In Muslim Indian Women Writing in English: Class Privilege, Gender Disadvantage, Minority Status, Dr. Elizabeth Jackson
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Table of contents :
Table of Contents
Chapter 1. Form and Narrative Strategy
Chapter 2. Religion and Communal Identity
Chapter 3. Marriage and Sexuality
Chapter 4. Gender and Social Class
Chapter 5. Responding to Patriarchy
In Muslim Indian Women Writing in English: Class Privilege, Gender Disadvantage, Minority Status, Dr. Elizabeth Jackson conducts a study of the literary fiction of the four best-known Muslim Indian women writing in English during the postcolonial period: Attia Hosain (1913–1998), Zeenuth Futehally (1904–1992), Shama Futehally (no relation, 1952–2004), and Samina Ali (b. 1969). As elite Muslim women in India, the literary vision of these authors is influenced by their paradoxical position of class privilege, gender disadvantage, and minority status. Accordingly, there are recurring thematic concerns central to the fiction of all four writers, each of which forms a chapter in the book: “Religion and Communal Identity,” “Marriage and Sexuality,” “Gender and Social Class,” and “Responding to Patriarchy.” The first chapter, “Form and Narrative Strategy,” provides an initial framework by examining the literary techniques of each writer. Much has been written about literature in English by Indian women, about Muslim literature in general, about the Muslim minority in India, and about Muslim women all over the world. However, until now there has been no major academic study of literature in English by Muslim Indian women. Aimed at researchers, students, and general readers, this book aims to fill that gap in the critical scholarship.
Elizabeth Jackson has a BA from Smith College and a PhD from the University of London. Currently a lecturer (professor) at the University of the West Indies (Trinidad), she is best known for her book Feminism and Contemporary Indian Women’s Writing (2010).
Cover art by Jerry Fitzgerald Author photo by Roger McFarlane
Muslim Indian Women Writing in English
ADVANCE PRAISE FOR
Muslim Indian Women Writing in English “Muslim Indian Women Writing in English is an eagerly awaited and timely intervention into the relatively neglected area of Indian Anglophone writing by Muslim women writers. In her searching monograph, Elizabeth Jackson provides a comparative and developmental study of Indian Muslim women’s fiction produced in the postcolonial era. She interrogates such pressing issues as gender and patriarchy, social class, and religious identity, as well as exploring aesthetic concerns regarding narrative strategies and form. Jackson highlights the authors’ conflicting yet constitutive positionality stemming from their privileged class position, subordinate gender identity, and religious minority status. Her incisive, well-written book should be required reading for students and scholars of Indian writing in English, feminism, and Muslim studies.” —Claire Chambers, co-editor of the Journal of Commonwealth Literature
Muslim Indian Women Writing in English
This book is part of the Peter Lang Humanities list. Every volume is peer reviewed and meets the highest quality standards for content and production.
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Muslim Indian Women Writing in English Class Privilege, Gender Disadvantage, Minority Status
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Jackson, Elizabeth, author. Title: Muslim Indian women writing in English: class privilege, gender disadvantage, minority status / Elizabeth Jackson. Description: New York: Peter Lang, 2018. Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2017037203 | ISBN 978-1-4331-4995 (hardback: alk. paper) ISBN 978-1-4331-5330-3 (ebook pdf) | ISBN 978-1-4331-5331-0 (epub) ISBN 978-1-4331-5332-7 (mobi) Subjects: LCSH: Indic fiction (English)—Women authors—History and criticism. Indic fiction (English)—Muslim authors—History and criticism. Muslim women—India. | Muslim women in literature. Social classes in literature. | Sex role in literature. Classification: LCC PR9492.6.W6 J33 2018 | DDC 823/.9140992870954—dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2017037203 DOI 10.3726/b11838
Bibliographic information published by Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek. Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the “Deutsche Nationalbibliografie”; detailed bibliographic data are available on the Internet at http://dnb.d-nb.de/.
© 2018 Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., New York 29 Broadway, 18th floor, New York, NY 10006 www.peterlang.com All rights reserved. Reprint or reproduction, even partially, in all forms such as microfilm, xerography, microfiche, microcard, and offset strictly prohibited.
In loving memory of Dr. Giselle Rampaul (1976–2017) and Professor Bart Moore-Gilbert (1951–2015)
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Form and Narrative Strategy
Chapter 2 Religion and Communal Identity
Chapter 3 Marriage and Sexuality
Chapter 4 Gender and Social Class
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Chapter 5 Responding to Patriarchy
I am deeply grateful to the people and institutions that made this book possible. They include my past and present students and colleagues at the University of the West Indies, who constantly inspire me with fresh ideas and perspectives. I have benefited from any number of illuminating conversations inside and outside of lectures, tutorials, seminars, and conferences. In terms of discussion of ideas and practical advice about this book, I am particularly grateful to my colleagues in Trinidad, including Savrina Chinien, Maarit Forde, Gabriel Hezekiah, David Mastey, Paula Morgan, Louis Regis, and Godfrey Steele, as well as my dear friend in London, Ayesha Ibrahim. Thanks are also due to the University of the West Indies for a semester of study leave to go abroad and complete my book, and particularly to Jeremy DeLisle for supporting my application for a grant through the Campus Research and Publication Fund. My semester in London was made more enjoyable and more productive by Lawrence Scott and Jenny Green, whose generous hospitality enabled easy access to the British Library, as well as by other friends and family members who provided encouragement and at times much-needed distraction from my book.
MUSLIM INDIAN WOMEN WRITING IN ENGLISH
I gratefully acknowledge Palgrave Macmillan for permission to incorporate a section of reworked contextual material from my previously published book Feminism and Contemporary Indian Women’s Writing (2010), as well as Sage Publications for permission to incorporate reworked material from my three previously published articles: • “Gender and Social Class in India: Muslim Perspectives in the Fiction of Attia Hosain and Shama Futehally.” Journal of Commonwealth Literature: Online First, 2016. DOI: 10.1177/0021989416632373 • “Celebration and Disillusionment in Contemporary India: Narrating the Muslim Wedding and Its Aftermath in Shama Futehally’s Tara Lane and Samina Ali’s Madras on Rainy Days.” Journal of Commonwealth Literature, vol. 48, no. 2, 2013, pp. 253–267. • “Gender and Communal Politics in Shama Futehally’s Reaching Bombay Central.” Journal of Commonwealth Literature, vol. 46, no. 3, 2011, pp. 475–491. Special thanks to Claire Chambers, co-editor of the Journal of Commonwealth Literature, who has offered valuable scholarly advice and encouragement of this project throughout its development, and to Usha Iyer, who kindly read the manuscript during a particularly busy time in her own career. Thanks also to Meagan Simpson, Michael Doub, Mary Egan, Jackie Pavlovic, and Luke McCord at Peter Lang for their unfailing professionalism, efficiency, and courtesy at every stage of the publication process. Finally, I would like to thank my family and friends, whose encouragement and support kept me going. The list is too long to enumerate here, but I would like to single out my husband Greg Fitzgerald, who has always read each draft chapter with genuine interest. Our children Mary, Tom, and Rebecca have also helped with ideas, advice, and inspiration. Last but not least, kudos to my father-in-law Jerry Fitzgerald for his beautiful cover design, and to Roger McFarlane for his collaboration in its production.
This book is a study of the literary fiction of the four best-known Muslim Indian women writing in English during the postcolonial period: Attia Hosain (1913–1998), Zeenuth Futehally (1904–1992), Shama Futehally (no relation, 1952–2004) and Samina Ali (b. 1969). The earliest work to be analysed is Zeenuth Futehally’s only published novel, Zohra (1951), and the best known is Attia Hosain’s classic novel Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961). These works are discussed along with Attia Hosain’s collection of short stories, Phoenix Fled and Other Stories (1953). The later works are Shama Futehally’s two novels Tara Lane (1993) and Reaching Bombay Central (2002), her short story collection Frontiers: Collected Stories (2006a), and Samina Ali’s novel Madras on Rainy Days (2004). Numerous Indian women writing in English have achieved commercial success and critical appreciation during the postcolonial era, including Kamala Markandaya, Nayantara Sahgal, Shashi Deshpande, Arundhati Roy, Anita Desai, and her daughter Kiran Desai. However, so few prominent anglophone Indian women authors have been from among the Muslim minority that it is perhaps premature to speak of a “tradition” of literature in English by Muslim women in India. One of
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the reasons for this is that Muslim women writing in English are in a somewhat exceptional position in India. Recent statistical studies have shown that Muslims, who currently comprise approximately 13% of the population of India, continue to be “generally poor and disadvantaged” compared to other groups (Hasan and Menon 2004). Obviously this economic disadvantage does not apply to all Muslim families in India, but it is notable that there are proportionately fewer Muslim women than Hindu women writing in English. While there are many fine female writers of Urdu fiction, including Zakia Mashhadi and Ismat Chugtai, a Muslim Indian woman writing in English would almost certainly be from among a tiny privileged minority whose families are wealthy enough—and liberal enough—to provide an elite Western education for their daughter(s). This is certainly the case with Zeenuth Futehally, Attia Hosain, Shama Futehally, and Samina Ali, who in this respect have much in common with their Hindu counterparts such as Nayantara Sahgal, Anita Desai, and Shashi Deshpande. Not wishing to make facile generalizations about these authors based on their religious identity, I nevertheless contend that as elite Muslim women in India, their literary vision is influenced by their paradoxical position of class privilege, gender disadvantage, and minority status. This paradox also applies to the protagonists in their novels, all of whom are women from the same social background as themselves. Accordingly, there are recurring thematic concerns central to the fiction of all four writers, each of which forms a chapter in this book: Religion and Communal Identity; Marriage and Sexuality; Gender and Social Class; and Responding to Patriarchy. The first chapter, Form and Narrative Strategy, provides an initial framework by examining the literary techniques of each writer.
Historical Context on Feminism in India The concept of feminism has been controversial in India and other developing nations for a number of reasons. On the one hand, traditionalists argue that it alienates women from their culture, religion, and family responsibilities; while some on the left see it as a diversion from the
more important class struggle or the struggle against Western cultural and economic imperialism. Underlying both views is the assumption that feminism is an essentially Western ideology, and as Ania Loomba has pointed out, feminists in India are invariably chastised for being influenced by Western modes of thought: It is easy to imagine why entrenched patriarchal institutions would seek to marginalize women’s movements by calling them un-Indian. In fact, such a rhetoric seeks to disguise the indigenous roots of women’s protest in India. This is not to argue that Western women’s thinking or organizations have not influenced Indian feminists. Cross-fertilizations have been crucial to feminist struggles everywhere. But given the history of colonial rule, the burden of authenticity has been especially heavy for women activists in India. (1993, 271–272)
The historical reasons for this resistance to feminism in India extend well back into the nineteenth century, when the “woman question” was central in debates over social reform in India. Enamoured of their “civilizing mission”, influential British writers like James Mill condemned Indian religions, culture, and society for their rules and customs regarding women. Indeed, a significant tool used by colonial ideology to “prove” the inferiority of the subject population was the question of the status of women, as reported by Christian missionaries who argued that the moral inferiority of Indians was demonstrated by their barbaric treatment of women. Thus one of the main justifications for British rule in India was the argument that Indian women required the protection and intervention of the colonial state. There was no uniform movement for reform of gender practices, but different campaigns on specific issues were taken up at different times in different parts of India. Some of the main issues, such as sati (widow burning), female infanticide, and child marriage were more specific to the Hindu community, whereas others such as purdah (female seclusion) and restrictions on female education applied to Muslims as well. In 1911 Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain (1880–1932) began a school for Muslim girls in Calcutta. This school, with Urdu as its language of instruction, was “designed and organized for students who observed purdah even though Begum Rokeya wrote and spoke publicly about
MUSLIM INDIAN WOMEN WRITING IN ENGLISH
the evils of this custom” (Forbes 1996, 55). Rokeya’s campaign against purdah was unpopular, but her school remained open, attended by elite Muslim girls. It was in the political struggles against imperialism that a noticeable number of Indian women of all backgrounds began actively to participate in life outside the home, and in doing so, they had the support of many nationalist political leaders who saw the advantages of mobilizing women. Gandhi, in particular, was very conscious of the power that women could have in a non-violent struggle, arguing that they are by nature non-violent and have great ability to endure suffering. The opponents of women’s political participation voiced a number of objections. They warned of traditional gender roles breaking down, and some based their disapproval on the sanctity of religious beliefs and practices. Despite the objections, the activity of women in the nationalist movement radicalized some of them into articulating their own grievances, drawing parallels between imperialist oppression and patriarchal oppression. However, it is also important to note the limitations of women’s participation in the Indian nationalist movement. Geraldine Forbes points out that: Those demonstrating claimed to represent all Indian women, but the numbers of groups involved, other than upper- and middle-class Hindu women was never large. A few Muslim women were steadfast followers of Gandhi; many more either found it difficult to accept the overtly Hindu ideological basis of his ideas or were neglected by the Congress organizers. (154–155)
Following independence in 1947, the Indian Constitution conferred equal rights and status on all citizens, forbidding any discrimination on grounds of caste, religion, or gender. However, the Hindu Code of 1955 introduced inconsistencies in the area of personal law (regarding marriage, divorce, inheritance, etc.) by granting specific rights to Hindu women that were denied to Muslim women on the grounds that Muslim personal laws are considered part of the religion of Islam. For instance, polygamy has been banned for everyone except Muslims, although a majority of Muslim women favour its removal (Gandhi and Shah 1992, Jha and Pujari 1996).
Despite sporadic criticism, the Indian government’s commitment to gender equality was not seriously challenged until the 1970s, when women’s groups were formed all over India but mainly in the major cities. Ilina Sen has drawn a distinction between the “autonomous women’s movement” and “the women’s movement acting in conjunction with mass organizations or political parties in India” (2004, 201). She notes that the autonomous women’s movement is comprised primarily of the urban intelligentsia, who have “remained cut off from the mass of Indian women” and that consequently these urban groups sometimes find “greater kinship in ‘feminist’ groups in the West rather than with the mass of women in India”. She goes on to concede, however, that “it is an achievement of no mean proportion that women are forcing leaders of various movements to take cognizance of special issues relating to gender” (201). The authors discussed in this book are—or were during their lifetimes—among the urban intelligentsia, writing fiction rather than feminist analysis as such. Their perspectives, however, can offer valuable insights into the dynamics and complexities of human relationships. Their representations of marriage and sexuality, for instance, implicitly critique ideologies of women as property, which can lead to (male) abuses of power within the family and in the wider society. It is also interesting to examine the ways in which their protagonists respond to the particular patriarchal ideologies and practices with which they are confronted, as well as the ways in which these have changed over time.
Domestic Fiction Historically, there has sometimes been a tendency to marginalize the experiences and perspectives of women and to equate domestic life and family relationships with triviality. For example, the novelist Maggie Gee has reported that: Those of my books which deal with war or murder, which can be crudely categorised as male topics, receive far more attention and literary respect than those which deal with families or children or love or sex. Yet for me these are all great themes, themes from which you can make serious literary works. (Gee and Appignanesi 1998, 173)
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Agreeing with her argument, my contention is that Zeenuth Futehally, Attia Hosain, Shama Futehally, and Samina Ali have all produced works of literary merit and profound political significance. A number of postcolonial scholars have noted the enduring preoccupation of the anglophone novel in India with “questions of nation and history, events necessarily played out in the public sphere even as they inflected domestic spaces and personal relations” (Gopal 2009, 139). Indeed, Aijaz Ahmad claims that modern literature in indigenous languages such as Urdu is far less concerned with the nation as a category and much more with “our class structures, our familial ideologies, our management of our bodies and sexualities, our idealisms, our silences” (1991, 118). While pointing out that Indian English fiction has always engaged with the impact of “transformations of the public sphere” on private lives, Priyamvada Gopal nevertheless draws a distinction between the (implicitly mainstream) anglophone Indian novel and what she calls “familial” or “domestic” fiction which is set in the home and concerned mainly with personal relations and emotional lives. Noting that this is a genre in which “women writers are salient” and in which “the anglophone is eclipsed in volume and, often, in quality, by writing in other Indian languages”, Gopal identifies Shashi Deshpande and Anita Desai as exceptional in the sense that they are prominent Indian English writers of the “family story” (2009, 139). My own view is that the boundaries between domestic fiction and fiction that addresses (supposedly) larger concerns are often more blurred than this. The fiction of R.K. Narayan, one of the major founding fathers of Indian literature in English, focused more on personal relationships than on public issues as such. His fictional town of Malgudi can be seen as an extended domestic space in which interpersonal dramas are played out while grander narratives about the nation are rarely considered. Moreover, it is not necessary to invoke the old feminist slogan that “the personal is political” in order to remember that power relationships within the so-called domestic sphere are part of a larger national—and indeed, global—framework. Nor are Deshpande’s and Desai’s “familial” texts unaware of the interconnections between power, gender, social class, communal affili-
ation, and other categories of identity which constitute the nation as a whole. For example, Deshpande’s novels Roots and Shadows (1983) and Small Remedies (2000) address caste and communal politics within ostensibly domestic settings, and all of her fiction is self-consciously concerned with gender politics in India—a “reality” that she insists is “never trivial” (Deshpande 2003, 163). Looking back on the eventful period preceding the birth of India as an independent nation, the novels of Zeenuth Futehally and Attia Hosain do engage with national politics, but their narrative perspectives are feminine, and their settings are domestic and familial. Although the later writers Shama Futehally and Samina Ali do not explicitly engage with such grand historical events, they have also produced what can be described as “socially aware domestic fiction” with profoundly political implications. Although Shama Futehally does not self-identify as feminist, she seems to share her friend Shashi Deshpande’s view that women’s oppression is located primarily within the family. Some critics have argued that this exclusive focus on familial and domestic concerns limits the feminist critique of these writers and supports the patriarchal view of the domestic sphere as the natural domain of women. Reacting sharply to the charge that her canvas is limited because she focuses on these aspects, Deshpande has declared that nothing could be more universal than the family unit and no relationships more fundamental than those between members of a family. Person to person and “person to society” relationships, as she calls them, are all prefigured in the domestic arena “where everything begins” (Gangadharan 1998, 252). This is true for men as well as women, and in Shama Futehally’s review of J.M. Coetzee’s novel Disgrace (1999), she affirms the importance of individual subjective experience that “contemporary art, in its anxiety to be correct, sometimes forgets” (2000). In keeping with their desire to present individual subjective experience as the basis of larger social realities, all of these writers avoid making any easy generalizations about connections between gender, power, social class, and communal affiliation in India. Focusing on individual subjective experience within the context of family relationships and wider communal and class tensions, each narrative points to
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the inextricable interconnectedness of domestic and “public” issues. In their examination of the complex network of class, gender, and religion in which their characters move, these fictional texts consistently emphasize the centrality of gender in determining access to power, privilege, and self-esteem in contemporary India.
Literature Review There are several recent books on Muslim literature in English which incorporate the works of women writers in their analyses. Miriam Cooke’s Women Claim Islam: Creating Islamic Feminism through Literature (2001) focuses exclusively on Muslim women authors from the Middle East, and Amin Malak’s Muslim Narratives and the Discourse of English (2005) focuses on Muslim men and women writing in English from a range of geographical locations. In this context, the distinctive feature of my book is that it focuses specifically on the writings of Muslim women in India. An edited collection of essays, Behind the Veil: Representation of Muslim Woman in Indian Writings in English 1950–2000 (Kidwai 2007) examines how Muslim Indian women have been represented by others in literature, whereas my book engages with Muslim Indian women as authors. Also of interest is Culture, Diaspora, and Modernity in Muslim Writing (Ahmed et al. 2012), a collection of essays on contemporary fiction by Muslims as diasporic subjects. My book, by contrast, is a monograph on the anglophone literature of Muslim Indian women as minority subjects in their homeland. Attia Hosain’s classic novel Sunlight on a Broken Column, first published in 1961, is perhaps the best-known work of fiction in English by a Muslim Indian woman. It has had attention from scholars interested in literary perspectives on partition (Didur 2006, Nabar 2000), on purdah (Palkar 1995), on feminism (Roy 1999), on elite Muslim culture in India during the late colonial era (Burton 2003), and on the construction of Indian nationalism (Needham 1993), among other areas of enquiry. Hosain’s only other published fictional work was her earlier short story collection Phoenix Fled and Other Stories (1953), which has received considerably less attention than her novel. This, I think, deserves closer
study, as does the work of the other three authors—Zeenuth Futehally, Shama Futehally, and Samina Ali—not only because of the illuminating comparisons they invite, but also because of their individual merit. In summary, much has been written about literature in English by Indian women, about Muslim literature in general, about the Muslim minority in India, and about Muslim women all over the world. However, I have found no academic study of literature in English by Muslim Indian women, and this book aims to fill that gap in the critical scholarship.
Chapter Structure In its comparative and developmental study of the literary fiction of Zeenuth Futehally, Attia Hosain, Shama Futehally, and Samina Ali, this book is divided into five chapters, the first focusing on their narrative techniques and the remaining four on the most prominent thematic areas common to all four authors: Religion and Communal Identity; Marriage and Sexuality; Gender and Social Class; and Responding to Patriarchy. Each chapter is divided into several sections, beginning with an introduction and conclusion. The narrative techniques of each author are best examined in turn, so the chapter on Form and Narrative Strategy has an author-by-author structure. The remaining chapters are sectioned by topic in order to facilitate a closer comparative analysis of the thematic concerns of the four authors. In order for the study to be developmental as well as comparative, each topical section discusses the literary texts in roughly chronological order. Form and Narrative Strategy. Using numerous illustrative examples from the literary texts, the chapter on Form and Narrative Strategy examines the narrative techniques of each author, focusing particularly on language, various literary devices, narrative structure, narrative perspective, and narrative voice. In common with many literary texts by other Indian women writing in English, these novels and short stories can broadly be classified as “realist”, in the sense that they are not overtly experimental in form and language, and in the sense that their narrative techniques achieve (or aim to achieve) a close rendering of
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ordinary experience. However, there are different types of realism, and as we shall see, the later writers (Shama Futehally and Samina Ali) present a more subjective form of realism, focused more closely on the experiencing consciousness of the protagonist. Narrated in the third person, Zeenuth Futehally’s novel Zohra (1951) effectively creates the impression of authenticity and objectivity in its portrayal of an upper-class Muslim household in Hyderabad during the Raj. However, the narrator also has access to the protagonist’s thoughts and feelings, so that the social environment is rendered through her experiences. By contrast, Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961) and Shama Futehally’s Tara Lane (1993) are each narrated in the first person by an experiencing protagonist whose candid perspectives evoke understanding and sympathy from the reader. In the short stories of Attia Hosain and Shama Futehally we see a broader range of narrative perspectives and narrative voices. Like her contemporary, R. K. Narayan, Attia Hosain also makes much use of irony and surprise endings in her short fiction. Although broadly realist in literary mode, the narrative techniques of Shama Futehally’s Reaching Bombay Central (2002) and Samina Ali’s Madras on Rainy Days (2004) are somewhat more complex. Narrated in the third person, Reaching Bombay Central centres on the consciousness of Ayesha Jamal, a quiet and submissive protagonist who is portrayed as an acute observer and sensitive interpreter. There is a tension in the narrative voice between sympathetic engagement with Ayesha’s experiences and implicit criticism of her exclusive focus on the needs and desires of her selfish husband. The narrative alternates between past and present, between Ayesha’s experience in the railway carriage and her memories of the crisis at home that precipitated her journey. Her state of mind is vividly conveyed through the detailed descriptions of her responses to the passing landscape, and the narrative emphasis is as much on memory, perception, and emotion as on actual events. Samina Ali’s Madras on Rainy Day (2004) is even more intensely subjective, since it is narrated by an angry, frightened, and desperate young protagonist named Layla. At times the authorial voice might be too intrusive in interpreting Layla’s situation, but her state of mind is viv-
idly and convincingly conveyed. So although the narrative techniques in these works cannot be described as innovative, they nevertheless effectively portray the experiences and states of mind of their protagonists. As we shall see, these experiences and perspectives are rendered in such a way that the implicit feminist criticism in each text is difficult to ignore. Religion and Communal Identity. The introduction to the chapter on Religion and Communal Identity begins with a brief survey of the relevant historical background, before going on to offer some general remarks about the impact of communalism on Muslim women in postcolonial India. The subsequent sections in the chapter examine literary representations of Hindu-Muslim relationships in India before independence and partition; Muslims and identity politics in India; Muslim women and the issue of “westernization”; and aspects of religion in the literary texts. Although the protagonists in all of the novels under consideration are of Muslim background, not all of them are religious. Nevertheless, one of the interesting findings of this developmental study over the fifty-five year period is the ways in which the literary texts reflect the increasing importance of religious community as a central aspect of cultural identity in India. This is in keeping with the well-documented escalation of tension and at times conflict between fundamentalists on both sides of the Hindu-Muslim divide in India throughout the 1990s and into the twenty-first century. Set in pre-Partition India, Zeenuth Futehally’s novel Zohra (1951) features characters who relate to their Muslim identity in an unselfconscious way, in the sense that they do not apparently see religion as a divisive issue. This is in contrast to Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961), which portrays a Muslim family before and after Partition, dramatizing the losses, sorrows, and conflicts of those turbulent years. While Shama Futehally does not present her characters’ Muslim identity as a contentious issue in her 1993 novel Tara Lane, one of the main thematic concerns of her 2002 novella Reaching Bombay Central is the ways in which Muslim Indians are increasingly defined by their religious community and made to feel part of an embattled minority,
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whether or not they are religiously observant. Samina Ali’s 2004 novel Madras on Rainy Days features communal violence between Hindus and Muslims in Hyderabad, which is home to a larger percentage of Muslims than most cities in India. Along with their portrayal of characters from a range of social classes in their short stories, Attia Hosain and Shama Futehally also use the short story form to present characters from non-Muslim Indian backgrounds. It is perhaps understandable that in their longer fiction, which requires more sustained development of characters and situations, they invariably adhere to their own social milieu. However, their desire to experiment with less familiar cultural contexts (all within India) in their short stories is also significant and deserves close examination. The extent to which the literary texts present Islam as inherently oppressive to women is a contentious issue, but it too deserves consideration. I will argue that the only text which possibly does point to the misogynistic aspects of particular religious ideologies is Samina Ali’s Madras on Rainy Days (2004), but even here gender oppression can be interpreted as a feature of cultural practice rather than religious doctrine as such. This is in keeping with recent research which indicates that throughout India, disadvantage tends to be based on gender and social class rather than on religion per se (Hasan and Menon 2004). Marriage and Sexuality. The chapter introduction provides a brief summary of the theological debates within Islam about marriage and the position of women, while the remaining sections examine fictional representations of marriage as a lived experience for the female protagonists of novels and short stories by Muslim Indian women writing in English. As a comparative and developmental study, it focuses on six general areas of enquiry: ideas about marriage portrayed in the earlier texts; consent and the arrangement of marriages; narratives of wedding ceremonies; power dynamics within marriages; polygamy and divorce; and gender ideologies regarding male and female sexuality. The chapter as a whole analyses and contextualizes representations of marriage and sexuality in the novels and short stories of the four Muslim authors, comparing them, where appropriate, with those of other Indian women writers.
It is notable that all of the protagonists in all of the novels under consideration are upper-class Muslim women with exclusively domestic roles, so that they are financially dependent on their fathers until they marry and then their husbands after the wedding has taken place. Each of the four authors explores the power implications of this structure in various ways. Zohra in Zeenuth Futehally’s 1951 novel of the same name has grown up in purdah, never meeting her husband until the wedding ceremony. Although he is presented as a kind man, they turn out to be emotionally incompatible, and she eventually falls in love with his brother who is portrayed as her soulmate, though her relationship with this brother-in-law is never consummated. Arguably, the interest of the novel lies not so much in the love story with its sentimental ending (Zohra’s early death before any scandal can be enacted), but rather in her awareness of her entrapment within a benevolent but restrictive patriarchal structure. It is useful to compare Zohra with Laila, the protagonist of Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961). Also brought up in purdah, the young Laila becomes exposed to a more “westernized” lifestyle in the home of her aunt and uncle and subsequently rebels against her upbringing by marrying a young man not chosen for her by her family. Although the courtship is narrated in some detail, Laila’s marriage itself is summarized only in retrospect after the early death of her husband. Interestingly, it is suggested that there was trouble in the marriage, so that the traditional western myth of inevitable happiness in a “love marriage” is effectively undercut. In her novels Tara Lane (1993) and Reaching Bombay Central (2002), Shama Futehally explores in some detail the power dynamics in two contemporary Indian marriages, and the implicit feminist criticism is strikingly powerful. Samina Ali goes even further in Madras on Rainy Days (2004), presenting marriage as a patriarchal institution for the control of female sexuality, and arranged marriage as a form of female trafficking. Again, the short stories of Attia Hosain and Shama Futehally explore marital relationships in different social contexts within India, consistently emphasizing the ways in which it functions as a profoundly inegalitarian institution.
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Gender and Social Class. The chapter on Gender and Social Class compares the ways in which the intersections of gender and social class are handled in the fiction of the four writers, examining in turn: gender and aristocratic culture in the earlier texts (by Zeenuth Futehally and Attia Hosain); the portrayal of domestic servants; class guilt and class tensions; and the paradoxical position of elite women in India. While the literary vision of these writers is inevitably influenced by their privileged class position, their texts show a sharp awareness of social issues, including the ways in which class, gender, and communal identity shape individual experience and social relationships. All of the literary texts call attention to the ways in which class privilege can be compromised by gender disadvantage. For example, in Zeenuth Futehally’s Zohra (1951), the protagonist is an upper-class Muslim girl from Hyderabad who is compelled to set aside her literary and artistic talents in favour of an arranged marriage. Throughout the narrative, Zohra is shown to be torn between the conflicting demands of duty, propriety, and decorum on the one hand, and an intense need for self-expression on the other. The protagonists of Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961) and Shama Futehally’s Tara Lane (1993) gradually become aware of the privileged position of their families, along with their own gender-based exclusion from power. They question the ways in which people from less advantaged backgrounds are oppressed and exploited, but they themselves are shown to be powerless even within their own families. The interpersonal dynamics of relationships based on financial dependence, even in economically privileged contexts, are poignantly portrayed in Shama Futehally’s Reaching Bombay Central (2002) and Samina Ali’s Madras on Rainy Days (2004). The short story collections by Attia Hosain (1953) and Shama Futehally (2006) are especially interesting because they portray characters from a range of social classes, and notably the major characters are invariably female. Shama Futehally, in a number of her stories, dramatizes the vulnerability of working-class Indian women to gendered victimization and abuse—a situation also briefly portrayed in Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961). In addition, Attia Hosain undertakes
in several of her short stories a sensitive and nuanced exploration of the paradoxical position of elite Indian women confronted by conflicting expectations about ways in which they are expected to be both “traditional” and “modern”—a situation which is sometimes as relevant today as it was during the mid-twentieth century when her stories were written. Responding to Patriarchy. Not shying away from the words “patriarchy” and “feminist”, the introduction to this chapter justifies the use of these terms and their particular application to the literary texts under consideration. The chapter as a whole examines the ways in which each of the writers portrays the nature and effects of patriarchy in India, as well as the various ways in which their female characters respond to it. It begins by considering the factor of family honor and loyalty, before going on to explore textual portrayals of patriarchal authority and privilege, women’s constructed dependency, and women’s collusion and resistance. It is notable from the outset that the protagonists of these literary texts, although aware of the gendered restrictions placed on them, tend to be portrayed as compliant with patriarchal expectations—with the exception of Layla in Madras on Rainy Days (2004). Although this compliance is undoubtedly influenced by the protagonists’ constructed dependency, it is significant that each protagonist is well aware of the implications of her situation, so that although her life is shown to be shaped by patriarchal structures, her mind is not. It is also notable that in each case—again with the exception of Madras on Rainy Days—the protagonist, although dissatisfied with her gendered disadvantage, does nothing to change it or even protest against it. This is in contrast to the varying responses to patriarchy in the writings of other Indian women novelists, such as Nayantara Sahgal, Anita Desai, and Shashi Deshpande. In common with these other fictional works, the Muslim women authors in this study tend to portray older women as the sternest enforcers of patriarchal norms. These include Aunt Abida in Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961) and the protagonist’s mother in Samina Ali’s Madras on Rainy Days (2004). Interestingly, none of these literary texts seems to support the popular idea that religious ideology is an important factor in Muslim women’s oppression. On the contrary, the families portrayed in the novels are
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not particularly religious, with the exception of the protagonist’s in-laws in Madras on Rainy Days, and it is notable that their piety is accompanied by kindness and compassion, in contrast to the secular characters, some of whom are presented as harsh and repressive. These fictional portrayals are in keeping with recent research indicating that Muslim women in India are oppressed not by religion but by gender ideologies not specific to any particular community, and often by social class.
References Ahmad, Aijad. In Theory: Nations, Classes, Literatures. Oxford University Press, 1991. Ahmed, Rehana, Peter Morey, and Amina Yaqin, editors. Culture, Diaspora, and Modernity in Muslim Writing. Routledge, 2012. Ali, Samina. Madras on Rainy Days. Piatkus, 2004. Burton, Antoinette. Dwelling in the Archive: Women Writing House, Home, and History in Late Colonial India. Oxford University Press, 2003. Cooke, Miriam. Women Claim Islam: Creating Islamic Feminism through Literature. Routledge, 2001. Deshpande, Shashi. Roots and Shadows. Disha, 1983. —. Small Remedies. Penguin, 2000. —. Writing from the Margin and Other Essays. Penguin, 2003. Didur, Jill. Unsettling Partition: Literature, Gender, Memory. University of Toronto Press, 2006. Forbes, Geraldine. Women in Modern India. Cambridge University Press, 1996. Futehally, Shama. Frontiers: Collected Stories. Penguin, 2006. —. “Putting the Subject on Hold”. Indian Express, 30 April 2000. —. Reaching Bombay Central. Penguin, 2002. —. Tara Lane. Ravi Dayal, 1993. Futehally, Zeenuth. Zohra. Oxford University Press, 2004 (originally published 1951). Gandhi, Nandita and Nandita Shah. The Issues at Stake: Theory and Practice in the Contemporary Indian Women’s Movement in India. Kali for Women, 1992. Gangadharan, Geetha. “Denying the Otherness (1994 interview).” The Fiction of Shashi Deshpande, edited by R. S. Pathak, Creative Books, 1998, pp. 251–255. Gee, Maggie and Lisa Appignanesi. “The Contemporary Writer: Gender and Genre.” Writing: A Woman’s Business. Women, Writing and the Marketplace, edited by Judy Simons and Kate Fullbrook, Manchester University Press, 1998, pp. 172–182. Gopal, Priyamvada. The Indian English Novel: Nation, History, and Narration. Oxford University Press, 2009. Hasan, Zoya and Ritu Menon. Unequal Citizens: A Study of Muslim Women in India. Oxford University Press, 2004.
Hosain, Attia. Phoenix Fled and Other Stories. Virago, 1988 (Chatto & Windus, 1953). —. Sunlight on a Broken Column. Chatto & Windus, 1961. Jha, Uma Shankar and Premlata Pujari, editors. Indian Women Today: Tradition, Modernity and Challenge. Kanishka, 1996. Kidwai, A.R., editor. Behind the Veil: Representation of Muslim Woman in Indian Writings in English 1950–2000. APH, 2007. Loomba, Ania. “Tangled Histories: Indian Feminism and Anglo-American Feminist Criticism.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, vol. 12, no. 2, 1993, pp. 271–278. Malak, Amin. Muslim Narratives and the Discourse of English. State University of New York Press, 2005. Nabar, Vrinda. “Fragmenting Nations and Lives: Sunlight on a Broken Column.” Literature and Nation: Britain and India 1800–1990, edited by Richard Allen and Harish Trivedi, Routledge, 2000, pp. 121–137. Needham, Anuradha Dingwaney. “Multiple Forms of (National) Belonging: Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column.” MFS: Modern Fiction Studies, vol. 39, no. 1, 1993, pp. 94–111. Palkar, Sarla. “Beyond Purdah: Sunlight on a Broken Column.” Margins of Erasure: Purdah in the Subcontinental Novel in English, edited by Jasbir Jain and Amina Amin, Sterling, 1995, pp. 106–118. Roy, Anuradha. Patterns of Feminist Consciousness in Indian Women Writers. Prestige, 1999. Sen, Ilina. “Women’s Politics in India.” Feminism in India, edited by Maitrayee Chaudhuri, Kali for Women, 2004, pp. 187–210.
