Roots and Shadows: Issue of Marital Relationships

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Shashi Deshpande’s Roots and Shadows: A Tragic Story of Strained Marital Relationships

By – Dr. Tukaram S. Sawant, Vol.II, Issue.XXII, November 2016

Introduction to the Author:

Dr. Tukaram S. Sawant has been teaching English since 1981. Currently an associate professor of English at Tulijaram Chaturchand Arts, Science and Commerce College, Baramati, he takes on the undergraduate and postgraduate classes. He has authored a book entitled The Female World in Shashi Deshpande’s Novels. He focuses on English Language and Literature teaching in India.

The Abstract

  Shashi Deshpande, the Sahitya Academy Award winning Indian woman novelist in English, started her literary career with the publication of her first short story in 1970. She became popular as an Indian woman novelist in English with the publication of her first novel, The Dark Holds No Terrors, published in 1980. She has written eleven novels including her latest novel, Strangers to Ourselves published in 2015. She has been awarded Padma Shri for her significant contribution in the field of Indian English novel. In addition to her novels, she has written four children’s books and essays available in a volume, Writing from the Margin and Other Stories. Her novels are born of her observations and experiences of the life of educated middle-class Indian women, victimizes creatures, caught in the trap of Indian patriarchy with its issues such as gender-discrimination, a patriarchal attitude to the female and strangely strained and oppressive marital relationships. She is basically concerned with the theme of human relationships, in general, and husband-wife relationships, in particular. She strongly believes that it is necessary for the woman to live within relationships. She is trained to play a secondary and inferior role in a man-woman relationship. She is denied a place and status equal to her male-counterparts. Deshpande, an Indian feminist, whose novels are rooted in Indian soil and context, is not happy with a pathetic and tragic lot of middle-class Indian women. She has raised a voice of protest against a patriarchal attitude to women in a contemporary male-centric Indian society.

Key words: commodity, exploitation, gender-discrimination, patriarchy, subordination, victimized, virginity



Shashi Deshpande’s Roots and Shadows: A Tragic Story of Strained Marital Relationships


  Shashi Deshpande, one of the most prolific women writers in English in a contemporary India, has eleven novels, six collections of short stories, four books written for children, and a screenplay to her credit. Her first novel, The Dark Holds No Terrors, published in 1980 brought her praise and admiration. Her novel, That Long Silence, published in the U. K. in 1988 and in India in 1989, won her the Sahitya Academy Award and Tanjangad Thirumlamaba Award. She has been known for her sincere and realistic projection of Indian feminine sensibility and her portrayal of middle-class, urban and educated Indian women with their suppressed dreams and aspirations, unavoidable silence, patience, tolerance and tolerance, sorrows and sufferings, suppression and oppression, pain and agony, issues and problems, trials and tribulations, plight and predicament, and with their strengths and weaknesses. Her novels are a sincere attempt to explore the hidden psyche and consciousness of Indian women who have been victimized from time immemorial. Her real contribution lies in her artistically and realistically portraying a complex and intricate web of human relationships, in general, and a man-woman relationship, in particular. Indian women, she believes, are caught between traditional beliefs and values, on one side, and the fast-changing world with new ideas, beliefs and values, on the other. She wants her women to challenge age-old constraints and restraints imposed on her in an Indian patriarchal set-up and to march forward with confidence and determination.

  Deshpande writes of the ordinary men and women in their relationship with one another. Her novels, an outcome of her personal experiences as a woman, are the stories of Indian women with their suppression and oppression, subjugation and exploitation in Indian male-oriented society. She once remarked in an interview that most of her writing comes out of her intense and long suppressed feelings about what it is to be a woman in our society. Her novels, usually, have women as protagonists who grow, develop and evolve with her understanding of women as human beings. Almost all her novels deal with a crisis and a dilemma in the life of her women protagonists in their relations with people around them. The relation of a man to a woman, according to Simone de Beauvoir, is the most natural relation of a human being to another human being. (Beauvoir 741). However, we know very little about a man-woman relationship. Deshpande herself said in an interview: “We know a lot about the physical and the organic world and the universe in general, but we still know very little about human relationships. It is the most mystifying thing as I am concerned. I will continue to wonder about it, puzzle over it and write about it. And still, it is intriguing, fascinating” (Geetha Gangadharan).

