The relative status of the role of men and women is determined by the rights and responsibilities assigned to them by society. Men view culture and society as male as there is no visible conflict that male is the norm and humanity is viewed as masculine. Unfortunate but true is the fact that women also view the world from masculine eyes. And this programming starts from his/ her childhood. In a text one often find the ever changing wide range of male roles posit against the female roles which are mostly represented in the image of conventional style or rather stereotyped. Kate Millett in her 1970 book Sexual Politics objects to highly negative literary images of women as these images correspond to widely-held stereotyped characters. But if literature is a reflection of reality, as we are told, then changing role of women, whether social, political or emotional, whether negative or positive, as presented in the text must not be ignored. Rosario Castellanos had observed that an adequate representation of women must include instances of even the most repellent female behavior because such studies help reveal the indictment of society’s suppression of female talent. As society is perceived to be male, then literature must also be male. As Susan Koppelman Cornillon in Images of Women in Fiction: Feminist Perspectives (1972) observed that women internalize the male idea of the feminine and create themselves in the shape of that idea. Cornillon in her essay
‘The fiction of fiction’, accuses women writers of being worse than male writers in this respect, since they, unlike the men, are betraying their own sex. (Moi 42)
Hence text needs to be re-read irrespective of whether the writer is a woman writing about woman for such text may have shades of the male due to prolonged influence. Since childhood one is exposed, whether in books or movies, to the stereotyped images of women and according to Weitzman et all, these females who were seriously stereotyped were ignored in most literatures. According to Hamilton et all, ‘stereotyped portrayals of the sexes and underrepresentation of female characters contribute negatively’ (web) which affect one’s aspirations, attitudes and also influence their personality development resulting in loss of identity. Hence, a redesign followed where writers had wandered a little away from the traditional female character, either the good or bad woman. Male characters are given free rein to be what they want but if the female character deviates from the norm then criticism is initiated regarding the role to be played by a female character which signifies suppression of female talent. The limited space available to female characters are probably similar to the constraints faced by a woman in real life. Men are encouraged to become men as seen in both text and life. Women are forced to rise above being a woman. They attempt to achieve what man do but instead of accolades, they are condemned for assuming the male ambition and aggression like the one Kashibai Kanitkar and Anandibai Joshi experienced
…who were friends, first ventured out wearing shoes and carrying umbrellas they were stoned in the streets for daring to usurp such symbols of male authority. (Kumar 32).
The fact that she is a woman is sufficient ground to assume a politicized oppositional identity. Therefore, feminist analysis has always recognized the centrality of rewriting and remembering history as a significant process because “the very practice of remembering and rewriting leads to the formation of politicized consciousness and identity” (Mohanty 288). Cornillon observed that ‘reality’ and ‘experience’ should be “presented as the highest goals of literature, the essential truths that must be rendered by all forms of fiction” (Moi 44).
Coming to the researchers’ area of concern, the writers from North-east India seem to feel the need to bring a change that had been attached to myths of the women hailing from this region. The myth needs drastic revision as it is seen as one of the main causes hampering the image of women hailing from North-eastern region of India. Customary system of law prescribed all public and political subjects to be the domain of men while the women are made responsible for all domestic affairs where they are said to be the mistress of the house. Toshimenla Jamir observers that such
“social arrangement severely restricts the mobility of women in the public/ political spheres rendering them politically incapable and even ignorant of many civic issues that concern them” (Jamir 18).
She reiterates that women of the region have it as hard as their female counterparts in the rest of the country. Life for woman is harder in this region because along with the drudgeries of an undeveloped and inhospitable terrain there is the additional burden of surviving through cycles of violence created by the chronic insurgency in the region. They cannot escape the brunt of any devastating violence stalking the land every now and then. Toshimenla Jamir, Patricia Mukhim, Temsula Ao, Esterine Kire, Pradipta Buragohain, Dolly Kikon, Esther Syiem and several others share similar opinion that persons hailing from outside the region interpret the role assigned to women by the patriarchic customary law as giving extreme freedom and independence to womenfolk. The region also follow egalitarian form of society which is based on the principle of equality, that everyone deserves equal rights and opportunities, and as such is classless. This makes many in ‘mainland India’ including women give a narrow interpretation of the word equating it with ‘free’ and ‘open’ in a derogatory sense and in an exaggerated manner. According to Pradipta Buragohain, “this reading of “free” has often been translated into the image of an amorously compliant woman” (Buragohain 149) conveniently deciphering as they are from a ‘free’ and ‘open’ society, they are categorized as women of loose moral, inviting molestation upon themselves. This has connotation to the point raised by bell hooks regarding the racial segregation practiced by whites upon the blacks, more so, the black women
…the general tendency among white Americans and even some brainwashed blacks to regard all black women as sexually immoral, licentious, and wanton – a negative stereotype that had its origin in American Sexist Mythology (hooks 272).
Such erroneous notion about the women of this region is one of the reasons leading to the aggravation of their image making them soft targets in metropolis. The sensitive portrayals of characters in the selected novel attempts at achieving success in bringing some change to such erroneous notion about the criterion in women of this region.
The Legends of Pensam is a blend of myth and history of the Adi tribe of Siang valley in Arunachal Pradesh. Through the blending of the primitive customs and beliefs along with the excellent narrating skill of the author, Mamang Dai brings forth the tale and legends that influence the lives of the Adis. Pensam means ‘in-between’ place suggestive of the middle, or middle ground. Hence the text is literally the middle-ground between myth and reality, tradition and modernity in the life of the Adis. The novel is an intricate web of stories, images and the history of a tribe, where we meet a host of memorable characters steeped in traditional tribal beliefs and living vulnerable lives influenced by spirits, shamans and unnatural events. The study chose to concentrate on the memorable stories in the collection that concerns brilliant women characters.
The novel opens with the portrayal of a woman who unconditionally accepts a boy by lifting him out of the basket and embracing him into her tender fold which gave the little one, Hoxo, the greatest of happiness. Her concern for the boy and her tender touch reflects the image of women of this region being extremely compassionate whose door can never be closed to another child. To this compassionate hill lady’s house come from the city the narrator and her friend Mona, an editor of magazine, who was extremely interested in collecting exciting stories and visiting fascinating places which would include the village of widows. During their interaction they come to know about Adela, Mona’s daughter who is an autistic child. Hoxo relates to the group a similar tale about a boy Kepi who had a mysterious disease, the symptom of which is a withdrawal from the world, and to the simple folk of the hills this was beyond their understanding for there was no traditional cure to such a symptom. A person diseased with autism shows a withdrawal syndrome but reacts to music and this is what is common in Adela and Kepi. They love and react to music. The difference lay in the former being diagnosed by doctors and experts in the city, while in far flung Yabgo village they could only say that the spirit of serpent had coiled round the body of the boy which is beyond their control and understanding. However in both the cases, the initial blame fell on the mothers. Jules manner and tone of shouting at Mona implies that it was her fault that Adela suffers thus. Kepi’s father, Togum, did not speak to his wife one whole day and night holding her responsible for the misfortune. Whether rich or poor, hills or plain, white or black, it is universal that if a disaster befalls a child the initial criticism is labeled against the mother, be it here or there. This maybe so because of the assigned role attributed to woman that of ‘a housewife and mother first’ (Kelhou 55). Therefore, if any untoward incident occurs on the domestic front, it leads to a disqualification of her being a good mother/woman.
Hunting accidents had left the land with many a young widow including Hoxo’s mother. There is also a tradition of marrying off their daughters early. There is Kalen’s widow Omum, who now lived with her in-laws. In her mid twenties, she is left a widow with two small children. The lack of time to grieve or reproach as she has too many chores to complete as carrying water from miles below to all household chores and taking care of the pigs and chickens. Another character Pinyar, lost her husband to a hunting expedition in the third month of her marriage. Prior to her marriage, she had borne a son to another man Orka whom they have named Kamur. Instead of taking responsibility by marrying her he coldheartedly abandoned Pinyar and took their son with him never to return. This made Pinyar bow her head in shame with everyone blaming her for the misfortune. Over and above, her house caught fire and as per custom the luckless owner is banished to the outskirts of the village where she built a shack at the edge of the forest. Now she lived alone and worked alone in the fields all day. Her son Kamur is now serving the government as clerk, married with a happy family of two sons and a baby daughter. A dismal thing happened. He was believed to be under the spell of an evil spirit which made him murder his daughter, younger son and with a bloodied dao gave a chase to his wife who received a blow of the machete at her back. When he came to his senses he was aghast at the horror committed by him and begged forgiveness. On hearing about the tragedy, the protective instinct of a mother in Pinyar wanted to shield her child and leaving everything immediately she came running to his aide with papers from political representatives. Her determination saved her son from the clutches of the law. She blamed it on the blood; the influence of the evil spirit which she, her parents and ancestors failed to propitiate appropriately. Believing that an error committed eons back needs to be rectified Pinyar invites the shamans to exorcise the bad spirit never realizing that her son needs psychiatric help. She neither blame Kamur nor blame the man who made her a widow because she believed “there is a bad spirit lurking in the si-ye that makes man go mad” (Dai 29).
The customary practice allowed polygamy and the man who performed it enjoyed a higher status than those who don’t. The practice of “a well to do man having a number of cattle may bring more than one wife” ( Pandey 100) is still prevalent which humiliates the position of a wife. Though old, men are still entitled to a wife and their custom do not consider it immoral. Dai put across this facet of their society in this novel in the character of wise, hardworking, and patient Dumi who is old and fighting for her life. She has mothered grown up sons. However, the husband who is ‘feeble’ and nearing the departing age is shamelessly contemplating of taking a new wife again. “Loveless cohabitation, discontent and hatred are witnessed in almost all household” (Nasreen 145) not baring the hills even. Dumi’s reaction of curses and outcry is one of exasperation for prolonged infidelity. So much for the assumed high status of woman which do not make them realize the need of a divorce in such a situation but rather make them demurely accept it as part of their custom, a custom which allows a man to have as many wives as the number of mithuns he possess irrespective of his age, thus equating her to beast of burden. According to Nasreen women do not seek divorce for fear of being ‘grab’ (Nasreen 146), fall in their ‘economic’ (Nasreen 146) status, and specially because the anti-woman patriarchal society allow ‘woman’s liberty’ (Nasreen 142) at his will. Moreover, slash and burn cultivation followed by the people here demand more manpower which is one of the cause for holding liberty back. So, marriage to a new girl was to have her and her children as additional manpower for the family.
One of the most memorable tales in the collection is that of young Nenem, whose great beauty attracts the attention of David, a British officer posted in the region, and a romance blossoms between them. The affair has a sad ending though, when David is transferred elsewhere and Nenem is unable to leave her roots and go with him. After his departure she suffers pangs of separation. She consoles herself and tries to move on by thinking “no one dies of love. I loved him, and now I am enough on my own” (Dai 109). After some years Nenem resigns to her fate, gets married to Kao and bears a baby girl. As time passes she derives contentment with what she has – a home, a husband and a daughter, the traditional destination of a woman. It was just adjustment. Later during a flood in the village the villagers decide to move to another place but Nenem could not do so. Earlier she could not bring herself to decide to go with her miglun because of the love for this place. The thought of separating from it was unbearable and one day she goes to the river only to collapse and pass away. This reveals the depth of love the women had for their land, the land which has memories of her miglun attached doubled with the depth of fear being uprooted from it.
Alongside the women who still follow the old customs and practices, the novel also reveals to us new breed of women who are independent, firebrand who knew that the men they loved had not loved them back and refused to accept “a woman’s lot is a woman’s lot!” (Dai 81). We come across this feature in the novel in the characters of Sirsiri, to some extend Arsi, the narrator’s mother and the narrator’s friend. The narrator’s friend, a fighter, say that the women were too good, they loved too much and gave in to their lovers’ sly demand to have a child as a testimony of their love. The man tests them; leaves them; and returns (sometimes don’t return). Love is not enough for men. She tells her that her lover lied to her, ate up her life; and is now living with a ‘young thing’. Point blank she asked and his look gave away the truth, after which she punched him and a good tussle followed.
Sirsiri, the singer and a nagging wife of Pesso appear to be highly frustrated. She was not impressed with the status of her husband who owns land and a government job too. She still has dreams to fulfill which she assumes would fail to materialize living in “a place! Cursed, ill-chosen, disturb!” (Dai168). Pesso’s silence and lack of words was an added impetus turning her into a bad-tempered nagging wife with the capacity to drive her husband out of the house.
In the hills the familiar sight that greets one in the fading light is, “a line of women moving up a steep slope. The pace is steady, slow” (Dai 73) because of the burden they carry. All morning they have been in the forest cutting and collecting wood. Their steep climb permits no speech as every muscle and cell is concentrated in giving effort to the uphill task of climbing the hill. They move in a slow silent procession, their thought full of reaching the top where they can tear the heavy basket from their back for a while to rest, wait, bent and panting, to quieten “their bursting heart .. slowly and slowly before” (Dai 73) walking the last few distance to the village gate. Dai present such a hard worker, Arsi, who carry loads over the tough terrain of the steep and treacherous hills despite the ‘unnerving swooning pain’ in and on the head. She could not turn around; so tautly held were head, jawbone, ligaments, veins that her neck might snap if she tried. “She almost wept with the strain” (Dai 73) of her burden but would not let go of it. Once she tried to make a flower garden. Instead she struck rock everywhere. Arsi express her unhappiness living in this hard terrain by exclaiming,
Is this a place to live? Why did our forefathers choose this place? Surely we are outcaste dumped in this bone and knuckle part of the world! (Dai 74).
