Book Reviews

Contextualizing Woman and Her Struggles

Contextualizing Woman and Her Struggles: A Critical Study of Indira Goswami’s Five Novellas about Women.
by P.V. Laxmiprasad, ISBN: 978- 93-55150-3-18 Book Rivers, Lucknow, India 2021 Pp 140

Note on the Critic

Dr. P.V. Laxmiprasad, a renowned author, literary critic, a resource person and a senior editor has so far published 42 books in English literature. Besides, he has to his credit 70 research papers, 120 poems, 55 book reviews, a few translations and held interviews with literary legends. All his publications speak of outstanding credentials and long standing contribution to literature. P V Laxmiprasad stands aloof from the multitude of critics, explores the unexplored. While critically analysing a book, the choice is different and the analysis of the work prove the concern he has for the society. As a critic he crafts a good critical analysis of Indira Goswami’s novellas and is straightforward in his approach.

About the Book

This book entitled Contextualizing Woman and Her Struggles: A Critical Study of Indira Goswami’s Five Novellas about Womenis a detailed study of Indira Goswami’s novellas. The critic has taken effort to reveal to the world the marginalised literature of Assam a North-eastern state in India. Perhaps many of us would have heard the name of the state but much is unknown about the region and the culture of the people. P.V. Laxmiprasad in this critical analysis focuses much on the doubly marginalised women folk of Assam through Indira Goswami’s works.

The critic has divided the book into 10 chapters, and the first six chapters is a preliminary study of the literary tradition of Assam, its culture, the insurgency in the state and the plight of women in the patriarchal society and the feminist strand of women in Assam. To have a clear understanding of the Five Novellas about Women P.V. Laxmiprasad has given a compendium of Assamese Literature in the first Chapter.

The first chapter “Assamese Literature - Review” traces the growth and development of Assamese Literature. The critic gives a detailed view of the different eras through which Assamese literature has passed through. The Orunodoi Era during the mid-19thcentury, the next period known as the Jonaki Era or the era of Romanticism, Jayanthi Era or the era of transition. Assamese literature was dependent on journals. The Orunodoi era focussed on the bakthi movement and the social evils of the society, the Jonakiera took literature from devotional and the Jayanthi era moved it to realistic literature.

The final era focused on patriotism, social causes and protest of injustice. The Assamese novels during the first half of the twentieth century was still traditional but it totally changed after the post-independenceera it started to reflect a post Freudian, post Marxist, postmodern world. Though a wide range of literature is produced in Assam it is still marginalised.

The second Chapter entitled “About Indira Goswami” is a glimpse about the author. The critic Laxmiprasad has given anin depth account of the life and writings of Indira Goswami. Indira Goswami is a writer, poet, professor, scholar, critic and editor. She is a celebrated writer of contemporary literature and many of her works have been translated into English from the native language Assamese. Goswami is known for her attempts to restructure the social evils in the society.

Two of her works have been adapted as films. Goswami herself has suffered much trauma in her life, she has lived and experienced the life of a widow and much of her works reflect the pains of widow. Indira Goswami had the rare gift of transforming her life and to heal and reconcile the pain she has endured.

The third chapter “Feminism- Review of World Literature” gives a comprehensive idea of feminism globally and feminism in India. The focus rests particularly on feminism in India as the selected works of the critic is based on women solely. The critic tracesthree phases of feminism in India, the first phase was the initial stage of feminism during imperialism when the Europeans fought against the practice of Sati.

The second phase was during 1915 until independence when women’s movement were included in the Quit India Movement and the emergence of Independent women’s organisation during post-independence era. Feminism is a philosophy that raises voice against the imbalance in the society when compared to men. Many women writers have taken the task of expressing the female psyche from their point of view.

