A rebel protagonist against male injustice:
Urmila is Shashi Deshpande’s first protagonist who decides to fight another woman’s battle. Urmila gets no support from her family members and when the hospital authorities decide to shift Kalpana to a suburban hospital, Urmila protests and decides to take the matter to the press, thinking that Kalpana might get justice.
Urmila succeeds in stopping the transfer of Kalpana to another hospital Urmila’s friend Vanna and Inni mother, at home, are unable to understand her deep involvement with the girl. Vanna goes a step ahead and warns Urmila- “It’s none of our business”(171). (37).
Urmila never hinders from the oppositions, she pursues the case and eventually reopens the case. The police are asked to present their new investigations. With the help of her, friend Malcolm, she presents Kalpana’s case in the press. This rape issue once again gains public attention and the Government orders a deep investigation.
Soon after, there is a demonstration of protest outside Kalpana’s hospital. Women from all walks of life pour in, the picture of women being jostled and roughed up during the demonstration are all reported in papers.
Shakuntai’s Stint with the Media:
According to Shakutai, exposure to the media is as bad as Kalpana being raped. The fear of humiliation in society resulting from exposure of such incidents grips Shakutai. The women in the Assembly and all local women activists now stand in solidarity. Initially resentful, Shakutai how seems to be slowly realizing the enormity of the situation. Demonstration and tides of protest from women folk enhance and overwhelm Shakutai’s morality. She says, “the whole world is my friend “(179). (38)
The police investigation brings the rapist into light. The investigation finally opens up to find Sulu’s husband Prabhakar, who had always lusted after Kalpana. This bitter truth shatters Sulu who immolates herself in guilty despair, leaving behind her, her grief-stricken sister, Shakutai. If marriage becomes only a means of security for people like Shakutai, Mira and Sulu, who are physically vulnerable, even within the secure structure of marriage.
Urmila learns from Shakutai that Sulu always lived in constant terror of being thrown out of her house because she cannot have children. And, along with this truth, Urmila learns that Indian women are subjected to domination by their husbands. Urmila’s mother tells her that it was her father and not she who had sent her away, for he did not trust his wife in matters relating to child care.
Urmila’s father takes the decision of sending Urmi, the infant daughter, to his mother’s place, because his wife Inni, in severe urgency, had left the infant Urmi under the care of a man servant. Inni pours out all the anguish of a helpless woman, who has nothing to do under the stern dictates of her husband, she says,
“He didn’t say any thing to me, he just took you away…I begged him, Urmi, I cried, I promised but he wouldn’t listen. Nothing could make him change his mind. You know your papa I didn’t want you to be sent away to Ranidurg, believe me Urmi, I didn’t want that, I wanted you with US, I never got used to the idea of your being in Ranidurg, I wanted you with me”. (199-200). (39)
Irrespective of their social backgrounds, women at different levels are treated in the raw manner; it may be women from low class or the city bred, educated women like Urmila’s mother, Inni, her friend Vanna, and her mother-in-law, Akka.
Urmila is quite upset and angry to see how even the educated urban women submit themselves to safeguard their marriage Vanna, is an educated social—worker by profession, she is quite submissive and obedient to her husband Vann’s submissiveness to her husband and not being assertive irritates Urmila. She even wishes to have a son, when she conveys her desire to have a child, Harish delivers a big lecture on population problem by quoting the figures. She thinks, may be he is right, after listening to this anecdote, Urmila become furious and shouts saying, “Let him bull-dozer you, you crawl before him’ (81) (40) she even scolds Vanna for doing the entire domestic duties single handedly.
Urmila’s Observance of a Mother’s Role:
Urmila very seriously observes the common idea of shouldering the mother to be sole responsible for taking care of the children, since age old days it has remained the same without any change From the days of Inni to the days of her grand daughter Mandira, confining women to the subjugated roles of mothers and wives has not changed at all.
The little girl Mandira’s words “when I grow up, I’m never going to leave my children to go to work” (72) (41) - throw enough light on us. Belonging to the modern educated urban society and exposed to the liberal revolutionary ideas and changes shaping in the western world in the name of women’s liberation movements, Indian women are always the same and their role and position has been just relegated to that of wives and mother only.
There is this unfairness deep-rooted in Indian society towards women. This idea is very well illustrated with the marriage of Akka. She is forced to marry a widower with a child; there are a number of instructions and warning that come to her, before the marriage, that, her prospective husband loves his dead wife a lot and cannot come out of her memories, he is marring Akka, only for a want of a son. Akka from this marriage cannot expect anything. She has to give birth to a son. Listening to this story, Urmila thinks, “the cruelty, the enormous cruelty of that silenced us” (47). (42)
Fate of Women:
Stories like this, which describe the fate of many women, who are forced stoically to accept marriage under the pressure of societal norms. To women, till now, marriage is the only goal in the life of a girl and the most difficult and hazardous task on earth is to find a groom. Looking into all the difficulties and necessities Akka willingly agrees to marry Kishore’s father.
The lives in the slums are nothing but another tale of woe. Urmila’s friendship with Shakutai gives her an opportunity to look into their lives. Shakutai’s husband goes to
Shakutai is now a mother of three children, the burden of the family is completely on her. In spite of doing all kinds of work to support her family, her husband leaves her and children for another woman. Bearing the burden of such a worthless husband and struggling all alone to provide good life for her children, she finds herself always pin-pointed out as if something in the family goes wrong, she is made responsible. she tells Urmila,
What can you expect, they say, of a girl whose mother has left her husband? Imagine! He left me for another women, left me with there children to bring up (147). (43)
Marriage as a Social Security for Women:
Urmila understands that women like Shakutai, and Sulu are always haunted by the absence of security in their marriage. Sulu is an affectionate and good-natured person, always trying to help her sister Shakutai. Despite resistance from Kalpana, she takes over the responsibilities of bringing her up. She has an inclination for house keeping and decoration and this aspect in her goes unnoticed by her husband. There is the constant hidden fear in her, Shakutai tells Urmila about it,
After marriage she changed. She was frightened, always frightened. What if he doesn’t like this, what if he wants that, what if he is angry with me, what if he throws me out…? No body should live like that, Urmila, so full of fears. What kind of life is it…? (195). (44)
System of Marriage:
The self-confidence of a normal girl can be shattered by the Indian institution of marriage system, which transforms Sulu into a fearful and nervous woman. Shanti SivaRaman says,”Urmi is different…. wants to assert herself and not crawl before man” (SivaRaman; 136). (45)
One sees that Urmila does not display any radical attitude towards the institution of marriage. While talking to Dr.Bhasker, Urmila explains her clear-cut feeling on the system of marriage. Marriage is a necessity for women like Shakutai, because it means security, it provides safety from other men.