She expresses her desire to be out in the world where she can be free like a bird, sing, fly, live properly, and learn a few English. Her dreams of finishing school and going to a college in the city were washed away with the death of her father. She finds her continuous toil, drudgery now. Her vehement expression “of course we are unhappy! I am unhappy. Unhappy, unhappy, unhappy!” (Dai 75) is a cry of deep frustration and protest which is an outcome for her true potential being curtailed. Instead old Me-me sharply replies that girls must be careful because man do not want to marry a woman who is too clever. The narrator also recalls the time when Me-me told her mother that, “a woman’s marriage beads and the obligations she fulfils as wife and mother are the true measure of her worth” ((Dai 76) so that she would be discouraged from sending her daughter to college, never realizing that such thoughts are advocated by patriarchy in order to ascertain the male supremacy. However, the narrator’s mother was unperturbed.
Most of the tribes in the hills are traditionally cultivators depending on agrarian economy. In such an agricultural society, as Ester Boserup had observed in her epoch making 1970 book Woman’s Role in Economic Development, the role of woman is very important as the major activities of cultivation and harvesting is done by the women. In addition they are liable to all domestic chores, child rearing, collecting water from down below and firewood and vegetables from thick jungles. As the narrator’s mother did not want her educated daughter to toil the hardships they had endured, she encourages her to leave the village for better prospects outside so that she will achieve liberty and live in dignity and not fall back into the life of drudgery and disgrace to which they had all been reduced to. It is seen that women in this region too, have it hard! This has connotation to Woolf’s idea of ‘financially independent’, a necessity for woman to live in dignity.
Leaving the primitive customs and beliefs of her first novel, Mamang Dai shifts the setting of her next novel Stupid Cupid to Delhi. The novelist writing about a paying guest accommodation in Delhi transports us to the grime of the capital city. Through the mobility of the narrator a relationship between life in a small hill town and the capital city is established where her fond villagers and folks from small towns are a special feature. The simplicity and rusticity of this small hill town acts like a balm on the psychological framework of the characters, which does so by providing them with a sense of belonging whenever they needed it. Carrying the hills in their hearts, the characters search for true love a green shade in the midst of the city. With the plot revolving around love, the story is replete with an unusual melancholic charm. The characters need of the privacy of this rendezvous means none of these relationships are simple, happy loves but are complex, messed-up and real. Through her characters from the small hill towns and the city, both strong and weak, romantic and practical, dreamy and realistic, soft and blunt, she takes the readers for a tour of complex love and intricate relationship and what this entails.
The chapter titled Woman in Love in Second Sex, we read Beauvoir say that almost all women have dreamed of the great love but she also writes that love holds less place in a feminine than is often believed. Husband, children, home, pleasures, social life, vanity, sexuality and career are far more important (Beauvoir 701) and this seems to be ringing true as we see in the events that take place in the life of Adna, Amine, Mareb, Julie and Jia. The protagonist, Adna whose name many mistakes for a male name, is a north-eastern migrant to Delhi who finds her late aunt has left her a bungalow in South Delhi which she decides to start as a “love agency”, a “decent meeting place where men and women, could rendezvous without too much sweat” (Dai 01). The idea of setting up such a love nest came to her when she herself was looking for a place to meet her friend. She and her partner Amine, her school friend with whom she studied in Shillong, named it Four Seasons. It is a four-cornered bungalow, discreet, graceful and all the rooms independent and beautifully laid out. Adna with her liberal outlook sees nothing wrong in two people meeting together, to talk and discover themselves through a moment of love. This place would save such couples time, money and the embarrassment of the all-knowing-look. She understands the need for such a place because her present beau who is into real estate business is married, whose wife a well known activist for women’s empowerment, green movement owns a fabulous property. Initially she did try to put a distance between them going off to Arunachal every now and then with him calling up every night. Defenseless against her senses she came back to him each time refuting their relationship an act of adultery. He appreciated her skill at running the Four Seasons which was achieved due to her stint in hotel management and also because of the constant supervision of Amine. Like all folks from the hill Adna took people at face value, even those who came to stay at her refuge, never checking or demanding any documents. Despite her talk of liberty, Adna could not live at the love nest and so rented a small flat, comfortable by city standards, just round the corner from Amine’s place. The relationship she shared with her beau was crucial and must do everything possible to sustain it. They meet, they talk, they ate together sometimes but still there was no commitment due to the lack of supporting ties like children and relatives to hold them together. This is not the freedom she had asked for. Like all women who dream of great love, all school girls read romances and imagined that a love would happen to her which would sweep her off her feet and make her breathless. Such imagination modified into a marriage with a handsome earning, capable husband and the wife doing the rest at home. This was a fixation and despite their claim of liberty all girls grew up dreaming of being lucky in love and this hope still seems to be lingering for she experiences a wonderful feeling seeing happy married couples. Sometimes a sudden surge of need would make them meet and during such moments the tender side of her friend is revealed to her. At such secret tender meetings Adna would not like to be met by acquaintances of him or of herself. Her friend Amine had hinted that such relationships were dead end but Adna didn’t know how it would end for she had never been in such a situation before. Back home a man had several wives who lived under the same roof and had no problems as this was custom. But here she seemed to have embarked upon unknown territory, a ‘dead end’ affair with a married man whose identity she could not disclose. The hours that he was away from her, she hardly knew how he occupied himself. One day without much of a warning he comes and breaks the news that he was going to Canada for some months with his family which frightened Adna because ‘love at a distance is nonetheless merely a fantasy’ (Beauvoir 701) which has almost similar connotation to out of sight, out of mind. When Green, her friend from Nagaland asked if he really loved her than why he didn’t take her with him on tour, Adna had no answer. ‘The woman in love also offers and waits’ (Beauvoir 706) and this is why their relationship was at his convenience while she waits. Adna and her Aunt were two of a kind which maybe the reason for the property being bequeathed upon her niece. Like the senior lady Adna was city bred and single. The same adventurous streak is seen among the two of them for several years ago the aunt left home to follow her desire and fall in love. The reason why she lived in Delhi was the man in her life was a diplomat. Adna remember her as being beautiful, jovial and fashionable but relatives frowned and shook their head when they think of her hardly mentioning her in front of the children. She was more an unsuitable woman to everyone back home because she went after a man who was not one of them. But Adna believes that her aunt was happy when she died. Her aunt was the second reason for turning the property into a refuge for people in search of companionship and a few hours of happiness.
There is the elegant Amine who Adna observed had a pale, central Asian intelligent look that resembled princess from the steppes, and with whom Adna studied together at Shillong. She was almost like a princess from the fairy tales, hailing from Jammu, well to do parents working in ONGC in Assam, well-travelled and liberal minded middle class couple. During holidays her parents picked her up in beautiful shiny vehicles and the rest of the boarders waved their goodbyes to her like maniacs. She was a favourite senior girl who had statuesque, beautiful slanting eyes and long hair worn in two thick braids which she now wear it short. She had a calm demeanour and toothy smile that gave blushes to her fans. Junior girls brought love notes for them making both the friends wonder what love life is in store for them. Now accepting ‘the traditional feminine destiny; husband, home, children,’ (Beauvoir 701) she is happily married with two sons and a lawyer husband, Rizvi who had huge farmlands and a growing tourist trade. Though she didn’t approve of Adna’s little business which she refers to as adultery she agreed to be partner at Four Seasons for her friend’s sake. Unlike Julie, she believed that marriage is actually perfect bu couples refuse to accept considering it sentimental and foolish. She believed that people who marry young remain married because when young they choose without prejudice. Her greatest ally was her mother in-law, a begum type and pliant lady. Her parents’ fear of her getting married into an ‘anachronistic’ family was pushed aside when the older lady permitted Amine and Rizvi to set home independently. Amine dressed like the women of Northeast with minimum jewellery that of a silver anklet. She was traditional in outlook, didn’t want to work and enjoyed her motherhood, keeping home, good food and nice things for her family. She loved and enjoyed this role which was evident in her composure that commanded respect. Never had Adna heard her friend utter complain which made her sometimes wonder whether her friend has secrets. With a handsome, very busy husband, whom they hardly saw, who has several meetings to attend with a mandatory work out in the gym, who came in late and left early the next morning — all these kept Adna wondering, who was herself in a ‘dead end’ affair with a married man whose identity she could not disclose. Amine was required at Kullu hills to look into the tourism side of their family business. As her sons holiday coincided her husband went to collect their boys from the boarding school. Just at that juncture a gruesome incident took place that shook the whole neighbourhood and shaken Adna badly. Amine’s murder was uncalled for ..so good, so happy. Everything was going right for her.. a wonderful family, life seem to be so complete for her, why must this happen to her, Adna thought. Rizvi was torn, their boys were dazed. This was unfathomable in a universe where everything was moving in their natural path, a rogue particle comes into the territory and create disturbance causing chaos and pain in their life.
The next set of characters, Mareb and Julie are almost same but for one being too bold. The extremely beautiful, clear skin and perfect hair model and choreographer, Julie Malhotra, daughter of an air marshal and Russian mother would belong to the brand of new feminism which Diane Richardson had defined as ‘feminism-lite’ (Genz and Brabon 68) which in Melissa Benn’s words are a young-ish and pleasant-ish professional women who is “interested in designer clothes, goes to the gym, likes sex and gossips a lot with her girlfriends” (Genz and Brabon 68). She had the balancing capacity to carry affairs with two men who were equally besotted with her which made Adna envious. To her love is not just about hearts and arrows, but a business and an expensive one at that which cannot be fulfilling all on its own. Therefore, money is the basic requirement. To travel, to transport and to rent a room to meet, money must be there otherwise the meeting will not be fulfilling. With money one can buy time, love, happiness, beauty which makes a woman in control of the situation. She therefore says that money can buy anything including affairs here and there under the veil of a solid marriage for like men; women too have flesh and desire. She had a way of doing things which Adna could never envisage for she would never be able to continue in a relationship in which she had no feeling of love and tenderness.
The novel starts with the enigmatic Mareb making a call to Four Seasons to book a room. The call was made by the wife of Dayud Lyang, a prominent person from the hills. She appears impulsive. Her phone call to the love hotel itself suggests that she needs discretion to meet old flame, Rohit, a tall serious looking man, with whom she was into a radiant desperate relationship. Mareb was the only child of a rich business man, one of the first travelling contractors of the region, who was a greedy man. She toured with her father till she was sent off to boarding school at Darjeeling. She remembers her mother as a ‘delicate bird flitting around the house’ obeying her husband’s instructions, putting up curtains, sewing lace on the borders of tablecloth, never even once making it known to her daughter her desire to read. Her mother died when she was in her final year of school and her father married again to a young girl who was barely older than her which made her decide to leave home forever. She convinced her father to send her to Delhi for education. Landing foot she fell in love with the city because this is what she had always longed for. It was at a friend’s party at Delhi that she met Rohit who imagined himself to be a musician. She was a student of literature and he was to become a business partner in his father’s firm. They were two poetic souls thrown together. Everything would have fallen into place if she had not gone home that day saying she would be back soon. It was to be a farewell trip to her father one last time. Though she didn’t like him much, she was grateful that he fed, clothed and sent her to Delhi. She planned to inform him her desire to take up a job in Delhi but his old, feeble and financial setbacks stopped her from disclosing it immediately. Instead, his soft voice whispered to her to get married and settle down. She met Dayud, the engineer who was on duty, when her car got stuck in the mud when she was on her way to town to meet her father. He was “a leader of sort, scion of a respected family with good education and fearless rhetoric” (Dai 45) who would have become a worthy political candidate if he wishes so. He visited Mareb’s father’s house frequently till his spirit of adventurousness finally fascinated Mareb. Both of them opined that the river should run its natural course instead of the dam blocking it. It was then that Dayud started courting her. She was overwhelmed with this big, intense, energetic and fearless man. He was a giant of a man with full of vitality. People close to him knew that under the ferocious guise he was a kind and generous man who believed in extending help and financial assistance to others which made him popular amongst folks. He was thirty one and had a wife who was sharp and clever. She fought bitterly to win him back, confronted and stalked him till he threw all caution and scandalized the town with their affair and leaving some mesmerized. They made a perfect picture of a happy family; the best matched couple in town, a good husband and a wonderful father to Asinda. She was swept off her feet into a world she belonged to but had never fully known. The baby hastened the marriage. Asinda was six weeks premature and it was a difficult delivery with everyone thinking either one of them would die. They were saved by the able doctor and the huge prayers and well wishes they received from so many people. Dayud was overjoyed; Mareb for quite some time didn’t have anything to do with the child as “she feels hostility for this little individual who threatens ..her freedom, her whole self” (Beauvoir 565). Now Mareb felt that it has been too long that she has been mistress of this huge bungalow, to Dayud’s family and relatives, maids and servants, too long a hostess to her husband’s friends, business associates, politicians and acquaintances. Since the day she boarded the train home to meet her father she and Rohit had not met until now. She had picked up the phone, talked to him and crossed the threshold into another life. Those memories, and moments spend with him brought her back to the city again. On the pretext of checking out a few schools at Delhi for their daughter she arrived at the city meeting Rohit clandestinely. She wanted to give only love, entreated happiness for everyone, and never hurt anyone. The day Dayud comes to know would be the end of her as he would not tolerate another man in her life. Despite that she continued her relationship with Rohit. Doing everything for love, she did not seem to fully realize the degree of deception she got herself involved into. She didn’t care that she would ruin herself and others with it. If she felt an absence of love, she panicked feeling a terrible void and at such a time she was blind to any sound counseling. It was only in a state of love that she saw the world colourful. Rohit also seemed to have done everything in the hope that one day in some turning he would meet Mareb again for he remained a bachelor till now. Every day she attempted telling Dayud that everyone has a chance to live when in reality she was actually fighting for her life. Dayud was not blind and did suspect her rushing off to the capital every now and then. She had even convinced Dayud and his mother to let them shift home to their Dehradun property so that she can be closer to Delhi and her love never realizing that there is a chance of transformation taking place in her thought process. It came when she put Asinda at the boarding school that she felt she would die. A strong tugging at her heart made her almost withdraw her child from the boarding school. Earlier she had tried everything in her capacity to convince her husband and now it is he who consoles her that their child would be learning so many new things which would be good for her. Mareb told the narrator that Dayub might not care much if she left him but he would if she took Asinda along with her. Neither of them would survive without Asinda because she was the centre of their universe, the light and energy to their world. When she met Rohit, he realized that something had changed and there was no part for him. He found himself a stranger in a world where parents have nurtured their child together. With a faraway look in his eyes he decides to go abroad to attend several rounds of meetings. After Asinda settled in the boarding school Mareb decides to return to the hills with her husband as she will also have nothing much to do with Rohit gone to Japan. Towards the end Mareb Dayud was very happy, Asinda happy at the hostel and she sounded happy. She will of course come to the city again.
