Women have been writing for a long time. Their voices have hitherto been silenced but there are repercussions of these throughout the history. We hear of rishikas of India, we talk about and third waves of feminist movements but seldom come out with an Indianised theory about female writing to discuss whether it is gendered, typically feminine or rooted in Indian culture and ethos.
To discuss this issue, I have selected two short stories and one biographical narrative. The first one is banishment by a Pakistani author Jamila Hashmi who is famous for her two Urdu novels – Talash e Baharan and Dosht e soos. Though I found another translated version of the story titled Exile but I will refer to Banishment. The second narrative is in the form of a sketch Lachhma by Mahadevi Verma. It is translated from Hindi into English by Ruth Vanita and the third one is a prose piece, an excerpt from Mila Tej Se Tej (As Strength met Strength) composed by Sudha Chauhan the eldest daughter of Subhadra Kumari Chauhan. This piece throws light on the life of her mother who was a great writer and a satyagrahi. Through this paper a humble attempt has been made to analyze the impulse of writing among three characters and their understanding of the nation and its culture by bringing out the similarities and differences among their creators.
Beginning with Banishment, it is the story of a woman who was assaulted during partition and exiled from her homeland by a Sikh named Gurpal. The author uses the myth of Seeta who was exiled by Ramachandra as she was polluted by Rawana though this Seeta accepts a life with Rawana for the sake of her daughter Munni. Another reason behind this acceptance of her tormentor was that she kept on waiting for her dear brother to come in search of her & take her away to her homeland but in vain as he never came. She asks herself how long she can carry the weight of dead corpses. The dead relations were like corpses. And she refused to go with army during rehabilitation of women and hid herself. She said, “With blistered feet and a wounded heart, and a despoiled womanhood, where can I go?” Interestingly Gurpal, the power holder is the only person who has been named in this story and the abused woman has no identity.
She laments the day of her wedding. ‘Since that fateful night, many daughters-in-law had come to this village. But there were no festivities. No music was played nor did village belles sing joyous marriage songs to the accompaniment of the dholak’. The protagonist feels so lonely that she starts loving darkness and equates herself to a boat. ‘Just one wave is sufficient to drown it, you don’t need a whole ocean’. She reflects that it was her parents’ mistake who thought that no one could inflict pain on them in the midst of dear ones but she realizes that strangers don’t bring about distress.
She wants to hide her pain by writing. Her bhayya had always encouraged her to write like him with a beautiful hand, neat that is without stains and straight. But in her case there is not one straight line on any page. She only confesses, ‘my book of destiny is soiled and there is black ink all over its pages’.
She loves that motherland whose streets are soaked in her father’s blood. ‘if I can only get a glimpse of its soil I will pick it up with veneration and kiss it reverently and hold it to my forehead. O dust of that land! You are more fortunate than I’. Bakare Yusuf finds a re-writing of woman’s body in this story along with her desubjectification with body as flesh only.
The second sketch Lachhma is a combination of biography, memoir, essay and fiction. Lachhma, a sturdy hill woman, was married to a mentally retarded man and had tough brothers in law who had nearly beaten her to death. Added to this she had to raise the child of her brother after his mother died.
When the writer first proposed her to study at Prayag Mahila Vidyapeeth, she replied that reading and writing are of no use in the forest and she will study in her next birth. This unfulfilled desire to write, to write about her pain, her suffering, her courage, her determination finds an when that illiterate woman talks about writing letters to the author. ‘I write in my own way. I sit on a rock and think I have written this, I have written that… when I think that the letter has been sent, i get up happily and cut grass or chop wood. All that I write… does it not reach you?’ she even is confident of painting landscape provided she gets the materials necessary for it as she had earlier been covering the walls with geru and rice colours.
Despite the problems of feeding so many mouths, gathering grass, milking, taking care of children, rearing bees in cracks of walls, she has a radiant laughter that remains unshadowed by despair. The author terms her as ‘the daughter of the mountains’ who can wade through the darkest night with her sickle. For her combing her hair or maintaining cleanliness could bring strange happiness.
A story that presents the struggle of an ordinary woman in hills (her home) can’t be merely dubbed as woman speak as it carries shades of meaning regarding the culture, customs, superstitions etc. If we gender these writings ‘the vicious circle of exclusion on account of language, culture and gender continues’. It is the literature of the margins within the marginalized and should not be condemned merely by terming a speech that dwells on the tyranny of the household, marriage , family and motherhood. As Mamta Sagar once remarked that she didn’t know how to write like a woman because her poems contained no sounds of bangles or anklets.
Frantz Fanon says on national culture that there is ‘an anxiety shared by native intellectuals to shrink away from that western culture in which they all risk being swamped’ and are therefore ‘relentlessly determined to renew contact once more with the oldest and most pre-colonial springs of life of their people.
In the third text from ‘Mila Tej se Tej’ Sudha Chauhan says that her mother’s stories reveal a woman’s struggle to establish her identity and selfhood. Her mother used to write when she was in jail. She could do her reading & writing only in the dead silence of the night. She kept a diary and found it cathartic. Here also a woman’s writing was her response to the injustice meted out to woman. The author talks of Satyagraha programme of 1941 where most of the women were placed in B or C class category. Whereas A class prisoners got all the facilities, lot of B and C class women prisoners was not good. The pregnant women were given stale chapattis, many were not given the bedclothes of their young children as punishment. Her motherhad gone to jails for months leaving her children to the care of God and acted as mother to other inmates in jail. They all share sisterhood and took care of young children.
Cherrie Moraga in the play ‘The Hungry woman’ points out that after the political independence has been gained, the women are ordered to leave guns and go to the kitchen. They are delegated biological & cultural reproduction of the nation. A woman has no security at home when the colonized nation is itself in flux. In cases where their national identities are subject to stresses, women thematize this stress as search for home. Since nation as a concept does not envisage women as equals their narratives seek a location of safety and freedom.
In African nations, the themes of mother, motherland and mother tongue are fused. The three narratives that I’ve taken take up mothering as writing creation and taking care of children. Added to it is the mother daughter relationship between the protagonist and the motherland. These writings deserve critical appreciation like other grand narratives as voiced expressions of the others irrespective of any claim by feministic theories. The paper therefore raises further questions: Do we really need rooms of our own that is to shut ourselves up in the realm of feminism alone? Shall we inhabit another nation meant for women only? Shan’t we read out our literature to our husbands, sons, brothers and lovers to bring out a change in the patriarchal set up? If a woman’s identity is embedded so firmly in family, why call it trivial? Do we really need a Western feminist theory that categorises our texts as feminists rather than national, cultural or lively? It is asserted that women cannot be separated from meneither through writing or their love for nation, culture and motherland. References
Hashmi, Jamila ‘Banishment’ in Pakistani Women Writers Eds. Fakhar Zaman, Yasmin Hameed and Asim Aslam Farrukhi. New Delhi : Fiction House, 2001.
Chauhan Sudha ‘ From Mila Tej Se Tej’ in Women Writing in India Eds. Susie Tharu and K. Lalita, Vol. I, 600 BC to early 20th century, New Delhi : OUP, 2005 (as above).
Varma Mahadevi ‘Lacchma’ in Women Writing in India. Vol. I 600 BC to early 20th century eds.
Nayar, Parmod K. Postcolonial Literature --- an introduction New Delhi : Pearson Longman, 2008.
Just between us --Women speak about their writing Eds. Ammu Joseph et. al. New Delhi : Asmita, 2004.