Though Urmila has married a man of her choice, it is far from satisfactory; Her life sees incompatibility and withdrawing nature of Kishore. Vanna seeing Urmila associated with Dr.Bhasker and advises her to be careful. Urmila thinks,
“But how can Vanna, secure in the fortress of her marriage to Harish, understand, what it is like marriage with a man who flits into my life a few months in a year and flits out again, leaving nothing of himself behind? Often, after he has gone, I find myself in a frantic grappling for his image, as if in going he has taken that away as well”(164). (46)
Separation with Husband:
Long separation from her husband provides an opportunity to Urmila to think of another relationship and there are a number of moments when she overcomes a longing for physical gratification. Dr.Bhasker friendship provides ample opportunity to satisfy her urge. Dr.Bhasker has already declared his love to her. Though she longs for physical gratification and comes close to respond to Dr.Bhasker, she just holds back and think: “It’s so much easier, so much simpler, to just think of virtue and chastity and being a good wife” (166). (47)
Happiness in marriage is always magical, but to her mother, a constant pre-occupation with her husband’s feelings. Urmila rejects Dr.Bhasker’s love and overtures for she longs to have the martial bliss. -This strong decision was not be taken firmly by Shashi Deshpande’s other protagonists-like Jaya, Saru and Indu.
Urmila never dare to overstep the boundaries chalked out in the institution of marriage. It is doubtful whether this good virtue in Urmila will be ever appreciated by her husband or not but she loves her husband very much. She answers Dr.Bhasker’s question, “I love my husband and therefore, I am an inviolate” (165). (48) In another context she says, “Yes I was honest when I told Vanna I am safe” (165). (49)
J.P.Tripathi, Commenting on Urmila’s relationship with her husband says,
Urmila, the sailors wife and college teacher, is more self—reliant and has an identity different from that of her husband; she is self respecting and does not want to live on Kishore’s money. She is, however, a sensitive vine and need Kishore as an Oak to entwine herself around “(J.P.Tripathi; 152). (50).
No other character in Shashi Deshpande’s earlier novels is so rebellious like Urmila. All her characters, though independent to some extent, are firmly bound by the shackles of tradition. The protagonists in the earlier novels are aware of the inequalities in the society. They do not attempt to set them right.
But Urmila, at every turn of the novel, emerges fully aware of the unequal treatment meted out to women. Her encouragement to Vanna, to be more assertive in life and not to be just a door mat, her sympathies with Shakutai, her efforts to take up the work of translating the poems written by her dead mother-in-law from Kannada to English and her intention of publishing them—all are praiseworthy. She takes up the responsibilities on behalf of the rape victim Kalpana and becomes an instrumental in publicizing the case, which in normal course of Indian hypocritical societal situation, could not possible to the lower strata of the society, Indira Nityanandham observers:
The Binding Vine is a refreshing change from the first three novels of Deshpande. Protest comes easily to her protagonists here and there is less agony in attempting to change societal roles and attitudes. The hope for Indian women lies in the happy fact, that, though, here are Mira’s and Kalpana’s and Shakutai’s, we also have our Urmila’s (Nityanandham: 66)(51)
Feministic Attitude of Preet:
Urmila is practical unlike the pseudo feminist Preeti, who is overenthusiastic to fight for equal right for women. To her, Preeti is the symbol of the Shallow female opportunist without integrity. She talks with Urmila regarding the judgment, in a case, by a husband against his wife to reinstate their conjugal rights. Preeti excitedly says that the judge had delivered his judgment stating that, a wife could not be forced to have physical relationship with her husband against her will. Preeti is very excited and says, “…Isn’t it radical, absolutely earthshaking, in this country, I mean? Can you imagine the consequence?”(37). (52)
Urmila tells to Preeti clearly that a single judgment by a simply judge makes no difference to all the women’s lives, and that it is impossible for every woman to file a case in a court of law against their husbands, she even refuses Preeti’s offer to make a film of Mira’s story. This is her moderation that is seen ever in her feminism. She values the sanity of women hood and marriage.
Throughout the novel Urmila does not exhibit male hatredness. She never desires to seek a world, a life without men. She has like-minded male friend-Dr.Bhasker, to whom Urmila is not just somebody’s wife but also an individual with an identity of her own. He loves her for her passion for truth and justice. Malcolm and Dr. Jain are also essentially humane and have great respect for Urmila.
Urmila thinks a lot, about how difficult relationships are with many chasms to bridge. The relationship between her Papa and Inni, Baiaji’s and Aju, Vanna and Harish, Vanna and her daughters, Shakutai and Kalpana are all filled with love and compassion but at the same time they are cruel to each other for they are ignited by clashes of egos, desires and self-centered interest. She feels, relationship can be wholesome only when people themselves are whole. When she studies the fates of Mira, Kalpana, Shakutai and Sulu, Urmila regains her courage. She learns to accept freedom and advantages of her life as a gift and decides to be content with her life with a hope that her husband Kishore will remove his armour of withdrawal one day and thus he could pave her way to reach him.
Urmila still has her son Karthik. She realizes that ties in life are painful and experiences are, though burdensome, one can never give up. She says,
We struggle to find something with which we can anchor our selves to this strange world we find ourselves in only when we love do we find this anchor”(137), (53)
The main urge for everybody is always to survive, to get on with the business of living, even if it comprises a daily routine that takes care of a hundred trifling matters, bringing an older and rhythm to it. She agrees with Mira, who says, “Just as the utter futility of living. Overwhelms me, I am terrified by the thought of dying, of ceasing to be” (203). (54)
The novel is quite notable as it introduces the concept of female bonding, the desire of one woman for female bonding, and helps another who is less fortunate. This is a positive development in Urmila, unlike the other protagonists of Roots and Shadows, The Dark Holds No Terrors and That Long Silence, who are busy in solving their own battles and have strong feelings and strive for the want of sisterhood.
According to Urmila, women should have the courage to express themselves and expose the evils of the society fearlessly. She is indigent at their uncomplaining attitude in the name of family honour.
