CHAPTER THREE ALIENATION I ANITA DESAI'S NOVELS INDIAN CONTEXT After discussing the views of Western thinkers on the concept of alienation in the Second Chapter, an attempt is made in the present chapter to discuss this concept in the Indian context in general and in the context of Anita Desai's novels in particular. When alienation is to be discussed in the Indian context, a view put forward by some sociologists needs some attention. It is argued that the family structure in Indian society is wellknit and that the unit functions generally in a homogeneous manner. As a consequence, members of such a joint family are closely bound to one another and relations try to create a sense of unity and unification. In such circumstances, isolation of individuals and the resultant feeling of alienation is unlikely to creep in. Not only do we notice husband-wife and parent-children bound to each other, but even distant relatives come together to create a strong sense of togetherness. Though this view is generally acceptable, the joint family as a unit has crumbled down over the years. It existed in the pre- independence period when the joint family system was well-rooted and commonly respected in Indian society. But during the post independence period the family, alongwith its social and cultural context, has undergone a remarkable change. The Western influence, coming through liberal education, forced new values and norms of life upon Indian family and social systems. Young men
and women became socially and psychologically conscious. This consciousness led them to reject some old traditions and customs and adopt new ways and attitude to life. They demanded more freedom from the old generation. Consequently, the gap between the old generation and new generation became wider and deeper in the Indian family, social and cultural setup. Women who were traditionally treated as secondary to men realised their pitiable condition. Through liberal education, they acquired anew vision and got inspirations for their mental and intellectual development. They demanded freedom. They no longer remained the dumb creature they were earlier. They tried to come out of the tyranny of the family and social evils. The existing hostile family, social and cultural circumstances forced them to fight against their families and the Indian social and cultural setup for their rights. Promilla Kapur, a sociologist, analyses the change: With a change in women's personal status and social status has come a change in her way of thinking and feelings and the past half century has witnessed great changes in attitudes towards sex, love and marriage. As a result, the traditional family values and social norms in the Indian setup have undergone a remarkable change. Industrialisation which spread rapidly in the post-independence period brought evils of materialism which affected Indian family values and social norms. As a result, family and social unification and togetherness gradually disintegrated. 27
In this context, the position of women in Indian society has to be considered. It maybe noted that the attitude to women in I j Indian social setup is ambivalent. On the one hand, the woman is respected as mother an embodiment of love and sacrifice on the other hand, she is treated as a commodity owned by the male-dominated world. In the joint family, a woman finds herself hemmed in the scores of relatives that family comprises of. She feels claustrophobic at the total lack of privacy. She is bound to serve her husband and the other family members who rarely recognise her dedication and sacrifices. She is expected to be more cautious and careful in performing her duties towards her mother-in-law and sisters-in-law, because the relationship between daughter-in-law and her in-laws is tender and complex in the Indian situation. Generally, a daughter-in-law is not treated as a respectable member of the family in the Indian family set up. She is always made to feel that she is obliged to her husband and the family members. When she needs support and understanding from her husband and in-laws, she is treated as an outcast. Her individuality is denied and she is forced to bend before the elders. Her primary duty is to bear children, look after them and do the endless repetitive daily chores of the household. Near and distant relatives force themselves on the housewife and the poor woman gets submerged like a slave in the service of the guests, thereby losing her independence and individuality. Family life and the work pattern convey the idea that the woman should be subordinate to and dependent on man. Her position in the family as well as in society kept on changing all through the ages and is 28
almost invariably an inferior one. She is hardly given any freedom. The subordination is still continued in our society. The relief from dependency is still out of the reach of most women. They face many obstacles. That is why, though surrounded by her husband, children and in-laws, she feels lonely and alienated. / In spite of the Western influence, the family has as not changed much. Though there has been a lot of legal protection to women, their lot has not changed much. In spite of educational opportunities and economic independence, women are surrounded by domestic and social injustices and the crude customs of our society. They are ultimately forced to adjust themselves to the reality. Consequently, they become victims trapped in the conventions created by our society. Shantha Krishnaswamy, explaining the position of woman in our society, points out: 29 She is a creature who as a child is sold off to strangers fora bridal price, or when she grows up, serves as a supplier of dowry for her husband's family, or who as widow, in a final act of obliteration immolates herself on her dead husband's funeral pyre to be acclaimed as 'Sati- Savitri' as an immortal. This reveals woman's pitible condition in the Indian setup. Her existence as an independent individual is never accepted. She is equated with a commodity to be exploited at various levels. As a result, the lot of women has remained unchanged. This is true not only of uneducated women in rural India, but also of educated women in urban areas.
