The Resistance to Patriarchy in the Selected Short Stories of Vaidehi
Dr. B.V.Rama Prasad Associate Professor P.G. Department of English Kuvempu University Shankraghatta-Shimogga District Karnataka 9480467743 ram.prasad.u@gmail.com

The aim of this paper is to see how the female characters of Vaidehi¶s short stories resist and deal with the limitations imposed on them by patriarchy, by looking at narrators or focalizers in one short story collection. Vaidehi is a well known Kannada writer who has so far published six collections of short stories. It has been said that many of the feminist theories have found a very subtle and better expression in her fiction. Her recent collection of short stories has won Kendra Sahithya Academy award. This paper will try to see the complexities of resistance seen in her short story collection Memories of Ammachchi published in 2000.i

There are two kinds of reactions in general to the patriarchy. One kind of reaction can be called essentialist, which argues that women have some intrinsic feminine qualities which should be pitted against the values that the masculine society upholds. The values favoured here may be called the values of the domestic sphere. Another response can be called the sameness response, which argues that women can do whatever men can do, and that µfemaleness¶ is an obstruction to this. The focus here is on women entering the masculine fields. These values can be called the values of the public sphere. The paper tries to examine which kind of response against patriarchy is favoured in

2 Vaidehi¶s short stories. For this, the paper will examine the point of view from which these stories are narrated.

A piece of warning here is necessary. A paper of this kind tries to find patterns in the works of a writer, always assuming that there is some pattern to be found. It is possible that the pattern one finds is not the only pattern that is there to be found. For example, the feminist aspect is not the only prism through which we need to look at the works of a woman writer. In fact there are some stories in this collection that need not have been necessarily written by a woman. But as one of the characters in these stories says, ³I am worried whichever way I talk about this event I will finally end up talking about men women exploitation ego etc´ (Vaidehi, 506). When a woman writes about

anything, it invariably becomes connected with feminism. Further, there are intrinsic limitations on any study which focuses on a collection of short stories as if there is some organic unity that binds the short stories of a collection together. The short stories in any collection are written in different periods and these stories are not written so that they can be published in a single volume. So any pattern that we find will have to be assumed as applying not absolutely (as say gravitation applies to the behaviour of large physical bodies), but as something that applies generally, in most of the cases, etc.

The female characters in these short stories can be grouped under three categories- µpre-modern¶, µmodern¶ and µpost-modern¶. These terms are not used here in the sense in which they are used in critical theory, nor do the categories refer to three different generations of womenii. Here we define µpre-modern¶ women as those who are economically and socially completely under the control of someone else, and this control

3 is connected with patriarchy in some way. The freedom of these women is severely restricted. Even their mobility and the choice of what they can wear are severely restricted. These are the women who are more or less totally restricted to the domestic sphere. The µmodern¶ women have relatively more freedom: they may have some economic independence, they are relatively more free to go µout¶, and they have relatively more freedom in their dress. Sometimes this is because of their efforts and sometimes this is because they have a µbetter¶ husband. These women are part of nuclear families whereas µpre-modern¶ women are part of joint families. And these women have some kind of education through schools which pre-modern women completely lack. Further, these women do have a familiarity with the public sphere. Still, these µmodern¶ women are not completely radical in the sense that they do not often question the institution of marriage consciously. It is the µpost-modern¶ woman who questions the institution of marriage. The µpost-modern¶ woman is someone who has adopted the µwestern¶ lifestyle consciously and who believes that women to be liberated has to do everything that a man does. Her values can be said to be the values of the public sphere. One again, we have to stress here that these categories are not iron clad; there are women who share the features of two or all of these categories. We should also remember that it is possible ± indeed that is what we find in these stories- that some of the strongest and most persistent struggles against patriarchy are done by the pre-modern women.

All the three kinds of women have issues with patriarchy and try to deal with it in different ways. Some struggle against it without giving up; some completely surrender; and some imagine that they have already won the battle, that they are already liberated

4 and that there is no need for struggle. We can group these as the strugglers, the vanquished and the prematurely victorious.

We will look at these issues from the point of view of the narrators or the focalizers of these stories (we will us use the word µnarrator¶, within single inverted commas, to refer to them as a matter of convenience). Of the twenty one stories in this collection, we will consider fourteen stories because the issues the other seven stories deal with are not strongly connected with struggles against patriarchy. In these fourteen stories, we have a µnarrator¶ who talks about either herself or someone else. In ten stories, the narrator, or the one from whose point of view the story is narrated, looks at the life of some other woman. Only in four stories we have the µnarrator¶ talking about herself. When the stories are narrated from the point of view of someone who is not the central character of the story, the narratorial point of view is that of the µmodern¶ woman. That is, a story of someone is presented to us through the eyes and the voice of the µmodern¶ woman. These women often have a µpublic¶ sphere and each of these has different levels of µfreedom¶ compared to the women that they are talking about. The narrator of the first story (The Light Inside) is a reporter. She can wander alone in the µoutside¶ world. She can go on a tour alone on her own when she is bored. This µindependence¶ may owe something to the fact that she is yet to be married. She has a public sphere of her work as a reporter. The µnarrator¶ of the third story (Vani Aunty) is also µmodern¶ who is trying to reveal the µtrue¶ narrative of Vani aunty which has been eclipsed by the µfalse¶ narratives of the patriarchy. The narrator of the story µThat which can not be Silenced¶ is also a µmodern¶ woman who is a member of a nuclear family with a husband who takes µcare¶ of her well. She is traveling in a train on her own when she encounters another µmodern¶

