INDIAN WOMEN NOVELISTS IN ENGLISH
|Dr. Hareshwar Roy|
Indian women novelists in English have made their permanent mark in the field of English fictions. They are being conferred on not only national but international awards also. In most of their writings they have tried their best to free the female mentality from the age long control of male domination. In short, in their novels, the protagonists are mostly women characters desolated and isolated by an entirely sapless, hypocritical and insensitive male domination. Today whatever political, social, cultural and individual awareness we see in women, they are mostly the result of these fiction writers who heralded a new consciousness in the realm of traditional thinking. If this tireless efforts on the part of women for women’s sake go on, the days are not far when they will be equated with men and even far better than men, in all respects, in each and every field.
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From time immemorial, women have been the subject of vitriolic comments. The negative attitude of the society finds its expression in the myths, legends, stories and history. The Bible says: “Then the Lord God made the man fall into deep sleep, and while he was sleeping, He took out one of the man’s ribs and closed up the flesh. He formed a woman out of the rib and brought her to him.”1 Atharva Veda says, “The birth of a girl grant elsewhere, here grant a son.”2 In the Koran a woman is “described as a ‘fitna’, one who tempts man and brings trouble.”3 Such attitude led to the age long disparity between man and woman. Man boasts and brags and tries to dominate and domineer over woman only because woman has come out from man.
As a matter of fact, a woman plays pivotal role in family life. It is she who gives birth to a new generation. The home is inconceivable without woman. So, both man and woman are complimentary to each other. Both are the essential parts of creation. ‘A man’s life without a woman is like a flower without fragrance, a ship without a rudder or a body without spirit.’4 Plato’s Republic observes: “The only difference between man and woman is one of physical function – one begets, the other bears children. Apart from that, both can and both should follow the same range of occupation and perform the same functions; they should receive the same education to enable them to do so. In this way society will get the best value from both.”5
The above mentioned points clearly show that “woman in ancient times is sometimes upgraded and at other times degraded. But in the modern time, women have shown their mettle in every field and in some respects, far better than the male. If we dive deep into the history of in English, we come to the conclusion that Indian woman have shown their worth both qualitatively and quantitatively and are showing even today without any full stop.”6
Today women are not the puppets in the hands of men. They have realized that they are not helpless but are competent like men. They have become direct money earners and they are not confined only to household works. They have established their identity in almost every walk of life. Apart from many other fields, they have heralded a new consciousness in the realm of literature. Their immense contribution to English literature in general and fiction in particular is worth noticing and praiseworthy.
The Indian literature has gifted several talented women novelists as Arundhati Roy, Shashi Deshpande, Anita Desai, Shobha De, Sudha Murthy, Anita Nair, Jhumpa Lahiri, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Kiran Desai, Bharati Mukherjee, Kamala Markandaya, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Santha Rama Rau, Nayantara Sahgal, Geeta Mehta, Rama Mehta, Manju Kapoor and many more. They are known for the contemporary approach in their novels. Basically, their novels are the novels of protest and an outburst of reservations and contaminations.
Indian English literature has developed over a period of time and writing in English did not start in a day. It took many years. Indian women novelists have given a new dimension to it. They are popularly known as the goddesses of Eros! They have chosen the problems and issues faced by the women in today’s male dominated world as the main theme of their books. They have incorporated the recurring female experiences in their writings and it affected the cultural and language patterns of Indian literature. They describe the whole world of women with simply stunning frankness. Their write-ups give a glimpse of the unexplored female psyche, which has no accessibility. The majority of these novels depict the psychological suffering of the frustrated housewife. Their women are real flesh-and- blood protagonists who make us look at them with awe with their relationships to their surroundings, their society, their men, their children, their families; their mental make-ups and themselves.
The women of modern era think on different lines and that is what is depicted in the novels of the Indian women novelists. They explore the feminine subjectivity and apply the theme that ranges from childhood to complete womanhood. Through their novels they spread the message of what actually feminism is. For them feminism means putting an end to all the sufferings of a woman in silence. The following women novelists have left their indelible imprint on the readers of Indian fiction in English. Most of these female novelists are known for their bold views that are reflected in their novels.
