D. C. Chambial’s Review of Critical Studies on Contemporary Indian English Women Writers

Dominic, K. V., ed. Critical Studies on Contemporary Indian English Women Writers. New Delhi: Sarup Book Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 2010. Pp. 336 + xx. Rs. 1100/- Hardbound. ISBN-978-81-7625-631-5.

DC Chambial

The book under review by Dr. K. V. Dominic has 27 essays by 24 eminent critics of Indian English literature on about 12 Indian English writers: novelists, and poets. There are four essays on Anita Desai, two on Kamala Markandaya, two on Kamala Das, three on Shashi Deshpande, two on Arundhati Roy, two on Bharati Mukherjee, one each on Jaishree Mishra, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Kiran Desai, Smita Tiwari, Chandramoni Narayanswamy, and Charmayne D’Souza.  There is also one article that makes a comparative study of world women poets. Linda Lowen and Jaydeep Sarangi interview respectively Sarojini Sahoo and Rizio Yohanan Raj. V. Ramesh has three and Sudhir Arora two articles in this anthology. Besides, there is also a ‘Preface’ by the editor, Prof. Dominic, doctorate on the fiction of RK Narayan, is, himself, a poet and critic of wide renown.

The editor, in his ‘Preface’ to this book, is very clear about his perception about the Indian English women writers. He writes: “Indian writing in English is . . . both an Indian literature and a variety of English literature. It has an appeal both to Indians and English men” (v). He further adds: “Indian English women writers have made a phenomenal contribution to Indian literature as well as world literature. They are able to portray a world that has in it women rich in substance. The women in their works are real flesh-and-blood protagonists who make the readers look at them with awe with their relationships to their surroundings, their society, their men, their children, their families, their mental make-ups and themselves” (x-xi).

Novelists & Story writers

The book undertakes the study of 11 women novelists: Anita Desai, Kamala Markandaya, Shashi Deshpande, Arundhati Roy, Bharati Mukherjee, Jaishree Mishra, Jhumpa Lahiri,  Githa Hariharan, Kiran Desai, Chandramony Narayanaswamy, and Charmayne D’ Souza.

Among the four articles on Anita Desai’s fiction two are by V Ramesh and one each by Latha R. Nair and Sr. Sophy Pereppadan, V. Ramesh in one of his article traces the “Dravidian aesthetics” in her fiction from feministic stance. He concludes that women’s “faculty to endure the domestic injustice and the institutionalized tyranny unseat the myths of feminity, motherhood and marriage. This is . . . what the Dravidian culture is all about” (19). In the other, he studies Sita’s character as “The Paradoxical Psyche of an Archetypal Indian Woman” in Anita Desai’s novel Where Shall We Go This Summer? In this article, he infers that “Anita Desai undeniably divulges a commendable grasp of the quandary and dilemmas of woman and portrays her own vision of a variegated facet of woman in modern India and her fully stimulated feminine sensibility” (48).  Latha R. Nair explores Desai’s novels in a quest to explicate “Locale as an Extension of the Self” and finds that “the locale or milieu becomes a commanding centre” in her novels. Her characters “are definitely apart (sic) [a part] of the locale, which reflects, expands and transforms their identity. It is not possible to free ourselves from this milieu which is an integral part of our psychological milieu” (9). Sr. Sophy Pereppadan digs deep into Desai’s novel Fire on the Mountain to trace her “alienation” and affirms that “Her desire ‘to be alone’ finds expression in her love for nothingness–an expression of nihilism. This is in some sense a ‘death-wish,’ which enjoys the devastation of the live world. She gratifies her craving for aloneness by annihilating everything existing . . .” (36).

Shishu Paul tries, in his article, to show the impact of political upheavals on human relationships in Kamala Markandeya’s novel, The Golden Honeycomb. He affirms: “Markandaya has conveyed through this novel that freedom is universal basic [human] right which nobody should try to suppress. Humanity is all one: lack of love and understanding creates Chasm and conflict. The underlying theme is the doctrine that human nature, of whatever race or class is basically the same” (70). V. Ramesh, on the other hand, elucidates feministic principles in Indian women in all novels of Markandaya in the present article. He posits: “Kamala Markandaya suggests that freedom is to be necessarily tempered with responsibility to achieve advancement and evolution. Her women are branded, though not for making comprehensive depiction but for offering an in-depth study of the human psyche enmeshed in the values of different hues–social, traditional and spiritual” (82).

