Metamorphosis of an Indian Woman: A Study of Bharati Mukherjee’s Miss New India
Associate Professor of English,
MSM College, Kayamkulam
Today’s global environment demands flexibility, adaptability, change and transformation. In this age of uncertainty only those who are enterprising are bound to survive and prosper. Metamorphosis has thus become an essential pre-requisite for the success of an individual. Bharati Mukherjee in her recent novel Miss New India (2011) delineates the metamorphosis of nineteen year old Anjali Bose who hurls herself into adventures and tries to control her destiny by determinedly pursuing self-worth and personal happiness. Anjali escapes the constrictions and expectations of her traditional, patriarchal family in Gauripur and flees to metropolitan Bangalore in search of a new way of living. She discovers happiness, freedom and romance and feels empowered by her financial independence. After encountering many hurdles she ultimately succeeds in re-inventing herself. This paper is an attempt to show how the economic boom and the resultant new possibilities of modern-day India brings about transformation in the lives of young Indian women like Anjali Bose.
Healing Through Creativity in a World of Hurt: The Traumatized Child in Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina
Associate Professor of English,
MSM College, Kayamkulam
Psychic trauma involves intense personal suffering which could affect human consciousness. The symptomatic aftermath of trauma poses acute problems for representation and understanding. Case histories of medical professionals are no longer the only source of studying trauma. As literature lends itself to find new ways of exploring the inaccessible and the incomprehensible, fictional narratives have taken an important place in illuminating the personal and public aspects of trauma. Firsthand, comprehensive records of trauma are pursued by trauma survivors themselves who have found previous discursive strategies for containing trauma inadequate. These self- authored texts not only offer individual internalized responses to traumatic conflicts but also the defensive strategies adopted for survival.
An American writer, speaker, and member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, Dorothy Allison’s works are self- representational as she strives to tell her own story in a discourse that transcend generic distinctions. Issues of incest and rape, salvation and redemption, the emotional bond between mother and child form the main themes of her work. The collection of essays she published between 1988 and 1995 records instances of child hood sexual abuse suffered from her stepfather. InBastard Out of Carolina (1992), Allison illustrates the trauma of incest and illegitimacy by fictionally reconstructing the physical, emotional and sexual assault she had already referred to in her non- fictional pieces.
For the survivor of childhood abuse, the response to overwhelming trauma in the form of narrative is actually a sort of mental escape, therapeutically healing. Very often, such a victim is silenced by the thought that the revelation of the crime may become catastrophic for self and others, which leads to the segregation of memories in the mind that believes that articulation will never be possible.As Allison unravels the effects of abuse on the inner psyche of a child, creativity is used as a means of healing, to speak out to the world of that which had been hitherto hidden and to find solutions to prevent such tragedies. The book offers itself as a testimony to the fact that child abuse, rape and molestation are not isolated incidents to be hushed up, but demanding attention to a number of familial, social and psychological issues at stake.
The conditions governing recollection and retelling of sexual trauma are related to larger social and political circumstances because cultural models influence what is socially possible to speak of and what must remain hidden and unacknowledged. Instances of childhood abuse are often not exposed because they pose threat to current social and political arrangements. The excessive importance given to conventional morality and family structure and the belief that the family should be held together at whatever cost also have dissuaded women and children from testifying against these crimes. The insensitivity of the police on such crimes and the lack of enthusiasm to bring the perpetrators before the law have also worked negatively on the victims to seek public redressal.However the rise of feminist movements, the work of social activists, media presentations, shifts in public attitudes and juridical practices have now become instrumental in encouraging victims to speak out and to remove the stigma associated with abuse and rape.
The text of Bastard out of Carolina, as unfolded through the child narrator Ruth Anne Boatwright, the illegitimate child of a fifteen year old waitress, powerfully describes the feelings of an abused child by connecting incest and illegitimacy. Bone, as she is addressed in the novel, struggles to hide the fact from her mother and other relatives, mainly because she sympathizes with her mother who pines for love and a happy family life, after beingdisowned by the man who fathered her child at fifteen and widowed by the man who legally married herat nineteen. Recognizing Anney’s need to have Glen, “like a starving woman needs meat between her teeth” (41), Bone states in the novel that, “more terrified of hurting her than of anything that might happen to me, I would work as hard as he did to make sure she never knew” (118). Her powerful feelings towards her mother give her the will to endure her suffering, but as she reaches the age of ten, Daddy Glen’s abuse become too regular, that she sincerely wishes her mother would leave him. “I did not know how to tell anyone what I felt, what scared me and shamed me …” (109), aptly conveys the inability of the child to comprehend what has occurred and the lack of language in her to report the crime of incest. This gives a crushing blow to her identity and emotional development and instills in her a deep sense of self- hatred and self- contempt. As trauma works to subvert when the victim is silenced, Bone’s instincts to hide the abuse causes the fragmentation of her personality.
Guided by the Boatwright family attitude that “men could do anything” (23), and that women should tolerate, Bone develops the view that she should submit to the patriarchal dictates of Daddy Glen. Glen, the stepfather, not only manipulates and controls her sexually but also makes her a psychic hostage and leads her to believe that his acts are punishments for wrongs she has committed. The shame of being born a bastard, attenuated by Glen’s degradation of her and the mother’s failure to recognize the severity of abuse are factors that work to a gradual loss of self- respect and emotional withdrawal in Bone. Analyzing the effects of abuse on the state of mind of such children, psychiatrist Judith Lewis Herman, whose clinical work and research focus on victims of domestic and political trauma, observes in her book Trauma and Recovery:
The child entrapped in this kind of horror develops the belief that she is somehow responsible for the crimes of her abusers. Simply by virtue of her existence on earth, she believes that she has driven the most powerful people in her world to do terrible things. Surely, then, her nature must be thoroughly evil. The language of the self becomes a language of abomination (105).
This is precisely what Bone feels when she confides, “I lived in a world of shame. I hid my bruises as if they were evidences of crime I had committed. I knew I was a sick disgusting person” (113). She blames herself for her victimization, experiences acute self- hatred, shame and humiliation, and thinks of herself as a dumb and ugly white trash girl, “born to shame and death” (206).