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Introduction Writing of the origins and development of the novel as a literary genre in India and elsewhere, Meenakshi Mukherjee notes that “the realistic novel was able to come into existence because the tension between individual and society had acquired a certain intensity” (1985, 99). Relating the form of writing to the social conditions under which it is produced, she adds that: Social realism at its best conveys in concrete and specific terms the complex relationships between individuals and their society. This relationship can be studied in sharper focus when the individual’s life is hedged in by an enclosed space which permits very few options, and when the odds are against her, in other words, when she is a woman. (99)
This concurs with the views of Virginia Woolf in her famous essay “A Room of One’s Own” (1928). Woolf argued that observing the nuances of interpersonal relations constitutes women’s distinctive contribution to literature because the “training in the observation of character, in the analysis of emotion” becomes an education in novel writing (67). A woman writer, she felt, was well suited to exploring the complexities
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of interpersonal relations because in the domestic arena, “people’s feelings were impressed on her; personal relations were always before her eyes” (68). The Indian writer Anita Desai made a similar point in 1983: [Women] live mostly in such confined spaces and therefore their field of vision is at the same time more restricted and more intense. This leads to their placing their emphases differently from men, on having a very different set of values. Whereas a man is more concerned with action, experience and achievement, a woman writer is more concerned with thought, emotion and sensation. At least, so one would think, but this is by no means always so. (57)
It stands to reason that as women’s lives and societal roles change, so too does their literary vision. However, it is notable that the fictional writings of Zeenuth Futehally, Attia Hosain, Shama Futehally, and Samina Ali are all works of social realism, and that they tend to be focused on the domestic sphere. In her book Patterns of Feminist Consciousness in Indian Women Writers (1999), Anuradha Roy is ambivalent about the implications of the continued use of the realist narrative mode by most Indian women writers. She notes that “their close approximation to reality can easily create the impression of social documentaries deficient in imaginative reach and artistic sophistication” but also suggests that there is a sexist prejudice behind such an evaluation: Patriarchal assumptions of the superior worth of male experience have contributed to a systematic devaluation of their work, in common with women writers all over the world. Since most of them write about the enclosed domestic space and a woman’s perception of experience through her position in it, it is assumed that her work will automatically rank below the works of male writers who deal with weightier themes. The prejudice becomes particularly strong with women writers using the realistic narrative mode, as most of them continue to do. [my emphasis] (9–10)
But by the end of the book she is complaining that “while courageously dealing with sensitive areas of women’s existence, Indian women writers in English have not shown equal courage in the use of different narrative modes” (144). She argues that in contrast to many “women writers of the West…[who] have found alternatives to the traditional
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realistic pattern of women’s writing in lyrical poetic narratives, in fantasy, in parody, in satire,…their Indian counterparts have shown an aversion to experimentation” and that “the lacuna becomes even more prominent if compared with the vibrant technical experimentation of Indian male authors after Rushdie” (145). In this context, Roy’s use of the word “courage” suggests that experimentation could be related to risk taking, which in turn requires a degree of self-confidence not easily acquired by women who are socialized to be compliant and cautious. Another perspective is suggested by Rita Felski, who argues that the realistic autobiographical novel remains a major form for oppressed groups precisely because so many of them still experience difficulty in “defining an independent identity beyond that shaped by the needs and desires by those around them” (1989, 78). She also reminds us that “the general usage of the term ‘realist’ to designate any text which is not obviously experimental in form and language has tended to blur the distinction between different types of realism” (80). She identifies narrative omniscience as a defining element of the nineteenth-century European and American realist novel, with the narrator setting out to “survey an entire social world and to give authoritative insight into characters and events” (81). Zeenuth Futehally and Attia Hosain do this to some extent in their fictional texts, but even this is closer to what Damian Grant identifies as critical realism: “a depiction of contemporary reality which is not aloof and neutral, like Flaubert’s, but informed by some moral belief” (1970, 76). Indeed, by the end of the nineteenth century, recognizing that different writers subscribe to different criteria of truth, many were questioning the existence of an objective “reality”, with Guy de Maupassant asserting, for example, that “every one of us simply creates his own illusion of the world” (quoted in Grant, 51). It is the more plausible illusion, then, that earns the description of reality, so that Grant defines realism as “the achievement of reality, the creation of belief, however this may be arrived at” (72). He distinguishes this “theoretical” definition from the one he associates with “general usage”, which “still intends by realism the close rendering of ordinary experience” (72). These two definitions are not mutually exclusive, and I consider both to be useful in describing the type of realism presented
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in the fictional works of Zeenuth Futehally, Attia Hosain, Shama Futehally, and Samina Ali. Relating realism to feminist writing in the Anglo-American context, Felski noted that: Many examples of feminist writing can be described as embracing a form of realism. It is, however, a “subjective” autobiographical realism which possesses few features of the nineteenth-century novel. The omniscient narrator is typically replaced by a personalized narrator whose perspective is either identical to or sympathetic to that of the protagonist; there is a consequent shrinking of focus from the general survey of the social world to the feelings and responses of the experiencing subject…. This “subjective” form of realism, centred upon the experiencing consciousness, can thus incorporate the depiction of dreams, fantasies, flights of the imagination as part of the conception of the real. (82)
This is not far from Henry James’s conception of his narrative as “not… my own impersonal account of the affair in hand, but…my account of somebody’s impression of it” (quoted in Grant 1970, 53). It is also, I would posit, an apt description of the type of subjective realism which characterizes the writing of Shama Futehally and Samina Ali, who tend to go further than Zeenuth Futehally and Attia Hosain in exploring individual female consciousness and individual female desires. This chapter analyses the narrative techniques in the fictional writings of each of the four authors in turn, beginning with the earlier texts and progressively moving on to the later ones.
Zeenuth Futehally In her preface to the original edition of Zohra (1951), Zeenuth Futehally comments on her use of language in the novel: It was in a foreign land that I started writing this story. Perhaps that accounts for it being in English—a language that I cannot handle with sufficient ease for confidence…. I have tried almost literally to translate part of the phraseology peculiar to Hyderabad and therefore the story should be read as a translation—maybe often an inadequate one. (2004, 262)
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In light of the fluency and elegance of the author’s prose, this confession of her lack of confidence in the English language might come as a surprise to many readers. It is possible that she is being unduly modest about this aspect of her writing, but we also know that the text has undergone heavy editing by her daughter Rumanna Futehally Denby for the 2004 Oxford University Press edition. However, another part of what she is articulating here is the inadequacy of the English language—or indeed, any foreign language—in conveying the flavour of life in the Hyderabad of a bygone era. It is the same problem identified by Raja Rao in his famous foreword to Kanthapura (1938), in which he describes the difficulty of bridging the cultural and historical gap between the English language and the Indian tale: “One has to describe in a language that is not one’s own the spirit that is one’s own.” Equally interesting is the way in which Zeenuth Futehally sees herself in relation to her material: Looking around and talking to people, I became increasingly conscious of how different that little world of ours, in Hyderabad, had been and I felt the urgency to record it, for owing to the passage of time it was fast disappearing. I was in an especially fortunate position to do this for I belonged to it, and yet was apart from it, and could therefore take a somewhat detached view. (262)
This sense of being both an insider and an outsider is characteristic of the other authors too, for various reasons. The diasporic perspective on Indian society is a factor for both Attia Hosain (who moved to Britain at the age of twenty-eight) and Samina Ali (who was brought up in both India and the United States). Shama Futehally, too, spent some time abroad doing her MA in English Literature at the University of Leeds. I would suggest also that the minority location of these writers contributes to their sense of being apart from the mainstream. As Muslims in Hindu-dominated India, as women in a male-dominated society, and as elite women apart from the “average”, their literary vision is inevitably influenced by their paradoxical position of class privilege, gender disadvantage, and minority status. So too are the narrative perspectives of their protagonists.
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Zohra can be termed a realist novel in the sense that it aims to create the impression of authenticity and objectivity in its portrayal of a particular social environment. However, “realist”, as we have seen, is a notoriously elastic term, so I would refine it by describing the novel as a work of social realism. Applying the term “social realism” to the writing of Zeenuth Futehally’s Hindu contemporary, Kamala Markandaya, Rao and Menon define it as “the acute awareness of the social forces that surround the individual, their power to influence the lives of men and women for better or for worse—and the overall interaction of the individual and society” (1997, 125). As we shall see in the chapter on Gender and Social Class, the particular society that Zeenuth Futehally is describing in Zohra is the taluqdari class in late colonial Hyderabad. The social context is immediately established at the beginning of the novel through the device of a dialogue between the young girl Zohra and the servants who look after her in the zenana. The omniscient third-person narrator provides authoritative commentary, usually through the consciousness of Zohra; for instance: “Zohra did not reply. She knew nothing could detract from her sister’s vanity” (4). Here Zohra’s subjective perspective of her sister Mehrunnissa is presented as definitive, but at other times the two girls are seen and contrasted from an outside—almost voyeuristic—point of view: Zohra, slender and tall, walked swiftly but gracefully, with the eagerness of youth; her head, with wavy black hair woven into a plait, was set above a long shapely neck, which gave her a distinguished air. Mehrunnissa followed at a more leisurely pace, with a rhythmic swinging of the hips, adjusting her dupatta, smoothing her glossy black hair with both her hands, and looking voluptuously lovely. (4)
Here we note the traditional literary device of character exposition through contrast, particularly the contrast of two young sisters, much used in the fiction of other women writers, such as Jane Austen in Sense and Sensibility, Kamala Markandaya in Two Virgins, and Anita Desai in Clear Light of Day. In this descriptive passage, the contrasting characters of the two “lovely” young sisters are suggested not so much in their respective physical appearances as in their movements. Zohra’s natural and unaffected grace is compared with Mehrunnissa’s more self-
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conscious gesturing and posturing, indicating that Zohra is the more interesting and outwardly focused of the two sisters. Thus Mehrunnissa is set up as a foil to the admirable young heroine Zohra, whose experiences and perspectives dominate the narrative. The third-person narrator consistently focuses on Zohra, sometimes from an impersonal external perspective (as in the previous illustrative example), sometimes from the point of view of other characters such as her husband Bashir and her brother-in-law Hamid, but most often through clear and authoritative descriptions of her thoughts, feelings and reactions to events. The narrative is a straightforward account in linear chronological order, with few digressions, no flashbacks, and no obvious symbolism, though there are a few instances of intentional or unintentional irony. For example, it is not clear whether authorial irony is intended in Hamid’s lecture to Zohra about the role of the artist (automatically assumed to be male) and “his” attitude toward women as sources of inspiration, even though Zohra herself is an artist—or was before her marriage. As Ambreen Hai points out, “Futehally establishes…tension between Zohra’s desires and a cultural context that both fosters and dampens them…. Zohra is…both enabled and disabled within this bicultural educational environment” (2013, 324–325). She is enabled in the sense that her academic education develops her capacity for creativity and independent thought, and disabled in the sense that she has no control over her own life; decisions are always made for her by others. In terms of structure, the narrative of Zohra can be seen as organized into four roughly equal sections: Part 1 (chapters 1–6) focuses on Zohra’s girlhood in her parents’ home, the milieu of indulgence and restriction within the zenana, and Zohra’s reluctant acquiescence to conventional marriage. Part 2 (chapters 7–12) shifts to her adjustment to marriage in the different milieu of her husband Bashir’s joint- family home, her partial emergence from purdah, and the birth of two children. Part 3 (chapters 13–20) introduces new drama with her brother-in-law Hamid’s return from England, and their growing attraction and attachment to each other, and Part 4 (chapters 21–26) brings the climax with Hamid’s declaration of his feelings for Zohra, eliciting her confession of hers for him,
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and the challenge for the protagonists as well as the novelist of resolving this problem. (Hai 2013, 326)
Unable to continue seeing each other after their mutual declaration, Zohra and Hamid agree to part: Hamid leaves for British India to join Gandhi’s satyagraha movement, while Zohra stays in Hyderabad with her husband and children. After a futile trip to Europe to forget Hamid, she picks up the volunteer work she had begun at Hamid’s suggestion, and offers classes in her home for poor women. In this novel the narrative resolution to the problem of adulterous desire comes in the form of Zohra’s death from plague at the age of thirty-two. This death from a plague she contracts while working with the poor is clearly designed to be seen as heroic. Conceding that “the ending is undoubtedly a compromise, disappointing to many for its sentimentality and sanctimoniousness” (334), Ambreen Hai nevertheless points to the cultural constraints of the time. In order for Zohra to be seen as an admirable and sympathetic character, her behaviour had to remain within certain limits of propriety. Only then could the readers be encouraged to turn a critical eye on the patriarchal society instead of on the character herself.
Attia Hosain In her introduction to the 1988 edition of Attia Hosain’s short story collection Phoenix Fled (originally published in 1953), Anita Desai discusses the language influences in Hosain’s writing style. Although she had an English education at La Martiniere School for Girls, followed by the University of Lucknow, Hosain also had lessons at home in Urdu and Arabic. This, according to Desai, accounts for Hosain’s “rich and ornate [prose]…not for her the stripped and bare simplicity of modern prose” (xiv). This older literary style, she argues, is in harmony with the material, and: It is also important to remember that Attia Hosain is actually reproducing, whether consciously or not, the Persian literary style and mannerisms she was taught when young, and reading her prose brings one as close as it is possible, in the English language, to the Urdu origins and the Persian inspira-
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tion. Urdu is a language that lends itself to the flamboyant and the poetic and so it is a suitable medium through which to describe the Muslim society of Lucknow and the Persian influence in north India, although married to the local Hindi of the Hindu population and modified by a Western education in the English language. (xiv–xv)
Not knowing any Urdu myself, I still find Hosain’s English prose clear and accessible, in her novel as well as in all of her short stories. Given this clarity and accessibility, it might at first be easy to overlook the poetic quality of the prose, so delicately woven in, as the following examples from her Phoenix Fled collection (1953) will briefly illustrate: She poured him a cup of tea, and as she sipped her own her thoughts scattered and danced, resting fleetingly on the servants, the house, herself, then converging on him who was her constant focus. (“Gossamer Thread”, 147–148) My own mind reconstructed it as a projection of shadows, because one’s arrogant youth denied the reality of youth and daring to two men, cautiously wise and conventionally old. (“White Leopard”, 179)
Here we note the personification of thoughts and emotions, imagined as active entities which can scatter, dance, rest fleetingly, and even appear as a projection of shadows. Like her contemporary, R. K. Narayan, Attia Hosain uses an omniscient third-person narrator in most of her short stories. In the title story “Phoenix Fled”, we have a detached impersonal third-person narrator observing a very old woman, ancient and infirm, visited by her grandchildren. In “The First Party” the third-person narrator observes a traditional young woman attending a modern, western-style party with her more westernized husband. As we shall see in the chapter on Gender and Social Class, the young woman’s fear, anger, shock, defensiveness, and confusion are described in a detached way, without much sympathy by a narrator who seems to view her attitudes as “backward”. This somewhat patronizing tone is also found in “The Street of the Moon”, in which the narrator, speaking of household servants, informs us that “time inevitably levelled the emotional upheaval of their simple lives” (50). “Time Is Unredeemable” adopts at times an even more superior authoritative narrative tone in its description of the
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consciousness of Bano, a young wife whose husband has been away for several years studying in England: Her mind, by its simplicity, reduced the complications of her thoughts, and her anxiety concentrated safely on external things as she wondered what her husband would look like after all these years, what he would think of her, what she would say to him, what she should wear when he first saw her. (58)
At other times the narrator deftly summarizes Bano’s thoughts and feelings with some sympathy: She was cast into a gloom which was as deep as the heights to which her joy had carried her. She was haunted by the suspicion that he did not wish to return, that he had found a woman. Then the habit of acceptance closed around her, obliterating all peaks of feeling. (62)
Most effective of all is the way in which Bano’s emotions are powerfully evoked by her actions and physical sensations toward the end of the story as she faces her husband’s homecoming: Bano did not leave the room the day of Arshad’s return. She felt weak and unable to face the women who crowded the rooms and courtyards. At the thought of food her stomach turned sour…. She shut the door, and held her hand to her heart to press back the pain. (71)
In most of the stories the third-person narrator describes the overall situation but also occasionally presents the perspectives of one of the characters. For instance, at one point toward the end of “The Daughter- in-Law”, we are given brief access to the employer’s consciousness, thinking about the trouble the young servant Munni has unwittingly brought into the household. The story “Gossamer Thread” is particularly interesting in the sense that the third-person narrator provides equal access to the thoughts, feelings, and perspectives of both of its main characters: a husband and wife. Their two different perspectives are briefly described in a neutral narrative tone: When he came into the room, she felt, with the sensitiveness of timidity, his silence spiked with ill humour. (147)
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Every problem that drove branching wedges into his mind was filtered by hers to a simplification that irritated him. (147)
The narrator also critically summarizes the husband’s character: “His ambition—of which he was conscious without admission, and his snobbery—of which he was unconscious—dominated his thoughts and steered his actions.” (149) Another story in which the third-person narrator observes and interprets for the reader is “This Was All the Harvest”: “The young man’s voice pitched a semitone higher when he levered his sagging anxiety with self-assertion.” (158) However, there is less narrative “telling” and more “showing” in “Ramu”, in which the unobtrusive third-person narrator observes a young boy (Ramu) whose untouchable family are servants in the household of Panditji. Panditji is shown to be unpleasant, and the events make it clear that he earned his money through corruption. There is a twist at the end, when Ramu stands up to the Sahib who shot the dog Ramu loved, thinking he had rabies. There are three stories in the collection which use a first-person narrator: “After the Storm”, “The Loss”, and “White Leopard”. In all of these, the narrator is a peripheral experiencing character, telling the tale of the main character whom she is observing. “After the Storm” is told by a first-person narrator who reveals nothing about herself but tells the little she knows about the young servant girl who appears in her room one day. This little girl has apparently escaped unimaginable horrors that are only hinted at in the narrative. Similarly, “The Loss” uses a first-person narrator whose elderly servant has been robbed, and the focus is entirely on the servant. In “White Leopard”, the first- person narrator begins by unwittingly revealing more about herself than about the other character she is describing: “He seemed to me a curious character; and because I expected from him automatic obedience as from the other servants, my first agitated request became an angry command” (175). Here we note that the narrator seems to be describing herself from an outside perspective, looking at her attitude of entitlement and her peremptory manner. Again, like Narayan, Attia Hosain makes much use of dramatic irony in her short stories. In particular, several of them have a twist
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at the end, including “A Woman and a Child”, “Gossamer Thread”, “White Leopard”, and “Ramu”. Other stories—such as “Phoenix Fled” and “The Loss”—have ambiguous endings, while the ending of “Time Is Unredeemable” is bitterly ironic. Thus, Hosain’s short stories are all carefully crafted, using several narrative techniques which were seen as characteristic of “the well-made short story” in the twentieth-century Anglo-American literary tradition. Given the greater scope of the novel for formal and thematic development, Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961) is a richer and more complex text, though it too uses clear and accessible prose. As the title (borrowed from T. S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men) indicates, the novel is heavy with memories. Attia Hosain’s life, by all accounts, closely paralleled that of the protagonist, Laila, in this coming-of-age novel whose time frame spans a twenty-year period from 1932 to 1952, when India made its transition from a British colony to a postcolonial state. Rather than portraying the violence of the era, Hosain’s novel focuses on the effects of the political upheaval on Laila and her family. As Jill Didur points out: Hosain provides the reader with ample details concerning the sociohistorical context of the time, including the women’s lives in the zenana (women’s quarters), the class and communal issues as they impact on the family, the nationalist movement, her uncle’s involvement with the elections for Muslim seats in the Constituent Assembly, and the end of British rule and India’s partition. (2006, 102)
Like Zeenuth Futehally’s Zohra (1951), this is a realist novel, narrated in a more or less linear chronological order until the fourth and final section, which consists of memories. Also like Zohra, it can be seen as divided into four distinct parts. Part I begins with the impending death of Baba Jan, which marks a major turning point for everyone in the family. The household is dispersed in various ways, including the marrying off of Laila’s cousin and her favourite aunt. Part II is about the period when Uncle Hamid and Aunt Saira have taken charge and Laila is in college. This is also when she meets and falls in love with Ameer. Political ideas are discussed and debated by the characters throughout this section and Part III, which highlights the contrast between siblings. Laila’s two pairs
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of male cousins are each aligned to opposing political ideologies, and family relationships are strained. This section ends with the marriage of Laila to Ameer, against the wishes of her family, and Part IV begins after an interval of fourteen years. It is a retrospective section in which Laila narrates through her memories the many things that have happened since the partition, including Ameer’s death and the family riven apart. The novel is narrated in the first person by the protagonist Laila, who at times seems to be observing herself from the outside: “Our minds had no defences against anxiety; we were uncertain and afraid” (14). This can be viewed as a retrospective interpretation, as an older narrator recalls her youth, summarizing her thoughts and emotions from a more mature and experienced perspective. As in Zeenuth Futehally’s Zohra (1953), the narrative begins with a contrast between two young women, in this case Laila and her cousin Zahra. Laila represents herself as a bookish girl who is remonstrated by her elders for reading too much and for not being like her more conventional cousin Zahra, who “said her prayers five times a day, read the Quran for an hour every morning, sewed and knitted and wrote the accounts” (14). However, Laila as narrator is bitingly critical of Zahra, who unthinkingly adheres to religious rituals and looks forward to nothing in life except an arranged marriage. Laila sees even Zahra’s physical appearance as a manifestation of her defective character: Her eyes were large, slanting and protruded slightly, and she emphasized them with the line of kajal drawn outwards, dark and long at the corners. She used them to ask favours and to attract sympathy. They drew attention away from her commonplace nose, her greedy mouth. I thought they squinted inwards slightly, and no wonder because she saw everything through herself. (16)
This approach is also evident in Laila’s description of the Begum Sahiba who comes bride-hunting to Laila’s home. As Jasbir Jain points out: The language bristles with prey and predatoriness as Laila is summoned to meet the visitors. The Begum Sahiba was “hawk-like” with an aquiline nose, and a mouth thin-lipped and unyielding and was dressed in bright clothes which were ill suited to her age. Repeatedly she is described as…“[a] hawk-like Begum…lifting her face like a predatory bird.” (Kaul and Jain 2001, 154–155)
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At other times the narrative voice is humorously sarcastic: There had been an acid period of tension when my aunt discovered that Begum Waheed had transgressed an unwritten social law and had copied the colour of my aunt’s coolies’ uniform. It was the sort of thing that inspired my aunt to discourse on the rise of the nouveau riche. However their friendship had survived many such hazards. (Hosain 1961, 182)
Laila’s sharp social criticism infuses every aspect of the narrative, mingling even with the romantic description of her wealthy ancestral home where she lives as an orphan with her extended family: Into this vast room the coloured panes of the arched doors let in not light but shadows that moved in the mirrors on the walls and mantelpiece, that slithered under chairs, tables and divans, hid behind marble statues, lurked in giant porcelain vases, and nestled in the carpets. Footsteps sounded sharp on the marble floor and chased whispered echoes from the high, gilded roof. In this, the oldest portion of the house, I heard notes of strange music not distinctly separate but diffused in the silence of some quiet night as perfume in the air. I heard too the jingling of anklet bells. But no one else knew any of this. In the corridor beyond there was light. It broke into the patterns of the fretted stone that screened this last link between the walled zenana, self-contained with its lawns, courtyards and veranda’d rooms, and the outer portion of the house. (18)
Here she is exoticizing the setting, giving readers an idea of its opulence, describing the separate but luxurious accommodation for the female family members (the zenana), gesturing toward its history, setting herself apart from the rest of the characters in her imaginative responses. She is also hinting at troubles to come, symbolized by the shadows which move throughout the room. There is light just beyond it, perhaps suggesting the positive aspects of social change as India progresses toward independence and the end of the feudal order which has provided what she later calls “a life of luxurious incarceration” for upper-class women like herself (166).
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Antoinette Burton observes that “from beginning to end, the novel threads through domestic space, so much so that the house itself is rarely backdrop but emerges as the central character” (2003, 118). While this might be overstating the role of the setting throughout the novel as a whole, it is arguably true of at least the final section, when Laila returns to the now dilapidated family home after an interval of fourteen years to confront her memories of the past. She had left the house after her marriage to Ameer and has now come back after partition as a widow with a teenaged daughter. Antoinette Burton’s summary of Laila’s journey to the past as she walks through the house is worth quoting at some length because of its detail and precision: What follows is a macabre return to the ghostly interiors of the house, in which Laila becomes a kind of tourist in her own past, as well as a guide in the present, reconstructing for us room by room what happened to Ashiana [the house] and the family as partition loomed. And so we hear about the battle Kemal waged with his mother Saira as he tried to persuade her to let him sell Ashiana—she railing against the thievery of a secular state, he retaliating by asking her why she did not just go to Pakistan “to live with Saleem in the Muslim neo-Paradise across the border”. Indeed, it is the last bitter family arguments, in all their painful, passionate detail, that the return to Ashiana provokes in Laila’s memory—scenes we have not been privy to, scenes that lay out the story of Hamid’s election contest, of family debates over what partition would really mean, of Kemal’s marriage to a non-Muslim woman, and not least of Laila’s own controversial betrothal. Every chapter begins with a description of a room—Hamid’s study, the sitting room, the dining room, the “gloomy pantry”. It is these physical spaces, even and especially in their ruinous state, that have the power…to conjure the past. (130–131)
Thus the detailed attention to physical description, characteristic of many realist texts, serves in this novel as much more than a background to the plot, or a narrative device to establish the mood and the context. It is an integral part of the story itself—the story of a world and a social order which no longer existed by the time Attia Hosain wrote Sunlight on a Broken Column. As we shall see in the subsequent chapters, she approaches her material with a combination of nostalgia and rigorous social criticism.
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Shama Futehally Shama Futehally, like Zeenuth Futehally and Attia Hosain—and indeed, like many educated Indians—was multilingual. In addition to English, she knew Hindi and Urdu, so that for over three decades she combined her writing career with teaching and translation. Her published works include the novels Tara Lane (1993) and Reaching Bombay Central (2002), a selection of Meerabai’s bhajans in translation, In the Dark of the Heart: Songs of Meera (1994), and Slivers of a Mirror: Glimpses of the Ghazal (2005). Her collected short stories, Frontiers, and her collected essays, The Right Words, were both published posthumously in 2006. Although my focus is on her fictional works, it is also worth briefly considering her essays on language and writing because of their relevance to her own writing practice. In her essay “Standard English”, she confesses that: In conversation, on the phone, and while facing a class, I find that English words falter and stumble on the tongue…. Writing is different. At the moment I have a dictionary and thesaurus firmly by my side, and plan to make six drafts of this article. But the real test of being easy in a language is whether it is so smooth and easy a tool of day-to-day functioning that you are not aware of it at all. That, in my case, is not true. Nor is it true, I imagine, in the case of other English-speaking Indians who have a dim notion of Standard English and another dim notion that it is desirable to use it. (2006, 208–209)
Leaving aside the point that many of us who grew up speaking and writing standard English also struggle to use the language fluently and elegantly, several ideas emerge from this charmingly self-deprecating admission by a writer whose command of the English language appears effortless. The first and most obvious point is that it is not effortless, and the second is that the vividness and precision of Shama Futehally’s prose is undoubtedly enhanced by her work as a multilingual translator. Each phrase, even each word, is carefully chosen, and the work as a whole is patiently taken through numerous drafts until it
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“sounds right” to the author, who admits that “in our present cultural circumstances neither extreme British English nor extreme Indianisms sound quite right” (208). She goes on to write engagingly about the uses and abuses of the English language in India, revealing an impressive understanding of its evolving nature, and arguing that “what I find distressing about Indian English is not that it is not correct, but that it is not self-confident” (212). Using a number of amusing illustrative examples, she contrasts the “misguided servility” of Indian English with the “spontaneous self-assurance” of English spoken in the West Indies (212–213). Although she praises the “unabashed Indian English” of Salman Rushdie’s novel Midnight’s Children (214), her own prose is scrupulously “correct” as standard English, and its natural and unaffected quality is a tribute to her talent and skill as a writer. In writing dialogue, she also makes evocative use of the colloquial English that middle-class Indians use with one another: “How much Aunty was worrying! Too much she was worrying” (Reaching Bombay Central 2002, 15). In her essay “Liberalized Literature”, Futehally contends that Indian writers “are not being asked to look at slums and villages…. We are merely being asked to look at ourselves, and if we did so with clarity, we would also see something about the world around us” (227). She extends this idea in another essay, “On Writing”, in which she argues that: [We must be] prepared to look long and hard at what is really within us—and this is the hardest of all—to speak of it with humility…. Because without humility there cannot be that little dab of truth which turns your words into a vision rather than a mere conveying of facts. If I write about my experience of family life without writing about my failures in that life, that will not be real writing; it will perhaps be an advertisement. And writing about the failures means first learning to see the failures. (256)
This seems to me to be the basis of her own fictional approach: She looks with honesty and clarity at characters like herself and from there extends her literary vision beyond the self with compassion and comprehension. Her first novel Tara Lane (1993) is narrated in the first person from an intensely subjective perspective. The narrator Tara begins with her
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own childhood vision of her family home and neighbourhood, describing “our lane” as “a small arid one, made of yellow dust pitted with stones” (9). She draws explicit parallels between “us” (herself and her siblings) and the local lane, which she describes as “dusty and purposeless”, “hopeless”, and “as jaded as ourselves” at the end of a day at school. “But dusty though it was,” she continues, “it was my lane. All through childhood I felt a special affinity with it because we shared a name” (9). Continuing these subjective visual impressions, she contrasts the dusty lane with her house and garden, noting its “stone steps edged with ferns” and “its teak door opening into the drawing room” (9), showing us rather than telling us about the comfort and beauty of her family home. The narrator’s responses to her surroundings also reveal something of her own aesthetic sensibility, her capacity for close observation, and her nuanced awareness of colours and reflections: A cool stone floor reflected its blues and browns; the French windows reflected the garden. The garden, when we came home, was silky in the evening light, tipped with pink from the water-lilies in the pond. The sky itself looked more beautiful from my mother’s house and garden. (9–10)
A description of her grandmother’s luxurious “mansion” at the other end of the lane completes this portrait of her childhood world. This close attention to concrete detail is characteristic of much realist writing, but as in the novels of Zeenuth Futehally and Attia Hosain, it is more than just “setting a scene”. The narrator Tara is giving us a view of her childhood consciousness, and children do tend to be intensely aware of their physical surroundings and the way things are done in their households. It is significant that she begins not with the luxurious home and garden, but with the humble, dusty lane for which she feels affinity and affection. This is in keeping with her empathy for people whose lives are not cushioned with comfort and aesthetic pleasure. As we shall see in the chapter on Gender and Social Class, the narrative traces her growing awareness of social and economic inequality. This too is powerfully evoked through vivid imagery in the space between the factory and the home: “pinky pools” of street light which illuminate children playing with scraps of wrapping paper, the sounds
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of women fighting over water from the pump, and the rare journey to school in the train in “a press of bodies” (129). As a teenager, taking the train to college, she tries to block out the city and all it implies by taking refuge in an alternative world provided by the books she is reading on the journey: “In a daze I raised my eyes and gazed at the dark flash of buildings as they thundered past. What did it matter that they were grimy and mildewed, with clothes hanging anyhow…. I walked on the street feeling that nothing could touch me” (53). Here the author might be commenting on the uses and abuses of literature: as a means of escape, or as a means of social engagement. To read Dickens in order to block out the world, she suggests, is to miss the point of his social criticism. After her marriage, Tara no longer has the time—or, as the author puts it in an interview, the “mental space”—for reading (Kuortti 2003, 87). So at this point she has no choice but to confront what Priyamvada Gopal describes as “the tensions that had merely lapped at the edges of her childhood and adolescence” (2009, 130). The narrative voice gradually changes as she matures, becoming at times bitterly sarcastic about the corruption and injustice which she sees all around her—for instance in her sardonic comments on an official accepting a bribe: “Mr Godbole—the effective, the forward-looking, the admirable Mr Godbole— had stated his price” (150). So, like the novels of Zeenuth Futehally and Attia Hosian, Tara Lane is, among other things, a coming-of-age novel centring on a privileged young woman with a social conscience. Reaching Bombay Central (2002), by contrast, focuses on a more mature female protagonist in a shorter time span: a train journey from Delhi to Bombay, though her thoughts and memories range further afield. This short but rich novel is narrated in the third person exclusively through the perspective of Ayesha Jamal, the wife of a civil servant, who is travelling alone to Bombay during a time of family crisis. Her mission is to speak to an influential relative of hers, in an effort to save her husband’s career from being destroyed by a corruption scandal. Narrated in the third person exclusively through the perspective of Ayesha, the focus is not on the details of her husband’s situation but on her own experiences, thoughts, memories, and emotions. With Sha-
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ma Futehally’s characteristic close attention to visual images, Ayesha’s perceptions are strikingly subjective and at times impressionistic. For instance, when leaving the station: An aluminium water-stand, which had been stationary, began to move slowly backwards. Then a refreshment stall began moving; it moved faster; a bookstall flashed past; a beggar-boy leaped out of the moving train. The platform was surging and straining; a last wave was frantic to be seen; a last touch positively had to be given. (6)
The narrative alternates between past and present, between Ayesha’s experience in the railway carriage and her memories of the crisis at home that precipitated her journey. There are direct verbal links between the narrative strands of past and present. For instance, a narrative strand from the present ends with: “‘Who is it,’ said Chhatrasingh graciously, ‘who makes the officers behave as they do? Only politicians no one else’” (45). This is immediately followed by the beginning of a narrative strand from the past: “‘Who is it,’ said Aarif, ‘who is making the Secretary do this? The Minister. No one else’” (46). Occasionally these verbal links carry ideological significance in the context of identity politics in India. For example, the politician Chhatrasingh Yadav is not given an air-conditioned berth in the train, as he has been promised by a personal assistant, so eventually he goes off in a huff after an altercation with the ticket collector. That chapter ends with: “‘He must be feeling,’ said Jayashree, ‘that it is all because he is a Yadav’” (31), and the following chapter opens with a fragment of conversation from Ayesha’s memory: “‘He must be feeling,’ Shiv Prasad Nath had said, ‘that it is all because he is a Muslim’” (32). The issue of being a Muslim in India has more significant implications than those of being “a Yadav”, so that this ironic juxtaposition in Ayesha’s consciousness suggests perhaps her sense of the hypocrisy and denial surrounding communal prejudice in India—an issue which will be explored in the chapter on Religion and Communal Identity. Ayesha’s husband Aarif is much on her mind. The third-person narrative does not give us access to his thoughts and feelings; instead, his behaviour is seen and interpreted through her subjective perspec-
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tive. There is, moreover, a tension in the narrative voice between sympathetic engagement with Ayesha’s experience and implicit criticism of her exclusive focus on the needs and desires of her selfish husband. One of many illustrations of her constant anxiety about Aarif’s feelings is her reaction to his shouting unreasonably at their child. Instead of intervening, or indeed showing any consideration for the child’s feelings, she reflects that “the person most deeply wounded by what Aarif had shouted was Aarif himself” (35). At times the narrative voice is sarcastic about Ayesha’s deference to Aarif, particularly when she prioritizes his needs and feelings over those of their children. For instance, she fails to console their son who is frightened by Aarif’s unreasonable temper on the grounds that “it would be seen as forming a front against Aarif. Which meant that it could not be done” (101). Ayesha’s state of mind is vividly conveyed through the detailed descriptions of her responses to the passing landscape towards the end of her long train journey to Bombay. During the fitful night in her uncomfortable berth, her dreams interpret the world outside the window as sinister, blending her fears and inner turmoil with the external stimuli she experiences in her half-asleep state: Outside, the darkness galloped behind the window-bars. Now electric pylons began to gather with it, one after the other; as similar, as unmoved, as men in uniform…. Now each of the pylons had a face, and it was the face of a railway inspector…. The railway inspector peered closely at his list and started to say that Aarif’s head would be cut off, and she jumped out of her nightmare and landed, with a terrible thud, on her own grainy-leathered berth. (132–133)
In the morning light, with mounting apprehension as the train rushes relentlessly toward Bombay, she feels completely out of harmony with the peaceful and picturesque passing landscape: This scene was not for her. It was only a reprieve. As for her, she would have to wait till the squalid suburbs of Bombay began to appear, with their overflowing railway platforms, children defecating on the tracks, dreary rows of blackened buildings with laundry hanging down the sides, speaking of lives consisting of clothes to be washed and then of utensils to be washed. That was the only scene to which she had a right. And then? Even the laundry-covered
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buildings would come to an end. She would have to step out onto Bombay Central and then what in the world would she do? (136–137)
Although she does not consciously claim affiliation with the slum dwellers, the alert reader will not miss the irony of having seen that Ayesha’s life, too, consists of laundry and ironing and washing up. So although she is materially better off than the slum dwellers and she does have someone to help her in a limited way, her basic responsibilities are the same as theirs. In the end, when a morning newspaper announces an unexpected election result which means that the fraud investigation will not proceed after all, Ayesha’s relief is expressed through her joyful response to the same scenery which she had earlier anticipated in a fearful state of mind: “Next to the tracks, slum children played in little pools of water, and looked up at the train with dark shining eyes. The buildings on both sides of them were covered with the beautiful mossy dark of the monsoon; laundry hung down in vivid unabashed colours” (151). Even the train is perceived to be giving “a long scream of joy” as it enters the metropolis (150). This third-person narration through the intensely subjective perspective of the protagonist is reminiscent of Anita Desai’s method, particularly in Fire on the Mountain (1977), in which the characters’ states of mind are delineated by their responses to nature and the surrounding landscape. Here too the narrative emphasis is as much on memory, perception, and emotion as on actual events. The Frontiers collection, published two years after Shama Futehally’s death in 2004, contains a selection of her short stories, written at various times throughout her life. All but one of these stories is narrated in the third person, usually through the highly subjective consciousness of one of the characters. The only first-person narrative in the collection is in “Portrait of a Childhood”, which, like Tara Lane, recalls a privileged childhood and traces the narrator’s growing awareness that her family’s privilege depends on the deprivation of others. In each of these stories Shama Futehally’s characteristic social conscience is much in evidence, as is her empathy for sensitive and vulnerable individuals, particularly women. Often the third-person narrator focuses completely and sympathetically on the conscious-
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ness of a female protagonist in a difficult situation. For instance, “The First Rains” is a tale of the seduction and abandonment of a young servant girl by her employer, “Waking Up” centers on the experience of a woman who learns that her husband has been involved in corruption, and “Sharada” is about a young and inexperienced widow who has recently become an ayah. In some ways “The Meeting” is a lesson in the art of empathy. This story is narrated in the third person through the consciousness of Sunita, a Hindu journalist interviewing a group of Muslim women in the aftermath of a communal riot. One of them has lost a husband, and although Sunita is from a different social class and a different community, she empathizes with them by recalling her feelings for her own family and her boundless love for her daughter. Connecting with these women instead of “othering” them, Sunita imagines how she would feel about losing a loved one. In other stories, the narrative voice is more critical of the characters. For instance, “A Birthday” portrays the selfish perceptions of a spoiled memsaab interacting with her servants on the occasion of her daughter’s birthday, and “The Picture” narrates the thoughts of Miss Syed with a mixture of sarcasm and sympathy as she watches a film alone and comforts herself with ideas about her dignity which enable her to endure the lonely realities of her life. Among the most interesting stories in the collection are those that sensitively examine the complexities of family life. “Evening” is narrated in the third person, sometimes through the perspective of Phiroza and sometimes through the perspective of her widowed mother with whom she lives. They are a Parsi family, apparently leading a quiet and dreary life, and it is not clear whether the daughter is emotionally disturbed or just extremely unhappy. Either way, mother and daughter cannot talk about it, and the narrative centers mostly on unspoken thoughts, feelings, and memories. Finally, “Photographs” is focused critically but sympathetically on the present experiences and past memories of an old Muslim widow, living with her son and his Hindu wife who works as a lecturer. Her memories of her grand and privileged past are contrasted with the narrow and completely une-
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ventful life she now leads in a dreary room, dependent on her busy professional daughter-in-law and a rather inept servant of whom she disapproves. Although her basic needs are met, no one has much time for her, and her sharp ill-temper does not help the situation. “Frontiers” was a work in progress at the time of Shama Futehally’s death in 2004, and whether we consider it a short novel or a long story, the unfinished draft works so well as a literary text that Githa Hariharan made it the title of her edited collection of Futehally’s short fiction, published posthumously in 2006. Structurally, it is Futehally’s most complex work of published fiction, though her clear prose and meticulous crafting make the narrative easy to follow. The basic plot about an accidental fire which tragically killed the entire audience at a cinema is simple enough, but there are numerous narrative threads woven through the story. As in Reaching Bombay Central (2002), there are narrative links between the end of one section and the beginning of the next. For example: Because the Enquiry Officer had a conscience of his own, and when all else was crumbling around him, as it was now, he stilled his conscience by invoking the parking rules. “It’s against the rules,” whispered an agonized childish voice. “You can’t, Varun, it’s against the rules!” (7)
The text is narrated in non-linear chronological order in the third person through the consciousness of numerous people at various points in time. These include members of the audience at the cinema; their families at home; the officers, managers, and employees at the enquiry after the tragedy; and the people involved in the incidents leading up to the accident. A brief summary of the first four sections (out of a total of forty- nine) will give an indication of the way in which the narrative is structured. The first section is narrated through the consciousness of a young lady named Anita who is on a date at the cinema with a young man named Rahul. Her nervousness is contrasted with his apparent self-confidence. The second section is narrated in the third person through the consciousness of Nadeem, the nervous parking attendant
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at the enquiry after the fire. He is having to answer the enquiry officer about having let cars into the cinema car park after it was already full. The third section, also narrated through the consciousness of Nadeem, recalls his admiration of the sympathetic young man (Rahul) whom he let into the car park after it was full. Rahul was kind to him, in contrast to the other drivers: “And to Nadeem’s sensitive soul, which was beginning to be badly bruised by the Esteem, the young man’s grin— friendly, man-to-man, such a grin as owners of cars rarely bestow on parking attendants—was like a message from Heaven” (6). The fourth section is narrated through the consciousness of Rachna Kapur, a harried housewife, who is treating three families of children to the cinema. Each of the numerous narrative strands is worth untangling from the intricate structure and briefly tracing as a separate story because it can stand on its own, formally and thematically. One of the sections focuses on Anita’s memories of her fraught leave-taking from her parents while preparing to depart on the date with Rahul, and others focus on the growing intimacy and confidence between Anita and Rahul at the cinema. Still others focus on the anxious consciousness of Anita’s mother at home with her disabled son, worrying about Anita away and worrying also about her mother-in-law who disapproves of Anita being allowed to go out on a date. This mother-in-law blames her daughter-in-law (and not her son) for this and for all other domestic worries. There is also a later section providing a critical third-person narration of the spoilt Rahul’s interactions with his own family before his date with Anita. Rachna Kapur and her juvenile entourage comprise another interesting narrative strand in the overall structure. Rachna herself is portrayed as an anxious, insecure housewife with low self-esteem who uses the images of an attractive male film star as an escape from the realities of her life: “As the camera provided a perfect profile of that clear-cut face, which was gazing steadily out of the window at heaven knew what vision of patriotic sacrifice,…Rachna’s insides began to feel like those of a teenager and not of a housewife” (14). The cinema is referred to as her “fantasy-cave” (15), and this suggests the presence of unmet emotional needs. Also revealed is the consciousness of several
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of the children accompanying Rachna. These include the responses of the twelve-year-old girl Seema to the presentation of the hero in the film (51–52); the ways in which the young boy Varun manipulates his mother the night before the film (80–84); and the anxiety surrounding the young Ankit at the cinema, including his mother’s anxiety about his father’s anxiety (76–78). The third narrative grouping in the audience is the stern Colonel Sehgal and his anxiously sympathetic wife. Some of the sections are narrated through the consciousness of Mrs Sehgal, who is shown to be acutely sensitive to everything her husband might be feeling as he watches the film (11–12), while he is shown to be selfish and difficult (34–35). There is also a critical outside perspective of the couple (18), as well as a section centering on their adult daughter Sumi’s mixture of remorse and resentment at work as she decides to apologize to her father over something very petty (42–43). Thus we see that all of the narrative strands focusing on the audience and their families consistently depict the men as spoiled and selfish, with the women anxiously trying to please them. Within the non-linear overall structure, other narrative strands focus on the people involved in the enquiry after the accident, as well as in the events leading up to it. In addition to Nadeem the parking attendant, there is the enquiry officer, various managers and supervisors, the cinema owner, and the men involved in the black-market sale of cinema tickets. For instance, one section is narrated from the perspective of the enquiry officer questioning the cinema manager, who is evasively jocular; another is a detached third-person narration of the manager bribing the planning officer to allow him to install seats in the cinema which block an exit. There is also an ironic account of the report of “an ACP who had recently been removed from the Crime Branch for too much heroism” (25). The report had pointed out several safety violations towards which others took a lax attitude. A later section focuses on his desire to refuse a license to the cinema, along with his awareness that no one else agrees with him because they profit from allowing flagrant safety violations (78–80). The last part of this unfinished work narrates the reactions of the workers in the car park as the fire begins. They are excited and determined to be heroic (87–89). Thus
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each section focusing on the cinema employees, managers, and municipal officers implicitly insists on the importance of individual ethical responsibility. Any one of these men could have prevented the fire or at least minimized the loss of life by doing the right thing instead of acting in his own self-interest. Given the overall structure of the narrative with its linking devices, we can speculate that the author (who died before the manuscript was completed) might have intended to connect the heroism—or intended heroism—of the car park workers with the content of the film. One of the earlier sections ironically narrates a “heroic” scene from the film and focuses in succession on the responses of Rachna, Seema, Varun, Ankit, Colonel and Mrs Sehgal. However, Mrs Sehgal is focused not on the film itself but anxiously on her husband’s responses to it (48–49). Despite the tragic outcome of the narrative, there are many light touches. For instance, there is humour in Nadeem’s interactions with the drivers entering the car park (6), humour in the children’s interactions with one another (15–16), and humorous commentary on the content of the film (50–51). On a more serious note, there is an ironic parallel between the tragic trajectory of the narrative and its unfinished state due to the death of the author at the age of fifty-two. At that time she was experimenting with different structural techniques—such as multiple interweaving narrative perspectives, flashbacks, and a non-linear narration—in order to produce the socially conscious fiction for which she was known.
