Shashi Deshpande is a writer who tries to universalize feminine perspectives by drawing comparisons among different types of women. This statement can be justified to some extent by her novel The Binding Vine. Like all feminist literary artists, a sustained analysis of allusive and elusive expression of individual is imperative for Shashi Deshpande. In her own words, her purely subjective novels ‘depend upon a private vision’. This private vision possesses extreme situations arising out of a conflict between the will and the reality evolving around the ‘self’. Her protagonists, therefore, are essentially confronted with the stupendous task of defining their relation to themselves and to their immediate human context. Her central characters, by and large, have strange childhood from which they develop a negative self-image and aversion. The immediate result is their fragmented psyche to view this world as a hostile place. The Binding Vine projects two central issues of female bonding and resistance to patriarchal ideology. The pain of the death of her baby-daughter, Anusha, seems to motivate Urmila, the central character, to reach out to other women around her who have their own tales of suffering to tell. In suffering, a unique sense of fellowship is forged, not only with the living but also with the mute 2
and the dead. Urmila is drawn, in sympathy, to Shakutai and her young daughter Kalpana, who is brutally raped and is lying unconscious, and Mira, her own dead mother-in-law who suffered rape in marriage. The healing process which begins by reading Mira’s poems continues when Urmi accidentally meets Shakutai in the hospital. Shakutai’s eldest daughter Kalpana is brought to the hospital after she is brutally beaten up and raped. Urmi feels compelled to help Shakutai, to listen to her, to keep her company. Shakutai’s fear reveals the paranoiac fear of a woman belonging to Shakutai’s class. She repeatedly requests Urmi not to tell anyone about the incident because then no one will marry her daughter.
Mrinalini Sebastian accurately delineates Shakutai’s position by saying, “Shakutai’s fear reveals the control that a traditionally patriarchal society has on the women. Her statement combines many issues and reveals the importance given to the chastity of the woman and to the necessity of marriage in order to fulfill the life of a woman” (160) As time passes Urmi realizes that the act of sexual assault which Kalpana was facing is similar to that of Mira in the limits of marital sphere. She says “It runs through all her writing – a strong, clear thread of an intense dislike of the sexual act with her husband, a physical repulsion from the man she married.” (63) obsession which Mira’s husband had for her made Urmi guess the fact that he must have physically dominated her. Akka’s story about Mira never gave a clue about Mira’s feelings. Males are used to play the role of mentors and guides; marriage incites man to a capricious imperialism; the temptation to dominate is truly universal.
Jane Miller describes such husbands in the words, “often older, with masculine prestige legally, ‘head to the family’, has a position of moral and social superiority, and very often he is sexually dominant also”. (128) Pages of Mira’s diary open for Urmi, her real experiences, and these inspire Mira to write her poems. Diary exposed how Mira suffered sexually at the hands of her own husband, “Love! How I hate the word. If this is love it is a “terrible thing”. (67) Mira suffered from ‘marital rape’. Marriage which gives the right to both partners to enjoy their sexual, cultural, familial and social life together became a curse for her because she was not happy with her husband’s conduct. Ellis Ethelmer in Women, the Messiah calls “Maledom cold and sere, devoid of all passions and emotions which are essential elements of life” (101). And this was true for Mira’s husband because he never cared for Mira’s needs.
Mira’s condition is rightly shown in Elaine Showalter’s words, “Marriage becomes for many women in patriarchy, a legal prostitution, a nightly degradation, a hateful yoke under which they age, and bearing of children is conceived as a sense of duty, not love” .(46) Seeing Vanaa’s familial conditions Urmi realizes that only women take their parenthood seriously and this is perhaps true. Especially in a typical Indian patriarchal society where males feel that their sole duty is to earn bread for family and all the other duties are for women. Harish being a representative of this class of males sets aside all the parental duties and holds Vanaa responsible for not bringing up their daughters properly. Though they seemed to be a perfect couple, but Vanaa always does what Harish wants.
Even in homely matters Harish’s will was the supreme. Vanaa wished to have a son after two daughters but Harish’s final decision to have no more children was implemented. Though maternity is totally a feminine matter, but still, orders of a typical patriarch were followed. R.W. Connell suggests that “Men enjoy patriarchal powers, but accept it as if it were given to them by an external force, by nature or convention or even by women them selves.” (62) While reading Mira’s diary Urmi comes to know about her relation with her mother. Mira’s mother knew that she was not happy from within, though, she was decked with costly sarees and ornaments. Mira never told her mother about real pain and anguish thinking that this might give her pain. This is the destiny of an Indian woman, from birth only they are taught to hide their emotions, sentiments, pains and anguish. A girl in this manner is made to fit precociously into the patriarchal world. She is deprived of happy freedom, the freedom to reveal her real feelings and she is devoid also of carefree aspect of childhood.
Mira in her diary states that she once met the renowned poet of her times Venu and when she discussed with him about her poetry, he commented, “Why do you need to write poetry? It is enough for a young woman like you to give birth to children. That is your poetry. Leave the other poetry to us men.” (127) Venu’s words clearly remark the cultural positions of women in patriarchy. Men assumed that women’s only job is to give birth to children and her interference in the cultural world of poetry was clearly rejected. It was perhaps the influence of prevailing cultural and social myths which instigated Venu to give such a comment. The myths and the cultural constructs relegated women to periphery of not only social circle, but also the cultural circle. Catherine J. Hamilton’s introduction to Women Writers : Their Works & Ways concurs : Happy women, whose hearts are satisfied and full, have little need of utterance. Their lives are rounded and complete, they require nothing in patriarchy but the calm recurrence of those peaceful home duties which domestic women rightly feel that their true vocation lies. (94) Urmi makes a bold, modern and humanistic statement in which she tries to convince Shakuntala that it was not Kalpana who did anything wrong. It is not so that she invited trouble on herself by dressing up, by painting her lips and nails, but that fault is of that man who physically assaulted Kalpana.
