BILJANA ĐORIĆ-FRANCUSKI Department of English Studies Faculty of Philology Belgrade University Serbia

Dark Side of Life for Women in Postcolonial Asia as Reflected in R.P. Jhabvala’s Stories of Contemporary India

Abstract The position of women in the contemporary – and yet, still very traditional Indian society – is one of the main topics in Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's fiction, especially in her early short stories written in the nineteen sixties. Although her very personal and limited vision of Indian women has been significantly altered since then, and Jhabvala herself has frequently admitted that some progress has been achieved regarding the gender issue in India, at that time she used to portray the local female as torn between her old-fashioned life and her inner longings. With a pronounced empathy with women in a society in which they have no control over their destiny, merely representing the object of men, who treat them as if they were not human beings at all, but part of their possessions, in her stories she pointed to the injustices towards these down-trodden females. Not being able to accept this situation as a given fact, Jhabvala endeavoured to enlighten the Occidental reader about the cruel destiny of these women, rendered even more hideous by their ignorance and submissiveness, especially in the case of the atrocious rite of widow burning – suttee, 1

2 .with an MA in English Literature. of Polish-Jewish origin. It is obvious that by her writing. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala is called “a writer of world class – a master storyteller whose interpretation of the Indian scene is but one aspect of her remorselessly intelligent yet decently sympathetic understanding of human relationships” (cited in Jhabvala. having graduated at the University of London . especially on behalf of a young wife. is quickly punished and the poor woman is molested in every possible way. Stronger Climate 1). they dare not raise their voices. 1 In a Sunday Times review. It is the aim of this paper to demonstrate that by analysing two of her collections of short stories: Like Birds. and A Stronger Climate (1968) – but it must be stressed that both were written and published for the first time in the nineteen sixties. as well as that the author of this paper neither expresses any personal beliefs nor shares the opinions of the writer. once described herself as being “practically born a displaced person”2 and that is probably why she has managed to gain such a deep insight into another culture – that of postcolonial India. but also consider this a great privilege which they fight for among themselves. Jhabvala did not want to denigrate the Indian women or the Indian society of that period.1 Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Any form of rebellion. she yearned to help the unheard women's voices move out of the shadow and across the borders of chauvinism. Born in Germany. particularly the mother-in-law. which means four decades ago. 2 Cited by Yasmine Gooneratne (1). Like Fishes (1963). who had to move across borders all her life. Afterwards. but also other women. Introduction Considered to be among the world's best authors of short stories written in the English language. In that male-dominated culture. as it has been demonstrated by her more recent works. because of social constraints forcing them to obey not only the husband and other males of the family. Jhabvala's usual female characters not only wait on their men and serve for their pleasure only. she emigrated to Great Britain with her family at the outset of World War Two.taken to be the supreme duty both to the late husband and the society. but on the contrary. It should also be added that Ruth Jhabvala's point of view on Indian women has greatly changed since then.

She had thus reached a point of view from which she could easily cultivate empathy with all the Sufferers../ provide the terrain for elaborating strategies of selfhood singular or communal . while the first part is entitled The Seekers. and especially so in a world in which. Talking about ‘the possibility of a cultural hybridity’.4 The influence of such a state of affairs on her works. in a world so different from anything she had so far encountered. It is evident that her status of a stranger wherever she has lived must have forced Ruth Prawer Jhabvala to increase her efforts in trying to understand life as it is at present. I do not know of a writer living who gives that feeling with more unqualified certainty than Mrs Jhabvala” (cited in Jhabvala. and an outsider .5 above all women among them. remaining a permanent foreigner in all the three countries and writing in a language other than her own. where she spent more than twenty years. political and social factors in the author’s life. These generalisations and Jhabvala’s stereotyped form of behaviour only express her own unstable identity which resulted from the combination of historical. London and New York. before moving to the United States. while she lived there she was in a unique position of being able to create her works both as an insider . Bhabha maintains that these ‘in-between’ spaces “produced in the articulation of cultural differences /. 5 This is the very title of the second part of her collection of short stories A Stronger Climate. beyond any shadow of doubt. saying that “When photographs or texts are 3 4 Hence the title of one of her later novels . and innovative sites of collaboration.she married an Indian architect and went to live with her new family in New Delhi. man is the subject and woman is the object.Three Continents. in order to find out her own cultural identity and to solve the emotional and cross-cultural dilemmas that confused her sense of the inner self. as well as its results. 3 . This was particularly difficult during her stay in India. on the other hand. Homi K.remaining what she was by birth. Edward Said warned of the dangers of such biased narratives. although. Jhabvala now divides her time between three cities on three continents3 – Delhi. published in 1988. and in different cultures. and contestation. are best described by the following statement of Charles Percy Snow: “Someone once said that the definition of the highest art is that one should feel that life is this and not otherwise.which she did become by her marriage. Such high quality of her fiction writing was gained due to Jhabvala's struggling in real-world environment.. In his famous study Culture and Imperialism. as she has always been in-between at least two worlds.that initiate new signs of identity. Three Continents 1). in the act of defining the idea of society itself” (1).

