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Gurudarshan Singh: Shashi Deshpande’s A Matter of Time
“Lived Forwards, Understood Backwards” – Human Relationships in A Matter of Time At a seminar, Shashi Deshpande had made it clear that she does not consider herself a feminist, writing about middle-class women—what she is interested in is the exploration of human relationships. According to Rani Dharker, however, there is no denying that the relationship that interests her most is that of husband and wife (Dharkar, 1994). As it does not exist in isolation but is steeped in the values and ideology of the prevalent society, Deshpande is drawn into baring the subtle processes of oppression and gender differentiation operative within the institution of the family and the male-centred Indian society at large. However, in her novel A Matter of Time, Deshpande explores these questions from the larger framework of existentialism by dwelling on the nature of identity, destiny, human will and the meaning and purpose of existence. Technically, Deshpande uses an alternating first person/third person voice to present what she calls a ‗double perspective‘: the past and present in continuous interplay and overlap. In the novel, Gopal reflects on
the past is presented in the first person (usually by the heroine). this excavation of the past is the key to the women‘s realisation of self. As Ritu Menon has noted. Devaki and Vasudev Murthy. The ―schizophrenic‖ exterior of the house is mirrored in its interior. suddenly it seemed unreal to me .‖(Deshpande. Premi and Anil. Deshpande places the failed marriage of Sumi and Gopal firmly at the centre of the novel and it is juxtaposed with other marriages: Kalyani and Shripati. this juxtaposition. 1994: 115). marking out clearly the two parts of its divided personality. tortured discussions in their own minds with each other throughout the novel. The ancestral house. She says. In a decisive break. 1996). 1996: 5) Deshpande had once admitted to Usha Tambe that she always begins with the characters first. thematically and structurally. Still. the present in the third. the man who came down South with the Peshwa‘s invading army and established the family there. Goda and Satyanarayan. Vishwas or the Big House is a living presence in the novel. In the novel. The name of the house is not derived from the abstract quality of trust but from an ancestor. giant trees. the back garden is full of towering. The all-pervasive hold of the patriarchal worldview is made obvious right in the beginning of the novel in the description of the ancestral house. the first person voice in the novel is that of Gopal even though both Sumi and Gopal have imaginary. while on the fourth side of the house everything grows wild and untamed. Ramesh and Chitra and also Sudha and PK. This very solidity also makes it obvious that it has been built by a man not just for himself. even the themes emerge from the characters (Tambe. but for his sons and his son‘s sons. and Deshpande‘s use of it in fiction is the clearest example of the feminist project of recovery at its most enabling and sober (Menon.Kierkegaard‘s pronouncement. ―Life must be lived forwards. the technical device of using a third person/first person voice to present a double perspective is a striking illustration of the Kierkegaardian axiom. The omniscient narrator conducts us on a tour of the exterior of the house: the front yard is bare and nothing it seems can ever grow there. the house proclaims the meaning of its name by its very solidity. in all her novels. these backward glances. Manorama and Vithalrao. According to Ritu Menon. ―I stopped believing in the life I was leading. 1996: 98). but it can only be understood backwards‖ (Deshpande. exploring the simultaneity of past and present. Gopal abandons his wife and children because. ―A long passage running alo ng the length of the house bisects it with an almost mathematical accuracy. the family entrance is at the side of the house where the outhouse is situated. This juxtaposition is possible thanks largely to the double perspective which she presents thus.