The book has three articles on the fiction of Shashi Deshpande: one each by Vincent Aerathu, Asha Susan Jacob, and G. Baskaran. Vincent Aerathu studies girl children in Deshpande’s novels, The Dark Holds No Terrors, A Matter of Time, Roots and Shadows, and The Long Silence. Aerathu writes that “Shashi Deshpande looks into the childhood of her female characters and shows how childhood experiences go a long way in determining or influencing their adult lives. She believes that childhood experiences are lasting and that they have a crucial role to play in the formation of a healthy personality” (140). But, “protagonists of Deshpande have deprived childhood, in one way or another. These deprivations in childhood, equip them with the power to fight and survive till the end” (149). Asha Susan Jacob divulges the “voice of the silenced” in her study of Despande’s novels. She concludes that “Each of the marriages is marked by silence” (151). In the evolution of their character, their “decision to break the silence is the first sign of liberation . . . . From a state of passive acceptance they move to active assertion. By refusing to succumb to societal pressures and by creating space within the matrix Deshpande women succeed in establishing their identity by expressing themselves” (164). G. Baskaran tries to explain incoherent and loosened relationships in her reading of Shashi Deshpande’s “Wingless Angels” and “Amputated Mothers” in her short stories from Collected Stories Vol. I. She reveals in her study: “The aspirations of almost all the young girls of Deshpande’s short stories go unfulfilled because of the difference in the mental make-up between persons of different generations. This causes a heavy blow to the parent-daughter relationship precipitating alienation” (178).

Premlatha Dinakarlal and K. Nirmala in their respective articles study “Subaltern Voices” and “A Layman’s Study in Psychology” in Arundhati’s novel The God of Small Things. While Premlatha Dinakarlal suggests: “Indian government must work to remove traditional practices that subordinate women . . . to establish gender justice and ensure dignity and self-respect to which women are entitled” (185). K. Nirmala holds: “Arundhati Roy’s exceptional ability to get into the disturbed psyche of the different personae is indeed commendable . . . . The psychology of the characters reveals an unusual mental make-up that motivates their behaviour in times of stress” (187).

Eliza Joseph and Lata Mishra study Bharati Mukherjee’s novels Desirable Daughters and Jasmine respectively. Eliza Joseph, in her article ‘Perspectives on the “Mestiza” Consciousness: Bharati Mukherjee’s Desirable Daughters,’ infers that “Desirable Daughters proclaims that both expatriates and immigrants cannot sever themselves entirely from their cultural roots and their ethnic past” (209).  Lata Mishra concludes: “Cultural fusion in the novel is thus a placing of the protagonist as a subject in control and as an agent of the re-building of the Self. The protagonist is not affixed to any fixed or single identity since she discovers no fixed roots to cling to. Instead of anchoring to a final selfhood she cannot help but shuttle among temporary identities in different spaces in different times, one after another” (219), in her article, “Representing Immigration through the Logic of Transformation: Bharati Mukherjee’s Jasmine.”

Joji John Panicker examines cultural elements of the Marar community in Jaishree Misra’s Ancient Promises. Panicker observes: “. . . the ways she (Jaishree Misra) presents the culture and customs of the Marars makes the book certainly remarkable and realistic. The people, their ways and the age-old adherence to tradition are all to be seen and felt in Ancient Promises. . . . Misra has successfully portrayed the tradition and customs of the Marar community” (232).

S. Vasigaran writes that “Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is concerned with the dialectics of the women immigrants’ experiences in the American soil whose prospects are repressed by the Indian tradition” (236).  The critic has chosen only two stories “Clothes” and “The Word Love” from her book. Arranged Marriage, for her study in the paper and concludes: “These women have finally chosen American individualism eschewing their deep-rooted loyalty to their cultural tradition because they feel that they have been encumbered by their tradition instead of being inspired and encouraged by it” (242).

Sandip Guha Roy & Joydeep Banerjee have studied the conflicting positions in Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel The Namesake to conclude that “Immigration to an alien world today is not as  equivalent, not as dreaded as being uprooted–as it had been so many decades ago . . . the psychological effects of the change in culture as a consequence of dislocation pervades strongly. … As cultures superimpose upon each other, they smear the life-fabric of transnational migrants indelibly, perhaps, producing more denizens of a global community like the protagonists in The Namesake” (260-61). Lata Mishra in her article on Lahiri’s fiction deduces: “Lahiri’s women are not the silent sufferers. In fact in their silence and their power to continuously reassess the cross cultural mores improve their own as well as the lives of their close ones . . . . Outwardly these characters may seem to be powerless in Western society but actually these characters are gifted with remarkable inner adaptability and yet not over-assimilatory nature” (273).

Avis Joseph thoroughly examines Githa Hariharan’s novel, The Thousand Faces of Night, to study the muddle of human relationships and believes Hariharan has “succeeded in tracing the battles of woman in her relationship with man and society, not to urban existential angst but to times immemorial” (280).

Chithra PS studies Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss from post-colonial perspective. Chithra concludes: “in the postcolonial era, Indians have learnt how to curse in a foreign language. The foreigner has taught the language and now the Indians are using that language to disgrace the very same people who taught them that language” (291).