the contemporary Indian society and its various segments. they permit unregimented subjectivity to have a social function” (Said 405). ” (Berger 111). This can well be explained by the following words of Arthur Asa Berger. 7 Cited from: Jhabvala. racial. from the phenomenon labelled by culture critic Edward Said as “the culture of empire” (253).like expatriation. These stereotypes tend to be negative and highly insulting at times. 6 Ensuing. though they are often camouflaged by humor.used merely to establish identity and presence – to give us merely representative images of the Woman. sexual..LitEncyc. /. however.. <http://www. taken from the site: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala had managed to paint a well-rounded picture of the country. displacement. and dislocation. But even in the play-frame situation. Ruth Prawer.kirjasto. if taken out of the play-frame context. We can see that stereotypes often make use of insults and. 4 . in which she primarily explores the complex relationship between the East and the West. <http://www. Although Jhabvala's “delight in India is reflected in her early novels. in the same way as this is shown by the characters of Europeans in India appearing in her short story collection A Stronger Climate . when we realize that the insulting stereotypes are not to be taken "seriously".6 “reflect her mingled affection for and impatience with her adopted country” (Drabble 510). or the Indian – they enter what Berger calls a control system. cited from his intriguing book The Art of Comedy Writing: “Stereotypes deal with groups and subcultures in society and tend to reflect the attitude of dominant groups towards various ethnic. which at once exasperates and enslaves them” (Naik 252). 8 Extricated from the following quote: “Increasingly disenchanted with India Jhabvala moved in 1975 to New York City /.com>. among other factors. in their long sojourn in India have developed a curious love-hate relationship with this country. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s several volumes of short stories.. . With their innately ambiguous.. as well as some cross-cultural themes . her rose-tinted enthusiasm for India began to lose its hue”7 and in her later works she explored certain postcolonial issues .htm>./”.. following a trip back to Europe in 1960. the aggression in stereotypes often is so strong that listeners are offended./ later.fi/jhab. however..“who. Before she became disenchanted with India8 and for the third time an expatriate. hence negative and anti-narrativist waywardness not denied.sci.such as the search of identity and the sense of alienation. and other minorities. are not funny at all.

). however. using the following words: “I would like to live much more in the West. for instance: joint-family life or arranged marriages. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's early fiction reflected her delight in and enthusiasm for everything Indian. although at the same time she also noticed the drawbacks of the contemporary – and yet. and that was the reason why. 9 he also immediately points to the fact that Ruth Prawer Jhabvala not only lived in India much longer than some renowned Western writers – of whom he mentions Kipling and Forster.“whether she can legitimately be called an Indian English writer” (233). ancestry or nationality. still very traditional Indian society. 5 . The following coincidence may show the core of her inextricable. in contrast to that opinion. but “as one of those European writers who have written about India” (Agarwal 36). owing to the fact that “her marriage to an Indian gave her access to Indian society on terms radically different from those in the case of these writers” (Ibid.” (Naik 2). she openly admitted that there had been a change in her attitude. thoroughly intricate ties with India: less than a year after the country gained Independence. as well as the differences between ‘Indian English literature’ and ‘AngloIndian literature’ see in the “Preface” to his History of Indian English Literature: “Strictly speaking. Indian English literature may be defined as literature written originally in English by authors Indian by birth. Jhabvala. when Naik wonders – because of the fact that Jhabvala is of pure European origin . despite the deep insight into the Indian way of living she had so skilfully transformed into her life's work of art. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s Early Views on the Position of Women in Postcolonial India Long before that. although she had not yet moved to New Delhi. after she had moved to the United States of America. never regarded herself as being one of the Indian writers. as well as the conflicts arising between the modernized younger and the 9 About a more precise definition of this term. that they were acknowledged by the British practically at the same time! Many years later the author will have lost her passion for delving down so deeply both into the comic and the tragic aspects of the East.Thus. but was also far more involved in that culture than they were. going back to India sometimes but not as much as before” (Rutherford 375). Jhabvala became a citizen of the United Kingdom – which means.

