Included in the UGC-CARE list (Group B Sr. No 172)
The Loss of Identity in Indian Society in Rama Mehta’s Inside the Haveli

The issue of identity has unexpectedly become very significant in the context of Indian English novel because a sense of identity is a perennial sustaining force in an individual. We may, or may not like but the present day world the politics of culture keeps constructing and deconstructing identities. In Indian context, identity crisis has affinity with Showalter’s detection of double bind on the woman writer of the age. Rama Mehta herself at one level was awed by the glory of feudal haveli and its traditions but at another, stifled repressed but finally at the interlized level she realizes that within orderly confines there only one role to play and that any variation of the role to surface can lead to disasters. The loss of identity in Indian society is largely due to the binaries of culture and development that leaves one dangling between the extremes of chauvinism and liberalism. Caste/ subcaste, religion, cultural / subcultural and such other identities are being sought in the shape of huge congregation.

Inside the Haveli is the story of a Rajputana family, a family more concerned with reputation and honour of its three hundred years old Haveli than the desires and dreams of the people dwelling in it. One by one dreams have to be reshaped, modified, suppressed, silent transformation and willing imprisonment of women and it is only the ‘negation’ of self that woman acquires acceptability within household. Like Girish Karnad’s Nagamandala, in Inside the Haveli, there is no male character like Appanna who exploits his wife Rani in the most brutal manner by beating and locking her. Males of Inside the Haveli are never shown with such sort of brutality. In fact, they exercise power but remain invisible. Precisely, Inside the Haveli explores a journey of an individual in the cross-cultural context, wherein the protagonist undergoes and overcomes too the identity crisis at mental and social level. It is a sensitive regional novel by Rama Mehta where she describes how an educated urban girl Geeta finds herself confined in the oppressive environment of Haveli, and how Geeta struggles to liberate herself into the ‘new woman’ who tries to discover her real self through her inner and instinctive potentiality, that is, her classes. “It was not just that the classes filled the empty hours but they also offered a challenge” (Mehta 161)

At a co-educational college, Geeta was accustomed to “free mingling of men and women” (Mehta13). And she was unaware of a different conservative society of Haveli. Marriage brought Geeta from the outer world of modernity to the enclosure of the threshold. She gets confronted with cultural shock when she first enters into Udaipur as a bride of a Haveli son Ajay. Bewildered and puzzled Geeta realizes that all women looked same- a mass of veil only. These women have to come to greet Geeta at platform. But they are horrified to see her face uncovered. One of them pulls her sari over her face and says to Geeta, “where do you come from that you show your face to the world?”(Mehta17). And when Geeta pulls her sari back to see, she is scolded by the maid Pari “No you cannot do that. In Udaipur we keep puardah. Strange eyes must not see your beautiful face”(Mehta 17).

Geeta at once realizes that she would not have to draw a veil on her face but also on her individuality too. She would have to succumb to the stringent and traditional customs of the Haveli. Very soon she becomes aware that prejudice had surrounded her and the women folk of the Haveli including her mother-in-law had no confidence in her “she will never adjust. She is not one of us” (Mehta29). Even the illiterate maids would indoctrinate Geeta in the ways and traditions of the family. They would fabricate gossips around her. Such behavior made her to suffer from disorientation. In this regard Anupma Rajoria observes:

Under such gripping circumstances, she could not find comfort. she feltsubdued andlonely, and at such times would think that even the open environment of the aristocratic grand Haveli failed to widen the horizons of thinking. Her only respites were herchildhood memories and urban life. “She had gone to college” and her parents hadencouraged her to speak her mind. But in Haveli, Geeta was supposed to observereticence as a mark of decorum. (35)

At first Geeta is ignorant and unable to assert her identity. She is precariously situated outside the patriarchal hierarchy. She recognizes her marginalization as a woman especially as a daughter-in-law in the Haveli. The process of ego-dissolution begins to take place in Geeta’s psyche as she starts to love the large empty rooms of the Haveli. Geeta finds herself merging into others. Authoritative and dominating male voice of Bhagwat Singhji has suppressed the female voice for articulation. The role of an ideal wife, daughter-in –law has circumscribed herself development by taking away the freedom of expression. At this point, Geeta’s problem of ‘becoming’ shows Rama Mehta’s polemics against gender role imposed upon a woman in a patriarchal culture. Such relative identity distorts her identity and problematizes her perception.

