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Women on the Margins: Reflections on Manju Kapur's 'Difficult Daughters'

In Difficult Daughters, her first novel, published in 19981 and located primarily in the
India of the 1940s, Manju Kapur speaks, with great narrative eloquence, of the idea of
independence. The book, whose author, born in 1948, lives in Delhi and currently
teaches at Miranda House College, was awarded the Commonwealth Writers Prize for
Best First Book (Eurasia Section), and has earned her very substantial success, both
commercially and critically, both in her native India and on the world market (2003 saw
the appearance of a Spanish-language edition, translated by Dora Sales Salvador of the
Universidad Jaume I de Castellón)2. Manju Kapur has now published a second novel, A
Married Woman (2003)3, which is quite as powerful as its predecessor and, if anything,
thematically even more controversial. The present essay, however, will focus on a
number of key aspects of Difficult Daughters.

The search for control over one's destiny, surely the key theme of Difficult Daughters,
refers to the Independence aspired to and obtained by a nation (despite its cruel division
by a fateful Partition), but also to the independence yearned after (and finally not
obtained) by a woman and member of that same nation (or of one of its rival
communities). Virmati, the heroine, seeks human relations that will allow her to be
herself and to exercise the degree of control over her life which, as an educated woman,
she knows she deserves. Born in Amritsar in the Punjab in 1940, the daughter of a
father of progressive ideas and a traditionalist mother (Kasturi, obliged to give birth to
no less than 11 children), she aspires to a freer life than that offered her by those
around her. This aspiration is condemned to failure, thanks to the incomprehension she
receives from both her own family and that of the man she marries - but also thanks to
her own mistakes, for no-one obliged her to marry who became her husband, and she
was free not to make the choice she did.

Virmati, like so many other subcontinental women, is asked to accept a typical arranged
marriage. She rebels against that destiny, to the lasting shame of her family, above all
of her mother. Insisting on her right to be educated, she manages to leave home to
study in Lahore. Nonetheless, she falls in love with an Amritsar teacher known as 'the
Professor', a married man who first appears in her life as her parents' tenant. After a
number of vicissitudes, including a period as a school principal in a small Himalayan
state, she finally marries the man she loves (or thinks she loves), and returns to
Amritsar to live with him. However, he refuses to leave his first wife, and the
consequences for Virmati are harsh indeed: she ends up being marginalised by her own
family and despised by her husband's. Virmati's tale is told, from a present-day
perspective, by Ida, her only daughter, who seeks to reconstruct her late mother's life-
story, against the background of the Independence movement of the 1940s and the
subsequent trauma of Partition.

Virmati's case may be seen as representative up to a point, but not absolutely so. It is
well-known that women participated forcefully in the social movements that led up to
Independence (and, alas, Partition). Dora Sales Salvador, in her note to her Spanish
translation of the novel, appositely stresses: 'Kapur enfatiza la labor que en aquellos
momentos ejercieron muchas mujeres que, al tiempo que reclamaban la igualdad de
oportunidades, el acceso paritario a la educación y las posibilidades de una vida más allá
de las convenciones, fueron una fuerza visible en la resistencia no violenta ante los
británicos' ('Kapur emphasises the efforts made at that time by numerous women who,
while demanding equal opportunities, equal access to education and life-opportunities
going beyond convention, were a visible force in the non-violent resistance to the
British'4). The pages of Difficult Daughters speak not only of Virmati, but of other
'difficult daughters', who succeed better than she did in their parallel struggles for
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independence in their lives. At the centre of the narrative, we are confronted with a
woman who fights but falls by the wayside; but at its edges, as no doubt less
representative but still symbolic figures, we encounter - as will be seen below - other
women, whose relative success points the way to the future.