The need to express one’s feeling and to be heard by the society is the urge for today’s women. Urmila draws society’s attention to her protest and sees less pain in attempting to changes the societal roles and attitudes. At the end of the novel, Urmila is seen recollecting the bonds of love that provide the “spring of life” (203) (55) for human survival.
She believes that the things in the system are gradually improving not at a high speed, but at a slow pace, hence Urmila is not a rebel against the existing system.
Urmila not only fights her own battle, but also endeavors to help other women, the poor and the downtrodden. She believes strongly that women should have the courage to express themselves and expose the evils of the society, and that they be ready to fight for their rights. She is very much upset and troubled about those families, whose uncomplaining attitude of the victims in the name of family honour, Urmila is an independent undivided from the beginning with and identity of her own.
She draws the attention of the society to the inequality of sexes and there is less agony in attempting to change societal roles and attitudes. In spite of all this, she does not rebel against the established system, for she believes that the things are improving gradually but at a slow pace. But any way the system was improving. The novel is a work that should be read as a projection of ideas as women’s solidarity, female bonding and value of sisterhood in male dominated culture.
The feminist perspective finds literature as a subtle device to weaken women. The novel is a sane post-mortem of several tragedies in the life of different women. It furnisher and mirrors authentic female experience, and the lives of women driven to the point of hysteria, escapist, sacrificial goats, and discusses the compulsions which compel them to silence, suicide or death while delivering a child.
Most of the time women are misunderstood and marginalized because of the power amassed by men, and they become instrumental in forcing women to silence. Women became the cause of subjugation and suffering. The novel studies the multiple misunderstandings among the women characters, especially between mothers and daughters, causing misery and unhappiness to several intimately related women in their families though the misunderstandings are cleared late, they eventually try to establish a kind of solidarity among themselves.
Predominance of the Novel in the Feminine Arena:
Binding Vine is a special novel for it presents predominantly the woman’s world; the presence of men is felt merely by the power they exercise over the women by wives and daughters. It is the women’s world where they outshine men in terms of their clear perception of things around them, their course to cope with their surroundings and their ability to forge an alliance among themselves and learn to live. Actually, they are unique individuals in their respective domains, may be a well to do family or a broken family front, voicing their displeasure and airing their views, so fighting against injustices inflicted, upon them by and oppressive patriarchal system.
They are assertive in their own way. They are aware of their limitations, and do have some misunderstanding about other women, especially the mothers about their daughters. The binding Vine provides several instances. The title is, significant because, mother and child are bound by the binding vine of love, now relationships are built, ‘Vine’ is also relevant, for it grows in all directions and has intricate network and that would not disengage from its tentacles. In this novel, the stories of Mira, Akka, Vanna, Inni, Shakutai, Sulumavashi and Kalpana touch Urmi as ripples and waves and disturb her poise, But, beyond their angrily pain and suffering, in their nameless moments of intimacy and bonding, she discovers the bountiful binding vine of love, ‘springs of life’, crescent hope, all add to overcome her own sense of loss and despair and to come out of all shades of misunderstandings
In fact it is through Vanaa's reminiscencing about Mira that Urmi's healing process begins. Urmi gets Mira's poems out of the trunk, which had sat for decades in the attic, gathering dust, and starts reading them. It is while reading these poems written by a college going teenager Mira, by a Mira who was married off to a man whom she could not love, that Urmi realises the various facets of pain that many a woman has to bear. Very often silently. Mostly without having any option.
The healing process which begins by reading Mira's poems, continues when Urmi accidentally meets Shakutai in the hospital where Vanaa works as a medical social worker. Shakutai's eldest daughter Kalpana has been brought to the hospital after she was brutally beaten up and raped. Urmi feels compelled to help Shakutai, to listen to her, to keep her company. During the long wait in which Kalpana lies in coma, Urmi makes a bold, modern, and a very humanistic statement, in that she tries to convince Shakutai that it was not Kalpana who did anything wrong, it is not that she invited trouble upon herself by dressing up, by painting her lips and nails, but it is Kalpana who is terribly wronged. For a long time Urmi herself does not understand her need to come and sit with Shakutai, whose world is so very different from her own.
It is when Shakutai asks her repeatedly, 'What shall I do, Urmila?' - mirroring her own anguished cry of what shall I do now, how do I survive Anu's death -, that Urmi thinks of the awesome courage of the few who tried to find an answer to such questions. She thinks, "…what use have they been to us? Detachment, love, brotherhood, non-violence - they're just words…" And Urmi realises that … (one) can never opt out, (one) can never lay it down, the burden of belonging to the human race. There's only one way out of this Chakravyuha. Abhimanyu had to die, there was no other way he could have got out", and that … we are absorbed in the daily routine of living … that the main urge is always to survive. And as Mira once wrote: "Just as the utter futility of living overwhelms me, I am terrified by the thought of dying, of ceasing to be" the main urge human beings have is always to survive, and in surviving one looks for the spring of life, one constantly searches for love, for support from other human beings.
As much as The Binding Vine is the story of Urmi, it is also the story of Mira, and of Shakutai. Mira is the binding vine between Urmi and Vanaa. Vanaa's father's first wife, she died giving birth to Kishore, Urmi's husband. Writing poetry was for her not only a way of finding solace in her life but also a way of protesting against the way society works. When during the marriage, her name is changed to Nirmala, the protest that arises in Mira at the loss of her identity finds its outlet in the poem:
A glittering ring gliding on the rice
carefully traced a name 'Nirmala'.
Who is this? None but I,
my name hence, bestowed upon me.
Nirmala, they call, I stand statue-still.
Do you build the new without razing the old?
A tablet of rice, a pencil of gold
Can they make me Nirmala? I am Mira.
And then again Mira is the symbol of the relationship between daughters and mothers, all over the world. She has one question she desperately wanted to ask her mother, a question she never asked: 'Mother, why do you want me to repeat your history when you so despair of your own?'
Shakutai, an attendant at a school, is raising her three children all alone. Her elder daughter Kalpana has been raped, brutally beaten up, and is lying in coma in the hospital. Shakutai is torn between her motherly feelings for Kalpana, and at the same time is afraid of the dishonour this incidence would bring to the family.
Once she says, ‘‘She was a good girl, I swear to you, my Kalpana was a good girl.” At other times she talks as if the girl is to blame for what her happened to her. (That) it is her fault, which she was stubborn, she was self-willed, she dressed up, she painted her lips and nails and so this happened to her. Shakutai mirrors millions of women in
Deshpande does not just open up a rich world of Indian traditions and mythology but she also shows the anguish felt by an unwilling wife who knows what the coming of the night inevitably brings for her. Unlike Carolyn See (the reviewer from The Post), who says, 'It's not an exaggeration to say that the book requires infinite patience of the reader', Deshpande found the book very engrossing as well as thought provoking.
She felt that these reviews that appeared in US were written by people who had no idea of her work. But what made these reviews worthless is the fact that the reviewers had no idea of what
Depiction of Deshpande:
Similar to her other early novels, the world Deshpande depicts here is mainly a women's world. It is not that men are totally absent, but their presence is primarily felt by the power they wield over their wives, their daughters. It is a world in which women suffer numerous kinds of losses, and have to learn to cope with these losses. It is the hallmark of Deshpande's characters that whatever happens in their lives, her protagonists do not lose hope and learn to survive finally against all odds. Suffering and pain seem to be necessary for one has to undertake so as to be able to develop one's self, one's individuality. Deshapande's women are no stereotypes, no exotic, dusky Indian women, but they are individuals who have gone through the Feuertaufe; they have been baptised in fire.
Though in this aspect this novel is similar to her other novels, The Binding Vine occupies a special niche amongst Deshpande's works. It is the only novel in which the author has used poems - beautiful ones - to tell a story of marital discordance, to paint a picture of traditions in
Of all the women writers writing in English in India today, Deshpande has been the most consistent in her exploration of women's condition. She has dealt with practically every issue raised by the women's movement in India regarding the subordination of women: rape, child abuse, single motherhood, son - preference, denial of self- expression, deep inequality and deep - seated prejudice, violence, resourcelessness, low self esteem, and the binds (and bonds) of domesticity. In a way this exploration has corresponded to her development as a writer and, in her own words, helped her to find her "true voice."
The circumstances of women's lives and the choicelessness that characterizes their situation are highlighted through a microscopic - but not unsympathetic - examination of the familial and domestic, the so - called natural domain of women. Reacting sharply to the charge that her canvas is limited because she focuses on these aspects, Deshpande declares that nothing could be more universal than the family unit and no relationships more fundamental than those between the members of a family. Person to person and "person to society relationships," as she calls them, are all prefigured in the domestic arena "where everything begins."(18)
Human relationships are the most mystifying, hence the most exciting for a novelist; within these relationships it is a woman's place that is of greatest concern to Deshpande because of the "abysmal difference" that women experience in relation to men. Her novels and her later short stories dwell on the daily slights and humiliations that women suffer, mostly in silence.
By the simple device of describing the reality of many middle - class women in India, Deshpande lays bare the social discrimination and hypocrisy that underlie society's treatment of them; by the same token, she is also able to acknowledge the power that women manage to wield despite their disadvantaged status, especially within the family. Manorama in A Matter of Time is a shining example.
Yet, Deshpande cannot in any way be said to have a propagandist or sexist perspective - to present her readers with "bad bad men and good good women."(19) Nor does she acknowledge either a deliberate or unconscious connection with the women's movement or with feminist writers.
Writing at more or less the same time as Kate Millet, Susan Brownmiller, Germaine Greer, and others, she says she came to these writers much later in her writing, too late to be influenced by them directly. (20) As if in support of this, she admits readily to her early fear of being called sentimental, soft, insubstantial - a woman whose stories were destined to be read only by other women. Speaking about her use of the male voice in most of her short stories, she asks:
Why did I have the male "I"? Did I do it to distance myself from the subject? Or ... because 1, too, felt there was something trivial about women's concerns, something very limited about their interests and experiences? Had 1, without my knowledge, been so brainwashed that I had begun regarding women's experiences as second-rate? Did having a male narrator help me to pare down the emotions, intellectualize [my writing]? But the fact was that both the intellect and the emotions were mine ... Yet the fact remains that I was trying to use an equivalent of the male pseudonym which so many women employed to conceal their identities. In other words, the writer in me was rejecting her femininity. Perhaps I felt that to be taken seriously as a writer I had to get out of my woman's skin. (21)
This is a device which is useful either when some element pf suspense is needed, or for a novel with a non-narrative structure. For this novel chronological clarity is essential, as the reader already has to cope with an abundance of characters and their complex interactions. The first chapter, where we are faced wit all of them simultaneously, and without introduction, is rather confusing.
There are reviewers like C.W. Watson, who compare Deshpande to the master Storyteller Chekhov:
Other South Indian writers have been compared to Chekhov. But Shashi Deshpande, in this novel at least, comes closest to that writer, and the tragic-comedy of The Cherry Orchard is constantly recalled in the description of the crumbling house and the squabbling of the family. The writing is beautifully controlled and avoids the temptation of sentimentality, which the subject might suggest and again the control is reminiscent of Chekhov.(75)
Treatment of Characters:
Deshpande creates women characters who struggle hard against the social setup to acquire an identity and individuality of their own. Her protagonists show a more realistic and mature approach than the protagonists of any others novelists. Like Deshpande’s other Protagonists Urmi also has extra-marital attractions. She sees her attraction objectively, and don not allow herself to be bogged down by any feeling of guilt. She does not show any perceptible progress in terms of development of character.
She seems to withdraw from their family for a while analyze her circumstances objectively without any external aid or advice. Then she makes a compromise with her family. This shows that she in the view of the novelist tries to assert her individuality among the male society which hurt her very much. Deshpande: admits: “I am a woman and I do write about women, and I’m going to say it loudly, I don’t want to dissociate myself”(33).
Her protagonists are strong. They refuse to sacrifice their individuality for the sake of upholding the traditional role models laid down by society for women. But they attempt to resolve their problems by a process of temporary withdrawal. They display a tangible development during the course of the novel. They go through a process of self-examination before they reach self-actualization.
Thus, Deshpande has been successful in creating strong women protagonists who refuse to get crushed under the weight of their personal tragedies, and face life with great courage and strength. Comparatively, they appear to be more life-like and more akin to the educated, middle-class, urban Indian woman of today. The novelist’s greatness lies in the fact that her women characters seek and find harmony within the traditional social setup.