Samina Ali Among the literary texts under consideration, Samina Ali’s novel Madras on Rainy Days (2004) is the most intensively subjective. Also a work of realist fiction, it is narrated in the first person by a desperately frightened and angry young protagonist (Layla) who is forced into an arranged marriage. The tone of Layla’s narration is perhaps best examined through an analysis of the beginning of Madras on Rainy Days. The “Prologue: One Year Ago” begins with short, descriptive sentences, setting the painful scene:
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Suffering quietly in a room not my own. The door locked. The wooden shutters pulled closed and bolted. No breeze out there, nothing to rustle the leaves of the mango or coconut trees. Only stillness. Early morning on a hot May day, the middle of the summer season in Hyderabad. It must be 104 outside. In here, it feels much hotter. (3)
Thus we are immediately confronted with an atmosphere of oppressive heat and enclosure, mirroring the claustrophobia that Layla feels as she faces an arranged marriage at the age of eighteen. She describes the bed on which she is lying—the bed on which twenty years earlier, her aunt saw her uncle’s face “for the first time that evening when he made love to her” (3). The results—humiliating to her aunt—are described factually (as if they speak for themselves) with an undertone of anger and sarcasm: “The next morning, he hung the red-spotted cloth on the clothesline for all to see, a white flag of her surrender and his victory.” That was how she “proved herself worthy of him” (3). In relation to this bed, Layla emphasizes her own physicality and vulnerability, suggesting the violence underlying the ideology of the virgin bride as a product to be consumed on her wedding night: “I feel the wood press against the hard edges of my own body, the back of my head, my shoulder blades, my elbows, my heels. If a man were to lie on top of me now, I imagine I would break” (4). This metaphor of sexual violence is intensified through her description of the sun shining through the part of the window exposed by the splintering and warping along the edge of the wooden shutters, as she lies immobile on the bed for the rest of the day: “As the sun crosses the closed-off sky, the band of light descends my body. It leaves my lips to slip across my throat, then slices my breasts, my stomach, my pelvis and thighs, and finally, too weak, it retreats, crawling to the turquoise wall” (4). Meanwhile, her intense emotional suffering is expressed through her involuntary actions, which again suggest violence to the body: “I cannot stop this grinding of my teeth, nor the way my fingernails are tearing stretches of skin on my thighs” (4). Throughout the linear chronological narrative, Layla continues to express her thoughts, feelings, and experiences from a highly subjective perspective, often focusing on physicality to delineate harsh
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emotional truths. For instance, she describes her father in a palpably resentful tone, concentrating on his hands: “He had long fingers and graceful wrists, hands molded for exactly what he did, heart surgery. It was hard to believe that the very hands that had signed the divorce deeds, that beat me, saved lives every day” (42). At several points she uses animals as symbols of entrapment and victimization. These include the bird who becomes entrapped in the alim’s room, slowly dying after flying into a mirror, as well as the sacrificial lamb that Layla’s father has brought as a way of celebrating her wedding. The lamb is tethered in the courtyard for several days before the wedding, its predicament serving as a metaphor for that of the bride. The bloody slaughter of the lamb is graphically described, and the metaphorical implications of male violence are extended when Layla’s stepmother enjoins her sons to “watch your father [while he kills the lamb]. Learn from him” (87). There are recurring images of blood throughout the narrative: Layla’s bleeding as she tries to abort her pregnancy, the blood of the sacrificial lamb, the blood on the bedsheet which is demanded as “proof” of her virginity, her cousin Henna’s bloody death at the hands of Hindu extremists. As we shall see, Layla’s triumphant escape at the end brings closure to the narrative but leaves unanswered questions about her prospects for the future, given her youth, lack of experience, and lack of resources for surviving on her own. In one sense, it is an affirmative ending, emphasizing female resourcefulness, courage, and resilience in the face of oppression. On the other hand, the sense of hope for future change is limited because of the narrative focus on the plight—and perhaps less than convincing solution—of one isolated individual.
Conclusion All four authors have written realist fictional texts examining the relationship between the individual (particularly the female individual) and society. However there is a noticeable difference between the criti-
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cal social realism of the earlier writers Zeenuth Futehally and Attia Hosain, and the more subjective realism of the later writers Shama Futehally and Samina Ali. Although they all aim to create the illusion of reality through the close rendering of ordinary experience, the subjective realism of the later texts is more focused on the feelings and responses of the experiencing subject and less on a more general survey of the wider society. For example, although the novels of Zeenuth Futehally and Attia Hosain are each focused on the experiences of a central female protagonist, Zohra (1951) and especially Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961) provide a wealth of contextual political and historical details. To some extent this can be explained by the perspectives of the writers in relation to their material: The two earlier ones (Zeenuth Futehally and Attia Hosain) are looking back on a tremendously eventful and important era in Indian history when the entire social and political landscape changed forever, whereas the two later ones (Shama Futehally and Samina Ali) are looking at individual experiences of contemporary life in postcolonial India. The realist paradigm also allows for a range of narrative techniques, from the linear chronological narratives of Zeenuth Futehally and Attia Hosain to Shama Futehally’s later experiments with non-linear structure and multiple perspectives. The setting plays a key role in several of the novels, not only in delineating social structures, but also in portraying social changes in Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961), as well as in tracing the evolving attitudes of the protagonist in Shama Futehally’s Tara Lane (1993). As we have seen, the personalities and emotional states of the characters are powerfully evoked through their subjective responses to the setting and other external stimuli in Shama Futehally’s Reaching Bombay Central (2002) and Samina Ali’s Madras on Rainy Days (2004). Finally, the short stories of Attia Hosain and Shama Futehally are carefully crafted, with Hosain more often using an omniscient narrator and a surprise ending, and Futehally more often expressing her themes through a subjective narrative perspective which is characteristic of her writing.
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References Ali, Samina. Madras on Rainy Days. Piatkus, 2004. Burton, Antoinette. Dwelling in the Archive: Women Writing House, Home, and History in Late Colonial India. Oxford University Press, 2003. Desai, Anita. Fire on the Mountain. Vintage, 1977. —. “Indian Women Writers.” The Eye of the Beholder: Indian Writing in English, edited by Maggie Butcher, Commonwealth Institute, 1983, pp. 54–58. Didur, Jill. Unsettling Partition: Literature, Gender, Memory. University of Toronto Press, 2006. Felski, Rita. Beyond Feminist Aesthetics. Hutchinson Radius, 1989. Futehally, Shama. Frontiers: Collected Stories. Penguin, 2006a. —. In the Dark of the Heart: Songs of Meera. Harpercollins, 1994. —. Reaching Bombay Central. Penguin, 2002. —. The Right Words: Selected Essays 1967–2004. Penguin, 2006b. —. Slivers of a Mirror: Glimpses of the Ghazal. Mapin, 2005. —. Tara Lane. Ravi Dayal, 1993. Futehally, Zeenuth. Zohra. Oxford University Press, 2004 (originally published 1951). Gopal, Priyamvada. The Indian English Novel: Nation, History, and Narration. Oxford University Press, 2009. Grant, Damian. Realism. Methuen, 1970. Hai, Ambreen. “Adultery Behind Purdah and the Politics of Indian Muslim Nationalism in Zeenuth Futehally’s Zohra.” MFS Modern Fiction Studies, vol. 59, no. 2, 2013, pp. 317–345. Hosain, Attia. Phoenix Fled and Other Stories. Virago, 1988 (Chatto & Windus, 1953). —. Sunlight on a Broken Column. Chatto & Windus, 1961. Kaul, R. K. and Jasbir Jain. Attia Hosain: A Diptych Volume. Rawat, 2001. Kuortti, Joel. “Women Will Find Ways of Breaking Out” (interview with Futehally). Tense Past, Tense Present: Women Writing in English, edited by Joel Kuortti, Stree, 2003, pp. 66–94. Mukherjee, Meenakshi. Realism and Reality: The Novel and Society in India. Oxford University Press, 1985. Rao, A. V. Krishna and K. Madhavi Menon. Kamala Markandaya: A Critical Study of Her Novels. BR, 1997. Rao, Raja. Kanthapura. Oxford University Press, 1990 (originally published 1938). Roy, Anuradha. Patterns of Feminist Consciousness in Indian Women Writers. Prestige, 1999. Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own. Penguin, 2000 (originally published 1928).
Religion and Communal Identity
Introduction It is widely agreed that “economic, geographic, and social factors do more to shape the circumstances of Muslim women’s lives than religion” (Ali 2008, 611). All over the world, Muslim women’s life circumstances tend to closely parallel those of non-Muslims of similar backgrounds; for example, “a poor Indian Muslim villager has more in common with her rural Hindu counterpart than with a career woman in Mumbai who happens to be her co-religionist” (611). In India, where Muslims are in a minority, recent studies have confirmed that Muslim women’s experiences are influenced far more by social, cultural, and economic factors than by religious ideologies and practices (Hasan and Menon 2004, Tabassum 2003). This is particularly true of the four writers under consideration, each of whom comes from a Muslim family background with a broadly secular outlook. Drawing on the work of Shahida Lateef and Vahida Nainar, the introduction to this chapter begins with a very brief survey of the relevant historical background, before going on to offer some general remarks about the impact of communalism on Muslim women in postcolonial India. The chapter itself will look at literary representations of
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Hindu–Muslim relationships in India before independence and partition; Muslims and identity politics in India; Muslim women and the issue of “westernization”; and aspects of religion in the literary texts. During the nineteenth century, “Muslim communities in India, like other caste or religious communities had little in common with each other; they were separated by language, cultural traditions and, sometimes, even religious practices” (Lateef 1990, 16). Therefore, the Muslim community in India as a minority did not originate from a shared belief system among its members. In fact, when the enumerators did the first all-India census in 1881, they found that “the Muslims, who formed 19.7% of the population, were geographically dispersed, forming neither a collective entity nor a distinct society for any political, economic and social purpose” (Nainar 2000, 12). Although many Muslims did have a strong sense of community, they did not define themselves in terms of their difference from other groups: Instead, they saw themselves as part of other groups as well. It was the compulsions of modern-day government and administration that necessitated the confining of peoples as part of one group or the other, thereby disregarding the overlapping boundaries that had existed thus far. People were fitted into categories that the colonial authorities fashioned for them…It so happened that the category [the] British chose to fit people in was religious and hence people in India were categorised in religious groups for official purposes regardless of whether people identified themselves as such. (12)
The British went on to consolidate and maintain their power in India through a policy of “divide and rule”, particularly as the Indian National Congress grew in strength, attracting members from all communities. Understanding that the political unity of Hindus and Muslims threatened their rule, the British enacted a series of measures to undermine the solidarity of the nationalist movement. For instance, “the partition of Bengal in 1905 into Muslim East Bengal and Hindu West Bengal was a direct attempt to foster animosity between the two communities and use the strife-torn situation to legitimise and continue British rule in India” (14). A significant outcome of the British policy of “divide and rule” was the formation of the All India Muslim League in 1906, in opposition to the Indian National Congress:
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[The members of the All India Muslim League endeavoured] to trace the historical evolution of an imaginary community as an antithesis to the Congress theory of “unity in diversity”; to emphasize the distinct identity and separateness of this community in order to bargain and extract concessions from the government; and to invoke Islamic symbols of unity to mount a movement that would, in its essential thrust delink specific “Muslim aspirations” from the broader concerns of the countrywide nationalist struggle. (15)
The Indian Council Act of 1909 enlarged the scope of communal politics by giving Muslims separate electorates, thus providing institutional legitimization to the notion of a separate, distinct Muslim political entity. According to Vahida Nainar: The political developments in the period that followed only added fuel to the fire and the animosity between Hindus and Muslims increased leading to a series of communal riots in the Muslim dominated Uttar Pradesh district in the North and Bengal in the East. Having achieved its demand for separate electorates, the League with the backing, support and encouragement of the British and under the leadership of Mohammed Ali Jinnah extended similar arguments and justification to support the two-nation theory, i.e., the Pakistan project. (2000, 15)
The horrors associated with the partition of colonial India into the sovereign nation-states of India and Pakistan in 1947 are too well-known to be recounted at length here. Over ten million Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs were dislocated from their homes and became refugees. At least one million people were killed in retaliatory violence undertaken by members of all three communities. Thousands of women were abducted, raped, and in many cases forced to commit suicide to preserve the “honor” of their communities. The legacy of this bloodbath still haunts the Indian subcontinent and contributes to communal tension between Hindus and Muslims in India even today. A further problem is that “before independence the majority of Muslims belonged to the poorest sections of the population, but after 1947 the situation worsened as many of the better educated and more affluent Muslims, who might have provided community leadership, opted for Pakistan” (Nainar 2000, 19).
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In the Indian context, Bipin Chandra has defined communalism as “the belief that because a group of people follow a particular religion they have, as a result, common social, political and economic interest” (1984, 1). As historians and political scientists have shown, the process of defining community identity in India is inevitably gendered, with “women and the family becoming emblematic of ‘authentic’ cultural traditions constituting these identities” (Mukhopadhyay 1994, 108). Social commentators have further observed that the gendered politics of community location have become more acute and complex in the past two decades, following “the intensification of communal politics in India and the consolidation of fundamentalist factions across religions” (Hasan and Menon 2004, 3). The situation of Muslim women in India is particularly contentious, not least because they have not been granted the same legal rights as Indian women from other religious communities. Specifically, they are disadvantaged in the area of personal law (regarding such matters as marriage, divorce, and inheritance) on the grounds that Muslim personal laws are considered part of the religion of Islam. In 1985 a test case was taken up by the Supreme Court relating to Shah Bano, a Muslim divorcée who sought maintenance from her husband under a secular interpretation of the law of marriage and divorce. Her case received widespread support from the press, but the government bowed to the weight of counter-opinion originating in orthodox Muslim circles against this “interference” in their “community rights”. It enacted the Muslim Personal Law Bill under which Muslims in India would continue to be governed by particular interpretations of Sharia law, thus reasserting Muslim women’s position of legal inequality (Hasan 1994, Narain 2008). Although they do not engage directly with these legal issues, the minority location of the four female authors is significant, not least because “the increasing politicization of gender in service to communal forces plays an important part in the experience of Indian Muslim women” (Desai and Temsah 2014, 2309). It has been observed that patriarchal restrictions on women tend to intensify in situations of communal conflict, and it is suggested that “the growing helplessness that men experience in a hostile environment is sought to be compensated
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by a reassertion of power and control over women within the family” (Kannabiran and Kannabiran 1995, 129). If this is so, it would follow that men from both Hindu and Muslim communities would react to communal tension in India by seeking to reassert power and control over the women in their families, and studies have consistently shown that this is precisely what happens (Jackson 2010, 15–22). We see this particularly in Samina Ali’s Madras on Rainy Days (2004), though the earlier texts also explore Muslim women’s perspectives on various aspects of religion and identity politics in India.
Literary Representations of Hindu–Muslim Relationships in India Before Independence and Partition In her editor’s introduction to the 2004 edition of Zohra (1951), Zeenuth Futehally’s daughter Rummana Futehally Denby writes that during the colonial era “the fusion of Hindu and Muslim customs in Hyderabad produced a culture unlike any other in India and the author’s deeply held social and political beliefs were founded on the religious tolerance and harmony which prevailed as a result” (vii). Ambreen Hai agrees that during the time spanned by the narrative of Zohra (1919–1935) “the state of Hyderabad remained relatively insulated from the communalism and political ferment sweeping over British India…. [At this time] Hyderabad was notable for its communal harmony, based on an official policy [by the ruling Muslim elite] of religious tolerance” (2013, 321–322). However, she goes on to note that: This changed dramatically in 1938, as violent agitation against the Nizam’s rule…led to the reactive counterformation of various Muslim groups, including the militant Razakars. The decade from 1938 to 1948 saw unprecedented riots and communal violence in Hyderabad, and realignments that were more complicated than a simple Hindu/Muslim binarism. However when the Indian government invaded Hyderabad in 1948, suspicion fell on all Muslims, all of whom were assumed to belong either to the Razakars or to sympathize with Pakistan, erasing the complexity of those who wished to join India or form a Hindu-Muslim state independent from both India and Pakistan. (322–323)
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In Zohra, which is set during a time of greater communal harmony, religious differences are shown to be notable but only mildly divisive. For instance, the young Zohra has a Hindu friend named Nalini who cannot stay overnight in the zenana with the other girls during the days approaching Zohra’s wedding. Although she is welcome there, she protests that she “can’t displease” her elders (Futehally 1951, 41). Hyderabad was of course not the only site of pre-partition harmony between Hindus and Muslims. We see it also in Attia Hosain’s Lucknow, and Anita Desai observes in the introduction to the 1988 edition of Phoenix Fled and Other Stories (1953) that Hosain writes of “an undivided India in which Muslims and Hindus celebrated the same festivals and often worshipped at the same shrines” (ix). This is illustrated in Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961), in which Laila’s Muslim family celebrate Diwali along with Shubrat and Eid (40). At college Laila has Muslim, Hindu, Christian, and Anglo-Indian friends who discuss and debate politics and religion among themselves, sometimes heatedly. At one point, the Muslim Nadira says to the Hindu Nita: “Scratch deep, and what is hidden under your progressive ideas? The same communalism of which you accuse me.” When this point was reached in any argument we were all glad to be drawn away from it. God was a safer subject for discussion than His religions. (126–127)
Distressed by all the political arguments she hears every day, Laila says to her cousin Asad, “How can we live together as a nation if all the time only the differences between the different communities are being preached?” (245) Many would argue that this question is at least as relevant today as it was during the 1930s and 1940s when the novel is set.
Muslims and Identity Politics in India In Zeenuth Futehally’s Zohra (1951), the eponymous heroine becomes witness to strong disagreements between her husband Bashir and his brother Hamid about religion and politics. Here Hamid’s progressive gender and nationalist politics are strongly contrasted with the views of his brother Bashir, who increasingly reflects the discourse of a sepa-
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ratist Islamic communalism. In their final debate, Hamid articulates a commitment to a secular and hybrid understanding of Indianness: “After all, the majority of us come from the same stock. We are mostly converts, and have the same background of thought…. I only wish, however, we would stop talking about different cultures. The differences are more provincial than religious. Religion is now being exploited only for power politics. The British used it in their policy of divide and rule. We were foolish enough to play blindly into their hands. And the way certain Muslim leaders are talking now, I dread to think of the future.” (202, 204)
Zohra listens silently to these exchanges because she cannot show disloyalty to her husband by indicating that she agrees with her brother- in-law. Later, she feels like saying to her husband Bashir, “It’s only after politics brought religion to the fore that you even started thinking of yourself in terms of Islam” (230). This criticism is clearly intended by the author to apply to many people on both sides of the communal divide. Interestingly, Laila in Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961) is also witness to sectarian debates within Islam. Her cousin Zahid says of the Muharram celebrations: “I tell you the Shias blaspheme and all such processions are sinful; those who take them out are worse than idolators, and are damned.” “How dare you talk like that, Zahid? Shias or Sunnis, we are all Muslims,” scolded Zahra. (56)
Later, Zahid calls the Muharram mourning “hypocrisy”, saying, “These people use religion to get rid of their hysteria. They distort historical facts thirteen hundred years old, and divide us when Muslims need to be united against great dangers.” (69) In the context of the novel’s critique of identity politics, it is quite clear that this statement ironically presents a narrow (but commonly held) conception of political divisions. The implication is that divisions within the Muslim community are analogous to divisions between Hindus and Muslims; they are cynically used for political ends, particularly at a time when all Indians need to be “united against great dangers”. Tragically, these dangers are
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dramatized when Zahid meets a violent death at the hands of communal forces during a riot. In the postcolonial context, Vrinda Narain has argued that “It is crucial to understand Muslim identity in India not as a unitary identity, as portrayed by conservative male leaders, but, in fact, as complex and varied.” (2008, 188) Shama Futehally, in an interview, complained about this attempt to homogenize Muslim identity in India, by Muslims and non-Muslims alike: “We are Muslims but my parents are not orthodox at all, and there is very little cultural space for Muslims who are not orthodox. It’s getting more so unfortunately” (Kuortti interview 2003, 79). This sense of not fitting into categories constructed by others is illustrated in Tara Lane (1993) when the young protagonist is baffled by the identity politics in which even children sometimes participate: Snehlata with the two plaits, and the unimaginably round dot on her forehead, asked me in a friendly fashion, “What caste you’ll are?” I worshipped her and would have died to be able to give her a satisfactory answer. But after struggling a moment I had to reply that I did not know, and when I asked my mother I learnt that we had no caste or anything, as we were Muslim; and Snehlata never spoke to me again anyway. (16–17)
The handling of communal politics in Shama Futehally’s short novel Reaching Bombay Central (2002) is more conspicuous but still understated. Indeed, there is a sense in which the text’s approach to this issue seems to echo the discomfort displayed by its characters in relation to the sensitive topic of communal affiliation. This is established near the beginning of the narrative when Ayesha introduces herself to her fellow passengers in the train carriage. Her Muslim name generates mild embarrassment, followed by awkward attempts to cover it up, all of which is presented as typical of her experience: As always, there was a flicker of a pause while this was digested. And as always, it was no more than a flicker. “I also have,” he said almost immediately, “many Muslim friends.” The young man shook his head in vigorous agreement. (5)
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Another way of attempting to smooth over the anxiety generated by communal tensions is exemplified by Shiv Prasadji’s ostentatious “universalizing” of the insecurity felt by Muslims because of their minority status in India: What a world this is. That poor boy feels that all his troubles are because he is a Muslim. Sometimes I feel the whole world is against me because I am a Brahmin. And my PA thinks he is not being promoted because he is SC. (32)
These statements are, of course, disingenuous because the mild “reverse snobbery” against Brahmins that one sometimes encounters in India is nothing like the hostile—at times violent—clashes between Hindus and Muslims that have periodically bedevilled India since partition, escalating throughout the 1990s and into the first decades of the twenty-first century. In Reaching Bombay Central (2002) the denials and displays of anxious political correctness by the non-Muslim elite are set off against the defensive and conflicting attitudes of Ayesha’s husband Aarif, a Muslim man in the Hindu-dominated upper echelons of Indian society. Aarif’s suspicions about the ubiquity of anti-Muslim prejudice in India appear to coexist with his desire to believe that people like himself have risen above the sordid world of communal antagonism. For instance, on a day when “two newspapers triumphed over the fact that the wrongdoer’s name, in this case, was Hamid, and the officer’s name was Jamal”, Aarif said that “maybe the only way out…would be to change my name” (64). However, the next day he storms out of his (Muslim) lawyer’s office, enraged at the question, “Would this have happened if your name had been Rajesh Shrivastava?” (64). As we shall see in the chapter on Responding to Patriarchy, Aarif’s wife Ayesha never really questions her gender-based subordination within the family. Her feelings about communal politics, by contrast, appear to be so raw that they come to the surface whenever she has to even mention her name. In the election queue, for instance, we are suddenly confronted with the statement that “hatred had got hold of her”, which was “more like defensiveness” before she had even reached the trestle table, and then:
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There was no help for it. She had to tell them her name…and it came out nervously, though she hated, she despised herself, for that nervousness. And as she pronounced the word “Jamal”, one of the young men glanced at the others. That was all. Only a glance, not even a rude one; in a minute the young man was at his work again, reading through the list, looking up her number, even writing it down for her in a twirling hand. But the glance had been there, and for a minute she felt that she was going to stop right there and scream at him, and all the accumulated fear of the last months, and all the cowering, and all the fear of being cornered, would tear out of her straight as an arrow and shoot at this young man’s well-fed chest. (120–121)
Thus it is suggested that while Ayesha passively accepts overt emotional bullying from her husband, she is ready to interpret the most innocuous glance from a stranger—who may be reacting only to her nervousness—as malicious. Blind to the gender oppression that pervades her domestic life and hyper-sensitive to the communal prejudice which she imagines to be everywhere, it is strongly suggested that Ayesha is displacing her feelings of helplessness and anger from her family situation to the more impersonal public realm. Shama Futehally’s most direct engagement with the issue of communal antagonism is in her short story “The Interview” from her Frontiers collection (2006a). In this story a female journalist named Sunita interviews a group of Muslim women whose community has been victimized by sectarian violence. When Sunita says, “We must try and write the truth…. We must expose those who do this,” a woman replies, “When they kill one of us, we must kill ten of them.” (120) Sunita pauses before reacting wearily: “There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’,” she said gently. “Anyone who harms another is an outcast. Whatever community he belongs to. We must learn to think like that.” There was a respectful but unconvinced silence. Sunita felt incapable of saying anything more. (120)
However, the story carefully avoids easy stereotypes about communal strife among the poor by having the Muslim women report that the low-caste people in the sweeper’s colony are good to them.
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Among these fictional texts, the issue of communal antagonism is explored most fully in Samina Ali’s Madras on Rainy Days (2004). In this novel, several of the characters speak of anti-Muslim discrimination in India. For instance, Layla’s uncle Taqi Manu complains that “Hindus get all the jobs, all the seats at colleges. Even a harijan is more valuable than a Muslim. This country is trying to erase us” (141–142). Distraught at the unjust arrest and imprisonment of her son after a communal riot (in which he was not involved), Henna’s mother-in-law says: “He had a foreign card, Beta. From Saudi [where he worked]. So though he was born and raised here, they claim he’s not an Indian national…. We’ve lived and died here for generations and still we are not allowed to consider it our home. Then, when we leave and try to make a better existence elsewhere, still we are persecuted.” (284)
The fear of Layla and her in-laws on the eve of expected communal violence is effectively dramatized, and most horrifying of all is the rape and murder of Layla’s cousin Henna by rampaging Hindu fundamentalists. In this context, the elopement of a Muslim boy with a Hindu girl in the neighbourhood can only be seen by the community as shocking and by many readers as courageously romantic, and even heroic.
Muslim Women and the Issue of “Westernization” The sociologist Leila Ahmed has argued that the issue of gender, with special reference to the veil and women’s education, has long been part of “the Western narrative of the quintessential otherness and inferiority of Islam” (1992, 149). Since the late nineteenth century this focus on gender has informed both Western colonial discourse and internal debates among Islamic scholars. One of the pioneers of modern scholarship on gender issues in Islam was Nabia Abbott (1897–1981), who studied the historical context of early Islam, using textual analysis of the Qur’ān and the hadīth material relevant to women’s issues. According to Simonetta Calderini:
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Abbott acknowledged an original intent in the Qu’ranic message to end practices such as female infanticide and to legislate on women’s rights and religious equality, while at the same time identifying inherent statements which she saw as limiting women’s freedom. She attributed such limitations to internal debates and developments in Mecca but also to the influence of Sasanian and Byzantine practices along with local traditions and customs. (2008, 625)
Abbott’s work paved the way for that of later scholars such as Fatima Mernissi, Amina Wadud, and Leila Ahmed. Ahmed, in particular, has demonstrated convincingly that: No single or unique meaning of, and approach to, gender issues can be identified in early Islam, not even during the Prophet’s lifetime. In fact, earlier and neighboring societies, combined with local, social and political circumstances, all contributed to the elaboration of varying discourses on gender. What has been transmitted by the majority of Muslim sources down to the present time, she argues, is only one of these discourses: that which became the dominant expression of “establishment Islam” through its hierarchical formulation of society where women are seen as one degree below men. (625)
From a strong textual and historical base, Moroccan sociologist Fatima Mernissi has also argued against a monolithic approach to gender and Islam. She contrasts the discourses of “institutional/establishment” Islam, which confine women to a domestic and submissive role, with what she sees as the egalitarian and “democratic” message conveyed by the Prophet in seventh-century Medina (1991). More recent works continue the textual criticism approach (Barlas 2002), but also include sociological studies focusing on the status and identity of Muslim women (Hasan and Menon 2004). Popular stereotypes about Islam as a monolithic religion which is inherently oppressive to women, therefore, are far from accurate. On the contrary, there have always been debates within Islam about the role and status of women. We see this, for instance, in Zeenuth Futehally’s novel Zohra (1951), in which the eponymous heroine hears a heated discussion between her husband and brother-in-law about whether Hinduism or Islam is more oppressive to women. The passage is worth quoting at some length because of its implications within the narrative:
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“I don’t claim that Hinduism is free from abuses. But who is crusading more strongly against them than Mahatma Gandhi himself? And look at the tremendous effect of it even among women…. Then, again, is Islam free from such abuses? Look at the way we have kept our women in the darkness of purdah…” Hamid’s voice rose as his temper spiralled. “Certainly, there are abuses in Islam too. I’m all for reform, but you can’t deny that Islamic Law, the Shariat, accords women more rights than any other religion. The laws of marriage, divorce, widow-remarriage, inheritance, they are all in favour of women. With the Hindus, on the contrary, child marriages and the plight of child widows are positively inhuman.” Hamid squirmed, he felt like shouting: “But how many of these rights you boast of are translated into practice?” (203)
Several points are noteworthy here. The first and most obvious is the irony of the woman listening silently and deferentially to a conversation between two men about the rights of women. No attempt is made to draw her into the conversation, or even to acknowledge her presence. The second notable point is that this conversation is more about the merits of Hinduism versus Islam than about women per se. Indeed, there is a long and continuing tradition of political debates in India and elsewhere which pretend to be about women’s rights, when they are in fact conflicts between opposing groups who simply use the “woman question” as a debating strategy, and often as a means of consolidating their own power or otherwise furthering their own self-interested actions. One contemporary example is the conflict between Hindu and Muslim fundamentalists over a Uniform Civil Code in India. The conservative Muslim males who are seen as “community leaders” are suspicious of efforts by Hindus to grant equal political rights to Muslim women, fearing that this interference in Muslim “community rights” is an attack by Hindu fundamentalists on their traditions (Nainar 2000, Narain 2008, Tabassum 2003). Finally, it is ironic that the most important point in the debate between the two brothers in Zohra remains as an unstated thought: “How many of these rights you boast of are translated into practice?” Laws and rights are of course meaningless unless they are put into practice.