Studying the effect of shame on the stigmatized individual, shame theorist Michael Lewis points out in his work, Shame:The Exposed Self, that children raised in a shame- filled environment by shame- prone parents, “are likely to learn to experience shame through empathic shame induction” (113). As a member of the disgraced and discredited Boatwright family and the mother of an illegitimate child, Anney is marked as a socially undesirable, tainted woman; her social stigma affects and infects her daughter. Bone is marked as the embodiment of her mother’s shame by being designated as a certified bastard by the state of South Carolina and the family stories about her father also representing her as white trash. The term “trash” means “social waste and detritus” and invokes long standing stereotypes of poor whites.
A study conducted by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in India finds that mostly children on the street, at work, and in institutional care reported the highest incidence of sexual assault. This goes in accordance with Judith Herman’s statement that psychological trauma is an affliction of the poor. In Bastard out of Carolina, poverty becomes a crucial element in the lives of both mother and daughter for the trauma they endure. Openly admitting the fact, “We were trash” (29), Allison writes of herself in her collection of essays titled,Skin:
I have known I was a lesbian since I was a teenager, and I have spent a good twenty years making peace with the effects of incest and physical abuse. But what may be the central fact of my life is that I was born in 1949 in Greenville, South Carolina, the bastard daughter of a white woman from a desperately poor family, a girl who had left the seventh grade the year before, worked as a waitress, and was just a month past fifteen when she had me (14- 15).
As Bone finds herself being increasingly labelled as “trash” by Glen’s family, school mates and others, the word tears at her and when her mother tells hernot to make Daddy Glen angry by being so stubborn, Bone reminiscences:
It was nothing I had done that made him beat me. It was just me, the fact of my life, who I was in his eyes and mine. I was evil… of course I was. I admitted it to myself, locked my fingers into my fists and shut my eyes to everything I did not understand (110).
She considers herself as the family scape goat and thinks that she is blameworthy, by doing wrong and encouraging Daddy Glen to punish her. Extra- conscious of the shame she carries with her, Bone perceives of herself as evil, defiled, unworthy of love and affection and develops thoughts of guilt, helplessness, which are all indications of the traumatized psyche.
Glen, who has been slighted in his own family has married Anney, just for shaming his daddy and considers her bastard daughter as merely a “bone” in his hands. Bone’s body bears ample proof of the stepfather’s attack as it carries wounds and bruises not likely to be found in a child of her age. The mother, though is angry with Glen over the issue, believes Glen’s words of love for her and how he has been provoked by Bone herself, hides the fact from
even immediate family members. This adversely affects Bone who does not want to disclose it even to Aunt Ruth who asks her as explicitly as she can, or to the county doctor and sheriff, whom she comprehends to be only replicas of Daddy Glen, who profess love but act otherwise.
Familial abuse, as Laurence J.Kirmayer argues in the article, “Landscapes of Memory: Trauma, Narrative and Dissociation”, presents the child with the added problem of integrating contradictory images of the aggressing parent as also loving and kind and of the non- aggressing parentas failing to protect and colliding with abuse. Dissociation provides a strategy for managing the intense dissonance created by this contradiction (195). As Glen strengthens and establishes his hold on the family by stating that Anney and the girls are all “mine” (36), Bone’s trauma becomes all the more “unspeakable”. Terrified and unable to speak of the crime of incest committed on her, she begins to encounter symptoms of traumatization such as fragmentation of the self, feelings of anger, revenge, uncertainties,disappointment and loss of emotional bond with even people closest to her. Once when she sees Aunt Ruth and Uncle Earle hugging tightly, she wonders whether she could do the same to Reese, her sister. The words, “It made me jealous, made me wish I was part of that embrace, that generation, as quick to yell and curse as to cry and make up” (129- 30), reflect the intense craving for being loved and accepted in the family. This is reiterated in her wanting “to be a gospel singer and be loved by the whole world” (141), which she clearly knows to be nothing short of a miracle to happen.
Bone’s attempts to find redemption in religion and gospel music, her complex sexual fantasies, bizarre tales of violence, fantasying alternate lives are all efforts to defend herself and break out of the trauma. Her fantasies allow her to make up imaginary victories against her stepfather. She fantasizes about fire, of taking revenge on Daddy Glen and wishes for the apocalypse to come down on him. She particularly identifies with Shannon Pearl, a school friend who is albino, hence ridiculed and isolated by other school mates and feels towards her, “a fierce and protective love as if she were more my sister than Reese” (156). The women in her stories break free of gender confinement and ride motorcycles, set fire to houses, exemplifying the hidden wish in her to move out of the patriarchal authority and help conquer the fears within her.
The mother’s passivity already adding to her sense of being betrayed, Bone is totally devastated at the end of the novel when her mother decides to remain with the man who has raped her even after witnessing the rape. The intensely moving declaration in Skin, “I knew there was one story that would haunt me until I understand how to tell it- the complicated, painful story of how my mama hadand had not saved me as a girl” (34) is attempted narration in Bastard Out of Carolina where Allison portrays Bone’s complete estrangement from the mother in the closing pages of the novel. Here we come across one of the most poignant and disturbing scenes in the whole novel for it falls below the pre- conceived notions of motherhood and produces outright hatred in many readers. A child looks upon its mother as saviour and protector, but in the case of Bone, the absence of maternal help aggravates the trauma. Anney has been a good mother to Bone in all other aspects, even teaching her polite manners, good behaviour and moral values.
Anney’s decision to remain with Glen even in the most extreme circumstances leads us to connect it with other socio- economic factors that women find themselves entangled in --the ignominious attitude adopted towards unwed mothers, familial honour, economic security and so on. The child living in an incestuous household finds no way but to silently suffer abuse perpetrated from the family member. In the case of Bone’s family, Glen is more dispossessed than Anney. He is a liability than a source of support. But Anney, though she knows well that she has erred in marrying him, sticks on to Glen out of shame of bearing Bone illegitimately. She believes that a husband can remove the taint of illegitimacy thrust on her daughter. For Bone, on the other hand legitimacy as inscribed in the birth certificate Anney finally gives her cannot compensate for the abandonment by the mother or the rape by her stepfather. However the final rape also determines her fate to break away from the mother and stay with Aunt Raylene which is important to her own healing. The words, “my mama has abandoned me and that was the only thing that mattered,” (302) give the impression of the rape to be less traumatizing than the mother’s betrayal.
