Abstract The post colonial Indian feminists haveregarded 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 forthem.
This external agency for the Indian feminists has been most often theIndian traditional/patriarchal structure that has preceded colonialism andcontinues even in post- colonial times. As Adrienne Rich has stated “Re-visionis the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old textfrom a new critical direction, which is for women more than a chapter incultural history. It is an act of survival”.Hencerevisionist techniques become imperative for Indian women writers in theprocess of decolonization and deconstruction of their identities, roles andstatus in order to actualize their real selves. It is in this light, this papertries to analyze the way in which the short fiction writers of India haveexplored the continuing impact of age old myths-legends-customs-rites,particular patriarchal strategies to restrict women’s roles to docility anddomesticity, which still remain entrenched within the Indian woman’s psyche.The popular myths of India contribute to the mindset, attitudes andexpectations of Indian men and women, relegating women to specific positionsand roles in the society. In rewriting and deconstructing myths, these writersplay their role in creating and highlighting certain elements of Indianidentity and positionality. They also play their role as storytellers, contributingto the telling and retelling of tales, telling the tale-within-the tale,creating multiple layers of stories told by multiple narrative voices.
It isparticularly interesting that although the myths do not portray the womencharacters as victims (in fact, they present them as paragons), Indian womenwriters have mostly picked up on the inherent or implicit devaluing of women inthe myths, questioning the roles women play and the expectations women arepermitted to entertain, which conspire to the victimizing of women. The mannerand depth of this literary questioning of women’s roles in the select shortstories of Shashi Deshpande and Vaidehi forms the primary focus of this paper.Introduction Myths and mythology have always beensignificant elements which shape the lives of people and the working mechanismsof societies. They have been an undeniable source in both shaping andexpressing the values, norms and behavioural patterns in societies .Though mostof the mythical stories often appear tobe simple and innocent, centering old gods, goddesses and legendary characters,their reach and influence permeate the life of the whole people. They in fact assumesymbolic proportions and become images bearing political, social, historicaland cultural meanings and codes. Therefore in the present century, manythinkers, writers and scholars have attempted to analyze and deconstruct thesemyths to uncover the ideology beneath or behind them.
Women’s Revisionist Writing of MythsAs the inferior positioning of womenin hierarchical societies has been the most consciously and intentionallypracticed agenda for centuries, feminist thinkers and writers too have felt theneed of revisiting the mythical world in order to figure out the sources ofoppression of women in them. Feminist archetypal theorists propose that througha detailed study of common images of women’s writings, fantasies, dreams andmyths, the archetypes that women possess will be uncovered and the femaleexperience will have the chance to be voiced more accurately. They consciouslyhave laid bare the attempts of writers to break away from the male-orientedmyths so as to rewrite female experience into history via rewriting myths.
Inthe process, they have analyzed the reasons, means, and consequences of thesesystematic oppression women have been suffering for ages. Hence ‘Revisionist mythmaking’ is a technique ofrewriting a myth, often from a feminist perspective, radically subverting theold story in such a way as to render the woman’s experience explicitly whichhas been ignored in the original, patriarchal version. The aim of revisionistrewriting of myths is to correct the incorrect gender imagery inherent in them.Women writers like Shashi Deshpande and Vaidehi are amongmany such writers who have recontextualized popular myths of ideal women likeSita, Savitri, Shakuntala, etc and infused them with feminist questionings, inorder to correct the gender disparity. These two writers have tried to rewritethe myths from the women’s perspective so as to enable women to voice theirgenuine experience through female characters in these myths.
