here, the Women writer conveys Kuki’s mindset through her body language. But her partner, Aniket is not capable enough to understand his better half’s mind-blowing changes! Gender sensitivity is an essential matter in some occasions in anyone’s life, but always considering woman as ‘the other’ or ‘inferior’ is drastic which will ruin the mutual respect needed for a long life.
Here the Author breaks age old believes imposed on Indian womanhood, derives their place and space inside family. She questions the whole concept of patriarchal family headed by men and asks for new initiatives to maintain a more democratic, emotionally attached and gender free union of its members concerned, as claimed by Susan Moller Okin (Devine, Philip E and Celia Wolf-Devine: 244) “ I claim that the genderless family is more just. It is more just to women; It is more conductive to equal opportunity both for women and for children of both sexes; and it creates a more favorable environment for the rearing of citizens of a just society.”
3. Human relationship is at par and beyond gender, sex, caste and creed. Women are trying to assert unconditional love from men.
Open and wide relationship is indeed a dream for both men and women. An Indian traditional husband cannot apologize before his wife, only because he is a man! He cannot show any respect towards his wife openly. He is supposed to behave like a Master and the wife as his unconditional slave. But when it comes to the lover, equal deliberations and comments are possible. For the society, lovers have no authentication. In our set up, only arranged or legally marriage has got approval. Any other type of union of opposite or same sex cannot be said or defined as a ‘family’. Safiq can easily ask sorry to Kuki and touch her feet, express his respect in any number of words where husband Aniket cannot. If he does so, it will be against the practice of his so-called manliness, practiced in Indian Household. The difference between lover and lover turned husband is horrible and heartbreaking for any woman. So Kuki keeps quiet, accept silently, when safiq says: “ My love for you is purer, more intense and eternal than Aniket’s. (Sahoo: 50). At the same time, She believes in their husband-wife relationships, tries to fulfill her traditional roles, but never feels herself enjoying the same. She always feels like a missing soul in her routines, like Dr, Madan G R forwarded (Madan: 365) it more sensitive and appropriate like this, “The wife today faces the major confusion in status and role, not because of any temperamental weakness or genic incapacity, but because her behavior has changed more drastically that of man.” The whole conversation between the lovers breaks the age-old hypothesis of man-woman relationship and exposes what is missing inside the Indian homes. Self-doubt and helplessness are the main characteristics of Indian girls inside home. Here Kuki is not an exception!
For a secular mind, there is no caste or creed in life. Her/his mind would not like to see a person in terms with his religious identity. Attraction towards the opposite sex is merely going beyond all barriers set by the tradition. Irony is that in the age of international marriages accepted all over the world, our regional newspapers fill up their columns with the news of honor Killing happening in Indian villages! Again, it is easy to believe the newspaper reports, which says that more than 50 % of love-marriages broke soon after marriages. According to statistics aired in the regional channels, an average number of 50 divorce-cases are registered daily in the family courts in Kerala state only.
4.Women would do anything like men if a scope for doing it.
Women enjoy secret love, but like men, hypocritical in accepting it. More specifically, out society never accepts love relations! This is accepted and said by Kuki many times on computer! Inadvertently, she experiences that something is lacking inside her relationship inside the family. She has no way to communicate this to anyone. She helps herself by communicating and sharing her sorrows to someone very far. Again and again she remembers the lines rendered by her lover: “You are my beautiful widow and I am the skeleton of your husband” (Sahoo: 135). This line echoes inside the human souls without any hindrances and barriers. This proves that lovemaking is essential, eternal and integral in human life. It is an interactive activity, which can be happened anywhere, anytime in life.