The next point to be considered is the importance of marriage as an institution. Compared to its influence on the social structure in west, marriage has dominated the Indian social structure. Now, the hold of this ancient institution is crumbling in the west, as individualism and liberation of women has become dominant. But in India, marriage has its own framework of rituals, restrictions and moral bindings. The Indian woman is conventionally bound to them. The life of educated woman in Urban area is also not satisfactory. Since her sense of individuality has matured by the introduction of education, she does not want to lead a passive married life of a sacrificial and shadowy creature. She expects a measure of satisfaction. But she is not free from adverse family, social and cultural forces. Today, she has become more conscious of her misery. Her thoughts render it impossible for her to bear the burden of convention. Yet she cannot free herself from them. As a result, she feels insecure and psychologically restless. The condition of an uneducated woman in the Indian setup is miserable. Her dependence on others, her inability to be individualistic and her conventionally accepted predicament make her life almost unbearable. The next point about alienation in the Indian context concern the feeling of togetherness encouraged by neighbours. Although it is generally believed that neighbourly relations area great force to minimise alienation in Indian society, it is not true, especially in the urban world. A passage from Anita Desai's novel entitled, Baumgartner's Bombay, aptly illustrates 30
31 neighbourly relations in our society He found a crowd of onlookers already gathered there, watching the man beating his wife with his fists and then kick her down, grab her by her hair and drag her up the street, swearing. What is happen' asked the concerned Baumgartner of the watchman at the door...but some of the onlookers tured round with amused looks and explained,'Drunk man saying his wife behaving badly with other men, so he is beating her. ' He is killing her, Baumgartner bleated, wondering at their nonchalance. We better call police. But no one moved. BB p.8) This expresses neighbours' indifferent attitude towards the helpless, unprotected woman who is being inhumanly beaten by her drunken husband. It also unmistakably reveals dehumanisation of a woman in an economically poor family in our society. At this stage, it could be said that alienation is universal and is possible in the Indian context. Moreover, it is more likely that women are alienated in Indian society. Woman's position in the family as well as in society kept on changing all through the ages and is invariably an inferior one. Indian society is still patriarchal and male-dominated. The subordination is still continued. The condition of an uneducated women is miserable. The educated women are caught in a conflict of conventionality and unconventionality. Their survival needs are met but they are confronted with other problems like loneliness, lack of communication and communality which cause mental crises in their life and make them feel alienated. Masculine and institutional pressures add to exacerbate them further. Thus, alienation is
possible in the Indian context. This is illustrated by pictures of alienated characters in the fiction written by Indian writers. Among the Indian novelists in English Mulk Raj Anand and Kamala Markandaya have touched upon the theme of alienation to some extent. It is dealt with extensively in the novels of Arun Joshi and Shashi Deshpande. Arun Joshi’s novels deal with the self and bring into a central focus the way in which the self tries to assess its involvement in the alienation from the family and society. The theme of alienation and loneliness in his novel, entitled, The Last Labyrinth is repeatedly suggested by the frequent use of the word "void. Sindi Oberai, the protagonist- narrator of his novel entitled, The Foreigner, though not a foreigner feels rootless because of his feeling of not-belonging to anyplace or anything in this world. Shashi Deshpande has very explicitly highlighted the inner struggle and suffering of anew class of Indian woman through her characters. Indus life in her novel entitled. Roots and Shadows portrays the predicament of a woman who faces the pull of the forces of the society that expects a woman to conform to its norms. She is a restless woman who longs for the expression of her true self. Shashi Deshpande has tried to project a realistic picture of the middle-class educated women who are financially independent. Women in her novels are initially unconventional. Family traditions, social norms, moral and cultural values create problems and complications in their actual lives and finally make them submit to traditions. Death is not the way out for them. Though economically independent, they 32