II

The happiest and most attractive period in Virmati's life is, beyond doubt, that which she
spends in Nahan, the capital of Sirmaur, the small Himalayan state run by an
enlightened maharaja which gives her refuge for a while as the headmistress of a girl's
school. Sirmaur existed in reality, and is now part of the federal state of Himachal
Pradesh. It is there that she achieves the greatest degree of control over her life: there
are rules she has to obey (and breaking them proves her fall), but she is able to teach
inside an ordered framework, and her performance wins her a deserved respect. It is
true that the single or widowed lady teacher or headmistress is something of a stock
figure in modern Indian literature (as in the spinster lecturer Bimala, in Anita Desai's
Clear Light of Day or the grandmother in Amitav Ghosh's The Shadow-Lines), but the
particularity of Virmati's destiny, at this stage of her life, is that she has to exercise her
responsibilities entirely by herself. In the micro-state to which her destiny leads her, she
has no family or close friends. She attains a near-exemplary level of female autonomy.
For the first and only time, she has her own place to live, Virginia Woolf's famous 'room
of one's own': and yet she falls. She believes she needs a man, and she makes the
wrong choice, returning to a relationship that had already brought her nothing but
suffering. The repeated clandestine visits of the fatal Professor lose Virmati her
employers' confidence, and she is obliged to quit her school, house and employment.

Retrospectively, the Nahan period appears as the one utopian moment in Virmati's
unfortunate life. This sensation of a distant utopia is reinforced if the 21st-century reader
recalls that these are circumstances from a past epoch which could not be repeated
today, for better or for worse: the maharajas are a thing of the past. The more than 500
princely states of pre-Independence and pre-Partition India varied enormously in size,
from the huge domain of the Nizam of Hyderabad to miniscule territories like Sirmaur.
Kapur's text declares: 'Nahan, clean and prosperous, was ruled by an enlightened royal
couple' (182). It may be that not all the maharajas were as retrograde as is often
thought, and that not all should be seen as like the cynical and exploitative Nawab of
Bahawalpur who has been so fiercely condemned by V.S. Naipaul 5. All in all, what
Virmati finds in Nahan is a certain lifestyle - employment in an isolated but well-ordered
mini-state, capable of providing her with some degree of psychological and mental
refuge - which would not be on offer to her equivalent today.

She did, however, still have another option open. There is an opening that she glimpses,
but which finally eludes her. There was another place she could have gone to:
Shantiniketan, the destination that she evoked with her employers to avoid open
scandal, but which also represented a real possibility for Virmati. Shantiniketan: a key
location of modern Indian spirituality, the place in Bengal (today in West Bengal) where,
thanks to the best offices of Rabindranath Tagore, education and enlightenment
prevailed under the auspices of the great poet's liberal philosophy; the seat of Viswa-
Bharati, the foundation (first school, later university) established by Tagore himself,
where women were accepted as a matter of principle as participants in the educational
process. Had Virmati completed the journey she never finished, she could have remade
her life there: she could have met new people, maintained her independence, at the very
least found new opportunities. Unfortunately, she has to change train in Delhi, and the
long waiting-time opens up a trap that she falls into: she contacts an acquaintance in the
capital, who is also a friend of the fateful Professor. The glimpse of a spiritual
awakening, of a renewed autonomy, fades into the distance.
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III

Virmati's married life with the Professor in Amritsar turns out to be a disaster. She wilts
under the implacable and hostile gaze of Ganga, her husband's first wife, with whom she
has to live. She loses all sense of identity: the continuation of her education (she studies
for a higher degree in philosophy, but without enthusiasm) feeds no more dreams of
independence. In the end, her individual history disappears and becomes all but
irrelevant, swallowed up in the greater and more resonant collective tragedy of Partition.
Yet, despite all this, Virmati has in her life's path encountered other women, who like her
aspired to a different life, and who succeeded better than she did.

