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Abstract

 The post colonial Indian feminists have
regarded re-visioning as a way of creating self- consciousness of who and what
‘they really are’ instead of relying on ‘external agencies’ to define it for
them. This external agency for the Indian feminists has been most often the
Indian traditional/patriarchal structure that has preceded colonialism and
continues even in post- colonial times. As Adrienne Rich has stated “Re-vision
is the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text
from a new critical direction, which is for women more than a chapter in
cultural history. It is an act of survival”.

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Hence
revisionist techniques become imperative for Indian women writers in the
process of decolonization and deconstruction of their identities, roles and
status in order to actualize their real selves. It is in this light, this paper
tries to analyze the way in which the short fiction writers of India have
explored the continuing impact of age old myths-legends-customs-rites,
particular patriarchal strategies to restrict women’s roles to docility and
domesticity, which still remain entrenched within the Indian woman’s psyche.
The popular myths of India contribute to the mindset, attitudes and
expectations of Indian men and women, relegating women to specific positions
and roles in the society. In rewriting and deconstructing myths, these writers
play their role in creating and highlighting certain elements of Indian
identity and positionality. They also play their role as storytellers, contributing
to the telling and retelling of tales, telling the tale-within-the tale,
creating multiple layers of stories told by multiple narrative voices. It is
particularly interesting that although the myths do not portray the women
characters as victims (in fact, they present them as paragons), Indian women
writers have mostly picked up on the inherent or implicit devaluing of women in
the myths, questioning the roles women play and the expectations women are
permitted to entertain, which conspire to the victimizing of women. The manner
and depth of this literary questioning of women’s roles in the select short
stories of Shashi Deshpande and Vaidehi forms the primary focus of this paper.

Introduction

Myths and mythology have always been
significant elements which shape the lives of people and the working mechanisms
of societies. They have been an undeniable source in both shaping and
expressing the values, norms and behavioural patterns in societies .Though most
of  the mythical stories often appear to
be simple and innocent, centering old gods, goddesses and legendary characters,
their reach and influence permeate the life of the whole people. They in fact assume
symbolic proportions and become images bearing political, social, historical
and cultural meanings and codes. Therefore in the present century, many
thinkers, writers and scholars have attempted to analyze and deconstruct these
myths to uncover the ideology beneath or behind them.

Women’s Revisionist Writing of Myths

As the inferior positioning of women
in hierarchical societies has been the most consciously and intentionally
practiced agenda for centuries, feminist thinkers and writers too have felt the
need of revisiting the mythical world in order to figure out the sources of
oppression of women in them. Feminist archetypal theorists propose that through
a detailed study of common images of women’s writings, fantasies, dreams and
myths, the archetypes that women possess will be uncovered and the female
experience will have the chance to be voiced more accurately. They consciously
have laid bare the attempts of writers to break away from the male-oriented
myths so as to rewrite female experience into history via rewriting myths. In
the process, they have analyzed the reasons, means, and consequences of these
systematic oppression women have been suffering for ages. Hence  ‘Revisionist mythmaking’ is a technique of
rewriting a myth, often from a feminist perspective, radically subverting the
old story in such a way as to render the woman’s experience explicitly which
has been ignored in the original, patriarchal version. The aim of revisionist
rewriting of myths is to correct the incorrect gender imagery inherent in them.

Women writers like Shashi Deshpande and Vaidehi are among
many such writers who have recontextualized popular myths of ideal women like
Sita, Savitri, Shakuntala, etc and infused them with feminist questionings, in
order to correct the gender disparity. These two writers have tried to rewrite
the myths from the women’s perspective so as to enable women to voice their
genuine experience through female characters in these myths. They have also
subverted the binary oppositions and the hierarchies that logocentric
patriarchal societies have produced, and disclosed the textuality of history by
rewriting myths in almost all their works – short stories and novels. But as
the canvas of the study is smaller, only a representative story of each writer
is chosen to delineate such efforts of the writers. Shashi Deshpande’s “The Inner
Rooms” and Vaidehi’s ‘Shakuntaleyondide kaleda Aparanha'( An Afternoon with
Shakuntala) are the two stories that are focused.