But Shakuntala’s reply conveys the practical situation of women in male dominated world, “We have to keep our places, we can never step out. There are always people waiting to throw stones at us, our own people first of all.” (176).The peripheral status which women occupy in the patriarchal society is clarified in Shakuntala’s answer. Her situation is representative of the mute and maimed condition of the women of her community in a rigid, codified patriarchal society. Through Urmila, Shashi Deshpande voices feelings of protest, a voice against oppression and male tyranny. It is women only who can bring back their real respect in this male dominated society. Urmi is the heralder of this strong protest against oppression and injustice done to females. Mrs. Lynn Linton in her novel The Rebel of the Family proclaims, “The world will never be regenerated until women have the upper hand and men are relegated to their proper places.” (11) Kalpana’s case is given full publicity by media and Urmi feels herself responsible for Shakutai’s shame and uneasiness.
At home when Amrut returns unexpectedly and he talks to Urmi about an article published in ‘People’ by a so called male sociologist who says, “that there can be no rape, because it can’t be done unless the woman is willing.” (182) in some other paper a poet wants public to “forgive the rapist for he knows not what he is doing!” (182) And few other men believe that rape happens because “women go about exposing themselves”. All these comments clarify the mean mentality of the male chauvinistic society. Typical patriarchs never accept their fault. For them woman herself is responsible for her brutal physical assaults. Few of them talk of forgiving the rapist as if playing with the dignity of a woman is a minor crime. Instead of searching and punishing the criminal, newspapers were blaming the wronged girl.
Tara Bai Shinde in “Stree-Purush Tulana” is angry and impatient with the contradictions in social life which support patriarchy and male hypocrisy. She says, “no one criticizes the men instead people go on about pinning the blame on women all the time, as if everything bad was their fault. When I saw this, my whole mind just began churning and shaking out of feeling for the honour of womankind.” (33) During Priti’s party Urmi comes to know about Shakuntala’s condition and she visits her. Shakuntala tells her that her sister Sulu has committed suicide because she came to know that it was her husband Prabhakar who raped Kalpana. Shakuntala is full of guilt and remorse for Kalpana’s condition and Sulu’s death. Prabhakar wanted to marry Kalpana and when he came to know that she wanted to marry someone else, he raped her. Shakuntala was terribly shocked by this news and she became hysterical and ill. During her hysterical fits she disclosed to Urmila, life of fear and anxiety her sister spent after her marriage.
She said, “She was frightened, always frightened, what if he doesn’t like this, what if he wants that, —– what if he throws me out?” (195) As they had no children Sulu was full of insecurity for her future. She was afraid that if any of her action displeases her husband, he may turn her out of his house and would bring another wife. Thus, in order to please him she sacrificed her whole life to following his orders. This is the pitiable condition of an Indian woman, who is being punished throughout her life. The anxiety and the pain felt by Sulu are not uncommon. Every second Indian woman is forced to spend her life with these punishments due to one or the other reasons. Men, regarding themselves to be superior and more intelligent forget the fact that childbearing does not depend only on female partner. Elaine Showalter in The New Feminist Criticism states that, “in patriarchal societies, people often forget that male is the provider of the seed and woman is only the bearer and raiser.” (92) In Binding Vine, Deshpande does not just open up a rich world of Indian tradition and mythology but also shows the anguish felt by an unwilling wife, a tormented mother, a deprived daughter and a wronged girl. Mira is shown as the binding vine between Urmi and Vanaa. First wife of Vanaa’s father, died giving birth to Kishore, Urmi’s husband.
And then again Mira is the symbol of the relationship between daughters and mothers, all over the world. Through her one question, “Mother, why do you want me to repeat your history, when you despair your own?” Deshpande has voiced with exactitude the condition of all daughters who face the same situations, their mothers have faced in past in the process of survival. This novel finely depicts women’s eternal quest for fulfillment. It is not that men are totally absent, but their presence is primarily felt by the power they wield over their wives, their daughters. It is a world in which women suffer numerous kinds of losses. It is the hallmark of Deshpande’s characters that whatever happens in their lives, her protagonists do not lose hope and learn to survive, finally against all odds. Suffering and pain seem to be the necessary steps one has to take so as to be able to develop one’s self, one’s individuality.
Connell, R.W. Gender and Power. Stanford : Stanford University Press, 1987. p. 62. Despande, Shashi. The Binding Vine. London: Virago Press, 1993. Etherlmer, Ellis. “Women, the Messiah”, The New Feminist Criticism : On Women, Literature and Theory, Ed. Elaine Showalter. New York : Pantheon Books, 1985. p. 101. Hamilton, Catherine J. Women Writers : Their Works and Ways. London : Lock, Bowden and Co. 1892. p. 94. Linton, Lynn. The Rebel of the Family. Brighton : Harvester Press, 1987. p. 11. Miller, Jane. Women Writing About Men. London : Virago, 1986. p. 128. Sebastian, Mrinalini. The Novels of Shashi Despande in Postcolonial Argument. New Delhi: Prestige Books, 2000. p. 160. Shinde, Tara Bai. “Stree-Purush Tulana”, Feminizing Political Discourse Women and the Novel in India 1857 – 1905, Ed. Jasbir Jain. Jaipur : Rawat Publications, 1997. p. 33. Showolter, Elaine. The New Feminist Criticism : Essay Women, Literature and Theory. New York : Pantheon Books, 1985. p. 92.