The Fourth chapter “Insurgence Issue” gives a vivid picture of the insurgency in Assam. There have been many ups and downs in the history of Assam. During the post-independenceperiod certain historical and political factors were the cause of the lackof proper integration of the North-eastern region with the mainstream. Assam comprises of many ethnicity and it can truly be called a mini India, yet Assam is bleeding and burning under the impact of violence in the state making life difficult for peace lovers. Many insurgent groups have sprouted in Assam to disturb the tranquillity of the region, ULFA, NDBF, MULTA, BLTF.

The insurgence groups were a cause of the influx of large scale illegal migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh. The presence of these people posed a threat to the culture and economic life of the people of Assam. The frustrated youth joined the insurgency group. The life in Assam became tragic for the rural folk and the less privileged on whom Indira Goswami focusses in her novellas.

The fifth chapter “Patriarchy” is the arguments of the subjugation of women in the society. Patriarchy is a system of social, legal, economic, political and cultural structures and practices which poses the superiority of men over women. The novellas of Indira Goswami reflect these norms by the society which has subjugated, discriminated and marginalised women. Women is treated as an object and not a human being of flesh and blood like men.

The sixth chapter “Introduction to Novellas” gives a clear distinction between, novel, novella and short story. A novella is a short novel, which generally has fewer conflicts than a novel. Writers such as Giovanni Boccaccio, Franco Sacchetti and Matteo Bandello later developed thenovella into a psychologically subtle and highly structured short tales. Only after the 18th and 19th centuries writers fashioned the genre novella byprecepts and rules generally in a realistic mode.

The seventh chapter “Critical Appreciation of Five Novellas about Women” is a meticulousanalysis of the five novellas namely “Breaking the Begging Bowl,” “The Blood of Devipeeth,” “Delhi 5, 1991,” “Ishwari’s Doubts and Desires,” and “The Touchstone.”These novellas touch upon the struggles of women and depict the life of rural poor, the situation of widows and the plight of urban less privileged. These five novellas are a social satire on the most victimized section of the society. Indira Goswami delves deep into the struggles and the problems of women and presents it forthrightly to the readers.

The first novella analysed by the critic is “The Breaking of the Begging Bowl.” P.V. Laxmiprasad expresses the allegorical tone in the title of the novella. The critic compares the novella to Bertolt Brecht’sMother Courage and Her Children and J M Synge’s Riders to the Sea. The protagonist Phuleshwari suffers under the demands of the patriarchal society. The insurgency in the state has toppled her life and belonging to a poor background, she is assaulted by the words of the villagers. She suffers for no fault of hers. She stands alone, no one to comfort, console and confront.

She fights all alone for her survival, being a widow she runs hard to bring up her children and finally her son too joins the insurgency group, the daughter also becomes a widow. when the land of her daughter was abducted by Chaudhary, the woman who was silent in her distress, stands with her daughter in her trouble. Theywere ready to wage a war to free the land of her daughter. Laxmiprasad compliments the style of Goswami’s writing when portraying the single tragedy. He states:

Indira Goswami presents the story of singular tragedy with stark prose, incisive observation and visceral imagery. While she empathizes with every one of her characters, she spares none. Instead of taking sides and making comments, she lets the readers confront the reality on their own. She does so with the skilled use of a host of literary and stylistic devices. Further, the novella is rich in the description of natural flora and fauna. This is precisely done not just to underscore the region where the story is set but also to highlight the emotional state of her characters. (110)

The critic has taken efforts to convey the emotional state of Goswami’s characters. Goswami uses local dialect to add emphasis to the story. Finally, the critic as a reader states that Phuleshwari is Mother Assam herself, as she faces all the problems of Assam, struggle for land, rural background and poverty.

The second novella “The Blood of Devipeeth” as the name suggests is about the 51stShakti Peeth. Laxmiprasad highlights the strong opposition of Goswami for animal sacrifice and forbidden love. Padmapriya is the central character who struggles to overcome the feelings of abandonment.