The next set of characters, Jia and Mesochenla are practical, strong, outspoken, and sometimes almost blunt and above all survivors. These two characters can be interpreted as representing Aapola et al’s Girl Power “a feminist ideal of a new, robust, young woman with agency and a strong sense of self” ( Genz and Brabon 76). Adna’s cousin, Jia is a reporter who writes anti-everything which worries her mother as it can be dangerous at times. She enjoyed doing investigative journalism and had her own fan following. She comes to Delhi for the first time to attend the media refresher course suggested by Adna. Having never travelled outside the region, she arrived by train with a sack of rice, assortment of bundles and plastics full of home made preparations. She is named after a river but her demeanour is more like a rock jutting out of the water lugging out at Adna with her bags. She was short and square and wore a bright sarong that flapped audibly attracting onlookers. Seeing the crowd of people her initial worry was the place of burial for so many people. She found everything here so opposite from their hill. As a preliminary Adna explains the Don’ts and Do’s – that there is no heavy cooking, winnowing, no fumes of fermented fish or soya bean, no smile at first meeting, sometimes eating while standing up, etc; and sometimes one must smile though it is not from within and to avoid embarrassment she must keep loose change for tips to be given to the dhobi, paper boy, and mineral water man. The last one shocked Jia as did Adna initially. To purchase drinking water was out of the question back home at Arunachal. But Adna was confident that as Jia was sturdy she would manage, after all the same blood ran in their vein. Jia observes the neighbourhood and was impressed with the man in garbage truck who shoveled, thrashed, hopped and ate the hot pakoras. She easily carried out a conversation with the vendor lady. She impressed Adna’s friend with her curious observation who was overjoyed to know that Adna will have someone staying with her which would dissolve an anxiety that bothered him now and then. She was an immense help at the flat. At the age of eighteen she had lost a baby, and kicked out the father who was extremely abusive and irresponsible which caused dead to the baby. Refusing to stay with a man she cannot respect she left the village after an argument with her mother. The narrator felt that if she had been in another world she would have been a famous woman appearing on TV shows. She called a spade a spade and opines that in their custom gender is not considered a very important issue, none can afford to be sick, where everyone has to work, where women fetch firewood, water and sow paddy while men clear the forest for planting and erect fences to protect the field. Back home Jia was wooed by a powerful politician, but she had no time for such amusement. She belonged to the category of woman who, according to Beauvoir, prefer career more than love. During her stay in the city she would be sharing the flat with Adna as she was her cousin and had the right. One day when she was about to get into a taxi with her friend TD, she experienced one of those skirmishes which students from Northeast India often encounters. She was shouted at by a big, hard faced woman to go back to her country. Not a person to bear it quietly, delivering a blow on the roof of the cab she hollered back at the lady with equal intensity calling her an idiot and a lousy woman from the backwaters! Though younger in age to Adna, she seemed to understand several things better. For instance when Adna’s friend informed her about going to Canada she was disturbed with the thought that he would be travelling with his wife. To this Jia responded practically that a husband will of course travel with his wife. One night she had even talked a lot about ‘making the heart ready’ (Dai 139) which means prepare the heart to realize the truth which is literally saying “be practical”, “face the truth” (Dai 140). When Adna felt that the relationship was almost over she advised her not to knock herself so hard as there are no children involved and gradually everything will fall into place. Again, when Adna was pondering over what “dead end” (Dai 119) actually meant, Jia denied the existence of such thing and it would mean realization of the fact that whatever one was looking for, he/she was looking for it in the wrong place which would mean that Adna was looking for love in the wrong person. Mesochenla the lady from Dimapur with a beautiful name, who is called Green by the narrator because the first impression she had of her was a greenish tinge of her eyebrow which occurred due to the poor job she had done of plucking it. Since then the narrator had associated her with ‘Green’ and so that name remained. She resembled Jia in her set expression and determined look. In the Delhi summer heat with huge marketing of sausages, they signaled an autorickshaw to take them to Adna’s place. But the fellow cursed and said that they better walk that distance as it is not too far. Green glared after the retreating auto uttering that people of the capital didn’t know how to behave. Since that day a great friendship developed between the two. She and her boyfriend were living in a flat bought by them the previous year. She had a shop back home in Dimapur. She carried dresses from Delhi to Dimapur and brought back tribal shawls, clothes and artifacts from the Northeast to a dealer in old Delhi. She had great energy and was planning to sell her consignments to buyers from Europe. She is an accomplished pianist and her boyfriend a musician. They organized music concerts to raise funds for their drug rehabilitation centre. She talked about the strife torn life back home in Nagaland and desired to bring a change to the wild east image of the Northeast. Adna felt a sense of solidarity in Green’s company, maybe it is the distance from home that is bringing them closer. Green had a great love for people of her own place and would nudge Adna and utter “nothing like our own people” (68) whenever they crossed a person with a northeastern appearance. Their house and heart was always open to music and people from her state. She had a lot of courage for even in big jewellery shops in the city she dares to ask whether the piece shown to them is fake or original. Being a very blunt and direct person she hugely made it known her disapproval of Adna’s friend and often told her to dump him immediately when there are so many single men around. When Adna tells that he was strong, tall and dependable, she asked why then had he never taken her on his trips. Why must it be on his convenience and why must Adna wait. She expressed her disbelief by giving a wicked laugh when Adna suggested that her friend might be forced to go to Canada with family. Instead she bluntly uttered that she was wasting her life.
Towards the end Adna is changed and felt threatened after the gruesome murder of Amine, more so, because the murder was committed by workers working at the Four Seasons. She also realizes that she was knocking at the wrong door for love because her friend cannot afford to leave his wife for he was extremely confident that she would never commit infidelity on him. Similarly Mareb, despite her deep passion for Rohit, cannot afford to break her marriage because a child who is their universe is involved. In a way it is a coming of age story where Adna, her beau, Mareb, Rohit realizes that in a relationship love is not the end all of everything. There is more to life than love which cannot survive on its own.
One of the most prominent voices in contemporary Assamese literature, Arupa Patangia Kalita provides a strong voice to the oppressed and those living on the fringes of society in her novels. With unflinching honesty, savage brutality, and passionate humanity the author reflects upon women, conflict, and marginalization in her 2003 novel Phelani translated into English by Deepika Phukan as The Story of Felanee. Encompassing a time span of more than 50-60 years, the book tells us about a group of marginalized women in strife torn Assam. A few benefits from such conflict situation while the ordinary civilians become poverty stricken, displaced and deserted from their normal life and native place. The very title of the novel, The Story of Felanee is suggestive that we embark upon the tale of woman/women who is/are thrown away, castaway, and displaced. The checkered story of Felanee’s life is the history of crisis the people here underwent and at such time of emergency women undergo turmoil at different levels. Through the presentation of several characters the writer introduces us to the lived and felt experiences of women belonging to this trouble torn state.
The novel starts with a girl child, Ratnamala, daughter of a Mauzadar, married off to an elderly man from Guwahati who later suffers from tuberculosis. To cure him of the disease family members took him to some other place. The nights during his absence were the happiest nights for the child bride for those were the nights she slept the most soundly after playing with her toys. Her husband succumbs to the illness leaving her a child widow who is yet to understand the meaning of widowhood. Adorned in white she returned home not understanding why everyone came to her and cried. She cried because she saw tears in her mother’s eyes. This scenario prompted her father to send her away to Palashbari tea estate where her uncle works. She was dispatched off with her uncle with a lone maid, Rambha who only cook, ate and slept. When her uncle was away at Misamari, in that huge bungalow of the tea estate her only companion was the elephant and the mahout boy, Kinaram. For a growing girl her need of a mate brought them closer. Soon her mother and aunt went to fetch her and were surprised to see the radiance in her daughter for she didn’t appear a child anymore. The tears that rolled this time are not the tears that rolled when she became a widow. That night she eloped with Kinaram. For fear of the Mauzadar’s wrath they stayed in the jungle though she did not live long. Giving birth to a daughter she passed away. Not long after Kinaram also died succumbing to bullet injuries leaving their little daughter Jutimala in the hands of his relatives along with Ratanmala’s gold chain for safekeeping. Jutimala grew up to be a beautiful girl. Wearing a dokhona she went to the village fair where she was spotted by Khitish Ghose who owned a sweet shop. Smitten by her feature he married her according to the custom of the mahout family by paying bride price. Their fate was similar to the blood-soaked remains of Kinaram. Khitish went to fight the illegal traders who plundered the sandalwood forest and mercilessly killed the birds and animals. But he never returned. Alone Jutimala gave birth to a baby girl and had fallen unconscious. Ratan, a distant relative of Khitish heard a splash from where he was hiding. Someone had thrown the newborn baby into the water. After the marauders left he came out from his place of hiding and picked up the baby from amongst the long grass. This was Felanee – the thrown away, whose actual name was Malati, who was tossed off into a swamp to die while her village burned. Like her there are women, who are resilient, cling to the last vestiges of life, in the hope of a better tomorrow, swirl through the maelstrom, and survived. Such women despite their existential human predicament; thrown away like garbage, oppressed, marginalized, rejected, seem to speak up, vibrantly asserting life and resist in their own small ways against the society which is very much patriarchal. Under such a situation Kalita, the feminist said about these marginalized women that “their existence itself is a struggle, just the fact that they have been able to survive amidst all these, is a rebellion in itself.” (Muse India Archive, Issue 20)
Felanee, is a poignant story of a woman whose ancestry was unknown. She survived the fierce massacre and bloodshed but lost her husband, unborn child and her home in ethnic conflict. Unseen by others she would sometimes take out and look at the chain which belonged to her grandmother but dare not do so in everybody’s presence for it envelopes the history of her grandmother which the Mauzadar’s family wants erased from annals. But every time she remained spellbound and entranced listening to this story being told and retold by Dida, Rati Saha’s mother amidst tears. Biren Baishya had also suggested to her that she should not be wearing the bangles as she is the wife of a Koch otherwise it may invite trouble for her in these difficult times. The next day after the massacre Raghu inform the survivors that along with several villagers, Dadu, Dida, Shibani, her father were killed and Subhas master and Lambodar Koch, Felanee’s husband were burnt alive. In pain, in trauma, in half consciousness she gave birth to a still born baby girl. Life was such that she brings up her son all alone under the constant shadow of violence. Through the uphill task of living Felanee meet several women in the same human predicament like her who goes on to become her companions.
