Taslima Nasrin’s French Lover: Self-actualisation

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Theme of Self-Actualization in Taslima Nasrin’s French Lover

by – Sona Gaur, published in Vol.II, Issue.XXI, October 2016

Introduction to the Author:

Sona Gaur is a research scholar, department of English, Himachal Pradesh University.

The birth of a ‘new woman’ in Indian literature connotes an attitudinal shift in the writings of contemporary women novelists, who challenge and deconstruct the traditional image of a woman from a silent and submissive one to an awakened and an assertive individual. A comparison of the early women novelists and the contemporary novelists depict the definite continuity in the trends and approach but with bolder themes. The ‘new woman’ is educated, awakened, assertive, economically empowered and articulates her needs to attain a complete control over her life and body in the Indian patriarchal society.

      Taslima Nasrin is a Bangladeshi contemporary woman novelist, who projects this image of a ‘new woman’ in her works. Nasrin, through her works reveals the sufferings of a woman caught in the web of religion and traditions. She views marriage as the most oppressive social institution that exploits a woman as an object for pleasure and procreation. French Lover is her novel that projects the destructive effects of male-hegemony on the life of her female protagonist, Nilanjana Mandal or Nila that leads to her subjugation. Nasrin, through the character of Nila has explored, that how a woman after bearing the atrocities in her marriage is eventually awakened to her exploitation that motivates her to assert her individuality. This self-actualization urges Nila to defy the patriarchal norms of marriage and lead her life independently at her own terms.

                                    French Lover is a fine example of women’s oppression in marriage, where the novelist delineates the predicament of Nila, resulting from the hard and oppressive nature of her husband, Kishanlal. After her marriage in Calcutta, Nila settles in Paris with her husband and with many colourful dreams of love and romance. Her dream, however, pulverize when she is treated merely as an object of pleasure by her husband. According to Simone De Beauvoir:

            In the early years of marriage the wife often lulls herself with illusions, she tries to admire her husband whole heartedly, to love him unreservedly, to feel herself indispensable to him. (496)

Kishanlal’s cold and indifferent attitude shatters all the dreams of Nila. He spends no time with her except for the night. Nila, however, adjusts with his harsh nature as she is aware of the fact that she will never receive any support from her family as she has always been a liability for her father.

            Kishanlal looks down upon Nila as his slave brought from Calcutta to serve him by looking after his house and his needs. One day she discovers the secret about his first wife, Immanuelle and feels betrayed. When she questions Kishanlal about it, he accepts it by justifying, as it earned him a French citizenship. When Nila expresses her anger before him, he insults her by pointing out at her pre-marital relationship with Sushanta and says, “Because Sushanta, the great lover, had ditched you and I didn’t marry you, no one would. News travel far and fast” (62).                                                                               Taslima Nasrin points out through the subjugation of Nila, that marriage is just the promised end in a patriarchal society that becomes an enclosure, restricting a woman’s movements towards her self-autonomy. “Social structural aspects of the society- a different distribution of men and women in specific social roles and gender hierarchy- are the main contributors to sex typical behaviours” (Hinshaw 883). Nila is gradually awakened to her subservient status and undergoes the dilemma of ‘identity- crises’ that motivates her to be self-reliant. She, therefore decides to be economically empowered. Her decision, however is shunned down by her husband, which provokes Nila to affirm her decision by saying:

You should have married a dumb girl who’d silently do the housework and never protest at anything, who doesn’t have a soul to call her own and cannot read or write. (56)

Nasrin’s novels echo the assertive voices of women who articulate their choices and defy the patriarchal norms of marriage to silently succumb to the decisions of men. Nasrin has criticized this patriarchal norm of the society, which confines a woman indoors and restricts her economic liberty. Betty Friedan criticized this gender norm by pointing out, that it is perceived that, “Truly feminine women do not want careers, higher education, political rights, the independence and the opportunities” (13). Nila, eventually finds a job in a factory of packing computers in boxes. This self-reliance motivates her to leave her husband and his house as she is awakened to her subjugation and now wants to live independently.

    Nila being all alone in Paris comes across Danielle in the same factory and the two gradually become good friends. Danielle after knowing all the bitter experiences of Nila in her marriage offers her help by asking her to share her apartment. Danielle is a homosexual woman, who gets physically attracted towards Nila and expresses her emotions for Nila. Nila too reciprocates her emotions, as she gave her shelter and is the only one, she relied upon. This homosexual relationship continues for a while but gradually when Danielle begins exerting her domination on Nila, she decides to terminate it.

