Disruption of Indian Women’s Hopes and Domestic Barriers: A crisis of Indian Woman in That Long Silence
Free will, hopes and aspirations of an Indian woman have been neglected by the Indian male dominated society since ancient times. A woman’s agony and her anguish, her frustration and her identity and individuality which she loses each and every day under stress finds the keenest expression in the novels of Shashi Deshpande, one of the eminent Indian English Women writers. She is one of the biggest names in Indian literature. She is much acclaimed for her novel That Long Silence and received Sahitya Academy award for the same. Her courageous nature got exhibited when she returned her award and quit from Sahitya Academy and raised her voice in the form of revolution. Her writings of minute depiction of the trauma of an Indian woman reflect her sensible nature which she has represented in her women characters. Her female characters are found trapped between domestic barriers and the so called conservative mentality of some people which never allow their individual identity to be exposed in the society. They tolerate tribulations but remain silent and do not revolt against injustice. With the result they suppress their pain and anguish and suffer from within.
Shashi Deshpande has an eye to probe into the deepest feelings and emotions of an Indian woman. She has been much discussed for the feminine approach in her novels. She is also critically analysed for describing feministic aspects in her novels. The present research paper would like to throw light upon the hopes and aspirations of Indian women with the reference to her widely acclaimed novel That Long Silence. It has been an attempt to look at the women characters of the novel through a woman perspective, especially Jaya. It aims to identify Indian women and how they try to fit themselves into set Indian structure.
The chief character of the novel Jaya reveals the story of her life where she describes the process as cruel. The woman protagonist in the novel depicts her efforts to gain respect and love which a normal human being expect from the other. A woman when frustrated feels the sensation of being detached and distant from her own self. A description of an Indian woman is well initiated here by Jaya in the novel when she says,
“I was born. When my father died I was fifteen. I got married to Mohan. I have two children and I did not let a third live.”
In the very beginning of the novel it has been reflected that a woman’s desire, her tastes are always neglected by the so-called male dominated society. Shashi Deshpande depicts ironically the predicament of Indian women through the words of her female character Jaya in this novel. Jaya’s fondness for music and watching adds between the films needs expression but she never got courage to speak of her likes and dislikes due to her fear of being insulted either it is her father or husband Mohan. Her fondness for particular things describes her warmth, love and care for family. It reflects how family affects to an Indian woman.
An Indian woman’s desire for a prince in the form of husband who would respect and have affection towards his princess (wife) takes Jaya into the world of fairy tales where she thinks people live happily ever after. She does not fit or find words to match the picture of complete family. It reminds couple of recent short films named ‘Juice’ and ‘Tea Spoon’ subjected on woman’s predicament and her silent action or reaction. Attraction of short films on social media has increased in the modern age of digital technology. In a short film called ‘Juice’ the leading female character called Manju is found busy and perspiring in serving her husband and his friends in the intolerant heat. Her husband and other males are sitting comfortably in front of air-cooler and chatting on various subjects to which they consider intelligent talk. Manju tries to switch on the old table fan to have some comfort working in the kitchen with other ladies. She calls her husband to help her out to switch on the fan but he did not pay attention to her troubles. In fact he continuously keeps ordering her to get the food ready. At last her long silence of intolerance breaks down and she silently reacted by her action where she drags the chair in the drawing room and sits with a glass full of juice in front of the air-cooler. Her eyes depicted strong emotions of a sensible woman who has been tolerating inequality since a long time. The end is thus symbolic. Teaspoon too reflects some similar emotions. This film represents that an Indian woman can never get rid of the oppression of the male dominated Indian society.
Shashi Deshpande through her novel That Long Silence reflects the same feelings. The novel reflects how the so-called Indian traditions mock at the pathetic condition of an Indian woman in an Indian family. The marriage tie has been symbolically titled by Deshpande as ‘A pair of bullocks yoked together.’
It means she does not have her own identity or she is never allowed to have her opinion. Such is an unchanging pattern of some so called Indian families where women cannot have their participation though they perform major role to manage family life. Such Indian women like Jaya forget self expression and becomes dull in serving her husband and his family. Atmosphere becomes gloomier when Jaya compares identity of woman with ‘chorus of Greek drama’.
Jaya’s husband Mohan’s character resembles all those men who never seem so affected until it does not concern him, his job or his family. There must be a deliberate use of ‘his’ repeatedly which reflects it is always ‘his’ and never ‘her’. Mohan represents excuses for his suspicion over business fraud by saying ‘he did it for Jaya and his children.’
Because of the loss of Mohan’s business Jaya has to accompany her husband to the flat in poorer locality in Mumbai willingly or unwillingly. Women are taught from their early life that silence and surrender is the strength of an Indian woman.
Jaya got her name changed as Suhasini by her husband. A deeper meaning to this changing of name presents that an Indian woman has to forget her former identity that she had in her parents’ home. It reminds of her duties towards her husband and his family and nothing else. Jaya describes a story of crow and sparrow she had heard from her parents that symbolises a woman’s duty towards her children only. How an Indian woman sacrifices her life for the development of her children and do they return back the worth for her sacrifice? Does she get due respect and the same love and care she offered to her children when they grow up? It has been very effectively represented in Jaya’s thoughts.
