Bookish Stuff

Of women in books

I recently read a couple of books by Indian authors.

One was Everything happens for a reason

This book is about a ‘good Hindu girl’ from India who gets married to this ‘good Hindu boy’ (arranged marriage style) who was born and brought up in the US. They live with his parents and sister. She is asked to get a job in the US — something ‘decent’ and she settles for a receptionist role at a fashion magazine. Through fate, she is promoted to the role of a journalist and has to conduct interviews with the rich and famous of Hollywood. But she can’t let her in-laws or husband (who is a mamma’s boy) know about this as they would freak out. She can’t let them see the clothes she wears — formal western clothes — because no ‘good Hindu girl’ would do that. So she keeps them in a locker at the gym where she changes before and after work. She is treated like a servant at home because she has to cook and clean in addition to her work. Anyway, to cut a long story short, the family finds out about her ‘secret’ and what’s more appalling to the husband is that she earns more than him. (God forbid!) She separates from her husband, goes back to India. He comes back for her promising to change and apparently all is well.

The other book I read was The Age of Shiva

This one has a girl who does something ‘scandalous’ with her older sister’s ex-boyfriend. And is then forced to marry him. His family is not as well off as hers. Her father is a bit more open-minded but her mother is not. Her father doesn’t believe in religious rituals, believes that Hindus and Muslims should be equal unlike her in-laws and her mother. Anyway, her father and husband force her to have an abortion and play it out as a miscarriage in the first year of her marriage because her husband wants to make it big in the music industry in Bombay and her father agrees to help them move. The husband doesn’t get much work. She goes to college because her father forces her but she doesn’t want to be there. Fails her first year. But finally passes her B.A. Works in places she doesn’t want to. Ends up earning more than her husband. Gives up the job because he is unhappy she is earning more. She gives birth to her first child — a son (of course!) who she dotes on. Her life is fulfilled. The relationship between her and her son borders on incest. Finally, the son, after years of being smothered by her, decides to go to boarding school in Year 11. And then her life is empty. She decides to commit suicide because her life is no longer worth living as her son is grown up and will no longer need her.

Anyway, if I were to review these – they were both easy reads and interesting. In the latter, I got a hint that the author was being critical of the way Indian society functions, the hypocrisy that exists as depicted by her father’s behaviour.

However, the entire time I read the books, all I could think of was this: Why are the women portrayed as being so weak????

In ‘Everything happens for a reason‘, for instance, when she separated from her husband, I couldn’t fathom why she had to go back to India back to a life where her parents would not let her work when she had a high paying job in the US which she enjoyed! It portrayed that the only way she was to keep the job was if she had a husband by her side.

In ‘The Age of Shiva’ — who the fuck commits suicide when their kids move on in life??? Are you that worthless? Having said that, all I could see was the woman having a personality disorder. She was so jealous when her son got close to anyone — even his own father. She didn’t let him have friends when he was young. She was extremely possessive of him.

I understand that Indian society still has a long way to go when it comes to the equality of women but you would think that authors could try and lead the way than conform with the views out there.

Why don’t we have women that are career-oriented but not unhappy? Not always looking for a husband to complete her. Or a child to complete her. Then again, if I had to re-think that, it’s not just Indian women I know that think that way. Other women do too. (as a generalisation)

And it is unfortunate.

Until next time,

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  • Ersa
    14 June 2009 at 3:24 am

    it is unfortunate, psych…i haven’t read any books by indian authors, but most of the hollywood movies portray things like ‘women are unhappy without a relationship or marriage’ ‘women who have sucessful careers canNOT have good relationships’ etc…and i fail to understand all that…why? why does it have to be either or?

  • Psych Babbler
    14 June 2009 at 4:06 am

    @ Ersa: Most books I’ve read do the same. I fail to understand it myself. It’s going to take a lot to change that mentality. Wonder if we’ll see it in our lifetime.

  • Ms.R.
    14 June 2009 at 5:40 am

    The books surely are interesting for their storylines.

    “Why don’t we have women that are career-oriented but not unhappy. Not always looking for a husband to complete her. Or a child to complete her.”

    There is something in marital bliss. But leaving a good job and going to India (WTF?!) is a bit too much to digest. And sadly it’s true that (some) men have that inferiority complex when his wife earns more or she got male friends and blah blah.

    I think it depends on a woman to some extent to balance life. Somewhere she is expected to play the age old role of a nuturer (which is a good thing according to me) yet times are changing and it’s all about balance now… I can’t wake up one fine day all renewed in my thoughts and decide this is it – I am moving on – when I got someone I share my life with cuz the other person is clueless about what’s happening inside my head. Calls for a good amount of conversation I guess. To understand each other.. What its about… Am I making sense or just rambling…? Sorry *hehehe*

  • mesoliloquy
    14 June 2009 at 4:00 pm

    To your question the simple answer is,

    Happy ending.

    That’s why even Indian parents force their daughters to patch up/adjust do anything to be with the husband because according to them if a couple is together then it is ‘happy ending’ it doesn’t matter if the marriage is loveless.

    Divorce and separation is still a taboo in India.

  • Psych Babbler
    15 June 2009 at 2:43 am

    @ Ms R: Feel free to ramble! 🙂 I don’t doubt there is something to marital bliss but implying that women are worthless if they don’t get married or have kids (by books and movies) is a bit too much in my opinion. Balance is important for sure…but my life looks like it’s going to be balanced towards work. 🙂

    @ Solilo: Hmm…happy ending or “happy ending”? I think though books and movies should try and lead the way by not conforming to the taboo held by society. Just my opinion. 🙂 I mean, if the public is not willing to get educated about it, they are likely to get something if books and movies showed that one could still be happy after divorce and a woman doesn’t ‘need’ her husband.

  • Ms.R.
    15 June 2009 at 3:50 am

    By balance I meant anything we are involved in requires balance. That’s probably the key to everything? PS As much as I love both my families, I love my work too 😀 Cheers!

  • Ms.R.
    15 June 2009 at 4:00 am

    I really liked this post and I think it’s really intertesting and true. It migh interest you too

    Have a great day1

  • Nupur
    15 June 2009 at 6:34 am

    Well, i think there are authors who really make female characters the heroine of the story. By not making them appear effete but the decision makers.

    Apart from novels and writings- yeah, the general psych is yet to change about the strength of a female in the society and i think it will take more time for people to accept HER decisions widely without raising an eyebrow !

    What is sad about all this is- There are females included in the non-supporters group standing strong against The female ! Now why is that ?

  • Smita
    15 June 2009 at 2:45 pm

    Have read the 1st one but the 2nd one have only seen in book shelfs.

    As far as how woman are portrayed I think for every weak females in books there are equal number of books presenting strong woman.

    Try reading “Earning Laundry Bills, Piece of Cake,Mahasweta, Gently falls The bakula, all Chitra Banerjee books!!!”

    But yes I agree with you the idea of suicide was so so strange! guess some authors think that tears sell.

  • Psych Babbler
    15 June 2009 at 10:55 pm

    @ Ms R: Thanks for recommending that post. I liked it too,

    @ Nupur: Oh…I know what you mean about women not supporting other women and putting them down for taking a stance. The only answer I can give is what you mentioned about the psyche yet to change — and maybe some women are just happy with the way things are and scared to change and these decision making women pose a threat to their old ways.

    @ Smita: Chitra Banerjee, eh? Haven’t heard of her but will look for her books when I’m in Bombay. Would really like to read about strong women!