The sensuousness of Indian women is shown by their heavy-breasted and wide-hipped. passionate. the clash between their oldfashioned lives and their inner longings. “finely drawn features” (Jhabvala. In each of her stories there is an unanswered echo of prevailing social problems and postcolonial issues. one of which is said to be beautiful. Stronger Climate 156).traditional older generations. The question to be asked while reading the stories written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala in the nineteen sixties is precisely the one posed by Judith Butler: “If gender is constructed. Indians are described as good-looking people in general. but even more so when she portrays women. shiny. with their healthy. foreclosing the possibility of agency and transformation?” (346). On the other hand. what she is predominantly and explicitly concerned with is the situation of Indian women – that is. her skin is soft and dusky (Jhabvala.” (345). lies in their “deep dark eyes in which one could read. could it be constructed differently. which means that it is the cultural interpretation of sex – “The presumption of a binary gender system implicitly retains the belief in a mimetic relation of gender to sex whereby gender mirrors sex or is otherwise restricted by it. and they are encircled by abundant raven-black hair (Jhabvala. In Jhabvala's writing. Stronger Climate 17). or does its constructedness imply some form of social determinism. But. Stronger Climate 13). due to the alienation and disillusionment experienced by these characters. discovers Jhabvala. The secret of the success of these men with English women. but still supple figures (Jhabvala. as Judith Butler shows in her essay. mysterious. Stronger Climate 18). their faces are adorned by the long-cut. belonging mainly to the postcolonial urban Indian middle class. “a delicately chiseled nose” (Jhabvala. Stronger Climate 70). Stronger Climate 34). starting from the premise that gender is culturally constructed. and a jewel of her family (Jhabvala. she often finds that a typically Indian man possesses “a terribly cruel streak in his nature” (Jhabvala. dreaming and often sad eyes. Stronger Climate 73). namely the existential crisis of her protagonists who search for their identities. even though the author deems that young Indians look “a higher kind of being. Stronger Climate 145). Above all. if 6 . while her smell is mysterious and feminine. glowing skins and their brilliant dark eyes and strong teeth and hair” (Jhabvala. brown.

As an Indian lady in “The Man with the Dog” puts it. philosophy. In close encounters with the weaker sex. however. Like Birds 95). and even engineers. while their manners leave much to be desired. Many critics have compared Ruth Prawer Jhabvala to Jane Austen and her women's books. degrees in politics. Stronger Climate 163). like for instance when she says that “Indian womanhood has really come into its own in these last decades. all the suffering of the East” (Jhabvala. lighting the cigarettes. all of them stared without any shame or embarrassment. Stronger Climate 185). although according to Jhabvala. who underlined that nationalist agitation. and drawing back the chair – and adds: “which our Indian men would be ashamed of and think beneath their dignity” (Jhabvala. at times Ruth Prawer Jhabvala does mention the progress achieved regarding the gender issue in India. lawyers. when she speaks about “all those clever Indian girls who held M.such as opening the door. And yet. This is fully compliant with the views of Edward Said. psychology. but Woman has also penetrated into the hallowed halls of parliamentary government” (Jhabvala. centuries ahead of their mothers and grandmothers” (Jhabvala. Then again. and economics”. Although in the story entitled “The Biography”. but she also notices that in their behaviour towards the Indian women. she optimistically admits that they are “sharp. this progress is allegedly the fruit of a politician’s lengthy struggle towards “the emancipation and complete equality of women” (Jhabvala. Stronger Climate 45). it is quite the opposite: “Of course. the writer deems that such a state of affairs is still in the far future.A. all the men to all the women.one wanted to. Jhabvala then goes on to describe various little services usually rendered to the ladies by real gentlemen . young Indians turn out to be rather bashful. Stronger Climate 46). emancipated. the Indian men “are always a little shy with us and clumsy” (Jhabvala. women in India are the weaker sex in every sense of the word. as a political force against Western domination in the non-European world. they all did it. Stronger Climate 185). Now there are not only legions of women doctors. although the former goes much farther in revealing the difficulty of women to control their destinies 7 . also included “the early twentieth-century struggle for the emancipation of women” (263). Like Birds 45). it was just one of the ways in which they were different from English people” (Jhabvala.