The novel opens with an epigraph drawn from the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad: ―‘Maitreyi.. my God. Sumi urges Aru to let him go for her own sake. 1996: 75) Sumi reflects that the potential to walk out on her was always there in Gopal. Sumi remembers Gopal telling her that it is never possible to disclaim the past. derivation from which becomes change?. ―Changed from what? Is there one inviolate self..and I knew I could not go on. it has no words for the impossible.‖ (Deshpande. it is both a shame and a disgrace.. In a joint family. ‗verily I am about to go forth from this state (of householder).‖ (Deshpande. not again. she finds herself inclined to agree with him.. He wonders.. it is Aru who finds it difficult to come to terms with the situation. This action prompts her father. not her father. Gopal‘s desertion is not just a tragedy. Although Sumi manages to keep her feelings on a tight leash. And . Gopal had stressed that there is no word in English that can fit the concept because it is a practical language. The question of identity resurfaces when Gopal is informed by Kalyani and others that Sumi has changed. but now the rent in the fabric. but a situation of which he was a part. Later on in the novel.. said Yajnavalkya.‖ (Deshpande.it has stained our bones. Shripati to take Sumi and her daughters back to her parental home. careful never to let it spill out has nevertheless entered into us. while arguing about the word Sahriday. In doing so. ―No. Sumi understands what she is doing: she is trying to reclaim. it is ironical that both Shripati and Gopal have taken sanyas of sorts. he‘s a good man.. ―Gopal was right. From which self has Sumi changed?‖ (Deshpande. If you‘ve done wrong. Shankar‘s mother–in-law tells Sumi. which she has contained within herself.Go back to your husband. Aru and the other family members attempt to find out the reason behind Gopal‘s ‗baffling‘ decision only to realise that they do not really know him. Once. he‘ll forgive you. both of them have renounced householding much before the prescribed time and before they have fulfilled their duties. Sumi. they have left the householding duties to the women. Shripati. gaping wide. In her mother‘s house again. Kalyani‘s past. ―. her husband has cut himself off completely from her and has not spoken to her for more than thirty years and she fears that the nightmare is being revisited on her daughter. 1996: 41). is there for all to see. it won‘t be so visible. Aru is soon to realise something else: they are trapped into inactivity by that greatest of fears—the fear of losing face.Myriad selves locked in one person. 1996: 85-86) When Kalyani comes to know about it she cries like an animal in pain. 1996: 12) Gopal‘s desertion is of a different order but still.‖ (Deshpande. 1996: 1) As Ritu Menon notes.
The truth of this statement is borne out in Manorama‘s marriage to Vithalrao. Manorama wanted a son. Shripati. and therefore inescapable. Moreover. there is an overriding reason for living. This is evident in Manorama‘s treatment of Kalyani.‖According to Gopal.... would she walk out? I suspect that my answers to both the questions would have to be no. 1996: 161) According to Deshpande there is a sharp difference between a man‘s world and a woman‘s world. she became afraid that Vithalrao might adopt a son or marry again.for a woman. For Manorama she became the visible symbol of their failure to have a son.. When it was clear that Manorama could have no more children. But. 1996: 129) the narrator informs us.‖ (Deshpande. All human ties are only a masquerade. destiny is just us.. Kalyani was good at Maths and wanted to be an engineer but Manorama did not allow her to complete her schooling and instead married her off to her own brother. instead there was Kalyani.‖ (Deshpande.. Sumi wonders. a daughter. a wife.. because we can never escape ourselves. and most importantly a mother. ―Would Sumi. When Gopal saw Sumi put the baby to her breast he felt that they belonged together..‖ (Deshpande. She does not give much credence to the mother as angel or goddess who is valorised in Indian culture. ―Perhaps.if he has—women shouldn‘t have any pride ?‖ (Deshpande. ever feel the need to walk out of her family? If she did. ―If Gopal‘s life is shaped by what he is what about us. The property (Vishwas) would remain in the family now.. it is the parents. the sharp demarcation in a man‘s and a female‘s worldview still exists. ―Emptiness is always waiting for us. A man has to search for it always and forever. they were together in a magic circle in a way in which he never could be. the hero and heroine do not matter so much in the story of an arranged marriage. 1996: 68) In his quest to discover himself and man‘s relation to the universe he realises. the girls and me? We are here because of his actions: how does this fit in?‖ (Deshpande. Gopal is different in the sense that he is able to present the whole aspect of his personality to a female and not just a part of himself. from the moment she is pregnant. 1996: 27) The mother-daughter relationship has also occupied an important place in Deshpande‘s fiction. she fulfilled none of the dreams Manorama had for her. a justification for life that is loudly and emphatically true. she presents us with different facets of the mother-daughter relationship as she is acutely aware that the prevalent patriarchal ideology is more often than not too strongly ingrained in women for them to treat their daughters as human beings in their own right. However. Instead. ―A man is always an outsider. However. Ritu Menon makes a pertinent point. 1996: 52) However. after this. Manorama was . Manorama felt secure. According to the narrator.