 

Shashi Deshpande’s “The Inner Rooms”

 

Surekha Dangwal, in her paper entitled “The Mythic Realism
and Cultural Narratives in Shashi Deshpande’s Writings” observes, “through the
use of Indian myth she (Deshpande) is able to redefine the role of Indian women
in present context.” In ‘The Inner Rooms,’ Deshpande unravels the mind and
thoughts of “Amba”, a woman character who in Mahabharata is delineated as a
wronged woman who later as Shikandi becomes responsible for Bhishma’s death.
Amba is one of the three daughters of King of Kashi, all of who are kidnapped
by Bhishma, to become the brides of his ailing half brother Vichitravirya.
Amba, unlike her sisters refuses to wed Vichitravirya and tries to assert her
choice to marry Salva, King of Sauba, as she is already in love with him.  But she ends up rejected by him on the plea
that it would be dishonourable for him to marry her as she is won by Bhishma. Vichitravirya
refuses saying he cannot marry her as she has already given her heart to
another person and Bhishma, on the pretext of his famed vow of celibacy also
declines to shelter her. Thus for all the three their honour was more important
than the life of Amba, and in Mahabharata, she is removed from the scene of
action reappearing only as an agent of Bhishma’s death, reborn as Shikandi . Deshpande
invests this story with questions on behalf of the wronged Amba, making space
for Amba to voice her in surges and feelings, thereby questioning the
unquestioned assumptions of Bhishma’s inevitability of taking that stance in
the name of honour. She says “……honour, dishonour, right, wrong-what are these
but words used by men to cover their real emotions? Bhishma was angry,
Vichitravirya humiliated and now Salva is ashamed. Where is the honour here?
Or, the dishonour?’ (P.91)

Again in the Mahabharata, Amba is pushed to the background,
with nothing known about her after she leaves the Palace rejected, Shashi
Deshpande recreates the last day of Amba’s life tired and wandering in a
deserted village, recollecting the injustice that was meted out to her. Through
this introspection of hers, Deshpande unravels the patriarchal constructions
and impositions of keeping women subjugated objects meant only for procreation.
The false notions of honour, dishonour are all the paraphernalia which rationalise
their vested interests and selfish motives are unraveled. Amba’s reflections
are the inner questions stifled in the inner rooms of women physically and
metaphorically as well. Her words-“those Inner rooms-how she hated them! As a
child, she had imagined that the whole world was hers .But gradually,
relentlessly, the world had closed in on her, pushing her into the women’s
rooms. From the first she had felt trapped in them.” (p. 88) are significant in
highlighting the conditioning of every girl into a woman, making her dependent
on others for her own happiness. Again Amba is actually relieved even after
rejection, as for she by asserting her right had actually gained her freedom.
She says-“How foolish she was, she thought, to let my happiness depend on other
people! My nurse at first, then my mother, my father, my sisters and finally
Salva.  What a burden to put on others,
the burden of your own happiness.” (p.88) In fact, Amba now isolated revells in
the freedom she has achieved and feels she does not belong to the world anymore
which made her a pawn, in spite of her rejection. She decides to sacrifice the
pawn itself, which would be her choosing and hence lights up her funeral pyre
to be consumed by fire. It is ironical that the woman has to pay the price with
her life to assert her self, casting off the roles of a daughter, sister etc… For
it is only these heavy constructions of predetermined moulds that seem to give
her any rights of existence. But for them she is nothing.

Hence Deshpande foregrounds the underlying hypocrisies prevalent
in the world which is covered up by the meaningless rigmarole of words and
Amba, for no fault of hers had ended up as a pawn in the patriarchal set up,
just because she tried to assert her choice.

Thus
one of Deshpande’s concerns in her writings is to address contemporary issues
with the help of myths and legends. In the “Afterword” to her short-story
collection The Stone Women and Other
Stories, Deshpande writes:

“Myths are still important to us. We do not want to demolish
them, we need them to live by; they have shaped our ideas for a great many
years, they embody our dreams. To destroy them would be to leave a large dent
in the fabric of our culture. On the other hand, if we are not able to make
them meaningful to our lives, they will cease to survive. In India specially,
myths have an extra-ordinary vitality, continuing to give people some truths
about themselves, about the human condition. What women writers are doing today
is not a rejection of the myths, but a meaningful and creative reinterpretation
of them. We are looking for a fresh knowledge of ourselves in them, trying to
discover what is relevant to our lives today”.

This is true even In Vaidehi’s attempts at retelling
mythical stories investing them with women’s perspectives. Her “An Afternoon
with Shakuntala” is one of them.