All the characters drawn in this text are people from the fringe but the most pathetic of them all is Sumala, Bulen Sarania’s wife. The couple was holding annaprasanna or the rice testing ceremony for their son when the catastrophe struck. To observe the ritual they have invited the maternal Uncle Madhav Das to do the honours. He and his friend Ratneswar Baishya came to this village for the occasion. Madhav Das was a well known leftist in the village around and had helped return the lands to the farmers whose lands were forcibly taken away from them that invited him lots of enemies. The ceremony was about to begin with the uncle feeding the nephew his first spoon of sweet rice pudding, when at that moment a group of boys shouting ‘long live our mother land Asom’ surrounded the house. Shouting they will finish the traitor today they dragged Das and Baishya, skinned them alive and killed them. The silence that befell that night was so strong that it numbed Sumala forever. She never spoke after that. Soon after their house was burnt and taking his family Bulen had to flee their village to take refuge in the refugee camp. Sumala had to be taken care, cleaned and fed by her husband. Felanee offered to look after the little boy as the mother was not in a mental state to take care of him and also because Bulen helped them earlier and considered them family. Sometimes the silent woman would throw a fit refusing to open her mouth to be fed and Bulen had to coax and cajole her. At other times she would fly into a rage, hit and scratch him. At such times he administered her some medicines that would put her to sleep. Even if he was not able to purchase rice he made sure he had the medicines with him. One day she was in frenzy and gave a chase to people with a knife in hand. People caught hold of her and tight her with a plastic rope to a pole. Some children came and pelted stones at her calling her mad. When Bulen came he removed the ropes and freed the bleeding hands of his wife. Taking her inside he cleaned her wounds, bath, fed and lulled her to sleep like one would do a baby. It was time of strive for young boys who shouted slogans, some looted shops, leaders amassed wealth while the promise given was forgotten producing more men like Bulen who received training in the hills to kill people, leaving his mad wife and child. Bulen tells Felanee that a much greater agitation is about to take place, bigger than the Assam agitation. He even suggests that Felanee also start wearing dokhona instead of the cheap sari. He refused to agree with her when she suggested that as his wife was not in a state to wrap the dokhona properly, he should buy her maxi instead. Her utterance produced a roar from him that it is mandatory to wear the dokhona as it is a matter of community culture. This is an alien side of Bulen she had never seen. The route that he had taken led him to his perilous end. Sumala was now in the care of Felanee and keeps her following around. As the strife became more intense and turbulent, number of army camps increased. One day she was near this camp looking around for bread. Some of the army threw bread crumbs and biscuits at her. She was delayed that night, never returned. The next day she was found lying dead below the sissoo tree with her body naked and disfigured. It was a brutal raped with “two raw bleeding wounds. Her emaciated genital passage was a huge open wound” (Kalita 246). The atrocity on her flesh was so heinous that Felanee could not dare to have a look.
Earlier, following Bulen’s suggestion Felanee and her son also moved to the forest settlement near the town. They hired a room for rupees fifty from Kali Boori who had a very rough manner. She was very thin with a hoarse shrill voice. Not with her appearance, but with the shrill voice she made her presence felt. When she was Aroti, and around eighteen years old a widowed businessman with five children paid money to her parents and took her home as his wife to look after his children. He was a pious man who performed religious ceremonies by inviting a priest to conduct the rituals. She eloped with this lecherous priest who flitted from one young girl to the other after sucking her youth to his heart’s content and then moving on to new pastures. After being dump by him she moved to this forest settlement and lived here alone being declared death by her parents for her disgraceful act. She suffered while the priest moved from nectar to nectar. Here she met several more businessmen and priests though at a different footing. She said she was possessed by Kali and people brought offerings in both cash and kind. But this has started to dwindle now and she started making puffed rice. After a year she celebrated Kali Puja in a grand way and since then she was possessed by the goddess every night. Now she totally forgot she was once Arati. She considers Felanee more fortunate than her for she at least had a son while she had to fend for herself alone. In one of those weak moment tears rolled from Felanee’ eyes which irritated her and said this will fetch her Romeos who will pounce on her flesh. Kali Boori’s words seem to prescribe what should actually be the role of women when she says woman must be like “chilli…tiny to look but real fire once in mouth” (Kalita 66) because for women of the oppressed class this fire becomes the tool of their survival. She also tells the younger woman that it is powerful goddess Kali who has ultimate control over man which, later, Felanee makes the goal of her life, to stand alone in distress and cry like a winner inside without any help from man.
Kalita focus on the struggle of women for livelihood and survival, friendship and commitment towards one another. Through the portrayal of these oppressed women the author delineates the role and position of women. The protagonist embraces the women folk around her, teach them to live life during conflicts at all levels. The inner strength, or ‘fire’ in Kali Boori’s words, helped her develop survival strategy. With the renewed strength she is able to embrace and empower Minoti, Mira’s mother, Jon’s mother, Ratna’s mother, Jaggu’s wife etc. Their life is replete with crisis which makes happiness elude them for days on end. But they learnt to smile, emanating from one woman and radiating to the others. They encourage one another to work for economic sustenance which helps them overcome obstacles in life. Their means of existence was the sale of puffed rice, greens and stool which the women sold in the market. They encourage one another to work for economic sustenance which helps them overcome obstacles in life. Felanee made puffed rice while some others took greens and stool to sell in the market. During the tension and turmoil in the name of golden Assam, Bodo state, anti-foreigner issue, etc. the ordinary citizens wanted only food and shelter for survival. Although violence, degradation and paralyzed human life of the last century are the central theme of Arupa’s novel yet the writer constantly displays protagonists’ empathy and concern about the happenings around her. On receiving the news of Indira Gandhi assassination, she pictures the image of an elegant lady being brutally killed and thought about the hard life of all womenfolk whether here or there, whether rich or poor, whether a woman in power or a labourer – her fate is always almost similar. Felanee thought about her children, her husband and parents. During the conflicts and quest for identity Felanee emerges as a fighter and participant, leader and activist. She critiques the bloodshed and the concept of boundary that is going on at the cost of innocent peoples lives. She utters, “I neither need a separate dress, nor a separate state. All I need is something to wear and one square meal” (Kalita 212).
Along with the power of friendship the novel chooses to portray failed relationship, victimization, tensions and inner turmoil. When agitations were at its peak it was the politicians and leaders of the group who benefitted whereas women, children and elderly were worst sufferers. Young boys shouted slogans; some looted the shops, while men like Bulen receive training in the hills to kill people, leaving his mad wife and child. Minoti’s prince charming who is a member of the ULFA who had deserted her earlier after making her pregnant, comes to her bed once again for his sexual pleasure and fulfillment and not to take her as his wife. Bulen had earlier warned Felanee to keep away from Minoti telling that the fellow responsible for her condition, he and his companions are going to leave ULFA and surrender. Once they do that they are going to fall on her like vultures on a corpse. She was once again duped into believing that he would take her as his wife after his surrender. She even was not willing to believe the wise counsel of Felanee who very bluntly told her that he will be the cause of her finish choosing to hope and believe his utterance of not putting her into anymore trouble. Later to her chagrin he took the young Ratna in his car but again, not to keep her permanently with him, rather only to send her back home after some days by bus. Jun’s mother and Jaggu’s wife are victims of marital rape and domestic violence. Jaggu’s wife, with five children and a difficult life also has to deal with her husband’s infidelity and lecherous character. They loss their mental and physical peace, get abuses and beatings from their husbands. The circumstances of Minoti, Jaggu’s wife and Jon’s mother are the examples of what man can do to woman’s body to fulfill their brutal desire. Jaggu’s wife’s stomach-turning health with a prolapsed uterus is a victim of work load, unwanted pregnancy and abortion. In the midst of all these oppressed women the writer fitted in a whore, the driver’s wife who is an extremely bad influence to younger girls.
As these women are seen less important economically and considered not to possess any right over their own body, Kalita vividly illustrates the personal lives and status of these women at home and bedroom. They belong to marginalized group, who are subjected underclass, and do not have a voice of their own; yet work hard for survival and economic sustenance but are rewarded with rape and violence at all levels. This has connotation to Kate Millet’s argument that women in patriarchy are marginal citizens whose situations are like other minorities, dependent upon its status.
Through their friendship these women face challenges related to race, class and gender oppressions. This solidarity leads to healing and survival finding relief in sharing tales of broken life. They sat together, remembered the past, continued to worry, and shared their sorrow. Towards the end gathering all the broken pieces of their life and enduring prolonged suffering they developed communal resistance. They dared, stood up for their menfolk who were arrested by army demanding their release. Prolonged existence under insurgency has made these women strong enough and ready to face the challenges of life. Kalita allows the voices of women to speak about their experiences in the realms of home and the world. There is a group of women, who are affected at all levels during the conflict irrespective of class or caste. They decide to choose patience, raise their children, run their business, liberate themselves and self-develop from different forms of oppression; assimilate to fight back prejudice. Despite all violence and trauma the womenfolk hope for survival, a better world with peace and prosperity.
Similar to the earlier novel The Collector’s Wife is a tale of the unrest that almost torched the Assam valley due to the anti-foreigner movement that lasted for six to seven years which saw much violence unleashed on vulnerable populace by numerous insurgency groups that became active on this issue. In such a situation kidnapping, extortion became rampant. As literature is a medium of telling a story of a place, its people, its happenings, it cannot be free from the incidences occurring in the vicinity of the litterateurs. Just as insurgency changed the place and people of Assam, it has also changed the landscape of Assamese literature. A new genre of texts with traumatic experience as the backdrop has emerged in recent years. Set against the backdrop of Assam Agitation of the 70s and 80s, the violent insurgency that grip Assam flows like murky water through Phukan’s novel, The Collector’s Wife with tales of MOFEH (ULFA) kidnapping rampantly active. The students’ agitation that began as a movement for self-determination is shown to have grown into a full blown insurgency that almost crippled the Assamese psyche.
In such a scenario is set the story about an episode in the life of a District Collector’s wife, Rukmini Bezboruah, part-time lecturer in English at the local Deenanath Saikia College. She lives with her husband, Siddharth, in Parbatpuri, an unquiet district town in trouble torn Assam. Her marriage and her life have been uneventful; neither madly passionate nor bitterly unhappy but deprived of enjoying what motherhood brings about. From the very beginning the relationship between Rukmini and Siddharth is apathetic. Apparently stable on the surface, Rukmini suffers from inner turmoil and loneliness. Siddharth is always busy with the ever-occurring clash-ridden incidents which keep him on the move all the time that he does not have time to discuss the fertility issue in their conjugal life. Much of the time, she lives all alone in the DC’s bungalow. The two beds in their room are separated. She longs and waits for her husband’s companionship, and his touch. But he neither hugs nor touches her. She has an urge to touch his arm when he comes into the room after a bath but feeling it would be unwelcomed she does nothing of the sort. However, despite the lack of romantic attachment in their relationship they share a mutual respect and admiration for one another.
Kidnapping, extortion, death, MOFEH bandhs, is the everyday talk of Parbatpuri. Nandini Deuri, wife of the Superintendent of Police, sees her husband shot dead on the dining table when they were celebrating their wedding anniversary with their children at a restaurant. After Mr. Deuri’s death, she becomes mentally strong to take up business on her own in a bid to carve out her own position. This does not mean that she endeavours to deny her previous patriarchal affiliation through her new enterprise; rather she says that she was proud being Mr. Deuri’s wife. Rukmini admires Nadini for this achievement because she has transformed from a dutiful homemaker to a courageous entrepreneur by starting a bakery. She herself is not proud of being the DC’s wife; rather she tries to be independent. Her teaching at the college despite being a part time teacher is proving this. Though her work at the college gave no job satisfaction, it provided the needed escape from the lonely house of the DC’s bungalow. She kept herself busy by going to college and doing some social work through the ladies club of which she was the President.
The idea of motherhood is a traditional construct which believes “it is through motherhood that woman fully achieves her physiological destiny; that is her natural vocation” (Beauvoir 537). It becomes mandatory for a woman to be a mother because by becoming a mother in turn, woman joins the long line of mothers, thereby attaining total emancipation for her. As such, they are always imagined as potential mothers and their reproducing capability becomes their identity. Any woman who does not conceive a child is understood to be flawed and, in India, inauspicious, and her presence in any auspicious occasion is unwelcomed. Rukmini undergoes such a situation when she attends Rita’s wedding. She has been married for the last ten years and the couple hasn’t conceived a child as yet. Therefore, the bride’s mahis, their minds tinted by traditional patriarchic notions, conveniently considers Rukmini to be barren and leave a trail of conversation to put her in a position of lack, ‘what time we are living through! In my days, even the shadow of a barren woman wasn’t allowed to fall on a bride’ (Phukan 15). Going by the fact that
‘The desire for a child is a feminine sensibility, and while we should not overlook the emotional suffering of infertility, pregnancy loss, or still birth sorrows of women’ (Sahoo 21),
one can categorize the mahis as being extremely insensitive, ignorant characters in the novel, for though Rukmini pretended to be normal, “the voices of the three women had echoed in her head for a long time..” (Phukan 41). But Renu Bezboruah, mother in-law of Rukmini does not put the blame on her daughter-in-law, rather she squarely blames it upon her son for not being able to carve any time out of his pact schedule. The Bezboruah ladies share a strong familial bondage almost that of sisterhood in which many women find console. This beautiful relationship of shared understanding, maybe, is the reason behind Rukmini’s strength to withstand all the psychological fear and trauma that comes her way. It was the mother in-law who tenderly suggest about test tube; ovum donor ship and surrogacy at which Rukmini flinch. The kindnesses of the elder Bezboruah lady in turn make Rukmini realize that the family needs an heir. She is incapable of giving them one and is worried about her dysfunctional womb. She makes all possible attempts to remove the tag of being barren. She goes through fertility test, takes pergonal for ovulation. Rukmini felt as if she has been through the process of douching every time she visited the doctors but she could do nothing to prevent it. She had silently suffered and felt a sense of violation after each examination of her womb, vagina and ovaries.