These women are Shakuntala, her cousin; and Swarna Lata, her roommate in Lahore.
Both are representatives of a certain female type that recurs in Indian literature: the
emancipated woman militant. As we have seen above, no-one should forget the many
women who took part in the struggle for Independence and the Gandhian movement: a
notable literary testimony to them is Kanthapura, Raja Rao's novel of 1938 in which he
tells that story through the prism of a female narrative voice. In post-Independence
literature, one may mention such characters as Daisy, the militant of The Painter of
Signs by R.K. Narayan who prefers to remain single, or Malati Trivedi, the progressive
activist of A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth, who first appears in that book as, curiously,
also the roommate of the female protagonist, Lata; here too, the convergence of names
between Seth's Lata and Kapur's Swarna Lata may be another detail pointing to a
possible intertextuality. The name Shakuntala, too, has its intertextual connotations: the
Indian reader will think immediately of the eponymous heroine of The Recognition of
Shakuntala, the play by Kalidasa, the great classical Sanskrit dramatist - the young girl
who, abandoned by her husband the king, finally obtains recognition of her rights and
proper treatment.

In Virmati's extended family, her cousin Shakuntala appears from the beginning as the
exemplar of the 'modern' or 'liberated' women. She studies, teaches, and takes part in
the political-Gandhian movement: even after marriage, she keeps a firm grip on her
autonomy and her freedom of action and thought. Shakuntala thus becomes a pole of
attraction for Virmati: 'Virmati listened, … drawn towards Shakuntala, to one whose
responsibilities went beyond a husband and children' (17). Nor is she an entirely atypical
or isolated figure: she shares her 'liberated' lifestyle with a group of friends, whose
activities she explains to her cousin: 'We travel, entertain ourselves in the evenings,
follow each other's work, read papers, attend seminars. One of them is even going
abroad for higher studies' (ibid)6. Later, in Swarna Lata, Virmati encounters a woman
who leads a similar lifestyle; her friend, an ultra-committed activist, takes her to a
meeting of the Punjab Women's Student Conference where she shines as an orator:
'Heavy applause broke out as Swarna finished speaking' (145). Swarna continues her
political activity post-marriage, expressing herself on the matter to Virmati as follows:
'We have plenty of married women working with us. I'm married, aren't I?' (252). One
may draw a parallel between the careers of Shakuntala and Swarna, although here a
qualification needs to be made: on the one and only occasion when the two meet, they
do not get on - a small narrative irony which points up Kapur's ability to avoid both
reductionism and sentimentalism. In the end, the path of political activism does not
attract Virmati, as she herself recognises 'I am not like these women. They are using
their minds, organizing, participating in conferences, being politically active, while my
time is spent being in love' (142). She chooses - it cannot be said for her own good - the
road that leads to the Professor: a road not taken by Swarna, with whom she finally
feels obliged to break off relations: 'And Swarna dropped out of her life' (252) 7.

At all events, it may be said that Virmati's frustrated life is, as it were, framed - as if in a
triptych - by those two other, much more successful lives: those of Shakuntala and
Swarna Lata, both emblematic of the educated, politicised and emancipated woman8. In
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other words, the psychological annihilation of Virmati, at the hands of her own family
and her husband's, should not be read as a fatality. What happens to Virmati is no doubt
the most representative destiny of the Indian woman (even if educated), quantitatively
or statistically, but Kapur's novel shows that other paths also exist, while further
stressing that choices are by no means simple or either-or. There are types of female
negotiation that work, and others that do not: but nothing is predetermined. In this
context, we may quote the perceptive comments of Dora Sales: 'En esta novela lo
destacable es que la disyunción entre el peso de la tradición adscrita al género, por una
parte, y los deseos de independencia y autoafirmación, por otra, no se plantea como una
mera dicotomía de opciones vitales. No es blanco o negro, en ningún caso. Hay toda una
gama de complejos grises emocionales entre estas dos alternativas' ('In this novel, one
needs to stress that the disjunction between the weight of gender-determined tradition,
on the one hand, and the yearning for independence and self-affirmation, on the other,
does not appear as a simple dichotomy of life-choices. In no case are things black and
white. There is a whole range of complex emotional shades of grey between the two
alternatives.')9. One may here invoke, from a comparative viewpoint, another novel by
an Indian woman writer, Anita Desai's Fasting, Feasting, which appeared in 1999, shortly
after Difficult Daughters. Here, if Uma, the female protagonist of the novel's Indian part,
is unable to get out of the dull mediocrity of her existence as an unmarried daughter -
and if the fate of her cousin Anamika, who could have gone to study at Oxford but ends
up a victim of the epidemic of bride-burning, is even worse - Uma's sister Aruna appears
by contrast as the representative of a different type of Indian woman, the 'socialite' who
succeeds in imposing her personality by the skilful pulling of social strings. It may be
concluded that, however sadly typical the experiences of Virmati, these also exist paths
that lead, with positive effect, to less typical destinations where demands are raised and
recognised.