  Deshpande is concerned with portraying the woman and her dilemmas, her efforts to understand herself and others and to preserve her identity as wife, mother, daughter, and above all, as a human being in Indian society. She feels sorry that the woman is denied a separate existence apart from her husband and his family. She is made to submit herself to the authority of a man: father, husband, brother or son. She is treated as a commodity and property which can be owned, controlled and disposed of by her male-counterpart. Deshpande does not want her to be treated as a private property. Woman, she feels, should not be reduced only to the level of a breeding machine. She told in an interview: “I have a very strong feeling that until very recently women in our society have been looked upon as breeding animals. They have no other role in life. I have a very strong objection to treating any human being in that manner”. (Geetha Gangadharan). The woman is caught in the trap of gender-discrimination before her marriage and that of marriage after her marriage.

  Marriage, a social institution, plays a vital role in the life of an Indian woman. Getting a husband is one of the most important undertakings for her in her life. Marriage is something that allows her to keep her social dignity intact; it is something that frees her from the restraints and restrictions imposed on her at her parental home in the name of gender-distinction; it is something with which she opens up her new career by handing herself over to a new master, her husband; it is a turning point especially in the life of the woman. It is an ordeal especially for the woman as she is expected to adjust herself completely to a new environment of her husband’s home. She accepts marriage as an escape route to achieve her freedom from the dos and don’ts tradition imposed on her in her parental family. She accepts the role of a wife with a simple hope and need of winning her freedom and asserting her individuality. However, her tragedy lies in the fact that she sets herself from one cage only to be caught in another cage. Unfortunately, she has been deprived of true freedom before as well as after her marriage. Marriage has been an obstacle in her way of being a free and independent individual. Simone de Beauvoir, in ‘Introduction’ to the book, The Second Sex, rightly points out: “Reared by women within a feminine world, their normal destiny is marriage, which still means practically subordination to man; for masculine prestige is far from extinction, resting still upon solid economic and social foundations”.

Marital relationship as a social necessity is at the centre of Deshpande’s novels. The woman hopefully looks at marriage as an escape route leading her towards attaining her freedom from the bondage imposed on her in her ancestral family. In fact, the patriarchal domination is so deeply rooted in our culture that it is difficult for her to escape from the trap of her parental home. Jessica Benjamin observers: “The anchoring of this structure so deep in the psyche is what gives domination its appearance of inevitability, makes it seem that a relationship in which both participants are subjects – both empowered and mutually respectful – is impossible.” (12). Her observation clearly highlights a woman’s sexual subjectivity and her recognition as an object used by a man to fulfil his sexual hunger. The tragedy of a woman lies in the fact that she has to submit to her husband’s sexual desire passively and ungrudgingly. She finds it difficult to bear sexual attacks of her aggressive husband. She feels utterly humiliated at the very thought of being used as an object. But she cannot help it. This is her unavoidable tragedy.

  The very womanhood seems to be a kind of shame, a kind of curse for the woman. The woman, to a large extent, has been her own enemy; she herself has been responsible for her own tragedy. She doesn’t allow herself to develop in Indian patriarchy. Joan Gallos remarks: “Development for men has meant increased autonomy and separation from others as a means of strengthening identity, empowering the self, starting a satisfactory life course . . . for women, attachments and relationships play a central role in both identity formation and concepts of development maturity . . . colouring how women see themselves, their lives, their careers and their ongoing responsibility to those around them”. (Gallos 1989). The woman herself is an architect of her own destiny. It is necessary for the woman to use the strength of her mind, her potential to deal with her pain, agony and anguish. Though caught in the trap of gender-distinction, she has to be her own support and guardian. Stoller defines gender identity: “Gender identity starts with the knowledge and awareness, whether conscious or unconscious, that one belongs to one sex and not the other, though as one develops, gender identity becomes much more complicated so that, for example, one may sense himself as not only a male but a masculine man or an effeminate man or even as a man who fantasies being a woman”. (Stoller 1968). A man knows that he is the man and a woman the woman. A man’s approach to everything in life seems to be dominating and aggressive whereas a woman’s meek and submissive. Love and understanding, attachments and relationships play a vital role especially in the life of a woman. She is incomplete without her parents before her marriage and without her husband after her marriage. Marriage is something that matters most in her life.