      Nila, after walking out of her husband’ s house is all alone until one day she comes across Benoir Dupont, a Frenchman on her flight from Calcutta to Paris. Nila gets attracted to him and he too is fascinated by her looks. On reaching Paris, both of them express their emotions to each other and enter into a forbidden relationship, termed as, ‘extra-marital relationship’. Nasrin describes the state of mind of her woman protagonist as,

“She had never got such pleasure in all her twenty-seven years. She never knew she would ever feel such pleasure” (170).

Benoir, therefore, becomes Nila’s ‘French Lover’, as the title suggests. Ironically, she mistakes his emotions as love for her that is later discovered as lust by her. Nasrin, by citing this forbidden relationship has pointed out at the root-causes of a woman’s sexually liberated behaviour, that compels her to look for love outside her marriage. Desire for love is a natural instinct in every individual, irrespective of her biological identity, therefore, this instinct cannot be suppressed and need an outlet for gratification.

             Nila, though walks out her marital home but is yet not divorced from her husband, therefore, Benoir becomes the ‘other’ man in her life. She becomes committed to him and begins staying in a live-in- relationship with him. This decision of Nila is condemned by her family in Calcutta, especially here father, Anibarn, who warns her by saying, “There is still time to mend your ways, come back to India and live a life that won’t have so many people point fingers at you” (252). Traditionally, sexual defiance is a male prerogative and sexual fidelity is a necessary female construct. The male-hegemonic society like India has always been liberal in its attitude towards men, who indulged in extra-marital relationships than a woman who is criticized and condemned. In India, “Marriage ceases by the infidelity on the part of the wife; but no such forfeiture of marriage right occurs to the husband in the event of his infidelity” (Krishnaraj 277). Nila, however, pays no heed to the warning of her father and continues to stay with Benoir and releases herself from the fetters of cultural stereotypes.

            Nila, gradually becomes very possessive of Benoir and one day when she is sure of her pregnancy she informs Benoir of it. She asks him to leave his wife and marry her, as she does not want her child to be called as an illegitimate child in the society. Benoir, however, refuses to comply with her wish and makes it clear to Nila that, he can never give divorce to his wife and want her to adjust with his marital status. Nila, at this point in her relationship confronts the self-centeredness of Benoir. She realizes that all men are same, who believe in exploiting a woman in the name of love and that Benoir is no different than her husband, who too exploited her physically. Her illusion of love for Benoir shatters and she decides to abort his child. She tells Benoir, “You love yourself, Benoir, your own self. No one else” (280). When he requests her to give birth to their child, she refuses his wish and ends all her ties with him. At this point all alone in her life, she calls Danielle for help and aborts the child. She attains a complete control over her life and body and this sexual right of a woman is a chief feminist view of Nasrin, as she believes that until a woman has a complete control over her body, she can never be liberated completely.                                                                                                                                                             Nila at this phase of her life is left with two choices, either, to revert to her family or marriage or move ahead in life alone. She is a ‘new woman’ of Nasrin, who does not feel shattered by her loneliness or betrayals. Her bitter experiences of life instead of making her weak usher tremendous confidence in her to move ahead in her life all alone, according to her own terms. This transgression of Nila is an example of self-actualization of a woman in the male-chauvinistic society. She, therefore, takes the help of her friend, Marilu and finds a room in Sandali. “Nasrin introduces Nila as an apostle of the liberation movement, advocating freedom from the tradition bound women” (Sigma 2). Nasrin’s women like Nila in French Lover, follow their conscious raising voice and are not defeated by the hardships of life.




Beauvoir, Simone de. The Second Sex. Trans. H.M. Parshley. London: Vintage, 1953. Print. Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971. Print.

Hinshaw, Stepahn, ed. Psychological Bulletin. 137.6(2011) 883. Print.

Krishnaraj, Maithreyi, ed. Motherhood in India: Glorification without Empowerment. New               Delhi: Routledge, 2010. Print.

Nasrin, Taslima. French Lover. Trans. Sreejata Guha. New Delhi: Penguin, 2001. Print.

Sigma, G.R. “Feminist Themes in Taslima Nasrin’s French Lover.” Criterion 12 (2013). Print.

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