Contrary to that.all mindlessly devoted to them . Like Birds 60). as it is well-illustrated by the quoted sentence. Like Birds 101). 8 . which can also be spelt as Brahman or Bramin. the male characters in Jhabvala's stories are spoilt. the one which women even mutually fight for! The same idea is expressed by another post-colonial Indian English writer . wives. overindulged and worshipped like little gods. as if they were precisely what the author identifies as the “poor oppressed Indian womanhood” (Jhabvala. but it is so in our house. shabby. she would never allow my wife to do this for me.when they are locked into a culture that does not honour them. describing the married women with children like “thin. in the old city” (Desai 120).is considered to be a great privilege in traditional families.are there only to serve for their pleasure and satisfaction. From the last sentence it is evident that serving the man as a master – where the notion of serving also literally implies a subservient role . in one of her tales. describes a Brahmin10 as “an aristocrat for whom the goods and riches of this world were created and whose right it was to be served by 10 Yule and Burnell argue that this word. or to literally serve them. or at least. Time and again. “now means a member of the priestly caste. who draws on an extraordinary jeu de mots involving two uses of the verb to wait . the situation is not the least improved in higher castes.Anita Desai. while the women: mothers. Stronger Climate 52). Ironically. It may sound strange that my sister-in-law should serve me. as it is shown in this paragraph: “I sat on the floor and my sister-in-law brought me my food on a tray. waiting on men self-centered and indifferent and hungry and demanding and critical. though my wife wanted to very much” (Jhabvala. in the old houses. always behind bars. and not my wife. but the original meaning and use were different”. overworked and overburdened” (Jhabvala. and state that it has been traced to the root the meaning of which is ‘to increase’ (111). even sisters-in-law . those terrifying black bars that shut us in. It used to be my mother who brought me my food. even after I was married. entitled “Passion”.‘to wait for something’ and ‘to wait on somebody’: “Lives spent in waiting for nothing. Like Birds 15). we read about the rights of men to take whatever they want and in the process treat the female as if they were not human beings at all. waiting for death and dying misunderstood. according to Ruth Prawer Jhabvala who. Even an English young wife is openly included in the possessions which her in-laws are proud of (Jhabvala.

In such a society. Stronger Climate 44) of their house. who dares not raise her voice. But. it is mostly while depicting the manners of people in Indian middle-class families. a young wife is told by her mother-in-law that: “Our girls don't go into these bazaars alone. not very hard and not because I wanted to. It is not proper for us.” (Jhabvala. Stronger Climate 57). that she extremely successfully introduces the character of an entirely passive female.others” (Jhabvala. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala has often been criticized because her female characters almost never support one another and in every Indian household shown in her stories women always quarrel and fight among themselves. in a coffee-house. Like Birds 180). because in that story the author explains that the daughters “had to stay at home with the women of the family. A detail from “The Sixth Child” reveals that this is the fate of Indian women from the cradle to the grave. in which “the women lived on one side of the house. Like Birds 195). Thus a young husband confesses that once he hit his wife. Young wives are particularly abused – not only by the husband and other males of the family. within which a woman who appears alone is considered to be unprotected and unowned. the author describes a big family. in a little set of dark rooms with only metal trunks and beds in them. not because that is her personal choice but due to social and other constraints in a male-dominated culture. another one exhorts his mother and wife to go for each other: “Fight. Like Birds 192). instead of joining hands. during a quarrel: “I hit her across the face.” (Jhabvala. Stronger Climate 75). but only to satisfy my mother. Like Birds 102). headed by the mother-inlaw. but also by other women. while in “The Biography” even a minister's daughters and sisters are “kept to the inner rooms” (Jhabvala. for instance. In the story “My First Marriage”. “there were many men and no girls at all” (Jhabvala. go on – it is 9 . Similarly. which speaks for itself about the ‘equal opportunities and rights’ in this country at the depicted time. Stronger Climate 112). Stronger Climate 55). where they became as familiar with the life of kitchen and courtyard as the boys did with that of the shop” (Jhabvala. her husband threatens her thus: “You can't just saunter down the road as you please. and when she does it again. fight.” (Jhabvala. whereas the cinema-goers in the story “A Young Man of Good Family” are described as “a mainly masculine sea” (Jhabvala. and the men on the other side” (Jhabvala.