PCK Prem, in his study of Chandramoni Narayanaswany’s novel, The Karans of Penang, in the background of freedom struggle, and she depicts the physical and psychological suffering of her characters. Ms Narayanswamy, retired as an IAS of Orissa cadre, now lives in Bhubaneswar. Prem scrutinizes: “Apparently The Karans of Penang appears a sensitive love story but deep down it is an engrossing tale of people who suffered during the freedom struggle and this lofty backdrop affords characteristic distinction to the entire pattern of story telling” (299).

Poets

There are four articles on women poets by Lakshmishree Banerjee, V. Alexander Raju, and two by Sudhir K. Arora.

Banerjee’s article is a comparative study of world women poets, which a little bit goes beyond the scope of the book. The critic “seeks allowances to cross the borders of Time and Space and venture into the pulsating infinity of Women Poetry” (86). In her paper, she has encompassed the works of Emily Dickinson, Kamala Das, Nolene Foxworth, Julia Kristeva, Arlene Zide, Sarojini Naidu, EB Browning, Christina Rossetti, Amy Lowell, Edith Sodergran, Sylvia Plath, Mamta Kalia, Florence Howe, and many more. She comments: “Despite the disparities of culture, creed and colour, Women Poetry stands out as an intense, trailblazing experience of human living, as an endless river pouring into a limitless ocean of multi-hued vibrancies . . . . These poets are fast becoming the uncompromising voices of all-embracing truths, tender as well as acerbic in the impacting lyricism of their human language. Ambivalances, contradictions as well as poise, playfulness and affirmativeness characterize these creations as the New Poetry of a New Dawn of human civilization” (100-01).

Sudhir K Arora’s analyses of Smita Tewari’s Hourglass and Charmayne D’Souza’s A Spelling Guide to Woman are quite penetrative in approach.  In his article on Smita Tewari, Dr Arora observes: “Indeed, Smita Tewari’s ‘Poetic Self’ has made a spiritual journey successfully” to realize “some new aspects which she never experienced before . . . . Her verse is cathartic in nature” (298).  In his article on D’Souza’s poetry, he finds it different. He comments: “Charmayne D’Souza has given voice to feminine sensibility making women realize their identity. She has endevoured (sic) her best to make the male world feel that a woman is not mere possession but is a person who has her own individuality. . . . She has written a new script through A Spelling Guide to Woman with the hope that women will realize their own role in shaping the life of men and there is nothing wrong if they ask for legal space encroached by men” (328).

Interviews

The book also has two interviews by Linda Lowen and Jaydeep Sarangi with Sarojini Sahoo and Rizio Yohannan Raj respectively.

Sarojini Sahoo is a feminist writer. Her novels and short stories treat women as sexual beings and probe culturally sensitive topics . . . . Her writings deal with feminine sexuality, the emotional lives of women. Her blog, Sense & Sensuality, explores why sexuality plays a major role in our understanding of Eastern feminism–writes Linda Owen. Sahoo, herself, tells Linda: “In my various stories I have discussed lesbian sex, rape, abortion, infertility, failed marriage and menopause . . . . But still I believe someone has to bear this risk to accurately portray women’s feelings–the intricate mental agony and complexity which a man can never feel–and these must be discussed through our fiction” (122).

The second review by Jaydeep Sarangi with Rizio Yohannan Raj, who has only one collection, Eunuch, of her poems published; the other, Naked by the Sabarmati and Other Poems awaits publication from Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi. In this interview she tells of her Self, intrusion of Mumbai, her poetics, negotiation about the composite web of subjectivity, her bi-lingual ability, and the title of her first book Eunuch. She tells the interviewer bout her poetic vision: “Everything that I have experienced in this world has in some way contributed to what may be called my ‘cross-border’ vision” (252).

I would also like to comment about the glaring proof-reading mistakes, leaving aside the text (as is evident in two of the quotes of this review and pointed there), in the very titles of the articles by Vincent Aerathu [“Girld” for Girl] (139)] and Sudhir K. Arora [“Woan” for Woman] (321)]. These offset the readers and also question the quality of the publication.

In nut shell, the book presents established and the new authors side by side. This is a welcome step in Indian English literature; for, the critics and editors of older generation considered new writers as somewhat untouchable and nourished a bias in their minds against them. However, I believe while the earlier, pre-Independence writers struggled with their sensibility in a foreign tongue and tried to be English in their writings, the contemporary writers have taken it as a hobby to express their views in not the King’s English, but in the Indian English, a different label given and accepted in the world dictionaries. Indian English is certainly different from the other Englishes of the world. I hope it will be well received by the students and scholars of Indian English literature.

Dr. D. C. Chambial: Poet, critic, reviewer. Editor – POETCRIT, Maranda – 176 102 (HP) .