By: Dr. Ratan Bhattacharjee
“Reality is merely one-tenth visible section of the iceberg that one sees above the surface of the ocean – art remaining nine-tenths of it that lies below the surface. That is why it is near Truth than Reality itself. Art does not merely reflect Reality – it enlarges it,” said Anita Desai. Her novels reflect this truth about women and Dr. Rashmi Rekha Saikia brilliantly explores this truth that comes out of Anita Desai’s novels through her arduous research for a prolonged part of her academic career.
In Assam Anita Desai is quite popular in the academic circle and Dr. Rashmi focused on a very potential area in the novels of Desai. The upsurge of several women novelists in the Post-Modern era was quite significant as their writings heralded a new age in the field of literature by the inclusion of new themes focusing on the women’s world and the feminine issues. Anita Desai was enshrined as the most successful novelist in the literary arena of the contemporary period. Desai is drawn to postcolonial themes including the role of women in the transitional society. Her novels are confined within the parameter of domestic and familial issues concentrating on man-woman relationships and women’s sufferings as victims of male hegemony under patriarchal domination. The book has five well-written chapters. The introductory chapter offers a sketchy account of the novelist’s life and her works. Dr. Rashmi did not forget to include a short discussion on her concept of feminism and her approach to the novels from the feminist point of view. In the following chapter, she discusses the conjugal relationship as Desai dealt with it in the five selected novels.
In the third chapter, other inter-relationships are focused – on fraternal, filial, and human relations in general. Hazards and complexities of marital relationships were the main concern in Desai’s novels where she depicts the struggles and plight of women in family and society as well. A woman is a human being and the importance of being a woman seems to be in the family and society. In the penultimate chapter, Dr. Rashmi beautifully deals with that and the readers will surely appreciate it. It is a quest for self. The disruption of nuptial relations turns marriage into a farce and it is no longer made in heaven. The bleak truth that emerges is that in the novels of Desai, self-sufficiency and self-fulfillment in the life of a woman are a far cry. The neurotic urges and hysteric behaviour in the character of Maya in Cry, the Peacock leading to her suicide are common frustration in the other novels too.
Some other dimensions are reached when in a novel like Fire on the Mountains polygamy is discussed which Prof Ahuja described as a plurality of wives. Mr. Kaul secretly establishes extramarital relations with a teacher Miss David without the notice of his wife. No recognition is given to Mr. Kaul’s extra-marital affairs but it is clear that Mr. Kaul violated the Hindu norms. Desai here explores more the psychological trauma of a humiliated wife who sees her husband attached to another woman. Helen Cixous rightly commented, “Women immersed in her naiveté, kept in the dark about herself, led into self-disdain by the great arm of parental-conjugal phallocentrism.” Here Dr. Rashmi discussed the ‘Cultural conditioning’ that reduces women to silent and subordinate objects. In the patriarchal society, women seem to occupy a very significant place because of their legal citizenship. But in reality, the age-old patriarchal subjugation compels a woman to be entirely subservient to the male authoritative society in both the social and economic spheres. AV Krishna Rao sounded positive when he says, “In the development of Indo-Anglian novel the feminine sensibility has achieved imaginative self-sufficiency which merits recognition despite the relatively late manifestation.” Dr. Rashmi focuses again and again on how women in Desai’s novels challenge domesticity.
Critics like Leela Gandhi, Meenakshi Mukherjee, and others have brilliantly provided new perspectives and insightful suggestions in their discussion of the Indian novelists dealing with the subjugation of women in the patriarchal society. Dr. Rashmi’s book will be certainly an important addition to the list. What she focused on is the inner psyche of the females and how that deep delving into the intricate depths involved the Indian psyche as a whole. Isolation is an important feature in psychic complexities and women mostly fail to come out of this isolation imposed on them by family or society. Hindu marriage code gives equal rights to women and men but in reality, it is the male supremacy that ultimately counts. In the concluding chapter, Dr. Rashmi correctly focused on the novels of Desai to project the ambivalent aspect of deconstruction as well as reconstruction of gender roles and male-female polarity which forms a natural part of a social, psychological, and biological framework. She concludes rightly, “The masterpieces of Desai establish that the paradigm of relationship has been analyzed with newer perspective rejecting the traditional morality making center specific on the re-defined human relationship of today’s culture.”
Dr. Rashmi Saikia who did her Ph.D. in Indian literature from Assam University is now working at Gargaon College, Sivasagar as Associate Professor in the English Dept. She has four edited volumes to her credit including the recent one Female Voices in Literature. Her research works concentrate mostly on gender issues in Indian Literature. This book on Anita Desai will be a unique contribution to understanding the writings of Desai who is well-read in Indian Universities and colleges and especially in Assam. (The author is a Senior Academician and a trilingual fiction writer, Columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)