Into such a scenario, walks in, Manoj Mahanta, attractive, frank, pleasantly affectionate peripatetic sales employee and a divorcee, in whom Rukmini finds a companion. A refreshing friendship develops replete with an indiscretion at the Ranijan Club on a storm-tossed day after which she becomes pregnant with his child. She, for the first time realizes that the problem of infertility is not with her but lies with her husband. She wants to keep the child at all cost. The relationship between Rukmini and Manoj was driven more by friendliness rather than sexuality. With Manoj she can talk about her husband’s infidelity and their incident at the Ranijan Club without embarrassment. Manoj’s gentlemanly quality attracted her. When she fell down from dizziness and nausea in the middle of the street, it was him who saved her modesty by pulling the folds of her sari which has climb up to her knees. His smiles and show of concern fascinated her. She finds a natural companionship in him, which is missing in her relationship with Siddhart. In his company she comes out of the persona of the collector’s wife and is able to recall her carefree days when she was an ice-cream addict once a long time ago. She is caught in a web of thought concerning how Manoj would react about the child, when her husband asks her whether she loved Manoj. She replies in the negative thinking, “…the appreciation of the companionship with a man who was otherwise almost a total stranger, could that be called love?” (Phukan 278). Later when she tries to tell Siddhart about her emotions for Manoj, the former cut her short by informing her about the latter’s abduction by the MOFEH. Siddhart is a foil to the stereotype traditional patriarchal man for he neither flies into a rage nor ask for abortion when she tells him about her pregnancy. Instead he appears extremely understanding about the whole matter. He took it upon himself the duty to supervise the rescue operation of this particular kidnapping which otherwise was not required, thus endangering his life. When she discovers Siddharth’s affair with Priyam, a colleague of hers, a rebuilding of understanding was underway between Siddharth and Rukmini but then tragedy struck. Both the men in her live become victims of MOFEH killing. Siddhart is killed as he was the district administrator trying to stop the MOFEH flight. Manoj, as a hostage of kidnapping gets killed in the crossfire that ensues over the Red River between the security personals and the insurgents. Such an end was inevitable.
As normal human beings, Indian women, too, have emotions, aspirations and dreams. It has been reflected in the novel that “Indian woman wins her liberty and equality by her own efforts in convincing the men around her and achieves her identity with the support of men” (Kanitha 77). In The Collector’s Wife, though the social position of the protagonist is exalted she is lonely and craves for company. Rukmini has a hidden interest for a better career, which the husband never seems to know, but is aroused by Manoj’s words, “women do have careers … real careers, not the kind of half-hearted thing that you are doing” (Phukan 161). He even encourages her to send resume to advertising agencies and freelance for some newspaper. She secretly imagines becoming a journalist with a column of her own. She succeeds to emerge from a silent sufferer in loneliness and lovelessness to an independent thinker who decides her future. She is even able to convince Siddhart about the reasons leading to her infidelity and in turn brings the discussion round on their mutual infidelity. When the two men in her life are killed, she will not lead the life of a traditional Indian widow. Rather she would lose her identity as the collector’s wife, pursue a career of a copywriter or a sub-editor of a magazine and live the life of a mother to her child. The novel show Rukmini and Nandini carve out a niche to establish their individual identity by shedding off their recognized identity as wives and widows of distinct administrative officers. Rukmini get a purpose to lead her life afresh. Physical, mental and financial sustenance became a necessity for the sake of her child. Towards the end we see Rukmini as a more emancipated woman. Along with her decision to pursue a career of their choice, they acquire immense strength and courage to face deaths. Rukmini braves the death of the two men in her live, both victims of MOFEH killing.
Easterine Kire, presenting the pre-war Kohima town through the eyes of her mother and the leaves of her Aunt Khrielieviu’s diary, tells about the battle of Kohima, 1944, and brings to life for the first time an authentic voice which has been silent for too long, amidst the horror of the war that overwhelmed the people. Kire, explicitly woman-centred, her works address issues of domestic concerns like friends, get-togethers, falling in love, marriage, children rearing, etc which loom large while all the time the Battle of Kohima forms the backdrop of the story. The text portrays a young pregnant woman whose fiancé, Vic was killed by a ‘sniper’s bullet’ of the Japanese army and is enveloped by the existential human predicament. Mari, a retelling and a remembering of the author’s aunt Khrielieviu’s life, is a collation of memories of a woman who struggles through more than one love, suffers heartbreaks, and creates a family, the true story of a young mother who after losing her fiancé in the war, bravely makes the decision to live on for her child. Pabitra Buragohain truly opines that “this too is battle, of a different cast of heroism” (Margins 158) for a young pregnant girl who is yet to attain maturity, life appears an uphill task. Enveloped by the vagaries of life, it was only love that helped her survive the crisis that hit her at such a young age. By living passionately and loving unreservedly Mari give depth and meaning to the scattered events and accidents of her live.
The carefree, picnic-going life of women in North East India as presented by E. Kire in this text is short-lived because of the region under duress for too long due to warfare and militancy. When the Second World War reached Nagaland in 1944, the 17 year old Mari and her young sisters are evacuated from home and separated from their family. They are forced to run from village to village, camping in fields, eating herbs, seeking shelter and a trustworthy friend. When they came upon a village, their hunger driving away their fear, they pressed towards the abandoned houses hoping to find food. But instead a Japanese soldier came in and signaled Zhabzu, Mari’s sister, to follow him. He picked her up, slung her over his shoulder and walked off. Though only 15, Zhabzu was a sturdy girl. She bit down on the soldiers arm till she drew blood making the soldier roar in pain. It was only her strength and courage that saved her from joining the hoards of women who were victims of abuse and rape. Amidst these crises, the young pregnant Mari who with her siblings had been on the run for several days to escape the onslaught of the rampaging Japanese army, pines for her fiancé Vic, a soldier in the British army. On 18th April an unusual thing happened. A lone bee came buzzing directly towards Mari, settled on her hair first, then shoulder, and hovered over her. They became alarmed because the Angami Nagas believe that if a bee does not leave bothering a person for a long time that means it has a message for the person. Later they come to know that Vic was killed by a sniper’s bullet on the 18th of April. Her world collapsed. She screamed but only a choked cry was all that came out of her throat. She experienced immense pain,
everything hurt so much inside me…my heart was going to burst from the pain…this could not be happening. Vic had said he would come to me. He had always kept his promised. (86).
But this time he never came back. She needed Vic and missed him terribly. It was a difficult pregnancy with weakness and morning sickness. Life has just begun and it seems to have ended immediately. She felt despair enveloping her and thought, “Did life end at eighteen?” (Kire 102). When she visited the grave at Garisson Hill, she felt hollow and wanted to die along with Vic. But the movement of the baby just at that moment tugging at her made her decide not to pine away but to live on for the baby’s sake and for Victor’s sake, who gave his today so that she may have a better tomorrow. On 19 December 1944, Marion, a beautiful testament of their love, was born. She had her father’s eyes. Mari’s parents gave the child an Angami name too, Neilano, which means, “we will be happy again” (103), which is an expression craving for peace.
As the whole region assiduously follow customary system of law, which in spirit is patriarchal the traditional Nagas are no exception. Such patriarchal societies draw the perimeter for a woman. Therefore, the social custom decreed that
birth of a male child is auspicious; man is provider and protector of society; woman is subordinate to her husband; birth of a female child is welcomed for…she will help her mother in household chores and help her brother (Zehol 302)
this becomes a code in their culture. As followers of customary system of law, the Naga tradition prescribes that the role of women was “to look after the house and children, and nothing beyond that” (Kire 06). This could be interpreted that education is denied her. It is better if a Naga girl is married off early. The preference for an early marriage of a Naga girl connotes to the universal practice – “before she is out of her teens, she was to be betrothed” (Woolf 49). We also meet Marina who had blossomed into a beautiful girl learning the proficiency in household chores. Anyie Kereikieu, the narrator’s aunt, a non Christian, who still followed the old Naga tradition, tells Mari’s mother that she was already married and a mother when she was 16, insinuating that Mari be married off as she has attained the age of 16. She fails to see anything wrong in marrying off a girl who is yet to be an adult. But Mari’s mother gently replies that times have changed and the children wishes to finish school before they settle down. The outlook of the converted Nagas who studied in the missionary school has changed to a great extend. The denial to follow the custom of marrying off their daughters at an early age is an aspect of modern outlook and the respect shown to their women. But just a little earlier, when the two ladies talked about Marina, the narrator’s foster sister they seem to be contradicting this outlook. She is gentle mannered, good voiced and a hard worker, adept at all household work. The appreciation she receives for being a good worker has connotation to, “she is taught to please; she must try to please” (Beauvoir 305) because her dexterity at household chores and her feminineness would be her qualification that would fetch a good husband. However, the need of the tribe for a sturdy, hard and good worker woman lay in the fact that the Nagas are a warring tribe and they inhabit a region which has mountainous terrain. Their men folk remained absent from home during inter-tribe conflicts. At such time it is the woman who is in-charge. As hard worker is more useful in the hills, her training starts from a very young age where she is taught to learn the tasks done by her mother.
When the battle of Kohima ends, Mari is no longer the naïve, innocent girl of yesterday, but has transformed into a woman who has faced some of the direst moments in life. The egalitarian society, to which her family belonged, permits to protect and support her. Vic and Mari never had an official marriage in the Church. An unwed girl’s pregnancy would be blasphemy in many parts of India, yet Mari’s family is supportive of her decision and this is another aspect of modernity in their culture, another instance that reveals the immense respect they have for their women folk. In October 1943, Mari’s family accepted Vic into their fold. In February 1944, her father consented to their marriage and that very evening they were engaged. They were supposed to be married in March. But the information of the Japanese advance close to Kohima forced the shifting of the offices from Kohima to Dimapur. Mary’s father who was the treasury officer had to leave for Shillong with important documents and money. So, Vic came to live with them. With their father away in Shillong, he took charge of the family. In the Angami Naga culture, Vic coming to live with them made them “a married pair” (Kire 45). The proposed March wedding was out of the question now. But both agreed to have a church wedding after the war, oblivious to the ominous designs of fate.
Dickie, a British soldier comes into her life and expresses his desire to marry her. He wanted to take her with him to England as his wife but her father and brother denied permission as they felt he was too young and also because they didn’t want Mari getting hurt a second time. But the decision did not lay with Dicky and Mary. The DC, Mr. Pawsey informed that neither could Dicky stay back in Kohima nor was he permitted to take his small family to England. After Lily was born Mari took her two daughters to the village council and as per custom registered their names. After this, both children were acknowledged as legal offspring of their father. This was how a foreigner was accepted and adopted into the tribe. Now Mari is assured that her children can settle in Nagaland and own property if they want to.
When her two daughters were ready to go to school, she seriously thought of finding out ways and means to support her family. So she sought to rebuild her life and travel to Chandigarh to fulfill an old dream of becoming a qualified nurse. Her three years stay in the Christian Medical College, Ludhiana to finish the course was a challenge, and she has to fulfill it despite her pillows being soaked through with tears every night, missing home and her daughters terribly. After completion of her education she joined Digboi Assam Oil Company hospital as a member of their senior staff on the suggestion of her brother Sam. Here she meets the O’Leary family with their two sons and daughters. Once again a truly wonderful man in the person of Patrick O’Leary offers love and devotion to Mari. With her parents consent Pat and Mari marry on the 15th February, 1957. Despite the political conflict in Kohima and the massive presence of Indian army people came together for the celebration of marriage. After five years of togetherness, Mari is struck with wonder that she could be so happy once more. Going down memory lane, she thought of Vic with gratitude and sorrow. She would always remember his love for her. Her love for Dick remained for a long time, a dull and constant ache till she met Pat. After that, her memories of Dickie grew less painful until they faded into her past.
In Mari, the men folk in the family are extremely caring of their women. With their support the naiveté Mari from traditional tribal society mature more with her experiences from the vagaries of life, and goes on to achieve her long cherished dream. Mari gets a purpose to lead her life afresh. Physical, mental and financial sustenance became a necessity for her for the sake of her child. Towards the end Mari is a more emancipated woman. Along with her decision to pursue a career of her choice, she acquires immense strength and courage to face deaths. Mari, despite initial dissolution braves the death of Vic and her parents, the separation from Dick and finally accomplishes contentment with Pat.