The self- created horror stories that Bone tells herself and others not only help her to reconnect socially but also as Laurie Vickroy observes in Trauma and Survival in Contemporary Fiction,“represent a potential creative life that might arise out of trauma and violence” (158). Taking her model from Aunt Raylene who acts as a surrogate mother to her, Bone realizes that pursuing her creative abilities and transforming nightmares into narrative could work in emotional survival and in the healing and displacement of trauma. Daddy Glen, the object of trauma had so effectively immobilized the subject through shame and terror that Bone says of her silence in the novel that “He never said “Don’t tell your mama” He never had to say it. I did not know how to tell anyone what I felt, what scared me and shamed me…” (108- 9).
Narrative has now given her the freedom to expose the child in her who suffered silently and reconstitute the self diminished by loss. It offers a platform for the articulation of painful truths, once repressed and found unspeakable, and of the anguish, uncertainties, defenses, disorientation and terror accompanying trauma .When creativity lets out the truth, the dissociated self could work towards a reconstitution and identification with those who have silently endured abuse.
Karin C Meiselman in her work, “Resolving the Trauma of Incest: Re- integration Therapy with Survivors,” reports that the increase in divorce and stepfathers in the present times has heightened risk of intra- familial sexual abuse of girls (16-17). The alarming rise in divorce rates and living together relationships becoming popular nowadays, there are growing number of families which includes step parents, half- sister or half- brother which raises long standing questions of how women and children cope on in such households. Women face many barriers to uncovering the realities of abuse in family units. Narrative fiction has certainly enlightened us in this respect.
A trauma narrative aims to represent the plight of a person struggling to make sense of an overwhelming experience in a particular context.Allison’s text while dealing with the trauma of child abuse, goes beyond presenting trauma as mere subject matter or in characterization, but incorporates the very nature of the traumatic experience within the consciousness and structure of the text. It holds at its centre the re- constitution and recuperation of the traumatic experience, thus becoming both personally and socially reconstitutive. The sad fact remains that the United Statesis one of the three countries that has signed, but not ratified the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child, the international treaty that legally obliges states to protect children’s rights. In our own country, there were no specific laws on child abuse till theProtection of Children against Sexual Offences Act, 2012 was passed in the Indian Parliament in May 2012.
Allison, Dorothy. Bastard Out of Carolina. New York: Penguin, 1992.
------. Skin: Talking about Sex, Class and Literature. Ithaca, New York: Firebrand,1994.
Herman, Judith Lewis. Trauma and Recovery: Basic Books: New York, 1992.
Kirmayer, Laurence. J, “Landscapes of Memory: Trauma, Narrative, and Dissociation.” In
TensePast: Cultural Essays in Trauma and Memory.Ed. Paul Antze and Michael Lambek.
NewYork: Routledge, 1996.
Lewis, Michael. Shame: The Exposed Self. New York: Free Press, Simon and Schuster, 1995.
Meiselman, Karin. C. Resolving the Trauma of Incest: Reintegration Therapy with Survivors.
San Francisco: Jossey, 1990.
Vickroy, Laurie. Trauma and Survival in Contemporary Fiction. Virginia: Univ of Virginia
Mysteries of Motherhood: A Reading on Kyung-Sook Shin’s Novel
Please Look After Mother
Assistant Professor of English,
M.S.M. College, Kayamkulam.
Korean Literature has a history of about 3,000years. The earlier works were in ‘Hanja’, that is a language using Chinese characters. Later, by 1440, a phonetic Korean alphabet, ‘Hangul’ was created. Classical Korean literature had its root in traditional folk beliefs and tales. Modern literature is often linked with the development of Hangul. Korea was under the imperial Japanese rule from 1910. During this period, the Korean literature was influenced by the Japanese literature. Literary magazines that appeared during1920s and 1930s laid a foundation to the modern Korean literature.
The strengthening of ideological coercion by the Japanese government led to suppression of intellectual minds. Immediately after the II World War, at the Potsdam Conference, the Allies decided to divide Korea. The Koreans were not consulted while taking the decision. Finally the Korean War was waged between South Korea, which was supported by the United States and North Korea supported by China and Soviet Union. The Korean War led to the development of literature centered on the wounds and chaos of war and tragedy. By1970s the influence of western modernism was evident due to rapid industrialization. Until 1980s Korean literature was largely unknown outside the country. Increased popularity of Korean films led to mass interest in Korean translated works.
Kyung –Sook Shin’s novel ‘Please Look After Mother’, reveals the emergence of a post-war metropolitan society and the sobering account of a vanished past. It is a moving tale of a family’s search for their mother Park So-nyo, a hard-working illiterate rural mom, who goes missing amid the crowds of the Seoul station subway. She acts as a link between the ghosts of the past and the conscience of the present. Through the piercing voices of a daughter, son, husband and mother, the novel brings forth the multidimensional perspective of Mother not only as a motherly figure but also as a wife, an aunt, a woman and a human. Until her disappearance, Mother is taken for granted; her individuality is lost in the concerns of others. She acts as a sieve for others. Her daughter Chi-hon reflects,
Mother was always Mother. It never occurred to you that she had once taken her first step, or had once been three or twelve or twenty years old. Mother was Mother. She was born as Mother. Until you saw her running to your uncle like that, it hadn’t dawned on you that she was a human being who harboured that exact same feeling you had for your own brothers, and this realization led to the awareness that she, too, had had a childhood. From then on, you sometimes thought of Mother as a child, as a girl, as a young woman, as a newly-wed, as a mother who had just given birth to you. (27)
Park So-nyo is a mother with high expectations who spends her life feeding and caring for her children and husband often at the expenses of her own needs. Mother’s hands were always busy sewing, tilling, and knitting, growing sesames, mulberry leaves and cucumbers. She even bred silkworms and brewed malt. Poverty was the greatest enemy of a generation torn apart by the Korean War, the basic necessity was sustenance.