Shashi Deshpande’s minute observation to the woman’s trauma has been explored widely through Jaya’s inner trauma in this novel. The novelist put striking dialogue to present a man’s domination over his wife when Mohan tells Jaya that he allows her to do whatever she wants to do.
Why a woman needs the permission of her husband to do what she wants? Does a man need to take the permission of his wife to do things of his wish? In which law such discrimination is mentioned? Jaya’s character depicts that her innate talents are just confined to the kitchen. The emphasis here is laid upon a disgraceful condition of a typical Indian middleclass educated woman who gets frustrated living under the forces of male dominated society. Shashi Deshpande through her novels puts her wish in front of women like Jaya to break the silence that they have been bored since long time. Her women characters open up a new way for the women of Indian society.
Experiences and aspirations of Jaya during the early phase of her marriage affirms that when a woman enters into her new home after marriage, she comes with full of dreams and enthusiasm filling in her eyes. She tries to know her husband and his family members to fit into their way of living with the expectations of acquiring love, care and respect in return. When these imaginative dreams shatter she realises the ways of the world. These Indian women accept all decisions made by their husbands and follow them tacitly. Under this tacit following they assume that they are like mythical women as Sita, Savitri or Draupadi. In reality they never wish to be as great as these mythical women and fool themselves as they never want be worshipped as Goddess but they want to be loved and respected as a normal human being. It thus depicts a woman’s struggle to console herself and oppress her desire.
Jaya’s failure as a writer too finds reasons of her monotonous job as a housewife where she can’t achieve true self expression. A glimpse of numerous fasts taken up by woman for her spouse presents the picture of partial Hinduism. Jaya’s irritation towards such norms depicts her inner turmoil that each Indian woman feels inside. Jaya who feels the suppression is also an illustration of those women who accept the ways of blind following. Women in this novel either educated or not passes through the same circumstances.
Depiction of other women in the novel too represents finding their place in the male dominated Indian society. The story that begins from Jaya’s hopes aspirations and frustrations to the triumph of breaking silence which leads her to find her own identity. Anger of woman is preferred here positively by the novelist than having the feeling of frustration or neurotic. Emphasise has been put on Jaya’s anger and protest that she raised at the end of the novel.
Jaya also represents the so called modern Indian women who are supposed to have equal rights in the society. The insight study of her character represents the opposite view. Such modern Indian woman is still suppressed under the male domination. Jaya’s last action is her real triumph when her suppressed anger got burst out at last. The phrase used by Jaya ‘two bullocks yoked together’ indicates the loveless couple living together where husband (Mohan) never took heed of wife’s (Jaya) emotions and there is a lack of understanding between the two of them. In this case if Jaya becomes submissive she is proved to be a great woman but then what about her self-expression? Though Jaya does not leave her husband but there is a certain change of breaking the long silence found in her character. She could have left Mohan and find her own way but she changes herself living under the same social structure developing her own self to be self expressive. Such an action of Jaya reflects a different vision towards life.
The full reading of the novel reflects that the story of Jaya is the story of every Indian middle class woman who survives amidst the unavoidable silence. Shahshi Deshpande in the novel affirms the need of frank self expression of Indian woman. Through the female characters of this novel she indicates the woman of any rank, cast or status who is unable to expose her true identity. Jaya in the novel acquires highest domination on the mind of each common woman. Her aspirations reflect each sensible woman who needs the company of such a man who can offer her love, listen to her and accept her as she is. She loves to be submissive towards her husband only when she gets back some submission from her man. Jaya’s character typifies a modern Indian woman who is trapped between ancient Indian traditions and modernity. Here the battle is with Jaya’s own self when she tries to gain the true identity that she had lost after her marriage.
Shashi Deshpande in her novels weaves various aspects of relationships between husband and wife. Every Indian woman can any how connect herself while reading That Long Silence. The novelist through her novel depicts her own sensible nature that touches the sensibility of Indian women in general. Though she has been analysed and criticised for the limited area and lack of variety in her novels, she undoubtedly touches the nerve of the insight of Indian woman and it has been a broad area to be observed. She is chiefly concerned about why an Indian woman has to follow each and every decision taken by her husband? Doesn’t she have her own choices? These critical questions will always remain unanswered until a woman revolt against it and break her submissive silence.
- Deshpande, Shashi. That Long Silence. Penguin Books, 1989, New Delhi. p 2
- Deshpande, Shashi. That Long Silence. Penguin Books, 1989, New Delhi. p 7
- Deshpande, Shashi. That Long Silence. Penguin Books, 1989, New Delhi. p 4
- Deshpande, Shashi. That Long Silence. Penguin Books, 1989, New Delhi. p 9
- Deshpande, Shashi. That Long Silence. Penguin Books, 1989, New Delhi. p 19