Vijayata Dhand/ Reorientation of Corrosion of Self in the Select Novels of Githa Hariharan, Anjana Appachana, Rama Mehta and Shobha De

Vijayata Dhand

NIMS University, Jalandhar

Dr J.P.Aggarwal

Lovely Professional University



The present paper will explore the psychological, socio-cultural and existential perspective to highlight the various psychological complexities faced by Indian women depicted by Githa Hariharan, Anjana Appachana, Rama Mehta and Shobha De. Their behavior patterns, guilt. Shame, self-blame, anxiety and fear are investigated through the lens of psychoanalytical theories of Freud and post-Freudian thinkers..The conspicuous feature of the Indian fiction written after the post-World War11 is the continuous corrosion of self as Githa Hariharan, Anjana Appachana, Rama Mehta and Shobha De depict the existential journey of their women protagonists following the tradition of Beckett, Ionesco, Camus and Sartre. Stryker in his Symbolic Interactionism: A Social Structural Version (1980) observes that “human behavior is dependent on a world in which physical and social aspects of the environment are named and classified and the names carry meaning in the form of shared behavioral expectations.” (2) E. Goffman in his Human Behavior and Social Processes contend that “ The self-meanings come to be known and understood through interaction with others. They are learned from the responses of others to one’s own actions. One’s actions develop meaning through the responses of others, and over time become significant symbols that call up within the person the same responses that are called up in others” (482) Similarly, the meaning of one’s behavior lies in the response to it (Burke, & Reitzes, 1981). Thus, meaning is the link between one’s identity and one’s behavior.. Githa Hariharan, Anjana Appachana, Rama Mehta and Shobha De are confronted with the baffling problem of depicting a self that seems to have lost its reality. The women protagonists of these novelists, Padma, Devi, Geeta, Karuna and Asha Rani suffer from fractured behavioral patterns struggling with upsetting emotions, frightening memories and traumatic disorders. The psychic pressures bring severe anxiety, “anhdonia”, which is characterized by a loss of interest in enjoyable activities.

Key Words: Anxiety, devious behavior, traumatic disorders, corrosion.

The present paper examines and investigates how Githa Hariharan in her novels The Thousand Faces of Night (1992), The Ghosts of Vasu Master (1994) , In Times of Siege (2003), Fugitive Histories (2009), and in A Collection Stories, The Art of Dying depict women protagonists who suffer perpetual corrosion of self because of social, cultural and patriarchal domination. Anjana appachana’s novel Listening Now (1998) dwells in domestic and social life of Indian women. She explores the inner psyche of women who are trapped in the universe of absurdity. She explores the suppressive and silent nature of Padma who is forced to live under orthodox and conventional system. Rama Mehta’s Inside the Haveli (1977), The Western Educated Indian Woman (1970), The Divorced Hindu Woman (1975) proved revolutionary as all the novels depicted lonely and alienated women confronting the absurd and harsh universe. Shobha De who is a renowned journalist, wrote her first novel Socialite Evenings (1989) and created a sensation in the literary world because of her existential vision. Her other famous novels include Starry Nights (1990), Sisters (1992) and Sultry Days (1994). A perceptive reading of all the novels of Githa Hariharan, Anjana Appachana, Rama Mehta and Shobha De shows that they have probed into the landscape of the Indian women`s psyche to discover that they are victimized by their own weak and fragile self. Anjana proposes a milieu wherein women are free to act but their freedom bring untold miseries, alienation and psychological traumas.

Lacan’s famous essay The Neurotic’Individual Myth is Lacan’s masterwork on obsession. Interestingly all women characters of Githa Hariharan, Anjana Appachana, Rama Mehta and Shobha De suffer from obsession syndrome, Padma pulls her hair in excitement, Geeta likes to sit in the dark, Karuna weeps and cries and Asha Rani turns out to be a psychic wreck. The novels of Githa Hariharan, Anjana Appachana, Rama Mehta and Shobha De voice this excruciating mood of nihilistic despair. Githa Hariharan’s sensitive women characters are trapped between traditions, old values, myths and modernity. The plot of the novel The Thousand Faces of Night, its structure, imagery and symbolism depict the juxtaposition of elements of realism and fantasy as her women become victims of sexual discrimination in the patriarchal society. Githa Hariharan narrates the story of Devi who undergoes existential sufferings in the world as a single woman in the society. Her protagonist Devi in The Thousand Faces of Night stand tall with a strong image of the changing Indian woman. Devi is portrayed as self-sacrificing, suppressed, submissive and passive.