IV

Difficult Daughters is not a pure third-person narrative. Virmati's story is told mostly in
the third person (with some recourse to the epistolary mode), but is framed by the first-
person narration of a search. The search is that of Virmati's daughter, Ida, as she seeks
to reconstitute her mother's history. Ida, an educated woman, divorced and childless,
apparently leads a freer life than her mother's in external terms; yet inside her she feels,
even if not quite so acutely, some of the same anxieties as had plagued her mother: 'No
matter how I might rationalize otherwise, I feel my existence as a single woman
reverberate desolately' (3). It is clear from the book's pages that Ida, the narrator
through whose voice Kapur speaks, has achieved more than her mother (and much more
than her grandmother): and that this is so even through the simple creative fact of
'writing down' her own family history. To quote Dora Sales again (this time from an
essay on the novel in English): 'In Difficult Daughters we do not listen to Virmati's voice.
She could not speak out, being certainly situated at the juncture of two oppressions:
colonialism and patriarchy. What we have is her daughter's reconstruction and
representation'10. There is, then, a qualitative leap between the life-histories of
(narrated) mother and (narrating) daughter. In addition, as another of Kapur's
commentators, Gur Pyari Jandial, correctly points out, it would be a mistake to devalue
Virmati's struggle because she failed, for what mattered was to have made the attempt:
'What is necessary is to break the patriarchal mould, and for Virmati to have tried to do
that in the forties was a great achievement'11.

The women of India have indeed achieved their successes in half a century of
Independence; but if there is to be a true female independence too, much remains to be
done. The fight for autonomy remains an unfinished combat; and it is from that
perspective that, in her second novel, A Married Woman, published five years later, that
Manju Kapur, this time from an eminently contemporary viewpoint, returns to the
narration of women's issues, deploying an approach that, as in Difficult Daughters,
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manages to be, simultaneously, both Indian and universal. And that, too, is 'a great
achievement'.

MANJU KAPUR: A BRIEF BIBLIOGRAPHY

A. Works

Kapur, Manju. Difficult Daughters [1998]. London: Faber and Faber, 1999. (Spanish-
language version: Hijas dificiles. Translated (with glossary and translator's note) by Dora
Sales Salvador. Madrid: Espasa, 2003).

Kapur, Manju. A Married Woman. London: Faber and Faber, 2003.

B. Criticism

Jandial, Gur Pyari. 'Evolving a Feminist Tradition: The Novels of Shashi Deshpande and
Manju Kapur'. In Atlantic Literary Review [Delhi], 4.3, 2003. (awaiting publication)

Sales Salvador, Dora. 'The Memory of Desire in Manju Kapur's Difficult Daughters: In
Past and Future Tense'. In Constanza del Río and Luis M. García Mainar (eds.), Memory,
Imagination and Desire. Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag C. Winter. (awaiting publication)