The tyranny of family domination is obvious in the story “Miss Sahib”. And this is yet another reason for the alleged inferiority of these women: after being married off as they are ordered to by their own parents. Stronger Climate 16) knows well enough that this is only wishful thinking.the way for mothers and daughters-in-law.'” (Jhabvala. 'I don't want that. as if she wanted to keep at a distance from them – and we could almost mistake her for a British writer. while in one family it is the sister-in-law who is in charge of punishing the young wife in this way: “often she shouts at her and even beats her” (Jhabvala. Moreover. astonishingly just remain inert and maintain the status quo because they are frustrated. However. was to be married and give satisfaction to the husband who would be chosen for her and to the inlaws in whose house she would be sent to live” (Jhabvala. in which an old woman fully exercises the power she has over her already middle-aged sons 10 . as Anita Desai puts it: “just look. even those among Jhabvala's personalities who are smart. her sole duty. Like Birds 195). Or. the numerous members of which by rule all have more rights than the young wife and are even allowed to molest her. mostly by the arranged marriage that is imposed on them. Like Birds 104). which reflects her typically Occidental origins.' she said. since she succeeds in depriving her work of all sentiment. a young girl who is bold enough to declare the following: “'I hate our system of arranged marriage. Jhabvala finds that the submissiveness of the Indian woman is quite understandable in lower castes and uneducated environments. and I want to love also and to be loved. well-to-do and therefore capable of becoming active and getting the power. simple.” (Jhabvala. Stronger Climate 167). they are required to go and live with their in-laws in a big joint family. Like Birds 81). even we still think of marriages as bargains!” (Desai 205) where by ‘we’ she denotes the well-educated people in an urban milieu. because – same as in the case of all the other girls of her age: “her one purpose in life. I want to be free like Mary. self-sacrificing life of a mother” (Jhabvala. so we are not surprised when in the story “My First Marriage” we read that “a simple girl from a village /…/ saw it was her duty to stay at home and look after the children and lead the good. the writer herself shows a curious lack of any emotion towards her characters. Thus.

as grown women. This custom is also a source of mockery for Jhabvala. in “The Sixth Child”. and they never even see each other’s face! No wonder there’s trouble afterwards.” (Jhabvala. the writer says that . keeps praying to 11 In this jeu de mots. which is bound to cause lots of trouble and frequent quarrels because several generations are forced to cohabitation. for his baby to be delivered. lies in the socially-reinforced obligations of “Indian families in general. Stronger Climate 174). In the story “A Loss of Faith”. and so “For their dowries he had to borrow from a moneylender” (Jhabvala.” (Jhabvala. it is simply not possible for them to go and live on their own.11 muddle-puddle. who would not allow a man to take his own decisions but regarded it as their right to take them for him” (Jhabvala. marry them off at sixteen. the author uses the word for the famous Indian dish instead of saying: ‘hurry-scurry’! 11 . Stronger Climate 165). for instance. Although Ruth Prawer Jhabvala considers that. who coins the following pun in her effort to pinpoint the essence of the problem: “hurry-curry. Stronger Climate 166). less fun in the fact that the precondition for an arranged marriage is a considerable dowry. For a girl aged twelve. due to the climate and the spicy food they eat. would keep them away from the eyes of strangers” (Jhabvala. when the brother wanted to marry off his sisters. it is described how: “The whole family lived together in one room and one veranda. Stronger Climate 53). Stronger Climate 172).and daughters-in-law: “She could often be heard abusing them and their wives. and sometimes she beat them. Like Birds 23). Like Birds 32). but as he could not afford that. The central problem in such circumstances. which represents a great burden for the family and helps to increase the sense of hostility towards a young girl – like an incident in “A Loss of Faith”.“she had reached the age at which her sisters and cousins were already beginning to observe that reticence which.in conformity with the common practice in India . according to the Indian customs. She finds. A newly-married couple has no privacy at all since they usually live together with the others in a very small place and. she repeatedly mentions that the arranged marriages take place when the brides are far too young – in many cases still children. That is why an apprehensive father waiting. boys and girls in the East ripen more quickly and are far more sensual than their Western peers (see Jhabvala. as it is evident in Jhabvala's writing.” (Jhabvala. however. even bearing this in mind.

