Tag Archives: religion

Parineeta by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay(Translated by Malobika Chaudhari)

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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?

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Lanka’s princess: Kavita Kanè

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Lanka's Princess

Lanka’s princess by Kavita Kanè is about Surpanakha and how individual choices and mistakes they lead to can shape the destinies of those associated with us.

My memory and knowledge of Surpanakha is dependent on the reading of Ramayana while in school , and watching the epic serial on Doordarshan. Even then I was struck by the independent streak in her and thought that the punishment meted out to her was very harsh in comparison to her offence. So when I came across this book my curiosity knew no bounds.

It is an epic task to write a mythological fiction from the point of view of a character who has been maligned and vilified as an ugly monster. All knowledge about her is just that she is Ravan’s sister and when she is disfigured by Lakshman , a war is waged to avenge the act. The essence of the book is the choice Surpanakha makes and the unfolding of the events thereafter. Our choices define which part of our nature we allow to rule our minds. And that is the poignant within each of us. A small anecdote from the Puranas would make it clearer.

When the world was being created, the Devas and Asuras went to Sage Prajapati to understand the meaning of Atman, or the self. The first answer that he gave was a simple one. The Asuras accepted it and left with the confidence that they now had the power to use this knowledge as a weapon. But the Devas, led by Lord Indra were not satisfied with the answer. They kept cross-questioning the sage trying to grasp the complete significance and debating the ideas. This small anecdote from the Puranas defines the essence of an Asura – impatient, hungry for power and impulsive. One can also conclude from here that there is an Asura and a Deva within each of us. There is an Asura which always hungry and never satiated and a Deva which keeps questioning so as not to to be distracted fro the right path. It is our choice of the self that determines the events in our life.

The book opens with Krishna, who upon seeing Kubja, the hunchbacked woman of Mathura, recognises her as a reincarnation of Surpanakha. He reveals to her that he himself is Ram, now born as Krishna and has come to her to rectify the grave misdeed he committed in his previous life – of rejecting her. He begins to narrate Surpanakha’s story from the time she was born as the youngest child of Rishi Vishravas and his second wife Kaikesi. She was born Meenakshi – the one with the fish-shaped eyes. Since her birth she is rejected by her mother as an ugly and useless being. Her life as a kid at her father, Rishi Vishravas’ ashram was desolate, where she is neglected and overshadowed by her brothers. Even as Lanka’s Princess,she is again neglected and side-lined; It is only when she weds and becomes a wife and a mother does she find love and a sense of belonging.

And when all that is lost all that is left behind is simmering angst and bitterness. The later incidents and experiences keep fueling her inner desire for revenge, even at the cost of those few that she loves. She sets into motion the events that finally lead to Lanka’s war and the downfall of her entire race.

Alongside, there is unraveling of events leading to the rise of Ravan as King of Lanka and the ensuing effect it brings on his family, more predominantly Surpanakha’s life. The reader may sympathize with her for being the neglected child, while at the same time despising her for her vengeful tactics. The author portrays her not as a good or bad character, but simply as a misunderstood woman who, in her own eyes, is merely righting the wrong done to her when her one chance at happiness has been taken away.

The timeline is fast and keeps readers on tenterhooks such that you do not lose interest. In true Ramayana style, the author raises underlying questions about right and wrong, good and evil, gender discrimination, and women’s rights. An example of this is the confrontation between Surpanakha and Sita. The very attempt by Surpanakha to tempt Ram was unbeknownst at that time where women were not expected to be sexually active and and open about their own desires. Her boldness is a stark opposite to Sita’s meekness and it comes across vividly in every page where she clearly expresses her desires.

To summarize, Lanka’s Princess may be a mythological retelling of events. However in today’s day and age, when women are still subjected to various forms of discrimination, the author puts the spotlight on a woman’s individuality, her sensuality and sexuality, her choices and her desires, which the society wishes to keep hidden behind curtains.

As one reads the book, one cannot help but ponder whether we happen to identify the Asuras and Danavas that exist among us in the form of molesters, murderers, rapists, thieves, etc. Can we look into the mirror and see ourselves as we truly are, not black or white, but grey also when the demons within us shouts ‘tit-for-tat’ when faced with discord.  What Lanka’s Princess will leave you with is a food for thought. You will spend days thinking whether Ram and Lakshman have been on a pedestal due to worth or the male dominated society list virtues only for womenfolk to follow.

 

 

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