5 woman who tells her story. The story µThe Escape¶ is again narrated by a µmodern¶ married woman of nuclear family who tells the story about a µpre-modern¶ woman restricted to her house by husband and who is killed by him in the end. The narrator of the story µAbhi¶ is once again a µmodern¶ woman who has a public life (she is attending a conference), and she encounters the only µpost-modern¶ woman of these stories whose concepts of emancipation are not approved of by the narrator. The stories µStrange¶, µIs there anyone?¶, and µThose who have disappeared¶ all have µmodern¶ narrators talking about the problems of other µmodern¶ women. The stories µJust a Wooden Box¶ and µA Memory called Ammachchi¶ are narrated by modern women who talk about µpremodern¶ women. But in all these stories, the µpublic¶ life of the µnarrator¶ is not focused upon. For example, there are no details about the µpublic¶ aspect of the reporter narrator. We do not see her working either in her office or in the streets. We see her only inside the house talking to her sister or trying to understand the problems of her aunt. Even when one narrator is placed in a train, we see her in a one to one conversation with another woman about µdomestic¶ problems. And the narrator of the story µAbhi¶ has come to a conference, but through out the story we see her only in her hotel room talking with her roommate. If she has presented a paper in the conference, whether it was a good paper, etc. seem to be irrelevant to the writer. Thus, though a µmodern¶ working woman seems necessary for the writer to narrate her stories, the µpublic sphere¶ in which some of these women live at least part of their lives is conspicuous by its absence. It is as if these narrators, instead of thinking about their problems, are focusing upon the problems of a different kind of woman.

6 The issues connected with the domestic sphere are predominant even when the µnarrators¶ are talking about themselves. In the story µThe Sound of the Door¶ the µnarrator¶ is dealing with a religious struggle against patriarchy. But this religious struggle is also connected with the µprivate¶ aspect of worshipping. The struggle is connected with touching a holy stone (saligrama) which was forbidden for women by the Hindu religion. The struggle takes place within closed doors as an internal struggle of the µnarrator¶. In µThose who vanished¶, the µnarrator¶ is dealing with the problems of infidelity, love and sex. In this story the µnarrator¶ strongly feels that women have a different way of looking at these things (³women do not sleep with men like men sleep with women. Their selection is very subtle, very deliberate.´ (533): and the narrator implies that having sex for a woman is a way of protecting the impulse to love and nurture (537) ;). The µdifference¶ is very important here.

This µdifference¶ between a woman¶s world and the male world is elaborately dealt with in the story µIn between Destroying and Preserving¶. The µnarrator¶ of the story is a µpre-modern¶ woman who is nostalgically thinking about the destruction of a old house in which she has spent most of her life. A relative has built a new house in that place. The old woman remembers a lot of details about the feminine life in that house and deplores the male tendency of destroying. She is angry with the male ego that is proud of erasing in contrast to the feminine tendency which preserves whatever the male has tried to erase. Again, it is the difference between the masculine and the feminine world which is stressed here.

7 Only one of the stories in this collection seems to make little of the difference between men and women. In the story µForgetting¶ an old woman goes out to buy vegetables. She keeps feeling that she has forgotten something. When she comes home she realizes that she has worn her husband¶s clothes. In this story she wonders if these categories of µmen¶ and µwomen¶ really exist. She feels that this illusion of man women does not exist in the beginning, nor at the end of one¶s life: it is something that exists in the middle, enchanting us and finally leading to the epiphany of old age where categories dissolve. However, the story seems to suggest that it is only in old age or with infants that these categories can be transgressed. The overall suggestion in this collection seems to be that the µdifference¶ is worth preserving.

To conclude, the short story collection seems to favour the difference approach to the sameness approach. This can be illustrated by looking at the µnarrators¶ in these stories. These µnarrators¶ do not deal with any of the issues of female empowerment connected with the public sphere. They do not ask for a radical revision of the female and the masculine roles either within the family or in the public life. Rather they seem to celebrate the µdomestic¶ world of the woman. Or rather it is the problems connected with the domestic sphere which are privileged in these stories.

As these stories have not been translated all the translations are mine. We will use these terms in single inverted commas to suggest that they are different from both the general use of the terms modern, post-modern, pre-modern and also from their use in critical theory.



Works Cited Vaidehi. Allegalalli Antharanga, The Complete Collected Stories. Heggodu, Akshara Prakasana; 2006.

Vaidehi Ammachchiemba Nenapu (2000) in Vaidehi 2006, 429-527.