Arundhati Roy: Her phenomenal success took everyone, including herself by surprise. She made headlines around the world when she became the first Indian woman to win a Man Booker prize for her debut novel, The God of Small Things (1997). This novel registered a tremendous sale all over the world. It has been translated into more than 40 languages. The God of Small Things is a bit autobiographical in nature. It peeps into the life of Keralite society, their rites and customs, traditions and patriarchal domination. It deals with casteism and the naked exposure of the malpractices of Marxism and police administration. Roy’s second book The End of Imagination is short but revolutionary. It deals with her strong protest against nuclearization in India and abroad. Today she has become an ardent advocate of social and economic justice for the country’s oppressed minorities. She has published a number of essays on subjects varying from India’s rapid industrialization to the continuing problem of Kashmir. She has also written two screenplays and several collections of essays.
Shashi Deshpande: She is a well known name in the field of Indian literature.
Shashi Deshpande is the critically acclaimed writer of nine novels, a number of short stories, children’s books and essays. Sashi Deshpande published her first collection of short stories in 1978, and her first novel, The Dark Holds No Terror, in 1980. Her novel, That Long Silence, won the Sahitya Academy Award in 1990. She received the Padma Sri award in 2009. Her notable works include The Binding Vine, Matter of Time, That Long Silence, and The Dark Holds No Terror. Her latest book is the novel, In the Country of Deceit (2008). Trained as a journalist, Deshpande’s work focuses on the reality and truth of the lives of Indian women. Deshpande has described her literary style as really a very simple and stark style, which rarely draws attention to itself.
Anita Desai: Anita Desai is an Indian novelist and short story writer. She has been writing some of the best English language fiction in India for almost four decades. She’s been short listed for the Man Booker prize thrice and won the Sahitya Academy Award, one of India’s most prestigious literary prizes, in 1978 for her second novel, Fire on the Mountain. She has taught at various colleges in the US, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Familial relationships and their evolution have been the main themes of Desai’s fiction. . She has portrayed the complexities between a man and woman relationship. Her notable contributions are Cry, The Peacock, The Voices in the City, Fire on the Mountain, The Clear Light of Day and Bye-Bye Blackbird. Her novel Fire on the Mountain (1977) won the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize. Her children's book The Village by the Sea (1982), won the Guardian Children's Fiction Award. Her latest book is The Zigzag Way (2004).
Anita Desai, in her psychological novels, presents the image of a suffering woman preoccupied with her inner world, her sulking frustration and the storm within: the existential predicament of a woman in a male dominated society. Through such characters, she makes a plea for a better way of life for women. Her novels have Indians as central characters, and she alternates between female-centered and male-centered narrative. Her later novels, written since she moved to the USA, reveal all the characteristics of diasporic fiction, that is, a concern with the fate of immigrants, and a growing distance from the reality of India, which is viewed from the outside. She has tried to explore the psychological aspects of the lead protagonists. She deals with the mind and soul of characters. For that she uses the stream of consciousness method. Thus, Anita has heralded a new era in the realm of psychological portrayal of the character. She herself says: “My novels don’t have themes – at least not till they are finished, published or read, do I see any theme. While writing I follow flashes of insides, I veer away from or even fight anything that threatens to distort or destroy this inside, and somehow come to the end and look back to see the pattern of footprints on the sand.”7 Her main business as a novelist is to expose the truth. She rightly observes: “Literature should deal with more enduring matters, less temporary and less temporal than politics. It should deal with life and with death. It should be too ironical and also too mystical to accept the world at face value and regard it as the whole or the only truth.”8
Shobha De: De, India’s best selling woman writer recently published her 16th book, sweet sixteenth (2009). De, a prolific columnist and blogger, writes books filled with privileged protagonists from Bombay’s high society. She is an Indian novelist, copywriter, freelance writer and columnist, best known for her columns in The Week. She is often known as India's Jackie Collins and The Maharani of Muck. Starry Nights, Socialite Evening, Sultry Days, Sisters, Small Betrayals, Second Thoughts, Surviving Men, Spouse: The Truth about Marriage, Snapshots, Shooting from the Hips, Strange Obsession, Speed Post and Selective Memory are her notable works.
De, a controversial writer, has had diverse career roles ranging from model to columnist. All her published novels have been successful. Currently we have witnessed her make a literary transition from writing-projects based on a rather flashy, elite society with emphasis on its extra-marital affairs, to a more mature and rather philosophical work on life and the myriad of twists and turns in relationships. She has moved away from the beaten path and has actually undertaken a serious analysis of the man-woman relationship in marriages. She has made certain insightful comments that will do the average Indian woman a lot of good. For instance she advises that a woman ought to announce to her partner right at the beginning of the relationship that she too has a set of priorities and prerogative (s) other than him because men don’t like to be taken by surprise.