When I went to the cellar to get rice for dinner and my scoop scraped the bottom of the rice jar, my heart would sink: What am I going to feed my babies tomorrow morning? (65)
Mother’s favourite child is Hyong-chol. He is the first from the family to migrate to Seoul. Later his sister too joins him. Like the daughter in the novel, Shin too left behind her family in Jeolla Province to live in Seoul to earn for her education. The Seoul-bound train symbolizes the migration of the younger generation. Though illiterate, Mother had a clear notion about the need of education, she wanted her daughters to get educated and have a better life. As Simone de Beauvoir points out in her book, The Second Sex, “The prostitute sends her daughter to a convent, the ignorant woman has hers educated.” Mother’s greatest expectation was her son, whom she always considered to be ‘important’. Hyong-chol recalls
Mother’s face was always crumpled with fatigue and worry, but when he studied by reading out loud, the flesh around her eyes became brighter, as if she had dabbed on powder. (95)
Whenever she visited Seoul, she carried his favourite food. “If she could have, Mom would have come to see him with eggplants or pumpkins tied to her legs.” Her visits were always short. Her real reason for leaving was that the children’s city quarters were too small to have room for her.
Mother didn’t always suffer in silence. When the irresponsible husband intoxicates himself with his girlfriend, she walks out of the house. But we find the sensibility of this woman, when she comes back for the sake of her children and kicks out her husband and girlfriend. It was the support and affection of Hyong-chol that encourages her. Mother escapes from the claustrophobic environs by diverting her attention towards her children. Later, her generous heart is reveled when she forgives him. Carl Jung in his book Aspects of the Feminine, points out that ‘it is as though every individual had a specific gravity, in accordance to which he either rises, or sinks down, to the level where he reaches his limit.’ After she goes missing, her husband says to himself, “Your wife, whom you’d forgotten about fifty years, was present in your heart.”(122)
Weeks after her disappearance, her husband discovers that for ten years she has been giving a substantial amount of money to Hope House, an orphanage. Hong Tae-hee, an intimate of the Hope House reveals that Syo-nyo donated 450,000 won to the orphanage every month. In addition to this, she bathed the children and tended their garden. Her children send her 600,000 won every month, but she spend only for her necessities and donated the rest. A person’s ethics and character is not tested in good times. It is only in bad times that a person shows how steadfast she is to her ethics. Mother knows the value of money as well as being left alone and battered. Mother reflects her philosophy of life thus, “In my eyes, all the entrances and doors look the same, but everyone manages to find their way home, even in the middle of the night.” (183)
Mother vehemently opposed the industrial society which she believed led to artificiality and the ‘dehumanization of life and love’. Both her children –her business man son and her writer daughter neglected her. The daughter remembers that she had only made a few perfunctory phone calls to her mother; she was too busy with her city life. She remembers with guilt how her mother had sold her only ring to pay for her tuitions. Mother’s eyes are constantly compared to that of a cow’s –the silent animal which drains its blood to benefit others. The compassion inside is reflected through its eyes. The daughter remembers that Mom’s “dark eyes, which used to as brilliant and round as the cow that is about to give birth,” grew dim with pain as Mom suffers from her splitting headache. It’s later revealed that Mother suffers from cancer.
The disappearance of Mother eventually becomes a metaphor for the profound sense of loss in a society that hurled from an agrarian concreteness to a hypercompetitive marsh. Shin constantly contrasts Mother’s rural, hands-on, family-centric life with the modern, soulless city lives that her children have chosen. Shin puts forth a contemplative question, “Does motherhood mean not being seen as an individual?” In Chi-hon words, “Mother was the kitchen and the kitchen was Mother.” (58) And we find that, “… there’s no beginning or end to kitchen work. You eat breakfast, then it’s lunch, and then it’s dinner, and when it’s bright again it’s breakfast again.” (63)The world of mother circled around the needs of the family. The most important thing in her life was “eating and surviving.”(65)
The Korean War and the subsequent migration fueled South Korea’s industrialization, but at the same time it changed the traditional concept of family life. Shin points out that the ancestral rites that used to hold families together are neglected if they coincided with the travel plans of the new fangled city lives. Even Mother is sad to see her children abandoning the ancestral rites. In the novel, we find Mother making exquisite preparations for the Full Moon Harvest, a festival in which Koreans traditionally returned to their family home to honour their ancestors, but later we find her son commenting,
When people started to hold ancestral rites in time-share vacation homes, they worried whether the ancestral spirits would be able to find them, but now people just hop on planes. (100)
The children living in the competitive world have less time for their ageing parents. Many feared taking vacations for the fear of being seen as disloyal to their employers. The ‘missing mother’ is the reflection of an elderly woman’s sense of helplessness at having been effectively abandoned by their children. Until a generation ago, at least one adult child lived with their parents till their death. But now, there is a growing number of old people who live alone in their rural villages or in old age homes that are springing across the country.
Late in the book, narrating in her own voice, the spirit of Mother watches her family and voices her lifelong loneliness and depression and the one secret in her life –her relationship with Lee Eun-gyu. It becomes evident that every woman transforms through the unique psychological conflict of being a ‘woman’. Near the end of the book, the writer daughter character recalls a dream in which her missing mom meets her own mother, i.e., the protagonist’s grandmother, in the afterlife. She thinks to herself, “Did Mom know? That I, too, needed her my entire life?”(252) The filial guilt that suffuses the novel is universal.
Beauvoir, Simone de. The Second Sex. Trans. H.M. Parshley. Great Britain: Vintage, 1997. Print.
Jung, Carl Gustav. Aspects of the Feminine. Trans. R.F.C. Hull. U.K: Routledge, 2009. Print.
“Korean War”. The Encyclopedia Americana. 1996 ed. Print.
Millet, Kate. Sexual Politics. New York, Illinois Paperback, 2000. Print.
Shin, Kyung-sook. Please Look After Mother. Trans. Chi-Young Kim. London: Orion, 2012. Print.
Afghan Landay --- A Voice of Rebellion
Assistant Professor of English,
M.S.M. College, Kayamkulam.
Afghanistan is one of the most patriarchal societies in the world. Like all patriarchal the women there are oppressed and silenced by the agents of fundamental conservatism, the Taliban. They are restricted to only the most traditional of roles - marrying, bearing children and running a household - and are kept strictly out of public life. The few women who dare to enter politics, medicine or other professions face routine assassination attempts. This incessant misery and repression became evident in literature, primarily through the medium of poetry.
Afghan women poetry occupies a unique place in literature. It is one of the strongest forces of Afghan culture. The major themes dwelt in it are displacement, healing, and rebuilding. Consequently the poetry is fragmented. Pashtun poetry, a variant of Afghan poetry, has long been a form of rebellion for Afghan women, belying the notion that they are submissive or defeated.