The plot of the novel is about Devi’s existential struggle and her elusive quest for self-identity in a male-oriented society. She cannot define what she is and remains directionless, confused, and sexually repressed because of her unusual behavior patterns.      . In Devi’s case, domestic as well as social restrictions force her to get in wedlock. She neither attains happiness before marriage nor after marriage. The novelist uses pertinent imagery, interior monologues, and stream-of-consciousness techniques to depict the inner turbulent world of Devi. The childhood of Devi is rather full of pleasures at her grandmother listening to the stories of superwomen to impress her young mind and to revive her senses. Her grandmother’s piercing comment is thus reported by the author “Because my child, a woman meets her fate alone.” (28).Woman, according to her, has to adjust to her own fate. She is always at the mercy of her husband be it an ordinary one or a princess, making no difference in fate at all. Devi’s grandmother proudly gave instance of ancient epic’s character Gandhari for her sacrifice in marriage. She says, “Gandhari was not just another willful, proud woman…she embraced her destiny – a blind husband- with a self sacrifice worthy of her royal blood” (29).

Devi agrees to get married in order to get into the traditional set up of society, Devi meets rejection after rejections from six prospective bride-grooms in three months and in the words of Eriskine “society restricts choices”. She has to struggle to find out her bridegroom. The history of repeated rejections make her sick and neurotic, she loses her identity and does not know what is wrong with her or with the system. The cruelty of the social system makes her a psychological wreck; she desperately uses her freedom to escape from the inevitable fate but finds herself alienated all the time. The bridegroom, as per his own convenience, goes on with his choices and the bride has to submit to her destiny. She has to thrive on the mercy of a bride groom. Feeling guilty over her dismissals, Devi gives up and in an attempt to reconcile, she accepts Mahesh. She remains silent when she needs to protest and speak aloud. At last, Devi, as she has no future course of action of her own, silently submits to the decision of her mother; and therefore begins her journey in darkness.The plot of the novel unfolds continuous corrosion of self of Devi who desperately struggles to find some space in the infinite universe.

Githa Hariharan shows the absurdity of human existence, inevitability of lifeless physical relations in marriage. Devi leads a life without purpose; she struggles fruitlessly and wastes her life in the futile struggle for domestic happiness. Without any emotional attachment, a woman has to come forward and submit herself wholly. At her new home, Devi finds Baba, her father-in-law, a dignified patriarch who tries to convince her towards women’s selfless submission in marriage. He readily believes that a woman reaches heaven directly after serving her husband sincerely. Husband is her only god.

Gradually this unnatural behavior of Mahesh makes Devi feel that she is captivated in dungeon like home. Finally she decides to leave his home and condemns Mahesh for his cold detachment and goes away with Gopal in a hope to find emotional reverberation in his music. Initially she thinks that she can define her self-identity with reference to her lover, Gopal but this relationship also proves a mirage. She says, “I have no husband or lover, only this blissful anonymity of darkness, filled with raga that reaches higher and higher, beyond the earth-bound demands of passion”. (129).

At this stage Devi resolves to break her chains and set free. Devi feels trapped at home and the whole house appears to her as “a dark tavern where witches might brew their portions in comfort.(53). She feels lonely and feels frustrated from her married life. For her marriage seems to be , “ a sacrificial knife, hung a few inches above my neck for years…I am still a novice in the more subtle means of torture.” (54).     Leaving Mahesh and Gopal back, Devi sets to meet her mother. Finally Devi discovers herself in new identity and feels free from the shackles of society and conjugal relationship. Githa Hariharan makes a perfect record of the emotional turbulence, unceasing tears, perpetual silence, indifferent ideologies, obsession with death and chaos of her Devi who passes through various existential problems of loneliness and vacuum feelings. Devi emerges with a prophetic voice announcing the emergence of a new identity. She questions herself, “why did I come back? I am not sure. Perhaps it is still too soon for me to understand”.(16)