  Simone de Beauvoir opines: “Marriage is the destiny traditionally offered to women by society. It is still true that most women are married, or have been, or plan to be, or suffer from not being. The celibate woman is to be explained and defined with reference to marriage, whether she is frustrated, rebellious, or even indifferent in regard to that institution . . . It has always been a very different thing for man and for woman. The two sexes are necessary to each other, but this necessity has never brought about a condition of reciprocity between them . . . A man is socially an independent and complete individual . . . the girl seems absolutely passive; she is married, given in marriage by her parents . . . In marrying . . . she takes his name; she belongs to his religion, his class, his class; she joins his family, she becomes his ‘half’. . . She gives him her person, virginity and a rigorous fidelity being required . . . No doubt marriage can afford certain material and sexual conveniences: it frees the individual from loneliness, it establishes him security in space and time by giving him a home and children; it is a definite fulfillment of his existence”. (Beauvoir 445-451). She gives her husband almost everything. She, however, has a secondary role to play in a marital relationship. The functions assigned to her after her marriage are to satisfy her husband’s sexual needs, to provide children to her family, and to take care of her husband, her children and her household.

  Marriage even today has retained its traditional form in one way or the other. It is of greater benefit to a woman than to a man. For her, it is the only means of her integration into her community. However, it is also the beginning of her greater sacrifices in the form of her name, person, self, identity, freedom, virginity, dreams and aspirations. She, as we find in the case of Padmini, in Roots and Shadows, is more eager for it than a man is because she considers marriage a passport of complete happiness and freedom. But she comes to her senses when she realizes that it is something that enslaves her. Simone de Beauvoir writes: “The tragedy of marriage is not that it fails to assure woman the promised happiness – there is no such thing as assurance in regard to happiness – but that it mutilates her; it dooms her to repetition and routine”. (Beauvoir 496). She is thought to be incapable of making her living on her own. She is trained to prefer marriage to a career, and to accept her husband who, as per conventions and traditions, is above her in each and every respect.

Most marriages fail on account of one reason or the other. They are fraught with one or the other kind of disease or malady. Deshpande is essentially concerned about the issues and problems related to marital relationships. She attempts to find out basic causes responsible for the unhappy and failed marriages. The tragedy of marriage, according to Simone de Beauvoir, is that it mutilates the woman and dooms her to repetition and routine, and that “it is the duplicity of the husband that dooms the wife to a misfortune of which he complains later that he is himself the victim. Just as he wants her to be at once warm and cool in bed, he requires her to be wholly his and yet no burden; he wishes her to establish in a fixed place on earth and to leave him free, to assume the monotonous daily round and not to bore him, to be always at hand and never importunate; he wants to have her all to himself and not to belong to her; to live as one of a couple and to remain alone. Thus she is betrayed from the day he marries her”. (Beauvoir 496). Nature has really played a trick on the woman by making her tolerate everything in the name of gender-distinction and marriage. It has also played a trick on her by making her dream of seeking happiness only through a man. It is but natural for her to aspire for natural companionship, physical, mental and emotional satisfaction, social status and respect and also material comforts, but she is far away from the realization of her dreams and aspirations. Who are to be blamed for the failure of marriage? Simone de Beauvoir opines: “Individuals are not to be blamed for the failure of marriage; it is the institution of marriage itself”. (Beauvoir 497). It fails on account of male-ego, male-domination and a patriarchal attitude of the male to the female. The woman herself and circumstances, too, are responsible for its failure. The belief that a husband and a wife are to satisfy each other throughout their lives is monstrosity which gives rise to hypocrisy, lying, hostility and unhappiness.

