Quandary of a Woman in Manju Kapur’s Difficult Daughters

Article Posted in: Research Articles

Paper by Dr.S.Suganya & Ms.S.Hema Malini
Published in January 2018, Volume IV, Issue XXXVI


Women writers of this contemporary scene stirred away from established portrayals of enduring self-sacrificing women, towards conflicts, female characters searching for an identity, no longer to be branded as a victim in status. Indian women’s writing especially in the diasporic probe into the psyche of inner life and subtle interpersonal relationships. Women characters are depicted as shocking by the cultural and gender identities at the same time as measuring into the postmodern world of flowing identity where they discover to survive with different cultures. They tried to bring about a change in society in which women are accepted as equal partners in all respect to men in sharing of equal rights, opportunities and responsibilities. The novelists unveil the unpleasant aspects of the contemporary life of a female and the fiction is employed as a means to put an end to the prevailing myths in the society.  Manju Kapur, a well-liked women writer in this century pictures out the intolerable existence of a woman. The plight of being a woman is voiced out through her protagonist Virmati in Difficult Daughters, to plant a healthy culture without discrimination, corruption and exploitation. Nowadays, women in India have started questioning the age-old patriarchal domination. Women prove that they are no longer puppets in the hand of men. They have shown their worth in demarcation of inner life and subtle interpersonal relationship.

Keywords: Women, suppression, identity, patriarchy, life

Women writers in Indian writing in English emerged and are greatly acclaimed worldwide for quality writing in the second language. Novels written by Indian women writers give a picture of the misery of women in their marital bliss as well as in love intimacy. Several Indian women novelist have explored womanly subjectivity in order to set up the uniqueness of female character in their novels. Consequently, the image of women has undergone many changes in the last several decades.

Difficult Daughters by Manju Kapur is a moving story which narrates the relationship between a daughter and mother. The story mainly revolves around the three women belonging to 3 generations of a Punjabi family, Kasturi – Virmati – Ida. This story runs around the fact that all the girls are meant to be married and be submissive to their husbands. And Kapur doesn’t neglect the tradition of matrimony or support separation from the social order.

           Patriarchy is always oppressive for a woman of all kinds. In the midst of modernism, the scenario has changed for women.  They received education with the impact of modernism. Women demanded equal status with a man and emphasized the need to have an identity. Many Indian women writers have dealt with the theme of their repression and torment in various modes and styles making a woman as the protagonist. The characters presented by them took a lot of rebellious attempts to fight against the existing male-dominated society. One of the noted South Asian women novelists Manju Kapur, a professor of English at Miranda House in Delhi has written five novels to her credit. Her first novel, Difficult Daughters published in 1998, won the Commonwealth Prize for the best first novel, Eurasia region and gave her a very large success over the period.

The starting words of the story itself stated as a proof for the title Difficult Daughters. “One thing I had wanted was not to be like my mother” (1), a statement made by Ida, a young, childless, and divorced woman. Ida, the daughter of Virmati, was clear-minded women and bold enough to rebel the society. The story of the pre-freedom era was dug out by Ida. When Ida travelled to Amritsar as single women, she underwent criticism of the fellow women who travelled in the same train. This one is simple evidence but powerful enough to speak about the negligence of the autonomy of women even in free India.

The story also focuses on the fateful life of childbearing women. They were not subject to medical or mental care. This was the ugly fate of our women in those days.  A woman’s role, in the level of creating the female gender, is based on the idea of the woman as a child bearer.  The way they raise their children provide evidence that women as a tolerant, tender, calm and stable.  They form extremely intimate relationships with their children and it is often said that ties with the mother are the strongest of all.  The fact was explained through the character Kasturi, she had eleven children. Over manufacture of next-generation children is not good for a wife, but there was no one to consider that wife is also a human. So Virmati becomes the second mother to her siblings and she is always nurtured her brothers and sisters. Kasturi felt her daughter should be safe but she missed her hand in putting affection to Virmati. This situation made Virmati fell in the quest for love and affection. The form of domestic violence is most common in India for a female. One of the reasons for it being so common is the traditional and unwise attitude of the society that women are physically and emotionally weaker than the males and they are capable only to take care of a house and give birth to children.  Even today the society fails to understand the potential that women are not meant for marriage and to maintain household chores only. Apart from marriage, they need to prove their ability in many sectors.

Kapur’s women characters can be categorized into conservative orthodox, the liberated(independent). The various characters like Kasturi, Shakuntala react to various challenges and dilemmas and explore the identity and ascertain their potential.

 Despite her mother’s repeated insistence that marriage is inevitable for women, Virmati was greatly influenced and inspired by her cousin Sakuntala’s idea of getting an equal education. Her cousin is the sample of a matured independent female. As Sakuntala wants to live with her expectations, her lifestyle was different from that of any female of their family. Virmati learns new things from her cousin and determines to go for higher studies. The society was not matured enough to digest the fact that women can also live as single. Hence, society is not ready to accept the unmarried women with self- governing quality.

Education is still a far thing for girls in many villages. Though girls were let to study, they have to take part in household chores. Virmati’s lifestyle was also like that. Importance was not given for Virmati’s education. According to her mother Kasturi, a girl child getting married and staying at home is better than education.  In the pre-freedom era, most families allow girl child live, as they are useful in domestic works. The story brings out that girl child and servant maid had only one difference that they call their child as a daughter and a servant – a maid.

