After having finished reading Munshi Premchand’s “Nirmala”, I found myself drawn to read literature that were set in India before independence. Yes we have read much in our History books, but the real depiction of the times can be best seen in the literature where writers were bound by that shackles of the society and yet tried to break them down at the same time.
So this time I picked up “Parineeta” written by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay. Having seen the movie, I was keen to read the book. But at 112 pages it was a fast read. I have heard a lot about the book and was reading the book with lot of expectation. But at the risk of being rebuffed by fans of the author and the book, I have to say I was disappointed. So to all my 21st century women, if you happen to read the book, be warned that it would anger your spirits.
The storyline is nothing impressive, and I am thankful that I happened to watch the movie before the book(a rarity). If it was other way round then I would not have made it to the movie. Though one of the most revered book by Indians , I feel the popularity is a little misplaced. But then seeing that India is still in the grips of a male chauvinistic society, the book had to gain popularity.
Plot: It is the story of a 13-year-old orphan girl, Lalita, who lives under the care and shelter of her maternal uncle. She is deeply infatuated with the neighbor’s son, Shekhar who happens to be many years senior to her, around 24-25 years of age. Such is her adoration for Shekhar that she willingly succumbs to his every whim and fancy, making herself choice-less. Even if she desires to go for a movie with her friends , she stays back only to please Shekhar when he objects to her going out. It is a prank turned awry that is the main twist of the plot.Lalita garlands Shekhar on a certain day deemed auspicious, and she is considered betrothed to him. Being a child woman in the 1920s she begins to regard Shekhar as her husband. But Shekhar knows that his father would never accept his marriage to an orphan girl with no dowry, especially when her uncle had converted to Brahmo Samaj from Hinduisim. Here is another reflection of India which has not changed much even now. A girl without dowry is a burden upon her family since she is not considered worthy of marriage. Lalita ‘s uncle too under pressure of having girls of marriageable age and not having economic means converts to Brahmo Samaj, to escape dowry.
The story progresses with entry of Girin, and the love triangle that ensues. Lalita grows up with the acceptance of being married to Shekhar, though he remains aloof and even proceeds to get married to another. What happens further is to be read, I would not ruin your reading. But the book left some burning thoughts in my heart and mind. Embers that refuse to be quenched.
Lalita was only 13 year old when she got married to Shekhar and which is a common phenomenon even now in rural India. Child marriage was the norm of pre Independence India and still continues in certain parts. Thus for Lalita it came naturally to take Shekhar as a husband while playing Doll’s marriage. Lalita is not just a child but a young woman of marriageable age. The character is a representation of the ideal woman image that she and young girls were expected to emulate. So, her behavior, mannerisms, beliefs, display just the same.
But the main burning question is the gender dynamics in Parineeta, which is still in place in India even today.
Lalita, is not like a person but a piece of furniture, which is how women are still treated in India. The patriarchal set up is so strong that her uncle, Shekhar and all the other male characters in the novel mouth questions like: Where can she be put? What is to be done with her? Who will take charge of her? Who can she be married to? Which house can she be moved to next? An author of such stature to write such was a big disappointment. Females are treated as a non-entity – with no voice, opinions and choices. Her life is not hers to decide what to do with, it is decided by her father first, and then husband. She does not decide who she wants to be or not be, what she wants to do or not do, and where she wants to go or not go. She has no right over her life.
If you take a moment to look around you would see that this is the ideal form of womanhood which is placed on a pedestal. But this very image results in the killing of more than 50 million women in India – killed at every stage of life. They are looked upon as inanimate objects, depersonalized, usable, movable, and disposable objects like Sarat Chandra’s heroines.
Other questions that dig in my mind are is why girls and women adhere to this ideal woman image like it were a hypnotic conditioning? Why are females expected to be devoid of sense of self and individuality, and submit to the dictates of her male counterpart, her family, and society, serve them all diligently without questioning, and allowing them to do with her life whatever they please.The men believe that the world – including his family and the women are there to serve him and submit to his will. And this in a nutshell is Sarat Chandra’s idea of an ideal male-female relationship .
And the answer is found in what Shekhar said: Religion. In every religion in the world the husband is put on par with god. Ancient revered scriptures teach women: they must worship their husbands like God and Master, even if he is a brute, is promiscuous, and has no redeemable qualities. He may beat you black and blue but you are expected to take it all without flinching. So the question is: Till when will the Indian woman bow down to their husband(human Gods) or would they have to courage to challenge their God?