Neena Arora remarks: “Man considers it as a normal behaviour to satisfy his desires at both the emotional and the physical levels outside marriage, while it is ruthlessly condemned as adultery in case a woman indulging in it even though accidentally, the slightest hint of any deviation on her part which may not even involve sex, man turns violent towards his wife and starts persecuting her. This condemnation is dictated by man’s interest in preserving his property rather than by any moral consideration”. (Arora 61). Indian culture does not allow her to get involved in extra-marital relationships. It is treated as a crime of adultery. According to Sudhir Kakkar, Indian women have to adhere to the image of a good and ideal woman – ‘pativrata’, subordinating her life to her husband’s happiness. The ‘pativrata’ conduct is not a mere matter of sexual fidelity, but an issue of great importance in all patriarchal societies. (Kakkar 66). Indian culture allows the husband to have all the freedom to enjoy his conjugal rights as and when he desires, but the wife does not have that freedom. Indian husband has the liberty to have another woman if he is not satisfied with his wife. Lord Rama-like ‘ek-patni’ conduct is not expected from him. Full freedom is given to him to satisfy his physical hunger the way he likes. However, Deshpande’s female protagonists do not adhere to the image of ‘pativrata’, the image of a true and faithful wife. She expresses her concern about the female who is a victim of marriage in one way or the other. She has raised some important issues regarding the place and position of women in Indian society. She is concerned with the intricate nature of human relationships within and outside a family. A man-woman relationship, a husband-wife relationship interests her most. The present article is a sincere attempt to highlight intricate and strained marital relationships in Deshpande’s novel, Roots and Shadows.

  Roots and Shadows is an exploration of Indu’s urge for the realization of her inner self, the assertion of her individuality and liberty with reference to her relationship with Jayant, her husband, and the members of her ancestral family. Being a girl child, she was taught to be meek, obedient, docile, submissive and unquestioning in her childhood. Suppressed in Indian patriarchy, Indu, the protagonist of the novel, rebels against Akka, the head of a matriarchal family, who represents age-old and orthodox beliefs and conventions, and marries Jayant, a man of different caste, but of her own choice, with the hope to escape from her caged existence in her conventional and orthodox ancestral family with its rigid values and beliefs. In her quest of freedom and happiness, she leaves her parental home with a very simple dream that her marriage would help her to realize her need to belong, to be wanted, to be needed, and to be loved. She seeks marriage as an alternative to the restrictions imposed on her in the name of gender-distinction in her ancestral family. After her marriage, she surrenders and submits herself whole-heartedly to her husband in the name of love. In marrying Jayant, she enters into an independent and free world of her dreams. She feels: “I had thought I had found my alter ego in Jayant. I had felt that in marrying him, I had become complete. I had felt incomplete, not as a woman, but as a person. And in Jayant, I had thought I had found the other part of my whole self, not only that but total understanding, perfect communication. And then, I had realized this was an illusion. I had felt cheated”. (Deshpande 114-115). But very soon, in the absence of a perfect understanding between them, she realizes that her husband, a typical Indian husband, wants her to live according to his views and ideas, dreams and aspirations. She feels deceived and disillusioned in her marital life. She begins to taste the bitter fruits of marriage, a trap. She strongly believes: “Behind the façade of romanticism, sentiment and tradition, what was marriage, after all, but two people brought together after cold-blooded bargaining to meet, mate and reproduce so that the generations might continue”. (Deshpande 3).