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Among the texts under consideration, Samina Ali’s novel Madras on Rainy Days (2004) explores most fully the centrality of women in cultural conflicts. Interestingly, the imagined battle of ideas here is not between Hindus and Muslims but between what is seen as Indian virtue and western immorality, based exclusively on the behaviour of young females. Occasionally the focus is on the Muslim community, but the dichotomy is more often framed in terms of India vs. “the west”. Perhaps the most direct illustration of this is the conversation between Layla’s family and the alim. Hearing that the family divide their time between India and the United States, he advises Layla’s mother that “Umrika is not the best place to raise a daughter” (25). The subsequent dialogue, revealing that the defensive Amme agrees with the alim, is worth quoting at some length: “Children go there and get lost,” he said…. “They don’t know better and do as their Umrikan friends. Drink alcohol. Go to dirty bars and dance with the opposite sex. I have heard that some of our girls are even wearing miniskirts and bikinis…. No shame left at all. This is all a sign the day of judgment is coming.” “Our daughter is not like that,” Amme said… “Her father is very strict with her. No phone calls from American friends, boys or girls. No going out of the house unless it is to attend classes. She’s been very…isolated.”… “Is this true, Beta?” he asked me. “Very true,” I said, for it was, and I had always resented my parents for it. Isolation to prevent assimilation. If I happened to stay out late one night or got a phone call from a boy, Dad would beat me to remind me of who I was. (26–27)
Several conclusions emerge from this exchange, in addition to the obvious point that Amme and the alim both see a dissipated lifestyle as the norm for young people in America, implicitly contrasting it with the virtuous lifestyle which they see as the norm, particularly for young women, in India. It is also suggested that because of the fear of western moral corruption, some parents in the diaspora impose stricter controls on their daughters than they would in their homeland. This might also be a factor in the haste of Layla’s parents to arrange an early marriage
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for her. The idea that moral virtue is located primarily in female chastity is, of course, not unique to Islam or to India; indeed, the alim’s rhetoric is strikingly similar to that of many Christian fundamentalist preachers in the American heartland where Layla’s family reside when they are not in India. Layla herself, with her divided upbringing and her feeling of being in between cultures, reflects on her own uncomfortable position in the love–hate relationship between India and the United States: I had faced this all my life, the way each country held a moral stance over the other. It was as though each nation had its own uniform and I wore the shirt of one, the trousers of the other, and both sides were shooting at me. Oh, the way each culture condemned and complained. India was backward and primitive, exotic. America was morally bankrupt, a cultural colonizer. But I knew this chiding was really a flirtation. For below these criticisms, the truth was that each place held allure for the other, a fascination and curiosity, an attraction and longing…. I had never witnessed such confused and beguiled lovers. (26–27)
If these reflections sound more like the views of the author than those of a frightened, pregnant eighteen-year-old bride, so too does Layla’s awareness of women’s bodies as a battleground in the clash of cultures. Talking about the American influences in Hyderabad, her new husband Sameer says: “Take a look around you, baby, your America has reached even here, the darkest part of India. Tandoori pizza, lamb hamburgers, listen to the Hindi film music. It’s all disco and synthesizers…. Nothing goes uncorrupted, not even you” (121–122). Conscious that he is bitterly referring to her premarital sexual experience, Layla reflects that: “It was not possible anymore for him to make even a broad statement about cultural invasion without thinking specifically about my body” (122). Ironically, this conversation takes place with Sameer wearing “western” clothing (tan corduroys and a blue button-down shirt), while Layla wears a chador (120). As Uma Narayan and others have pointed out, what counts as westernization seems to vary considerably with time and place and community, and men seem to be permitted a greater degree of cultural latitude in making
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changes than women and are less frequently accused of “westernization” (1997, 27–28). Many western—and non- western—feminists have emphasized the controlled female body as the basis of patriarchy, analysing it not only in the context of marriage, but also in relation to a range of issues from sexual aggression (violence, coercion, harassment), to the historical emphasis on female “chastity” and “purity”, to the contemporary commercialization of women’s bodies (in the media, in entertainment, in advertising). My own view is that in some societies, the renewed emphasis on female “modesty” is partly a reaction to the ubiquity of hypersexualized images of women in many western countries. Some “hijab activists” have argued, for example, that in the west “women are forced to conform to sexualized media images and male-dominated expectations” so that “it is ‘the Western woman’ who is the oppressed and unwitting victim of patriarchy and whose imprisonment can be read from her clothes (or lack of them)” (Tarlo 2010, 117). Indeed, the radical Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir encourages Muslim women to “assert their otherness from ‘the West’ by shunning Western fashions and adopting exclusively ‘Muslim garments’” (Tarlo 2010, 104). However, Muslim scholars agree that “there is no one ‘decreed’ Islamic dress. All Muslims may follow their countries’ dress customs, so long as the dress is modest” (Al-Hibri and El Habti 2006, 155). “Modesty” is, of course, a culturally determined concept that is open to interpretation, but many Muslims (and non-Muslims) associate bared female flesh with promiscuity. Although Madras on Rainy Days is an unashamedly feminist novel written by a Muslim woman, it does not support the popular myth that Islam is a particularly misogynistic religion. On the contrary, it shows women to be oppressed by patriarchal customs and not by Islam itself. Indeed, the repeated references to “Old City laws” and “Old City ethics” emphasize the multicultural nature of oppressive tradition in an area of Hyderabad populated mostly by Muslims but also by Hindus. Moreover, the devout Muslim characters in the novel are shown to be much kinder and more compassionate than the secular ones. For example, Layla’s religious father-in-law, Ibrahim, is portrayed as gentle
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and loving, in contrast to her own harsh (secular) authoritarian father. In Sameer’s home, where prayers are said five times per day and the Qur’an is recited together every Friday morning, Layla feels loved and valued and accepted for the first time in her life.
Aspects of Religion in the Literary Texts Having examined the ways in which the literary texts engage with Muslim identity, it is important to also consider the ways in which they portray the religious aspects of Islam—in other words, what Islam means to the fictional characters, and what place it has in their lives. Shama Futehally has written explicitly about her own relationship to Islam in two non-fictional pieces collected posthumously in The Right Words: Selected Essays 1967–2004. It is perhaps telling that only two of the sixty brief essays in this collection are on faith and religion; the rest are on a range of topics such as the works of other writers, language, translation, nature, and bird-watching. Excerpts from “Faith” and “A Clutch of Laburnum” are worth quoting at some length because these two essays are direct and candid expressions of Shama Futehally’s relationship to religion. She tells us in “Faith” (based on a talk broadcast on All India Radio in 1996) that “Being as I am a fairly contemporary person, mine has not really been a journey towards faith, or even properly a journey away from it. It has been, rather, a journey which circles nervously, sometimes entering and at other times straying from it” (2006b, 249). Recounting her youthful exploration of spirituality as a university student in 1960s Bombay, she says: The freedom with which I could pick my way between faith, non-faith, and indeed between different faiths, is an indication of the deep personal freedoms we experienced in the Nehruvian era…. We no longer move freely between faiths as we used to do; the faith that we were born into has, so to speak, become a responsibility…. I can only hope that we will find our way back to such freedom in the near future. (250)
First published in 2000 in The Indian Express, Shama Futehally’s essay “A Clutch of Laburnum” deals more explicitly with Islam. Explain-
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ing the need to be what she calls “up-front” about one’s own personal understanding of religion, she says that “since militants and terrorists have begun to brandish a version of Islam which exists only inside their own heads, it may occasionally help to look at versions which exist inside other heads” (257). One such version is that of a female ancestor who is quoted has having said, “My version of Islam is that God has given me a brain, and He expects me to use it” (257). Approving of this uncompromising statement, Shama Futehally then goes on to offer glimpses of her own more diffuse but intensely spiritual understanding of Islam in the form of “two or three little events” she recalls from her childhood: To refuse a glass of water to anyone who asks for it is a sin against Islam. I have never forgotten. And while it is only to be expected that such customs should have developed in a desert society, “giving water to anyone who asks for it” does not seem to me to be a bad image of how one should deal with one’s fellow beings. (257) A young cousin who was perhaps more aware than he need to have been about his social status…was told in no uncertain terms what Allah feels about those who think themselves better than another in His sight. (258) A conscious thankfulness for the good things in life is one of the most valuable lessons that Islam has taught me. (258)
Turning to her fictional works, we see that the place of religion in the lives of her characters tends to be limited to that of ritual observances. For instance, in Tara Lane (1993), blessings from the Koran are recited only at Tara’s engagement party and at the news of her pregnancy.1 In keeping with Hasan and Menon’s argument that “Islamic practice does not and cannot constitute the whole of women’s lives” (2004, 2), religious observances are portrayed as merely part of the conventional etiquette for a proper daughter-in-law in Shama Futehally’s Reaching Bombay Central (2002), in which Ayesha Jamal recalls “the joy, in the early years, of making her mother-in-law happy; by demurely covering her head, by keeping the fasts during Ramzan, by telling Pushpa, just a little louder than necessary, not to put too much milk into her mother-in-law’s tea” (91). Here a religious practice (“keeping the fasts
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during Ramzan”) is placed directly between two gendered practices: female modesty (“demurely covering the head”) and female deference to the mother-in-law (ostentatiously catering to her preferences). Thus the specifically Muslim cultural practice is both gender-neutral and overshadowed by two other cultural practices which are related to gender but not to communal affiliation, thus implicitly emphasizing the centrality of gender (rather than religious identity) in social custom throughout India. Ritual observances are briefly highlighted in the narratives of the other fictional works as well. In Zeenuth Futehally’s Zohra (1951), the family observe the Ramazan fast and regular prayers, and in Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961) religious devotion is expressed through conventional greetings like “Live long in the protection of Allah, my child” (18). In that novel, religious piety is not necessarily associated with moral virtue. For instance, Uncle Mohsin’s “tight flannel pyjamas were crumpled at the knees, through sitting with bent knees in long hours of prayer” (19), and yet we are also told of Uncle Mohsin’s philandering, his neglect of his wife, and his predatory behaviour with Nandi the servant girl. Notably, in Samina Ali’s more contemporary novel Madras on Rainy Days (2004), the devoutness of Laylas’ in-laws is not limited to prayer; on the contrary, they are portrayed as warm and loving people, in contrast to her own harsh secular family: “Islam in [my parents’] house consisted of not much more than occasional prayers, on important religious days, on days when Amme needed more comfort” (109). Interestingly, several of the texts portray the enactment of folk superstitions which incorporate Islamic elements. For instance, in Attia Hosain’s short story “The Loss” the narrator reports that the servants “had more faith in their own traditional methods of discovering thieves and asked me if I would help by reading some prayers. I was irritable and said they were free to be superstitious fools in their spare time” (1953, 129). Some of these superstitions include: Say a prayer over a knife and put it in the Holy Book, and the thief’s guts will be cut to shreds. (131–132)
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She weighed rice against the silver coin inscribed with the names of the Four Companions of the Prophet and gave it to each person. (132)
As we have seen, the characters in Samina Ali’s Madras on Rainy Days (2004) also seek solutions to problems through what might be called alternative versions of Islam. As Layla observes, “If prayers to Allah ascended the stone walls of this neighbourhood, prayers to the djinns dug beneath like tunnels” (78). However, far from being portrayed as “superstitious fools”, the alim and other faith healers in this novel are shown to be wise and intuitive. Indeed, confronted with Layla’s persistent bleeding, the alim asks the only sensible question possible in the circumstances: “Why is it that you have not taken your daughter to see a lady doctor?” (30). Apart from prayer and ritual, we occasionally see characters in these literary texts grappling with what might be called the philosophical aspects of religion: the search for meaning, for moral values, for consolation. One simple example is when the eponymous heroine of Zeenuth Futehally’s novel Zohra (1951) tries to explain to her husband why she goes out to teach poor women during the evening prayer time: “Yes, my sense of values has undergone a change. I feel no urgency to pray now as I used to. After all, God is in our hearts, and I am sure He wants us to do what is right according to our own consciences and not merely according to set rites…. No other time suited these women, and I would rather help them than sit and pray for my soul.” (229–230)
Perhaps more significantly, she also articulates a broad, ecumenical vision of Islam: “Because I am not fanatical about my religion, and am willing to respect other faiths, you jump to the conclusion that I am not a Muslim…. But it is those who have a larger understanding who are the truly religious ones” (229). This is in contrast with the perspective of Baba Mian in Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961). Far from looking to religion to provide understanding or answers, Baba Mian asserts that there are no answers to the great mysteries of life and that God’s will is beyond human understanding: “I have seen many things in my long life, and who knows the definition of anything but
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the Almighty? He draws us into error to prostrate our pride, and from error to savour His salvation. Only Death is a certainty” (20). Finally, the role of religion in providing consolation is evident in several of the literary texts, but in each case there is implicit criticism of this ideological use of religion to mollify the victims of injustice. For instance, upon hearing of her arranged marriage (which is against her personal wishes), the only recourse available to Zeenuth Futehally’s Zohra is to seek consolation in religion: “Allah is great; there is no God but Allah!” These simple words, at least momentarily, fell soothingly on Zohra’s ears, helping her in her effort to control her agitation…. Yes, Allah was great, and as there was no other God, she would place her trust in Him. (1951, 33)
The almost sardonic tone of this passage emphasizes the authoritarian nature of religion and patriarchy (which in this case reinforce each other), as well as the temporary nature of the consolation that Zohra finds in religion. The religious consolation found by the childless characters in Attia Hosain’s story “A Woman and a Child” is somewhat more affirmative but still unmistakably despairing: “Utterly worn out, he sought refuge in God. Those remnants of his will which he could salvage, he offered to Him. He prayed, ‘Lord, let my life be empty of all but Thee!’” (1953, 134). And about the death of her child, a poor woman says, “It was God’s will. He took away what He had given me” (138). Not surprisingly, Samina Ali’s Madras on Rainy Days (2004) offers the strongest critique of the ideological use of religion to perpetuate inequality. Referring to “a woman’s beliefs” as “her only way to control her world” (224), she suggests that religion can be used to justify oppression and to give false comfort to its victims. Well aware of the class implications of this (but perhaps intentionally blind to the gender implications), her cynical father casually remarks that “poverty makes people religious” (41). Whether he is associating religion with superstition and lack of education, or whether he means that poor people can find comfort only in religion, is not explained. In any case, these general criticisms of the ideological uses of religion are not
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intended in any of the literary texts to apply solely to Islam. On the contrary, the language in these critical passages is carefully generalized to reflect the well-known fact that other religions (including Hinduism and Christianity) have also been used to justify and perpetuate social inequality.
Conclusion It should be evident from the foregoing discussion that religion—as belief or even as ritual practice—is not a major thematic concern in any of these fictional texts. Rather, it forms a quiet background to the lives of the characters, most of whom have what can be described as a low- key relationship to faith. Although there are Hindu protagonists in a few of the short stories by Attia Hosain and Shama Futehally, all of the significant characters in the novels are Muslim. The characters who feel most strongly about Islam as a political identity are invariably male, and in the earlier novels we see them engaged in heated debates about identity politics on the eve of India’s independence. Women’s lack of agency is underlined by the fact that their role is to listen silently to these debates, even when gender issues are being discussed. Even today, this parallels the larger canvas, in which it is only males who are considered Muslim “community leaders” authorized to pronounce on whether Muslim women should or should not have the same political rights as other women in India. Despite—or perhaps because of—the strong social criticism in each of these fictional texts, none of them can be characterized as anti- religious. On the contrary, each gently suggests that an ethical approach—as opposed to a political approach—to Islam (or indeed to any other religion) can inspire and encourage moral goodness. Perhaps the best example of this is Layla’s devout and loving in-laws in Samina Ali’s Madras on Rainy Days (2004). We also see the religious basis of Zohra’s charitable work in Zeenuth Futehally’s novel (1951), as well as the strong social conscience of each of Shama Futehally’s female characters, underpinned by an approach to Islam which she herself articulates in the two non-fictional essays we have examined.
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Although the abuses of religion do not go unexamined in these fictional texts, religious ideology as a justification for the subordination of women is consistently underplayed. On the contrary, women are shown to be oppressed not by Islam as such but by gender ideologies and cultural practices not specific to any religious group in India. This is consistent with the findings of Indian sociologists, who have reported that despite the “pervasive belief that Muslim women have less autonomy than Hindu women…owing to the restrictions imposed on women’s freedom by Islamic codes”, the 2004 Muslim Women’s Survey does not report “significant community variations in decision-making, mobility, and access to public spaces”. In fact what it shows is that most women in India have “very little autonomy and control over their own lives across communities and regions” (Hasan and Menon 2004, 238). Finally, the later fictional works also call attention to the negative effects of communal antagonism on the lives of men and women of all backgrounds.
Notes 1. The spellings of the Koran/Qur’ān and Ramzan/Ramazan vary from text to text. I have kept each of my own spellings of these words consistent with the usage in the text under discussion.
References Ahmed, Leila. Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate. Yale University Press, 1992. Al-Hibri, Azigah and Raha El Habti. “Islam.” Sex, Marriage, and the Family in World Religions, edited by Don Browning et al., Columbia University Press, 2006, pp. 150–225. Ali, Kecia. “Marriage, Family, and Sexual Ethics.” The Islamic World, edited by Andrew Rippin, Routledge, 2008, pp. 611–623. Ali, Samina. Madras on Rainy Days. Piatkus, 2004. Barlas, Asma. Believing Women in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur’an. University of Texas Press, 2002. Calderini, Simonetta. “Women, Gender and Human Rights.” The Islamic World, edited by Andrew Rippin, Routledge, 2008, pp. 624–637. Chandra, Bipin. Communalism in Modern India. Vikas, 1984.
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Desai, Sonalde and Gheda Temsah. “Muslim and Hindu Women’s Public and Private Behaviors: Gender, Family, and Communalized Politics in India.” Demography, vol. 51, 2014, pp. 2307–2332. Futehally, Shama. Frontiers: Collected Stories. Penguin, 2006a. —. Reaching Bombay Central. Penguin, 2002. —. The Right Words: Selected Essays 1967–2004. Penguin, 2006b. —. Tara Lane. Ravi Dayal, 1993. Futehally, Zeenuth. Zohra. Oxford University Press, 2004 (originally published 1951). Hai, Ambreen. “Adultery Behind Purdah and the Politics of Indian Muslim Nationalism in Zeenuth Futehally’s Zohra.” MFS Modern Fiction Studies, vol. 59, no. 2, 2013, pp. 317–345. Hasan, Zoya, editor. Forging Communities: Gender, Communities and the State in India. Kali for Women, 1994. Hasan, Zoya and Ritu Menon. Unequal Citizens: A Study of Muslim Women in India. Oxford University Press, 2004. Hosain, Attia. Phoenix Fled and Other Stories. Virago, 1988 (Chatto & Windus, 1953). —. Sunlight on a Broken Column. Chatto & Windus, 1961. Jackson, Elizabeth. Feminism and Contemporary Indian Women’s Writing. Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. Kannabiran, Vasanth and Kalpana Kannabiran. “The Frying Pan or the Fire: Endangered Identities, Gendered Institutions and Women’s Survival.” Women and the Hindu Right, edited by Tanika Sarkar and Urvashi Batalia, Kali for Women, 1995, pp. 121–135. Kuortti, Joel. “Women Will Find Ways of Breaking Out” (interview with Futehally). Tense Past, Tense Present: Women Writing in English, edited by Joel Kuortti, Stree, 2003, pp. 66–94. Lateef, Shahida. Muslim Women in India, Political and Private Realities: 1890s-1980s. Zed Books, 1990. Mernissi, Fatima. Women and Islam: An Historical and Theological Enquiry. Blackwell, 1991 (French original 1987). Mukhopadhyay, Maitrayee. “Between Community and State: The Question of Women’s Rights and Personal Laws”. Forging Identities: Gender, Communities and the State in India, edited by Zoya Hasan, Kali for Women, 1994, pp. 108–129. Nainar, Vahida. Muslim Women’s Views on Personal Laws: The Influence of Socio-Economic Factors. Women’s Research and Action Group, 2000. Narain, Vrinda. Reclaiming the Nation: Muslim Women and the Law of India. University of Toronto Press, 2008. Narayan, Uma. Dislocating Cultures: Identities, Traditions, and Third World Feminism. Routledge, 1997. Tabassum, Suraiya. Waiting for the New Dawn: Muslim Women’s Perception of Muslim Personal Law and its Practices. Indian Social Institute, 2003. Tarlo, Emma. Visibly Muslim: Fashion, Politics, Faith. Berg, 2010.
Marriage and Sexuality
Introduction It is difficult to overemphasize the cultural importance of marriage in India, where from an early age the vast majority of girls are “groomed for marriage through a range of prescriptive injunctions and normative practices, and are socialized into accepting marriage as their principal, if not their only, lifelong career” (Hasan and Menon 2004, 98). Ninety- five percent of all Indian women are married by the age of 25 years, so that “the more or less constant feature in the lives of Indian women, regardless of class, caste, community, and region, is marriage” (96). Not surprisingly, domestic life has featured prominently in the fictional writing of Indian women from all communities, including that of “political” writers like Nayantara Sahgal and self-consciously feminist writers like Shashi Deshpande. A particularly prominent theme among anglophone Indian novels written by Muslim women has been that of the wedding narrative and its aftermath, which is notable in the oeuvre of all four writers under consideration: Zeenuth Futehally, Attia Hosain, Shama Futehally, and Samina Ali. The Qur’an speaks eloquently of the emotional and ethical dimensions of marriage, defining it as a relationship based on tranquillity,
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mercy, and affection (30:21). Husbands and wives are described as being like “garments” for one another (2:187), having been created for one another (4:1, 7:189). On a practical level, “husbands and wives have rights and obligations, differentiated by gender, although husbands are given a privileged role of both authority and responsibility (2:228, 4:34, 128)” (Ali 2008, 612). In response to negative western stereotypes of Muslim gender ideologies, some Muslim feminists including Fatima Mernissi (1991) and Riffat Hassan (1991) have argued that the Qu’ran itself does not discriminate against women. They argue, for example, that legal rulings which have resulted in unequal rights between husband and wife are loosely based on a Qu’ranic verse that does not command women to be obedient to their husbands but states that righteous women are obedient—that is, to God (4:34) (Calderini 2008, 633). However, the argument that women are—or should be—in all respects equal to men is a minority view among Muslim scholars; by far the most commonly held view is that “in Islam women and men are considered equal but different” (Calderini 2008, 626). Theological debates aside, this chapter examines fictional representations of marriage as a lived experience for the female protagonists of novels and short stories by Muslim Indian women writing in English. As a comparative and developmental study, it focuses on six general areas of enquiry: ideas about marriage portrayed in the earlier texts; consent and the arrangement of marriages; narratives of wedding ceremonies; power dynamics within marriages; polygamy and divorce; gender ideologies about male and female sexuality.
Ideas About Marriage Portrayed in the Earlier Texts Zeenuth Futehally’s novel Zohra (1951), set in a wealthy Muslim household in Hyderabad during the 1920s, repeatedly highlights the characters’ unquestioned assumption that all women must marry: “Some day she will have to marry and why sow discontent in her heart?” (11) “After all, marriage is the fate of all girls. Why delay it unnecessarily?” (31)
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“Allah forbid, but if anything were to happen to her, she says her soul would find no peace, knowing you were still unmarried and alone in the house.” (31)
Interestingly, the eponymous young protagonist herself sees marriage as the end of her “freedom”, even though she has been brought up in purdah (32). She has at least been allowed to go to school but knows “only too well that in this society women were permitted to study until a suitable bridegroom could be found. She [later] thought of her own interrupted education and was overcome by a deep regret” (183). Ironically, her marriage appears to bring her more freedom in many ways, including the freedom to socialize with men from her own (elite) background—so much so that on several occasions she falls prey to the flirtatious attentions of male friends while her husband remains oblivious. Although her formal education ends with her marriage, the narrative traces her continuing intellectual and emotional development. Apart from her reading, her artistic pursuits, her travel to Europe with her husband, and her political and philosophical discussions with her brother-in-law, her life experience also brings her a broader understanding of human motivations. For instance, having during her youth been “tantalized” by the idea of a marriage of one’s choice (32), she later gathers from a friend’s casual remarks that she had “of her own free will, married Shafqat for the glamour of the civil service. This shocked Zohra, for she had romanticized marriages of free choice, believing that, if girls had the freedom, they would marry only for love” (77). The idea of a “love marriage” was much debated among elite circles in India at this time, partly as a result of contact with “western” ideas. One illustration of this is in the dialogue between the young protagonist Laila and her cousin Zahra in Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961) during the 1930s when the two girls are still in purdah. Commenting on a servant girl’s misdemeanours, Zahra remarks that “The only cure for Nandi is to get her married quickly” (29), to which Laila replies: “The cure for a good girl is to get her married quickly; the cure for a bad girl is to get her married quickly. Do you think of anything but getting married quickly?”
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“I suppose you think you will never get married?” “I won’t be paired off like an animal. How could you sit there listening to them talking as if you were a bit of furniture to be sold to the highest bidder? How could you bear the idea of just any man?” “I suppose you’re going to find a husband for yourself? Maybe you’ll marry someone for love like Englishwomen do, who change husbands like their slippers.” (29–30)
Interestingly, this debate is conducted on both sides through opposition to negative aspects instead of advocacy of positive benefits. That is, the argument is made against arranged marriage on the basis that it commodifies the bride, whereas the counter-argument is made against love marriages by implying that they are ephemeral and associated with immoral “Englishwomen”. The point is made explicit later in the narrative when Laila, the narrator, clearly articulates why love marriages were disapproved of. In marrying Ameer, she says, “I had been guilty of admitting I loved, and love between man and woman was associated with sex, and sex was sin” (312). The association between sex and sin notwithstanding, another idea implied in the exchange between Laila and Zahra (specifically in relation to the servant girl) is that of marriage as an antidote to immorality—an idea also expressed by various characters in several of Hosain’s short stories in her Phoenix Fled collection (1953). In “The Street of the Moon”, a wife is seen as a remedy for the cook’s opium addiction, and a husband is seen as a way of preventing “trouble” for the cook’s young assistant (32). Again, in “Time Is Unredeemable” a hastily arranged marriage between two young people a month before the bridegroom’s departure for England is explicitly identified by both mothers as “a moral insurance”: “To a mother of many girls both safety and wisdom counsel an early marriage,” said her mother. “If you push a boy into a sea of temptation will a hair of his head remain dry? Now he will not bring home a foreign woman,” said Arshad’s mother. (59)
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Sadly, the failure of this marriage through Arshad’s rejection of his young wife when he returns from England points to the potential victimization of women in the system of arranged marriages. The husband had the opportunity for personal growth during his years abroad, while the wife back in India had no choice but to accept him as “the very focus of her being” (59).
Consent and the Arrangement of Marriages Arranged marriage is still the norm for both Hindus and Muslims in India, though in both communities the theory has always been that forced marriage is unacceptable, and nowadays “distinctions between love marriages and arranged marriages are more ambiguous than clear-cut. For example, parents may legitimize mutual attraction between a young woman and man of the same social class by arranging the marriage” (Puri 1999, 139). However, it is my contention that if distinctions between love marriages and arranged marriages can be ambiguous, so too can distinctions between arranged marriages and forced marriages. A number of contemporary Indian novels, including Anita Desai’s Fasting, Feasting (1999) and Shashi Deshpande’s Roots and Shadows (1983), dramatize situations in which marriages are arranged for young women by their elders in such a way that they effectively have no choice. While most young people in India are theoretically free to decline particular prospective spouses, there is considerable cultural pressure, especially for women, to marry early. As the literary texts suggest, the element of “choice” is, at best, extremely limited for a very young, inexperienced woman from a sheltered background whose decisions are always made for her by others. Although research, such as the extensive study by Hasan and Menon (2004), has shown that most women in India from all backgrounds have severely limited control over all aspects of their own lives, including when and whom they marry, Muslim women are popularly perceived to have even less self-determination than others, and there are a number of reasons for this. First, although India is a secular state, personal law (pertaining to such matters as marriage, inheritance,
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and divorce) for the Muslim minority is governed by particular forms of sharī-a, so that Muslim women do not enjoy the same legal rights as Indian women from other communities. For example, monogamy is the rule for everyone in India except Muslim men who are allowed to have up to four wives each, and although forced marriage is unlawful, the state authorities tend to be reluctant to intervene, particularly in sensitive cases involving minority communities. In a global context, because forced marriages are still contracted in a number of predominantly Muslim countries, there is a popular misconception that this practice is condoned by sharī-a. However, “all contemporary Muslim scholars would insist that consent is one of the required elements for a marriage to be deemed valid according to Islamic law” (Calderini 2008, 634). But again, consent can be a slippery concept, not least because not all young women are informed that their silence constitutes consent to the arranged marriage (Al-Hibri and El Habti 2006, 168). The protagonists’ reactions to their arranged marriages in the novels and short stories are worth examining in some detail because they constitute an important element in the implicit feminist criticism of each text. In Zeenuth Futehally’s novel Zohra (1951), the young protagonist understands that her parents had “every right to get her married as they saw fit. It was only out of consideration for her feelings that they were trying to gain her consent” (32). It is pointedly suggested in the narrative, however, that men had more freedom in this regard: Bashir, had “until now…refused to consider marriage arranged by others” (25). Years later, Zohra explains to her brother-in-law, as if he is a stranger to their society, that: “[Girls] are brought up to look upon marriage in the same way as they look upon birth and death. In none of these do they expect to have any voice” (190). When he argues that “according to Islamic law, a girl’s voluntary consent is essential…. She can withhold that”, she insists that “A Hyderabadi girl would no more think of questioning her parents’ right to arrange her marriage than she would of questioning God’s right to dispense birth and death” (190–191). Consent, then, is portrayed in the novel as a mere formality at the wedding ceremony, conveyed by proxy through a male relative with two male witnesses (46). In this novel, “the bride was not present
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[when the qazi spoke the words] but the uncle to whom she had given her proxy accepted on her behalf. Zohra and Bashir were now married” (46). Notably, these two people who were committed to spending the rest of their lives together never met until the wedding ceremony. The third-person narrator of Zohra explains to the reader that in giving consent, “it is customary for brides not to show unseemly eagerness by replying with immodest haste” (46). This female “modesty” is observed throughout the wedding preparations, when the bride would be secluded in her room, and unmarried girls were expected to watch the engagement ceremony from the doorway because it was “not becoming for them to come forward” (21). Indeed, “marriages and future husbands were not subjects to be discussed between parents and daughters. Convention held such talks to be immodest” (24). If Zeenuth Futehally identifies decorum as the obstacle to a young woman’s participation in discussions about plans for her future, Attia Hosain identifies it as sheer patriarchal power. In Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961), Uncle Mohsin objects vehemently to Zahra being allowed to listen to the conversation about plans for her arranged marriage: “Is the girl to pass judgment on her elders? Doubt their capability to choose? Question their decision? Choose her own husband?” he thunders (20). However, Laila, the first-person narrator, immediately exposes Uncle Mohsin to the reader as not only an autocrat but also a hypocrite who has no moral authority to preach about family values: Even we, the young ones, knew stories about him and the dancing girls of the city. The eldest of his four children was our age, sullenly obedient to a father she seldom saw and hated for her mother’s sake. The mother, a negative, ailing woman, her tattered beauty a mendicant for love, knew her husband only to conceive a child after each infrequent visit home. (21)
Thus Uncle Mohsin himself emerges as a prime example of the type of husband to be feared by every prospective bride. Two later novels, Shama Futehally’s Tara Lane (1993) and Samina Ali’s Madras on Rainy Days (2004), present a striking contrast with each other in terms of their protagonists’ reactions toward their arranged marriages. Tara in Tara Lane has met her prospective bridegroom only
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once, and because she was unaware of having been scrutinized as a potential bride, she had noticed the young man’s good looks and good manners as a detached observer. The next day, when her mother tells her that “Halima Khan has asked us whether we will consider their son” (63), Tara is initially confused, thinking that they are asking whether her family will consider their son for a job. She is greatly flattered by her mother’s light comment that “perhaps he found you pretty” (64), and thereafter she catches only snatches of what her mother is saying: “‘…of forcing you at all’, continued my mother” (65). Meanwhile Tara is recalling with pleasure the appearance and manners of “this stranger” who had suddenly become all-important: “…and that would be a help to your father”, finished my mother. “But that of course is not important.” After watching me for a few minutes more she said anxiously, “If you want to meet him again, that is all right too. Take your time. We don’t mind.” But I was afraid that I was going to need absurdly little time. (65)
Nevertheless, Tara asks for “a little time” in order not to seem too eager. We notice the fortunate coincidence between the bride’s wishes and those of her parents because it is gently made clear to her that although she is free to reject this suitor, it would be “a help” if she would accept him. Here we have a situation of gentle but palpable pressure being applied to a young woman who, knowing that she is expected to marry and that her whole life will be shaped by her marriage, is simply happy to be marrying an attractive stranger. Tara’s pleasant experience of the marriage offer contrasts sharply with that of the eighteen-year-old Layla in Samina Ali’s Madras on Rainy Days (2004), whose lack of self-determination is made much more explicit and confrontational. Layla locks herself in a bedroom for days, refusing to “assent to this suitor, the one they have all chosen for me to marry, then love” (3). This painful scene is a brief flashback in the narrative, so that we are not told how Layla was finally made to capitulate to her family’s demand that she marry Sameer. We are, however, told that in an act of defiance she subsequently lost
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her virginity because, as she explains, “I had to try on love, just once with the man I chose before…” (74), and although she does not finish the thought, her transgression is clearly an attempt to take control of her own body and her own sexuality before she unwillingly becomes Sameer’s possession. Having been brought up in India and the United States by divorced parents, she has both a critical attitude toward patriarchal ideologies and a painful feeling of shame because of her family situation and, above all, her own behaviour. She laments that in her community “a girl raised without a man’s name shielding her reputation might as well be illegitimate, might as well have been a whore” (77), linking the language of illegitimacy (bastard) with that of promiscuity (whore) and suggesting that women outside of patriarchal family arrangements can easily be suspected of both. Interestingly, she adds that “a whore” was “the very thing I had become, according to local customs by sleeping with Nate” (77–78), implying that if she is already regarded as illegitimate and promiscuous, she might as well act it out. During the run-up to her wedding, she is pregnant with Nate’s child, wondering why she had “done such things in Minneapolis” right before the wedding when she had never been tempted to do them before (14). The explanation, as she suspects, lies in her desire to take control of her sexuality, thus resisting its appropriation by patriarchal culture. In fact, she explicitly says that in losing her virginity to Nate, she deliberately gave to him what she had “always been warned” did not belong to her but to her future husband (14). So here, too, she is shown to be torn between shame and defiance, remorse and resentment. Unable to confide in anyone about her pregnancy and unable to prevent her forthcoming marriage, she nevertheless tries unsuccessfully to abort her baby. As we shall see, there are ways in which the narratives of Tara Lane and Madras on Rainy Days move in opposite trajectories. For instance, the bride in Tara Lane is initially pleased with her arranged marriage and delighted with her bridegroom but becomes progressively disillusioned, not only with Rizwan himself, but also with her lack of power within the marriage and within her circumscribed world. The narrative
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of Madras on Rainy Days, by contrast, begins with the protagonist desperately opposed to her arranged marriage but subsequently falling in love with her kind, attractive husband who, tragically, wants to love her too but cannot. Despite Layla’s love for Sameer and his family, she has to leave him in order to avoid a life of frustration and misery for both of them. Tara, on the other hand, has no option but to stay in her unhappy marriage, having never experienced or imagined any life for herself outside of the patriarchal family.