Her mother stays with her and provides her the courage needed to face life, later when her friend Lawanya comes to meet her, she too gives the strength to face life. Motherhood and sisterhood go hand in hand in giving her the hope to live. Together they resist the patriarchal society. She grows white flowers in her garden which serves as a symbol of hope, better life and upliftment of life. The use of colours both red and white symbolically represents the process of transformation and coming to terms with reality.

The third novella “Delhi5, November 1991” refers to the hooch tragedy in Delhi which killed 199 people. Most of the people were casual labourers and rickshaw pullers who consumed Karpoor Asav. Though the story is based on the death of men, the aftermath of their death leads to the suffering of the womenfolk in their family. This novella is also a singular tragedy from the point of woman.

Vimala is the voice of the author to describe the life of daily wage labourers and the victims of hooch tragedy. Vimala is just viewed as a sex object. When a gang of people knock the door of Vimala to inform her of the tragedy she rushes to the hospital and receives Himant Singh’s corpse. Goswami portrays the angst of the people akin to the dead.

The fourth novella “Ishwari’s Doubts and Desires” has a documentary quality. It is the story of love between Ishwari a widow and Dharmabahadur a widower. The novella is about the tussle between human desire and spirituality. Ishwari is in love with Dharmabahadur but unable to express it. She feels guilty of her feelings. The critic distinguishes the privileges of male and female, a renowned Brahmachari seems to molest a widow whereas a widow who loves truly have to conceal her feelings.

The fifth and final novella “The Touchstone” is different from the rest, as a straightforward text it reveals the condition of men in the patriarchal society. Men are essentially not evil but do not have a place in the inner world of women and are trapped in the patriarchal system, posing themselves stronger and superior thereby victimizing women. “The Touchstone” revolves around Dwarakanth and two women Snehalata and Bahumala. the association with one is beyond social standing.

Irrespective of nationality, class, creed and culture women are subordinate to men. Men enjoy the dominant position and women are victimized through their subordination. The socially constructed norms by men just give the status of ‘the other’ to women where man stands as ‘one’. This condition prevails throughout the world. Women are always discriminated in the name of gender. Indira Goswami whips the society that pushes down women. Her novellas are a proliferation against the social injustice.

The study of Laxmiprasad identifies the psyche of the protagonists in the select novellas of Indira Goswami. Through the portrayal of characters, the apparent change in the writer herself is witnessed by the readers. Goswami, herself a widow divulges the angst and the culture shock of women like her. The author in no way degrades the characters but portrays them as potential women who undertake the valiant journey of life despite all ordeals.


More by :  Prof. Dr. Mary Josephine Jerina

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Views: 582      Comments: 4

Comment Prof Laxmi Prasad's contributions to literary field and academia is boundless. His scholarly works and criticisms have attracted many citations. He is straight from the shoulder. His brilliant analysis and insightful approach assert his passionate devotion to Indian writing in English. He deserves many accolades for his professorial contributions to the research field.

Dr. V. Sunitha
25-May-2023 11:52 AM

Comment Its an excellent and a befitting review on five novella of Padmasri Indira Goswami, Gnanpetee Awardee from Assam. It's an interesting and impeccable Critical work by Dr. P. V. Laxmiprasad. I would to congratulate both the Critic and the reviewer.

Dr. Palakurthy Dinakar
21-May-2023 02:32 AM

Comment This book review by Prof. Dr. Mary Josephine Jerina presents the gist of the book of P. V. Laxmiprasad 'Contextualizing Woman and Her Struggles: A Critical Study of Indira Goswami’s Five Novellas about Women'. A close study of the present book presents the background of Assamese literature and Goswami's work. The book review reveals the plight of women from different perspective. The way of narration is clear with a message. Reading of a book may engage the attention of a reader!

Ayodhya Kalyan Jadhav
20-May-2023 10:11 AM

Comment It is not easy to digest the hidden meaning in the poetry and literature of Laxmi Prasad whose reputation crossed India borders
It needs patience and attention to enjoy his literature
I hope he will receive top awards at national level
Iam happy to put my feelings

satyanarayana poosala
20-May-2023 08:46 AM

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