She is physically and emotionally dissatisfied with her husband who has only a practical approach to life. Her feminine dreams are suppressed as her husband takes her for granted and expects her to submit in one way or the other. Her marital life seems to have nothing to do with love, a noble feeling. She fails even to understand the meaning of love. She thinks to herself: “And anyway, love, that’s a word I don’t really understand . . . What I feel for Jayant . . . can I compress all of it within this word?” (Deshpande 88-89). Her marriage with Jayant fails to give her freedom and happiness. The chains of her marriage are really heavy, and she is expected to adjust and modify herself to the situation from which it is difficult for her to escape. She is not satisfied because she gets neither love nor support or happiness. Her answer to Atya’s question, ‘Are you happy with him, Indu?’ is: “Happy? Who can say that? But I know I can’t be without him”. (Deshpande 67). She herself does not know whether she is happy or not. Atya is reminded of Akka’s words: “Such marriages never work. Different castes, different languages . . . it’s all right for a while. Then they realize . . .” (Deshpande 68). Akka, who wanted everyone in the family to be happy, was against inter-caste marriages.

Though, she is not happy with Jayant, she always tries to please her husband. She considers herself incomplete without her husband. Away from her husband at her ancestral home, she thinks: “This is my real sorrow that I can never be complete in myself. Until I had met Jayant I had not known it . . . that there was, somewhere outside me, a part of me without which I remained incomplete. Then I met Jayant, and lost the ability to be alone”. (Deshpande 31). In her attempt to please her husband, she loses her identity. She totally surrenders herself to her husband in each and every respect. She remembers: “Then I had met Jayant. And I had found out that he too expected me to submit. No, not expected. He took it for granted that I would. And I did it, because, I told myself, I loved him. As if that justified everything . . . And remembering how I had surrendered to him, step by step, I realize now, that it was not for love, as I had been telling myself, but because I did not want conflict . . . that I had clung tenaciously to Jayant, to my marriage, not for love alone, but because I was afraid of failure . . . And so I went on lying, even to myself, compromising, shedding bits of myself along the way, which meant that I, who had despised Devdas for being a coward, was the same thing myself. I had killed myself as surely as he had done”. (Deshpande 158-159). She compares herself with Devdas, and in despising Devdas, she despises herself.

Indu and her life moves around her husband. She has killed her feelings, emotions, dreams and aspirations, and even her ambition of being a creative writer. She changes, shapes and moulds herself according to her husband’s desires and needs. She faces her husband and her marital life silently. She learns that ‘silence’ and ‘submissiveness’ are the gifts of marriage. Jayant, a practical, authoritative, and dominating male, not only suppresses the female voice of expression in his wife, but makes her life dull and mechanical. The woman in Indu can neither express herself nor choose for herself on her own. She can neither love nor hate but pretend to be happy. Her marriage strengthens her capacity for pretence and deceptions. She knows that she can shatter her husband with withdrawals and rejections. But she hides her reactions and pretends to act out a pleasant willingness to respond. Though, she prefers involvement to detachment, she never gets what she wants. She puts on a mask of a meek and submissive wife. She knows: “But my marriage had taught me this too. I had found in myself an immense capacity for deception. I had learnt to reveal to Jayant nothing but what he wanted to see, to say to him nothing but what he wanted to hear. I hid my responses and emotions as if they were bits of garbage”. (Deshpande 38).

            She understands that her husband and she herself are on different planes. Her husband chooses his level while she tries to choose the one he would like her to be on. She is so frank and bold that she tells everything about her relationship with her husband to Naren. She says: “And so I pretend. I’m passive, and unresponsive. I’m still and dead . . . So that’s all I am, Naren. Not a pure woman, not a faithful woman, but an anachronism, a woman who loves her husband too much, too passionately, and is ashamed of it”. (Deshpande 83). She gets humiliated when she sees herself to turn into an ideal Indian woman following her husband’s wishes and fancies, ideas and plans willingly and obediently. She is shocked to find herself a woman with no choice, no wants, no dreams, no aspirations, no identity and no individuality. Her feminine instinct and consciousness, her dreams and aspirations are suppressed in Indian patriarchal set-up. Always ready to please her husband, she submits to his wills and desires and does everything for him. She even forgets to dress herself the way she wants, the way she likes, and the way she pleases. She admits: “When I look in the mirror, I think of Jayant. When I dress, I think of Jayant. When I undress, I think of him, always what he wants, what he would like, what would please him. And I can’t blame him. It’s not he who has pressurized me into this. It’s the way I want it to be. And the day I had thought . . . isn’t there anything I want at all? Have I become fluid, with no shape, no form of my own? . . . Am I on my way to becoming an ideal woman, a woman who sheds her ‘I’, who loses her identity in her husband’s?” (Deshpande 49). She becomes a typical Indian woman living her as per the expectations of her husband.