 

Vaidehi’s “An Afternoon with Shakuntala”:

 

The famed ‘Shankuntala’ story written by the celebrated
dramatist of India Kalidasa, presents the desertion of Shakuntala by Dushyanta
as being done under the spell of curse of Durvasa. As Shankuntala failed in her
duties to serve the sage, lost in the thoughts of her new found love of
Dushyanta, the angry sage curses that the very person in whose thoughts she is
lost should forget her. This grave injustice of Dushyanta is thereby
rationalized by Kalidasa, by shifting the reason of his lapse on Shankuntala’s
dereliction of duty. Thus all the agony and pain that Shakuntala suffered has
been very cleverly accorded to her absentmindedness and Dushyanta is presented
as an innocent instrument in the hands of fate, beyond any reprimand.

But Vaidehi’s “An Afternoon with Shakuntala” is an attempt
to read the whole events from Shakuntala’s perspective and challenges the
patriarchal politics of justifying men’s actions and protecting his interests
in all ways. The whole story therefore is in the form of the protagonist
Shakuntala’s narration of her life’s events from the time she falls in love
with Dushyanta till their son Bharata being taken away by him as an heir to his
kingdom. It is almost a monologue, where Shakuntala, disillusioned after being
rejected and forgotten by Dushyanta introspectively revisits her experiences of
blind love for him and analyses all the fleeting but intense emotions that had
cast a spell of illusion on her, about him. Vaidehi’s Shakuntala unravels the
politics of the poet Kalidasa’d defence of Dushyanta giving the pretext of
curse of forgetfulness. She says ” The poet under defensive wall of curse has
tried to coverup the  men’s irascibility.
Men have created stories of amnesia to protect all men posing clever
forgetfulness.”(p. 280) (trans. mine) 

When Kalidasa’s Shankuntala is asked to produce the ring
given by Dushyanta, to remind him of her, Shakuntala tries to show it, but she
had lost it on her way to the Palace, and the fate is blamed. But Vaidehi’s Shakuntala
finds the proposition of proving her identity with a ring, humiliating. She
says “Have I become such a non-entity that I need to show the ring to receive
the charity of love?” (p.281) so she pretended that she had lost it. Again very
poignantly she says”Can a ring become an antidote for a pretentious amnesia?”
(p. 281).This is how Vaidehi interrogates the already accepted mythical
formulations, and tries to foreground the muted, voice of Shakuntala, which
reveal the underlying patriarchal constructions.

Further Vaidehi’s Shakuntala tries to trace the geneology of
such suppression by remembering how her mother Menaka has escaped from her
motherly duties leaving her new born infant at Kanva’s ashram as also Sita who
willingly got swallowed in the womb of mother Earth. These were all women whose
stories and fates were decided by men. But Vaidehi’s Shakuntala  decides to move on the basis of her strength.
So the Kalidasa’s victim Shakuntala is remade by Vaidehi as a Strong and self
reliant personality who flourishes the agency of deciding about her life.

 

Conclusion

 

Thus
is very evident that both the writers have attempted to rewrite the myths from
different points of view to emphasize the missing or consciously under estimated
elements. It is clear that the archetypes in these myths have helped to oppress
women in their personal and social lives and have forced them to accept
identities which actually are not theirs. Bakthin’s thesis that language is
“dynamic and plural” and that “it is populated with the
intentions of others” (The Dialogic Imagination 294) can be stated here.
The male writers’ images of the characters are not rejected or simply
transformed by the women writers; rather besides questioning the male domain
and sources of these images, they vividly reflect the specifically female way
of reacting to them. By relying on images of male self-realisation to express
the quest of the female characters, the women writers question the
exclusiveness of the relationship between the male creative spirit and the
female passive muse.

 

Bibiliography

 

·        
Dangwal, Surekha. “The Mythic
Realism and Cultural Narratives in Shashi Deshpande’s Writings.” Abstract.
ACLALS (1996): n. pag. Web. 11 Jan. 2012. .

·        
Deshpande, Shashi. In the Country of Deceit. New Delhi:
Penguin, 2008.Print.

·        
—. The Stone Women and other stories. Calcutta: A Writers Workshop,
2001. Print.

·        
Vaidehi, Allegalalli Antaranga. Heggudu: Akshara Prakashana, 2006. Print

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