Anjana Appachana’s second novel Listening Now (1998) dwells in domestic and social life of Indian women. Anjana’s prime concern is to project the inner world of ordinary women, their futile struggles and traumas of life, the novelist’s desire is to make women conscious of their existential conditions. Padma herself says in the novel “to be a woman…is to suffer”( 65). Padma is the main protagonist in Listening Now. Padma’s life is a harrowing tale of sufferings, alienation and frustration. Like Martha of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Padma is sick as the novelist depicts the inner turbulent landscape of her psyche. She is victimized by her own anxieties and fears. Anjana depicts in her novel turbulence of passion and pain, happiness and sorrow, guilt and anger. She explores the suppressive and silent nature of Padma who is forced to live under orthodox and conventional system.

Padma’s support system includes her older sister, two devoted neighborhood friends, and some contributions from her estranged mother. The first chapter tells the story from Mallika’s perspective — her sad and stressed-out mother, her fantasies about her absent father. The first section consists of two stories narrated in first person: the first one can be very well considered the Prologue and the second one the Epilogue. The other sections are the nostalgic reverberations of Mallika, the daughter of Padma. She begins her mother’s and her friends’ existential stories conceived at two stages: childhood and adulthood. The first one depicts the existential agony of her mother, the conflicts of her soul and her absurd baffling existence.

Anjana Appachana narrates a complex story from the perspectives of five women and one young girl. One story becomes six, and within those are the personal dreams and the details of monotonous domestic life of the individual characters that narrate the main story. Padma is a typical modern woman who rebels against the existing norms and codes of society. Padma, during her college days falls in love with her brother’s friend, Karan and has premarital sex with him. She becomes pregnant. Karan promises to marry her but under the pressure of his mother marries somebody else and leaves Padma in distress. She declares him a ‘Hypocrite’. She says frustratingly,

A maze of lies-that what I can’t believe. An absolute maze of lies. You. I thought you were the one person who was incapable of lying…you’ve done everything I’hv done. And more. (324).

Padma decides to continue with her pregnancy and gives birth to an illegitimate child. She is crushed under the heavy weight of guilt as the novelist depicts her absurd situation thus:

Like a prisoner in a dark cell she was with her thoughts, and you , a tumor growing inside her. As you lay inside your mother’s womb, it was your Shanta mama’s endearments you heard, not your mother’s, Isn’t it natural that I know, that I understand all your secret thoughts and dreams? Oh may your secrets never reveal themselves to you. ( 166).

According to Anjana`s women, marriage is a symbol of absurdity. The awareness of it inculcates a revolting mind with which the characters perceive the world and the human situations in an indifferent way. This revolting behavior brings them innumerable and inexplicable woes and miseries. They undergo a psychic trauma that shifts them from normality to abnormality. They develop marital conflicts with their spouse and ruin their human relationship with their kindred. They feel isolated, their self is disintegrated and turn nostalgic.

Padma has lost everything in this world; she has lost all her husband, parents and relatives. Her only hope is her daughter and often in her neurotic fits she cries articulating her inexpressible anguish thus:

I can`t live without you. He had said it to her just once, but she had thought she heard it the other times when he had murmured it against her bare arm, thinking she slept. Sometimes she had wondered if she had dreamt it, Padma…without you…can`t live, perhaps she had dreamt it all of it. ( 225)

Anjana Appachana uses organic and inorganic images to express the inner feelings of the fragmented souls. Her women languish in self isolation, lament over the feminine problems such as irregular menstrual periods, abortions, unsatisfactory sexuality and child birth. Invariably all married women in the novel blatantly talk about it. Shanta is to suffer the worst. Freudian death wish is predominant in Anjana`s novel. This is feared and dreaded by Anjana`s women. They treat both birth and death as monstrous and dreadful, ready to consume their lives. For Padma the growth of a baby is like the growth of a monster, avaricious and predator like to ingest her privacy and freedom. To Madhu, death is a creature with tentacles to strangle her children. .