Landai means “short, poisonous snake” in Pashto, a language spoken on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The word also refers to two-line folk poems that can be just as lethal. They can, therefore, be called mirrors which reflect the sentiments and passions of every sensitive pashtoon man and woman. Although men do recite them, almost all are cast in the voices of women.
Afghan women mainly use the traditional folk form called the landai — a 2-line poem that can “cut like a knife.” Even shorter than haiku, this form probably developed because of its ease of memorization — which makes sense in a culture where few are schooled and women are forbidden to write or read poetry. The women and girls share their landai when they congregate for chores at the watering hole.
“Every inch of me is covered except my eyes
That way I can speak with more than my mouth”.
“I am shouting but you don’t answer —
One day you’ll look for me and I’ll be gone from this world.”
“My heart is like a child; it cries,
and demands flowers from a stranger’s garden.”
These couplets, composed of plain, easily understood, yet fluent language, are totally free of the influence of foreign, languages. Although some pashto poems are based on Arabic prosody yet these couplets are not only unfettered by Arabic versification, they are based on a syllabic-prosody of their own in as much as the first line of the couplet has nine syllables and the second thirteen.
Another exceptional quality of these couplets is that contrary to the general pattern of poetry in most (landay) the woman address the man. This is so because compared to the male the sentiments of the female are more tender, her sorrow more profound and he voice more sweeter, and that is why the (landay) are more moving in their effects, and the enjoyment is proportionately greater than that found in conventional pashto poetry.
Similarly every (Landay) couplet can be recited in different ways on different occasions. To be more explicit, a landay couplet can be sung in different tunes and with different musical notes in combat and rejoicing, while travelling, whether inactive or dancing, in travail and happiness, in fact at all times and on all occasions.
This form can be compared to the confessional poetry that emerged in the late 1950s and early 1960s and is associated with poets such as Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and W.D. Snodgrass. The confessional poetry of the mid-twentieth century dealt with subject matter that previously had not been openly discussed in American poetry. Private experiences with and feelings about death, trauma, depression and relationships were addressed in this type of poetry, often in an autobiographical manner. The confessional poets were not merely recording their emotions on paper; craft and construction were extremely important to their work. While their treatment of the poetic self may have been groundbreaking and shocking to some readers, these poets maintained a high level of craftsmanship through their careful attention to and use of prosody.
Mirman Baheer, Afghanistan’s largest women’s literary society, is a contemporary version of a Taliban-era literary network known as the Golden Needle. In Herat, women, pretending to sew, gathered to talk about literature. In Kabul, Mirman Baheer has no need for subterfuge. Its more than 100 members are drawn primarily from the Afghan elite: professors, parliamentarians, journalists and scholars. They travel on city buses to their Saturday meetings, their faces uncovered, wearing high-heeled boots and shearling coats. But in the outlying provinces — Khost, Paktia, Maidan Wardak, Kunduz, Kandahar, Herat and Farah — where the society’s members number 300, Mirman Baheer functions largely in secret. As members of parliament, radio and TV journalists, doctors, teachers and students, the women of Mirman Baheer Association all come from progressive families. All of them are struggling for women rights and culture, the only means and hope to break the cycle of poverty and wars that ravaged their country since decades.
Mirman Baheer Association’s members meet every Friday at the last floor of the Ministry of Culture in Kabul. Middle aged women and young girls meet together to read their poems, eat cakes and sip tea. Even these relaxed meetings form part of the cultural struggle that each one of them is fighting every day. Their poems talk about freedom, love and life, their language is Pashto, the language of the Taliban, a dialect used in parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Love is a sensitive issue in Afghanistan, it’s not always clear if the poems talk about spiritual or earthly love, but some of these women have to suffer the consequences of their behaviour outside the traditions. A girl from Kandahar burnt herself after her mother discovered some of her poems, which revealed too many details about her love. Despite the old Persian tradition, poetry is always been publicly banned to women. Most women use pen names to conceal their identity.
Meena, a member of the literary group, had already faced a lifetime of tragedy. Her fiancée recently died when she was 17, and in accordance with Afghan tradition she must marry one of his brothers. Writing poetry is the only way she can express her fear and misery; it has also served as her only means of education since her father pulled her out of school four years ago. Despite her evident skill, Meena can never share her poetry with her family for fear of being beaten, and instead she reads it secretly over the phone to the women's literary group Mirman Baheer. Meena does this at a high risk: if caught by her family, they would assume she was reading the poems to a lover, and she would be severely punished. This is a region where honor killings are still practiced.
Mirman Baheer has over 100 members and is Afghanistan's largest female literary society. Members, like Meena, live in rural regions, have to participate in secrecy for their own safety. In Kabul, women can attend without fear, especially since they tend to be members of the elite, such as academics, politicians, and journalists. The women share landai, poems of only two lines, which are usually written collectively. Love and grief are common themes, but landai can be bawdy or tragic: for example, the miseries of marriage to a much-older husband, or the unending series of wars that have wrecked their nation.
The most moving story of all, though, was that of a young woman named Zarmina, who wrote under the pen name Rahila. Zarmina was being forced into a marriage to a much-older man; instead of the marriage to the young man she loved. Zarmina's family caught her reading her poems to fellow Mirman Baheer members and assumed she had a lover. Her brothers beat her and tore up her notebooks. A few days later, Zarmina locked herself in a closet and set herself on fire, dying in a hospital a few days later. One of the leaders of Mirman Baheer wrote this landai for her:
"Her memory will be a flower tucked into literature's turban.
In her loneliness, every sister cries for her."
The most tragic aspect of this is that this fate is not uncommon for young Afghani women. In a nation where 3 out of 4 women are forced into marriage, and almost all women are married before 16, her story is not uncommon. Zarmina is unique only in that she had the courage to put her suffering in to words.
The poem themselves are beautiful, but far more impressive is the courage it took to speak or write those words. We hope that one day these young women will enjoy the freedom and opportunities as we all do.
Precarious Exigency of the Self in Rear Entrance.
Assistant Professor of English,
MSM College, Kayamkulam.