But for a wife, it is essential to love her husband even though he is a bastard. Men have not bounded to follow these stipulations. It is women who should be responsible to maintain the ‘morals’ of the family and the society. Housewives are known as ‘devis’. There is no such big name given to any man! So women are supposed to keep quiet even when she has been put on fire with her dead husband. Time changed a lot. But, even in the age of free sex in the parks and roads, there is no scope for fair and free conversation between husband and wife. Aniket is supposed to behave like husband and Kuki should follow his words in all affairs. Slowly she gets practiced to be silent when he shouts at her- “Am I a watchman, employed to watch over you twenty-four hours a day?”(Sahoo: 149)
Lacking emotional attachment inside the home, Kuki wander in the possible world of Internet. Slowly Kuki find herself enjoying, changing, wonderful, writing poetry, singing songs, feeling occasionally someone is calling her and getting energetic while thinking so. She is slightly doubtful about her free-conversation with a stranger. So she never books Aniket’s wrong deeds in front of that ‘stranger’. Being a ‘bharatheeya nari’ she tries to swallow the burden of family values. Practically, she has no better option! When Safiq questions her for her perverted long life, she dares to thunder back, “ I am fine with my perverted life; you can carry on living in your world. Who are you to insult me repeatedly like this? Who gave you the right to dictate my life?” (Sahoo: 61) Here she proves herself a reliant being with self-respect. But the agony is that she cannot argue this one to her husband in the same tone with this open mind.
5.Kuki is a representative of this world/gender discrimination is a worldwide phenomenon.
Sahoo always loads with the regional form of feministic scholarship in her writings. She never blindly accepts what western feminists argue. Radical forms of actions and practices never appeal her. Asking for equality does not mean to women to become like men in anyway. She posits her desire of emancipation as a right, to have equal living condition for all, in which women will be living with her biological peculiarities and priorities. Opportunities and attitudes will be there to handle any form of domination. Gender discrimination and isolation of women is a universal fact, prevalent inside and outside family. She adjudicates Virginia Wolf’s words through Kuki- “ As a woman, I have no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world.” (Sahoo: 12)
6.Problems of middleclass mindset in men/need for feminism
As in the case of any other middleclass family man, Aniket is ambitious, always compares himself with other colleagues. Instead of his higher education and established set up, his possessive mentality often turns into the privatization of womanhood/wifehood. Aniket believes that Kids love Kuki more and express frustration on it. He needs to be the ‘ Master’ of the family, never go for any companionship inside. He controls his love towards children! This master nature in Indian men often gives way to wife battering for small reasons. Thus the sole bred-winner of the family becomes emotionally alienated in the family. More over they shed their ego problems and official pressure on wife and children. Here in this novel, Sahoo indicts this conventional psychology through Aniket- Aniket had a notion that women lose their softness and simplicity if they worked (Sahoo: 64).
Preparing men to accept the fact that women-empowerment, liberation and human freedom is essential for the well being the family and society is very important. Indeed redefining woman means re-defining men along with the changing time and space. Without it, our struggle for freedom will be reduced mere a political game. Ms Sahoo essentially conveys this social message. She has elaborated the feminist social responsibility to re-define men, as explained by Nancy Duncan (1996:20) that “ Feminism also began to argue that what needed to be done was not simply to study women, but to study men in a new way, such that gender roles and sexual relation would be problematized, in order t explore new gender systems are constructed and to question the naturalness of gender itself as a binary position”
7.Questions dual standards stipulated for men and women.
Women are always been men’s property. Properties cannot speak. They have no sexuality. Their bodies are ser for the enjoyments of men. So they cannot show any interests in their body. This state of slave was called as a process of cultural mummification of the individual thinking by Franz fanon (1970:44). Gayathri Chakravaorthy Spivak rightly explained this situation in her well-known essay ‘Can sabaltern speak?’(reprinted with abridgements in Colonial Discourse and Post Colonial Theory ed. Williams and Chrisman 1993: 66-111) In this row, Deborah Cameron (1998:3) has also explained that ‘Speech and silence have been powerful metaphors in feminist discourse.’ After some years, when literary items depicting subaltern realities have been came out and made their presence in the social arena, Spivak had to accept that ‘If the subaltern speak, then thank god, the subaltern is not a subaltern anymore’. (Sarah Harasym: 158). Through Kuki, the Feminist Author has proved that middle class Indian woman is no more a subaltern. She is not fully free in her life, owing social and familial customs and practices, but she is able to understand her situations in her own view. This helps her to proceed ahead and live a hopeful life with in the parameters of the land in which she lives in. Ms Sahoo proved herself as a represented Indian Womanist writer over here, narrated by Layli Phillips (2006:xxxvi), the editor of The Womanist Reader - “ To be a womanist, one must identify one’s cultural roots and experience oneself as a cultural or ethnic being rather than a racial being, but one must also be able to see oneself and one’s people as part of a larger global body defined by common humanness.” She never tries to mimic or copy the life of a western woman in the depiction of Kuki. Here we find the changing psychic facets of Indian woman, who finds herself transformed through these times.