the four year old child somehow got lost at VT station. Premi tells Aru. Manorama‘s treatment of her daughter adversely affected her relationship with Vithalrao and the rift between them never healed. never spoke to you. Kalyani and her daughters did not see Shripati for nearly two months as he went on searching around the city like a madman for his lost son. it was Manorama‘s mother who had sent her daughter to Yamunabai‘s school at a time when schooling for a girl was something that could come in the way of her marriage prospects. Shripati returned back to Kalyani after more than two months. ―My father never spoke to me until I was ten. ―Baba had gone to check the reservations. who never came out. later. Vithalrao‘s father did not hesitate to do what could have damned him in the society he lived in: make an offer to a girl‘s father for his son. 1996: 140) It is clear that Shripati suspected Kalyani of deliberately losing the mentally retarded child whom she found difficult to manage.. he stayed in his room and never spoke to her again. It . too. when he returned the boy wasn‘t there. After being forced by Manorama on her deathbed.‘ When Kalyani at last gave birth to a son he turned out to be mentally retarded. leaving Amma with the children. As stated earlier. Even though he was distraught and frantic for his son.the daughter of a poor village Brahmin while Vithalrao was an educated son of a well to do man from Bangalore. The first time he really talked to her was after her medical exams when he summoned her to his room to tell her that she was getting married to Anil.. It gets affected by myriad factors. Moreover. Like Premi told Anil. Manorama never relented in her anger towards her daughter. went with her daughters to the ancestral home. Kalyani like Sumi.‖ (Deshpande.‖ (Deshpande. There was more to it than the disgrace of her coming back home. While coming to Bangalore for the vacations. 1996: 18). Vithalrao had a stroke soon after and for this. After this. And she did this in spite of the fact that Yamunabai and most her students were not Brahmins. Kalyani has turned the very weapon employed against her into her armour. However. Also. it was an act of public desertion as he left Kalyani and her daughters on the platform. Manorama‘s mother had induced her husband to write a letter to Vithalrao‘s father about the disaster that struck. a rejected wife. Manorama held her daughter responsible. just a month before the wedding was to take place: Manorama ‗grew up. Her silence is a mode of resistance which is highly potent because it does not allow anyone even a glimpse of her feelings or thought process.. surrounded by curious strangers. the truth was a father who stayed in his room. the husband-wife relationship does not exist in isolation.
After Shripati‘s death. I‘m here. Kalyani has come to terms with the past and she reminds Sumi of a spider she had seen a few days ago. but for Kalyani. 1996: 245). As the narrator says. it is ironical that Kalyani‘s silence is broken with the deaths of Shripati and Sumi. inspite of what Shripati did to her. there was no sting in the words that took away her marital status.. the fact that Kalyani has the right to all the privileges of the wife of a living husband. in fact.Perhaps there‘s this too.‖ (Deshpande. The words have given her back her identity. her consciousness moving outside herself and reaching out to the others as well as embracing. the talk veers towards a person who was interested in Goda and who died a year later. the whole of what is happening. whatever we do. Aru is in some ways the heroine of the novel as the omniscient narrator herself admits: ―Is Aru the heroine? Why not?. this above all. As Ritu Menon notes. At this point Goda shudders involuntarily. It is Aru who takes charge at home.. However. who had begun to reclaim herself by indulging in gardening. ―Amma. clearly. daughter of Vithalrao and Manorama. She is surprised that he is taking about the child to her and turns around and sees a look of brooding tenderness on his face.‖ (Deshpande. Aru had rushed to Kalyani and kneeling by her huddled body said. 1996: 233).