Novelist Manju Kapur Exposes the Reality of Generation Gap after 1947

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Basudeb features Manju Kapur, a post-1947 novelist, an important feminist writer. He critiques her novels, in the weekly column, exclusively in Different Truths.

One of the most important features of the Indian woman novelists in English after 1947 is that most of them are well exposed to the western culture and civilisation. Though the fact is that earlier novelists like Anita Desai, Jhabvala, Gita Mehta and others came into contact with the West either because of the higher education in England or in America or of the family background and marital status, a set of woman novelists publishing novels in English in seventies and eighties, coming from the upper middle class Indian families by dint of their ambition, hard work and education in a way or other is exposed to the western system of education and their way of life. At the same time, they are groomed up early in their lives in Indian tradition and culture. Kapur belongs to this second group.

Kapur, one of the noted woman novelists in Indian post-partitioned period was born in 1948 in Amritsar. She obtained her M.A. degree in the year 1972 from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada and an M. Phil from Delhi University. She was Professor of English in Miranda House, Delhi. Some important novels of Kapur are Difficult Daughters (1998), A Married Woman (2003), Home (2006), The Immigrant (2008), Custody (2011). Her first novel, Difficult Daughters, is a milestone in the history of Indian novelists in English. The novel won the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize, in 1999.

Her Difficult Daughter gives a vivid picture of a woman suffering in the postcolonial Indian partition in 1947. This is Kapur’s first novel that she has written against the 1940’s background of India. Difficult Daughters gives detailed accounts of the problems of an urban Arya Samaj family in Amritsar. The family is of upper middle class. This novel was published sometime in 1948.  Partition theme is the most favourite area of the writers after the independence of India. Kapur minutely observes the indescribable sufferings of an Indian woman after Indian independence, the collapse of human values, patriarchal hegemony on a woman, interstate and inter religious marriage, organic family bonds, man and woman , domestic violence, woman, sexual victimisation, and above all the crisis of woman identity. The novelist explores in her novels how gender discrimination creates injustice and inequality between a woman and a man and she underlines the fact that under the circumstances women are victimised and ultimately commoditised. The saddest part of the between a woman and a man is that the role of a woman in a family, in particular, and in a society, in general, is determined by the attitude of their male counterparts. This attitude towards woman is revealed in Gandhi-Nehru Rehabilitation programme of suffering women, abducted and raped during the time of Indian partition. Difficult Daughters narrates the plight of Virmati, a young woman, who revolts against her ’s life centering around the notorious domesticity of married life and child producing the machine. She goes to for study. The source of her inspiration is her cousin, Shakuntala who voices for women’s empowerment and stands against all injustice perpetrated to a woman by the patriarchy. Virmati realises that her parents’ only demand to her is her marriage. Education and all out growth of Virmati as an independent women are not all a concern to them.  Virmati’s daughter Ida builds and narrates her ’s harrowing past in this novel. The novel finally shows that attitudinal difference to life between Virmati and her and that of between Virmati and her daughter, Ida who is a divorcee with no child. The novel ends up with the generation gap between the mother and the daughter.

In the novel, A Married Woman, Astha is the central character who is the only daughter of her God fearing parents. The father wants her to be successful and independent in her professional career and her mother dreams of her daughter to be a traditional house wife in a happy family. The problem arises when she looks for a and to be engaged in marriage to him. To boys come in her contact but the relationship ends up with her sorrow only. Finally, she makes an arranged marriage which her parents . Her mother’s commitment to her husband ultimately leads her to think that the happy relationship between her mother and father should be her aim in life. Astha finds a teaching job in a school but her husband does not attach any importance to it. Her husband has got the foreign degree in MBA and at a certain point in their conjugal life, a problem crops up as to whether the birth of a male offspring depends on the female or male sex. This difference of opinion makes her husband to be indifferent and unconcerned to Astha. She is an educated woman. This difference of opinion results in a serious cleavage in their married life. Her husband’s indifference to her ultimate gives her an escape route and she becomes a poet. This is not acceptable to the patriarchal ego of her husband and his social surroundings.

Astha meets Aijaz, a Muslim social worker who appreciates her genius as a poet and a writer. This appreciation boosts up her spirit as a powerful writer. Aijaz’s premature death during the traumatic Hindu-Muslim riot converts her into a secular person. She associates herself the secular movements during this phase of her life. Then she meets one lesbian and enters into that relationship. She finds immense pleasure in establishing a kind of sexual relationship with her female friend. She wants both her husband and Pipeelika Khan under the same roof her husband’s intervention makes the situation difficult. But her girlfriend, Pipeelika Khan for some reasons leaves for the U.S.A. In a fit of passion, Astha devotes herself to Painting. A Married Woman is a novel that shows the female protagonist is in her search for an identity as a human being. Kapur here appears to be a woman writer who belongs to the next generation of her parents as well as her husband. She is a feminist belonging to the Feminist movements of the later part of the last century. The culture of patriarchal oppression makes her bold and sensitive to her search for identity. The novel shows the cleavage between the persons of two generations.

Kapur’s next important novel is The Immigrant (1998). The narrative of this novel is different from her earlier novels. Nina and Ananda both are non-resident Indians and they settle in Canada. Ananda is a successful Canadian dentist. Nina is a permanent resident of Delhi. She goes to Canada to settle and marry Anand. Series of problems like Anand’s sexual dysfunction, cultural difference, Immigrants’ problems, problems arising out of certain compromises for adjustment, loneliness, etc. In this novel, Kapur vividly delineates Nina’s sense of remoteness and dislocation. Kapur’s another novel, Custody presents the reality of modern life resulting in the dissolution of marriage. The novel foregrounds the loneliness of an unfaithful wife. Shagun after her elopement with Ashok comes to Raman’s house in his absence to see her kinds.  One day Raman comes to know this and the relationship between Raman and Shagun becomes hellish. The children suffer for no fault of their own.

Kapur’s novels are replete with marital disharmony, owing to the influence of the modern life, woman’s search for identity, feminist consciousness and parental domination and its impact upon their off springs.  The novelist in all her novels tries to dive deep into various aspects of the feminine psyche. How an Indian woman suffers under the patriarchy and the consequent sufferings and ultimate loneliness, and alienation are the focus of all her fictional narratives.

©Basudeb Chakraborti

Photos from the Internet.

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Basudeb Chakraborti

Basudeb Chakraborti

Basudeb Chakraborti is a retired professor of English and Faculty Dean, University of Kalyani. He founded the Department of English in Sikkim Central University (2013). He taught in the USA and India. He wrote more than 100 articles in different literary journals in India and abroad. Among his books, Thomas Hardy's View of Happiness, Some Problems of : A Study of Tagore's Red Oleanders, Indian Partition Fiction in English and in , etc.
Basudeb Chakraborti
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