1
Page references in this essay are to Manju Kapur, Difficult Daughters [1998], London: Faber and Faber, 1999.
2
Manju Kapur, Hijas dificiles, translated (with glossary and translator's note) by Dora Sales Salvador, Madrid:
Espasa, 2003.
3
Manju Kapur, A Married Woman, London: Faber and Faber, 2003.
4
Dora Sales Salvador, translator's note to Hijas dificiles (q.v.), 356.
5
See the Pakistan section of Naipaul's Beyond Belief (1988)..
6
The figure of the woman who goes abroad for further study recurs in 'A Married Woman'.
7
The path of militancy recurs, once again in a context of meetings and speeches, in 'A Married Woman', where
it fuses, albeit for a brief time and in a context that can scarcely be called socially orthodox,with the option of
'being in love': Kapur's second novel presents among its themes, notably, a narrative of intimacy between
women against the backdrop of the 'events of Ayodhya' and Hindu-Muslim conflict.
8
In this sense, both prefigure the impressive Pipee Trivedi, the social militant and initimate friend of the female
protagonist of the following novel.
9
Dora Sales Salvador, op. cit., 358
10
Dora Sales Salvador, 'The Memory of Desire in Manju Kapur's Difficult Daughters: In Past and Future
Tense', in Constanza del Río and Luis M. García Mainar (eds.), Memory, Imagination and Desire, Heidelberg:
Universitätsverlag C. Winter (awaiting publication).
11
Gur Pyari Jandial, 'Evolving a Feminist Tradition: The Novels of Shashi Deshpande and Manju Kapur'
(awaiting publication in Atlantic Literary Review [Delhi], 4.3).
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SYNOPSIS

`Difficult daughters` is a unique collection by Manju Kapur. The novel is beautifully written, with a
story that is fascinating in so many ways. Spanning three generations, this story centers on a woman
born at the turn of the 20th century into a Punjabi family. It tells of an illicit affair and its wider
political and social implications as well as not least the bothered issue, for Indian women, of
marriage versus education. The protagonist Virmati falls in love with a neighbor, the Professor who
is already married. That the Professor eventually marries Virmati, installs her in his home and that
too alongside with his furious first wife. He helps her towards further studies in Lahore, which is
small consolation to her scandalized family. Or even to Virmati, who finds that the battle for her own
independence has created irrevocable lines of partition and pain around her. The backdrop of the
story is set in the real world not just a real place and time, but one that feels real, seeping out of the
pages to envelope the reader. "Difficult Daughters" is a fascinating insight into many things such as
into history, into a distant culture, but, most importantly, into human hearts and minds. This novel
has the capability to touch human mind from the core point. Despite being set during the Indian
Partition, this is not an overtly political novel. However, a surprising amount of information about
Partition, the political crisis that literally tore apart a nation is imparted. After reading the book the
reader will definitely feel the urge to know more about the culture as well as the scenario.

Set around the turbulent years of World War II and the Partition of India, Manju Kapoor realistically
depicts women of three generations, focusing on Virmati, the difficult daughter of the second
generations. The opening line of the novel gives a jolt to the reader : “The one thing I had wanted was
not to be like my mother”. (1) This cryptic statement is made by Virmati’s only daughter, Ida, a
divorcee and childless perforce. She could not develop an understanding with her mother during her
life time and after Virmati’s death this realization engulfs her with guilt. Ida sets out on a journey into
her mother’s past by piecing together the fragments of memory in search of a woman she could know
and understand. Virmati had been evasive about her past with Ida, and now she hoped to fill the
critical gaps. The consciousness of the reader shuttles between the present and the past along with
Ida who visits different places and meets her mother’s relatives and acquaintances to know about
Virmati, the woman.

Virmati, being the eldest, is burdened with family duties because of her mother’s incessant
pregnancies. Belonging to an austere and high minded Punjabi family, she grows up with the
conditioning that the duty of every girl ‘is to get married’ and a woman’s ‘shaan’ is in her home and not
in doing a job. She is already engaged to a canal engineer, Inderjeet. However, seeds of aspiration
are planted in Virmati when she sees Shakuntala, her cousin, tasting the ‘wine of freedom’. She
secretly nurtures the desire of being independent and leading a life of her own she wants to shoulder
responsibilities that go beyond a husband and children. She realises that it is useless to look for
answers inside the home as the “language of feeling had never flown” between Virmati and Kasturi,
her mother. She had to look outside .... to education, to freedom and the bright lights of Lahore
College even if “she had to fight her mother who was so sure that her education was practically over”.
(17) Asserting herself, she not only clears her FA but joins A.S. College , “the bastion of male
learning”.