Kire’s A Terrible Matriarchy starts with Dielieno telling the readers, “My grandmother didn’t like me. I knew this when I was four and a half” (Kire 01) seems to reveal the cruelty a girl child has to undergo under the strict vigilance of a matriarch. In the author’s words, she took “an abnormal situation, as there is no matriarchy in Nagaland, to show that some girls have an unfortunate life where they have to struggle for education and their rights in life” (Email). The four-year-old Lieno, the youngest among five children never felt privileged despite her being the only girl child in the family. At the tender age of five, she is dispatch off to the house of her grandmother by her doting parents, on the advice of grandmother Vibano, to be trained as a good woman. Grandmother Vibano, a matriarch of her clan, who enjoy the status of the grand dame among women, is a “notorious enabler of male ego and spoiler of female confidence and modern education” (Pimomo 291).She represents “some clever, manipulative women who can manipulate men and the patriarchal system to use it to suppress and abuse young girls and younger women” (email). This is called gender abuse within the same gender. Grandmother’s overpowering need to follow tradition made her believe that it is only boys who get extra piece of meat and savor sweets which make her snub at Lieno when she ask for chicken leg. At such a tender age Lieno, experience disparity in treatment between herself and her brothers, which baffles her. She was too young to understand or question about it. The jaggery and sweet potatoes in grandmother’s house are also for the boys and not for Lieno. When she overhears her parents’ conversation to send her to grandmother’s place, she wished to die. Once when she was playing with Uncle Atu, Lieno received a beating on the back of her calf along with harsh admonition from grandmother for being like a monkey saying she had never seen such a bad “behaved girl” ( Kire 05). On Uncle Atu’s protest that she was just a child, grandmother spluttered, “No girl, no decent girl climb up a man’s shoulder ….. They have to be taught young” (Kire 05). She even rebukes Nino, Lieno’s mother for sending the older boys to fetch water commanding further, “send the girl next time, that is girls’ work. No man in my day has ever fetched water” (Kire 03) overlooking the fact that the water pot is as big as Lieno. Steep in patriarchy, Grandmother passionately believe that girls must be raised “on a tight leash” (Kire 06) to avoid any blemish on her and the family name. The tension between grandmother and granddaughter is so evident that Dielieno dreads to stay at grandmother’s place. The old lady addresses the child as girl and never call by her good name which irked her at times. The name Dielieno which in Angami means “little errand girl” (Pimomo 290), describes the role of a girl in the society. It refers to “servitude, which insinuates suppression and submission” (Whiso 301). Thus, Lieno submits her formative years to a matriarch who wants to make her into a good worker. Her routine starts at the crack of dawn with cold-water bath as grandmother did not permit Bano to heat water for the child’s bath, followed by fetching water from the water spring a few distance away with the water basket reaching her knee, fetching wood to lit the fire and stacking the firewood after chopping, making the bed with the tassel falling at the appropriate place, peeling potato, fetching the yarn basket for grandmother, feeding the chicken in the morning and counting them at night – all these she learnt at the tender age of five when she should be actually playing, laughing and frolicking. However, for this child undergoing training to become a good worker and a good Naga wife and mother, frolic and play are miles away from her vicinity. Instead, she receives the severest of rebuke with the direction to return to the dark, cold coop if the number of chicken is less in the evening,
The old lady believes girls don’t need education because it has nothing to do with maturing into a good Naga wife and mother. She shows annoyance when Lieno’s parents approach her for the later’s education saying,
In our day, girls did not go to school. We stayed at home and learned the housework. Then we went to the fields and learned all the fieldworks as well. That way one never has a problem with girl-children. They will always be busy at some work or other, too busy to get into trouble, (22)
thinking that modern education will lead girls astray. It is only the insistence of Lieno’s parents that forces grandmother Vibano to allow her young worker to attend school. However, Bano, the other girl in grandmother’s house did not have the good fortune of Lieno, who has loving parents to speak on her behalf. She, with no education lives here because she has nowhere else to go, as she did not know any other life outside grandmother’s house. When Lieno reaches the age of nineteen, an offer of marriage comes her way. It was then they came to know that such proposals came previously too, but Lieno and her parents never knew about it because as per custom the boy’s family approached Aunt Bino who rebuffed the proposals by saying that Lieno was too outspoken to be considered good wife material.
Towards the end mother tells Lieno to forgive and forget, explaining to her why grandmother was the way she was. Mother opined that she trained the girl with a firm hand only because she wanted to teach her to become a good woman, and because men generally don’t like their women to be aggressive and outspoken. They prefer woman who is docile and a good worker. She tells Lieno that grandmother had a hard life when she was young. She goes on to explain that the reason why Grandmother was partial to boys was the male-only inheritance system. In their custom, “widows without sons lost all their husband’s property to other male relatives” (Kire 250) which made the women intent on marrying men with property and become obsessed with giving birth to male child who will care for them in old age and carry the family name forward. Grandmother saw her own mother, who had no son suffer because of this custom and this shaped her thinking about boys and girls. Because of the total adherence to their male-centred custom she opines,
In my father’s day, boys never did any work because they had to look after the village and engage enemy warriors in warfare. The household that did not have a male heir was considered barren. They were always in constant danger if there was a war. The women would have only one man to protect them. That is why we love our male children so much and we give them the best of food. And we should (35).
The gender divide and the rights of men opposed to women run through the novel. At Christmas feast, the men cook and serve, giving the best pieces of meat to the men folk. The unmarried grandmother Neiko, sister of grandmother Vibano, stayed on in her father’s house. But the house actually belonged to their brother Sizo who settled in another town. Neiko could live here but will never be owner of the property. Another child Vimenuo, Lieno’s friend is terrified of her father who was angry at his wife for giving birth to only daughters. Bano explains to Lieno that girl-children are never considered real members of the family, as their mission is to marry, have children, cook, weave clothes, and look after the household. After marriage their identity is attach with the identity of the husband or the children.
In Bitter Wormwood, Kire presents four generations of women : the grandmother -Khrineuo, mother – Vilau, daughter in-law – Neilhounuo , and daughter – Thejangusanuo (Sabunuo). In her explicit style she reveals the Naga world to us where women had to endure the hard life in this “bone and knuckle” (Dai 74), economically underprivileged, geographically disadvantaged region of the country. Vilau was huge with pregnancy and was nearing her delivery period. But she had to go to the fields to get the paddy ready for the harvest. While working in the field labour pains develop and she had to deliver the baby boy, Mose, in the field shed. Her mother in-law helped her to wash the infant with the water from the stream. Their neighbours were not surprised to see Vilau return home with an infant boy because in those days’ women birthing while working in the field was a common thing experienced by many. A woman, under customary law and also residing in such tough terrain, life is never a cake walk. As the role of a woman is to be “a wife, mother and farmeress” (Kelhou 55) for her chores are many and there is no time to rest. In other parts of the country women in Vilau’s condition would not be allowed to expose herself to such ardous task as harvesting on the eve of giving birth to a baby. Over and above she is soon widowed when her husband Luo-o was crushed by the huge tree ritually selected to prepare the clan gate before the festival. She mourned his death for a long time during which she neglected and rebuked Mose who grew up in between the care bestowed upon him by his mother and grandmother Khrienuo. Later, we see her working in the fields all alone. The toughest time to plough the land was during January and February when the wintry ground was stony. Despite being a good and hard worker she realized that this hard earth needed the strength of a man to dig up the iron earth. She would rest in the shade and survey her day’s labour and would realize that it was not enough. Though digging was a back-breaking task she learned to do it resting occasionally which helped her work more effectively. Her hands were calloused from working years in the field. She encouraged herself with the thought that her son would help her when he becomes older. “Widowhood was hard because the woman had to till the fields alone” (Kire 29). Her in-laws and Luo-o’s cousins did extend help sometimes. By the time Mose reach the age of ten or eleven he learned a little digging, little hunting and lots of reading and writing. He even asked his mother to teach him cooking. When his mother said it’s not a man’s work the boy replied that he would not mind doing so if it would be of help to her. But time was changing and the prediction of the prophetess of their land facing two wars consecutively seems to be a reality. The soldiers of Indian army started to multiply in their land after Zapuphizo demanded independence for the Nagas by writing that they should not be made part of India. Even the grandmother agreed that they were never a part of India. From school, from market, children and adult saw protest processions by the people and blank fires being carried out by security forces. Vilau and the others also did not dare to work for long hours for fear of the Indian army who stood and looked at them for several hours. Her mother in-law’s sensible counsel was that it was wiser to return early because one must be extremely careful when so many soldiers were around. She recalls the time when her friend was picked up by the Japanese soldiers and on her return she wept and cried, and wept and cried. The older woman also said that they cannot force them to become Indians. With curfews almost everyday things went from bad to worst. Then on the day of election 1952, both the women returned home grey-faced. On being asked where they had been, Vilau told that after the children left for school the adults were made to assemble at the village council where the policemen forced them to give their thumbprints in little pieces of paper and put them in a box. Those who refused received a hard beating on the side of their head with the rifle. Khrienuo said that whatever they are doing is so very wrong. Soon after that atrocities began and public anger was growing against the army who carried sporadic shooting. Many young men left home to join the underground giving the impetus to the army to carry atrocities further. In one of these shootings, three members of Naga National Council were killed and as per Naga custom the murder of a relative must be avenged. Their neighbor Kezevinuo informed them that many women in the Sema areas have been raped and so however tempting it maybe to complete the field work they should leave it and return home early. There was such a feeling of being watch that they would hurriedly finish their work and prepare to go home. Keeping her hoe Vilau went to the stream to wash her hands and feet when she heard the sound of gunshot. She came running just to find Khrineuo lying dead on the field. It was the soldiers who fired the shot. The villagers told Mose that they have seen them in the woods for the past five days but they all thought that the soldiers would do no harm to them if they busied themselves with cultivation works. It was a shout which made the soldiers aim their fire towards the field. The turmoil in his homeland made sons like Mose want to leave education. They felt guilty going to school when all the villagers are in so much trouble. Mose offered to drop out and work in the field while his mother should stay and rest at home. But Vilau replied, “What makes you think I’d be safer at home, son? They are everywhere, and they attack everyone” (Kire 80). The kidnap of a woman, her rape and murder enraged all the villagers with everyone talking of revenge while the army didn’t bother to make any secrets of the crime committed by them. That night Vilau’s son told his decision to join the Naga underground. As a woman could not stand between a man and his destiny, even if the man was her son, Vilau also did not stop him following his fate. That night her son left home with his friend, Neituo, to join the Underground. Both Vilau and Neituo’s mother, Kezevinuo were desolate. During the long period of their absence from home the widowed mother and Kezevinuo missed their son sorely. They yearned to have a look at them. After the dismal news of Nagaland being declared a state in India and a ceasefire of the underground group, Mose was informed about the illness of Vilau. He returned home to find his mother suffering a tumour which was cancerous. Her happiness at his return home made her prepare meals for her son which he ravished. In the following months she gradually grew weaker. Sometimes she spent half the day in bed, getting up with difficulty. Doctors had given only a year at the most. So she asked her to bring a daughter in-law home before that happens.
The girl her son chose to be her daughter in-law is the rifle girl, Neilhounuo who was also a member of the Underground along with them. She was a good shot and a good soldier, better than the boys with guns, very straight forward in expressing her opinions and later Mose said that she was unfeminine, maybe due to her years in the jungle. She had also left the organization soon after them because of a sick father who had no one to look after him as the girl’s mother expired when she was seven. She was a tall girl, spoke roughly, liked Mose and shared a cocoyam with him. The marriage was not a big affair but a simple one because of Vilau’s illness. Both the mother in-law and daughter in-law got along very well which removed all the earlier apprehensions that Vilau had. Soon after, a daughter was born to the couple whom they named Thejangusanuo. This gave more energy to the older woman giving the appearance that she is getting better. Who would have guessed that she was ravaged from within! She soon passed away. Clans people came to help burry the death and everyone talked about the wonderful relationship shared by Khrienuo and Vilau. Now Mose found it clumsy trying to be a father to their daughter who was nicknamed Sabunuo. So his style of parenting was to be like a mother, the way he himself was brought up by Vilau. Neilhounuo naturally became the strict parent.