 She realizes that her love for her husband is quite disturbing and her complete surrender to him is painful and frightening. She feels disgusted and frustrated by her silence and passivity. She even thinks of leaving her husband hoping to be free and ‘whole’ self again, but she has no courage to do so. She feels guilty to have cheated Jayant by entering into a physical relationship with Naren twice. She questions herself: “What, then, had I achieved by giving him my body, apart from wronging Jayant? Wronging Jayant? . . . But had I not wronged Jayant even before this? By pretending, by giving him a spurious coin instead of the genuine kind? I had cheated him of my true self”. (Deshpande 171). She decides to move on with her marital life even though she knows that her marriage is a failure. She surrenders to Jayant in order to prove her family that hers is a happy and successful marriage. She has dreamt of a happy married life, but unfortunately, her calculations go wrong and her dream remains unfulfilled. She is not satisfied with her husband. Her husband takes her for granted and wants her to submit in one way or the other. He hesitates, rather fails to realize that his wife also is an individual with her own flesh and blood, wishes and desires, dreams and aspirations, feelings and emotions. He takes her silence, patience, charity, fidelity, propriety, everything for granted. She, innocently, measures her marital life in terms of so-called freedom and happiness that she receives and comes to the conclusion that her marital life is far away from freedom and happiness. For her marriage is only a trap in which she is caught by her husband to satisfy his sexual hunger. She calls it “a cage with two trapped animals glaring hatred at each other”. (Deshpande 61). Though unhappy in her marital life, she feels that to live without her husband is the greatest in her life. She admits that she can never be complete all by herself. She, therefore, decides to sell her ancestral house and return to her husband to live her life afresh on her own terms.

  Indu contemptuously calls an Indian woman, a martyr, a heroine, just a stupid fool carrying a world of darkness in herself, a pure female animal, a subordinate creature of a new world filled with ignorance, prejudice and superstition, or a typical breed only interested in getting married, bearing children, having sons and then grandchildren. She is not the only woman who suffers a lot in her marital life. Vithal’s mother is a meek, silent and suffering wife who has been a victim of the sadistic anger of her husband. Indu learns from Old Uncle: “Vithal’s father . . . a grim man who rarely spoke and never smiled, there was a streak of cruelty in him that came out in his relations with his meek, silent wife. The boy, as a child, had been a frequent spectator of scenes in which the father had worked out his sadistic anger on the mother for the merest trifles”. (Deshpande 138). Unable to bear physical cruelty and mental torture, she leaves her marital home, her husband and son.

  Indu is terribly shocked to hear a tragic and pathetic story of Akka’s marital life. She remembers what Atya said: “She was just twelve when she got married. And he was well past thirty . . . Six months after her marriage, she ‘grew up’ and went to her husband’s home. What she had to endure there, no one knows. She never told anyone . . . But I heard that twice she tried to run away . . . a girl of thirteen. Her mother-in-law, I heard, whipped her for that and locked her up for three days, and starved her as well, and then, sent her back to her husband’s room. The child, they said, cried and clung to her mother-in-law saying, ‘Lock me up again, lock me up’. But there was no escape from a husband then . . . He had a weakness for women . . . And Akka could never give birth to a living child . . . But every time she had a miscarriage, her mother-in-law blamed her for it and made life hell for her”. (Deshpande 69-70). The story speaks a lot about the tragedy of a married woman with her physical and sexual harassment, mental torture and exploitation, inhuman and beastlike treatment.



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