Women's Ordeal in "The Binding vine"

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)

Vanna’s attitude:

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.

Deshpande’s suggestions

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)


Mampi said…
Very well written and comprehensive article. I am glad i came across this work. Please write more on the novel.
vehilan said…
Thank you very much Mampi
vehilan said…
Thank you very much Mampi
Meha sanghvi said…
Can you provide bibliography please for this article

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