Narratives of Wedding Ceremonies R. K. Kaul and Jasbir Jain observe that “English novels by Indian writers often resort to documentation of manners and mores, largely for the benefit of foreign readers. Ceremonies and rituals connected with marriage are often chosen for detailed, sometimes tedious description.” (2001, 26) Readers of Zeenuth Futehally’s 1951 novel Zohra and even Samina Ali’s 2004 novel Madras on Rainy Days might be tempted to agree with this assessment. Indeed, the wedding ceremony in Zohra, lasting several days, is described in vivid detail, and it is emphasized that Zohra, the exhausted bride, “felt bewildered and deeply unhappy” (51). The bridegroom, too, “found the whole ordeal unpalatable” (55). As if to justify such close and sustained attention to the spectacle and proceedings of the ceremony, the third-person narrator tells us that: “Marriages and births hold a fascination for all women; but to those in purdah, they are the pivots around which their entire lives revolve” (106). Attia Hosain echoes this idea in her Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961), but interestingly, Laila the narrator does not describe her own wedding at all. Referring briefly to her cousin Zahra’s marriage ceremony, she simply explains that “spread over many days of feasting, music and dancing… [it] coloured and brightened the secluded life of the community” (112). Here the narrative emphasis is on the bride as a spectacle:
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Anointed with oil and attar, dressed in scarlet and covered with jewels, her hair gold-dusted, the palms and soles of her feet henna’d, her face covered with a cascade of flowers and a veil of fine gold threads, Zahra was carried into the room where the women and girls waited impatiently to see the bride. I felt curiously detached towards that glittering, scented bundle, no longer Zahra but the symbol of others’ desires. (114)
In “The Street of the Moon” from the Phoenix Fled collection (1953), Hosain portrays a more modest wedding between a servant girl and a cook. But here too the descriptions of the colours, clothing, and jewellery emphasize the position of the young bride as a limp vehicle for lavish ornamentation (39). In this story the function of the wedding ceremony and gifts as forms of bribery for the bride in a sexual bargain is made disturbingly explicit. After the wedding Hasina enjoyed for several days “her luxury of idleness, and her possessions. She accepted with fatalism the unpleasant price she paid with her unwilling body, but the days were sufficiently long to prepare her for the nights and to forget them” (41–42). The two later novels, Tara Lane (1993) by Shama Futehally and Madras on Rainy Days (2004) by Samina Ali, contrast with each other not only in the attitudes of the protagonists toward their arranged marriages, but also in the nature of the wedding ceremonies themselves. A Muslim wedding is known as a “nikah” in Urdu, and contemporary nikah practices vary considerably throughout the world and, to some extent, even within India itself, because many wedding customs are a matter of culture and not of Islam (Maqsood 2009). Although Hindu wedding rituals too vary from region to region, Hindu and Muslim weddings in India have a number of features in common. Both tend to incorporate a succession of pre-wedding rituals involving the exchange of gifts, including wedding rings. Mehndi is applied to the bride’s hands and feet before both Hindu and Muslim weddings. The main differences are apparent within the specifically religious aspects of the wedding ceremonies themselves—for example, the readings from the Qur’an during the nikah, and walking around the sacred fire reciting prayers and vows during the Hindu ceremony (Prinja 2009).
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Layla, the narrator of Madras on Rainy Days, who, like the author, spent half of her childhood in Hyderabad, explains that: The Hyderabadi Muslim wedding lasts five days, each ceremony bearing its own ritual along with its own color. The first three days are the gold that promises fortune and fertility, the wedding nik’kah is the blood red of union, and the walima dinner that is given only upon a successful coupling is the green of Islam, of submission. (50)
Interestingly, red is an important colour in Hindu weddings as well, with the groom applying red vermilion to the bride’s hair parting during the ceremony. Afterwards the Hindu bride dips her feet into a mixture of vermilion before entering the groom’s house, leaving red footprints on the floor. The symbolic significance of red (blood) as “proof” of the bride’s virginity is spelled out in Madras on Rainy Days, when the groom’s mother inspects the marital bedsheets the morning after the wedding (97). Here the irony and tragedy is that Layla’s bleeding is caused only by her efforts to abort her baby. In the context of Layla’s private agony, the joy and fanfare of the wedding celebrations have struck a painful note. As she enters her new husband’s home along with great public ceremony (featuring a brass band and a large audience all dressed up for the occasion), at the doorway Sameer’s father Ibrahim holds the Qu’ran over her head, blessing her steps (94). This detail is notable because in India it is customary among both Hindus and Muslims for the groom’s mother (not his father) to formally welcome the bride into their home. Customs vary, but this might also be a case of the author emphasizing the male domination of the household. Several days later, “over a thousand guests were invited to the dinner Sameer’s parents hosted to proudly announce that he had consummated the marriage” (104), though ironically he had not consummated the marriage as his parents believed. The elaborate Hyderabadi wedding rituals in Madras on Rainy Days are very different from the simple but elegant Bombay wedding ceremony in Tara Lane, where the protagonist, like the author, grew up:
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I sat behind a screen of flowers in Dadi’s ancestral red and gold sari while the Nikah was performed. And in the evening little green and gold lights came on in the garden, caterers dashed to and fro around white tablecloths, and I was married. (79)
This description incorporates the same three symbolic colors identified in Madras on Rainy Days (red, gold, and green), but here the color imagery is more muted, downplaying the red, giving just a hint of green and gold in the little garden lights, and adding that staple of elegant western dinner parties: white table linen. This is at least partly a reflection of the different demographics of Hyderabad and Bombay. According to the 2001 census, Hyderabad is about 42% Muslim, whereas Bombay is only 18.5% Muslim (see www.censusindia. gov.in) and also larger and more cosmopolitan. Therefore it stands to reason that among the Muslim elite of both cities, Bombay wedding ceremonies will often be less explicitly religious than those in Hyderabad. Indeed, in Tara Lane, the characters appear to regard the religious rituals as mere formalities to be quickly observed before the more congenial business of socializing begins. This is perhaps best illustrated in the description of the engagement ceremony where Tara is (unaccustomedly) veiled, the women are dressed in their “stateliest” saris, the men standing together in “stiff cordiality” (68). After a brief reading from the Koran by the groom’s mother, the mood quickly turns light-hearted as the diamond engagement ring is produced, admired, and even joked about: “‘This?’ said Rizwan. ‘But this is glass. Bought in Chor Bazaar for five rupees.’ And he was spanked on the shoulder as everyone roared. Oh was there ever such wit” (69). At the Mehndi ceremony too, religious rituals quickly give way to the admiration of material gifts and opulent entertainment as the invited guests offer their congratulations: “They were thrilled with my trousseau, they were concerned for the welfare of my mehndi, they were anxious about whether I had found a servant…. And when these cares were set aside, they could turn tenderly to the biryani in its silver dishes” (78–79). In Madras on Rainy Days, the significance of the Mehndi ceremony is explained in the narrative, apparently for the benefit of a western readership:
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The longer it stayed on, the deeper the red would be, and the more auspicious my marriage. Inside the delicate leaf painted on my left palm, within the fragile lines, Sameer’s initials. That, too, was auspicious, his name seeping into blood and skin, becoming part of me. It was tradition here for the groom to search for his initials on the wedding night, a silly ritual perhaps intended to provide a natural way for the young couple to touch each other when they had never touched before. (46)
The different textual approaches to the wedding ceremonies reflect not just regional differences but also the different attitudes of the authors based on a number of factors including, perhaps, generation and diasporic experience. Samina Ali and Shama Futehally are both from elite Muslim backgrounds, but Futehally was born in Bombay in 1952 and, with the exception of her postgraduate studies in Britain, lived continuously in India until her death in 2004. Ali, on the other hand, is of a younger generation and a partly diasporic upbringing, having been born in Hyderabad in 1969 and having spent half of each year in India and half in the United States while growing up. These factors, along with a liberal education at the University of Minnesota, may well be contributing influences to the more stridently feminist tone of her narrative.
Power Dynamics Within Marriages While it cannot be claimed that gender equality within marriage has traditionally been the norm in India or elsewhere, it is interesting to note indications in the earlier texts of the (limited) power—or at least influence—of wives in certain circumstances. Perhaps the best example of this is the narrative assertion in Zeenuth Futehally’s novel Zohra (1951) that “Zubaida Begum had strong opinions on how her family, her household, and the estate should be run, but little faith in her husband’s judgement on these matters” (9). However, the class-based and circumscribed nature of this wifely power among the taluqdars is spelled out in Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961): The Rani Sahiba of Amirpur was a large, imperious woman with a dignity which years of unquestioned privilege and authority had given her. Even her formidable husband was said to be frightened of her, since she had whipped
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a woman in her zenana who had responded to his amorous advances, saying he could possess all the women in the world, but not the women who served her. (63)
By contrast, her story “Gossamer Thread” in the Phoenix Fled collection (1953) critically examines a situation in which the wife is attempting to be completely deferential to the husband, summing it up in a sardonic third-person narrative voice: As a concession to his mother’s importunity…he had consented to marry the simple, immature girl she had chosen for him. She was decorative enough and submissive enough to increase his self-confidence. But from under the strong seal of his personality portions of her own escaped with waxlike, uneven edges of which both were conscious. It increased her diffidence and his domination. (150)
Shama Futehally uses a similar narrative strategy in “Frontiers” to deftly highlight the role of wives as convenient sources of sympathy and equally convenient repositories of blame: “His loyal wife…was always sympathetic about her husband’s troubles till he began to blame her for them. Which, at some point, he would” (2006, 76). As suggested earlier, Shama Futehally’s Tara Lane (1993) portrays the protagonist’s initially pleasurable experience of her engagement and wedding before going on to narrate a devastating account of her systematic disempowerment through marriage. A note of self-mocking is already discernible in Tara’s narrative voice as she describes the first day of her married life: I returned with the tea eager to please by being sensible and practical for the rest of my life. I made the tea and laid out clothes and hunted up socks as though nothing else mattered on earth. “Do you have a meeting?” said this housewife-without-a-flaw. “Should I take out a suit?” (82)
Tara’s initially enthusiastic willingness to be servile is partly an expression of her genuine—and understandable—happiness as the bride of a “good match” in a patriarchal society. It is also, arguably, a reaction to the reality of her disempowerment through marriage. Having been a successful student, she is nevertheless given no role and no stake in
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the family business which is run entirely by men: her father, uncles, brother, and now her new husband. As if to underline this exclusion of women from owning the means of production, her father says to her jokingly at the end of a shopping trip: “Have you spent all your husband’s money?” (149). The reality behind this bantering question is no joke: it is her husband’s money (rather than hers), even though it is her family (rather than his) that owns the family business. The implicit feminist criticism of the novel is extended in an interview with the author who explains why Tara, having always loved literature, no longer reads after she gets married: Everything goes into the task of being a good wife, which gets harder and harder as she finds out more about him. And she is more disillusioned with him and has to control her own emotions also, school her emotions all the time…. Somehow she no longer has the mental space because the demands that are placed on her emotionally are too great…. And she is not free enough to read and pursue literature. (Kuortti 2003, 86–87)
Tara’s endeavour to “school” her emotions is shown in the text to result from bitter experience with her husband Rizwan. For instance, Tara’s servant Katreen is distressed because Rizwan has been hard on her husband and others at the factory—cutting salaries and punishing strike leaders—so Tara timidly brings it up with him: “Today I heard that… well, it’s just silly talk of course…but some of these people seem to say you’re too strict…” (85). Rizwan reacts with cold anger, so Tara immediately backs down, resolving that “never would I forget my place again” (86). And even though all she did was timidly report to him what she had heard, she grovels with apology: “I’m so sorry,” I begged. “Please. Don’t be angry, please. I’m telling you, I defended…” “Get dinner.” (86)
Later in the narrative, Tara has learned to be even more deferential toward male authority, reflecting that “I was no longer the sort of wife who would ask questions which were not wanted” (92). Despite her disavowal of the term “feminist”, Futehally concedes that:
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Of course there is a very clear acknowledgement of the fact that in Indian marriages women have very little space…. In the beginning Tara asks Rizwan about the strike. By the time it comes to the actual bribery of the municipal official…she’s learnt that she must not ask. She waits until it suits him to tell her. (Kuortti 2003, 85)
So despite Tara’s awareness that her husband is engaged in bribery, she is given to understand that as a woman this activity is literally none of her business: All evening I trod the delicate line between being obtrusive and being too obviously docile. And finally, when my fault had been forgiven, when it was silently clear that all the cares of the world rested on men’s shoulders and we had no business to ask or look askance or criticize; when I had made it perfectly plain that I had no opinion at all—only then did I learn that…the admirable [official]—had stated his price. (150)
Thus, although Tara is outwardly deferential toward her husband, the narrative voice contains an unmistakable note of sarcasm, revealing her growing resentment, not only of her corrupt husband, but also of the patriarchal set-up that completely disempowers her. To add insult to injury, Tara, because of her gender, is shown to be excluded from knowledge and power, strongly discouraged from asking questions, and then criticized for her lack of knowledge: “Don’t be utterly ridiculous,” said my husband. “Have you learned nothing about the world at all?” “No, we haven’t.” I spoke with due meekness. (150)
Her answering using the first person plural, suggesting that she speaks for all women, may be her mild way of protesting against the reality that women are often prevented from learning about the world. If Shama Futehally’s 1993 novel Tara Lane contains a critical fictional portrayal of the power dynamics within a contemporary marital relationship, so too does her 2002 novella Reaching Bombay Central. Elite and well-educated, Ayesha is nevertheless shown to be completely submissive to her husband. This is dramatized at the beginning of Reach-
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ing Bombay Central, where the younger, more self-confident Jayashree is drawn as a foil to the diffident Ayesha with whom she shares a train compartment. Jayashree is friendly and courteous, but she also displays a remarkable degree of assertiveness: for example, in her interactions with the ticket collectors and other passengers. Significantly, this self-possessed young woman is single, in contrast to Ayesha who, even in her husband’s absence, is shown to be anxious about his reactions to every little thing she does. Worried that she might be overpaying a porter carrying her luggage at the station, “she made the murmur of protest which was necessary in case she found herself describing the scene to her husband (‘I’m telling you, I fought with him…’)” (1). The social world inhabited by Ayesha Jamal and her husband Aarif is one in which men have professional positions and women are simply “wives”. In this respect, Ayesha’s situation resembles that of many of Anita Desai’s earlier protagonists, including Tara in Clear Light of Day (1980), although Tara is shown to have more inner autonomy than Ayesha, despite having an equally overbearing husband. Ayesha’s particular crisis in Reaching Bombay Central also resembles that of Jaya, the protagonist of Shashi Deshpande’s That Long Silence (1988). Both are intelligent, mature, middle-class housewives confronted with identical crises: the husband’s involvement in a corruption scandal which threatens to ruin his career and hence their lives. While this crisis causes Jaya to begin to interrogate her gendered disempowerment, Ayesha remains emotionally dependent on her husband who expects her to agree with every decision he makes, particularly when he is uncertain or uncomfortable. When she responds weakly to “his need of her sanction for what he had done” (34), he demands a firmer answer from her: “Somebody,” he repeated, glancing at her fiercely, “has to be prepared to stick their neck out in such a case. And if no one else will, then I will.” “Naturally,” said Ayesha, looking up now and with all the force at her command. “It’s the only thing to do.” And on Aarif’s face the aggression, the defiance, the nervousness at last gave way to something like relief. (35)
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Aarif’s pomposity and cowardice, enabled by Ayesha’s meek deference, is again brought out in the scene in which he wants her to go to Bombay to “pull strings” with her uncle who is a senior police officer: “But one would have to go to Bombay to speak with him. You can’t explain this sort of thing on the telephone. And I’m damned,” said Aarif impressively, “if I’m going to ask permission to go to Bombay now.” As her husband made this magnificent pronouncement, it became clear to her what she was now expected to do. Because behind her husband’s magnificence lay the fact that when it came to asking anyone for anything…Aarif became like an unwilling child. (79)
Thus it is suggested that Ayesha is expected to do brave things behind the scenes for her husband while he maintains an air of authority. However, while it would be easy to view the marital relationship between Aarif and Ayesha in Reaching Bombay Central (2002) as one of male authority and female submission, we see on closer examination that Shama Futehally paints a more subtle picture. Despite her superficial timidity, Ayesha ultimately emerges as stronger, more intelligent, and more courageous than her husband. Moreover, her financial dependence on him notwithstanding, she is also shown to be acutely aware of his emotional dependence on her. In Samina Ali’s Madras on Rainy Days (2004) the arranged marriage between Layla and Sameer develops into one of mutual dependence in other ways. Layla falls in love with Sameer before discovering that he is a closet homosexual whose dependence on her is based on his need to hide his sexual orientation from the rest of his family and from everyone else around him. Before this discovery, the eighteen-year-old narrator’s fears of the potential repercussions of her premarital experience are convincingly conveyed. However, Sameer does not reject or condemn Layla. Instead he guards the secret of her premarital transgression, and he genuinely tries to love her. The inability of this sympathetic character to be the man he wants to be and have the feelings he wants to have is at least as tragic for himself as it is for Layla. Thus, while arranged marriages work well for some, their potential to generate lifelong unhappi-
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ness and frustration for men and women alike is clearly indicated by the unconsummated relationship of Layla and Sameer.
Polygamy and Divorce Polygamy is illegal in India for Hindus and other religious groups under the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955. Controversially, it remains legal for Muslim men in India, who are allowed to have up to four wives each, though in practice it is unusual to have more than one. Among the literary texts under consideration, the only one which features polygamy is Zeenuth Futehally’s Zohra. This 1951 novel looks back at the customs of a bygone era in the Talaqdari community, and even here polygamy is portrayed as an anomaly, encouraged by the first wife when she “cannot give” her husband a son. The pitfalls of a situation like this are described through the perspective of Zohra’s husband Bashir, whose father had been “induced” by his first wife to marry a second wife for the purpose of bearing children “after fifteen years of marriage, when all reasonable hopes were gone” (101). The second wife (Bashir’s mother) bore three surviving children but was unkind to the first wife, and in his childhood: Bashir had watched the conflict in their home, without understanding it. But now that it was all clear to him, he did not know whom to blame more: Sakina Begum deprived of motherhood herself, desiring to provide her husband with children and arranging this second marriage, or the younger woman married to a middle-aged man for the express purpose of bearing his children, whilst the first continued to be foremost in his affections… He often thought that his father was most to blame. He should have foreseen the hopelessness of the situation. (102)
However, by the 1930s evidence of social change is indicated among the younger generation. Despite the fact that she is devastated at not having a child, as much for her husband as for herself, Zohra’s sister- in-law Safia admits that “second wives are out of the question nowadays. Besides, that experiment was not very successful for either of the women, nor indeed for my father” (160).
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In terms of Islamic practice, Kecia Ali has explained that contrary to popular misconception, the Qu’ran “does not create the institution of plural marriage but regulates already existing pre-Islamic practices” (2008, 621). That polygamy (more properly polygyny) is permissible was taken for granted by Muslim thinkers until the modern era. Nowadays those who justify polygamy often do so on the grounds that “it represents a better solution to the problem of men’s naturally greater sexual appetites and demand for variety than extramarital affairs or serial divorce which have wreaked such havoc upon Western societies” (620). However, divorce is not forbidden in the Qu’ran; on the contrary, it states very clearly that in a marriage a couple must live together amicably or part in kindness (2:229). One problem from the point of view of Muslim (and non-Muslim) feminists is that in many Islamic societies, divorce is mainly a male prerogative. For instance, although India is a secular state, personal law for its Muslim minority is governed by interpretations of sharī-a which make divorce much easier for men than for women. In particular, whereas a Muslim man in India can unilaterally divorce his wife without assigning a reason, a Muslim woman can obtain a divorce only with her husband’s consent and only under specific circumstances. Regardless of who initiated the divorce, alimony is normally only a temporary measure, bringing hardship to many women who have always been dependent on their husbands (Narain 2008, 6). Madras on Rainy Days (2004) pointedly suggests that even if women had equal rights under the law, patriarchal customs and attitudes would still make divorce easier for men. This is recognized even by Layla’s traditional mother-in-law who remarks that: “Divorce is always more difficult for women. No matter the circumstance, they are the ones who are blamed” (193). Consequently, Layla’s mother has insisted on maintaining the fiction in Hyderabad that she and her husband are still married and that his second wife is her co-wife because “two women jostling for one man’s attention, for his one pleasure… was the life Amme would have preferred” (44). In thinking about her father’s behaviour and fearing the consequences of her own premarital transgression, Layla reflects bitterly that:
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I had acted no differently from him, yet I would be the one punished. Arranged in marriage to one person, choosing another to love. What he did, by Old City standards was natural for a man, even expected. Islam itself sanctioned four wives, just as it had sanctioned divorce. So easy for a man to release himself: talak, talak, talak, the one word pronounced thrice to undo an entire existence. (77)
This traditional double standard of sexual morality which Layla deplores is of course not unique to Islam.
Gender Ideologies Regarding Male and Female Sexuality There is a substantial body of Indian and western feminist theory elaborating the centrality of sexuality in maintaining women’s subordination. In many respects, there is much common ground between the views of western and Indian feminists, both of whom have attacked the double standard of morality which has historically entitled men to sexual freedoms denied to women (Jackson and Scott 1996, Jain 1998, Nabar 1995). As Jackson and Scott point out, this double standard has divided women themselves into two categories: “the respectable madonna and the rebarbative whore” (1996, 3)—a binary construction critiqued by Indian feminists as well (e.g. Kakar 1989). In particular, Jyoti Puri has examined the notion of sexual respectability which, when internalised by women, can become “an instrument of social control over their gendered bodies and sexualities” (1999, 77). She argues that “normative descriptions of premarital chastity appear to be central to what counts as sexual respectability for…middle-class women” (1999, 115). Puri and others have also noted that in India the honor of the family is centrally located in the behaviour of women: “Izzat [family honour] seems to be a female-linked commodity. Its preservation is incumbent upon women’s behaviour alone” (Nabar 1995, 115). The paradox here is that according to Puri, Indian ideology “does not indicate active, desiring female sexualities but views young girls and women as the objects or victims of male sexuality” (1999, 78). In the western context, too, Jackson and Scott have argued that: “Within dominant discourses,
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men are cast as the active initiators of sexual activity and women as passive recipients of male advances; men’s desires are seen as uncontrollable urges that women are paradoxically expected both to satisfy and to restrain.” (1996, 17–18) In Zeenuth Futehally’s 1951 novel Zohra we have seen examples of the enforcement of “modesty” for unmarried girls, not only through purdah but also through customs which prohibit them from showing too much interest in their own weddings. In Attia Hosain’s short story “The Street of the Moon” (1953), it is suggested that this enforced female modesty is not limited to elite families, and indeed the injunctions to the village bride amount to a parody of feminine demureness as public display. Despite their positions as servants in the same household, Hasina was not permitted to see Kalloo or talk to him during the engagement: She sat near her mother or Mughlani and had to hang her head shyly if her marriage was mentioned. She did not do so at first, but her mother had said she would be beaten if she were shameless. (34) [On the wedding day] Mughlani said with wise authority, “Listen to me child. You will be a woman soon and must behave well with modesty. The Kazi will ask you three times whether you will marry Kalloo Mian. Now don’t you be shameless, like these modern educated girls, and shout gleefully ‘Yes.’ Be modest and cry softly and say ‘Hoon.’ Then he will come back after asking the bridegroom and tell you you are married. Then you must cry loudly.” (37)
These ostentatious displays of demureness were evidently intended to emphasize the bride’s respectability and to distinguish her from the type of woman her husband was tacitly allowed to sleep with—but not to marry. Indeed, in the world of Zeenuth Futehally’s Zohra (1951), infidelity by husbands was tacitly permitted because it was believed that men’s sexual appetites were stronger than women’s, and the “dancing girls” were an institution that facilitated male philandering: The Nawab Sahib’s deep affection [for his wife] had never really wavered, but flushed with wine, he had occasionally been unable to resist the languorous grace and enticing glances of the dancing girls who sometimes enlivened men’s parties. He had genuinely repented such lapses afterwards.
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“Begum, only a man can understand what temptation means. But all that is ancient history. Cut short your memories.” (13)
Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961), too, emphasizes the debauchery of some (privileged) men and the occasional power of their wives to curb it. In that novel, we are told by the narrator that: [The Raja Hasan Ahmed of Amirpur] had his zenana guarded by negro eunuchs. When he had succeeded his parsimonious father he had lived riotously, emulating the legendary excesses of the late kings. It was said that he had made naked women roll the length of the throne-room in a race for a bag of gold sovereigns; that he, copying kings, had played chess in the courtyard with nude girls and youths as pieces. But after the death of his first wife, to whom he was married at the age of twelve, he had married the present Rani, and curbed his sensual extravagances—or rather, she had made him do so. (33)
All of the literary texts call attention to the tendency, in all levels of society, for women to be seen as temptresses who are solely responsible for sexual misconduct. In Zeenuth Futehally’s Zohra (1951), Bashir says to his sister Safia, “Since you are so anxious to know, I confess I did make a fool of myself once. But that was a long time back, when I was fresh in England and didn’t know the ways of women” (27). In Attia Hosain’s story “The Street of the Moon” (1953), we are told that Kalloo’s wife Hasina ran away with Husnoo (one of the other servants), having been “attracted by his deliberate seduction” (52). She was of course blamed for this seduction, and “when Husnoo returned contrite and self-conscious after a month, and his father had got him back into service as a reward for his long years of work, Kalloo bore him no grudge” (55). There was no question of Hasina returning, and none of the other characters really knew what happened to her. Similarly, in Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961) there is gossip about an elopement for which the girl is blamed and only the boy is eventually forgiven: “When the foolish boy’s money was spent, he yielded to pressure and abandoned the girl. Her parents refused to take her back” (133). The later novels extend the scope of this feminist critique, and Samina Ali’s 2004 novel Madras on Rainy Days, in particular, interrogates
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patriarchal society’s fraught relationship with the female body. As we have seen, it begins with the conflict between Layla and her family over her arranged (read: forced) marriage and then continues with detailed descriptions of a lavish wedding that only adds to her despair. Despite the grand scale of this wedding, the private unhappiness it brings to the bride and groom is expressed and magnified by Sameer’s inability to consummate the marriage. Blaming herself, Layla is only too grateful not to be “thrown out” by Sameer, who knows that she is not a virgin, having found the letters from her lover in America. Although she resents the traditional “double standard” of sexual morality, Layla had feared the consequences of her premarital sexual experience being revealed: “If [Sameer] threw me out, it would mean that he found me unsuitable. And an unsuitable wife here, by Old City laws, was a whore, so by those same laws, her father had a right to kill her” (49). If Layla’s premarital sexual experience is taboo in this traditional milieu, so too is Sameer’s homosexuality, which he keeps secret even from the unsuspecting Layla, though many readers will discern this fact about Sameer before it is revealed in the narrative. Hints are provided through the combination of his impotence, his secretiveness, his frequent and unexplained absences, and above all the behaviour of his close friend Naveed who frequently turns up unexpectedly whenever Layla and Sameer leave the home together. And if the feminist criticism in this novel is overt and powerful, the implicit criticism of the ways in which patriarchal society oppresses homosexual men is more muted. Many readers will be struck by Layla’s naiveté before finding out about Sameer’s homosexuality, as well as her subsequent lack of empathy for his predicament. Filled with shame, Sameer is torn between wanting to love Layla, wanting to stay in India with his secret boyfriend Naveed whom he has loved for years, and wanting to escape to the United States where he will perhaps no longer have to hide his homosexuality. On the other hand, Layla’s exclusive focus on herself is not unusual in an eighteen-year-old, and her despair over her own situation is understandable, particularly because she has fallen in love with Sameer, who can still go out for clandestine meetings with his lover while she herself is incarcerated in the marital
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home. “As a woman, I had but one option,” she reflects, “to spend my life with my husband, untouched, uncomplaining. These were Old City ethics. Die for not being a virgin, die for marrying the wrong kind of man” (257). Informed of Sameer’s homosexuality, a sympathetic friend offers bitter but realistic advice to Layla: “People will blame you, Layla-bebe. They will say you made him into the man he is, that you weren’t enough to satisfy him, so he was forced the other way. Whatever you do now, you must be careful to look compassionate. You’re a woman. And no matter what Islam says about such men, it’s still your reputation that will get harmed.” (247)
Layla is also acutely aware of the simple but crucial fact that whereas men can hide their homosexuality, women cannot hide their gender. Indeed, there are still such strong prejudices against homosexuality in India that the vast majority of gay men are “married and living with their wives, reflecting the cultural situation in South Asian countries, which obliges all men and women to marry members of the opposite sex” (Thappa et al. 2008, 60). In Islam, the disapproval of homosexuality is both culturally and religiously sanctioned, and Asifa Siraj has argued that “by not discussing homosexuality…the Muslim community implicitly believes that it does not exist or that it is merely ‘a symptom of westernization’” (2006, 214). Given this belief that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice rather than an inborn orientation, a woman in Layla’s position can be blamed for failing to “cure” her husband of his homosexual behaviour. Thus we are left in no doubt about the author’s view that if this patriarchal society oppresses homosexual men, it oppresses women even more.
Conclusion In common with works by other anglophone Indian women writers, marriage is a central concern in each of these literary texts by Indian Muslim women. Marriage is shown to shape the lives of the female protagonists, and the unquestioned assumption that all women—and indeed all men—must marry is evident in each text. Although wid-
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ows are often portrayed in Indian English fiction, the only prominent Indian woman novelist to portray a significant number of major female characters who never marry is Anita Desai, whose “spinsters” include Ila Das in Fire on the Mountain (1977), Bim in Clear Light of Day (1980), and Uma in Fasting, Feasting (1999). Other notable single females in well-known literary works by Indian women novelists include Sonali in Nayantara Sahgal’s Rich Like Us (1985) and Baby Kochamma in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things (1997). However, these unmarried women are presented as anomalies, and they do not appear in any of the texts by the Muslim women writers under consideration. Interestingly, the debate between the merits of arranged marriages and “love marriages” is most evident in the earlier novels, particularly Zeenuth Futehally’s Zohra (1951) and Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961). This is partly explained by the fact that for young women in purdah, the distinction between these two types of arrangement would be more clear-cut than, say, the situation in Shama Futehally’s Tara Lane (1993), in which the protagonist at least has the opportunity to meet her prospective bridegroom and accept or decline the marriage offer. No such choice is given to Layla in Madras on Rainy Days (2004) whose “consent” to her arranged marriage is, in effect, a forced consent. In the earlier novels, although consent is not forced from the bride, it is expected that she will accept her parents’ choice of a husband whom she will not meet before the wedding ceremony itself. While these literary texts by Muslim women have much in common with those of other anglophone Indian women writers, perhaps their most striking distinguishing feature is that of the sustained wedding narrative. This is a prominent element in the fictional writing of each of the authors under consideration: Zeenuth Futehally, Attia Hosain, Shama Futehally, and Samina Ali. In this context, a particularly notable motif is that of the bride as objectified spectacle—a trope also presented in Nayantara Sahgal’s Rich Like Us, in which the protagonist resolves never to marry, for the brides seemed to her like prisoners, with their clothes like tents, their jewellery like chains and their postures submissive (1985, 54).
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For several decades, one of the most common thematic concerns of Indian women writers of all backgrounds has been the unequal power dynamics within marriages. Some of the major anglophone female writers exploring this theme include Kamala Markandaya, Nayantara Sahgal, Anita Desai, Shashi Deshpande, and Arundhati Roy. Examining the fictional treatment of this area by their Muslim female compatriots, we have found a range of approaches. While the earlier novels—Zeenuth Futehally’s Zohra (1951) and Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961)—do show some examples of (limited) power on the part of elite wives, the other texts invariably emphasize male authority and female deference in their fictional portrayals of Indian marriages. This dynamic is particularly prominent in Attia Hosain’s short stories from her Phoenix Fled collection, as well as all of Shama Futehally’s fictional texts: Tara Lane (1993), Reaching Bombay Central (2002), and her short story “Frontiers” (2006), each of which narrates the interactions between husbands and wives in some detail, clearly demonstrating the gendered power relationship to be strikingly unequal. While Shama Futehally’s Tara Lane portrays marriage as an institution which systematically excludes women from power within the family and within the economy, Samina Ali’s Madras on Rainy Days (2004) focuses on patriarchal control of women’s bodies. Indeed, her narrator sees arranged marriage as an institutionalized form of female trafficking. Thus, all of these texts, in common with other fiction by Indian women writers, implicitly support the radical feminist view that women’s oppression is located primarily within the family. However, domestic violence, which features in the fictional work of many other Indian women writers (Markandaya, Sahgal, Desai, Deshpande, Roy) is notably absent from the texts under consideration by Muslim women writers. So too are concerns about dowry and, of course, explicitly Hindu gender ideologies of female self-sacrifice as expressed in the Ramayana and other Hindu sacred texts. Interestingly, polygamy, which is often associated in the popular mind with Islam, is presented in the earlier novels as an archaic practice and ignored altogether in the later works, in keeping with the lived reality of the vast majority of Muslim women in India.
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In terms of the thematic treatment of sexuality, there is much common ground between Muslim and non-Muslim female fictional writers. Many of the earlier and later texts call attention to the traditional double standard of sexual morality, whereby premarital chastity and marital fidelity is expected of “respectable” women, while male philandering (even by married men) with women who are not deemed respectable is tacitly permitted. Interestingly, Shama Futehally avoids these issues altogether in her fictional writing, while Samina Ali focuses on them quite explicitly. Some would view her inclusion of a homosexual character in Madras on Rainy Days (2004) as a bold thematic strategy, but my own view is that Sameer functions more as a device to show how oppressed Layla is in her arranged marriage than to interrogate the patriarchal oppression of homosexuals in India. While the narrative details of Madras on Rainy Days contrast with the more discreet treatment of marriage and sexuality in the earlier novels and short stories, the strong feminist criticism in each of these literary texts is difficult to ignore.
References Al-Hibri, Azigah and Raha El Habti. “Islam.” Sex, Marriage, and the Family in World Religions, edited by Don Browning et al., Columbia University Press, 2006, pp. 150–225. Ali, Kecia. “Marriage, Family, and Sexual Ethics.” The Islamic World, edited by Andrew Rippin, Routledge, 2008, pp. 611–623. Ali, Samina. Madras on Rainy Days. Piatkus, 2004. Calderini, Simonetta. “Women, Gender and Human Rights.” The Islamic World, edited by Andrew Rippin, Routledge, 2008, pp. 624–637. Desai, Anita. Clear Light of Day. Vintage, 1980. —. Fasting, Feasting. Vintage, 1999. —. Fire on the Mountain. Vintage, 1977. Deshpande, Shashi. Roots and Shadows. Disha, 1983. —. That Long Silence. Penguin, 1988. Futehally, Shama. Frontiers: Collected Stories. Penguin, 2006. —. Reaching Bombay Central. Penguin, 2002. —. Tara Lane. Ravi Dayal, 1993. Futehally, Zeenuth. Zohra. Oxford University Press, 2004 (originally published 1951). Hasan, Zoya and Ritu Menon. Unequal Citizens: A Study of Muslim Women in India. Oxford University Press, 2004.
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Hassan, Riffat. “The Issue of Man-Woman Equality in the Islamic Tradition.” Women and Men’s Liberation: Testimonies of Spirit, edited by Leonard Grob et al., Greenwood Press, 1991, pp. 65–82. Hosain, Attia. Phoenix Fled and Other Stories. Virago, 1988 (Chatto & Windus, 1953). —. Sunlight on a Broken Column. Chatto & Windus, 1961. Jackson, Stevi and Sue Scott, Feminism and Sexuality. Edinburgh University Press, 1996. Jain, Naresh. Women in Indo-Anglian Fiction: Tradition and Modernity. Manohar, 1998. Kakar, Sudhir. Intimate Relations: Exploring Indian Sexuality. Penguin, 1989. Kaul, R. K. and Jasbir Jain. Attia Hosain: A Diptych Volume. Rawat, 2001. Kuortti, Joel. “Women Will Find Ways of Breaking Out” (interview with Futehally). Tense Past, Tense Present: Women Writing in English, edited by Joel Kuortti, Stree, 2003, pp. 66–94. Maqsood, R. W. “Muslim Weddings.” 2009. www.bbc.uk/religion/religions/ ritesrituals/weddings.shtml Mernissi, Fatima. Women and Islam: An Historical and Theological Enquiry. Blackwell, 1991 (French original 1987). Nabar, Vrinda. Caste as Woman. Penguin, 1995. Narain, Vrinda. Reclaiming the Nation: Muslim Women and the Law of India. University of Toronto Press, 2008. Prinja, N. K. “Hindu Weddings.” 2009. www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/ritesrituals/ weddings.shtml Puri, Jyoti. Woman, Body, Desire in Post-colonial India. Routledge, 1999. Roy, Arundhati. The God of Small Things. Flamingo, 1997. Sahgal, Nayantara. Rich Like Us. Sceptre, 1985. Siraj, Asifa. “On Being Homosexual and Muslim: Conflicts and Challenges.” Islamic Masculinities, edited by Lahoucine Ouzgane, Zed Books, 2006, pp. 202–216. Thappa, D.M. et al. “Homosexuality in India.” Indian Journal of Sexually Transmitted Diseases and AIDS, vol. 29, no. 2, 2008, pp. 59–62.