Many women writers tried to portray the battle between woman and the familial system in which they live in. The system is becoming more powerful and destructive with ultramodern equipments. Each time, being in the second position and less equipped, woman got injuries, but they cannot give up their struggle for their human rights. She likes to maintain all kinds of relationships with men. She has started to demand love, life and equal status in life. In the story line, the novel ends in a tragic mood, but the hopes and dreams of a Womanist writer cannot end like that. She has to protect women’s sense and sensitivity with utmost care. So she concludes the story: “ She would wait for the voice that once charmed her ears and echoed with a subtle resonance in her soul, a voice she had never told anyone about, then or ever since.”(Sahoo: 174). Kuki must be waiting for that positive voice which will resonate with her voice.
Without any doubt, we can say this novel and the protagonist Kuki is one of the recent literary interventions of the third world women, by an Indian woman, for all women of all times. Since there is no man’s world, without women, all men in all times have been inexplicably interwoven with in this female world. This fact is underlined in the novel. The aesthetics of opposite love another positive contribution of this novel, which demands a separate look.
The novel easily conveys the issues and struggles of middleclass Indian Housewife to be like a human being, with all her distinctive human emotions. As Saroj Iyyer (1999:84) precisely said it, ‘what does a women do for a family, instead we have to ask, “what does the family do for a woman?” is the symbolic act extended by this novel. The whole essence of the novel can be termed as a ‘freeing the spirit’ experience for all readers, especially women, who believes in human freedom. There is no artificiality in the portrayal of characters. Kuki speaks inside her soul, slowly and carefully nourishes her aspirations, not jump into any speedy conclusions! So the readers can very well keep pace with her and endeavor a dialogic relationship with Kuki. She inspires them to keep their soul alive and act accordingly.
- Bhabha Homi K & Spivak G C in Bar Moore-Gilbert, Henry Schwarz & Sangeetha Ray (Ed) 2000 A companion to Post Colonial Studies, Routledge, London
-Duncan, Nancy 1996 Body Space, Routledge, London
-Cameron, Deborah (Ed) 1998 The Feminist Critique of Language – A Reader, Routledge, London
-Fanon, Frantz 1970 Racism and culture-Forward the African revolution, Pelican, London
-Harasym, Sarah (Ed) 2002 The Post Colonial Critic: Interviews, Strategies, Dialogues, Routledge, London
-Iyyer, Saroj 1999 The Sruggle to be Human, Book for change, Bangalore
-Madan G R 1993 Indian Social Problems Volume 1 5th Edition, Allied Publications Limited, New Delhi.
- -Okin, Susan Moller, Justice, Gender and the Family in Devine, Philip E & Celia Wolf-Devine, 2003 Sex and Gender: A Spectrum of Views, Wadsworth, Thomspon Leaning, Canada
-Phillips Laylli(Ed)2006 The Womanist Reader, Routledge, Newyork
-Sahoo, Sarojini 2008 The Dark abode Tr.Mahendra Kumar Dash Indian Age communication, Vadodara
-Williams & Chrisman 1993 (Ed) Colonial Discourse and Post Colonial Theory Harvester Wheatsheaf.
Prameela K P, Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit, Kalady 683 574
Ph.0484 2466162 E mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
( Published in Changing Face of Women in English Literature: The Flaming Spirit a collection of essays, edited by Professor K.V. Dominic and published by Gnosis, New Delhi in 2012)