Feminism Fodder

Sad story of women

I recently finished reading three books by Sudha Murty: Dollar Bahu (Dollar daughter-in-law), Mahashweta and Gently falls the Bakula. I bought these during my trip to Bombay in July. The books seemed to have a lot of promise. The back cover implied that it was how women stood up for themselves.

But I was disappointed.

Let me give you a brief gist on each of the books.

Dollar Bahu: This book basically involves a family where one brother marries a girl in India and remains in India while the other brother and his wife go on to the US. The boys’ mother is partial towards the daughter-in-law settled abroad (the ‘Dollar Bahu’) and treats the daughter-in-law living with them like shit. This daughter-in-law in India takes all the shit without complaining. The mother gets a chance to go to the US and sees the “true colours” of the Dollar Bahu and learns her lesson.

Mahashweta: This book is about a beautiful girl (read: fair-skinned) from a poor family that marries a rich boy. However, she ends up with leukoderma and is kicked out of her in-laws house and doesn’t receive any support from her husband either. She starts a new life for herself in Bombay and succeeds in moving on and being independent.

Gently Falls the Bakula: It starts off as young love…the girl and the boy in the same school..both highly intelligent. The girl gets first place more often than not at school while the boy has to settle for second best. However, as they move on to college (he in science and she in arts), they become friendly and their romance blossoms. Their families do not get along but despite the hurdles, they get married. The girl gives up her dreams of becoming a historian so that her husband can pursue his goals in the IT industry. At the end of the book though she realises she has wasted her life and is pretty much her husband’s personal assistant (unpaid, at that) and chooses to go on to pursue her PhD.

From all the books, Mahashweta was probably the best in that it still managed to portray the woman with some dignity despite the fact that initially she gives up her dreams for the man she loves and plays the role of the dutiful daughter-in-law.

I was really annoyed with the other two books for a number of reasons:

– There is always the talk of how a wife is supposed to be dutiful towards her husband and her in-laws. The women in both the books are portrayed as being doormats…doing everything for their husband and in-laws that they forget what they want themselves. In particular, the female protagonist in Gently Falls the Bakula is supposed to be an intelligent educated woman and yet, she is willing to sacrifice her goals for that of her husband’s. She is willing to fall at her in-laws feet despite the fact that they do not like her. She is constantly craving approval. Her husband doesn’t give a shit about her needs and yet, she continues to sacrifice and there is talk about how a “good wife” is supposed to do that (She brings up some historical story about a dutiful wife as well…). She also wants a child to “keep her busy” while the husband works. She feels incomplete without a child.

– In Dollar Bahu, the daughter-in-law in the US is quite smart and works…and is therefore portrayed as being a bitch. Why? Why is it that someone who chooses not to worship their husband or their in-laws is always portrayed as being a bitch by Indian authors? Someone that wears singlets and doesn’t follow Indian traditions like touching their elder’s feet is a bitch? Someone that expects their husband to have a fair share in the housework is a bitch?

– All the books focused on the skin colour of both sexes — fair-skinned = better looking. For instance, in Dollar Bahu, the US daughter-in-law is on the darker side and prior to the marriage, the potential mother-in-law is disappointed with the girl’s skin colour. But because the girl’s family is wealthy, and because her son is okay with it, she agrees to the marriage. There is also a line about when she finally visits the US, she is happy to see the daughter-in-law is slightly less dark than before.

At the end of the day, I guess the books do portray what is out there. How shallow the Indian society can be. And how women, no matter how educated, can fall into that trap of sacrificing their goals and dreams for that of their husbands. And how in the name of ‘tradition’ women continue to be oppressed. I only wish, as I always do, that authors would try and present stronger women as role models rather than show them as bitches. It becomes harder to change the views of society when you have protagonists who will subjugate themselves for the needs of their in-laws and husband.

Why isn’t there an Indian author that is bold enough to do that? To go against what is the norm. Why can’t there be a female protagonist who wears singlets and jeans? Who is dark-skinned, not-so-slim and intelligent? Who follows her dreams and attains her goals? Who chooses her partner…or better yet, chooses to not get married at 20-odd years? Who does not have to give a damn about what her in-laws think about her? Who is not out to please every fucking person in the family? Who drinks or smokes without feeling guilty? Who does not care about traditions? Who has a life of her own.

Maybe I should try that.