Gender and Social Class
Introduction Like other social relationships, the concept of social class is not always easy to describe, not least because of its variable nature in different societies at different times. The importance, the structure, and even the meaning attached to social class varies too, but in the Indian context it must be distinguished from caste—a Hindu concept not generally applicable to Muslims. Some analysts emphasize the economic aspects of social class, identifying it as a system of “social divisions based on the unequal distribution of economic resources. People are grouped into different classes according to their relative position in an economically- based hierarchy” (Pilcher and Whelehan 2004, 13). Others expand the concept of class beyond the merely economic, arguing that “class is not in fact an economic relation per se but a social relation which involves forms of social organisation and cultural modes of expression related to production and consumption processes” (Anthias 2001, 846). All are agreed that class is but one of several dynamics of inequality which are in constant interplay with one another. This chapter examines the interplay between gender and social class which is much in evidence in the fiction of Muslim Indian women writing in English.
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In India, English has traditionally been the language of the elite. Perhaps the seeds of change for future generations have been planted now that every schoolchild in India is learning basic English and Hindi in addition to his/her regional language. However, as Aatish Taseer has recently reminded us, proficiency in English remains a key signifier of social class in India, where deficiency in this skill is often a barrier to professional success (2015). Many postcolonial literary scholars have been uneasily aware of this situation. For instance, in my own study of Indian women writing in English (2010), I have found it necessary to emphasize the elite class position of the writers because it inevitably influences their literary vision, particularly in a markedly hierarchical society. Other components of identity are significant too, including religious community, region, and caste, all of which criss-cross and overlap with social class. However, there can be a danger of over-emphasizing these factors because, to put it simply, an elite perspective is not necessarily synonymous with an elitist perspective. As emphasized in the introduction, Muslim women writing in English are in a somewhat exceptional position in India. Proportionately fewer Muslims than Hindus are from an elite social class and educated in English. This applies especially to women, whose educational opportunities still tend to lag behind those of men, particularly among the non-elite. Therefore, in many ways the four authors under consideration have more in common with their Hindu counterparts (such as Nayantara Sahgal, Anita Desai, and Shashi Deshpande) than with the vast majority of Muslim women in India. It is notable that among these writers, Shashi Deshpande (a personal friend of the late Shama Futehally) has been the most concerned with exploring the intersections between gender and social class in her fiction. These issues are central in the fiction of Attia Hosain and Shama Futehally, each of whom has written one novel exploring the paradoxical position of Muslim Indian women privileged by their social class and disadvantaged by their gender, as well as a collection of short stories exploring the perspectives of less privileged female characters. This chapter compares the ways in which the intersections of gender and social class are handled in the fiction of the four writers, examining in turn: gender and aristocratic culture in the earlier texts;
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the portrayal of domestic servants; class guilt and class tensions; and the paradoxical position of elite women in India.
Gender and Aristocratic Culture in the Fiction of Attia Hosain and Zeenuth Futehally Some contextual material on the family background of Attia Hosain is necessary for a fuller understanding of the relevant issues, not least because of the parallels between her own life and that of her narrator- protagonist Laila in Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961). Hosain was born in 1913 in Lucknow, described by Vrinda Nabar as “a city which even today retains some of the old nawabi ambience of the Mughal period. Lucknow has always been associated with the culture and mannered patterns of behaviour that marked a life lived in courts and feudal Muslim households” (2000, 24). Like her protagonist Laila, Hosain herself grew up in a wealthy, aristocratic family of taluqdars, “a class that owned much of the land in the region outright and ruled—like the zamindars elsewhere—almost as feudal lords under the British, paying taxes to the empire but administering the domains themselves” (Brians 2003, 75). As the daughter of the Taluqdar of Oudh, Attia Hosain was a person of some status. Lucknow was the capital of Oudh, a large, well-to-do province in which the taluqdars functioned as intermediaries between the British colonizers and the peasants and small landowners. As such, their future was rendered uncertain by the movement for national independence: As the anticolonial, nationalist struggle gained strength, the taluqdars had to come to terms with the steady erosion of their powers underwritten by colonial rule in the first place. In addition Muslim taluqdars had to come to terms with what it meant to be a Muslim in a previously Muslim-ruled but now largely Hindu dominated India. Should they stay on in an independent India with, perhaps, diminished power and rights? Should they join the Muslim League, support its demands for a separate but distant Muslim state, and after independence move to Pakistan? (Needham 1993, 101)
All of these issues are debated by the characters and dramatized in the narrative of Sunlight on a Broken Column, in which we also see the
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effects of changing gender ideologies among the elite in India at this time. Traditionally, upper-class Hindu and Muslim women had observed purdah (seclusion within the home), and the most well-to-do households had separate quarters for men and women. “The antahpur or zenana (in Urdu) was the women’s sphere, and in the large structures and palatial buildings or havelis, there were often open spaces, secluded gardens, etc., for the women to get fresh air or exercise” (Channa 2013, 44). The word “purdah”, which derives from a Persian word meaning “curtain”, has traditionally been associated with class privilege. Sonalde Desai and Gheda Temsah have pointed out that even today: In most parts of South Asia, regardless of religion, women’s seclusion from the public gaze is seen as a sign of superior social status. This seclusion is established and maintained in many different ways. Physical shielding of one’s face—veiling—is but one instance…. Staying away from public places such as bazaars or movie theaters, not venturing outside the home unless accompanied, and not participating in the labor force are some other ways of maintaining seclusion. (2014, 2311)
Thus, purdah practices in India have varied over time and between regions, ranging from restrictions on women’s mobility to total incarceration within the home. At the same time, the colonial encounter gradually led to (uneven) changes as many western-educated elite men were influenced by European gender ideologies. Beginning in 1835, the British colonial government had enacted a deliberate strategy of providing a western-style education with English as the language of instruction for elite Indian males who were being groomed to assist in the administration of the colony. The top achievers among them were sent to Oxford or Cambridge, where they were inevitably influenced by “western” ideas which spread gradually (and unevenly) among this elite class throughout India. The effect of these cultural developments on the women in their families was uneven too. Partha Chatterjee (1989) has written about the ways in which women during the nationalist movement were often constructed as the bearers of so-called “traditional” Indian culture within the home, while the men in their families were obliged to be more “westernized” in order to function professionally within
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the British-dominated institutions of colonial India. To some extent, this dichotomy has persisted in postcolonial India, and Indian feminist writers have frequently drawn attention to the greater latitude given to Indian males for so-called “westernization”, as we shall see. However, even before independence in 1947, many upper-class Indian families were ensuring that their daughters as well as their sons were educated in English. In most cases, this was not to equip daughters for independence and self-determination, but rather to render them suitable partners for their western-educated husbands and effective transmitters of upper-class language, manners, and culture to their children. Attia Hosain herself, like her character Laila, spent her early life more or less in purdah at home, where the women’s quarters were separate, as they are in Sunlight on a Broken Column. However, she and her sisters did not observe the practice of purdah when they went out, and Hosain was educated at the prestigious La Martiniere School and later at Isabella Thoburn College. Like many progressive elite Muslim men of his generation, Hosain’s Cambridge-educated father “considered the education of girls to be crucial to both their marriageability and to the cultural capital of the family” (Burton 2003, 108). At this time: Elite Muslim men saw the need for more formally educated wives as social companions and political allies. In an effort to meet this need and counter the influence of Christian missionary schools and Hindu revivalists, [elite] Muslim women were now encouraged to be educated in institutions (albeit, gender-segregated) outside the home. Hence, as this epistemological shift suggests, attitudes to educational reform in the Muslim community were not adopted with an eye to women’s emancipation…, but to serve the needs of an evolving patriarchal upper middle class. (Didur 2006, 103–104)
Nor was this trend unique to the Muslim community. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, a class of gentry had been emerging among India’s English-educated elite of every religious community “modelled on the premises of the British gentleman and its counterpart, the lady” (Channa 2013, 42). Thus, what is shown in Rabrindranath Tagore’s Ghare Baire—the British governess being employed to teach the young wife English, piano and singing—was “common enough in aristocratic homes where the norm of high-born women not stepping out of the
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antahpur was complemented with educating her and making her accomplished in the arts of the English ladies” (Channa 2013, 54). However, there was much debate—sometimes even within families—about what the nature and extent of women’s education should be. In Sunlight on a Broken Column, for instance, Laila receives an academic education at an elite girls’ school followed by a local university, while her cousin Zahra, the “good Muslim girl”, is expected to marry early after a domestic education. According to her aunt, she has “read the Quran, she knows her religious duties; she can sew and cook, and at the Muslim school she learned a little English, which is what young men want now” (Hosain 1961, 24). In addition to the tension created by conflicting ideas about women’s education, the exposure of the Indian elite to the British colonizers was also at times a source of tension, not least because of competing hierarchies of race and social class. This is evident, for instance, in Laila’s wincing at the crass arrogance of her British former governess, Mrs Martin, who tries to claim her as a protégé. Evidently taking it for granted that even a common Englishwoman like herself is superior to all Indians, Mrs Martin clumsily states that “as for dear Lily’s father, well, he was just like one of us” (48). While not wishing to condone class snobbery, I would suggest that it could sometimes be an understandable psychological defence against the obscene racism to which even the Indian aristocracy were at times subjected during the Raj. Perhaps the best illustration of this in Sunlight on a Broken Column is Laila’s justifiably sarcastic reply when asked whether she knew that taluqdari families had a right to audience with the king: “I wonder whether that knowledge would have helped me when the king’s groom’s grand-daughter called me ‘nigger’ at school and refused to play with me?” (147) Hosain’s nuanced awareness of the ways in which British social class issues and the anglicization of the Indian elite could complicate gender relationships in India is evident in several stories in her Phoenix Fled collection, particularly “The First Party” and “Time Is Unredeemable”. One source of tension was the conflicting expectations to which upper-class Indian women were subjected at this time. Unlike their male counterparts, they were not educated in England, and many
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of them were still secluded within the home. Yet they were often expected to appear “westernized” at social engagements with their husbands while maintaining Indian cultural traditions at home. According to Subhadra Mitra Channa, elite Indian men wanted wives who were mostly housebound but also “accomplished in the arts of the English ladies” in order to reinforce the status of their husbands (2013, 54): “No matter how highly placed a man was, to have at his household an uneducated and ‘rustic’ wife would definitely place him at a social ladder [sic] lower than that of a man with a cultivated wife” (80). “The First Party” explores the painful feelings of a traditional Indian wife suddenly expected to exhibit western-style “sophistication” at a party with her more westernized husband. The wife feels out place at the party, wrongly dressed, and above all shocked by the drinking and dancing. Her shyness, anger, defensiveness, and confusion are described in a detached way, without much sympathy by a third-person narrator who seems to view her attitudes as “backward”. R. K. Kaul has a slightly different interpretation of the situation, arguing that “the story does not blame, it merely states” and that although the experience is traumatic, it “does not necessarily make her feel inferior. She measures it against her religious training and feels a sense of anger as her husband goes on drinking, and the women sway their hips to the music of the record.” (2001, 126) I would suggest, however, that the protagonist’s feelings are more complex than this. At times she does feel inferior: She wondered how it felt to hold a cigarette with such self-confidence; to flick the ash with such assurance. (17) She found the bi-lingual patchwork distracting, and its pattern, familiar to others, with allusions and references unrelated to her own experiences, was distressingly obscure. (18) Her bright rich clothes and heavy jewellery oppressed her when she saw the simplicity of their clothes. (18)
Moreover, she is characterized by the narrator as narrow and judgmental, particularly in her angry reaction to behaviour which is alien to her experience:
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It was wicked, it was sinful to drink, and she could not forgive him. (19) The disgusting, shameless hussies, bold and free with men, their clothes adorning nakedness not hiding it…. She fed her resentment with every possible fault her mind could seize on…. These women who were her own kind, yet not so, were wicked, contemptible, grotesque mimics of the foreign ones among them for whom she felt no hatred because from them she expected nothing better. (19–20)
Bano in “Time Is Unredeemable”, similarly faced with a more westernized husband, emerges as a more sympathetic character. This is the story of a young Indian wife whose husband is away studying in England for several years. Even before the denouement which reveals the couple to be irreconcilably estranged from each other as a result of their radically different life experiences during the husband’s absence, the third-person narrator’s disapproval of the arrangements is evident: Bano was sixteen when she was married to a reluctant Arshad a month before he sailed to England. In that brief, busy month she accepted the young stranger, barely two years older than herself, as the very focus of her being…. For two years after her marriage Bano’s life was pleasant enough because there was no questioning of its circumscribed character. She was isolated from the outside world not only by physical seclusion but by mental oblivion. (59)
Wishing to impress her husband upon his return from England, Bano decides to learn some English and buy some new clothes. However, when she chooses the amiable but “common” Mrs Ram to teach her English and take her shopping, her unawareness of British class differences is bound to combine unfortunately with her husband’s newly acquired western-style polish: Her father-in-law, who considered himself a man of liberal ideas, was pleased when Bano decided to learn English from his old friend Hari Ram’s English wife. Of Mrs Ram’s shortcomings as a teacher, her dropped aitches, her ungrammatical colloquialisms, Bano was unaware; she was conscious only of the fact that Mrs Ram could help her prove to Arshad that she was not like the other girls in the family, ignorant and old-fashioned. (60)
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Predictably, Arshad, upon his return, is unimpressed with poor Bano’s “thickened waist” (74), her cheap, ill-fitting new clothes, and her inexpertly applied makeup. These superficial details point to a more profound rift between them because Arshad is already feeling that he and Bano are “like strangers” to each other (76). Far from judging her harshly, Arshad “felt a tender pity, which covered him and drove him to helpless anger against himself, his homecoming, his father, his mother, everyone” (75). Bano’s feelings, too, are sensitively conveyed, and the social criticism here is difficult to ignore. The author herself appears to be pointing to the potentially tragic consequences of husbands and wives having very different opportunities and experiences, but other interpretations are possible. Some might see the story as a demonstration of the corrupting effects of “westernization” on the Indian elite, arguing that Arshad’s English education and lifestyle during his years abroad had inculcated him with ideologies of individual fulfilment which caused him to disregard his family duties. An alternative interpretation would point to the pernicious effects of women’s seclusion and dependency, while others might emphasize the role of image in the construction of the modern anglicized Indian bourgeoisie. All would probably agree that the story points to the profoundly destabilizing effects of contested, inconsistent, and rapidly changing gender ideologies among the westernized elite in India—an issue which is as relevant today as it was during the mid-twentieth century when these stories were published. As influential as the colonial encounter was, independence and partition inevitably wrought profound ongoing changes in Indian society and culture, in addition to the obvious political and economic changes. In writing of the history of this period, Vrinda Nabar has referred to …the several socioeconomic changes that became part of free India’s move toward what was called a “socialistic” pattern of development. New laws made the old feudal structures impotent…. The more tangible changes were the new land laws, the curbing of landlord and princely privileges, and the gradual emergence of other hegemonic forces in the socioeconomic and sociocultural structure. (2000, 123)
The beginnings of these changes can be seen in Sunlight on a Broken Column, in which “eventually, as did many families, Saira and Hamid had
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to accept the constitutional abolition of their feudal existence. Kemal was forced to sell the house.” (Burton 2003, 130) Looking back on this bygone feudal lifestyle, Laila’s social criticism is tempered by a heavy dose of nostalgia. The narrative features lovingly detailed descriptions of the beautiful house, its exquisite furnishings, and the luxurious lifestyle of the privileged occupants: On the starched white tablecloth, red roses in a silver bowl splashed their violent beauty. Light from the delicate chandelier was warm on rosewood, glittered on silver and copper, glimmered on crystal and glass, lay softly on china plates and the paintings on the ivory walls, and deepened the folds of lime-green damask curtains. (232–233)
Years later, when Laila visits the now dilapidated house which no longer belongs to her family, the contrast between these beautiful memories and the ugliness that the intervening years have wrought is difficult to ignore: Tattered settlements for refugees had erupted on once open spaces. Ugly buildings had sprung up, conceived by ill-digested modernity and the hasty needs of a growing city. (270) A low fence of crude wooden poles and straggling wire cut off the main house from the garden in front of the rooms where my aunts and the women servants had once lived. (271)
These aesthetic responses are accompanied by a sympathetic insight into the feelings of Laila’s Uncle Hamid witnessing “the gradual crumbling of all his dreams and ambitions” (282): Politically, he had fought a losing battle against new forces that were slowly and inexorably destroying the rights and privileges in which he had believed. Socially, he had seen that way of life going to pieces which he had cultivated so carefully; the new ruling class either derided it as a slavish copy of the British, or simply were ignorant of its conventions and had no wish to learn. (282)
Anuradha Dingwaney Needham notes that Laila’s assessments in these passages are a function of her situating herself within Hamid’s world,
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occupying a position she both shares and criticizes: “Laila presents herself as an onlooker who watches, listens, absorbs, and remains open to competing claims.” (1993, 102) This is evident, for instance, in her earlier observation of Aunt Abida’s dealings with the local peasants: It was a source of wonder to me that she sanctioned gifts of wood and loans for weddings and funerals with the same detachment with which she ordered the ejection of those who had not paid their rents, or the digging up of their mud huts if built without permission. (60)
Again, Laila’s sympathetic but critical attitude toward the feudal order is perhaps best summed up in her reflections on its passing: At the end of a long, legal struggle landowners had to accept the fact that their feudal existence had been abolished constitutionally as swiftly as the revolution they had always feared. Hundreds of thousands of families were faced with the necessity of changing habits of mind and living conditioned by centuries, hundreds of thousands of landowners and the hangers-on who had once lived on their largesse, their weaknesses and their follies. (277)
Zeenuth Futehally’s novel Zohra (1951) presents a similar vision of a recollected feudal past in late colonial Hyderabad, the largest and wealthiest of colonial India’s five hundred princely states. According to Ambreen Hai: The city of Hyderabad was founded by Sultan Muhammed Quli Qutb Shah in 1589 on the banks of the Musi River…. At Independence in 1947, Mir Osman Ali Khan, the last Nizam, as a Muslim ruler over a majority Hindu population, refused to join the Indian Union, but was forced to integrate in 1948, after the Indian government sent in its army. (2013, 322)
During the time period spanned by the narrative of Zohra (1919–1935), Zohra’s family is part of a Muslim minority urban elite ruling over a multiethnic and multireligious but predominantly agricultural Hindu majority. Unlike Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column, Zeenuth Futehally’s Zohra does not explore the changes wrought by independence, but both novels chronicle the coming-of-age of an independent-
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minded young woman in an elite Muslim family in late colonial India. Like Laila in Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column, the young Zohra is confined to purdah except while attending school, where she benefits from an academic education which is in many ways at odds with the traditional values within her home environment. Inwardly questioning but outwardly compliant, Zohra consents to an early arranged marriage which puts an end to her formal education, though she continues to read and to take an active interest in the wider world, particularly the dynamic political situation in India during the years leading up to its independence. And again like Laila, the adult Zohra is still pampered and protected in many ways but no longer confined to purdah.
Domestic Servants Intrinsic to the feudal order is the notion of noblesse oblige, described by Rajeswari Sunder Rajan as an attitude of “paternalism towards those of lesser privilege, born out of feelings of responsibility (and sometimes guilt)” (2013, 62). Its limitations are obvious: it perpetuates a system of inequality while softening some of its effects. Often a sense of noblesse oblige appears to be most strongly felt by privileged people who are in regular and direct contact with their dependents—for example, in the case of household servants. As exemplified in Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961), the women in purdah often developed close relationships with their servants, and it was through these lower-class women that they had a glimpse of the outside world. In this novel, for instance, the two daughters of the house confide in Nandi and are pampered by Salimam Bua, Hakimam Bua, and the older women. Commenting on women and their servants in another context, Channa notes that “there was little difference between them except that of wealth, which anyway belonged to the men” (2013, 44). One major difference, however, was that female servants could sometimes be sexually exploited not only by their male employers, but also by other men who saw—and continue to see—them as exploitable. As Nandi in Sunlight on a Broken Column laments, “Laila Bitia, you don’t know what life can be for us. We are the prey of every man’s desires” (168). Resisting this situation,
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Nandi had thrown an accurate and sharp stone at the groom of the English family next door, because he had peeped over the wall while she bathed in the enclosure where there was a tap for the women. A few days later she had bitten the postman, saying he had attempted to molest her. (27)
Preyed upon by Uncle Hamid, she is finally sent away for daring to defy him and speak disrespectfully to him after resisting his advances. With the exception of Nandi, the focus of the narrative in Sunlight on a Broken Column is almost exclusively on the privileged characters. However, household servants take centre stage in several of Hosain’s short stories, particularly “The Street of the Moon”, “After the Storm”, “The Daughter-in-Law”, and “The Loss”. The theme of exploitation is a particularly forceful undercurrent in “The Street of the Moon” and “The Daughter-in-Law”. Here, as R. K. Kaul observes, “the servants are underpaid but even as they grumble, they stay on as they learn to be wily in order to extract more out of their employers, but they are not disloyal” (2001, 117). Kalloo’s plight in “The Street of the Moon” is summed up in the first paragraph: Kalloo the cook had worked for the family for more years than he could remember. He had started as the cook’s help, washing dishes, grinding the spices and running errands. When the old cook died of an overdose of opium Kalloo inherited both his job and his taste for opium. His inherent laziness fed by the enervating influence of the drug kept him working for his inadequate pay, because he lacked the energy and the courage to give notice and look for work elsewhere. Moreover, his emotions had grown roots through the years, and he was emotionally attached to the family. (1953, 24)
Thus, Kalloo is shown to be in a vicious circle of poverty, exploitation, opium addiction, and affection (rooted in dependency) for a family who underpay him. If his life choices are limited, those of the young Hasina (the daughter of one of the other servants) are even more so. Brought to the household to be trained as a servant, Hasina is “viewed as a possession or a utility object whose fate can be decided by others. There is nothing she is free to decide—where she lives, where she works, who she marries—none of these decisions is for her to take” (Kaul 2001, 119).
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Deemed to be a useful bride to the widowed Kalloo, the outcome of her arranged marriage to this aged opium addict is not entirely surprising. After much unhappiness, she eventually runs away with Husnoo (one of the other servants), who soon abandons her so that she finally ends up working in a brothel on the Street of the Moon. The traditional double standard of sexual morality is much in evidence here: When Husnoo returned contrite and self-conscious after a month, and his father got him back into service as a reward for his long years of work, Kalloo bore him no grudge…. He had left her because of his father’s threats, and in any case why should he have married such a woman? (55)
“After the Storm” is a brief, enigmatic story told by a first-person narrator who reveals nothing about herself but tells the little she knows about the young servant girl who appears in her room one day. The little girl’s quiet strength and self-respect in the face of a life of hardship and trauma are poignantly evoked through the narrator’s descriptions of her appearance and manner: I could not tell her age. Her assured manner made me feel younger than herself. Her eyes had no memories of childhood. Her body was of a child of nine or ten, but its undernourished thinness was deceptive; she could have been eleven or twelve. There was no telling of how many years of childhood life had robbed her. (79–80) The nails of her peasant hands were worn with work…. She kept her clothes very clean—old, discarded clothes which were cut down for her and hung loosely on her. (80)
This little girl has apparently escaped unimaginable horrors (perhaps associated with partition) which she is reluctant to describe, but the narrator’s questioning gives us a chilling insight into the nature of her experiences. The child insists that she doesn’t know what happened to her mother, and she doesn’t know why she subsequently ran away, but she is clear about someone named Chand Bibi: “Oh, she was brave…. She fought and fought and killed so many of them—then her arm was cut off” (81–82).
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While there is no doubt that Attia Hosain’s fiction exhibits what critics have variously described as “a social conscience” (Kaul 2001, 117) “great compassion” for the plight of the poor (Palkar 1995, 109), and so on, her underprivileged characters are invariably household servants dependent on the benevolence of their employers for their well-being. Moreover, there is sometimes a suggestion that one of the responsibilities of noblesse oblige is to save the poor from being brutalized by one another. This is the case not only in “After the Storm”, in which the little servant girl reports that the heroic Chand Bibi “had a big house” (82), but also in “The Daughter-in-Law”, in which Nasima Begum is apparently the only person who has ever been kind to her servant’s young daughter-in-law Munni. Munni is exploited and ill- treated by her mother-in-law Nasiban, but Nasiban herself is subjected to a more subtle system of exploitation: Nasiban was the fourth Ayah she [Nasima Begum] had interviewed that week and the fourth who seemed suitable…. Her references were excellent, the wages she demanded were mercifully reasonable, and the tone of her voice betrayed an anxiety which encouraged bargaining. (83)
The practice of underpaying household servants while bestowing gifts, favours, and no-longer-wanted clothing on them is explored most fully in “The Loss”. This is the story of the narrator’s awakening to the realities of inequality when her ancient ayah is robbed of the box under her bed containing her life savings: “I saw her poverty and self-denial with intense clarity in the light of her lost savings” (122). Having always taken her ayah for granted, the narrator is suddenly interested in the details of her past life in the household: [Her child] was taken from her breast and fed on cow’s milk so that she should nurse me, and a special maidservant looked after him so that she should devote all her time to me. She was paid eight rupees a month, given three sets of clothes that she should always be clean, special food that her milk should be rich, and on feast days and birthdays she was given presents of money, clothes or gold jewellery. Her child wore my old clothes. She hoarded everything for the day her son would marry and bring home his bride to care for her in her old age.
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When I grew too old for her constant care she was put in charge of the stores and the kitchen. It was responsible and hard work in a household where the smallest number of people to be fed was twenty, as most of the servants were given food as part of their wages. (123–124)
Thus we see the paternalistic attitude of the employers toward their household servants, who are “looked after” in a way that makes them profoundly dependent. The ayah’s savings box, in addition to containing all the fruits of her labour and sacrifices over the years, is her only source of independent security: I saw it now, clearly. It had not been enough, the abstraction of love and respect; it had not made poverty and hard work bearable. The power had been in the little box under the bed. The money and gold had brought her no visible comfort, but were an assurance of it. The rich foundation was gone, and her poor life crumbled. “What am I, robbed of my possessions?” her grief cried. “What am I without mine?” my heart echoed in fearful recognition. (125–126)
The narrator gives the old servant some extra money but, finally aware of the nature and implications of inequality, she reports feeling “ashamed that it meant so little to me and so much to her” (128). The eponymous Zohra in Zeenuth Futehally’s novel expresses a similar sentiment in a unique passage in which she reflects on her own privileged position: “I feel guilty whenever I have to give anything to the poor or the needy. I somehow start thinking what I should feel if, instead of giving I had to receive, and I feel ashamed that I should have this power to embarrass others.” (1951, 229)
Less explicitly concerned with social class than Attia Hosain or Shama Futehally, Zeenuth Futehally nevertheless scatters her narrative with a few wry observations about social hierarchies and the attitudes accompanying them: “Unnie revealed the snobbery of servants working in aristocratic households. Had all the guests been nawabs, no trouble
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would have been too great for her, but for impoverished people, she had only contempt” (18). Of the four authors under consideration, Samina Ali offers perhaps the most nuanced exploration of the often complex nature of the master/ servant—or in this case, mistress/servant—relationship. Early in the narrative of Madras on Rainy Days (2004), Layla is being chauffeured by the family driver with her mother and uncle to an alim in Hyderabad because they are evidently too embarrassed to see a doctor about her persistent female bleeding. Undoubtedly, their embarrassment is also rooted in their anxiety and unacknowledged suspicion about the cause of her bleeding, though Layla discerns that the driver “already knew it all. Servants always did. You couldn’t keep any secrets from them” (12). Evidently the alim, too, suspects that Layla might be trying to abort a pregnancy because he asks her mother why they haven’t seen a doctor and questions them closely about Layla’s life and activities in the United States. Layla the narrator explains the nature and status of the alim and his clients, apparently for the benefit of western readers. We are told that in his residence there are three women wearing “the old-style burkhas with mesh face coverings…and not the more fashionable Iranian chadors that Amme and I did, so I guessed they were poor” (15). She goes on to explain that: Sometimes, when a child became sick, villagers and poor mothers came to these mystics rather than seeking conventional doctors. Alims offered hope, so people sought them out. Faith healers, exorcists, practitioners of black magic, miracle workers, whatever we needed, the alim became, all you had to do was ask—and put forth some money. We all bought our dreams in different ways. (16)
The irony is that Layla and her family too are going to the alim, not because they are poor but because they are perhaps buying the dream that Layla’s malady can be cured without seeing a doctor who would confront them with the truth. In Madras on Rainy Days many of the poorer characters like the alim and the household servants are shown to be wiser, more intuitive, and often more compassionate than their more well-to-do counterparts. Layla expresses mixed feelings about this. At times she appreciates their down-to-earth sagacity and seeks out their help and advice. At
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other times—particularly when she does not wish to face what they know about her—she resents their very presence: Nafiza served chai, then sat on the floor by the door, out of my sight, though I could feel her eagerly listening. Cockroaches, that was what servants were, moving about the walls of things, living off the muck of our lives. It was not in her capacity to understand she was doing me in. (141)
It later becomes clear that far from “doing her in”, Nafiza has Layla’s best interests at heart and would rather speak up about her unconsummated marriage than allow it to ruin her life. This directly contradicts Layla’s previous perception of Nafiza as a woman who loved her dearly and yet “knew her place”: “After all, the woman who had breast-fed me, who continued to bathe and dress me, and would do so even after I was married, was also the one who, as a servant, could not question my behaviour” (47). As a young woman in Hyderabad, Layla’s behaviour is constantly under scrutiny, but the narrative distinguishes between the motivations of her family (whose idea of propriety is an early arranged marriage for their daughter), those of her in-laws (who believe that a suitable bride will “cure” their son of homosexuality), and those of her nanny (who is interested only in her happiness). Uneasily aware of the vast income inequality between servants and their employers, Layla wryly reflects on the implications of her father’s intention to give his American shoes to one of the servants before returning to the United States: there will be “a servant doing chores in shoes that cost more than a year’s salary” (40). However, she also praises servant “loyalty” in the context of the abolition of feudal privileges at independence: My nanny had come to work for my maternal grandfather when she was about four, a child who’d been born to villagers on Nana’s land in distant Miryalgurda. During Partition, when the servants and villagers had risen up against my nana, using the chaotic time to claim his haveli, his land, as their own, she had been one of three servants to remain loyal to the family, fleeing with them to Nana’s city cottage in Vijaynagar Colony. (46)
Thus, while Laila in Attia Hosain’s novel reflects on the abolition of feudal privileges as a tragedy for some but also a necessary measure
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in constructing a modern, democratic nation, Samina Ali’s Layla briefly looks back on this as a time when the peasants appropriated land which was not rightfully theirs. On the other hand, she does concede that her nanny Nafiza’s loyalty is based on the fact that she “remembered no family of her own other than ours” (47). Shama Futehally, like Attia Hosain, has emphasized the extra vulnerability of lower-class women to sexual exploitation. As we have seen, the plight of Nandi the servant-girl is an important subplot of Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column. Class-based sexual exploitation is also the central thematic concern of Futehally’s short story “The First Rains”, which explores this issue more explicitly and more directly through the consciousness of a poor girl named Sarita, whose father gets her a job cleaning and cooking in one of the new officers’ quarters near their village. The quality of Sarita’s life is revealed through vivid details about the daily scramble for essential food and water: The women herded themselves around the well like buffaloes. Sarita, clutching her water-pots, was thrust from side to side in a cauldron of knees shoulders breasts. She cried out at them all, as she did every day, as they all did. (Futehally 2006, 99)
Although indoctrinated with ideologies of female “purity” and chastity, young girls like Sarita are also influenced by stories and films featuring the familiar scenario of a poor heroine winning the heart of a kind and wealthy man who saves her from poverty. Understanding that this is a romantic fantasy, Sarita is attracted and horrified in equal measure by the more realistic prospect of seduction by a wealthy man who (she believes) can offer her a more comfortable lifestyle—which she knows would come at the price of her “honor”. The imaginative power of this fantasy is effectively evoked in a conversation between the village girls: Her friend Chandra had told her than in Bombay all the saabs made love to their servants…. “And if you don’t do what they say…finished!” said Chandra, rolling her eyes with all the horror at her command. But her words had set Sarita’s heart racing. (98)
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Already seeing with pleasure the lust in her employer’s eyes, Sarita was feeling “in some obscure way, more powerful than him” (100). Indeed, it is repeatedly emphasized throughout the narrative that the pleasure Sarita derives from the relationship is based on her first (and last) experience of power. The first time the saab led Sarita to his bedroom, “she felt a triumph such as she had never felt before” (101), and “she soon learnt that while she was on the bed with him, she was not his servant” (102). Predictably, the relationship turns out to be short-lived and Sarita’s concomitant feeling of power turns out to be illusory, with tragic consequences. In contrast to her short fiction, the servants in Shama Futehally’s novels are invariably minor characters, apparently devoted to the families they serve, but otherwise unremarkable except for ordinary quirks. For instance, Pushpa in Reaching Bombay Central (2002) is reported to be “sensitive” so that she needs delicate handling by the harried protagonist who employs her. Thus, although Attia Hosain and Shama Futehally make servant characters central in some of their short stories, all four authors tend in their novels to focus on elite characters, confining their portrayal of servants to the perspectives of their employers.
Class Guilt and Class Tensions Class guilt and class tensions are explored most fully in Shama Futehally’s novels Tara Lane (1993) and Reaching Bombay Central (2002). Tara Lane, like Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961), is a coming-of-age novel whose protagonist is a young Muslim woman in an affluent family, coming to terms with the uneasy combination of class privilege, gender disadvantage, and a strong social conscience. As a child, the narrator-protagonist, Tara Mushtaq, becomes vaguely aware that her pleasant and privileged life is underpinned by something not altogether comfortable. The source of the Mushtaq family’s wealth is the factory that is located next to the house, so that the young Tara sees stark contrasts between her own life and that of the factory workers and household servants. Taking a paternalistic attitude toward his dependent employees, Tara’s father completely lives up to the ideals of noblesse oblige: “The source of all good seems to be so entirely
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my father. Mushtaq saab has put up tube-lights in the slum; Mushtaq saab has ordered that an extra tube-well be dug.” (Futehally 1993, 33) Gradually, the consciousness of her father’s sole responsibility for the welfare of so many people makes the young Tara uneasy: “It would have been reassuring to learn that other people were capable of putting up lights; or rather that a whole lot of people did what they were supposed to do.” (33) Here she is already becoming aware of the limitations and dangers of noblesse oblige, not only because it is predicated on inequality but also because of the dependency it fosters among its recipients. Moreover, as Rajeswari Sunder Rajan reminds us, “the obverse of giving—the threat or the actual withholding and even taking away, of favours, gifts, livelihood itself—is a continuous and powerful weapon that the givers exercise against the recipients” (2013, 68). Like Tara Lane, Shama Futehally’s second novel Reaching Bombay Central (2002) is focused on the consciousness of its elite Muslim female protagonist. An equally reflective but more mature woman than the young Tara, Ayesha is on a train journey, and the narrative traces her thoughts, feelings, experiences, and perceptions along the way. Worried that she might be overpaying a porter carrying her luggage at the train station, “she made the murmur of protest which was necessary in case she found herself describing the scene to her husband (‘I’m telling you, I fought with him…’)” (1). Because of her gender-based inhibitions and her air of vulnerability, the porter has the upper hand in this situation: He has spotted a memsaab who is wishing that she had never left home; he has taken possession of her forthwith; he has raced to her compartment with the bedroll on his head; and now he stands before her and announces that he has won. Healthy, sweaty and victorious, he fills the doorway in his faded red shirt. (1)
Tellingly, other passengers subsequently enter the compartment haggling over money with other porters, and each of them ends up paying less than half of what Ayesha has paid. In the context of the narrative, this is more about demonstrating Ayesha’s timidity than about advocating cheap labour as such. More importantly, it points to the complex, multi- dimensional, and continually shifting relationships between gender, power, and social class. Indeed, sometimes gender hierarchy
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takes precedence over class hierarchies, as we shall see in Samina Ali’s Madras on Rainy Days (2004). The porters carrying the luggage onto the train are portrayed as quarrelsome and aggressive with the passengers, whose reactions reveal much about their personalities. Ayesha paid twenty rupees and then “only wanted peace”; the self-confident Brahmin Jayashree Iyer paid six rupees to her porter and then “briskly shut the door in his face” while he was quarrelling (3). Jayashree also firmly settled the pay at ten rupees for a politician accompanied by a nervous young man whose job was apparently to worry about every little thing for the politician, who himself had “a general air of having to worry about nothing” (3). Not worried about people less privileged than himself, the politician remarks that the porters “are always like that…. Whatever you give them, they want more” (4). To some extent, this is an inevitable situation in jobs for which there are no fixed wages; workers whose livelihoods depend on the generosity of customers will naturally try to encourage those customers to be as generous as possible. Consequently, there can be tension and resentment on both sides, often accompanied by mutual distrust and misunderstanding. We are told by the narrator that there are two types of sweeper-boys on trains: those who are employed by the railway and those who are not. If the former asks for a bakhsheesh (tip), and a customer decides to give him one, “it is generosity and not necessity”. If the other type “asks whether he should sweep the floor and you do not refuse smartly, you become, for the next two minutes, his employer” (24). However, there is often disagreement among a group of people sharing a train compartment: One person might wish to employ the boy; another might not; a third might start off without warning on the plight of the poor and hand over three whole rupees as well as leftover bananas. So, when such a boy comes into a full train compartment there is, understandably, a guarded silence. Usually the boy begins to sweep more because no one has succeeded in stopping him than for any other reason. (25)
Acutely sensitive to the embarrassment arising from her own privileged position, Ayesha’s class guilt is also expressed in her responses to the passing scenery:
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When passing a slum, Ayesha always looked unrelentingly at it till it could no longer be seen even from the corner of her eye. She gazed fiercely at the young woman who was washing her baby’s bottom in the stagnant water; …her eyes bored into the aluminium pan out of which a ragged crowd of children was eating. And so, inch by inch, she earned her right to go past the slum and leave it behind her. (7)
Her determination to face the realities of poverty notwithstanding, there are limits to Ayesha’s compassion, as we see in her response to the beggars at a station along the way: “They were all women, ten or twelve young women all pushing and plucking…. And they begged with a harshness she had not come across before…. She stared at their pitiless faces and wondered what sort of note would get rid of them all” (83).