Sudha Murthy: Sudha Kulkarni Murthy is renowned for her writing and active role in social services. Her flair for writing is evident in her books like Dollar Sose, originally written in Kannada. Her notable works include Wise and Otherwise, and Mahasweta. Sudha. She now heads Infosys Foundation, is an engineer, a teacher, writer, mother and wife. Sudha Murthy, the reputed wife of Infosys giant Narayana Murthy, has written a tenderly humorous account of their modest beginnings and their subsequent growth in life. Her account of her life before and after Narayana Murthy, the birth and growth of Infosys and her novels in general, provide an impetus and kindle positive thinking in her readers. Her work exudes simple realism and empathy. All the little things in life that go a long way are highlighted. Her huge contribution in the birth and growth of Infosys is well known.
Anita Nair: Anita Nair is an Indian-English writer whose novels are passionately woven on the thread of human nature and values; with a female oriented component. Her Mistress was included in the list for the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction. Better Man, Mistress, The Puffin Book of Magical Indian Myths, Where The Rain is Born-Writing about K, Ladis Coupe, Lessons in forgetting Pb, and Malabar Mind are her notable works.
Jhumpa Lahiri: She is an Indian American author. Her debut short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and her first novel, The Namesake was adapted to a popular film. She has won several awards for her work. Her notable works include The Namesake, Unaccustomed earth, and Interpreter of Maladies.
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni : A novelist, poet, professor, and short story author, Chitra Banerjee is indeed a gifted writer. Her significant works include Palace of Illusion, and Mistress of Spice. She was awarded the American Book Award for Arranged Marriage. Divakaruni is an award-winning author and poet and her work has been published in more than 50 magazines, including the Atlantic Monthly and The New Yorker.
Kiran Desai : Her notable works include Inheritance of Loss and Hullabaloo in The Guava Orchard. The Inheritance of Loss won the coveted 2006 Man Booker Prize and National Book Critics Circle award for fiction.Only the second Indian woman to ever win the Man Booker prize in 2006 for her second novel The Inheritance of Loss, Kiran Desai has literary talent in her very DNA. She is the daughter of Anita Desai, the acclaimed Indian English writer and won rave reviews for her debut novel, Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard (1998). Though Desai lives in the US, her work has focused on the tumult of 21st century India, migration, globalization and the effect of the country’s rapid progress on all social classes.
Bharati Mukherjee : She is the author of seven novels and two short story collections, and co-author of two books of non-fiction. She is also the winner of a National Book Critic Circles Award. Some of her famous books are Desirable Daughters, Jasmine, Holder of the World, Leave it to Me, and The Middleman And Other Stories. There are many Indian women writers based in the USA, Canada, Britain, and other parts of the world. Some are recent immigrants, while others, such as Jhumpa Lahiri, are second generation immigrants. These authors write about their situation in cross-cultural contexts - states of 'in-betweeness'.
Women writers in India are moving forward with their strong and sure strides, matching the pace of the world. We see them bursting out in full bloom spreading their own individual fragrances. They are recognized for their originality, versatility and the indigenous flavor of the soil that they bring to their work. Nowadays, people enjoy reading the anglicized novels presented by the new age women writers. Their novels consist of the latest burning issues related with women as well as those issues that exist in the society since long. Our women writers have grappled with complex issues such as sensuality, servility, subjugation and society. They have handled them with a sense of balance, never disregarding our Indian traditions, yet discovering that there is more in the offing. Women writers in India can no longer be claimed as the exclusive property of India. Their work and their art belong to the world. Majority of the Indian readers comprising both male and female read the novels of the Indian women authors with certain expectations. They look for some "Indian-ness` in the write-ups. Only the women novelists of India are capable of conveying the messages of feminism in an Indian way. In India, the women writers are doing very well and their contribution is immense.
1. The Holy Bible (Good News Bible),The Bible Society of India, Banglore, !977, p.5.
2. Manu Smirti, Quoted in the book, Unveiling India by Anees Jung, Penguin Books, Delhi, 1987, p.68.
3. Ibid.,p. 30.
4. A.N. Prasad, ed., Indian Women Novelists in English, Atlantic, New Delhi, 2001, p.iii.
5. Plato, The Republic, The Penguin Classics, p.225.
6. A.N. Prasad, ed., Indian Women Novelists in English, Atlantic, New Delhi, 2001, p. 4.
7. Anita Desai, “Replies to the Questionnaire,” Kakatiyas Journal of English Studies, Vol. 3. No.1, 1978, p. 4.
8. Ibid., p. 1.****