‘ Goda had looked anxiously at Kalyani when Anil read the will. we are always giving the past a place in our lives. that Aru is trying to make sense of what is happening. they find in his will he has left the house to ‗Kalyani. I‘m your son. It is the only time that father and daughter utter his name and both die with it on their lips. to have strengthened her. in fact. Kalyani who has survived intact. restored something she had lost. ―On the contrary. It is interesting that the accident takes place when they have just mentioned Madhav. ―She has the concentration of a rope-walker. she gradually moves towards an understanding that perhaps. In fact Sumi takes a while to realise that Shripati is referring to the lost boy.puzzles Aru to distraction as she attempts to fathom the inscrutable nature of Kalyani and try to reconcile her contradictory attitudes towards her. learning the scooter. . 1996: 185) In her attempts at making sense of the situation.‖ (Deshpande. doing all the things that have to be done. prompting Sumi to wonder whether it is this that has helped Kalyani to endure everything. spinning an intricate delicate web into a beautiful design because of the variety of relationships she has at present.‖ (Deshpande. becoming economically independent and by writing plays is suddenly killed in an accident along with Shripati. I‘m your daughter.. I‘m here with you. it is as if the words have given her something more than the house.. 1996: 151) During a conversation. Kalyani who survived Manorama‘s myriad acts of cruelty. Amma. Sumi. the lost son. they seem. the family does not seem to realise that ―the real miracle is Kalyani herself.
each moment remains. 1996.museindia. 1996: 246) References Deshpande. Retrieved from http://ch. encapsulated in time.com/ritu1. Ritu. ―Shashi Deshpande as a Feminist and Novelist‖ in IndianEnglish Fiction 1980-90: An Assessment. 1996: 238) Although fully aware of Albert Camus‘s belief ―we carry our places of exile within us‖ (Deshpande. don‘t worry about us. ―Yes. and a man. we‘ll be quite alright.8m. Rani. our names are inscribed on it. she had been left with two images: a woman. edited by Nilufer E Bharucha and Vilas Sarang. Gopal sets out in the hope of exorcising the ghosts of his past. not as if it is a burden.R. Publishing Corporation. Tambe. ―Whether our lives are long or short. http://www. Forgiveness has no place in this relationship. The Feminist Press. moving all over a city.her son seriously.holding the weight of her grief in her two hands. acceptance is all. New World Literature Series. Penguin India: New Delhi. her two daughters by her side. 1996: 234) Ever since she had heard Kalyani‘s story from Premi. Dharkar. ―Girl-wife-mother: The Marginalized in the Texts of Shashi Deshpande and Bharati Mukherjee‖ in Indian-English Fiction 1980-90: An Assessment. Like the war memorial to the Vietnam dead.‖ (Deshpande. 1996: 217). Papa. B.htmon 21 February 2011. 1996: 244). She tells Gopal.com/featurecontent. A Matter of Time. Shashi. New York.R. edited by Nilufer E Bharucha and Vilas Sarang. B. 1994 Menon. after initial tumult. you go.‖ (Deshpande.. frozen into an image of endurance and desperation. Gopal. but to balance herself. Even when Kalyani learnt about Sumi‘s death and cried out ―I lost my child Goda‖ (Deshpande..‖ (Deshpande. a sister and friend— but not as a wife. Aru has taken her promise of being Kalyani‘s daughter. had stayed aloof and remained in the background so that it seemed that Sumi had been mourned as a daughter. tirelessly searching for his lost son. ―Afterword‖ to A Matter of Time. a mother. 1994.. While mourning for her in private he thinks. Aru couldn‘t help wondering whether it was a declaration of innocence when it was too late and did not matter anymore or was she referring to Sumi. visible to those who look for them. It is almost as if at the end of the novel she has taken upon the responsibilities of the householder upon herself. Nothing is lost. But when she saw Goda envelop her in the folds of her love and compassion she realised that it did not matter. we leave our marks on the world. New World Literature Series. 1996. Usha. We‘ll be alright. . at the end of the novel.asp?issid=36&id=2533 dated: 24/4/13. Publishing Corporation.
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