which means: beaten. to some women in India suttee might really seem the only way out of daily mistreatment and abuse. according to Jhabvala's oeuvre. their heads are to be shaven and diet reduced to stale bread and lentils. Like Birds 24).God and trying to convince himself that: “He knows five daughters is enough for anyone. for she is simply “to be treated as the widow – that is. Given the kind of life they are. the cursed one who had committed the sin of outliving her husband and was consequently to be numbered among the outcasts.” (Jhabvala. 12 . Widows should also be deprived of their nice clothes and ornaments. abused. Like Birds 78). and that which should have died in them with the deaths of their husbands would fester and boil and overflow into sinful channels.” (Jhabvala. and this has given rise to numerous discussions about the origin and justification of that atrocity. the most detailed and accurate one having been given as long ago as in the nineteenth century by Rev. That is probably why one of her female characters concludes herself. Like Birds 177).” (Jhabvala. then they fed their own passions too. The poor creature. pinched and poked “with sharp cooking-irons” by other women of the household (Jhabvala. mentions Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. bare lives. regarding her own destiny. included by Edward Said under “unfair male practices” (263) – when the living widow is burned “along with the corpse of her husband” (Yule and Burnell 878). W. forced to lead in their in-laws' joint families. Like Birds 58). in the case of performing the ritual of suttee – or widow-burning. Many of them do prefer ‘self-combustion’ as their final solution. In these utterly humane stories. that “It is better to be dead than to stay in life after your husband has departed. who is considered to have become a used property. has to put up with everything. it was for their own good.” (Jhabvala. For if they were allowed to feed themselves on the pleasures of the world. The bereaved woman who chooses not to commit the atrocious rite is “treated /her/ like a dog” (Jhabvala. Stronger Climate 174). who then ironically explains the gist of the more than cruel custom: “There was no other way for widows but to lead humble. which at times turn into real outrages: for instance. we cannot but feel for those women and sympathize with their unacceptable destinies. Like Birds 99).

and that is why in a Jhabvala story entitled “The Old Lady” one of the female characters reproaches her fellow citizens for the simple reason that: “We don't understand that divorce is a natural thing in any enlightened society. cited and commented by Ania Loomba in this way: “The figure of the ‘other woman’ haunts the colonial imagination in ambivalent. for those women who have not yet become widows. in which either “The veiled Asian woman becomes a recurrent colonial fantasy” (Loomba 153). in obedience to what she regarded as a supreme duty. modern Hindooism has prescribed “the barbarous rites under which she is urged to yield her delicate body to devouring flames” (Ibid.” (366).” (Ibid.). or – contrary to that – a creature to be pitied due to certain cruel practices: “Another favourite figure in colonial inscriptions was that of the burning widow or sati: almost every European commentator of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries stops to savour that picture of Oriental barbarity and female helplessness and devotion.” (Loomba 157). Butler explains that. of friends. for example. Nevertheless. according to Loomba. Widow Burning in India”. and of children.). Whereas the Indian widows consider this to be their duty both to the late husband and to the society in general. the Oriental female is very often depicted in British literature of that epoch. She is an example of barbarism. often contradictory ways. British – men. is an awesome sign of wifely devotion. and lead her to dare death. which means that they should go on living even after the husband's death. is reflected in the writing of Richard Head (The English Rogue.Butler. the opinion of Christian – that is. Like Birds 15). Thus. there is no way out of their miserable existence. Contrary to this. because to leave one's husband is considered to be the public shame and societal death. there is 13 . 1666). in one of their sex – a young and beautiful woman – the love of life. although the Vedas and the Code of law “lay down the rules by which a widow's life is to be guided” (367). claims Butler. but also encodes colonial fantasies of the perfect feminine behaviour: the burning widow. in many ways worthy of emulation by English women. On the other hand. “Christian women will wish to understand the reasons that could thus so strangely and determinately overcome. in one of its most awful forms. or wish to multiply the dowry. if the husband and / or the in-laws are not satisfied with the bride.” (Jhabvala. in his article “Suttee. or.

