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,