Women-centered narratives in her novels have led many interviewers to ask her as to what extent does she consider herself a feminist. Deshpande says,
I now have no doubts at all in saying that I am a feminist. In my own life, I mean. But not consciously, as a novelist. I must also say that my feminism has come to me very slowly, very gradually, and mainly out of my own thinking and experiences and feelings. I started writing first and only then discovered my feminist. And it was much later that I actually read books about it. (26)
Women’s ordeals in Binding vine
All Sashi Deshpande’s works deal with the problems and issues of contemporary middle class women. Her heroines are sensitive, intelligent and career-oriented. She poignantly expresses the frustration and disappointments of women and describes their bitter experience in the male-dominated society.
This novel ‘The Binding Vine’ shows how a woman of good education and earning could react to the so-called issues against women in the male chauvinistic society, thereby inculcating the spirit of solidarity among women and ushering in an assured secure world to all women. While depicting the agony of a wife, who is the victim of marital rape, she portrays the plight of women raped outside marriage and those who would rather suffer in silence in the name of the family honour. In her essay “sister hood”, Bellhooks writes;
…Sexism is perpetrated by institutional and social structures, by the individuals who dominate, exploit, or oppress, and by the victims themselves, who are socialized to behave in ways that make them act in complicity with the status quo” (1) (2000; 45)
In her view, “male supremacist ideology” projects women as valueless who obtain value only by relation to men. She attacks the male view that women are ‘natural’ enemies who `cannot, should not, and do not bond with one another’. She exhorts women to learn ` to live and work in solidarity’, to bond with one another and to counter male supremacy.
In the context of women’s solidarity, Bell Hooks writes:
When woman actively struggle in a truly supportive way, to understand our differences, to change misguided, distorted perspective, we lay the foundation for the experience of political solidarity. Solidarity is not the same as support. To experience solidarity, we must have a community of interests, shared beliefs, and goals around which to unite, to build sisterhood”(67). (2)
For the solidarity of women, all they need is to share with one another the vast reservoir of women’s experience, culture and ideas. The Binding Vine is a work to be read as a projection of such ideas as women solidarity, female bonding and value of sisterhood in a male—dominated culture. Oppression and victimization are the commonness they shared for their bonding.
Ordeal of Different women
The novel is an analysis of several tragedies in the lives of different women. As a female writer, she carries her authentic female experience in an effective manner and drives home the point what makes women become hysteric, escapists, sacrificial goats. She also discusses the compulsions forcing them to take extreme decisions or to become passive recipient and shows how often women become the cause of female subjugation and suffering.
The novel is a stock of women characters having different perceptions, causing difference of opinions among themselves. Their different perceptions caused misery and unhappiness to several intimately related women in their families. By the time their misunderstandings are cleared up, they eventually either overcome their own misunderstandings or move beyond them and establish a kind of solidarity among themselves.
The novel, “The Binding Vine’’ occupies a special place in all the works of Shashi Deshpande in the sense that it presents especially the world of women. Though men are not entirely absent in the novel, they could make their presence felt only by the power they exercise over women, especially their wives and daughters. Women outshine men in terms of their clear perception of things around them.
Their infinite courage to cope with their surroundings and their ability to come to terms with their losses and to forge an alliance among themselves and learn to live on in the most hostile situations are an evidence of their supremacy over the male characters.
They are unique individuals in their respective domains, may it be an affluent household or a broken family front. They express their displeasure if needed, air their views at the right time or even fight against injustices inflicted upon them by an oppressive patriarchal system when time demands.
Khan (1998) “feels that almost all of Shashi Deshpande’s heroines have antagonism towards their mother”. (3) There are five pairs of mother-daughters, namely Inni-Urmi, Mira’s mother-Mira, Shakutai, Kalpana, Akka, Vanna, and Vanna-Mandira. Their relationships between them are based on some sort of misapprehension or dissention. Urmi’s displeasure with her mother is deep-rooted in her separation from the latter at an early age. Right from her childhood days, she was sent to her paternal grandmother, she had no experience of the kind of mothering a daughter desires.
But, Urmi is neither in a position nor in a mood to find out the cause of her displacement or her mother’s predicament. Inni had an early marriage leading to early motherhood, and being too young herself, she was unable to take care of her child properly while trying to vindicate herself she explains to her daughter:
I was frightened of you Urmi. I was too young. I was not prepared to have a child. And you were not easy, you used to cry all the time, I didn’t know how to soothe you…. Then he (Papu) decided he would take you to his mother. He didn’t say any thing to me, he just took you away…I begged him, Urmi, I cried. Nothing could make him change his mind (199-200). (4)
Urmi’s father is a dominant patriarch and a domineering husband. In fact, he was the decision-maker and instrumental in her displacement. But, Inni, Urmi’s mother had to bear the burnt of the anger and blame of her daughter. It is she who had to survive the rest of her life to make up for the loss of love for her daughter by being an over-caring mother, bestowing too much affection over her indifferent daughter, whereas Urmi is of the wrong perception that her mother had deliberately sent her to her mother-in-law for her own convenience in her childhood.
Inni’s disclosure dispels the darkness of Urmi’s misunderstanding: “A sense of being vulnerable and naked, as if some armour I’ve been wearing all there years-against what?-Has been taken off (200). (5)
Lately, she disillusions herself and feels frightened to think of her father’s unkindness to her mother, who was carrying the child in her womb. She feels extremely sorry to her mother who was deprived of the right to decide what would be the best for her baby.
State of Urmi
Urmi, in the end, understands her mother, but Mira holds her mother responsible for her unhappy lot of her married life. Mira’s mother being dead at last, many of her (Mira’s) myriad questions remain unanswered. As a college-going girl, she was forced into a marriage she was scared from the beginning because of her nurturing. Her apprehensions about womanhood were not baseless. None in the family ever bothered about her emotions or resentment and her unwillingness was taken as mere childish resistance.
She had thought that, at this time, her mother would support, who could have refused early marriage for her daughter or suggested delay, thereby intervening and forestalling the marriage.
Her mother is more of a caretaker than the decision maker of her family with little stand on important issues. She is an unassertive woman and always says, ``Nothing is in my hands”. Her mother’s silence and passivity pushed Mira to her marriage to a man whom she could not love and who hardly understood her feelings. Mira led an unhappy married life—in a way, a repetition of her mother life.