are emotionally dependent on their husbands and relatives. They are caught in a conflict of emotion and reason which is internal and complex. Their alienation, to put in Sidney Finkelstein's words, is a psychological alienation. Anita Desai has tried to project a realistic picture of the woman of nineteen fifties and sixties. All her women protagonists are not economically independent. They are brilliant, highly sensitive and extraordinarily aware of the hostile circumstances around them. They have emotional and psychological quest for love and meaningful life and feel suffocated, frustrated and alienated in the hostile family and social situations. Some of them reject unquestioning acceptance of the traditional female role. The point of their happiness and agony are inscrutable. They are surrowful persons burning themselves on the path of estrangement. To use Anita Desai's words, her characters are made to stand against the general current. who fight that current and struggle 3 against it. She portrays a deeply felt and suffered rebellion against the entire system of social relationship. There is a quest towards the concept of "real love. Anita Desai has pointed out that she is interested in individuals and not in social issues. However, social issues intrude into her novels because, they affect her characters. The factors responsible for the feeling of alienation of Anita Desai's characters are varied and complex. She believes that the world is full of insecurities, fears and tremblings keeping man away from attaining his goal. Her earlier novels 33
like, Cry, the Peacock, Voices in the City, Fire on the Mountain and Where Shall We Go This Summer ? are illustrative of these points. At the same time, she is fully aware of the supremacy and potentiality of man. Her Clear Light of Day and Baumgartner's Bombay are illustrative of this point of view. Despite an incessant suffering in Baumgartner's life he does not think ill of his oppressors. On the contrary, he gives shelter and food to an inhuman drug-addict Kurt, who finally murders him fora piece of silver. If one compares the feeling of alienation in Anita Desai's characters with that of Albert Camus' Meursault, one notices that the outsider in Meursault is the making of the post world war experience shared by the individual. As no much impact of Existential philosophy and the concept of the Absurd was ever experienced in India, the Indians are bound to feel alienation of a different quality. The feeling of alienation experienced by the Indians is comparatively less poignant. They experience different forms of alienation such as powerlessness, meaninglessness, isolation and self-estrangement given by an American thinker, Melvin Seeman indifferent situations. This alienation could be universal and common to people allover the world. Family, social, psychological, biological and cultural forces have their sharing in moulding Anita Desai's characters. Being highly sensitive, they are extraordinarily aware of their own actions and the hostile family, social and cultural situations existing around them. We notice a touch of neurosis in the behaviours of her some women characters. We also observe the symptoms of schizophrenia through the actions and movements of her 34
35 some women protagonists. In an unpublished M.Phil dissertation, Mr SR. Borole observes, " Anita Desai's all women characters are schizoid personalities. This observation is not acceptable because it seems an exaggeration. The symptoms of schizophrenia are traceable in the behaviours of Maya, Monisha and Sarah only and not in the behaviours of Anita Desai's all women characters. Moreover, the signs and symptoms of neurosis and schizophrenia in their cases are not of sever kind. Anita Desai successfully convinces us by giving us substantial reasons such as incessant physical and mental torturing, humiliation and anguish which become responsible for their neurotic and schizophrenic 'N actions. As, Borole is concerned with Anita Desai's earlier two novels- Cry, the Peacock and Where Shall Me Go This Summer ?, for his dissertation, he cannot have a comprehensive view in this context. Some of Anita Desai's novels evidently reveal that her characters turn neurotic and schizophrenic. Inner struggles and discordant family, social and cultural forces produce neurotic and schizophrenic situations. These adverse forces make these women experience a terror of despair, loneliness and frustration and further cause mental crises in their lives. In Cry, the Peacock We realise the causes and consequences of the cruel family and social forces through the loss of Maya's mental balance and her act of pushing Gautama down from the terrace and committing suicide at the end. In Voices in the City, we notice how the hostilities in Jiban's family force the lonely Monisha to close
herself from all and reach the decision of annihilating herself. In Where Shall We Go This Summer ?, adverse forces create emotional stresses and mental conflicts in Sita's mind leading heron neurotic ways like smoking openly and speaking agitatedly. In this critical study, Anita Desai's characters are grouped into three categories according to the causes and consequences of their feeling of alienation. The first category is of those women who are physically disturbed by the hostile family and social situations and find it difficult to come out of their alienated situation and finally annihilate themselves. The characters are Maya, Monisha, Nanda K a u l , Raka and Ila Das. The second category is of those individuals who are basically alienated but they direct themselves from a negative viewpoint to a positive viewpoint and move from alienation to self-realisation to reach a mental stage of dealienation through a variety of means like free communication, mutual love and respect, a sense of understanding and compromise. The characters are Sita, Bim, Deven Sharma, Hari and Nirode. The third group consists of characters who belong to the cultural alienation. Their alienation is caused by the problems of rootlessness, a sense of not-belonging and the issues involved in the conflicting cultures as they live on a foreign soil. The characters are Dev, Adit, Sarah, Hugo Baumgartner, Lotte and Julius Roth. Anita Desai's characters are human beings full of weaknesses as well as personalities. They are caught in the web of their own compulsions. When understood psychologically, we begin to 3 6