Until next time,


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  • memoriesandmirages
    16 October 2009 at 12:43 am

    i’m amazed that you even picked up these books…i read the outline of the dollar bahu somewhere and didn’t like what it had to offer, so never got it..and now definitely won’t 🙂

  • Psych Babbler
    16 October 2009 at 12:58 am

    @ M&M: Yeah I know…I guess I always hope that one day, one of these books is going to do something different. I keep hoping for change…and invariably, I am disappointed. I still have some books that were recommended by a fellow-blogger who she says portrays women in a better light…so let’s see…

  • Chatterbox
    16 October 2009 at 2:38 am

    I agree to all that you feel for women in India. But what we get in real life is actually what you just mentioned in the review of the books above.

    If authors like Sudha Murty are trying to portray the bitter realities of the traditions and customs we’ve been blindly following since ages, we definitely need people like you ( yeah like you PB) who dare to write what is expected of the society by the educated people of our country.

    The authors who have dared to write in the lines that we all youngsters aspire to view have either not been published or their works would be decorated in the ‘Fiction’ shelves of Indian libraries.

    I liked your end note where you wish to take that first move to bring about a change in these old rotten beliefs of the people.

    Good Luck


  • G
    16 October 2009 at 2:52 am

    I picked up mahashweta with great hope and it turned me off too. Eventually all of sudha murthy’s books kinda disappointed me to some extent.
    Anyway, about you reason no.2, even if a bahu worships the husband and his family, she is treated badly one way or the other, the girl has to suffer in these stories. I think in Mahashweta also, the protagonist suffers in her maternal home.

    Well, when are we getting to read this cool book about a super-cool protagonist?

  • Nu
    16 October 2009 at 3:16 am

    I have read “Gently…” and I quiet like the way she has written this book… Now i’m moving over to the “wise and otherwise”..

    Coming to the point of women portrayed in the story: Well, I agree with you that authors should come up with stronger women protagonist to play the role model.. But I think how many of us will actually stand and act even after reading the book…of course this doesn’t justify Sudha Murthy not writing the story in that tone… But in “gently..” I think she has done it quiet later in the end of the story…and that is where the beginning is..And may be it’s the take.. The real women should not wait till this long and get real and realize her dreams and which way her sacrifices are going…

  • Nu
    16 October 2009 at 3:17 am

    So my copy reserved, yeah ? 🙂

  • Smita
    16 October 2009 at 4:08 am

    I have read all the three books and love the Bakula one the most because at the end the lady manages to break through and comes out as a winner!!! At that age she had the guts to break free and that makes a lot of differences…

    Like you I would like to see many strong protagonists and I have read few of them lemme list them here
    – Marrying Anita by Anita Jain
    – Earning the Laundry Slips by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar
    – Piece of Cake by Swati Kaushal
    – For Matrimonial Purposes – Kavita Dawani

    To name few….

    Try reading them, these books break the myth!!

  • perplexed
    16 October 2009 at 5:52 am

    one would expect something better from sudha murthy! i heard about Dollar bahu from a friend.. she had similar things to say!

  • soin
    16 October 2009 at 5:57 am

    i read dollar bahu and decided not to read her again.all hype.and all this being a good d-i-l thing women only write.they dig it up for them and other women.i have found strong women characters in books by male authors.a bit ironical as we branded as the opppressionists..free

  • Aditya
    16 October 2009 at 5:23 pm

    You actually bought those books and read them? You do have some guts girl! I dont like Chetan Bhagat books for the same reason. Agreed his one liners are funny and writes pretty okaish But his protagonists are utter self-less.

  • Aditya
    16 October 2009 at 5:26 pm

    You actually read those books? You have some guts, girl!

    For the same reason, I dont like Chetan Bhagat books. His attitude towards women or for that matter, against any other person is utterly disgusting in his books!

  • evanescentthoughts
    16 October 2009 at 7:19 pm

    good post girl.. agree with you totally.. I hate the fact that in India, we still are not broad-minded enough.. the daughter-in-law has to be fair!! doesnt matter if she is not educated or independent.. and yeah even I feel why do they think that women are there to wash dishes still? when women are beating men in every possible field? I hate those stupid beliefs

  • Pesto Sauce
    17 October 2009 at 7:18 am

    I read some works of Sudha Murthy, short stories
    …but rem she is not a modern writer and her thoughts can be archaic

    I know people who know her very personally…they say she is simplicity personified

  • Grief Crystal
    8 July 2010 at 5:54 am