When her husband Mose and his friend Neituo talk about the underground group that left for China the previous year and the clashes they had with the Burmese army, Neilhounuo served tea and left them to their man-talk. A member of the underground once, after marriage she had put all that behind her. Pondering over the last twenty years of struggle she felt the futility of it all. So many perished which seem futile deaths now. She just hoped lasting peace would prevail in their land so that they can all raise their children in peace. For the last twenty one years there was neither respite nor solution. She just felt that if it had not been a man’s war but women’s maybe they would have talked it over and sorted it long time back. After all, it was the women who bore the brunt by becoming a widow, losing their fiancé, brothers and sons with the whole responsibility falling on their soldiers. But their custom did not decree that women settle wars. It decreed that they mourn the death of their warriors and take responsibility of family members. So steeped in their customary rules that women never felt their role of looking after the home in the absence of the men, fending food for all the members at home, protecting and guiding them deserves heroic acknowledgment. Some of them were in the underground along with her fighting alongside the men for their people and their land. Those who did not join the underground were also equally involved carrying messages hidden in their folds, sharing their food with the one hiding, tilling extra fields, cutting trees for firewood, repairing houses and all the other works assigned to men by their custom. As war was men’s affair, the tasks womenfolk did and the pain endured by her during those dark years were overlooked. Once an active member who was the best with the gun, Neilhounuo now realizes that war was for the young and it was temporary. She hoped that people would work as hard for peace as they did for war because prolonged war takes away the zest for living. After the killing of one CRPF man, Neilhounuo got to hear disturbing news that they are now targeting former underground members and her husband’s name was in the list of the bureau. The knowledge that her husband was under surveillance made her gradually joined him at the shop, helping out with the dusting, cleaning and sweeping of the back room. Several days after two rough young boys attacked the shop and Mose, lambasting him “Traitors! You and your kind have sold off the cause” (Kire 139). Later they came to know that the roughing up was the handiwork of the breakaway group of the underground who were now on the lookout for former members and several of them received threatening letters calling them traitors. The new group called themselves National Socialist Council of Nagaland. They learned that this new group would not stop at killing a Naga if he tried to make appeasement between the two opposed groups of the underground which made them realize that the Naga cause has come to an end because when killing takes place in the same family, there is left no cause. Neilhounuo was disgusted with the factionalism taking place because this has gone on to increase more crime. Extortion, kidnapping, intimidation, beating, kicking became the order of the day. One day the deshwali paanwala who had his shop near Mose’s was attacked by two ruffians who were brutally beating and kicking him. On hearing this small boy cry ‘baba, baba’, Mose immediately went to intervene and in the ensuing struggle Mose received two shots that killed him instantly. Neilhounuo was distraught to see Mose die in this manner. It was the first time that Sabunuo saw her mother’s hard-face crumple. In front of their eyes she became old and gray within a span of few days. She would not have been able to take a single morsel of rice if it had not been for the grandson. She reconciled herself to the thought that everyone is allotted a special time. Therefore either this way or that way he would have died that day because it was his time. She learned to forgive and remove all the bitterness against the killers.
Their daughter Thejangusanuo whom everybody addresses as Sabunuo was a bright girl. She is a lot like her mother. As a child she was in the school group welcoming Indira Gandhi to Kohima with flowers. She will always remember the white hair on the forehead of Mrs. Gandhi. Several were apprehensive of this visit but some were certain that the underground group won’t attack or cause damage to her as they follow a principal of doing no harm to women and children. She loved school but from seven and eight she didn’t enjoy it much because algebra was too tough for her. Her father suggested that she can opt for home science as it was the subject for girls in lieu of maths. She read in the same class with the thin and tall Vilalhuo, son of Neituo. She had always been fiercely protective about him, threatening bigger boys who picked on him. Now they plan to marry. Parents from both sides wanted to hurry the wedding but Sabunuo was adamant to wait till December. She wanted to save enough towards her new home so that the couple need not overburden their parents. As she was good with the loom she wanted to set up a weaving establishment instead of working under someone. A simple marriage was consummated between the two in December 1986 after Sabunuo transferred her weaving looms to her in-laws. Like all Naga women she was a hard worker and didn’t like idling away her time indulging in a long chat with guests for which she was misunderstood by many as being extremely rude. If it had not been for her mother in-law she would have been totally anguished hearing the adverse comments about herself. Besides till the tenth month after her marriage her tummy was still flat inviting more comments to the extent of remembering someone in her family line who was barren. Coming from the same lineage, she may also be infertile is the insinuation thrown in by many. The rumours came to a halt only when she gave birth in the summer to a baby boy named Neingusatuo. He was a very good baby, no trouble to his mother which provided her time to spend on her loom. The grandmothers enjoyed babysitting him, carrying him in the sling and taking him on a tour of the village which made the baby very happy and for the mother more time to do weaving work.
Part three of the text opens with the grandchild Neibou preparing to leave for Delhi for studies. Through him the writer revealed the harassment Northeasterners, specially the girls had to endure in the capital city. The girls are called and seen as badchalan or easy woman. They are vulnerable and had become easy target for assault and abuse. He had read about them becoming victims of planned rape and sexual assault and the city turning into a totally unsafe place for them. He also read about a young Manipuri girl being raped by two men and dumped her after completing the sickening crime. Neibou realized that they justified their heinous crime by a consensus that they were easily available. Despite protest from students group and human rights group this brutal act continued unabated. Even after the culprit is identified he is very soon let off on bail. Another day he was browsing through the paper and saw a small item:
Northeast girl molested by Holi revelers, denied help by police…. some men had thrown water balloons at a Northeastern girl. When she protested, they molested her. She managed to break free and report the case at the police booth. But the policeman on duty was unwilling to register her case and even shouted at her to shut up. (207)
This is an instance which reveals the discrimination the women of this region have to suffer at the hands of the metropolis dwellers for hailing from a region that follow egalitarian form of society which makes them believe that these women are ‘free’, with a derogatory sense to the word free, categorizing them as women of loose moral, inviting molestation upon themselves. Such erroneous notion about the women of this region has aggravated the image of these women making them soft targets in metropolis
Anjum Hasan talks about roots, identity, clash of culture, home, etc. in Lunatic In My Head. According to Sidhartha Deb it is one of the finest works to have come out of the forgotten territories of the North-East. The beauty of the novel is revealed through the author’s funny, tender and reflective portrayal of a small hill town, Shillong. There are voices in the novel that raise the issue of identity born out of the outsider- insider conflict. Along with the insider, the outsider also has an identity crisis, a fear of losing its originality. The book also deals with issues of home and exile which brings forward the cultural conflict. Hasan attempt to explore the complex knots of life like what we want to do, what we can actually do, and what really happens to us. All the three main characters in the novel, Firdaus, Aman and Sophie are strangers to one another, yet are joined by a common sequence of life in Shillong – the profound fascination with music and literature, the rain washed roads, dreamy boys smoking joints, the authoritative Khasis and their resentment against dkhars, snacking on peppered boiled potatoes soaked in tamarind water, and the wanting to break-free attitude. The author who had grown up and lived in Shillong most of her life give the impression of being very much in love with the place, which help her in portraying beautifully the laid-back spirit of the town.
Firdaus Ansari, a spinster in her thirties, is a professor in English literature who taught Hemingway to the pupils and at the same time was pursuing her M.Phil for the last four years with a thesis on Jane Austen. From Nongthymmai where she lived through Risa Colony, the neighbourhood, to the college where she worked, she walked everyday and would look and notice the people around. An assortment of an Assamese, Bengali, Bihari, Goan, Khasi, Manipuri, Nepali, Punjabi, Sindhi, Chinese, a quarter-British, quarter-Assamese of tea planter variety and a half Khasi notices her while she too notices them back. Ansari, a Bihari girl because her parents hailed from Bihar, refused to introduce herself as so because she was born in Shillong and had never lived anywhere else. To the people here she is a “dkhar, a foreigner who did not have roots here” (Hasan 04) but for her this is the only world she knew. She once had a dream of moving out of Shillong which was shattered with her parents’ death many years ago. Now she lived with her eighty-one year old grandfather who for the most part of his life lived in a village in Bihar till circumstances forced him to come to Shillong. He has a small business in the buying and selling of leather. Nana disapproved of her unmarried status and had often hinted at the indispensability of marriage. He later talked to her about Salim, the decent son of the Maulvi now working in Guwahati with an electronics company. Firdaus could neither imagine such a match nor broach the topic of illogical Ibomcha, her boyfriend, to a grandfather who prayed five times a day, read Urdu almanacs and did plentiful arithmetical calculations on the margins of newspaper. She thought of taking him home as a student who would come to learn English literature from her twice a week and later she would broach the subject of their odd relationship. She was North Indian, not yet so old, didn’t have any village to visit to, for that matter she had not been out of Shillong for the past twenty years, no other family but for her grandfather, where else Ibomcha was a Manipuri, though odd, at least had a place to go to, to visit a mother. He reinvented himself every week. He told her that as education was not good in Manipur, families who had money sent their sons to him for education at Shillong. He handled everything for them, from coaching the boys to face the interview, ordering stitch of uniforms,
“negotiating the donations to school principals who made no bones about wanting money in exchange for an admission” (Hasan 62) – though not for free. This was not the only thing he did for a living. He had other dealings too, of which Firdaus didn’t want to talk or ask about. There seems to be no future for them for Firdaus felt like an alien when Ibomcha talks about taking her to Manipur to meet his mother. Her existence appears to be stagnant as she has acquired the laid back attitude of the place. When Flossie or anyone asked her about her advancement regarding her MPhil she felt why the need of this degree at all! She might not even have enrolled if it was not entirely necessary. She didn’t trust her supervisor, Dr. Thakur. It was her supervisor’s insensitive conduct and inability to provide intellectual guidance that had led her to waste four years of her life. She realized now that she should have dropped him and sought for another supervisor long ago. In the chapter titled Disgust, Firdaus was confronted with the perverted side of him. He indirectly suggested her to plagiarize his thesis citing example of professors and scholars like Clare Smith and Angel who would not stop at anything for their careers. His depravity and corrupt nature was beyond Firdaus’s imagination and understanding. She was horrified, felt sickened, defiled, and mortified when he groped and molested her inside the taxi. After that she bundled all her Mphil papers and books into a carton and kicked the carton under her bed. For any woman physical abuses leave her feeling so defiled that she begins to loathe herself and so to remove the taint washes her body umpteenth times. This is what happened to Firdaus for
she took baths twice or thrice a day, scrubbimg herself so hard that her skin developed blotches and became dry as paper. Her hands would begin trembling suddenly, in class or when she was walking home. She avoided Ibomcha. She stopped wearing make-up; she never walked through the university campus, no matter what time of the day (251).
She washed her hands so frequently that even Flossie noticed and asked. Neither did she tell anyone about Thakur nor did she cry, not even when she was alone. She dreamt horrible dreams of Thakur where she always successfully ward him off. She exercised a secret moral benefit which if once revealed would make him recoil and sneak away. But these dreams never materialize into reality.
She thought, though inevitable matrimony seemed to be difficult and opaque for Firdaus and Ibomcha, she invited him home to tell him the relationship was over, that it had already happened at some indeterminate point in the past few months and now she just needed to tell him so. She planned to tell that she doesn’t want to meet him anymore and Ibomcha would stare and wordlessly walk out of the door. She would never see him again. If they passed each other on the street they would ignore one another, that’s how she planned it. In a few years her grandfather would die and finally she would slowly go crazy. The threat of a lonely boring Sunday and spinsterhood loomed over her again. When her Nana suggested that she should learn driving and not walk around in the Shillong cold she replied,
I am not going to learn driving because I’m never going to have a car. I don’t need one. I don’t like almonds. And please don’t talk about Maulvi sahib and his son. I’m not going to get married. Let’s stop talking about these things. Twenty years have passed, Nana. Something must have changed in these twenty years. Do you know how old I am? (262)
which hints of deep frustration. She was perspiring despite the cold weather and a black depression was working itself into her brain. She attempted her article for the souvenir on Mother Rudolphe but failed terribly. She flung her pen across the room which struck the mirror and fell clattering among her lipsticks and creams. She screamed, followed by a thin, protracted howl, and then sobs. She began crying as if she were in deep pain, cleaving to each sob agonizingly and face contorted with the effort. She got off the bed picked up objects from her dresser and smashed them on the floor; she pulled a pair of scissors, still sobbing, began cutting her clothes, slashing through saris, ripping blouses apart, she had cut halfway through them, working her scissors on the thick sleeve of a denim jacket, cutting up her panties halfway down the middle; She ran to the kitchen, began flinging plates to the floor and then threw her best six Borosil glasses which she had never found an occasion to use, send it crashing to the ground. Before she could finish destroying them, she felt like throwing up and ran to the bathroom to vomit in the toilet bowl. She even felt a fierce desire to destroy the house down. She rinsed her mouth and limped back to her bedroom. Avoiding the mess on the floor, she sat down heavily and pulled out a small shard of glass from her foot, wedge in the underside of the joint of her big toe. Throwing the bloodied bit of glass onto the pile in the middle of the room she lay back on her bed, while blood slowly trickled from the wound onto the floor. Firdaus stared at the ceiling with hollow-eye. Just then the doorbell rang. Wiping her face on her kurta sleeve, she went to answer the door, little smudged prints of blood appearing in her wake. It was Ibomcha. He grinned at her and stepped inside. Firdaus sat down on the sofa and stared at him, the blankness in her eyes not revealing the pain that was already re-formimg in her chest, threatening to erupt again into tears and rage. Later she recalled how he proposed marriage to her. Without answering him, she told him everything about her parents’ death, about the morgue in which the bodies were kept, about how her mother was still holding a white handkerchief in her hand and looked calm, while her father’s left arm was gone and his glasses were missing. She told him about the graveyard where her cousin, who was sent by her grandfather, and she took her parents, and how there was no one else there, till she realized that they were being cremated. Then they’d just sat like that, in silence for a long time, holding hands, till Firdaus’s grandfather came home. Kong Bina had earlier said that it’s not good for a woman to be alone. All the freedom to do what you want, go out any time, call anyone home, but a woman ultimately need a man. She advised Firdaus to marry Ibomcha praising him highly saying that he was a man of good character who will look after her well.