The Role of Mira
Mira’s mother remains a mute spectator of her daughter’s drab existence and did nothing for Mira’s life. As a traditional woman, Mira’s mother had her own world of dreams about her daughter and, hence, she remains content with seeing Mira married and pregnant.
Generally, the daughter shares her sorrow with her near and dear one, particularly mother, to unburden the grief-sicken heart. Had Mira neither regrets nor feeling of sorry for her mother as she didn’t want to share her feelings with her mother. She felt alienated from her. The intensity of her unhappiness is known to her mother, who said, “she knew I was not happy, I know she knew it, but she was afraid to ask me, afraid I would admit it” (126). (6)
Mira’s stand against her so-called mother and her insistence on the conventional role of daughter-in-law is implicit that she neither wants to become a victim of the trap in which women are being caught in their lives. Nor does she want to be forced by her mother into the same trap which her mother, willingly or unwillingly, had been caught. In fact, her mother has a secret hope that their daughter’s fate would be better than their own in the conventional role.
Shakutai and Kalpana
Shakutai and Kalpana come from the lower order of the society and they represent the working-class women. However, their relationship as mother and daughter is as same as their counterparts from the middle class families. Shakutai is a typical, protective and affectionate mother, who had nurtured fear in her heart since her daughter grew up physically; she hates her daughter being dressed up in a fashionable manner or her using cosmetic. She feels that it would unnecessarily attract male attention, “If you paint and flaunt yourself, do you think they’ll “leave you Alone.”? (146). (7)
But, Kalpana’s ideas of life are different from those of her mother. She was on the threshold of her youth and had her own income. She loved to dress well and move around freely, feeling subservient to none. Her mother’s fears come true when Kalpana becomes the victim of her uncle’s lust, brutally beaten and raped by him.
Shakutai’s husband had left her for the love of another woman; at that time Shakutai had three children. When Kalpana grew up, she thinks, her father had gone away from them due to her mother’s failure. Shakutai recalls her daughter’s accusation; “…She was furious with me! “You drove him away,” she said, ‘‘you’re always angry, always quarrelling, that’s why he’s gone’’ (93). (8)
To a certain extent, the mother, Shakutai, is unhappy with Kalpana because of her stubbornness and unfeeling towards her:
She never tells any thing. Didn’t even tell me how much her pay was, can you imagine that? Me, her own mother, as is I was going to take her money away from her! I don’t want any thing …can you believe it, she gives her father money more easily, than she gives me. She doesn’t grumble at that, even though she knows he will use it for gambling” (92). (9)
According to Shakutai, Kalpana is a “self-willed” person; she refuses to be guided by her (mother’s) dictates. And when she is struggling between life and death, she holds her mother responsible for what has happened to her. Shakutai, being a deprived and disappointed woman, fails to understand her daughter’s sense of freedom, who had dreamt of living an independent life of her own, different from the oppressive and suffocating life of her mother and aunt. She even resented becoming their shadow she never wanted any of her mother’s dreams “To make myself in your image/was never the goal I sought” (124). (10)
Vanna is a medical social worker, who has to stay out of home quite often, for her duty demands her presence. Her frequent absence in the house made her daughter Mandira feel neglected. She hates being left to the care of the maid servant: “I don’t want Hirabai, I want my mother” (72) (11) Mandira often misunderstands her mother and she keeps on saying “you are always making fun of me. You are cruel. I’ll never talk to you again…” (31). (12) Similarly, Vanna too finds faults with her daughter and resents her daughter’s feeling of antagonism towards her: “Mandira hates me … that little chit, she does it deliberately, and she knows she can hurt me” (74). (13)
Although a child Mandira tells Urmi that she will never leave her children when she becomes a mother. In reality, the little child, Mandira, fails to understand her mother’s position to negotiate between family and profession. At the same time, Vanna too, is unable to diagnose the tantrums of her daughter, who really needs her mother’s presence, affection, attention and love. One thing that should be noticed here is that Mandira, however, never complains about the absence of her father Harish at home.
Vanna thinks and believes that if her doctor husband Harish was a bit cooperative, things would have been different. She says, “… Why is it nobody thinks of blaming Harish? He’s never around, but it’s never his fault” (15). (14)
There is a rapport between Vanna and Urmi, the two sisters-in-law. Vanna’s attitude towards Urmi, is changed a little, amounting to coldness, when she protests against her when the latter is meddling in the Kalpana-incident. As a friend, she warns her for she feels her friend’s intervention would end in trouble. As a sister-in-law, she out rightly disagrees with Urmi’s ambition of getting Mira’s poems published, for this involves the exposure of her (Vanna’s) father’s behavior. At this point their friendship stands on the threshold of breakage. However, Vanna never thinks that her friend is unnecessarily meddling in her life.
Urmi, who has recently lost her one-year-old baby daughter, Anu, has become highly sensitive to the suffering and despair of others. It is this sensitiveness that leads her to be the friend of the helpless Shakutai, whose daughter Kalpana, after being brutally raped, is laid in a helpless state in a hospital where Vanna is working.
The mutual support and sympathy between Urmila and Shakutai, coming to terms with each other’s grief, is quite remarkable. Though both of them come from different strata of the society, it is the same grief and sensitivity that makes them come together. In the same way, Urmila delves into the poems of her dead mother-in-law and understands the mind of the young Mira, who was subjected to rape daily in her married life.
The efforts of Vanna, Amrut and Inni, to bring the grieving Urmila back to normal life, become futile. Commenting on Urmila’s attitude, S.Indira’s writes:
Instead of fighting her pain and sorrow she holds, on to it as she believes that to let it become a thing of the past would be a betrayal and would make her lose Anu Completely. Like a masochist, she clings to her pain and allows her memories of Anu, Every small incident to flood her with longing and a great sense of loss” (Indira: 22). (15)
Urmila gets her attention focused on Mira’s poems and diaries. She establishes a communion with her and tries to reconstruct the tragic tale of a sprightly girl; who suffered and wrote poems “…in the solitude of an unhappy marriage who died giving birth to her son at twenty two” (48). (16)
Mira’s poems, which she had written in her diaries, become a symbol of female oppression. While reading these poems, Urmila senses them as a message being deciphered like a message tapped on the wall by the prisoner in the next cell. Mira was a favorite daughter of her father who appreciated her talent and was proud of her intelligence, and he had presented her a book of poetry.