Identity is a multi-dimensional word. In psychology and sociology, identity is a person’s conception and expression of their individuality or group affiliations. The term comes from the French word identitie having linguistic roots in Latin meaning ’the same’. Theorist Eric Erikson who coined the term identity crises described identity as a subjective sense and an observable quality of personal sameness and continuity. The formation of one’s identity occurs through influences and counter influences with significant others who bridle human life. When the strains produced by them rise to a psychological level human beings suffer thereby arousing the senses which were in a cloaked state. He starts questioning the futility of creating nation states and the irrationality of drawing lines which capriciously divides people when the memories remain united. Identity crises, a pivotal aspect in fiction, enjoys a defining significance in the thematic framework of Indian fiction and the contemporary novel has started designing newer identities which are basically fragmented, ruptured and hyphenated in nature. And as Madalena Gorales rightly says, “the reader is left with an uncomfortable portrait of identity formation as well as strong sense of instability both generic and ontological”. This paper tries to bring forth a theoretical angle upon which it charts penetrating and captivating facets of identity.
David Barun Kumar Thomas’s debut novel Rear Entrance is knit around the lives and circumstances of four Indians in Brussels, who visit the British Embassy to obtain visas for visit, work or holiday in UK. The timeline of the book is two days that spans the interview, a money laundering scheme, meeting for lunch, a big diplomatic party, the history and motivations of these immigrants. They hail from different Indian backgrounds and personalities and the story is weaved around their attempts to get visa, their relationships with one another during this process which is peppered with a profuse draught of philosophy, private politics and perspectives of home and West. The first applicant Seetha, a Mylapore Tamil Iyer software professional, an amateur philosopher and ‘talented writer’ was sent to Belgium on a work assignment and on the pretext of using the British immigration law which allows artists and writers to visit Britain without work permit has decided to return to her first love writing. She will try to convince the authority that for writing her first novel she needs to be familiar with their life, manners, history, places and even look for publishers as her subject is Britain. The second applicant is Harish, a resident of Belgium for last fourteen years and alongiwth his Pakistani partner Zulfikar owns an all-night grocery store. He entered Belgium at age of eighteen and since then has saved up little money to fulfill a childhood dream of watching cricket at lords. The third applicant is Ratnesh, a Berhaiyan Bihari, a buoyant incessant talker, who has relished Patna’s central jail and one who calls himself “a mysterious Eastern rebel”. To experience riches he intends to go to London as a tourist and later apply for asylum for which a fabricated refugee story of oppression and misery will make him live forever in Britain. The last applicant Amit, son of a Punjabi businessman and a nephew of Indian minister of external affairs is a Harvard B school graduate and is currently on a mission of forming new business contacts. He wishes to prove his business astuteness to his dogmatic father by coining profitable affairs in Europe.
The visa officer Doug Evans is an unsavory man in whose hands the fate of this applicant lie. He considers himself the Emperor, the system as a lion and applicants as his gladiators. The sixth character in the novel is the weighty document- the visa- which as the author says is the one which “opens the world to you”. The book gives a glimpse of “how westerners look at us, how we look at them and how we look at each other”. The subtitle as all is fair in love, war and getting a visa claimed by Ratnesh reinforces of the innumerable ways people opt for procuring it. The title hints an important factual reality of all visa seekers, who are desperate enough to experience the ‘Sylvan Paradise’. In the British Embassy front door entrance is applicable only to British nationals and all other ‘dirty foreigners’ can use only the rear entrance which implies that others are not welcomed heartily. Still these ‘misguided souls’ are not deterred to visit and are inclined to gather their intelligence, understanding , presume a conduct suited to appeal, assert and appease for obtaining a visa which reinstates the subtitle. People go to fulfill their dreams and aspirations but end up losing their self as they scud between endless pains.
In a visa office, the hall would be crowded with worried visa seekers of all shapes, sizes, hues and odours who are eager to encounter long lines, cold procedures, indifferent officials and along verification process. The interview would be conducted in a sound proof padded cell so that the outside world is unaware of the anger, frustration and dilemma that a hapless applicant undergoes. Even the washrooms are locked though all these ordeals make them more to wait in the ‘temple of justice’. The visa seekers are mostly Negroes and Indians who are vexed with their spatial and temporal relationships and hence are willing to face menacing disturbing snarls from the authorities and therefore result in identity crises.
Identities are too intricate to be seized by notions that depend on boundaries for allusions. Instead they effuse over the boundaries thereby exposing the limits that these borders invoke. According to Sylvia Seultermundl “such identities are not unified or stable but are fluid entities which constantly push at the boundaries of the nation state thereby redefining them and the nation state simultaneously”. They experience not only the impact of social and material realities but also the choice of how a person imagines himself. The former gives an account of the realities that result from existing power relations and their impositions on the individual - referred as ascribed identity and the latter deals with the self determination and agency of every individual. In the same way the protagonist Seetha also suffers unexpected confusion as she is hopping dangerously between two personas- one mundane and the other exotic – one ascribed and the other imagined with silvers of reality i.e. IT specialist and other a recognized philosophical writer. She admits that it is not easy to change personas and often difficult to live a lie.
As M. Sarup rightly says that “identity is a process of identification and is constantly in process” thereby making it a refined discourse between self and other. Man is driven by cognizance of the self and an empathy with the other self which highlights recognition of the distance between who you are and what you want to be. In this process identities cannot be fixed and they start shifting, becoming plural and even contradictory. Like in times of crises Seetha thinks of India when she walks on a deserted street looking for help though hesitant but if in Madras she would ask without a second thought. Ratnesh admires the agile Indians rather than slow European minds but hates the white collar jobs administered by the higher castes prevailing in Bihar. He wants to marry a young girl from India though he always maintains a “jaunty, cocky alley cat style” to impress western women.
Sylvia claims that fluid identities brings forth two modes of belonging- politics of motion and politics of longing – which mutually inform each other and thus offer a sense of the complexity of the politics of identity in a global era. At surface level the two modes refer to diverse spaces of mobility one more vigorous and the other more static. This article elucidates how they equally elicit the ongoing identity discussions portrayed throughout the contemporary work, Migration has become a universal phenomenon and the literature that presents the anguish of these migrants always entangles a journey of self discovery and a dialogue between different parts of the self. His experiences of home as a place of displacement and belonging produce fluidity.