Lajwanti’s tenant, the professor Harish Chandra had a wife named Ganga who was illiterate and always locked in the kitchen. She knew nothing beyond the household. This is the fact of many wives in those days and now even. Harish married her according to the tradition of arranged marriage. Men marry women only to take care of the houses, wash their clothes and to carry their child and not to share their love and life. This is a great humiliation for the women community.

Virmati’s quest for knowledge and affection made her fell in love with the professor. Virmati’s quest and her confused mind made her continue her relationship with the professor. She decided to get rid of the thoughts of professor thus she asked permission from her mother to pursue her BT in Lahore. This made Virmati, a difficult daughter for Kasturi. Virmati struggles to make her own identity within the society as her craze towards professor holds back her scholarly goals.

Many places in India consider virginity and purity are more important for a woman rather than education. Also, owing to the poor financial condition of the family, many girls were sent to work at a very young age to support the needs of the family. Hence they cannot get a proper education to uphold the status. But today education stands behind marriage in almost all the women’s life. Even girls were not allowed to go to schools out of the home. They were educated at the home during Kasturi’s childhood days. They were preserving the girl children in society just for marriage. In all the ways, the only affected soul was women. “The degree of equality in education that we can reasonably hope to attain, but that should be adequate, is that which excludes all dependence, either forced or voluntary.” (Condorcet, 274)

            The illumination utopia that an individual should be set free from their dependence on isolating and domineering systems of thinking, through the liberating power of realistic education, is one which has been seemingly discredited by the subsidy of dictatorial communism in the twentieth century.

Virmati’s internal love, desire for autonomy, and her social prestige pushed her into a scene but fate had not let her die. That further worsens her social standard. To avoid bad name, her family put her in a dark room. Even today most families offer the similar punishment when they try to stop or reject the marriage. Once Virmati decided to live life like her sister Sakuntala,  she fails to understand that she always concentrate on her studies and job. Virmati was completely at the arrest in the hands of the professor. Finally, after the marriage, her hardships did not end, the difficulties arose in different colours.  Soon after their marriage, Professor Harish takes her to his home.

Virmati’s parents ended their relationship with her. She enjoys her life and leads like a queen since she is not assigned to any household chores. Once Virmati gets pregnant and the baby’s miscarriage, Harish wants her to do M.A in philosophy in Lahore. She takes admission but without passion.  She is indirectly suppressed in the hands of marriage. She feels alienated and the past of her suicide commitment to feel alienated and isolated from their near and dear ones. Though professor loves Virmati, he needs a child from his wife for his social recognition and his wife becomes the scapegoat. Even when Virmati left to Lahore she could not enjoy autonomy as she was under the care of warden.

Swarnalatha, a roommate of Virmati was also dedicated and strong enough to spend her life for Indian freedom movement. Though her thoughts were socially acceptable she could not get her parents support. One or other way girls face problems to live a free, independent life. Many women participated in freedom movement; Virmati though out of home could not take part in it because of the professor’s influence. He taught she must be the belonging to him not for the society. Virmati’s desire for autonomy was unattainable all through her life.

Though Swarnalatha put forward to Virmati that they were lucky to be free from home and have to spend it in the right way, Virmati always thought of donating herself to the professor. Virmati’s foolishness ripened as pregnancy and now she is in the need of social recognition even though she can be a second wife only. Her crush and longing for care were exploited by the professor to satisfy his sensual pleasure. According to the Hindu tradition, if a woman loses her chastity before her marriage, she is considered an evil creature in the eyes of the society.

Virmati’s marriage with the professor alienated her from her own family and also in the professor’s family. Though Virmati was allowed to decide her life on her own, she destroyed it by choosing herself as a second wife to the professor. Lack of knowledge and experience lead her on a wrong path and as a result, her daughter’s life is ruined. Girls were sent to girl’s schools with high walls, no playgrounds and to girl’s hostels with walls protected with electric fence, all these were to protect them from male contamination but all these will be in vain until girls become clear, strong and understand that they are not meant for marriage and childbearing.

In case of Ida, her father wants her to be well educated but she married a person and divorced him. This made Ida, a difficult daughter for Virmati. Thus the women, who tried to get their identity was branded as “difficult daughter”. The central theme of this story is “girls were meant only for marriage”.

In all the three generations, the girls were protected from society by their family. When Kasturi was protected from the autonomy, she was strong enough to follow the track of her parents. Hence become married and socially recognizable. She needs the same from Virmati. But when she tried to make her understand that, she was too weak and chose a wrong decision. Hence Virmati lost her social life.

Lajwanti did the same for Sakuntala, she was clear and strong enough to let her life as single unmarried women. In the case of Ida, she was also clear minded and strong enough to rebel the tradition. Thus, the story successfully takes us to the pre-freedom era where women were put in a complex choreography of cooking, washing, chopping, blending, growing child and be submissive to her husband. Manju Kapur’s sensitive portrayal of relationships brings out the hardships women face to establish their position within the family, their right to equality and freedom to decide.


Introduction to the Authors:

Dr.S.Suganya is an assistant professor of English at Bharathiar University, Erode. The co-author, Ms. S. Hema Malini is a research scholar (PhD) at the same university.




Condorcet, J.-A.-N. de C. Esquisse d’un tableau historique des progrès de l’esprit humain, Paris:

            Flammarion ,1988.

Bhabha, Homi. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994.

Das, B.K., Critical Essays on Post-Colonial Literature, New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers. 2012

Kapur, Manju. Difficult Daughters.London : Faber,2010.

Singh, R.SIndian Novel in English, New Delhi: Arnold Heinemann,1971.

Viorst, Judith. Necessary Losses. New York: Fireside Books, 1986.

Explore More in: Academic Research Paper

Read More Articles: