Table of Contents
- Geeta's Journey from Modernity to Tradition
- Transformation of Mindset and Accepting Challenges
Women’s writing struggling against the internalization of role models thrust on women has learnt to express the untold narrative of being a woman. Women’s writing focuses attention on both the manifestation of a female sensibility, a feminine reality and on its significance as a means of bringing about an awareness of this reality. The emerging, new, empowered woman is a product of the inevitable transformation taking place in our society as the country marches ahead to catch up with the rest of the world. Woman’s quest for an identity of her own is also not just an imitation of the West. In the West, it is now purely a question of equality and identity, in India it is still a question of stark survival. Women in India are still caught between feudal values and style of life and the fast approaching new life. Caught between the burden of the home and the workplace, child bearing, mothering, struggling with conventions, women first have to survive and the question of equality is a far cry. In such transitional times characterized by flux it is essential to identify the new area of trouble and to check the imbalances. Simone De Beauvoir rightly remarks, “Much more interesting are the insurgent females who have challenged this unjust society, a literature of protest can engender sincere and powerful work”. This article traces the rebellion of Geeta ('Inside the Haveli') and the message her rebellion gives to the society. It focuses on the conflict between traditionalism vs modernism as well as protagonist’s journey towards an assertion of her identity, the problems faced in doing so and finally, the outcome of her struggle. The process of self-evaluation dominates the novel and is contained within narrative modes and techniques that portray the inner reality of the protagonists through intense emotions, feelings and sentiments. What is significant about the novel is that the protagonist seeks answers to the problems and dilemmas facing her. She is dissatisfied with her present situation and in particular the role that have been prescribed for them. During the interrogation of their own selves, the past, the present and the future become important. Thinking of the past allows the women to escape into fantasy and nostalgia. The present is dominated by fear, uncertainty whilst the future becomes daunting.
The novel Inside the Haveli explores feelings of alienation and dissatisfaction through the protagonist, Geeta. A feeling of suffocation and imprisonment are characteristic of the novel. They are thus preoccupied with the women’s search for self identity and their attempt for self autonomy in the face of the constraints of marriage. The role that is imposed upon them is the main cause of antagonism for the protagonist. Education has allowed them to move towards autonomy and realize their inner potential, thus allowing them to question themselves and others. However, after marriage, Geeta’s family imposes a role upon her which she refuses to acknowledge. As Kamla Bhasin says, “This conventional role of a wife is determined through tradition whereby she is placed in a subservient role towards elders and her husband. This concept of ‘woman’ within the marital home signifies specific roles and behavior which fail to correspond to Geeta’s own personal identities but overwhelm her on first entering the marital house”.
Rama Mehta’s novel, Inside the Haveli is usually read as a careful sociological study of the changing new woman in India on account of her educational development and its consequent economic independence. This work also focuses on one more important dimension of a woman’s personality, namely woman as a normal, healthy human being with a spiritual depth, a moral vision, a potential that helps her to rise both in the worldly and intellectual sense and enables her eventually to emerge as a true image of eternal India.
Geeta's Journey from Modernity to Tradition
Indian novelists, both male and female, have tried to resent the various images of women ranging between Durga and Devdasi, one a sentimental idealization and other the popular strip-teaser. It is possible to see a rather different, new and justly sublime image of women in the present work which ostensibly presents a sociologist’s realistic account of a large section of Indian society. The region selected for this study is Rajasthan with the well delineated specific locale of the city of Udaipur and its traditional Havelis in which men lord over women. It is a world in which the position of women seems to be relegated to a secondary citizenship, a world in which the birth of female child is announced apologetically and accepted reluctantly. The awareness of this reality is represented through the experience of various female characters in the story, with Geeta as the chief vessel of consciousness. For instance when a girl child is born to Lakshmi, a maid servant in the Haveli, her husband Gangaram guesses disgustfully but correctly without even confirming the truth, that it must be a girl.
‘It is a girl’, sighed Lakshmi’s husband Gangaram when he heard the child’s cry. He and khyali the cook sat on the verandah of the Haveli waiting for the news of the birth. Gangaram was right, had it been a boy, Sarju would have come out in the thunder shouting, in her shrill voice, ‘It is a boy, it is a boy. Give me money’. Gangaram took a long puff of his bidi and threw it away in disgust.
In this context Kamla Bhasin argues that, “The woman’s role and their “life space” are circumscribed at birth by their gender. From an early age a female child is made to feel her inferiority to male children. She experiences no space for herself and learns to be invisible, obedient, conforming. She learns to accept herself as unwanted and, or as a transient to be cared for, but never to belong”.
Geeta, the heroine of Rama Mehta’s the Inside the Haveli moves from Bombay, the westernized Cosmopolitan city to Udaipur, a slow paced town in Rajasthan, after her marriage to Ajay Singh. Ajay Singh’s forefathers had been very closely associated with the rulers of Udaipur and “Jeevan Niwas” has been home for the past six generations of the family. In this house the women’s apartments are separate and men’s entry to this part of the house remains restricted. The novelist being herself a woman, succeeds in understanding with an unerring instinct, the limitations of her heroine in changing the world to her heart’s desire. Rooted deeply in the culture of her society, she cannot revolt outright against traditions although she is baffled by the poverty, illiteracy, superstition and ignorance of the people around her. Geeta’s encounter with the conservative and rigid segregation of sexes begins right from the railway platform where a woman quickly covers her face. “Geeta had lifted her face and pulled the sari back to see,’No, No, you cannot do that’, Pari had snapped, pulling back the sari over her face, ‘In Udaipur we deep purdah”.
Situations and events keep adding new lessons to her knowledge of life. For instance, when Lakshmi grumbles about her forced marriage to her husband, Pari, the chief maid comforts and consoles her thus, “look at me, though …. I have been a widow almost all my life, I am still not free after the demands of my in-laws. and what do I get fro them? Nothing. Not even a blouse. but I don’t complain. we all have to accept fate. there is no escape from that”. These are almost prophetic words for Geeta, for she too has to accept her fate of staying in the Haveli. Another senior maid Dhapu, also remonstrates with Lakshmi as follows, “Look at you with your head uncovered. were it any other man, he would beat you …. which man can put up with a wife who does not make him comfortable?”.
Geetha V. rightly remarks: “Thus what is expected of woman is an unquestioning, meek acceptance of a restricting tradition that stretches as far back as the times of the ancient sage Manu, the giver of Law, who declares in the Manusmriti that the father protects a woman in her childhood, the husband in her youth and sones in her old age. hence a woman is unworthy of freedom”.
Geeta finds that, “In the Haveli, men were regarded with awe as if they were gods. They were the masters and their slightest wish was a command ….. kept in their shadow and followed their instructions with meticulous care”. But she also discovers that although the supremacy of the male was unquestioned, her mother-in-law was also “a force that could not be ignored” because it was she who managed the entire Haveli to keep men free from household worries. The main concern of Geeta’s mother-in-law is to show to the people of her community how “even an educated girl can be molded” into the role of becoming daughter-in-law of a prestigious Haveli and as such she drops instructions to her gently from time to time, but when her maid Dhapu conveys her caution to Geeta that she must “not lift the baby or show any concern for her in front of others” as the celebration of her daughter’s birth is going on, she exclaims in sheer exasperation against the hypocrisy of this advice, “Stop lecturing me, I am fed up with all the pretence that goes on here’, said Geeta in a high pitched voice, at last releasing the irritation she felt. “I hate this meaningless fuss! Don’t tell me what I should do with my own child!’
Thus at every stage we find Geeta standing up against injustice and striving hard to put her foot down for the right cause. Another rebel in the novel is Lakshmi, Geeta’s maid, who leaves the Haveli when her husband Gangaram makes allegations upon her character. Lakshmi is lying awake in the verandah when she hears her husband’s accusing voice: “You cheap street woman. I never want to see your face again. You are a street woman’. Her lips tightened and her body burned with rage. The barking of the dogs sounded like thunder in her ears. She thought they would never stop. Then when night grew more black, the dogs became silent. She knew it was the dead of night and even Gokul, the master’s servant, would be asleep. She smiled defiantly and with steady hands she took off her anklets, tied her shirt tighter around her waist and got up”. Her behavior clearly shows her anger and her moving out of the house, her rebellion. When Pari and Khayali go to bring her back to Haveli, she snubs them and shows them the door. When she is reminded of her child she ignores that too, “Let the child starve to death. That will teach her father to control his long poisonous tongue’, shouted back Lakshmi, brushing aside the tears defiantly from her cheeks”. Her tears show the affection of a mother and at the same time the pain which she feels at leaving her only child. But then she is definitely a bold woman, who has the courage to walk out of the doors of her home, to live her life on her own terms.
Transformation of Mindset and Accepting Challenges
The protagonist, Geeta is filled with a sense of rebellion against the rigid customs of her society which do not permit females the right to be their natural selves, who must live uneducated and unenlightened like dumb, driven cattle. She thinks of the six generations of the human size gilt-framed portraits hanging in the hall of the men’s apartments in her Haveli and reflects: “What if I cannot trace my ancestry beyond my grandfather? That is no reason why I should surrender”. With the help of her maid Dhapu, she wins the confidence of her father-in-law. Thereafter she starts educating the women of the Haveli and though in this process she faces a lot of opposition by her near and dear ones, yet she will entertain no looking back.
Geeta plays different roles with different people. With her husband Ajay she behaves like a modern educated wife while with the other members of the family she tries hard to maintain the ‘feminine decorum’ of the Haveli as a traditional daughter-in-law, in which to some extent, she is successful too. But there are things about which she strongly feels and she cannot compromise with them. She stands defiant before Pari for sending Sita, Lakshmi’s daughter to school. Pari, the oldest maid of Jeevan Niwas, has the status of a manager inside the Haveli and she turns down Geeta’s suggestion immediately. In fact it was not the tradition to educate daughters – particularly those of servants. But ultimately she wins the battle with the help of Dhapu.
Geeta is neither a militant nor a radical feminist. She is moderate and practical. Her rebellion is a constructive one as she wishes to bring reforms into the Haveli. She knows how difficult it is to bring new ideas into the patriarchal set-up where the authority emanates from the eldest male member of the family. Another reformist work of Geeta is to start classes for the illiterate women and children where she teaches them how to read and write tells them stories and takes sewing and knitting classes also. She is aware of the fact that a change in this system can be brought about only through education. Though the classes came about accidentally without any plan, they become popular and evoke mixed reactions. Her mother-in-law and the mistresses of other have Havelis are critical of the classes but Ajay, Bhagwat Singh, the master of the Haveli and some others appreciate the Endeavour.
The classes are thought to be an activity that provokes women and makes them rebellious. Rama Mehta throws light on the ‘bound’ aspect of women living in these Havelis. She tries to show how the only duty of a woman of these Havelis is to serve her husband, children and family. She has no life of her own. She is expected to obey meekly the laws of the tradition-bound society and the moment she raises her voice against the system, she is cursed with evil names and tagged as a ‘rebel’.
At the very onset of the novel we come to read Geeta’s mind where she feels alienated to the world of the Haveli and wants to move out of it. But in her rebellion and her will to fight for what she thinks is right she changes her mind and accepts the challenges of the Haveli willingly. The relation between Geeta and her mother-in-law also shows improvement in due course of time. When Ajay gets the opportunity to join at Delhi University, we see Geeta’s mother-in-law in the role of a new woman where she does not show any signs of anger or defiance on hearing this, rather she rises above the traditional set up and encourages him to join duty. Eventually Geeta makes her presence felt in the world of Havelis. She carves out her own identity as a new woman living within the ambit of tradition. She neither shatters the ancestral dignity nor gives up the essentials of modernity.
The conflict between traditionalism vs modernism over the marriage of Vijay, Geeta’s eldest daughter comes to a climax in the last section of the novel where the situation demands the sacrifice of one or the other. Geeta’s eldest daughter Vijay is just thirteen years old When Daulat Singh’s wife makes the proposal for the marriage of Vijay with her grandson Vir Singh. Daulat Singh’s Haveli is the richest one in the old Udaipur and Vir Singh is young and handsome and going to England for his higher studies. Bhagwat Singh and his wife are happy to see their rival humbled and they are willing to finalize the engagement before Vir Singh leaves for foreign shores. But Geeta has her reservations about getting Vijay engaged at such an early age. It is not that Geeta finds fault with the family of the boy but her opposition is basically on the ground of a principle that disapproves of child marriage. She undergoes the trauma of tension, indecision and conflict within herself.
Rama Mehta blends the two streams into one. Geeta is both conformist and non-conformist. She conforms to the modern values of education and marriage. But she appears to be non-conformist when she takes over the charge of the Haveli to continue its age-long tradition. Her rebellion in the novel appears to be a constructive one as she moulds the traditional ideology and puts it on the right track.
- Mehta, Rama. Inside the Haveli. Penguin Books, New Delhi, 1977 (All citations are from this text in the paper followed by page nos.)
- Beauoir, Simone de. The Second Sex. 1949.Trans. and ed. H.M.Parshley, Harmondsworth Penguin, 1983. Print.
- Bhasin, Kamla. Understanding Gender, New Delhi, Kali for Women, 2000. Print.
- Geetha. V. Patriarchy: Theorizing Feminism. Calcutta:Stree Publishers. 2007. Print.
- Jain, Jasbir. Erasing Margins: Questioning Purdah, Women’s Writing: Text and Context, Jaipur:Rawat Publication, 1996. Print.