Jo Pready says that “place is central to the structure and plot of any novel” and this novel set in Brussels depicts Indians having an aversion for this place. Seetha believes the people are ‘coldly formal and hostile’, the security guards carry indifference and superiority also the police ignore good Belgians like “drunkards, warps and shifty eyed hulk” and hence she calls it a “prim unfriendly racist country”. Ratnesh wants to move because of no room, no money and most important no language in common. Harish thinks the government makes laws concerned with the welfare of their most influential citizens. Even Amit feels that the Belgians combine grievance and dismay in their gruff tone.. He realizes that their diplomatic world is a maze and one has to spend three years for right contacts.
Let us examine the first mode- politics of motion. The author claims that for a migrant, to adapt to and find a niche in his new country is his major concern. He has a composed willingness for adjustments and humiliations in his devious expedition from business or student visa to work permit to permanent resident to citizenship. With these experiences he looks at home in a sense of pride and pity. Here in the novel we also witness the characters muster strangeness towards Indian mannerisms and compare it with sophisticated Westerners. Seetha too appreciates the uninterested quick glances of the west rather than Indian’s open mouthed deferential stares. She knows that Luc views India as exotic and other worldly for its traditional activities with a vacuous craven experience while she herself is apprehensive of the “dirt, squalor and desperative poverty” of India. Harish dislikes the way Indian people watch cricket as they celebrate angrily instead prefers the Brits who enjoy in a formal and polite manner. He dons a second hand overcoat discarded by Belgian bourgeois and is always accustomed of using all mechanical options outside his house. Amit who belongs to the cream of Indian diaspora laughs at the literal translation of English by Indians when he is in company of polished and suave Indian friends.
The back home Indians’ chaotic dirty corrupt society is replaced by his clean and ordered society. Though a western tourist accepts the differences as part of the Indian experience, an immigrant feels as an Indian he has a right to criticize. Ratnesh dislikes the burgeoning middle class- thin slice if Indian IT professionals because they never help others unlike working classes who are more helpful and welcoming. Being a victim of both vicious ideologies- capitalism and Brahmanical ideology of India, he escaped from the most run down state Bihar to experience the world.. Working class Indians do not socialize with westerners as compared to professionals. They live in Indian ghettoes and their interaction with westerners is solely official. In the novel Ratnesh garners a special hatred for all Pakistanis like most north Indians and dislikes Muslims whom he calls “circumcised men”. An Indian immigrant shows an unabashed priority for whites rather than blacks. Negro or Arab friends are definitely discouraged. We also notice that they have grey and uneven complexities. Seetha reflexively moves from East Europeans and Third world or thirdness. Though she is proud to be an Indian she wishes to settle down in the west. She also claims to soak in England though she is upset with the “absurd visa rules, locked toilets, rear entrances and pompous officers” at British Embassy. She is not ready to help those needy Indians ready to take revenge on them.. She agrees that Europeans easily fall prey to mock plays of Indian godman/godwoman their law was always “unforgetting and unforgiving” unlike India.
The second mode politics of longing can be traced in all diasporic works. It is true that one realizes the importance of identity only when it is in question or when it is different from others and hence he wishes to assert it. In a foreign land one would affirm one’s identity in one’s own community and one’s home, in food, music religious practices and even in the humour. We see Harish hiding the framed photo of Lord Hanuman from his customers in the shop. Seetha too wishes to open South Indian restaurant in Brussels after becoming a famous writer where poets would read poetry on Friday, listen to live Carnatic music on Saturdays and waitresses would be in kanjeevaram sarees. The cook of Deputy Chief Mission of Indian embassy was once arrested for wearing a dhotu while going on a morning walk and ‘flashing’ in wind. One rightly say some habits die hard and the west is obsessive about their rules. In high profile parties Indians would be keen to listen to the classical Indian music. Even Ratnesh thought that the Indian culture of taking care of parents made lonely people a rarity in India which was however alien to the west. The diaspora discern the west to be a man’s desirable place yet in conversations they would yearn about India, its ardour, its colours, sights and smells, its pristine culture and its wisdom. Harish misses the clamor, simmering summer heat, smell of fermenting sugarcane in crowded bus stops of Haryana. Seetha misses the cool Chennai mornings and is also concerned of the tiny Indian flag on her office table. Seetha and Amit have long conversations on Indian philosophy and take keen interest in involving others too in their talk. The notions of nostalgia for the nativeland and the interplay of relationships are moulded by the protagonist’s cravings and wishes with a perception of bereavement and longing. M Sarup says. “The need for homeliness is challenged by a complex array of issues related to migration, roots and belonging”. It connects individual experiences of the characters to broader portrayals of the communality of racial identity.
Due to globalization racism may not be that intractable but it has obviously increased the problems of the inner human condition which still plague the diasporic community. Owing its genesis to the ideological East-West conflict, the migrant becomes a victim of spiritual loneliness which sprouts from the mysticism of varied cultures. The notion of home and family differs from culture to culture and this difference is not cardinal but superficial. He tries to embrace it but as time passes there is only solitude for company.. The climax of the novel exposes how loneliness of Seetha acts as an umbilical cord attaching her to home irrespective of existence which in turn becomes a necessity. This sense of otherness is a phenomenon of spasmodic routing steered by incidental and transitional situations. Such brisk, subtle and unpredicted transitions redefine the identity of individual. The novel also projects a discord between individualistic forces and societal expectations which makes the characters exist in nebulous borderland with a quest if coherence. Hence they are poised between compliance and defiance, passivity and action. This instability contains a possibility of change though total revolutionary and constitutive transformation in a theoretical level is a distant dream. However in a global platform these newer identities are creating a paradigmatic shift in people’s understanding of individuality.(2548)
Metamorphoses of the Self in Taslima Nasrin’s Autobiography
Wild Wind: My Stormy Youth
Asha K. Nair.
Assistant Professor of English,
M.S.M. College, Kayamkulam.
All art involves self projection in some measure. In literature, the writer who chooses the objective form to create new worlds merges his self so thoroughly in the objective form that the self is no longer discernible. Writings tend to be expositions of one’s own ego. No matter what the form may be, inadvertently the self becomes the medium and centre of the works. Hence self- portraiture is inevitable in all types of literature.