Mira too had nurtured a deep desire of being recognized as a good creative writer and a poet, but was scared of being laughed at. Her questioning, anxiety and uncertainty were all fact in her heart, and her poems were the true reflections of her latent feelings. Her writings reflected the extent of forced sexual activity she was subjected to rape in the name of marriage.
Her situation reflects the mute suffering of many unfortunate women. Rape has always been a horrible indignity heaped on women by men, merely on the strength of brutal force. In the words of Adrienne Rich, “it is not only rape of the body alone, but, rape of the mind as well” (Rich: 61). (17)
Mira dies in childbirth after four years of loveless marriage. Every day and every moment that she spends, there is cry of rape and anguish. These are the feelings, “runs all through her writing a strong, clear thread of an intense dislike of the sexual act with her husband, a physical repulsion from the man she marries”(63). (18)
To her sex becomes,
“sting of scorpion to be borne by women” (Lakshmi: 6) (19) . In one of her poems, Mira laments; “But tell me, friend, did Laxmi too twist brocade tarsal round her fingers and tremble, earing the coming of the dark eluded engulfing might?”(66). (20)
Urmila clearly understands that Mira’s married life was only a ‘black clouded’ haunted night, which she waited with dread. Urmila, narrates a passage from the papers found in Mira’s old trunk – she too hates the word ‘love’ for it was always uttered by her husband. She wants no love but desires to be left alone. They speak about the relationship; she had with her husband and her feelings towards her husband: “I don’t mind his anger, it makes him leave me to myself, and it is bliss when he does that… why can’t we leave me alone?”(67). (21)
The house in which Mira lived utterly lonely. Its inmates treated her as mad woman. The anguish in Mira burst out thus “they called me mad they who cocooned themselves in bristly blankets and thought themselves warm when I spoke my soul that boiled and seethed” (99-100). (22)
Urmila is confident that she understands Mira, her plight, her suffering and every flicker of her emotion. She confesses:
I have worked hard at knowing Mira; I’ve read her diaries, gone through her papers, absorbed her poems, and painfully, laboriously translated them into English. And now, I tell myself. I know Mira (174). (23)
Urmila understands that, right from her childhood days, Mira hated her mother who always surrendered herself to her husband. Hence, she opposes every inch of her mother’s advice, who says, ``…. never utter a no, submit and your life will be a paradise” (83). (24)
Urmila thinks that Mira is not a common woman and wonders how Mira could survive a life denied of choices and freedom and how she was living with a man whom she could not love and other people with whom she had nothing in common to share. She thinks that, “perhaps it was her writing that kept her going, that kept her alive” (127). (25)
Urmila learned a lot of Mira through her poems and knew that, Mira, too, felt the burden of her femininity. Mira felt that she too was trapped like her mother with no further escape. In her case, pain, joy and fear are inextricably intertwined.
The pain of childbirth always results in the joy of seeing one’s own child. Mira too had experienced this anticipatory joy of giving birth to a child – her creation, all the way. Even in the midst of terrible vulnerable pain and fear of being trapped with child forever, Mira is quite conscious of the love for her unborn child.
But Mira was the most unfortunate mother as she died in childbirth due to heavy bleeding. She died within an hour after her child was born. Here, Mira’s life stands as an example of the multitude of unfortunate women, who are compelled into a forceful marriage. Their lives finally end up to the lust of their husbands.
Sashi Deshpande suggests here how sometimes a marriage makes a woman extremely meek and submissive. The novelist here ventures into a completely untouched subject of marital rape in Indian Writing in English. Mira has aversion to physical intimacy with her husband and still has to put up with his obsession for her. She gives voice to her inner self in her poems “in the solitude of an unhappy marriage, who died giving birth to her son at twenty-two” (48). It so happens that many years after her marriage, Urmi receives an old trunk full of books and a few other things from Mira’s husband’s stepmother, referred to as akka. Among these books, Urmi finds Mira’s diary which is not a daily account of her routine life but a communion with herself” (51). When akka hands over Mira’s jewelry to Urmi, she says, “they are Kishore’s mother’s”, but while giving boks and diaries to her, she says, Take this, it’s Mira’s” (48).
The poems and entries in the diary of Mira are proof enough for Urmi to conceive the forced sexual activity Mira had to under go in an incompatible marriage. The extent of her molestation in marriage can be gauged from the following lines:
But tell me, friend
did Laxmi too twist brocade tassels
round her fingers and tremble,
fearing the coming of the dark-clouded, engulfing
Through her photographs and poems, Urmi gets an image oaf her mother-in-law as a very lively and intelligent girl snuffed off in a forced marriage. Mira’s inhibitions about her voicing a desire to become a poet are clear in the following lines:
Huddled in my cocoon, a somnolent silkworm.
Will I emerge a beauteous being?
Or will I, suffocating, cease to exist. (65)
Thus, Shashi Deshpande suggests her that forced violation of a woman’s body even in marriage can be as traumatic as rape, even though it is not placed in the same bracket. In her short story “Intrusion” this very concern has been voiced again as the wife finds herself in a situation wherein the husband forces her into the sexual act. The protagonist feels her body has been invaded by her insensitive husband.
Here the writer suggests that such incidents are common in the Indian social set-up where it is incumbent upon a wife to serve the husband in bed like a prostitute. Thus Mira’s diary is a glaring revelation of her “intense dislike of the sexual act with her husband, a physical repulsion for the man she married” (63).
Also in her poems one does not find any mention of her other relations. She does not share her life with others. She has walled herself in. After marriage to this man she was rechristened Nirmala. Though overtly she does not react but puts down her reaction in these lines:
Nirmala, they call, I stand statue Still,
Do you build without erasing the old?
A tablet of rice, a pencil of gold
Can they make me Nirmala? I am Mira. (101).
With the loss of such selfhood and indentity women have to undergo yet another kind of brutalization. Mira’s diary reveals how Venu, Poet, who later rises to become a great figure in Indian literature, subtly snubs her for attempting to write poetry.
When Mira gives him some of her poems to read,.he says, “Why do you need to write poetry? It is enough for a young woman like you to give birth to children. That is your poetry. Leave the other poetry to us men” (127). It is reflective of the handicaps that women writers often face in a male- dominated society.