It is here that the Oxford- returned Professor, her neighbour, notices her particularly, ‘flower like,
against a back drop of male students’ and forces himself into her mind and heart by spreading his
anguish at her feet. Caught in the whirlpool of misplaced passion towards the already married
Professor, she has the temerity to spurn marriage, attempts suicide and bears confinement. However,
she does realize the hopelessness of her illicit love when she learns about the pregnancy of the
Professor’s wife. How could it be true? Man professing his love for her on the one hand and making
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his wife pregnant on the other. At this juncture, decisively and brusquely she cuts him saying that
“You think you can do what you like so long as you go on saying you love” and goes to Lahore for
further studies.

Thus far we see the budding of a ‘New Woman’ in Virmati who does not want ‘to be a rubber doll for
others to move as they willed’ (85) Defying patriarchal notions that enforce a woman towards
domesticity, she asserts her individuality and aspires self-reliance through education. She is not a
silent rebel but is bold, outspoken, determined and action-oriented. She knows she can not depend
upon the Professor to sort out the domestic situation and proceeds to tackle it on her own. Later, she
very decisively and coolly shuns the Professor, ignoring his plea and keeps the reins in her hand. She
displays a marvellous strength of mind in overcoming her dejection. She is ‘strong to bear the pain,
silently, without anyone knowing’. (101) The determined and unperturbed manner in which she burns
the Professor’s letters show her resolution to close the chapter and look forward to a meaningful life in
Lahore.

But does Virmati blossom into a ‘New Woman’ in the real sense? No. Inspite of her initial revolt
against the family and firm stand against the Professor, she succumbs to his implorations and passion
in Lahore . Loss of virginity pricks her conscience but then she overcomes the guilt by rationalizing it
as “outmoded morality”. (114) She had come to Lahore to broaden her horizons but instead she gets
involved in a useless love, doubtful marriage and unwed pregnancy. The initial tenacious and
assertive self gradually wanes away into a pawn whom the Professor tells “just what to look for, what
to admire, what to criticize”. (119) She wants to spread her wings like Swarnalata, her roommate, who
is committed to “meaningful activities” regarding the freedom movement and women’s emancipation.
But her emotional dependence on the Professor who constantly evades the question of marriage,
stops her from doing anything that he disapproves --- “may be I could be like Swarna from the inside,
secretly”. (124) At the Punjab Women’s Student Conference, she is amazed at “how large an area of
life women wanted to appropriate for themselves”. (132) But these larger spaces are not for her. She
wastes her time awaiting the furtive meetings with the Professor in spite of the awareness that there
were “myriad instances of where she felt she had been weak or wronged”. (129) she is being used
and the Professor wants to have the cake and eat it too.. He enjoys the best of the two worlds and is
not there even at the most crucial time when she undergoes the termination of the pregnancy. Even
afterwards when the Professor eventually marries her very reluctantly, she is given a pariah status
and faces exclusion from hearth etc. Which is the sole domain of the Professor’s first wife, Ganga .
Virmati lives in a cramped space and if forced into submission thought in a very subtle manner as
Jaidev (1992 : 57) writes in another context “Indeed, any sophisticated structure today functions not
by direct, visible exploitation but by making the victims willingly, freely and happily give in to its
imperatives ...” Professor Harish’s attitude towards her is patronising and demeaning. His interest in
her is an extension of sell love ... awakening her intellect and emotions inflates his ego. Undergoing a
gradual process of self-effacement, her energies are directed towards pleasing him while she herself
remains parched. She finds M.A. in Philosophy dull, abstract and meaningless but studying it was her
only means of escape. She wished “Harish had thought another subject suitable for her. She also
wished it was not such an uphill task, being worthy of him”. (237). In fact, she remains ‘difficult’ only
as a daughter towards her grandfather who always championed her cause, her father who was very
understanding and allowed her to study further and towards her mother who certainly had Virmati’s
good at heart.