Although Jhabvala has been highly praised in the Indian literary reception – among other things.. in order to explain the reason for this act: “/.. Conclusion This quotation shows that Ruth Prawer Jhabvala was not the only postcolonial author who could not accept the situation of the down-trodden female in India. since it is well known that: “Identities are always relational and incomplete. at least by spreading the rumour in her beautifully written. so the few women who did conform to this stereotype should be seen as anomalous cases. was coloured to a certain extent by her Western background and the social strata to which she belonged through her marriage.. The fact that Jhabvala chose to write about them only shows that she herself had some identity problems. especially in the nineteen sixties. and the famous writer adds later on.. but she has done far more than others to enlighten the Occidental reader about their cruel destiny. That phenomenon. generally alluded to as stove fires. Any identity depends upon its difference from./ once the men have spent their dowries. is exactly what the following insinuation made by Salman Rushdie in his short story “The Firebird’s Nest” applies to: “What’s to be done about the women? They just burn too easily. Turn your back and they’re alight /. in process.a well-known solution for such cases. also due to her honesty – some critics./” (122). profound and strongly humane fiction. some other term. And it is also true that Jhabvala’s vision of India. and thus moving across the borders of sexism and bigotry. even as the identity of the latter 14 . like Naik. while her views were distorted perhaps as most of the women she saw or got to know were either the women in her husband's family or the servants and trained domestics. have stressed that “This daughter-in-law of India” became “a rebellious one. its negation of. in her later work” (3). although even she cannot offer any remedy apart from fighting against the ignorance and submissiveness of these women.” (126).

” (Grossberg 114). but without (so she put it to herself) real love” (Jhabvala. traditional. the situation in the Indian society has improved incredibly since these two books were first published. derived from religion. politer perhaps and more considerate than the Indians among whom she had spent so many years. sons. patrimony. Another extraterritorial author. and it did not once occur to me that I might have goals of my own.. She missed their playfulness.. upon which she must now be casting a different. she also often highlights the emotional side of life in India. the former.” (Mukherjee 455). /…/ they seemed a colder people somehow. husbands. their affection. One’s identity was absolutely fixed. far more loving glance. Already in these two short story collections. as they are “enveloped in the graceful folds of the traditional sari” (Jhabvala. and mother tongue. like in one of her stories when an English teacher. the feelings of the author herself have undoubtedly changed a lot during the time spent so far from India. we must bear in mind the fact that the two collections of short stories cited in this paper were both written four decades ago. dutiful young daughter from a very privileged. Stronger Climate 163). pliant.. Stronger Climate 46). having returned home. underlining in further text that it has greatly changed since then: “In 1961. its negation of. quite distinct from those specified for me by my father. and this for two reasons: firstly. . by drawing attention to their modern looks which still include the aura of femininity. On top of that. thinks about her English pupils and concludes that: “she could not love them the way she had loved her Indian pupils. and secondly. Jhabvala underlines the positive aspect of the so-far achieved progress as regards the status of Indian women. Moreover. Identity is always a temporary and unstable effect of relations which define identities by marking differences.term depends upon its difference from. Bharati Mukherjee – this one an Indian living in the United States .thus describes the atmosphere in the Indian society of the nineteen sixties – at the time when Jhabvala wrote her stories. . their sweetness – by comparison the English children struck her as being cool and distant.. wellmannered. mainstream Hindu family that believed women should be protected and provided for by their fathers. I was a shy. 15 . caste.

people and places present first one face and then another. for instance in this thesis.. The reasons for such an opinion can also be found elsewhere. strife. At the same time.. but as a constantly reforming. the cultural continuum. However. ignorance.” (Elliott 3). and are properly incensed when foreigners see nothing but poverty. the vision of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala regarding India. the inherent value system of India. intolerance.” (Mukherjee 458). in decreeing the other’s cultural expression and artistic productions to possess superior qualities. increasingly put forward by postcolonial theorists: “We need to alert ourselves to the limitations and the dangers of those discourses that reinforce an “us” versus “them” mentality. mirrored her two-fold image of that country at the time. two faces of India which keep merging in her mind – as she says in her own words: “one superimposed on the other yet also simultaneous” (Jhabvala. which is fully in line with Edward Said’s and Homi Bhabha’s teachings: “When one person makes an aesthetic judgment about another in declaring that person to be physically or spiritually beautiful or. beneath consideration. she should have taken more care to incorporate in her work the following argument. as expressed in her oeuvre analyzed in this paper. and oppression. Indians idealize.. however.. when the person making such a judgment is in a dominant position politically. and especially short fiction. transmogrifying “we”. or economically over the other and renders aesthetic judgments that demean and subordinate the other by pronouncing the person or his or her cultural production to be inferior. and injustice. As Bharati Mukherjee underlines in her essay “Beyond Multiculturalism: Surviving the Nineties”: “All countries view themselves by their ideals. the aesthetic may operate as a tool of divisiveness. In these stories. in which the clash between two different cultures and societies – the East and the West – is successfully reflected.Anyway. 16 . legally. or objectionable. the aesthetic functions as a positive bridge across the gap of difference. . Stronger Climate 176).” (Mukherjee 459).. sometimes even the opposite one. I want to sensitize you to think of culture and nationhood not as an uneasy aggregate of antagonistic “them” and “us”. . as well they should. Jhabvala describes in her works. enmity.