We meet an interesting gamut of lady professors with similar laid back attitude except a few. There is Flossie Sharma, green-eyed Konkona who discuss about the marital problems faced by their colleague Nivedita who taught Home Science to the girls. Firdaus had worked in the same college run by nuns for the past fourteen years. She found the nuns terrifyingly stoic, sometimes fascinated and other times remained repulsed. One day tittle-tattle by Nivedita prompted Mother Gertrude to reprimand Firdaus for adversely commenting towards an article to be submitted for the college golden jubilee souvenir. Mother refused to listen to clear the benefit of doubt. Firdaus was livid within against the bitch Nivedita and impulsively entered the class which the later was conducting and told the class and her how ineffective she was in controlling the students. Nivedita’s life seems to be in a shamble with a persistently unfaithful husband which credited the subject a staple topic of discussion in the staff room. Flossie was revolted with the whole affair and suggest to her colleague not to accept any further excuses from her husband. Ms. Sharma, an outspoken spinster was the oldest teacher in the college and wanted the matter to be taken to the nuns immediately which Firdaus did not think it wise. Ms Sharma came to Shillong in the late ’50s with a BA in English from Delhi. It was an escape route from marriage to an army officer which her parents arranged. Her refuge was an aunt in Shillong. Unlike now the college employed even a BA pass as it was in its initial stage of establishment. She gave the impression of having a total command over English literature. She was fat and slowly allowing herself to slipped into decrepitude by fretting over her maid, watching the same film over and over, quoting poetry to herself and sitting lonely in a bare room that “showed up her neurosis” (Hasan 187). Konkona, who taught economics to the students favoured action over talk. She failed to understand how Nivedita could allow the affair to drag on for so long. She thought divorce would be a better idea. On her arrival, Nivedita the long suffering wife with dark circles around the eye told the group that her husband wanted her to accept the other woman, that too, a tribal woman with less education, low class, her stinky food, etc. Firdaus was off pissed with the emphasize placed on tribal woman as she didn’t believe in such bifurcations. She failed to fathom what tribal or non tribal woman would make the difference terming it equal to racism. Rather she was secretly pleased that Mr. Nivedita was actually going around for the last year with a tribal girl. She suggested giving the husband a long rope while Flossie disagreed that it would be admission of defeat and so she should refuse to discuss the topic of accepting the other girl. Konkona suggested that she should give an ultimatum of a week at the end of which she should divorce him. But Nivedita would never go for a divorce! A month ago she triumphantly broach upon divorce with an ultimatum which was initially protested by her husband with tears and promises which her colleagues obviously saw as false. She herself was sure of his duplicity but as long as he didn’t accept a divorce there was still a chance for their marriage, that’s how Nivedita thought. According to Naomi Woolf, victim feminism is “when a woman seeks power through an identity of powerlessness” (Genz & Brabon 68). She seemed to enjoy playing the victim card and wallowed in it which Firdaus found extremely hypocritical. She stood up to the miserable lady for dragging the whole matter for too long, her endless indecision and her shoddy life. The reaction that followed after this confrontation was beyond anybody’s imagination. Nivedita lunged forward and clamped her teeth into Firdaus’s nose while the later defended herself by punching the other with her fist, pulling her hair and finally calling her a mad dog. After the death of the other woman, her husband was back with her. But she lay alone in bed from six to eight in the morning; just lie there without sleeping, while her husband is running around like a maniac on the Don Bosco basketball court, teaching kids how to throw a ball into a ring. She lay there thinking her life is a total waste, no children, a husband who is not repentant enough, a mother who blames her for letting her husband go astray, a mother-in-law with whom the relationship is not congenial enough, and she found college a real bore. By the time her husband got back home, she’s already left for work. When she gets home, her husband is out there coaching people in some other sport and she cooks dinner and watches TV. When her husband returns, they eat and sleep. That is the life of Nivedita Sen. Some days later she called Flossie Sharma and told her that her husband was being threatened with murder by the other woman’s brothers charging him of murdering their sister. The later advised to ignore them as they don’t have a case and why would he do so when he loved the woman, destroyed his marriage for her. All these while her brothers didn’t have anything to do with her life for she was an independent woman living her own life, running her Chic Choice beauty parlour. Firdaus was shock to know that it was Sharon who was the other woman in Nivedita’s life. She is doubly shock that the friendly beauty parlour proprietor is no more for all these days she thought she was not yet back from Singapore.
Sharon Blah was the proprietor of the Chic Choice Beauty parlour where Firdaus got her hair done. Sharon, an unwed mother at twenty, had a classy family with a grandfather who was an Englishman and a soldier in the Second World War and had founded the most famous bakery at Shillong. She was adept at her work and both were almost friends discussing about boyfriends and sex. On the course of their haircut the proprietor told Firdaus about their plan to go for a picnic at Barapani which her father had been longing for. She told Firdaus about her dkhar boyfriend, Neel, whom she had already introduced to her parents who had no objection of their going around. She also said that even her son liked him and whenever he came they would spend time playing together. The problem was with her brothers who would not accept a dkhar for a brother in-law. She asked Firdaus about her boyfriend Ibomcha who was from Manipur. Their conversation drifted to Mary, the Chinese girl who was Firdaus’s Student. Sharon informed that Mary is pregnant and the boy was a student who is very short and didn’t seem to have any idea how to look after a wife, suggesting that she would be better off without him. Citing her own example, Sharon said that if she had gone off with her boyfriend she would not be the proprietor of Chic Choice Beauty Parlour. She gave the credit of her present situation to her mother who stood by her saying everybody made mistakes and took care of her and her son. But for Firdaus early pregnancy is not something she approved of. Every year she saw three or four students dropping out of studies due to such case. But the matrilineal custom of the state does not detach their daughters who become unwed mothers; rather their families become very supportive during such hard times.
The young protagonist, eight-year-old Sophie Das prefers to slip into her world of imagination. Her mother was expecting a second child and had explained to her how it lay curled inside her stomach, how “the food she ate translated into the baby’s blood, how it grew slowly, forming tiny hands and tiny feet” (Hasan 20) and how it would come into the world at the right time. She understood what her mother had told except the answer to how the baby would emerge. Sophie thought that she, her father and her mother were odd. Sophie thought that her father never talked to the other fathers at school because he was odd and his oddity was that he didn’t have a job and even if he had he won’t speak to them because he hardly spoke. Sophie was odd because though a Das she could not speak Bengali and hence could not converse with the other Bengali students. Her mother was odd because she didn’t have a mother, father, brother or sister like her classmates’ mothers. After she went off with Mr. Das her family cut off all ties with her. Sophie didn’t have any cousins to visit or play with during holidays. But the oddest thing which made Sophie different from her other classmates was the absence of a TV at the Das’s residence. Her father had made it very clear that there would be no TV as it was meant only for morons! With the second child on its way Sophie’s routine disrupted with her father taking her mother to the doctor often and on such days the helper Kong Bina came to stay with her. It is from her she came to know that her father wanted a boy and the helper said that it would be nice because the boy can become a doctor insinuating the thought that such profession are not meant for girls. One day when they returned her mother didn’t feel well and so her father made tea and also cooked. The sight of her father cooking had always made her experience an uncomfortable feeling that things are straying from their natural course. Of late she had seen her father in the kitchen many times and this has kind of made her sad, walking between the kitchen and the dark bedroom where her mother lay sighing. She would stand quietly and weep and escape into her fantasy world and replace herself with the characters in the story book. She lies to others and also to herself. She can make up stories in an instant. She hit upon a concrete idea that she was adopted and reveled in the thought that her parents didn’t know she was not their real daughter. She even told her friends about this, telling them that her real name was Anna, her real mother expired long time back and her real father was an Uncle Syiem. These days the moment she reached home from school, she would immediately pick her primer and read the Anna-Becky story. There is tension brewing at home between her mother and her uptight father who has given up his job as a professor. Due to this tension at home little Sophie likes to recoil from the unexciting reality and escape into her world of imagination, and sometimes enter the mysterious world of Elsa and Jason, the lonely landlady and her son. Arguments and domestic fight had made her sad and subdued, but the painful witnessing of domestic violence made Sophie want to escape. This tearful anguish remain with her for several years to come for whenever she smelled vegetable stew she would connect it to this painful evening of her mother being slapped by her father. She could not share about all these to Kong Elsa, Jason or any of her friends. She thought the only person who would lend a sympathetic ear and rescue her from this hole was Miss Wilson her History teacher. How she wanted to tell her teacher about her father either sitting in the chair or sleeping the whole day, how she hated the silent walk back home with her father, how she hated the bantering of Kong Bina, how she hated her name being shouted by her mother every morning, and how she hated this half hour in the morning. But she did enjoy the coziness generated listening to the gossips of Kong Bina, their maid, and her mother talk about a certain Firdaus who is still single, supposed to be proud and arrogant to imagine that she can survive without being married, now with a younger Manipuri boyfriend and not keeping her place being a lecturer in a college, and washing her hands continuously, etc. She was hopeful that Ms. Wilson, after a discussion with Mother Superior will safe her from her painful situation and lead her to her supposed real parents.
Hasan enlighten the readers with the matrilineal practice followed by the Khasis in Meghalaya in the character of Kong Elsa Lyngdoh, the landlady of the rent house where the Das family have been residing since the time they stepped into Shillong. According to her sister Salty she was so kind and so sentimental that their father told them that Salty was the clever cat and Elsa the sentimental fool. They came from a family who had a hand in carving out Meghalaya from Assam in the early ’70s. She also told Mrs. Das that Kong Elsa had lots of property because of being the khadduh, youngest daughter in the family. As per their matrilineal custom, the youngest daughter enjoys such special privileges. She lived alone in that big bungalow with her son gone to Bombay to pursue the career of a civil servant. She missed him making her feel older with numerous body aches. Despite that her house is impeccably clean all the time. That’s the only place Sophie is allowed to visit alone. On this visit Kong Elsa told Sophie that she must attend Kong Salty’s daughter’s wedding at the Presbyterian Church and asked the child to accompany her. Sophie was scared to go without informing her parents but at the same time she was extremely excited at the thought of going out because the Das family hardly went out. She had to content herself with the walk with her father to Laitumkrah to purchase fish. A Khasi woman and a dkhar girl was not a usual sight which made them an odd pair. She felt embarrassed on reaching the church because of her frock that her mother had made from an old bedcover while the rest of the people were attired in their best jainsems, tartar shawls, and silks. Her embarrassment increased when she was not offered snacks and tea by the girls who were distributing them. They chose to ignore her instead. Adding salt to her wound they even giggled looking and talking about her with an expression of distaste. Controlling her tears she felt the pain at her throat. If it had not been for Kong Elsa calling after the girls with the snacks and tea who were going the other way, she would not have been offered one. When Sophie told her mother regarding the arrival of Jason, Kong Elsa’s son and how happy she was, Mrs. Das found it unusual that the old lady who was very much a part of the matriarchal system where daughters enjoy a superior status than the sons should express so much love for him.”Daughters, of course” they will love
in their community daughters inherit the property. Parents will have to depend on their daughters when they grow old. But sons? Sons will marry and move away. But look at Elsa! Just mention Jason’s name and you should see the way her face lights up (162).
Therefore, one can see that sons do not enjoy less liberty than that from the daughters. This stand as contrast to the way Sophie’s father greets the birth of Mukulika with sadness as he continues to hold the dominant patriarchal ideology that privileges sons over daughters. It is ironical that although Mr. Das considers himself a local as exemplified by his remarks when he applied for a faculty position in a Shillong university, internally he continues to remain secluded from the local culture. Despite her worry of Sophie being influenced by the tribal culture, Mrs. Das appear to have absorbed herself into the local culture. Though a Delhi-wala, her experience in that big city during her visit after staying in Shillong for a number of years, made her realize that she was being seen as a stranger in Delhi.
Despite her regret, Firdaus feels strangely connected to Shillong, and her desire to be accepted by the people of the city where she has lived all her life is inexplicable. A common thread of being dkhars binds the protagonists together. The word dkhar is used to describe anyone who is a non-Khasi and is contemptuous by all means. There are several instances in the book which are suggestive of this discrimination. Sophie is jeered at by Khasi girls of her age because the waitress refuses to serve her tea and snacks at the wedding. Yet, they love this small hilly town immensely for what it is despite their being dkhar. Unlike many of the people from the rest of the country, to them the North-East is their home and not a jungle full of trigger-free youths.
Delving deep into all the female characters it is seen that the concept being held by city dwellers of Northeast women being extremely amorous is an utter deceit. The portrayal of the women characters in the selected texts reveals that life of a woman in this region is extremely hard. As the topography of the region is hilly, remote, and rough a hard working woman is preferred as they can be more helpful in the home front. Despite the region being plague with problems of backwardness, militancy, militarization, women march along the men folk, finding themselves, helping the menfolk and marching ahead. In their direst moment they drew strength from one another, sharing, helping, smile emanating from one to the other giving radiance to their life, forging ahead, finding her identity but never losing touch with the old one.