They have alsosubverted the binary oppositions and the hierarchies that logocentricpatriarchal societies have produced, and disclosed the textuality of history byrewriting myths in almost all their works – short stories and novels. But asthe canvas of the study is smaller, only a representative story of each writeris chosen to delineate such efforts of the writers. Shashi Deshpande’s “The InnerRooms” and Vaidehi’s ‘Shakuntaleyondide kaleda Aparanha'( An Afternoon withShakuntala) are the two stories that are focused. Shashi Deshpande’s “The Inner Rooms” Surekha Dangwal, in her paper entitled “The Mythic Realismand Cultural Narratives in Shashi Deshpande’s Writings” observes, “through theuse of Indian myth she (Deshpande) is able to redefine the role of Indian womenin present context.” In ‘The Inner Rooms,’ Deshpande unravels the mind andthoughts of “Amba”, a woman character who in Mahabharata is delineated as awronged 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 kidnappedby Bhishma, to become the brides of his ailing half brother Vichitravirya.Amba, unlike her sisters refuses to wed Vichitravirya and tries to assert herchoice to marry Salva, King of Sauba, as she is already in love with him. But she ends up rejected by him on the pleathat it would be dishonourable for him to marry her as she is won by Bhishma. Vichitraviryarefuses saying he cannot marry her as she has already given her heart toanother person and Bhishma, on the pretext of his famed vow of celibacy alsodeclines to shelter her.
Thus for all the three their honour was more importantthan the life of Amba, and in Mahabharata, she is removed from the scene ofaction reappearing only as an agent of Bhishma’s death, reborn as Shikandi . Deshpandeinvests this story with questions on behalf of the wronged Amba, making spacefor Amba to voice her in surges and feelings, thereby questioning theunquestioned assumptions of Bhishma’s inevitability of taking that stance inthe name of honour. She says “……honour, dishonour, right, wrong-what are thesebut 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, ShashiDeshpande recreates the last day of Amba’s life tired and wandering in adeserted village, recollecting the injustice that was meted out to her. Throughthis introspection of hers, Deshpande unravels the patriarchal constructionsand impositions of keeping women subjugated objects meant only for procreation.
The false notions of honour, dishonour are all the paraphernalia which rationalisetheir vested interests and selfish motives are unraveled. Amba’s reflectionsare the inner questions stifled in the inner rooms of women physically andmetaphorically as well. Her words-“those Inner rooms-how she hated them! As achild, she had imagined that the whole world was hers .
But gradually,relentlessly, the world had closed in on her, pushing her into the women’srooms. From the first she had felt trapped in them.” (p. 88) are significant inhighlighting the conditioning of every girl into a woman, making her dependenton others for her own happiness. Again Amba is actually relieved even afterrejection, 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 otherpeople! My nurse at first, then my mother, my father, my sisters and finallySalva. What a burden to put on others,the burden of your own happiness.” (p.
88) In fact, Amba now isolated revells inthe freedom she has achieved and feels she does not belong to the world anymorewhich made her a pawn, in spite of her rejection. She decides to sacrifice thepawn itself, which would be her choosing and hence lights up her funeral pyreto be consumed by fire. It is ironical that the woman has to pay the price withher life to assert her self, casting off the roles of a daughter, sister etc… Forit is only these heavy constructions of predetermined moulds that seem to giveher any rights of existence. But for them she is nothing. Hence Deshpande foregrounds the underlying hypocrisies prevalentin the world which is covered up by the meaningless rigmarole of words andAmba, for no fault of hers had ended up as a pawn in the patriarchal set up,just because she tried to assert her choice.Thusone of Deshpande’s concerns in her writings is to address contemporary issueswith the help of myths and legends.
In the “Afterword” to her short-storycollection The Stone Women and OtherStories, Deshpande writes:”Myths are still important to us. We do not want to demolishthem, we need them to live by; they have shaped our ideas for a great manyyears, they embody our dreams. To destroy them would be to leave a large dentin the fabric of our culture. On the other hand, if we are not able to makethem meaningful to our lives, they will cease to survive. In India specially,myths have an extra-ordinary vitality, continuing to give people some truthsabout themselves, about the human condition. What women writers are doing todayis not a rejection of the myths, but a meaningful and creative reinterpretationof them.
