Parminder Sohal/Tantalizing Glimpses and Darker Psychic Portrayal in Rupa Bajwa’s The Sari Shop

Ms Parminder Sohal


Deptt of English

Lovely Professional University

Since the dawn of human civilization, human beings were denied opportunities, suppressed, dominated, shackled and tortured by their own class of species. One is forced to think why this happens in our society. Why one is dominating and the other is domineering? Why is one’s dreams of a satisfied life shattered by barriers, hindrances and interferes of others unnecessarily? Rupa Bajwa’s The Sari Shop gives a pen portrait of such class discrimination through the medium of her characters. It beautifully reflects the class conflicts, disparity of thoughts between the literate and the moneyed class. The clash of the domineering classes is evident in the talks of Mrs.Sehdev and Mrs.Gupta.It highlights such problems in a very pathetic manner and fills the hearts of the readers with ‘pity and fear. It is a mirror of the society which is evident to everyone but not an acceptable fact. It is a juxtaposition of goodness and evil prevalen in  human nature.
“Go and make the 
most beautiful thing in the world,” a mother tells her son, and young Ramchand begins weeping, unable to decide. The goodness of Ramchand is par excellent. He is that soldier of the society who is not equipped with any arms. The shackles of this hypocrite society ban the utterance of the true feeling of a man even on the face of the people who pose to be his friends. Unfortunately, Ramchand is the only character that pauses to see “two sides to every coin.” The plight of Kamala has much to say in this context. The mocking eye of the friendly society evades the flowing of the real feeling of Ramchand in the sari shop. He wants to say so much to the people with whom he has daily contacts but is deprived of this craving to share Kamla’s plight. The other side of the coin is Chander’s indifferent attitude for the women folk. The society should give importance and respect to human values. Man ought to be freed from the bondages of class conflicts so that the beauty of life can be felt by all: rich/ poor, literate/ illiterate. What life would be if man would let man breathe freely?

Rupa Bajwa in 2004,  published her first novel, The Sari Shop, which explores her hometown and the class dynamics of India.The novel won the writer flattering reviews, with reviewers calling her India’s new literary find. 

She says in The Hindu” A very senior writer congratulated me about finding my voice, more than the success of the book. You write from experience, you write from what you feel. 

Key words: Class conflict, hypocrisy, male domination.

Man is man’s greatest enemy today. Is it true only in the field of artillery? No the weapon which sears apart man is within man himself: unseen and un recognized by man. He is willing to be a part of the crusading game which leads him nowhere. He is thrown in the dungeons of un recognized ills. The irony is, he falls in the pits dug by him only. We are always in awe of the aura of the so called moneyed people. Mrs. Sachdeva very clearly says to Hari” I want some decent colors, not orange and gold at all. Something to wear to college and not to a village fair.” [pg28] The literate class of the society is so called ‘respected’ by one and all. When Ramchand tells Gokul that he had not brought the payment of saris from the Kapoor’s house….Gokul  was shocked at the thought of Ramch and trying to take payment from Kapoor’s. He goes on to say …I was so scared you’d start demanding the payment and create a scene and Mahajan would haul me up for not briefing you properly. Now, go and report to Mahajan. He has a list of all that was sent. He will send in the bill to Ravinder Kapoor  who will give us a cheque. That’s how it works with these big people, you know.” [pg 69]This is what is presumed by us. But is this the real face of our society? Do we call a good thing good and a bad thing bad on the face of it? The blatant and obvious answer is a big no. We try to imitate the rich, as when Ramchand  after coming from the Kapoor’s house goes to buy a book for himself in the vain hope of being at par with the elite group of the society. When Ramchand comes out of the shop after purchasing a book he feels so elated that Rupa Bajwa explains his condition as if “he felt armed to fight now.” [pg 72] He wanted to show the society that he also can become an equal to the literate class.

The society is subdued somewhere by the weight of the affluent class. The class of literate are somewhat thrown in the background of the society as the so called ‘service class’ who have to survive on limited resources only. Rupa Bajwa very poignantly throws light on the multi lingual and multi cultural aspects of life in a society woven by false prejudices. How evident is the class conflict when Mrs. Sachdev goes to meet Rina to wish her for her forth coming wedding. As Mrs. Sachdev wishes Rina, Mrs Kapoor gets up and leaves the room.Her speaking in English is taken as a gesture of show off. This most probably irritates Mrs. Kapoor: a moneyed class woman. Rupa Bajwa clearly shows this…” Mrs. Kapoor at once gets up and moves out of the room. That woman, speaking in English on purpose, just to show her up, she thought, as she left the room fuming. Well, they didn’t even have their own house, they lived in accommodation provided by the college, so she wasn’t going to bother about this sort of woman.”: [pg.92] She tries to cover up her inability to converse in a foreign language by throwing around her weight of money by saying all this. Now here the disparity existing in the class categorization is evident. We can easily judge that her English speaking is deplored by the non English speakers. It seems as if Mrs. Sachdev is carrying a curse by living in a house provided by the college or is it her English which is irksome to some. Now it is not that the moneyed people are looking down upon the service class. It is also the other way round. Mrs. Sachdev plays her part of the society’s representative of the educated and elite group and moves to the length of saying that she is glad that Rina is not marrying into the business families. According to her a girl like Rina needs a more cultured atmosphere to explore her potential.[pg92]She even goes to the length to tell Rina not to be offensive of her talks about not marrying in a business family. The youth of today realizes this gap between the moneyed business class and the educated service class. They try to lessen the gap with much sensitivity. In this case Rina offers the other side of the coin. Rina says” There are, of course, what we call the service class families. They look down upon us moneyed , uncultured ones, and we look down upon them, for they have no money, no big houses, though I must say that these days, with bribes and all, even they are doing quite well. Most of them have big houses in the outskirts of the city also ancestral property I suppose….. [pg.93]. the fight goes endlessly. Rina carefully tries to bridge the gap by saying that today service class too has progressed fast.