entitled “Farid and Farida”. This modern. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Gender Issue.” (351). Key Words Postcolonial Literature. the more so as she enjoys the privilege of being at the same time an insider and an outsider in this miraculous country full of magnificent people. 17 . since she has transformed herself into a holy woman and a very successful guru. poverty and suffering. clearly shows that Jhabvala’s view on Indian women has been modified to a large extent in her later work. and political intersections in which the concrete array of ‘women’ is constructed. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala loves them both. while the other one is full of misery. Pointing to the relations of racial. educated and progressive young lady leaves India with her husband in search of a better life in the UK. for instance. Contrary to that. but having found out that her man is rather incompetent and unable to make a living. romantic and beautiful. thus becoming a true heroine in the Western sense of the word. one is vivid. That is.Of the two images Jhabvala shows in her work. as the varieties of colonizing oppression. Indian English Fiction. social. Judith Butler concludes that “the insistence upon the coherence and unity of the category of women has effectively refused the multiplicity of cultural. the case with her character Farida in one of the famous stories of Jhabvala’s latest collection East into Upper East: Plain Tales From New York and New Delhi. Jhabvala speaks about liberated and strong Indian women. she takes things in her own hands and skilfully manages to earn just enough for bare necessities from various small enterprises. and especially in her more recent works. class. while she receives pilgrims from all over the world. and that she now holds them in much greater esteem. she leaves her husband and returns to India. and heterosexist subordination. This example. Indian Women. among many others. where he discovers her twenty years later at an ashram. Dissatisfied with such a humble life. who are not only equal to men but even sometimes superior to them.

Bhabha. ed. ---. D. London: Sangam Books. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1985. “Subjects of Sex/Gender/Desire”. Butler. W. Voices in the City. Like Fishes.. or. Aesthetics in a Multicultural Age . Anita. Oxford: Oxford University Press. A Stronger Climate. 2000. 1985. <http://www. September-October (1974). Elliott. Pearson. London: Grafton Books. Edited by Simon During. Exile and Cunning: Fiction of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. The Cultural Studies Reader. Margaret. “Identity and Cultural Studies: Is That All There Is?”. London and New York: Routledge. Emory. “Introduction: Cultural Diversity and the Problem of Aesthetics”. The Art of Comedy Writing. 5th ed. 1991. 2000. Rev. Louis Freitas Caton. 1994. The Location of Culture. Washington: Counterpoint LLC. 366-373 (In Collection: Making of America Journal Articles). 2003. London and New York: Routledge. D. Edited by John Hartley and Roberta E. Butler. Gooneratne.hti. 18 . ---. 2002. Jhabvala. Like Birds.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx>. arts. Drabble. Homi K. Jeffrey Rhyne. Judith. 91. London: Panther Books. 2000. In American Cultural Studies: A Reader. 340-353. Grossberg. Cincinnati. 1986. Arthur Asa. Desai. Edited by Emory Elliott. 1997. Lawrence. Yasmine. Berger. and religion. Quest. devoted to literature. “Interview with Ruth Prawer Jhabvala”. Ruth Prawer. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Bibliography Agarwal. New Delhi: Orient Paperbacks. 114-121. “Suttee. 3-27. Ramlal. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers.umich. East into Upper East: Plain Tales From New York and New Delhi. Widow Burning in India”. The Ladies' repository: a monthly periodical. The Oxford Companion to English Literature. 3. Silence.5 (1869). 2nd ed.

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