The Paradoxical Position of Elite Women in India A number of Indian women writers—most notably Nayantara Sahgal— have drawn attention to male control of power, privilege, and economic resources within families. Many of Sahgal’s supposedly privileged female protagonists are controlled and manipulated by the men on whom they depend for financial support. In her novels, the single and self-supporting Sonali in Rich Like Us (1985) is the only female character who is portrayed as having control over her own life. This suggests that economic inequality operates not just between social classes, but also within families, so that it is gender-based as well as class-based. Shama Futehally’s Tara Lane (1993) highlights some of the implications of elite women’s dependency. Although Tara grows up to be a well-educated young woman, aware and concerned about the well- being of the servants and factory workers, she has absolutely no stake in the running of the family business, which operates unashamedly as a male preserve. As Shama Futehally herself has said: The whole thing is written from the point to view of an aware woman who is none the less outside the world of action. She sees everything, in the factory and everywhere, but she has no say…. I think of her as being behind a wall or a door and just peeping through. (Kuortti interview 2003, 85)
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Thus Tara occupies the same narrative position as Laila in Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961): an intelligent and reflective observer who is granted no agency and no voice in a powerful family in which all of the important decisions are made by men. The wall or door referred to by Futehally is reminiscent of purdah (which literally means curtain)—a symbolic and sometimes physical separation of men’s and women’s spheres. Like Hosain’s Laila, Futehally’s Tara is pampered but powerless, educated but restricted, and close to her servants who are a valuable source of information. Although she is obviously more privileged than her servants, she shares their state of dependency. If noblesse oblige has always been insufficient at best, it is also shown in Tara Lane to be unworkable in modern capitalist relations. Faced with corruption in every sphere of government and business, as well as a more militant trade union movement, Tara’s father is eventually forced to resort to bribing the labour union official in order to keep the factory going. Significantly, this breach of his integrity is precipitated by the pressure he feels to maintain the family’s comfortable lifestyle for the sake of his wife (Tara’s mother), who suffers a breakdown when faced with a drastic reduction in their standard of living. Thus the narrative points to some of the disadvantages of women’s constructed dependency: Tara has a social conscience but lacks the power to put it into practice, while her mother understands nothing beyond her own need to maintain domestic “standards”. This in turn raises troubling questions about the relationship between patriarchy and class inequality. While it is well documented that gender inequality is strongly correlated with poverty and that sex discrimination is “a pervasive factor in most poor women’s experience of poverty” (Hasan and Menon 2004, 242), the paradoxical position of dependent women in wealthy families has received less attention. I noted in an earlier study that other Indian women writers—such as Anita Desai and Shashi Deshpande in particular—have called attention to the ways in which many elite women have used their class privilege to cope with their gender subordination (Jackson 2010, 18). Kumkum Sangari has suggested that when women consent to patriarchal values, practices, and arrangements, it need not be construed as consent to these alone since “the patriarchies they are subjected to are simultaneously located…in class
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structures and in particular forms of…inequality” (1993, 869). Thus, even if they have a social conscience, elite women undoubtedly have less of an incentive to challenge structures of inequality, given the advantages that they enjoy in return for what Deniz Kandiyoti has called “patriarchal bargains” (1988). The intersecting axes of privilege and subordination for elite women are thus complex and not always easy to untangle. Given its thematic concern with power hierarchies in India, the resolutely domestic focus of Shama Futehally’s Tara Lane (1993) is interesting in itself. Although we do get a sense of contemporary capitalist relations in this novel, other wider factors affecting power relationships (such as communal issues and the impact of globalization on gender norms) are not highlighted in the narrative. By contrast, we have seen the ways in which Attia Hosain’s fiction places its social critique against a backdrop of historical change and within a broader framework of cultural contestation and conflicting gender ideologies. To some extent, this can be explained by the circumstances in which the texts were produced. Attia Hosain was looking back on a period of revolutionary change in India, whereas Shama Futehally was writing during the early 1990s—a seemingly less turbulent time for elite Indian women, who were well aware of feminist ideas but often living in family structures imposing gender subordination softened by class privilege. One of the elements of social criticism in Samina Ali’s Madras on Rainy Days (2004) is the raw class snobbery exhibited by Layla’s family. Driving into a poor Hyderabadi neighbourhood with narrow streets looking for the alim, they are annoyed by children climbing all over the car. “‘Such disgusting children,’ Amme said… ‘These mothers have kids, then throw them to the streets. Then they wonder why India is making no progress. Thoo!’ She spat out the window to show the women her contempt.” (11–12) Ironically the residents of this neighbourhood exhibit more refined behaviour than Amme, who spits on the street. As if to prove Amme wrong about the lack of supervision, one of the mothers appears in a doorway and orders the children off the car, and they immediately obey her. Madras on Rainy Days also calls attention to the ways in which gender hierarchy can take precedence over class hierarchy. Referring to the
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relationship between her own family and the family of her husband-to- be, Layla explains that: Though the two families had known each other for seven generations—Sameer’s family had rented from Amme’s right up till Partition—what mattered tonight was a different, much older tradition. As the bride’s family, the ones who were about to hand over a daughter to live in someone else’s home, we were now the ones without the power. Every preparation made for the wedding was in hopes of impressing my in-laws. (65)
Thus the narrative emphasizes the inherently inferior status of a wife to her husband, regardless of their relative social classes.
Conclusion Although there is considerable feminist criticism in Zeenuth Futehally’s novel Zohra (1951), its focus is on the lives of the elite, with domestic servants and “the poor” (who are objects of Zohra’s charity) confined to the margins of the narrative. Attia Hosain, by contrast, makes the servant girl Nandi a minor but important character in her novel Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961), in which she emphasizes the vulnerability of working-class women to sexual exploitation. She also makes servant characters central to several stories in her Phoenix Fled collection (1953), highlighting their struggles and their exploitation even by ostensibly well-meaning employers. In her story “The First Rains” (2006), Shama Futehally offers a sensitive account from a servant girl’s perspective of her seduction by her employer and its tragic consequences. Samina Ali takes a different approach to servants and other less privileged characters in Madras on Rainy Days (2004): Far from emphasizing their vulnerability, she portrays them as stronger and wiser than their employers. The author who explores most fully the impact of so-called westernization on elite Indian women is Attia Hosain, who draws attention in her novel Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961) and in several of her short stories to the destabilizing effects of conflicting gender ideologies. Expected to be housebound and “traditional” within their families but suddenly westernized and “modern” at social gatherings with their husbands,
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many elite Indian women in her fictional world are subjected to impossibly contradictory expectations. As we shall see in the chapter on Marriage and Sexuality, Samina Ali’s more contemporary Madras on Rainy Days (2004) points to some of the ways in which this sense of conflict over gender ideologies has intensified over time, as a result of the destabilizing effects of globalization and increasingly mobile diasporas. In Tara Lane (1993), Shama Futehally explores the nature and implications of gendered economic inequalities within families, calling attention to some of the pernicious effects of female dependency. Having no stake in the family business, Tara is aware of everything but completely powerless, and her pampered mother is evidently aware of nothing except her own need to run an elegant household. In Reaching Bombay Central (2002), Shama Futehally approaches the issue of economic inequality from a different angle, dramatizing the various responses of middle-class characters to servants, beggars, and porters. Thus, each author engages in various ways with the intersections between gender and class inequalities, approaching these issues from an elite—but not necessarily elitist—perspective. Attia Hosain and Shama Futehally, in particular, show an awareness of the ways in which all forms of privilege are based on inequality.
References Ali, Samina. Madras on Rainy Days. Piatkus, 2004. Anthias, Floya. “The Concept of ‘Social Division’ and Theorizing Social Stratification: Looking at Ethnicity and Class.” Sociology, vol. 35, no. 4, 2001, pp. 835–854. Brians, Paul. Modern South Asian Literature in English. Greenwood Press, 2003. Burton, Antoinette. Dwelling in the Archive: Women Writing House, Home, and History in Late Colonial India. Oxford University Press, 2003. Channa, Subhadra Mitra. Gender in South Asia: Social Imagination and Constructed Realities. Cambridge University Press, 2013. Chatterjee, Partha. “The Nationalist Resolution of the Women’s Question.” Recasting Women: Essays in Colonial History, edited by Kumkum Sangari and Susesh Vaid, Kali for Women, 1989, pp. 233–253. Desai, Sonalde and Gheda Temsah. “Muslim and Hindu Women’s Public and Private Behaviors: Gender, Family, and Communalized Politics in India.” Demography, vol. 51, 2014, pp. 2307–2332.
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Didur, Jill. Unsettling Partition: Literature, Gender, Memory. University of Toronto Press, 2006. Futehally, Shama. Frontiers: Collected Stories. Penguin, 2006. —. Reaching Bombay Central. Penguin, 2002. —. Tara Lane. Ravi Dayal, 1993. Futehally, Zeenuth. Zohra. Oxford University Press, 2004 (originally published 1951). Hai, Ambreen. “Adultery Behind Purdah and the Politics of Indian Muslim Nationalism in Zeenuth Futehally’s Zohra.” MFS Modern Fiction Studies, vol. 59, no. 2, 2013, pp. 317–345. Hasan, Zoya and Ritu Menon. Unequal Citizens: A Study of Muslim Women in India. Oxford University Press, 2004. Hosain, Attia. Phoenix Fled and Other Stories. Virago, 1988 (Chatto & Windus, 1953). —. Sunlight on a Broken Column. Chatto & Windus, 1961. Jackson, Elizabeth. Feminism and Contemporary Indian Women’s Writing. Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. Kandiyoti, Deniz. “Bargaining with Patriarchy.” Gender and Society, vol. 2, no. 3, 1988, pp. 274–290. Kaul, R.K. and Jasbir Jain. Attia Hosain: A Diptych Volume. Rawat, 2001. Kuortti, Joel. “Women Will Find Ways of Breaking Out” (interview with Futehally). Tense Past, Tense Present: Women Writing in English, edited by Joel Kuortti, Stree, 2003, pp. 66–94. Nabar, Vrinda. “Fragmenting Nations and Lives: Sunlight on a Broken Column.” Literature and Nation: Britain and India 1800–1990, edited by Richard Allen and Harish Trivedi, Routledge, 2000, pp. 121–137. Needham, Anuradha Dingwaney. “Multiple Forms of (National) Belonging: Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column.” MFS: Modern Fiction Studies, vol. 39, no. 1, 1993, pp. 94–111. Palkar, Sarla. “Beyond Purdah: Sunlight on a Broken Column.” Margins of Erasure: Purdah in the Subcontinental Novel in English, edited by Jasbir Jain and Amina Amin, Sterling, 1995, pp. 106–118. Pilcher, Jane and Imelda Whelehan. Fifty Key Concepts in Gender Studies. Sage, 2004. Rajan, Rajeswari Sunder. “An Ethics of Postcolonial Citizenship: Lessons from Reading Women Writing in India.” Journal of Historical Sociology, vol. 26, no.1, 2013, pp. 62–82. Sahgal, Nayantara. Rich Like Us. Sceptre, 1985. Sangari, Kumkum. “Consent, Agency, and the Rhetorics of Incitement.” Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 28, no. 18, 1993, pp. 867–882. Taseer, Aatish. “How English Ruined Indian Literature.” The New York Times, 19 March 2015.
Responding to Patriarchy
Introduction The term “patriarchy”, much used in feminist scholarship during the 1970s and 1980s, appears to have been all but superseded by other terms and concepts, most notably “gender” because of its emphasis on men’s and women’s agency in shaping male and female roles within any given society. According to Jane Pilcher and Imelda Whelehan, patriarchy refers to “the social system of masculine domination over women” (2004, 93), whereas “gender relations are regarded as in process, the outcome of human practice and agency, subject to resistance as well as conformity, contestation as well as acceptance” (62). At first glance, the juxtaposition of these two descriptions would seem to imply that patriarchy refers to a more rigid conceptualization of male domination, while gender refers to a more nuanced and flexible understanding of a dynamic set of relations. However, my contention is that the term patriarchy is still useful in many contexts, not least because it accurately describes the hegemonic power relations between men and women in many parts of the world, particularly in family-oriented societies such as those in India. As Goran Therborn reminds us, “paternal power is the core meaning
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of patriarchy, historically and etymologically” (2004, 8). This association of patriarchy with the family implies that “gender discrimination and gender inequality should be seen as a broader concept than patriarchy” (8). But if, as radical feminists like Kate Millet argued during the 1970s, women’s oppression is located primarily within the family, it stands to reason that the nature of women’s dis/empowerment will depend on the nature, structure, and institutional strength of the family—all of which vary enormously within and between societies. Therborn has suggested that power relations within the family—like those in any other institution—can be analysed in terms of the rights, privileges, and obligations of its members: “Those privileged by it can maintain their status because their resources of control and of sanction match their rights, while those who have few power resources have more duties than rights” (2). This is in keeping with classic Marxist analyses of power relationships, in the sense that those who control the means of production (the “resources”) have more power and privilege, while those who are denied access to resources have more duties and fewer rights. In their book Familiar Exploitation (1992), Christine Delphy and Diana Leonard have argued that just as capitalism is based on profits from the labour of the proletariat, so too is patriarchy based on male exploitation of the domestic labour of women. However, Delphy and Leonard’s argument does not take into account class differences, the use of domestic servants, power hierarchies among women, the diversity of family arrangements, ongoing social change, and other crucial factors. Nevertheless, their description still accurately applies to many families in many parts of the world, including the families in the fictional texts of Zeenuth Futehally, Attia Hosain, Shama Futehally, and Samina Ali. Although the women in these elite families are not overburdened with domestic labor, the household is still their responsibility, and crucially, they are still financially dependent on the men in the family. However, far from describing a monolithic institution or a static situation, patriarchy—like gender—has been conceptualized in ways that recognize its diverse, contested, and constantly negotiated nature. Many scholars have argued that even in the most traditional societies,
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the family has always been a locus of struggle, not of uncontested male power. As long ago as 1988, Deniz Kandiyoti used the term “patriarchal bargain” to indicate “the existence of set rules and scripts regulating gender relations, to which both genders accommodate and acquiesce, yet which may nonetheless be contested, redefined, and renegotiated… However, women as a rule bargain from a weaker position” (286). She argues that different forms of patriarchy present women with distinct “rules of the game” which call for different strategies with varying potential for active and passive resistance. For instance, Kumkum Sangari has observed that in India the politics of the household seem to be structured according to the degree of access women have to patriarchal power, or “delegated or surrogate patriarchal roles” (1993, 871). These may include control over the redivision of household labor among women (daughters, daughters- in- law, unmarried female relatives), over marriage alliances, over sons, over the behavior of other women. It is therefore not surprising that older women are often the sternest enforcers of patriarchal norms, as we see in Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961) and particularly in Samina Ali’s Madras on Rainy Days (2004). Patriarchy, of course, has not gone unchallenged anywhere in the world. Indeed, there has been a long and vibrant history of feminist movements in India, some of which were part of the anti-colonial struggles during the 1930s and 1940s. These feminist movements underwent a resurgence during the 1970s and 1980s, partly in response to corresponding developments abroad, and they have intensified during the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. However, feminist ideas have been controversial in India (and elsewhere), with many anti-feminists associating them with western cultural imperialism. Consequently, although some well-known Indian women writers—Nayantara Sahgal, Shashi Deshpande, Arundhati Roy—have explicitly identified themselves as feminist, others like Anita Desai and Shama Futehally have treated the term with caution. Feminism is, of course, a notoriously difficult concept to define, not least because it encompasses so many different approaches, ideas, concerns, and debates. But if a feminist writer is one who undertakes a sus-
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tained critique of patriarchal ideologies, then Zeenuth Futehally, Attia Hosain, Shama Futehally, and Samina Ali can all be described as feminist writers. This chapter examines the ways in which each of them examines the nature and effects of patriarchy in India, as well as the various ways in which their female characters respond to it. It begins by considering the factor of family honor and loyalty, before going on to explore textual portrayals of patriarchal authority and privilege, women’s constructed dependency, and women’s collusion and resistance.
Family Honor and Loyalty Particularly in the early novels, a powerful motivation for female obedience to patriarchal directives is the idea that family honor depends on it. This is made explicit towards the beginning of Zeenuth Futhehally’s Zohra (1951), in which the young protagonist “longed to be a useful part of the events that were stirring her country”, thinking that “marriage and children should come later” (35). Instead, she agrees to a conventional early marriage arranged by her parents because: Any deviation from the accepted norm would deeply wound her parents. They might survive the shock but they would never be able to lift up their heads again for shame and sorrow. She had agreed to this marriage for her mother’s sake. She could not, in the end, destroy her family. (35–36)
In addition, Zohra’s anxious thoughts reveal her awareness that the “honor” of her family depends on the success or failure of her marriage, which she believes to be her sole responsibility: My parents have done their best to find a suitable husband for me and whatever manner of man he proves to be, I must make this marriage work… Allah forbid that I should bring shame upon Abba Jan and Ammi Jan and upon myself by returning to their home disapproved by my husband’s family. I would rather die than bring such shame upon my parents. It is they who have arranged this marriage, but I shall be held responsible for its success or failure. (44)
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Not considering her own happiness in the marriage, she perceives herself as an object of potential approval or disapproval, anxiously wondering, “what if he does take a dislike to me?” (44) In her discussion of Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961), Anuradha Dinwaney Needham observes that: Words like “honour” and “duty” are constantly mobilized by the elders, men and women alike, to bind the younger members of the household, particularly the women, to various forms of legitimized oppression. Women do resist, as for instance, Abida does when she defends Laila’s right to receive an education; or when she insists on Laila and Zahra being present while the elders arrange Zahra’s marriage. But they do so in ways that underscore their lack of “real” power. (1993, 103)
Indeed, Laila’s Aunt Abida is consistent throughout the narrative in her insistence on the inviolability of duty and obedience. In reply to Uncle Mohsin’s sarcastic query as to whether she would have Zahra choose her own life partner, she admits that this would be unwise but asks only that the girl “be present while we make the choice, hear our arguments, know our reasons, so that later on she will not doubt our capabilities and question our decisions” (21). One interpretation of this is that far from wishing to undermine patriarchal authority, Aunt Abida wants to reinforce it by showing it to be reasonable and not arbitrary. This is also consistent with the way in which Aunt Abida conducts her own life. At the beginning of the novel she continues to live in her father’s house because he has not found a suitable man for her to marry. There, she has some (limited) authority, not least in her responsibility for bringing up her orphaned niece Laila. After the death of her father Baba Jan, she is married off to an elderly man, Sheikh Ejaz Ali, who is described as a “tall, thin negative man”. Overwhelmingly conscious of her duty to her family and to the family tradition, she tamely accepts this arrangement, even though it causes great personal unhappiness to her for the rest of her life. To her way of thinking, Laila’s decision to marry Ameer against the wishes of the family is unforgivable, and what she says to Laila sums up the conventional attitude toward female independence in that society at that time: “You have been defiant and disobedient. You have put yourself above your duty to your family…
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You have let your family’s name be bandied about by scandal-mongers and gossips. You have soiled its honour on their vulgar tongues” (312). This statement clearly articulates the extent to which family honor and class status depend on female behavior.
Patriarchal Authority and Women’s Constructed Dependency Recent empirical studies have shown that “Low decision-making capacity is the general condition of women in India, and it is not significantly affected by either their own educational attainment or that of their husbands; by community; or by their wage-earning capacity.” (Hasan and Menon 2004, 147) Not surprisingly, this situation varies according to age and residence, with younger women and urban-based women tending to report greater joint decision-making with their husbands. As expected, it also varies with socioeconomic status, but surprisingly, a higher socioeconomic status is associated with lower decision-making capacity for women (147). This points to the remarkable power of elite males, within the family as well as outside of it—a phenomenon consistently emphasized in all of the fictional texts under consideration. A strong male authority is seen, for example, in the early pages of Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961) in the form of Baba Jan, the old patriarch of the family, who exudes authority and exerts control even on his death-bed. Laila the narrator refers to “this powerful man who lived the lives of so many people for them, reducing them to fearing automatons” (31). However, she also acknowledges that his integrity “tempered the unchallenged tyranny which he exercised over his family—from his immediate household outwards to the family’s tribal ramifications” (34). The impending death of this sovereign patriarch provokes uncertainty and anxiety over what mode of power will take effect in his absence, and as Jill Didur observes, “the female members of the family are represented as particularly anxious, recognizing their dependence on patriarchal patronage in order to maintain their class status and material well-being” (2006, 107–108). After the death of Baba Jan, his position of family patriarch is taken over by his
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son Hamid, a man of more liberal attitudes. However, Anuradha Roy points out that: Uncle Hamid carries on his father’s paternalistic authority in spite of his superficial liberalism. He announces his decisions regarding the future of his young wards with as much authority as his father: “I have asked you to come here to listen to what is best for you.” (1999, 57)
As Laila later laments to Ameer, “I have never been allowed to make decisions; they are always made for me. In the end not only one’s actions but one’s mind is crippled” (265). Laila also notices that despite the superficial “westernization” of Uncle Hamid’s wife Saira, she is still strongly “dominated by him” (87). Although she dresses in saris, she has adopted “discreet make- up, waved hair, cigarette-holder and high-heeled shoes” (87), so that Jill Didur describes her as “the stereotypical Muslim mohila, blending ‘Western’ and ‘Eastern’ cultural practices in her appearance, but still equally implicated in patriarchal class-based expectations for her behaviour” (2006, 109–110). Brought up in strict purdah before her marriage, Aunt Saira had been trained by English ladies appointed by her husband to fit a “pattern” he had decided for her. The transformation of Laila’s cousin Zahra after her marriage is even more dramatic, but Laila is astute enough to recognize its superficial nature: Zahra had changed very much in her appearance, speech and mannerisms… She was now playing the part of the perfect modern wife as she had once played the part of the dutiful purdah girl. Her present sophistication was as suited to her role as her past modesty had been. Just as she had once said her prayers five times a day, she now attended social functions morning, afternoon and evening. (140)
Thus it is suggested that Zahra has merely exchanged one set of patriarchal expectations for another. Promoting female dependency is one of the most effective tools for the maintenance of male supremacy. The later novelists—Shama Futehally and Samina Ali—critically portray the pernicious effects of this dependency on the women themselves. For instance, we have noted the progressive reduction of the narrator-protagonist in Shama Futehally’s
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Tara Lane (1993) from a confident and imaginative young woman to a cowering and deferential wife as she gradually learns the implications of her dependency on her husband. Similarly, Ayesha, the protagonist of Reaching Bombay Central (2002), remains in a position of child-like dependency on her husband throughout the narrative—occasionally resentful but always compliant. This is perhaps best illustrated in the exchange between Ayesha and her husband Aarif following his difficult conversation with a friend. This conversation has left Aarif so defensive and ill-tempered that he takes out his rage on his hapless wife when she timidly asks him about it: “My God,” said Aarif savagely, “will you never learn?” And as Ayesha burst into tears his face acquired the hunted look of a blameless man before a crying wife. “Can’t you see,” he continued furiously, “why he came here? First, he wanted to remind me that I can’t prove his involvement. Second…”. But Ayesha was no longer listening…. She had worried about him day and night, she had adjusted every word and expression and gesture to give him exactly what he wanted…and now she had to hear that she would never learn. (100, my emphasis)
Ayesha never considers challenging her husband, but she does occasionally, for brief moments, consider leaving him: “That wretched PS,” thundered Aarif, “whoever he is, can’t call his soul his own”. Exactly like your wife, she thought between sniffs. And now she could do one of two things. She could walk out on this man as she should have done long ago, or she could say something in a neutral tone so that things became normal again. Most probably she would walk out. (101)
Instead, she immediately says something in a neutral tone, and when superficial harmony is finally restored, the narrator comments sardonically that “For the umpteenth time she had the experience cherished by all devoted wives—the knowledge that her husband had already forgotten all about her feelings” (102). If Shama Futehally sensitively portrays the emotional price that women can pay for their dependency, Samina Ali is more direct in sug-
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gesting that patriarchal authority is both a cause and an effect of the social construction of women’s practical, emotional, and financial dependence on men. In Madras on Rainy Days (2004), Amme’s continuing dependence on her ex-husband is vividly dramatized in the crisis at the beginning, when she consciously feels herself to be utterly helpless without him: “‘I don’t know what else to do,’ Amme sobs. ‘Her father is not here. He’s never here. Is there no one who can help me? How can I do this alone?’” (p. 5). And as we have seen, Layla herself is shown to be acutely aware of her own constructed dependency. Fearing the consequences of her husband’s rejection of her, she reflects that: When Sameer threw me out, I would not dare return here. And, yet, if I took that airline ticket Dad had given me and returned to the US, where would I go? No money of my own, no college degree, and, most of all, no experience— no life ever lived—outside of my mother’s home. (49–50)
This suggests that being released from an unwanted marriage is not necessarily a better option for a woman whose capacity for independence has been systematically impeded.
Patriarchal Privilege, Female Submission, and Deference Toward Males Writing about gender relations in postcolonial India, Joanna Liddle and Rama Joshi have argued that “in a male-dominated society, women are submissive to men’s needs, restrained about their own desires, dependent on, and deferent to, men” (1986, 80). This deference is seen, for instance, in the unhappy Aunt Abida’s behaviour toward her husband in Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961). Visiting her much-loved Aunt Abida, Laila notices that she looks withdrawn and that “the two days her husband had stayed she had centred all her attention on his care and comfort, as if everyone and everything else was secondary” (138). We have also noted the anxious focus by the female protagonists on their rather insensitive husbands in some of Hosain’s short stories, particularly “Gossamer Thread.”
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This dynamic is even more evident in Shama Futehally’s fiction, in which her protagonists tiptoe around their domineering husbands, desperate to cater to their every whim and avoid upsetting them by asserting themselves or even asking questions. The young Tara learns to do this in Tara Lane (1993), and the wives in the Frontiers (2006) collection are invariably depicted as anxious, timid and deferential in their interactions with their husbands. Apart from gender ideologies, the practical underpinnings of this inequality are clearly demonstrated in Reaching Bombay Central (2002). Here Ayesha’s entire life depends on her husband’s career, so that when it is threatened by his involvement in a corruption scandal, her whole world is at risk of falling apart. Acutely conscious of this, she has become an expert at interpreting what the narrator describes as “the codes of her husband’s world” (51–52). For example, while listening quietly to a conversation between Aarif and their friend Shiv Prasadji, she is anxiously alert to every nuance in the mood of the conversation between the two men: And Aarif gave that half-laughing resigned shrug of the shoulders which she knew so well, and said, “Arré…. We have messed things up completely” which he only said when he was in a truly excellent mood. He was in that mood now because of Shiv Prasadji’s artistry in making you feel one with the world. (32)
Through the narrative attention to concrete detail and Ayesha’s imaginative responses to it, she is effectively portrayed as an acute observer and sensitive interpreter, not only of her husband, but also of other men who have power over him: Ayesha saw the Secretary’s face becoming preternaturally still. It was the expression of a man who is walking a path no wider than his own body, with barbed wire on one side and a thorny fence on the other. If Aarif now went to the Secretary to ask for his support against the rumours, the Secretary’s jolly face would take on exactly that still expression, and he would walk that narrow path all over again. (43)
Repeatedly, the narrative draws sympathetic but critical attention to the fact that despite Ayesha’s (class-based) elite status, her (gender- based) dependent position ensures that her entire life consists of obsessively serving the needs of other people, including her sensitive and
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rather helpless servant Pushpa. Notably, her lack of assertiveness with Pushpa appears to be based not so much on class guilt as on a general timidity which she displays toward everyone, but especially her husband. On the day of her departure, She had only been able to start packing in the morning, what with the household stores to be collected and the plumbers to see to. Three sets of school uniforms to be ironed. Pushpa to be convinced no one would shout at her while Memsaab was away. And just as she was leaving for the station, Chhota and Pipi had a fight. (69)
Again, because of Aarif’s temper, Ayesha feels that she has to tiptoe around him: “If he learnt that the children had chosen that particular moment to quarrel, an explosion would occur which would make it impossible for her to leave, and the packing and the plumbers and the ironing would all come to naught” (70). Ironically, it is the train journey which provides Ayesha with a brief respite from both her emotionally fraught domestic life and her desperate mission to save Aarif’s career. After dark in the railway carriage, she has a temporary feeling of being …sheltered from her home on the one hand and her chore on the other hand; she was free of everything. Just at the moment there was no need to worry that the children would be noisy or that Aarif would be irritable or that Pushpa would be offended. (112)
Ayesha’s sensitivity to other people’s needs and feelings at times makes her inclined toward petty neuroses, as she herself recognizes to some extent. For instance, she feels anxiously responsible for tidiness everywhere, even in a shared train compartment in which everyone’s cups of tea have left brown liquid circles on the plastic table top: Those circles produced in her a faint familiar feeling of guilt. She should find some tissue and wipe up those circles. If somebody—anybody—saw the table top, they would think her slovenly…. Fifteen years of housekeeping had left her with the perpetual fear which is the inheritance of the housewife. Will somebody find crumbs on the table, will somebody else see a dead cockroach in the kitchen? (86)
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While Ayesha is clearly aware, on some level, that this way of thinking is a conditioned response, she does not reflect on its implications to the same extent as, say, Jaya in Shashi Deshpande’s That Long Silence who, in perusing her earlier journals which she wryly dubs the “Diaries of a Sane Housewife”, is suddenly “scared” by the thought of a “life spent on such trivialities” (1988, 70). In Samina Ali’s Madras on Rainy Days (2004), male privilege within the family is evident in many ways, including the fact that men are not expected to do even the simplest tasks for themselves, and at times the chains of command point toward deeper emotional undercurrents. This is perhaps best illustrated by the incident of Layla’s father ordering Amme (his ex-wife, Layla’s mother) to tell her servant to make chai for him. When Amme responds by suggesting that he tell his current wife to make it, even this is considered disrespectful: Since their divorce, Amme spoke to Dad with an irreverence she could never have shown if he had remained her husband… If he had kept her as his wife— even a cowife—she would have happily taken his request as an order and gone to stand next to Sabana, boiling the tea herself, two women jostling for one man’s attention, for his one pleasure. It was the life Amme would have preferred. (43)
Later when Layla’s father overhears a conversation between his daughter and ex-wife about his divorce, he comes into the room and threatens to beat Layla for “teaching” her mother to “disrespect” him (86–87). It is also suggested in this novel that until they are of marriageable age, girls are invisible to the men in the family unless they transgress limitations. Layla recalls standing with her cousin Henna on the balcony, “peeking down at the men, her father, my father, men who never seemed to see us…until we stepped outside our limits” (78). In this patriarchal society a previously invisible girl suddenly becomes the object of anxiety and restrictions when she goes through puberty. Even at the time of her wedding, which is supposed to be the central event of her life, we see the devaluing of women as mothers and daughters as brides. For instance, when the alim asks whose son Layla is marrying, only the father is named (32), and we are told that “the groom’s family
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had the right to ask for what they wanted. And we, the bride’s family, had not the right to ask why.” (33) The narrative also suggests that the power inequality between males and females within the family can leave women vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, as exemplified in the mistreatment of Layla’s cousin Henna at the hands of her in-laws: “It’s our fault,” [her father says regretfully]. “I take the blame. We taught her how to be a proper woman, your kala and I. We taught her to be humble and obedient, respectful of her new family, attending to her husband. Do not voice disagreements. Do not talk back… Do not think of yourself.” Old City ethics, rules governing each woman’s life, ways to submit not to Allah, but to man. If my uncle had taught his daughter this, he had taught her how to survive, here; there was no need to feel ashamed. (301)
Significantly, Layla’s accepting attitude of the way Henna was brought up expresses her view that it is not always individuals, but often traditions and social structures, which are at fault. In light of all these narrative details demonstrating women’s disempowerment within the home, the ideology of separate spheres for men and women emerges as a thinly veiled justification for male hegemony. Thus Layla’s mother-in-law’s explanation that “the man’s domain is outside, and the woman rules the house” (122) is an incomplete description of the situation. If a woman “rules” the house, she usually does so in support of patriarchal structures, as we shall see in the next section.
Women’s Collusion in Patriarchal Practices All of the literary texts emphasize the ways in which women (particularly older women) internalize patriarchal ideologies and collude in patriarchal practices, often being more active than the men in enforcing traditional gender roles. Indeed, Zohra’s mother in Zeenuth Futehally’s 1951 novel is shown to be sceptical of the value of female education, in contrast to her more liberal husband who wishes his daughters to be well educated:
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“Some day she will have to marry and why sow discontent in her heart,” said Zubaida Begum who could not understand her husband’s preoccupation with educating his daughters. “How often must I repeat that learned girls never settle down happily to domestic life?…. They always pick up ideas from reading unsuitable novels and always think marriage and children can be delayed.” (11)
Although the third-person narrator of this novel (who appears to be the author) clearly sympathizes with the idea of female education, it is surprising to find her at times strongly supporting patriarchal ideologies. This is seen, for instance, in her apparent approval of the idea of Zohra’s sister-in-law Safia staying in an unhappy marriage to a faithless husband: The Begum took complete command and, with great tact and strength of purpose, persuaded Safia to go back home with Yusuf. For, with her practical frame of mind, she knew that in that alone lay Safia’s salvation. She herself had learnt hard lessons from life, and she knew that her daughter would have to overlook many weaknesses in her husband. (240–241)
Along with their “practical” and “realistic” attitudes toward patriarchy, it is important to also note the benefits that older women sometimes gain from the subjugation of younger women. For instance, in Attia Hosain’s story “White Leopard”, we see that when Shiv Prasad decided to take a second wife, his first wife “did not object. She had been ill for some years and had a realist’s view of her consequent shortcomings; besides, the woman had no status, neither as a wife nor a mother of sons, and could be her handmaiden” (1953, 183). In Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961), other motivations for older women’s exercise of power over younger women are also suggested. These include their responsibility for female “virtue” and perhaps a little jealousy, both of which are evident in the narrator’s remark that: “My aunt was firm in her belief that an unmarried girl’s freedom should be restricted, and there were many formal parties to which I was not invited or taken” (201). But if, as Kaul and Jain (2001) observe, “the instruments of tyranny [in the zenana] are very often the senior females like Aunt Majida and Aunt Abida” (58), it may be because their authority over younger women is the only real power they ever have.