Thus, though she dares to cross one patriarchal threshold, she is caught into another where her free
spirit is curbed and all she does is ‘adjust, compromise and adapt’. She could have put her foot down
saying ‘she will be her own mistress and relate to him with dignity or not at all. Perhaps the words
were at the back of her mind, teasing her tongue with their shadowy sounds (236) but she does not.
May be her mind had gone “soft and pulpy with repeated complying”. (236) Thus, in Virmati we see
the incipient New Woman who is conscious, introspective, educated, wants to carve a life for herself,
to some extent she even conveys a personal vision of womanhood by violating current social codes
yet she lacks confidence, self control, farsightedness and is psychically imprisoned with an underlying
need to be emotionally and intellectually dependant on a superior force ....... Professor Harish and it is
precisely this knowledge through which the patriarchy works. She fails to break the ‘dependence
syndrome’ (Nahal : 1991 : 17) and halts on the path to full human status.

Trampling patriarchal norms, Virmati defies societal expectation to assert her individuality and hopes
to achieve self- fulfillment. But what does she really get? She is a loser whose acts totally alienate her
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from her own family and she fails to create a space for herself for which she had been striving all
along. Perhaps it is this inability of Virmati to strike independent roots and grow that makes Ida
remark ‘The one thing I had wanted was not to be like my mother’.

It is possible to trace the feminism implicit in the novel through Ida’s impatience towards her mother’s
weaknesses. When her Parvati Masi says that Virmati was a simple girl at heart, Ida says “I hate the
word ‘Simple’. Nobody has any business to live in the world and know nothing about its ways”. (207).
No woman, who dares to spurn patriarchal protection can afford to be ignorant, simple or naive.
Surely, Virmati’s unwed pregnancy and then its heartless termination is unpalatable to Ida who finally
breaks up with her husband. Prabhakar, because he had forced her to have an abortion --- “In
denying that incipient little thing in my belly, he sowed the seeds of our break up”. (144) And then,
does passion so transform an individual that Virmati fails to see things in the right perspective? She
not only disregards her filial duty but also becomes a victimizer by usurping what rightfully belongs to
Ganga, the Professor's first wife, thereby giving a set back to the much needed feeling of sisterhood
among women. The concluding lines of the novel reiterate Ida’s rejection of Virmati, not as a mother
but as a woman. “This book weaves a connection between my mother and me, each word a brick in a
mansion I made with my head and my heart. Now live in it, Mama, and leave me be. Do not haunt me
any more”. (258) Ida, who grew up struggling to be the model daughter, does not have the heart to
reject Virmati, the mother, but her head, the rationale, rejects her as a woman after having an insight
into Virmati’s past.

Through Ida’s admiration for Swarnalata, who enters into a wider sociopolitical sphere, the novelist
seems to be saying that a woman can maintain her individuality and pursue her interest without
threatening the family structures. Thus a woman should basically strive towards a fine interdependent
partnership. But if she feels suffocated, then a voice ought to be raised and there should be a total
breaking away, like Ida. But merely transcending societal norms is not enough. A woman should be
aware, self controlled, strong willed, self reliant and rational, having faith in the inner strength of
womanhood. A meaningful change can be brought only from within by being free in the deeper
psychic sense. Thus Manju Kapoor’s Difficult Daughters is a feminist discourse not because she is a
woman writing about women but because, as Jaidev puts it she “has understood a woman both as a
woman and as a person pressurized by all kinds of visible and invisible contexts”. (68). She presents
feminism at its most same keeping in mind the Indian context.