visualise their aims and ambitions, disappointments and loneliness. They react to their troubles with tragic intensity. Their troubles are not superficial but ingrained in them since their childhood. As Karen Horney , in her book entitled Neurosis and Human Growth points out, Anita Desai also believes that adverse and painful experiences from childhood determine conditions for neurosis, but they are not the only causes of their troubles. In this context Anita Desai says: 37 I agree the experiences of childhood are the most vivid and lasting ones. But I'm quite sure that even adult life contains many traumatic experiences, for instance fighting in a war maybe a traumatic experience fora soldier. Anita Desai does not fully expose the childhood of her characters, but whatever flashbacks are provided are enough to understand them. Her characters tend to forego their vital "self" somewhere during their journey from childhood to adulthood. Her grownup as well as middle-aged men and women are disturbed by hostile family, social, cultural and psychological forces, which are beyond their comprehensions. Psychologists like Karen Horney Abraham Maslow, Erich Fromm argue that a child undergoes traumatic exp>eriences if it is made to feel rejected or uncared for. He suffers a psychic death. It is a srcret process, but it arrests his growth into a wholesome personality. Sita struggles to 6 "connect" herself with the adverse and powerful stream of life. Nirode rejects everything, because the childhood images have taught him negation. Bim, Nanda Kaul and Raka wish to forget
their past traumatic experiences. These characters try hard to find out substitutes for their Lost selves. Everybody wants to guard his identity, so that he remains meaningful to himself and is able to make himself significant. The inner urge of her every character is to lift himself above others, to guard himself from the hostile and desperate atmosphere perpetuated by a harmful childhood climate. It maybe concluded that alienation is a universal phenomenon and that it is noticeable in a remarkable degree in the Indian context. As the structure of society and culture have changed during the sands the feeling of alienation has resulted inevitably both in the lives of men and women. It is explained how hostile family, social, cultural and psychological forces become responsible for the feeling of alienation irrespective of time and place. Of course, we find a difference between the intensity and the level of torturing of the feeling of alienation experienced by the men and women in the Western context and the intensity and the level of torturing of the feeling of alienation experienced by Anita Desai's characters. This difference is realised because of different family, social and cultural milieus. Efforts are made to explain Anita Desai's handling of the theme of alienation in her novels. Her characters are grouped into three categories on the basis of the causes and consequences of their feeling of alienation. They are -- i) those who find it difficult to come out of their alienated situation and finally annihilate themselves, ii) those who are basically alienated but they direct themselves to reach a positive point of 38
view and iii) those who experience cultural alienation as they live on a foreign land. An attempt is also made to bring out how Anita Desai's novels reveal that free communication within and outside, mutual love and respect, clear understanding of life, awareness of hostile forces within and around oneself and a sense of belonging lead human being to a process of mental stage that could be called dealienation which enables human being to see things clearly and think positively and comprehensively. The relevance of the theme of alienation will be illustrated by discussing Anita Desai's individual characters in the subsequent chapters giving different levels and kinds of the feeling of alienation. 39
40 ■fc= Footnotes i Chapter III : 1 Promilla Kapur, The Changing Status of the Working Women in India. (Delhi : Vikas Publication, The women in Indian Fiction in English New Delhi : Ashish Publication, 1984). Shantha Krishnaswamy, Atma Ram, S. R. Borole Jasbir Jain, E. M. Forster An Interview with Anita Desai World n Litera xre Written in English, Vol, 16 No.l November, 1977), pp. 95-104. " The Theme of Alienation in Anita Desai's Cry the Peacock and Where Shall We Go This Summer ? " Unpublished M. Phil, dissertation submitted to the University of Poona, Poona, (1989), p" An Interview with Anita Deasi "Ra i asthan University Studies in English, Vol. XII, (1979) , pp. 61-69. Howard's End London ; Penguin Books, 1976), p. 188.