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Shama Futehally’s older female characters tend to be supportive of the younger ones while encouraging an attitude of resignation toward patriarchal authority in a marriage. On the eve of her wedding, the young protagonist of Tara Lane (1993) is given some despairing advice by her mother: It was not as if I imagined that there would be no quarrels or troubles in married life. Such illusions as I harboured had been firmly checked the day before the wedding. “My dear,” she had said with a kind of bitter tenderness, “make no mistake. You will have to give in, and give in, and give in.” What I was not prepared for was finding that I had to be entirely with him or entirely apart. (86)
Being “entirely with” a husband apparently extends to standing by him in the face of any wrongdoing on his behalf, including faithlessness and even criminality. Shama Futehally’s story “Waking Up” explores the experience of a wife whose husband has been guilty of corruption. The advice offered to her by other women is to “accept” his wrongdoing: “Just try and accept him,” [counsels a friend]. “You never know, you might be able to influence him finally. But just accept him, that’s what we’re there for. That’s all you can do.” (2006, 140) “Sometimes a woman has to put up with things, memsaab,” [her maid] said timidly… “A husband will be a husband. When they don’t drink they do something else.” (136)
In contrast to this gentle advice to submit to patriarchy, Samina Ali’s female characters in Madras on Rainy Days (2004) are shown to actively enforce it. This is powerfully dramatized at the beginning of the novel, where it is suggested that the eighteen-year-old Layla’s arranged marriage is a fulfilment of patriarchal will, enforced by the elder females in the family. Significantly, the silent presence of the male is felt as more powerful and sinister than the “wailing” of the females: My uncle is pacing, too apprehensive yet to intervene—not because he approves of my silent protest, but because he knows that it is for his sister and his wife, the women of this house, to convince me to assent to this suitor, the one they have all chosen for me to marry, then love. Yet I feel the burden of his presence and this, more than all the silly wailing, is enough to make me buckle. (5)
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The extent to which women internalize patriarchal ideologies is also expressed in Layla’s reflection that in anticipating their marriages, she and her cousin had been “women brought up knowing we would be sold and looking forward to it” (230). Another way in which women support patriarchy is by bringing up their daughters in ways which reinforce misogynistic beliefs and practices. Deeply resenting the physical controls and restrictions placed upon her because of her gender, Layla recalls that: Since I was a child, my mother had tried to teach me correct behavior and I followed her wishes when she was watching—covering my hair, hiding my legs, draping a scarf over kurtas to conceal the curve of my breasts, muffling my laughter, whispering, averting my eyes. I always knew I had to do these things because man, as Islam said, was the weaker sex, so it was my responsibility to keep him from becoming aroused. (24)
Here Layla resentfully recounts a long list of rules, detailing the numerous restrictions on her clothing, freedom of movement, freedom of expression, and physical comfort. However, the ideological belief in the inherent shamefulness of the female body, together with the idea that it should be hidden in order to protect men from temptation, is not unique to Islam. Indeed, in her book Women, Body, Desire in Post-colonial India, Jyoti Puri has noted that Indian women of all backgrounds apparently feel responsible for restraining the sexual aggression of men through “defensive strategies and avoidance mechanisms” (1999, 96). In the western context, too, we have noted Stevi Jackson and Sue Scott’s argument that “men’s desires are seen as uncontrollable urges that women paradoxically are expected both to satisfy and to restrain” (1996, 17–18). It has also been suggested that the ubiquity of hypersexualized female images in many western countries indicates that women are expected to be complicit in their own objectification. Some “hijab activists” have argued, for instance, that in the west “women are forced to conform to sexualized media images and male-dominated expectations” so that “it is ‘the Western woman’ who is the oppressed and unwitting victim of patriarchy and whose imprisonment can be read from her clothes (or lack of them)” (Tarlo 2010, 117). Whether women are under pressure to expose or
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cover their bodies, such anxious attention to their sexuality suggests not only that they are objects of the male gaze, but also that their appearance and their clothing is subjected to relentless public scrutiny in almost every society. It is possible for women to be simultaneously complicit in and resentful of patriarchy, and often this resentment is taken out on other women. In Madras on Rainy Days, when Amme rages against her daughter Layla, it is painfully clear that she is really expressing displaced rage against her ex-husband, whom she dare not confront: “Whore!” she growls, pounding on the door… “Tell me who is your lover. Shameless whore! Just like your father. Who are you sleeping with that you can’t marry another?” Of course there is no one, and I am exactly how she has raised me to be, innocent. But she condemns me and my femaleness, hoping to take control in the only way anyone can: through my body. (6)
As we have seen, the young Layla herself, like many women, responds to patriarchy with a mixture of compliance and defiance. After reluctantly consenting to the marriage, she deliberately loses her virginity to another man before the wedding.
Resisting Patriarchy It will now be evident that regardless of how they feel about patriarchy or about their individual situations, the female protagonists in all of these novels tend to be remarkably compliant, with the notable exception of Samina Ali’s Madras on Rainy Days (2004) and to some extent Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961). Aware of her entrapment within a patriarchal structure, Zohra in Zeenuth Futehally’s 1951 novel is nevertheless unfailingly obedient and uncomplaining. The more rebellious Laila in Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column marries the man she loves in the face of family disapproval, but none of Shama Futehally’s long-suffering protagonists exercise control over their own lives or even express opinions about their subjection to insensitive treatment.
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This contrasts with the range of responses to patriarchal arrangements which we see in anglophone novels by other contemporary Indian women writers. For instance, Nayantara Sahgal’s protagonists resist patriarchy by either ending their marriages or opting out of marriage altogether. Anita Desai’s female characters tend to employ psychological defences, such as withdrawing into a subjective world or cultivating indifference. Desai’s 1980 novel Clear Light of Day, however, is more affirmative, in the sense that Bim the protagonist grapples painfully with patriarchal expectations which she finally manages to reconcile with her love for her family, ultimately achieving a balance between meeting her own needs and those of others. Each of Shashi Deshpande’s protagonists, too, undergoes a process of self- scrutiny and personal growth which involves coming to terms with the ways in which she has been complicit in her own oppression. Instead of overtly rebelling, Deshpande’s characters renegotiate their relationships with their families, ultimately working out healthier and more equitable arrangements for all. This process does not occur in any of the texts by Zeenuth Futehally, Attia Hosain, Shama Futehally, and Samina Ali, all of whom tend to portray patriarchal arrangements as more rigid and less negotiable—at least in the minds of their female protagonists. In contrast to her more conventional cousin Zahra, Laila in Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961) is portrayed as quiet but firmly independent. As we have seen, she is adamant in her rejection of the idea of arranged marriage, declaring to Zahra that she “won’t be paired off like an animal” (29). Her dissenting attitude is understated until an incident when she understands that she is being inspected as a potential bride by friends of her superficially progressive Aunt Saira. Not wishing to be scrutinized for that purpose, she subverts the women’s intentions by defending a Muslim girl who ran away with a Hindu boy, scandalizing the gathering by speaking about “love” (132–134). The Begum Waheed reads Laila’s defence of the wayward Muslim girl as evidence that Laila’s own virtue is in danger. The disagreement escalates until, as Laila recalls, “Inside me, a core of intolerance hardened me against the hollowness of the ideas of progress and
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benevolence preached by my aunt and her friends. Rebellion began to feed upon my thoughts but found no outlet” (138). Laila’s rebellious thoughts culminate in her decision to marry a man of her own choice in defiance of her family’s wishes, not for the sake of rebellion alone, but because she genuinely loves Ameer. However, far from following the popular fiction format of a heroine marrying for love and then living happily ever after, this novel shows Laila’s decision to cause great personal suffering, not least because she is devastated to be estranged from her family. All that is revealed about the marriage is that they have a daughter and that Ameer dies at a young age. Thus it is suggested that there are complications and uncertainties with all marriages, whether or not they are arranged. We have seen the ways in which Layla in Madras on Rainy Days (2004) responds to patriarchy with a mixture of compliance and defiance, losing her virginity to another man before giving in to an arranged marriage. After falling in love with her husband Sameer, she is devastated to discover that because of his secret homosexuality, he will never be able to love her or even consummate the marriage. Desperate to avoid a lifetime of unhappiness for both of them, she finally runs away from her marital home, taking her plane ticket to the United States and leaving the means for Sameer to escape too, if he so chooses. As she flees, she feels protected and empowered, articulating her awareness of “my body hidden and safe under the chador, belonging only to me” (322). Thus the ending of the novel is affirmative but inconclusive, in the sense that we don’t know how the young Layla, having been brought up to be dependent, survives on her own after her escape.
Conclusion All of the literary texts, in their different ways, emphasize the continuing strength of patriarchal traditions, attitudes, and practices in India. The dominance and privilege of any group depends partly on its control of resources and partly on its success in promoting ideological beliefs which support its hegemony. In these fictional texts, we see a consistent
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pattern of male power and privilege within the family, supported by males and females alike. All of the female protagonists are well educated, reflective, and acutely aware of the workings of patriarchy, and although a few of them rebel, most are shown to be compliant because of their constructed dependency. However, other motivations for female collusion in patriarchal practices are also suggested. In particular, older women are given access to what Kumkum Sangari describes as “delegated or surrogate patriarchal roles” (1993, 871), mainly involving the policing of younger women. There is also the important element of family loyalty, and in this context many of the characters, particularly in the earlier texts, have internalized the ideology of family “honor” being dependent on female behaviour. We have seen that the older female characters in Zeenuth Futehally’s Zohra (1951) subscribe to more traditional gender ideologies than their husbands, perhaps because of their narrower education and upbringing. In Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961) we see various ways of responding to patriarchy, from Zahra’s unquestioning compliance to Laila’s quiet but determined resistance. Perhaps the most interesting response in that novel is that of Abida, initially a loving aunt who as a relatively senior unmarried woman enjoys some authority and some status in her family home. Always loyal to the family, she tamely accepts an uncongenial arranged marriage after the death of her father. Although Aunt Abida never complains about her marital situation, her unhappiness is evident in a number of ways, not least in her bitter condemnation of Laila’s decision to marry Ameer in the face of family opposition. We have also seen that all of Shama Futehally’s female characters are completely deferential to male authority, and that the older ones gently advise the younger ones toward more complete submission. Finally, Samina Ali’s Madras on Rainy Days (2004) features the most rebellious protagonist and offers perhaps the strongest implicit criticism of the ways in which women collude in the patriarchal oppression of other women. In particular, Layla’s mother, a victim herself, takes out her rage on her daughter, actively trying to impose misogynistic beliefs and practices—all of which are ultimately rejected by Layla, whose journey from abjection to self-respect is central to the narrative.
Responding to Patriarchy 153
References Ali, Samina. Madras on Rainy Days. Piatkus, 2004. Delphy, Christine and Diana Leonard. Familiar Exploitation: A New Analysis of Marriage in Contemporary Western Societies. Polity, 1992. Desai, Anita. Clear Light of Day. Vintage, 1980. Deshpande, Shashi. That Long Silence. Penguin, 1988. Didur, Jill. Unsettling Partition: Literature, Gender, Memory. University of Toronto Press, 2006. Futehally, Shama. Frontiers: Collected Stories. Penguin, 2006. —. Reaching Bombay Central. Penguin, 2002. —. Tara Lane. Ravi Dayal, 1993. Futehally, Zeenuth. Zohra. Oxford University Press, 2004 (originally published 1951). Hasan, Zoya and Ritu Menon. Unequal Citizens: A Study of Muslim Women in India. Oxford University Press, 2004. Hosain, Attia. Phoenix Fled and Other Stories. Virago, 1988 (Chatto & Windus, 1953). —. Sunlight on a Broken Column. Chatto & Windus, 1961. Kandiyoti, Deniz. “Bargaining with Patriarchy.” Gender and Society, vol. 2, no. 3, 1988, pp. 274–290. Kaul, R. K. and Jasbir Jain. Attia Hosain: A Diptych Volume. Rawat, 2001. Liddle, Joanna and Rama Joshi. Daughters of Independence: Gender, Caste and Class in India. Zed Books, 1986. Needham, Anuradha Dingwaney. “Multiple Forms of (National) Belonging: Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column.” MFS: Modern Fiction Studies, vol. 39, no. 1, 1993, pp. 94–111. Pilcher, Jane and Imelda Whelehan. Fifty Key Concepts in Gender Studies. Sage, 2004. Puri, Jyoti. Woman, Body, Desire in Post-colonial India. Routledge, 1999. Roy, Anuradha. Patterns of Feminist Consciousness in Indian Women Writers. Prestige, 1999. Sangari, Kumkum. “Consent, Agency, and the Rhetorics of Incitement.” Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 28, no. 18, 1993, pp. 867–882. Tarlo, Emma. Visibly Muslim: Fashion, Politics, Faith. Berg, 2010. Therborn, Goran. Between Sex and Power: Family in the World, 1900–2000. Routledge, 2004.
Looking at the development of literature in English by the four Muslim Indian female authors over a fifty-five year time span, we notice a remarkably consistent focus on feminist criticism of Indian society, in common with their non-Muslim Indian female counterparts. All of them emphasize the continuing strength of patriarchy in India, supported and reinforced by males and females alike. In particular, they consistently present marriage as an institution promoting gender inequality, through the constructed dependency of women as well as long-standing customs of male authority, male privilege, and female deference. Social structures everywhere are always diverse, and social change is always uneven; however, the persistence of male hegemony within the domestic sphere in India is a prominent thematic concern of all of these texts. Comparing their work with that of non-Muslim Indian women writing in English, we note a slightly greater emphasis on the intersections between gender and social class in the works examined here. The paradoxical position of elite women in India is explored by each of the authors, who often point to the conflicting gender ideologies to which
MUSLIM INDIAN WOMEN WRITING IN ENGLISH
they are subjected. Underlying all of these texts is an acute awareness that economic inequality is gender-based (within families) as well as class-based, and another persistent theme is the developing awareness by the female protagonists of the nature and implications of their systematic disempowerment. It is also notable that despite being intelligent, well-educated, reflective, and completely aware of her own disempowerment, each of the protagonists is remarkably compliant with patriarchal expectations, perhaps because of her constructed dependency. As we have seen, the only exception to this is Layla in Madras on Rainy Days (2004), but the ending to this novel is problematic in a number of ways. As I have suggested, the physical escape of an eighteen- year-old girl from an intolerable domestic situation is not necessarily a happy ending when she has no experience of independence and no means of supporting herself. Furthermore, as Jaspal Kaur Singh has argued in her critical discussion of this novel, the narrative implies that “empowerment for the diasporic Indian woman comes from leaving the home spaces and Indian cultural practices” (2008, 193). It is a fair assessment, but in light of the persistent pessimism expressed in the other texts about the hope for social change, it is difficult to see alternative solutions for the oppressed individual. On the other hand, the final words in this novel are unambiguously affirmative: Layla articulates her awareness of “my body hidden and safe under the chador, belonging only to me” (322). This is in keeping with the novel’s portrayal of traditional marriage as an institution for the appropriation and control of female sexuality. Religion is not a particularly prominent theme for any of these Muslim authors. We have seen that while none of the female protagonists is religiously devout in a conventional sense, all have a strong social conscience, and all are profoundly moral and ethical in their interpersonal relationships. We have also seen that communal identity is an increasingly important factor in the lives of the characters in the later texts. In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries we note a growing sense of the hardening of communal divisions, with Muslims being part of an embattled minority, whether or not they are religious. This is also consistent with Shama Futehally’s lament that she was seeing
progressively less space for secular Muslims and increasing pressure for everyone to define themselves in terms of their religious identity. My purpose in grouping together the Muslim authors for this study is not to imply that they should necessarily be in a separate category but rather to include them in the scholarly work that is being done on Indian women writers. So in common with other Indian women writing in English during the postcolonial era, the four Muslim authors under consideration in this book—Zeenuth Futehally, Attia Hosain, Shama Futehally, and Samina Ali—write carefully crafted realist fiction from distinctly feminist perspectives. Despite the quality of their literary output and the weightiness of their themes, they have had less attention than their male Indian counterparts like Salman Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh, Vikram Seth, and others. If this is partly because their fictional worlds are unashamedly domestic and their characters are invariably female, it points to the devaluation of the experiences and perspectives of half the population. However, a further consideration is that with the possible exception of Attia Hosain, their fiction has had less scholarly attention than that of their female Hindu counterparts such as Anita Desai and Shashi Deshpande. My suspicion is that this is partly because their elite status complicates the standard narrative of “the oppressed Muslim woman”, and my contention is that their work deserves to be better known. My hope is that this book will go some way toward helping to promote more inclusion of Muslim voices in the study of Indian women writing in English.
References Ali, Samina. Madras on Rainy Days. Piatkus, 2004. Singh, Jaspal Kaur. Representation and Resistance: South Asian and African Women’s Texts at Home and in the Diaspora. University of Calgary Press, 2008.
A Abbott, Nabia, 61–62 “A Birthday” (S. Futehally), 41 “A Clutch of Laburnum” (S. Futehally), 67–68 “After the Storm” (Hosain), 29, 117–119 Ahmad, Aijaz, 6 Ahmed, Leila, 61–62 Ali, Kecia, 95 Ali, Samina approach to wedding ceremonies, 88 domestic servants in, 121–123 form and narrative strategy of, 10, 45–47 Madras on Rainy Days. See Madras on Rainy Days (Ali) marriage and sexuality in, 12 as Muslim Indian woman writing in English, 1–2
religion and communal identity in, 12 religious observances in fictional works of, 69 responding to patriarchy, 15–16 sense of being both outsider and insider, 23 types of realism in works of, 22 writing socially aware domestic fiction, 7 alimony, as temporary in Muslim divorce, 95 All India Muslim League (1906), 52–53 angolophone Indian novels, vs. domestic (familial) fiction, 6 aristocratic culture, fiction of Hosain/ Zeenuth Futehally, 107–115 “A Room of One’s Own” (Woolf), 19 arrangement of marriages consent and, 79–84 family honor and loyalty in, 136–138 vs. love marriages, 77–78 Austen, Jane, 24
MUSLIM INDIAN WOMEN WRITING IN ENGLISH
authority, women’s dependency and patriarchal, 138–141 autonomous women’s movement, 1970s, 5 “A Woman and a Child” (Hosain), 30, 71
B Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain, 3–4 Behind the Veil: Representation of Muslim Woman in Indian Writings in English 1950–2000 (Kidwai), 8 British rule in India fosters animosity between Hindus and Muslims, 52–53 protection of Indian women as justification for, 3 reform of gender practices, 3–4 women in Indian nationalist movement, 4 Burton, Antoinette, 33
C Calderini, Simonetta, 61–62 caste, social class vs., 105 ceremonies, narratives of wedding, 84–88 Chandra, Bipin, 54 characters exposition through contrast, 24–25 perspective of in Phoenix Fled, 28–29 and philosophical aspects of religion, 70 child marriage, reforming, 3 Clear Light of Day (Desai) character exposition through contrast in, 24 marriage power dynamics in, 92 patriarchal expectations in, 150 communalism definition of, 54 impact on Muslim women. See religion and communal identity
consent to arranged marriage as mere formality in Zohra, 80–81 and arrangement of marriages, 79–80 consolation, religious, 71–72 contrast, character exposition through, 24–25 critical realism, 21–22 cultural identity, religious community for, 11 Culture, Diaspora, and Modernity in Muslim Writing (Ahmed et al.), 8 culture, Indian importance of marriage, 75–76 pressure to marry early, 79 Zohra depicting constraints of Muslim, 25–26
D decision-making, women in India and, 138 Delphy, Christine, 134 Denby, Rumanna Futehally, 23, 55–56 dependency of females emotional price of, 140 patriarchal authority and, 141 promoted by males, 138–141 Desai, Anita arranged marriages in Fasting, Feasting, 79 Clear Light of Day. See Clear Light of Day (Desai) on elite women using class privilege to cope with subordination, 128 as Indian English writer of family story, 6 on interpersonal relations, 20 on language influences in Hosain’s writing, 25–26 not unaware of public issues, 6–7
third-person narration in Fire on the Mountain, 40 Deshpande, Shashi arranged marriages in, 79 caste/communal politics in domestic settings in, 7 as Indian English writer of family story, 6 marriage power dynamics in, 92 not unaware of public issues, 6 women coming to terms with complicity in own oppression, 150 women’s deference towards males, 144 on women using class privilege to cope with subordination, 128 Didur, Jill, 139 Disgrace (Coetzee), 7 divorce, polygamy and, 94–96 domestic fiction, 5–8 domestic servants elite women developing close relationships with, 116–117 paternalistic attitude towards, 116, 119–120 relationship of mistress and, 121–122 in several of Hosain’s short stories, 117 sexual exploitation of, 117–118, 123–124 snobbery of when working in elite households, 120–121 social conscience and compassion for, 118–119 dramatic irony, Phoenix Fled (Hosain), 29–30
E economics inequality between social classes/ families, 127–128 shaping Muslim women, 51
social class based on unequal distribution of resources, 105 education anglicization of the Indian elite, 109–111 reforming gender practices in, 3–4 emotions nuances in women writers, 19–20 personifying in writings of Hosain, 27 empathy, Frontiers collection (Futehally), 40–41 “Evening” (Futehally), 41–42 experimentation, Indian English writers lacking, 21 exploitation of women servants, sexually, 116–117, 123–124
F “Faith” (Futehally), 67 family analyzing power relations within, 134 argument that feminism alienates women from, 2 association of patriarchy with, 133–134 in domestic fiction, 5–8 honor and loyalty, 15, 136–138, 152 patriarchal will enforced by elder females in, 147 politics of households, 135 Shama Futehally examines complexities of, 41–42 family honor (izzat), women preserving, 96 Fasting, Feasting (Desai), 79 Felski, Rita, 21, 22 female infanticide, reforming practice of, 3 feminism defining feminist writers, 135–136
MUSLIM INDIAN WOMEN WRITING IN ENGLISH
historical context of in India, 2–5 movements challenging patriarchy, 135–136 Muslim, 76 relating realism to writing of, 22 responding to patriarchy and, 15–16 fiction, domestic, 5–8 Fire on the Mountain (Desai), 40 first-person narrator Frontiers collection (Futehally), 40 Phoenix Fled (Hosain), 29 Tara Lane, 35–37 folk superstitions, in literary texts, 69–70 Forbes, Geraldine, 4 forced marriage Muslim polygamy and, 80 as unacceptable, 79 form and narrative strategy Attia Hosain, 26–33 conclusion, 47–48 introduction, 19–22 overview of, 9–11 Samina Ali, 45–47 Shama Futehally, 34–45 Zeenuth Futehally, 22–26 Frontiers collection (S. Futehally) form and narrative strategy in, 40–45 marriage power dynamics in, 89 Muslims and identity politics in India, 60 narrative sections in, 42–45 published posthumously, 40 women’s deference towards males in, 142 Futehally, Shama approach to wedding ceremonies, 88 characters from non-Muslim Indian backgrounds, 12 essays on language and writing, 34–35 form and narrative strategy of, 10, 34–45
Frontiers collection. See Frontiers collection (S. Futehally) gender and social class in, 14, 123–127 marriage and sexuality in, 13 as Muslim Indian woman writing in English, 1–2 on oppression of women within family, 7 Reaching Bombay Central. See Reaching Bombay Central (S. Futehally) relationship to religion, 67–68 religion and communal identity in, 11, 68–69 sense of being both outsider and insider, 23 servants as minor characters in novels of, 124 Tara Lane. See Tara Lane (S. Futehally) types of realism in works of, 22 writing socially aware domestic fiction, 7 Futehally, Zeenuth form and narrative strategy, 10, 22–26 gender and social class in, 14, 115–116, 120–121 lacking confidence in English language, 22–23 marriage and sexuality in, 13, 25–26 on national politics in domestic/ familial settings, 1–2 published works of, 34 religion and communal identity in, 11, 69 types of realism in works of, 21–22 Zohra. See Zohra (Z. Futehally)
G Gandhi, on women in non-violent struggle, 4 Gee, Maggie, 5–6
gender community identity in India and, 54 definition of relations, 133 historical context of feminism in India, 2–5 ideologies of male/female sexuality, 96–100 marginalizing perspectives of women, 5–6 marriage power dynamics, 88–89 Muslim women and westernization, 61–67 patriarchal bargain between males/ females, 135 and social class in Tara Lane, 36–37 gender and social class class guilt and class tensions, 124–127 domestic servants. See domestic servants in fiction of Hosain and Zeenuth Futehally, 107–116 introduction, 105–107 position of elite women in India, 127–130 Ghare Baire (Tagore), 109–110 Gopal, Priyamvada, 6 “Gossamer Thread” (Hosain) narrative structure in, 28–29 twisted ending of, 30 women’s deference towards males in, 141 Grant, Damien, 21–22 guilt, class tensions and, 124–127
H Hai, Ambreen, 55–56 Hassan, Riffat, 76 Hindu Code of 1955, 4
Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, 94 Hindus bloodbath during partitioning of India, 53 British policy to divide and rule and, 52–53 Muslims and identity politics in India, 56–61 relationships with Muslims before independence/partition, 55–56 wedding ceremonies of Muslims similar to, 85 Hizb ut-Tahrir, 66 homosexuality, oppressed by patriarchy, 100 honor, family loyalty and, 136–138 Hosain, Attia. See also Sunlight on a Broken Column (Hosain) bridal respectability in, 97 characters from non-Muslim Indian backgrounds, 12 family background of, 107–108 form and narrative strategy of, 10, 26–33 gender and social class in, 14–15, 107–115 literature review, 8–9 marriage and sexuality in, 13 on national politics in domestic/familial settings, 1–2 older, literary writing style of, 26–27 Phoenix Fled. See Phoenix Fled and Other Stories (Hosain) religion and communal identity in, 11–12, 69 responding to patriarchy, 15 Sunlight on a Broken Column. See Sunlight on a Broken Column (Hosain) types of realism in works of, 21–22
MUSLIM INDIAN WOMEN WRITING IN ENGLISH
I identity, religious community in cultural, 11 identity politics, and Muslims in India, 56–61 immorality, marriage as antidote to, 78–79 independence of India Hindu–Muslim relationships before, 55–56 socialistic pattern of development since, 113 Indian Constitution of 1947, 4 Indian Council Act of 1909, 53 inequality gender. See patriarchy using religion in literary texts to perpetuate, 71–72 infidelity, of husbands, 97–98 interpersonal relations, nuances in women writers, 19–21 Islam, alternative versions of in literary texts, 70
J Jackson, Stevi, 148 James, Henry, 22
K Kandiyoti, Deniz, 135
L legal issues, inequality of Muslim women in, 54–55 Leonard, Diana, 134
“Liberalized Literature,” (S. Futehally), 35 Loomba, Ania, 3 love marriages vs. arranged, 77–78 loyalty, family honor and, 136–138 Lucknow (Hosain), 56
M Madras on Rainy Days (Ali) alternative versions of Islam in, 70–71 complex servant/mistress relationship in, 121–123 consent and arrangement of marriages in, 81–84 divorce as male perogative in, 95–96 form and narrative strategy in, 10–11, 45–47 gender and social class in, 14, 129, 131 gender vs. class hierarchy in, 129–130 marriage and sexuality in, 13, 98–99 marriage power dynamics in, 93–94 men asserting power over Muslim women in, 55 on misogyny of particular religious ideologies, 12 Muslims and identity politics in India, 61 Muslim women and westernization in, 64–67 narrative of wedding ceremony in, 84, 85–88 patriarchal authority/women’s dependency in, 141 religion and communal identity in, 12 religious observances in, 69 resisting patriarchy in, 149, 151 responding to patriarchy, 15–16 women enforcing patriarchal practices in, 147–148
women’s deference towards males in, 144–145 male sexuality, ideologies of, 96–100 Markandaya, Kamala, 24 marriage and sexuality consent and arrangement of marriages, 79–84 cultural importance of marriage, 75–76 family honor and loyalty in, 136–138 gender ideologies of male and female sexuality, 96–100 ideas about marriage in earlier texts, 76–79 inequality of Muslim women in personal law, 54 in Madras on Rainy Days, 45–47 Muslim women and westernization, 65–66 narratives of wedding ceremonies, 84–88 overview of, 12–15 polygamy and divorce, 94–96 power dynamics within marriages, 88–94 in Reaching Bombay Central, 38–40 sexual respectability of women, 96 summary of, 100–103 in Sunlight on a Broken Column, 31, 33 in Zohra, 25–26 Mehndi, Hindu/Muslim weddings, 85, 87–88 Mernissi, Fatima, 62, 76 Midnight’s Children (Rushdie), Indian English in, 35 Mill, James, 2–5 Millet, Kate, 134 modesty enforced female, 97 of females throughout wedding preparations, 81
westernization of Muslim women and, 66 monolithic religion, inaccurate stereotypes about Islam, 62–63 morality, sexual freedom of men vs. women, 96 Mukherjee, Meenakshi, 19 Muslim Indian women, writing in English domestic fiction, 5–8 historical context of feminism in India, 2–5 literature review, 8–9 overview of, 9–16 references, 16–17 as tiny privileged minority in India, 2 Muslim Narratives and the Discourse of English (Malak), 8 Muslim Personal Law Bill, India, 54 Muslims aspects of religion in literary texts, 67–72 bloodbath during partitioning of India, 53 communities in nineteenth century India, 52 effects of British policy to divide and rule, 52–53 feminists, 76 identity politics in India and, 56–61 inequality of women in personal law, 54–55 polygamy as legal for men in India, 94 relationships with Hindus before indepedence/partition, 55–56 self-determination of women in marriage and, 79–80 women and issue of “Westernization,” 61–67 women shaped by economic/ geographic/social factors, 51
MUSLIM INDIAN WOMEN WRITING IN ENGLISH
N Nabar, Vrinda, 113 Narayan, R.K., 6 narrative omniscience, in realist novels, 21–22 narrative strategy. See form and narrative strategy
O “On Writing,” essay (Futehally), 35
P partitioning of India bloodbath between Muslims/Hindus in, 53 literary representations of Hindu– Muslim relationships before, 55–56 socialistic pattern of development since, 113 patriarchal bargain, 135 patriarchy class inequality and, 129–130 collusion of women in practices of, 145–149 controlled female body as basis of, 66 definition of, 133 exploiting domestic labour of women, 134 family honor and loyalty in, 136–138 female submission and deference toward males, 141–145 feminist movements challenging, 135–136 homosexuality oppressed by, 100 introduction, 133–136
older women as most stern enforcers of, 135 overview of, 15–16 power/control over Hindu/Muslim women, 54–55 resisting, 149–151 western women as oppressed victims of, 66 women’s dependency and authority, 138–141 Patterns of Feminist Consciousness in Indian Women Writers (Roy), 20 Persian influence, in writings of Hosain, 26–27 personification of thoughts/emotions, in writings of Hosain, 27–29 philosophical aspects of religion, in literary texts, 70 Phoenix Fled and Other Stories (Hosain) deserving closer study, 8–9 domestic servants in, 117 dramatic irony in, 29–30 form and narrative strategy in, 25–29 gender and social class in, 15, 110–115, 130 marriage as antidote to immorality in, 78–79 marriage power dynamics in, 89 narrative of wedding ceremony in, 85 religion and communal identity in, 56 physical description in Sunlight on a Broken Column, 32–33 visual images in Reaching Bombay Central, 38 visual images in Tara Lane, 36, 39–40 Pilcher, Jane, 133 politics Muslims in India, and identity, 56–61 women in Indian nationalist movement, 4 polygamy and divorce, 94–96
Hindu Code of 1955 inconsistencies, 4 power marriage dynamics of, 88–89 patriarchical. See patriarchy premarital chastity, as sexual respectability, 96 purdah (female seclusion) associated with class privilege, 108 close relationships with servants in, 116–117 modeling British lady in elite Indian culture, 109–110
Q Qur’an Argument that it does not discriminate against women, 76 on marriage, 75–76 Muslim women, westernization and, 61 on polygamy and divorce, 95
R “Ramu” (Hosain), 29–30 Reaching Bombay Central (S. Futehally) female dependency promoted by males in, 140 form and narrative strategy in, 10, 37–40 gender and social class in, 14, 125–127, 131 marriage and sexuality in, 13 marriage power dynamics in, 91–93 Muslims and identity politics in India, 58–60 patriarchy, 59 religion and communal identity in, 11–12, 68–69
servants as minor characters in, 124 women’s deference towards males in, 142–144 realist novels Indian women writers, 19–21 narrative omniscience/critical realism in, 21–22 of novelists in this book, 9–10 relating to feminist writers, 22 red color, in Hindu/Muslim wedding rituals, 86 religion and communal identity aspects of religion in literary texts, 67–72 Hindu–Muslim relationships before independence/partition, 55–56 introduction to, 51–55 Muslims and identity politics in India, 56–61 Muslim women and issue of westernization, 61–67 overview of, 11–12 religious observances in literary texts, 67–70 Rich Like Us (Sahgal), paradoxical position of elite Indian women in, 127 rituals, Hindu/Muslim wedding, 85–88 Rokeya, Begum, 3–4 Roots and Shadows (Deshpande), 7, 79 Roy, Anuradha, 20–21 Rushdie, Salman, 35
S Sahgal, Nayantara, 127, 150 Sangari, Kumkum, 135 sarcasm, in Tara Lane, 37 Scott, Sue, 148 self-determination of women in marriage lacking in Madras on Rainy Days, 82–83
MUSLIM INDIAN WOMEN WRITING IN ENGLISH
and Sharia Law, 79–80 Sense and Sensibility (Austen), 24 sexual exploitation, women servants, 117–118, 123–124 sexuality. See marriage and sexuality “Sharada” (S. Futehally), 41 Sharia Law divorce as male perogative in, 95 inequality of Muslim women in, 54 role and status of women in Zohra, 63 self-determination of women in marriage and, 79–80 Small Remedies (Deshpande), 7 social class concepts of, 105 gender and. See gender and social class social conscience of elite society toward domestic servants, 118–119 of Shama Futehally, 40–45 social criticism, Sunlight on a Broken Column, 32 social realism complex relationships in, 19 definition of, 24 focusing on domestic sphere, 20 in Zohra, 24–26 “Standard English” essay (S.Futehally), 35 subjective autobiographical realism, feminist writing, 22 Sunlight on a Broken Column (Hosain) arranged vs. love marriage in, 77–78 aspects of religion in, 69–71 as best known work of fiction by Muslim Indian woman, 8 class-based sexual exploitation in, 123–124 collusion of women in patriarchal practices, 146 consent and arrangement of marriages in, 81
family honor and loyalty in, 137–138 form and narrative strategy in, 10, 30–33 gender and social class in, 14, 107–108, 110, 114–115, 130–131 male/female sexuality ideology in, 98 marriage and sexuality in, 13 marriage power dynamics in, 88–89 Muslims and identity politics in India, 57–58 narrative of wedding ceremony in, 84–85 privileged women develop close relationships with servants, 116–117 religion and communal identity in, 11, 56 resisting patriarchy in, 149–151 responding to patriarchy, 15 strong male authority in, 138–139 women’s deference towards males in, 141
T Tagore, Rabrindath, 109–110 Tara Lane (S. Futehally) collusion of women in patriarchal practices, 147 consent and arrangement of marriages in, 81–84 female dependency promoted by males in, 140 form and narrative strategy in, 10, 35–37 gender and social class in, 124–125, 127–129, 131 marriage and sexuality in, 13 marriage power dynamics in, 89–91 Muslim identity as non-contentious in, 11
Muslims and identity politics in India, 58 narrative of wedding ceremony in, 85–88 religious observances in, 68 women’s deference towards males in, 142 tensions, class guilt and, 124–127 That Long Silence (Deshpande), 92, 144 “The Daughter-in-Law” (Hosain) household servants as focus in, 117, 119 narrative structure in, 28 “The First Party” (Hosain), 27, 110–111 “The First Rains” (S. Futehally), 41, 123–124 “The Loss” (Hosain) ambiguous ending of, 30 folk superstitions in, 69–70 household servants as focus of, 117, 119–120 third-person narrator in, 29 “The Meeting” (S. Futehally), 41 Therborn, Goran, 133–134 The Right Words: Selected Essays 1967–2004 (Futehally), 67 “The Street of the Moon” (Hosain) enforcement of modesty for unmarried girls in, 97 function of wedding ceremony and gifts in, 85 household servants as focus in, 117 male/female sexuality ideology in, 97–98 marriage as antidote to immorality in, 78 omniscient third-person narrator in, 27 theme of exploitation in, 117 women viewed as temptresses in, 98 third-person narrator Fire on the Mountain (Desai), 40
Frontiers collection (Futehally), 40–45 Phoenix Fled (Hosain), 27–29 Reaching Bombay Central (Futehally), 37–40 “This Was All the Harvest” (Hosain), 29 “Time Is Unredeemable” (Hosain) anglicization of the Indian elite in, 112–113 bitterly ironic ending of, 30 marriage as antidote to immorality in, 78–79 omniscient third-person narrator in, 27–28 Two Virgins (Markandaya), 24
U Uniform Civil Code in India, 63 urban intelligentsia, 5 Urdu, in writing style of Hosain, 26–27
W “Waking Up” (S. Futehally), 41, 147 weddings. See also Zohra (Z. Futehally) importance in novels of, 75 narratives of ceremonies, 84–88 Western ideology, marginalizing feminism in India as, 3 westernization anglicization of the Indian elite, 109–111 Muslim women and issue of, 61–67 patriarchal expectations dominating women in, 139 western woman, as unwitting victim of patriarchy, 148–149 Whelehan, Imelda, 133 “White Leopard” (Hosain) first-person narrator in, 29
MUSLIM INDIAN WOMEN WRITING IN ENGLISH
personification of thoughts/emotions in, 27 responding to patriarchy, 146 twisted ending of, 30 widow burning (sati), reforming practice of, 3 women collusion in patriarchal practices, 145–149 community identity in India and, 54 economic/geographic/social factors shaping Muslim, 51 ideologies of sexuality in, 96–100 inequality of Muslim, 54–55 paradoxical position of elite Indian, 127–130 patriarchy exploiting domestic labour of, 134 seclusion (purdah) of, 3–4 as temptresses, 98 Westernization and Muslim, 61–67 Women, Body, Desire in Post-colonial India (Puri), 148 Women Claim Islam: Creating Islamic Feminism through Literature (Cooke), 8 Woolf, Virginia, 19–20
Z Zohra (Z. Futehally) aspects of religion in, 69–71 character exposition through contrast in, 24–25
compliance with patriarchy in, 145–146, 149 consent and arrangement of marriages in, 80–81 cultural constraints in, 26 family honor in, 136–137 focus on elite in, 139 form and narrative strategy in, 10, 22–26 fusion of Hindu/Muslim customs, 55–56 gender and social class in, 14, 115–116 ideas about marriage in, 76–77 male/female sexuality ideology in, 97–98 marriage and sexuality in, 13 marriage power dynamics in, 88 Muslims and identity politics in India, 56–57 narrative of wedding ceremony in, 84 narrative structure of, 25–26 polygamy in, 94 as realist novel, 24 religion and communal identity in, 11, 55–56 role and status of women in, 62–63