Rama Mehta’s Inside the Haveli is the story of the protagonist Geeta’s identity crisis in the cross-cultural context. Brought up in Bombay, Geeta the independent young woman struggles to maintain her modern identity in a traditional world of the “haveli of Udaipur”, where she is married off. The aristocratic culture of the “haveli” and the setting of Udaipur in Rajasthan evolve the socio-cultural context in the novel. The cultural shock of the protagonist results in her deflation of self, she confronts communicational intricacies, struggles to adjust in the changed socio-cultural context. The migration of the protagonist from one region to other changes creates psychological problems. She has to fight with gender psychology of the elders, patriarchal set up of the feudal lords and power structure of her husband. Geeta finds herself as an outsider caught up in multiple frames of linguistic structures, historical background, Rajasthani traditions, feudalism, ethnography, lifestyles, purdah, and categories of power, family and gender relations. She is alone to fight with all these antagonistic forces which put heavy weight on her sensitive soul. In her struggle to express her liberty she confronts the cultural opposite forces which crush her and she loses integral awareness. Negative thoughts and emotions start gripping her sensitive psyche and the result is her fears and depression. Tensions rise in her heart because she finds it difficult to achieve her liberty and bring changes in the old orthodox system that is too rigid. The sociological thinkers believe that “adaptation” perhaps is the best way to conceptualize the relationship between individual identity and socio-cultural patterns. Geeta suffers deflation of self because she cannot adjust but wants total transformation of “havelli”

The journey of Geeta from Bombay to Udaipur is the main focus in the novel. Geeta is proudly called as “greatest ornament of Haveli”.(201). Inside the grandeur of Haveli, Geeta exists as an independent woman, who through her inner strength, determination, education and confidence vainly tries to transform it. Her life is a long struggle to establish her identity in a traditional world, her passion for liberty urges her to fight with the traditional and patriarchal forces since she is married off into a conservative family. The haveli culture curbs her identity with ‘purdah’ (I03). Her independence and progressive views are at stake. Geeta is sandwiched between her modem values and the conservative culture of the “haveli”. Geeta is a vivacious, modern, self respected, strong willed, independent of making her own moves and exercising her own free will. In spite of all these qualities, she has to struggle for her identity in the dominant patriarchal “Rajput haveli” of Rajasthan. Rama Mehta describes the first step of Geeta in haveli to be immensely shocking. She says:

Geeta had lifted her face and pulled the sari to see. ‘No , no , you cannot do that, Pari had snapped, pulling back the sari over her face. ‘In Udaipur we keep purdah. Strange eyes must not see your beautiful face. (17).

Even the illiterate maids of the “haveli” started dominating Geeta by teaching her the ways and culture of the family. She soon becomes aware of the prejudice that surrounds her. Every member of the “haveli” was in doubt that Geeta would not be able to adjust according to the norms and values of the “haveli”. She feels disturbed when she came to know about her, “she will never adjust, she is not one of us” (29). Soon Geeta feels strangulated and suffocated by the rigid norms of the “haveli”.

As a woman, Geeta is hardly left with any choice. She fails to arrive at concrete determination. She recognizes her marginalization as a woman- especially being a daughter-in –law. She hates the etiquette which prevents a daughter-in-law to talk freely to her father-in-law. She feels surprised and says, “even after seven years I am a stranger to those who are mine, and I will always remain a stranger” (103). The novel Inside the Haveli explores a journey of an individual in the cross-cultural context, wherein the protagonist suffers the mental, social and physical tortures.

Don’t cry. Binniji, said Manji, pressing Geeta’s head to her breasts. “You are now the mistress of this havelli. You can’t forget its traditions in your sorrow.” (264).

Rama Mehta describes the mental state of Geeta in the following touching words which shatters her:

Geeta tossed and turned in her bed. A cold sweat erupted all over her body as she thought of the day ahead of her. The noise from the kitchen below her room woke Geeta up well before dawn. … she was still not comfortable moving around with her face covered. (29).