Taslima Nasrin stands out as a great rebel, poet, essayist and novelist of Bangladesh. She is involved with women’s right movement, human rights movement, secular movement and feminist movement. Her revolutionary, free atheist thinking has invited the wrath of the fundamentalists and extremists. She is arguably South Asia's most controversial writer. She has dared to speak out against the oppressiveness of the patriarchal system while living in that society itself, and without State or institutional sympathy. Indeed, Nasrin prefers to think of herself primarily as a social activist, not simply a writer, who has been driven out of her country because of her continuing protest against the exploitation of women in contemporary patriarchal society. Her homepage on the Web quotes her as declaring: “Come what may, I will continue my fight for equality and justice without any compromise until my death. Come what may, I will never be silenced. My pen is my weapon.”
We get a glimpse of the making of her rebel self through her series of autobiography. Nasrin voices her personal experiences with its specificities and its often uncomfortable details. In her autobiography, she transgresses the norms of expression and representation of the educated Bengali middle class and reveals what lies beneath the family values so clear to the South Asian patriarchal, patrilineal, patrilocal ethos. She does not hesitate to name the perpetrators, or to reveal family secrets about the less than perfect relationships within the circle. By naming actual, living people instead of fictionalising and distancing herself from her personal experiences, she has explicitly demanded her right to narrate herself into existence, not simply as daughter, sister, wife, but as person and woman.
Nasrin’s tumultuous youth is delineated in Uttal Hawa (2002). It has been banned in her own country, on grounds of blasphemy and pornography. Nandhini Guha translated it into English as Wild Wind: My Stormy Youth (2006). She presents her thoughts in her teenage days in a very lucid way. The conventional autobiography has a linear narrative that follows a temporal sequence whose logic is retrospective. The autobiographer always tells the story of a past, and within that past the linear development of her own existence, her individual life and the history of her personality. But the narrative pattern of Wild Wind is a looping one-- shifting seamlessly in ever-widening circles between her own life and those of her parents and those around her. There is no overt comment from the adult narrator, who simultaneously relives the past and looks back at it with the cool detachment of an observer.
Nasrin had a sheltered existence. She had barriers and wire meshes all around her. There were prohibitions at every step, denials at every stage. She acquired the strength and courage to disobey these restrictions through words. Nasrin, like most other women writers makes most out of her family history.She grew up with much fear, having to keep inside her heart all her desire for freedom and curiosity for the outside world. She was not allowed to step outside the house except to go to school or college. Throughout her autobiography she shows women resisting their marginalization and victimization in all the ways of which they were capable. Nasrin herself stole money from her brother's pockets to pay for her books and magazines and for the letters she wrote to young fellow poets whose work she came across. She in her narrative gives expression to her self, her growing up both as a woman and as a creative writer. She describes herself as:
You ask me to write, there would be no one as garrulous as me. Come close, and I would recoil in such a way that you would think the letter writer must be someone else! I, too, sometimes felt that I the writer and I the living woman, were two separate individuals. One spread her wings and flew in the sky, while the other was chained physically and mentally to this earthly world, in darkness and confined to a closed room. (140)
Poetry was in fact Nasrin’s discovery of her own voice and the freedom it offered led her inexorably to Rudra. She was moved by his poetry and began to write to him in secret. She fell in love with him even before they met, and soon after they did she let herself be emotionally blackmailed into a secret marriage with him, in spite of feeling no physical or sexual attraction towards him. She loved Rudra for his words, for his poems, for the syllables in his letters. Nasrin defied all conventions and got married to Rudra but she kept her marriage as a secret for almost four years. She had no physical or sexual attraction towards him. She was in fact unprepared for a sexual relationship at all, for she was enough of her father's daughter to put her education and her career first. But once he had initiated her into sex she was overwhelmed by the demands of her own sexual nature. She never hides the experiences of herself as a female body, but rather celebrates it. Perhaps it was the frankness of her admission in Wild Wind of her pleasure in her sexual experiences, which she describes graphically, that made her opponents decide it was pornographic.
Her romantic dreams of love and understanding were rudely shattered by her marriage. What she actually wanted from him was love and companionship. Nasrin discovered to her horror that Rudra did not intend to remain faithful to her. In fact, he repeatedly infected her with venereal disease. He was frequently drunk and drugged and, above all, he demanded the same kind of control over her life, her money, her mind and her body that she had seen in her father. She continued to love him, but to be true to herself she had to break free of an abusive relationship that would in the end destroy her identity. The pulls and pushes of cultural restrictions, family background and traditions of an orthodox family have often shaped her feelings and ideas, often confusing, often outspoken, but never timid and surrendering. She had discovered that her first duty was to herself.
Nasrin has publicly accepted all what she has said in the autobiography. A man/ woman is the byproduct of his/ her life experiences. Why a person acts the way he/ she does can only be understood by investigating many factors like his/ her cultural, educational and emotional life. These influences-- social, cultural, literary, political and others- which have gone into the making of their personality must be fully brought out without any exaggeration or minimalization. Despite the dark shadow cast by familial authority, class hierarchies and religious bigotry, Nasrin’s memories are not dismal. Her canvas is peopled with a diversity of colorful characters, anecdotes and passages of pleasure and desire.
Writing for many is a letting loose of their mental agony. Through her autobiography, Nasrin subverts the conventions of a woman’s autobiography. She shows how a woman constructed in accordance with the rigid codes of expectations of femininity can yet deconstruct herself in order to reveal the constructedness of her self. Her fictions too bear testimony to her rebellious self. The characters seem to be facets of her self. Her novels – Lajja & Shoud are examples of it.
What has happened to Taslima Nasrin is just what can happen to anyone whose ambitions have been thwarted by the dictates of religion, the demands of tradition and the plain disregard of her feelings. Very seldom do we try to probe into the background of a person and try to find out why he/ she behave this way. Such a probe very often reveals the fact it was the social conditions as much as other factors that were responsible for his / her turning a social misfit. As all writers are looked upon as social misfits, it can be concluded that all must have had unique experiences throughout their life. These rare experiences added with their high sensibility and creative bend of mind results in creating great masterpieces which should be eye openers for the succeeding generation. Autobiographical representation is an act of interpretation, where the lived experience is shaped, constrained and transformed.
Harish, Ranjana. “My Story”. Women’s Writing: Text and Context. Ed. Jasbir Jain. Jaipur: Rawat, 1996. 213- 222. Print.
Jain, Jasbir(ed). Women’s Writing: Text and Context. Jaipur: Rawat,
Nasrin, Taslima. Wild Wind: My Stormy Youth. 2002.Trans. Nandhini
Guha. New Delhi: Sristhi, 2006. Print.