Neela: Victory Song by Chitra Banerjee & Herald of Feminine Heritage

Article Posted in: Research Articles

Feminism Heralding Heritage in ‘victory song’

By – B. Ponmalar (introduction at the end of the paper), Vol. III, Issue. XXVI, March 2017


Heritage, tradition and culture are inherited, handed to generations and built up by a group. Neela, as a protagonist stand as a forerunner in accepting the traditions but taking daring decisions to bring in great social changes. Dr. Ruchi Tandon analyses how changes are brought in a society and Neela stands as a protagonist of a great change in Indian society.

Heritage is something that comes or belongs to one by reason of birth, something which is inherited from one’s ancestors. Tradition is the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, information, etc., from generation to generation, especially by word of mouth or by practice. Culture is defined as the behaviours and beliefs of a particular social, ethnic, or age group, as well as the ways of living built up by a group, from one generation to another.
Cultural traditions are important because they transmit shared values, stories and goals from one generation to the next. Traditions encourage groups of people to create and share a collective identity, which in turn serves to shape individual. Tradition is usually handed down from one generation to the next, providing an important connection to the past. Heritage and roots are important parts of the connection that help to give meaning to life.

Core values, such as respect, kindness and integrity, are usually passed through families or generations. Indian cultural history has been derived by the absorbing customs, traditions, and rituals from both invaders and immigrants. Many Indian customs, cultural practices and languages are examples of this co-mingling over centuries. India’s diversity has inspired many writers to pen their perceptions of the country’s culture. These writings paint a complex and often conflicting picture of the culture of India. India is one of the ethnically and religiously diverse countries in the world. The concept of ‘Indian culture’ is a very complex and complicated matter. Because Indian citizens are divided into various ethnic, religious, caste, linguistic and regional groups. It makes the realities of “Indianness” extremely complicated. This is why the conception of Indian identity poses certain difficulties and presupposes a series of assumptions about what concisely the expression “Indian” means.

Neela: Victory Song is a book written by a female Indian author featuring a female protagonist who joins the struggle against imperialistic white rule. Neela is the protagonist, a courageous girl who has brave thoughts, opinions and hopes about bringing her father home who was imprisoned by the British. Neela, realizes that true courage is not being fearless of everything, but the ability to stand up and face her own fears. 12-year-old Neela lives in a small Bengal village in the 1930s.

The story is set in 40’s when India was under the British rule. Neela Victory Song is a refreshing tale of a young girl when the Indian Independence movement was gaining momentum. Written from the perspective of a young teenager, this book whisks you away into the rustic world when things were a lot simpler Life wasn’t easy at this time. The British made it difficult for the Indians to perform national dances and sing national songs, such as Vande Mataram. Neela learns to sing Vande Mataram, the song that praises India and her lush, green fields, and her cool breezes on hot days from baoul. Neela and her family manage to find a way to continue their traditional style of living.

At her elder sister’s wedding, she comes face-to-face with freedom fighters who declare the time for India’s independence from Britain is long past due and ask Neela’s father to join them. Neela’s father does not agree with using violence and declines their offer but seems pensive. The baoul, a traveling minstrel, voices his support for the independence movement and is cast out of the village by the village governor. Neela witnesses all this and begins to dream about the possibility of becoming a freedom fighter herself instead of worrying about her dowry and embroidering skills, which she sees as unfair to the women and girls of India.

Her father hears of Gandhi’s nonviolence and civil disobedience marches and decides to travel to Calcutta to learn more and possibly join the movement. He tells Neela the truth about where he’s going and warns her that her mother thinks he is going to buy goods and not to tell her otherwise unless he doesn’t return as planned. When her father decides to go to Calcutta and join a march of protesters, Neela realizes the danger her father could get into. Protesters were often beaten, killed, and thrown into prison. She begs her father not to go, but he insists. When Neela’s father is gone for about two weeks, she starts worrying. Her father promised he would return in three or four days. While he is away, Neela discovers a hurt freedom fighter in the barn, a 16-year-old boy named Samar. They become friends as she nurses him back to health, and she learns he is from a prominent Calcutta family. Neela becomes convinced that her father was in some danger. She decides that there is only one way to find out how her father is, and that was by moving to Calcutta from Shona Gram. So, she disguises as a boy, slips away from her house, and buys a one- way railway ticket to Calcutta.