Suffering from the dilemma of a distorted identity, Geeta realizes that sitting inactive would only waste her life, so she musters up all her courage to fight against patriarchal, oppressive and negative atmosphere of the Haveli without revolting against the Haveli system by accepting the traditions and discipline of the Haveli. But her conduct now exhibits her passive rebellion in her future conduct. On maid Dhapu’s reminder of restraining herself in showing affection towards her new born Vijay publically she bursts out “stop lecturing me, I am fed up…don’t tell me what I should do with my child” (Mehta 32).

The motherly instinct of Geeta provided a strong pillar to support her own individuality. She had taken steps towards her own emancipation. She is able to effectively convince her husband and her father-in-law to allow her to educate not only Vijay and Seta but also other downtrodden children of Udaipur. Her husband tells her, “It is time you taught them something new” (Mehta 137). Her dream of literacy campaign through which she sought her own individuality takes shape in the form of school which she runs successfully. Here begins the time for new ideas to enter the Haveli. Haveli has metaphorical significance for her, it proves to be a cage wherein she was trapped, and it was Haveli which paved the way for her to fulfill her dream of literary campaign and of attaining individuality. As Ramnavmiwall Meera maintains:

her classes, Geeta reached out beyond herself towards social milieu. It is her attempt to insert her individuality and she realizes her freedom. It brings her intoconfrontation with patriarchal society as well as with her family” (36).

No doubt without raising her voice against the dictates of Haveli, she achieves her own space and self. Geeta moulds herself up to the dictates of Haveli and her in-laws and proves her potentiality in which she had firm faith. In her innermost thoughts she has developed a sense of belonging to the Haveli, while externally she professes a studied revulsion to the atmosphere of the Haveli. In “A Madwoman in the Attic”, for Gilbert and Gubar stresses the importance of striving for definition beyond the dichotomy whose options are limited by a patriarchal point of view. In case of Geeta, she does the same. She asserts herself ‘definition’ beyond the dichotomy of the Haveli system that was limited by patriarchal set up. In this regard Pooja Joshi observes:

By the end of the novel Geeta becomes voice of tradition and the active heir of the Haveli. As the narrative progresses, the meaning of tradition also undergoes a change; from restriction and isolation it moves to continuity and progress. Tradition not necessarily means curbing one’s individual identity but makes one wise by feeling pride in what is best in the family tradition and trying in other respects to make the Haveli community of relatives and dependents move with the times, making sure of each forward step. (86)

Geeta is an ideal for modern educated woman that they should pursue some meaningful activity within the institutions of their household so that they could achieve their rights, victories as well as self-contentment and self- development all together. While comparing Geeta with Shashi Deshpande’s protagonist of “That Long Silence”, we find identical characteristics between them. As Jaya recognizes her own worth and decides to make her own space only by articulating her feelings, she develops a sense of balance in her life as well as in her innermost intense struggle. She comes to realize that she is the creator of her destiny, life is what we make of it and gives a desired shape by making her liberated from the conflict that was going on within herself.

In a way, Geeta’s fulfillment and victory lies in the fact that she liberates herself from the strangulating traditions and customs of the Haveli. She embarks triumphantly on her flight towards emancipation in spite of being caged. As an amalgamation of tradition and modernity, Geeta is definitely a role model for thousands of women who are caught in the dilemma of tradition and modernity today.

Work Cited

  1. Joshi, Pooja. “Being and Becoming.” Gender, History and Culture: Inside the Haveli. Ed.Supriya Agarwal and Urmil Talwar. New Delhi: Rawat Publications, 2009.Print.
  2. Meera, Ramnavmiwall. “Quest for Identity: Geeta’s Fight for Emancipation Inside The Haveli.” International Referred Journal 3.27 (2011):34-35.Print.
  3. Mehta, Rama. Inside the Haveli. New Delhi: Penguin Book, 1996.Print.
  4. Rajoria, Anupma. “Rama Meahta’s Inside the Haveli: A Feminist Perspective.” Indian Streams Research 1.1 (2001): p.36. Web. 18 Feb. 2013.

Srushti B. Chaudhary, Research Scholar, H.N.G.U. Patan