Not only the living standards of both classes are wide apart but their topics of discussions too vary. When Rina and Mrs Sachdev , the HOD of English department talks, it is about subjects like anthropology and about gaining a position in the society through academics. On the other hand Mrs.Bhandari, Mrs.Gupta and Ms. Sandhu talk about family affairs of daughter –in – law, daughter and so on. We talk so much about equality everywhere. Even the rich upper  class gives big lectures on equality. But in the real society which our eyes behold, where can we see this equality? Not only the moneyed people look down on the literates but the tables are also turned when the literates like Mrs. Sachdev call people like Mrs. Sandhu as having nothing in their heads except money and non sense. The only saving grace is that the elite class is adept at camouflaging their ways by their smooth talks. Hence Mrs. Gupta says that one has to be polite because she says “as we live in the same city so we tend to meet each other frequently.”

All this clearly brings forth the hypocrisy existing in our society on a parallel plane with the conflicts of the rich and the ‘not so rich class’ Society is a juxtaposition of goodness and evil prevalent in the society. The most victimized lot is that of females living below poverty line. They are treated as mere objects by the egoist members of the society. Rupa Bajwa very clearly unfolds the status of woman in such cases through the case of Kamla, the wife of Chander who had lost his job because of the downfall of Gupta’s. The house was in deep trouble due to poverty as Chander had lost his job. Kamla had a miscarriage and her husband came home usually drunk. She always considered the root of her problems as Guptas. She had stopped being the subdued woman who washed and cleaned for husband.These fictional women entities who exist only in a male – defined and male – dominated contest just like their real Indian counterparts Indian women – both real and fictional seem to be defined and accepted in society only as male appendixes. She vents her anger not on her husband Chander but on the Guptas. She goes to their house and not being allowed entry, she hurls abuses at them.” Gupta’s, hunh? Big Name, hunh? Just beggars you are. You are like the jackals that feed off the carcasses of dead animals. You are worst than us. May God burn all of you in that big house or that big car of yours. May you die thirsting for a sip of water.… Your son is also a villain. Will your grandson also be a devil? Do you have any human blood in you? [pg 168] This is the venom of a woman who is subjugated from all sections of the society without any fault of hers. She is soon sent to the jail by Guptas where she is beaten brutally by the policemen and then for the whole night she is raped in turns by the securitans of our society. When she is released in the morning from the jail she comes back home to confront a savage onslaught of dialogues and a beating from a husband who does not even bother to listen to her side of the story when he says..So, now you will do this too?” [pg 171] Again the hypocrisy of the society shines out. Hari.a member of the shop where Chander works, comes and sees Kamla , who snarls at him after being beaten by her husband and says” Help? You want to help me?”…”Tell me what can you do?” [pg 183] Kamla wanted revenge, she said “You’d think they’d be satisfied just raping me, wouldn’t you? But the second one——he did this with a lathi….because I kicked him in the stomach.” One of Freud’s central achievements was to demonstrate how unacceptable thoughts and feelings are repressed into the unconscious, from where they continue to exert a decisive influence over our lives. [5] At the last words , a trace of satisfaction appeared on her face, and the beginnings of a twisted smile.’ [pg 184]  This sickens Ramchand and he himself goes into a bout of depression. Once he did gather enough courage to talk about all this to Mrs.Sachdev in the hope of justice, but she curtly refutes his charges saying “The Gupta’s are respectable people. They happen to be friends of the Kapoor’s. Do you know what you are saying? And do you have proof of all this? And why are you telling me? What have I got to do with all this dirty business?” [pg 214] All this shows the inability of our society to do anything for the downtrodden in spite of the big lectures given daily for their upliftment. The sad end comess when Kamla hurled a stone at Ravinder Kapoor. ‘ It was a matter of prestige in the city. He could not let a common woman go scot – free after that. Yes, it was a matter of his prestige, a matter of honor.” [pg 217] The next morning saw the woman brutally beaten and paraded naked in the streets and then burnt to death. Was this a plight of a woman who wanted a simple life for herself?

Rupa Bajwa so clearly brings the disparity of the sections of society. Their thinking prowess unfolds according to the level of richness and not on the planes of pure justice. Is this the society we love today?

Works Cited

Bajwa, Rupa. The Sari Shop. New Delhi: Penguin, 2004.Print

Freud, S. The Unconscious. London: Penguin, 2005.Print.



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