She leaves a note for her mother who has agreed to an engagement for Neela, and goes to Calcutta to find her father. Neela goes to Calcutta expecting the rich and prominent family of Samar to be villains, but they treat her well and she is exposed to the idea that all people are complex. With the help of Samar and Bimala, she manages to find her father, and reunite her family.

Many of the events that take place in this historical story are believable and probably happened to many girls in that period of time. There were a lot of emotions that Neela and her mother had. She was very brave to risk being imprisoned by the British and search for her proud, but injured father. She was rewarded because of her courage and bravery and was able to bring her father back to their home, near the city of Calcutta. Ms. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has written a wonderful book and created a determined and courageous character Neela. By fulfilling her dream, Neela shows us that it is never too late to try to accomplish anything.

It explores issues of village life, gender equality, apathy, and reactions to oppression. The characters are entertaining and true-to-life, and Neela herself is complex, brave, and imaginative. This novel, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, is much less is aimed at the 12 to 14 year old audience, but it carries a lot of freight. The story flows smoothly.

 The Exoticist approach of analysing the wondrous aspects of the culture of India aims at focusing an approach of understanding Indian culture by presenting the different, the strange country that has existed for millennia in the imaginations of the Europeans. The Indian tradition gives the prime importance to the family values and family bondage. The bondage is quite firm and appeals to everyone in this country.

Chitra being an immigrant analyses the feelings of a young girl whose father is jailed by the British. Neela is haste but quite analytic in making her decisions. She escapes from the marriage which her mother arranges for her, to search her father. The Indian culture doesn’t allow a girl of 12 to move away independently to a town like Calcutta in the period of 1940. But she makes it and accepts the challenges in rescuing her father. The love for her family and her simple affection for Samar and other freedom fighters may stand as contradictory since there is a sense of social responsibility in her love for family. She is aware of the happenings around her. She makes her effort to meet boaul who is the only person to bring news from Calcutta. She learns Vande mataram though it is a banned song. She violates the protocols of girls in the society of 40’s only out of her love for family and country.

In ‘Family Dynamics’ by Dr. Ruchi Tandon he analyses how social changes are brought about by changes in personnel. Social changes are inevitable and each and every individual is responsible for the overall changes brought in a society. Neela stands as a protagonist of her age who heralds changes in the Indian society. The staunch fire of feminism is there in her ideals and motifs. Such a feminine role shouldering responsibility in family and society brings in social changes. Though her mother would not admit her moving to Calcutta alone, when she accomplishes her mission she is received with happiness and pride. The nourishing female encountering the mission stands as role model for young aspirants to achieve their goal even they may be from a remote and backward place of living. Ruchi Tandon writes in ‘Family Dynamics’

“Independently of any changes in the value patterns, institutional patterns, and quantitative distribution of possessions and rewards, changes may occur in the particular persons occupying the roles of a social system.” (p.263).

He also writes,

“At a very concrete level of analysis, it is always important who occupies a particular social position. At this level, everyone is unique in his capacities and developed abilities.” (p.263).

Ruchi Tandon analyses that any social change is environmental. The environment of Neela puts her in brave situation. While analyzing the society and family he writes.

“Social change may create chain reaction – Change in one aspect of life may lead to a series of changes in its other aspects. For example, change in rights, privileges, and status of women has resulted in a series of changes in home, family relationships and structure, the economic and to some extent, the political pattern of both rural and urban society.” (p.259).

Neela stands as a pioneer of today’s India heralding the culture, tradition and heritage of India accepting the responsibilities of being an active member in a developing society to bring about great changes to happen.




Primary Source

  • Divakaruni, Chitra Banerjee. Victory Song, Gurgaon, India, 2006.

Secondary source

  • Tandon, Ruchi. Family Dynamics, Jaipur, India, 2006.


B. Ponmalar is a writer, feminist and has a deep flair in teaching Creative Writing in English. She has published papers on ‘Othello Vs Gautama Rishi in Ramayan’ and ‘Life in sustained green’.

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