Shobha De, a renowned journalist, is the author of twelve novels. Her Socialite Evenings (1988) and in 1990 she published Starry Nights(1990), Sisters(1992), Sultry Days (1994) Strange obsession, Snapshots, Second thoughts (1996), Uncertain Liaisons (1993), Shooting from the Hip (1994), Small Betrayals (1995), and Surviving men (1998), created sensation in the world of Indian fiction.           Socialite Evenings is a story of middle class girl, Karuna, born and brought up in “dusty clinic in Satara, a remote village in Maharastra” (1). She feels disturbed to live such mundane middle class life where she has to sacrifice her desires for limited amount of money. In fact, her mother’s submissive nature towards her father is also one of the reasons that she dislikes middle -class set up of society. She finds her mother to be controlled by her father for everything. She remained busy all the time to take care of her father’s demands for food and care. She felt ignored and says, “mother was preoccupied with what to cook for Father’s dinner. It never mattered what children’s preferences were. It was always him. We were left out of their little world…mother gave Father priority”. (6) Her yearning to become a rich girl blooms within her at a tender age. She revolted against the odd status of her family and says:

I wanted to get out of the closed, boring, middle class environment of the family. I wasn’t interested in studies. I wanted to be on my own, independent. To see the world, meet people, buy lovely clothes and perfumes… (6).

Karuna’s family was not comfortable with the expenses of the city. Karuna was lost in her dreams without considering her familial problems. In her new school, she is least bothered about getting good grades. She says:

While my sisters preferred to concentrate on their percentages, I preferred to discover Bombay and Bombayites…I was the only child with a discipline problem both at home and at school (11). .

Karuna is trapped in the net of false values, material glamour as she dreams of a career in modeling and films. Professor Carol S. Dweck, the American psychologist observes that very often when individuals are pursuing unconventional goals expressing their individual liberty, they are bound to come in conflict with the norms of society and the result is the disintegration of self as they are too fragile to bear the harsh antagonism of the social laws.” (178). Karuna belongs to this category of people. She has set special goals for her in the society. She thinks she is very intelligent as she is highly educated. Her development leads to self regression and her existential choice to become affluent proves counter –productive like the protagonists of Kafka and Sartre. The journey of Karuna’s life from progression to regression, from integration of self to disintegration of self is quite interesting and the plot unfolds this journey depicting the fate of the heroine who suffers rejection and withdrawal. In the words of Dr Karen Horney, the great American psychologist:

We propose that depression occurs after the loss of an important source of self-worth when an individual becomes stuck in a self-regulatory cycle in which no responses to reduce the discrepancy between actual and desired states are available… Consequently, the individual falls into a pattern of virtually constant self-focus, resulting in intensified negative affect, self-derogation, (121 )

The journey of Karuna is that of a sexual derelict who becomes a lost soul in her futile and unconventional pursuit of liberation. No sensible woman would like to emulate Karuna who gets aborted never to be a mother again. At last she returns to her parents rejecting an offer from a gentleman and prefers to be single. She is in a quagmire of sexual lust, and becomes a flirt. Though she can’t get herself rid of the desire to flirt, she realizes that it has no future at all.

Works Cited

Anjana Appachana Listening Now. New Delhi: Indiaink,1998. Print.

Hariharan.Gutha.The Western Educated Indian Woman. New Delhi: Penguin,1970. Print.

….The Divorced Hindu Woman. New Delhi:Penguin,1975. Print.

….The Thousand Faces of Night. New Delhi:Penguin,1992. Print.

Mehta, Rama. The Divorced Hindu Woman. New Delhi: Penguin Books,1975. Print.De, Shobha. Socialite Evenings New Delhi: Penguin, 1989. Print.

…. Starry Nights. New Delhi: Penguin, 1992. Print.

Anderson, Jon The problem of Style and the Psychiatric Conception of Forms of Experience and Motives of Paranoiac Crime New York: 1988. Print.

Alan, Sheridan. Aggressivity in Psychoanalysis. W.w.Norton Co. New York.1977. Print.

Agarwal, Suriya. Gender, History and Culture:Inside the Haveli.New Delhi: Rawat Publications,2009. Print.

Ahmad, Sheikh Mushtaq. Existential Aesthetics: A Study of Jean Paul Sartre’s Theory of Art and Literature. New Delhi: Mehra Offset Widows: Role Adjustments and Violence Print, 1991.Print.

Bharat. Meenakshi. “Githa Hariharan.” South Asian Novelist in English: An A-Z Guide. Wesport CT: Greenwood Press,2003, Print.

Braidotti,Rosi. Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory. New York: Columbia University Press,1994. Print.

Chandra, N.D.R., ed., Modern Indian Writing in English: Critical Perceptions, New Delhi: Sarup & Sons, 2004. Print.




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