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Dr. B.V. Rama Prasad Reader in English Department of English Kuvempu University
This paper tries to draw attention to the novel Mithya, by Geetha U.B., which was published as a serial in the weekly Sudha from 7 th Aug 2008 to 20TH Nov 2008. The aim of this paper is to1. Draw attention to the novel which seems to respond to feminism in its own way. 2. To talk about the various ways in which it tries to portray the ‘disadvantages’ men face because of the changing times. 3. And to show that even in such a novel the complexities of the question of man vs. women are not ignored. First, let me point out that the novel does not use the word feminism. But it tries to talk about the ‘advantages’ that women have and the disadvantages that men face because of the changing times. The ways in which the novel tries to formulate its thesis (that men – at least certain types of men – suffer because of the ‘female domination’) are of interest to feminism. What I want to point out is that the society has responded in different ways to the changing position of women in modern times, and this novel expresses some such responses.
As this is not a novel very well known among ‘serious’ students of literature, let me summaries the story of the novel in a few words. The novel is about a man called Purushoththam, who works in a private company under a female boss. The protagonist feels that both in his home and in his office he suffers because he is a man. In his family, as the only son, he has to take on all the responsibilities and in his office he has to carefully deal with his boss who is trying to have an affair with him. The boss finally makes ‘the indecent proposal’ and when Purushoththam refuses, slaps a false case of sexual harassment on him. But all ends well and Purushoththam’s innocence is proved. Purushoththam feels that he suffers because of the responsibilities that patriarchy imposes on men and because of the unfair advantage that women have because of the changing times. He looks at himself as a very untypical man. He is soft, cries when watching emotional scenes in movies, and does not know how to say ‘no’ to a sexual advance. He is interested in painting, but his parents discourage him because painting, along with music, is a feminine job. His sisters, on the other hand are encouraged because getting a job is not very necessary for them and because they are good at conventional academic subjects. His boss makes fun of him saying being a woman she is not afraid of going home late and wonders whether he is henpecked. She also says, when he is alone with her in her house, that he is behaving like a young girl caught with a lecherous boss. Purushoththam also acknowledges that he is not ‘masculine’ enough. He wonders who made the division between masculine and feminine qualities. Some of the problems that Purushoththam faces, he feels, are because he does not confirm to the stereotype of masculinity.
Just as Purushoththam is constructed as an untypical man, his boss Prathiba is constructed as very unfeminine. She shouts, insults, and commands. She dominates over the 15 men who are under her and is proud of the fact. The hero thinks that women should not have so much vanity. She forces Purushoththam to stay at office beyond working hours and she boldly propositions to him. She is practically a single woman because her husband is in Dubai and her son is studying somewhere else. There is a deliberate reversal of gender roles with the woman being the aggressive one. Is there a conception here that to be a boss, a woman has to be masculine? Many such stereotypes about working women are expressed in this novel through various means. The hero’s wife thinks that it is insulting for him to be working under a woman. She also says that the hero’s sister deliberately does not want to have children because working women do not like the additional responsibilities. Another working woman says that it is now fashionable to have only one child and that people should not fuss over children. The men in the story think that women have an unfair advantage in the job market. The hero thinks that the media gives unfair coverage to women achievers ignoring many men who have achieved more. There is a suggestion that Prathibha does not deserve her position. Another character in the story who has lost his job as a personal secretary to an attractive woman thinks that women get jobs because of their looks. He feels that women get jobs through flirting and they make use of the tag of the weaker sex very effectively. Thus, on the one hand the novel suggests that working woman have to ignore the traditional responsibilities of being a mother and on the other hand suggests that working women have an unfair advantage because of their sex.
However, the novel suggests that the ‘manipulated man’ has no respite at his home also. The women of the house, like his mother and his wife, though confirming to gender stereotypes, do not lag behind in tormenting him. He thinks that his sisters have the greater amount of freedom in shaping their lives because they need not stay at home to take care of their parents. The hero has to handle the fights between his mother and wife. He also has to take his wife out after coming back from the office. To add to this, his sister suggests that he should participate in the caretaking of his children. The hero moans that he should take care of his wife, his mother, his father, children, handle things at home as well as the office and no one is worried about his needs. The hero thinks that the woman is not the weaker sex as she is made out to be. According to him the woman says, “O man, I know all about you. You may work, you may earn, but I look after everything. Sometimes through good words, sometimes by fussing over you, I play with you.” He thinks that ‘sthree’ is ‘maya’. It is a myth that man is powerful. He says, sometimes as helpless, sometimes as someone who holds all the aces, sometimes as an innocent person, you show your ‘Viswaroopa’, O woman what is your real Swaroopa. The occasion for these outbursts is not something his masculine boss has done, but something his very feminine mother has done. There is also a perception in the novel that the law is unjust. There is particular criticism of the Law regarding Dowry and Sexual Harassment. There is also criticism about inheritance law. As the father of the hero points out, earlier half the property went to the eldest son. Now everyone including the daughters have rights over property. The eldest son had the responsibility to look after the elders, perform festivals, get the sisters
married, etc. Now, that everyone gets a share in the property, everyone should take up the responsibilities. The old people are insecure because they do not by right expect either the sons or the eldest son to look after them. Thus there is a perception that a very stable society is being destabilized. But it is not as if the novel is very one sided. There are comments to the effect that in most of the cases women are exploited in the working place and that many do not dare to complain. It will be wrong to consider the novel anti-women, particularly considering the fact that it is written by a woman and a large percentage of the people who read it would be women. However, the novel does try to say that women in the present society have some advantages and that men have disadvantages. The following are the possible reasons suggested in the novel1. Patriarchy places great burdens on men. While the status of the women has changed, these burdens have not changed. 2. 3. The Laws ignore the possibilities for exploitation. Women (some, at least) are manipulating the society through various means. The point I am trying to make here is not that the novel is correct in its evaluatory comments. The point is that we have a literary work which looks at the male vs. female questions in this manner. The novel is interesting because it raises questions about whether this is an individual, idiosyncratic assessment of the situation or whether there is pattern connecting this novel with the various other kinds of reactions to the changing
position of women in the society, including some the extreme reactions like the pub incidence in Mangalore.
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