We are looking for a fresh knowledge of ourselves in them, trying todiscover what is relevant to our lives today”. This is true even In Vaidehi’s attempts at retellingmythical stories investing them with women’s perspectives. Her “An Afternoonwith Shakuntala” is one of them. Vaidehi’s “An Afternoon with Shakuntala”: The famed ‘Shankuntala’ story written by the celebrateddramatist of India Kalidasa, presents the desertion of Shakuntala by Dushyantaas being done under the spell of curse of Durvasa.
As Shankuntala failed in herduties to serve the sage, lost in the thoughts of her new found love ofDushyanta, the angry sage curses that the very person in whose thoughts she islost should forget her. This grave injustice of Dushyanta is therebyrationalized by Kalidasa, by shifting the reason of his lapse on Shankuntala’sdereliction of duty. Thus all the agony and pain that Shakuntala suffered hasbeen very cleverly accorded to her absentmindedness and Dushyanta is presentedas an innocent instrument in the hands of fate, beyond any reprimand. But Vaidehi’s “An Afternoon with Shakuntala” is an attemptto read the whole events from Shakuntala’s perspective and challenges thepatriarchal politics of justifying men’s actions and protecting his interestsin all ways. The whole story therefore is in the form of the protagonistShakuntala’s narration of her life’s events from the time she falls in lovewith Dushyanta till their son Bharata being taken away by him as an heir to hiskingdom.
It is almost a monologue, where Shakuntala, disillusioned after beingrejected and forgotten by Dushyanta introspectively revisits her experiences ofblind love for him and analyses all the fleeting but intense emotions that hadcast a spell of illusion on her, about him. Vaidehi’s Shakuntala unravels thepolitics of the poet Kalidasa’d defence of Dushyanta giving the pretext ofcurse of forgetfulness. She says ” The poet under defensive wall of curse hastried to coverup the men’s irascibility.
Men have created stories of amnesia to protect all men posing cleverforgetfulness.”(p. 280) (trans. mine) When Kalidasa’s Shankuntala is asked to produce the ringgiven by Dushyanta, to remind him of her, Shakuntala tries to show it, but shehad lost it on her way to the Palace, and the fate is blamed. But Vaidehi’s Shakuntalafinds the proposition of proving her identity with a ring, humiliating. Shesays “Have I become such a non-entity that I need to show the ring to receivethe charity of love?” (p.
281) so she pretended that she had lost it. Again verypoignantly she says”Can a ring become an antidote for a pretentious amnesia?”(p. 281).This is how Vaidehi interrogates the already accepted mythicalformulations, and tries to foreground the muted, voice of Shakuntala, whichreveal the underlying patriarchal constructions.
Further Vaidehi’s Shakuntala tries to trace the geneology ofsuch suppression by remembering how her mother Menaka has escaped from hermotherly duties leaving her new born infant at Kanva’s ashram as also Sita whowillingly got swallowed in the womb of mother Earth. These were all women whosestories 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 selfreliant personality who flourishes the agency of deciding about her life. Conclusion Thusis very evident that both the writers have attempted to rewrite the myths fromdifferent points of view to emphasize the missing or consciously under estimatedelements.
It is clear that the archetypes in these myths have helped to oppresswomen in their personal and social lives and have forced them to acceptidentities which actually are not theirs. Bakthin’s thesis that language is”dynamic and plural” and that “it is populated with theintentions of others” (The Dialogic Imagination 294) can be stated here.The male writers’ images of the characters are not rejected or simplytransformed by the women writers; rather besides questioning the male domainand sources of these images, they vividly reflect the specifically female wayof reacting to them. By relying on images of male self-realisation to expressthe quest of the female characters, the women writers question theexclusiveness of the relationship between the male creative spirit and thefemale passive muse. Bibiliography · Dangwal, Surekha. “The MythicRealism and Cultural Narratives in Shashi Deshpande’s Writings.
” Abstract.ACLALS (1996): n. pag. Web.
11 Jan. 2012.
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.