Mira, as a Symbol
Thus, Mira symbolizes the miserable and hopeless lot of innumerable Indian women who suffer silently and their voice remains smothered. The message Shashi Deshpande gives is that the invasion of a woman’s body even in marriage can sometimes be as traumatic as rape. A parallel can be drawn between this novel and “intrusion” a short story by Shashi Desh Pande. It is a story about a honeymooning couple wherein the husband forces his yet unprepared wife into the sexual act, which was tantamount to rape. The story is sensitive in the sense that the insensitive husband takes no cognizance of his wife’s sense of humiliation.
The turning point, she says, came with a story entitled "The Intrusion," written as early as 1970 or 1971, which was published in the collection ‘The Intrusion and Other Stories’. The consciousness of one's own voice is a very important development for a writer; until then most writers are groping, feeling their way, imitating other writers.
‘‘After "The Intrusion" this would not happen to me’’, She says:
The stories I wrote then and the novels that followed were all centered round women and had a distinctive woman's voice. It marked me out very definitely as a "woman writer". . . a woman who wrote about women. (16)
She further says that more than anything else she had written till then was about the world of women, almost claustrophobically so. Through the articulation of a lifetime's experiences, thoughts and introspection, through the lives of the women she had created, she had done something so that she could never see herself or her writing in the same way again, she added.
Urmi’s role in Shakutai’s family
Urmila’s involvement with Shakutai, her sister and daughter brings to light the way in which the rubber stamp of the traditional culture is working in her sexual disparities between men and women of the lower class. Shakutai’s daughter Kalpana is raped and brutally beaten up. But, Shakutai assumes that her daughter had been injured in a car accident. The doctor, after thorough examination, confirms and informs Shakutai that Kalpana had been brutally raped and in the process, she was physically and mentally injured. On seeing her daughter, who appears to be lying like a vegetable, Shakutai is shocked. She hysterically refuses to accept that she was raped. Her immediate reaction to Vanna conveys her unbelievable state, “Its not true, people are trying to blacken my daughter name” (158) (26)
Realizing the importance of the imperatives of physical protection, economic support and social approval, Urmilla shows the instinctive sympathy of the mother for her daughter. Shaktai overhears the conversation between Vanna and Dr.Bhasker, the doctor-in-charge, and recoils in fear the moment she hears the words like ‘report’ “rape”, and she cries, “ -don’t tell anyone will never be able to hold up my head again, who’ “marry the girl, we are decent people. Doctor” (58) (27)
The mother, like the rest, feels sorry for her daughter’s state. She blames her and cries in pain for her, but she is relieved when the doctor’s report describes Kalpana’s rape incident as a car accident. Shakutai, after being deserted by her husband for another women, she is burdened to look after her children alone. She is extremely anxious to get her daughter Kalpana married and well-settled.
She could not bear the thought that her objective was in a shambles. Nor she dare defy the norms of the society for the sake of the present tragic state of the daughter. She just wants to hinder the truth, which, to her, seems to be an obstacle for fulfilling her objective. The same is the true in the case of Mira’s mother too.
While Mira’s mother kept silent and stood helpless at the misery of her daughter, Kalpana’s mother was worried about the family’s name and its status quo.
On one hand, Shakutai is proud of her daughter’s beauty. But, she openly condemns her behavior, she holds her daughter responsible for her tragedy, Shakutai’s behaviour is like any mother whether they come from the low strata of the society or from the upper strata of the society,
She shamed us, we can never wipe off this bolt. And Prakash blames me. What could I do? She was so self-willed cover yourself decently, I kept telling her, men are like animals. But she went her way you should have seen her working out, head in the air caking for nobody, opts all her fault Urmila all her fault (147). (28)
The partisan attitude prevalent in the patriarchal society is seen in the outburst of Shakutai. In the patriarchal society, if a girl is raped for no fault of hers, she alone will be censured and victimized. Thus, Shakutai, in spite of all her motherly love and sympathy for her daughter, sees Kalpana’s courageous attitude and free-moving nature as the reasons behind this tragedy. The only conclusion that people like Shakutai can arrive at is, “we have to keep to our places, we can never step out. There are always people waiting to throw stone at us, our own people first of all” (148). (29)
Though Kalpana is raped, the police prefer to record it as a car accident, and try to convince Dr.Bhasker who protested in rage against furnishing false report. The police officer decides to record the rape as a car accident in the name of female honour
…think of the girl and her family, do you think it”, do them any good to have it known the girl was raped? She’s unmarried, people are bound to talk, and her name would be smeared”. (88) (30)
Justice on the Victim
Thus, the victim is always advised to remain silent and anonymous rather than attract notice by making hue and cry, demanding justice. Even after her nightmarish married life with a husband who neglects her and finally leaves her to live with another woman, she still lives and is much worried about the issue and subsequent efforts of marriage prospects of Kalpana. Dr.Bhasker was puzzled at this strange behaviour and commented “Women are astonishing. I think it takes a hell of lot of courage for a women like that even to think of marriage….”(87). (31)
Urmila is angry at the indignity being heaped on Kalpana and wants to report this matter to the officials, to which Shakutai begs Urmila not to do that. Urmia tries to explain to Shakutai that Kalpana is not at fault, but the man who did this to her is the wrong doer and, he is to be blamed and not she:
She was hurt, she was injured, wronged by a man; she didn’t do any thing wrong. Why can’t you see that? Are you blind? It is not her fault, No, not her fault at all”(147). (32)
Urmila is further shocked to find everyone wants to hush up a rape case, and in the process the rapist is able to get away scot-free. Shakutai does not like the case to be registered and given publicity—”…Even if it is true, keep it to yourself, doctor, don’t let anyone of it”(59). (33)
Instead of pointing to the beastly and violence perpetrated by the rapist, most people like Kalpana’s mother find is easier to blame the girl “And if you paint and flaunt yourself, do you think they will you alone”(148). (34)
The noted Indian English novelist Mulk Rai Anand feels
No woman in our land is beyond the threat of rape, because of the suppressed energies of the male, through the taboos of patriarchy which deny sex before marriage and make male into wanton animals who assault any possible victim when possessed by lust. (Anand: 33) (35)
Urmila is unable to do anything for Kalpana, though she is filled with all sympathies. She is forced to remain as a mute spectator. Shakutai is so much hurt and troubled, at a point, even wishes for her daughter’s death. She says to Urmila, “…but sometimes I think the only thing, that can help Kalpana now is death “. (178). (36)