The portrayal of women characters in Mahesh Dattani

9 September 2016

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It is not that the former writers are less significant but Mahesh Dattani reveals his genius through the representation of the suppressed invisible issues that are forced back to the periphery and especially about the patriarchal domination of men over women, that are often hidden under the beauty masks of many Indian women. Dattani basically deals with the ladies of the urban, so called sophisticated families who under the hegemony of this autocratic social system cannot be able to find their proper identities.

Actually this topic for this paper is appropriate because as a lady everyone find herself in that same social system where nothing changes and the position of women, though better than previous ages, actually remains same. Therefore the chief interest behind this paper lies in revealing that very truth fact, the fact of the exact position of women and their actual identities in this modern social construction. To achieve this goal, the decision is to construct this paper into three main sections centered basically on three great plays of Dattani namely Tara, Bravely Fought The Queen and Where There’s A Will .

In these sections the main female characters of these plays have been drawn here one by one. Finally proceed to end the paper with the essential and also with the works cited list which can give this paper a constructed form. In an interview with Lakshmi Subramaniam, Dattani had himself made a statement : “I see Tara as a play about male self and female self, and the male self being preferred in all cultures. The play is about the separation of self and the resultant angst.

Before focusing the women characters in Tara it is essential to understand the basic theory of gender discrimination which is the central theme of this play. In this present paper, it is necessary to study mainly the dramas of Mahesh Dattani with the reference to the Gender bias and Social consciousness in Indian social system. Without it anyone cannot be able to explain the position of these women. Dattani believes in crossing the borders. Discrimination against women is a reality in the developing countries.

Generally people congratulate each other at the birth of a boy, but in case of a girl the reaction is very different. For the society a girl child is just another expense. She is neglected and ill-treated to such an extent that she feels inferior. She becomes a second rate citizen in the family itself. Cultural tradition and poverty are at the root of gender discrimination as Kofi Annan says:”short-changing girls is not only a matter of gender-discrimination; it is bad economics and bad societal policy. ”[Gobookee. org] Right in the beginning of the play, Dattani talks about the gender- roles.

In this short paper the plan is to discuss how gender-discrimination is presented in this drama of Dattani. It is basically the story of twins-Tara and Chandan and throughout the play we can very well notice that though both of them are physically disabled, Chandan always get much attention from the family members instead of Tara . Actually here is a difference between sex and gender. Sex is related to biological term, where as gender, it is given to you by society. Dattani has depicted the perspectives of the gender of the character in this play. Right from the beginner we can see the difference between male and female.

Like, in one of the scenes, where Bharati has finished her puja and Patel is getting ready to go to work. These are stereotypical gender roles in own Indian society and Dattani makes full use of them. Now, here, we can observe Dattani’s use of those stereotypical roles of man and woman. This thing also shows the gender perspective of the Indian society. Another example, which properly shows this Indian Gender perspective. When Tara explains to Roopa about the conversation between father and son, she says that,“The men in the house were deciding on whether they were going to hunting while the women looked after the caves.

Now, here, it explicitly can be notice the Indian Gender Perspective that man’s work for taking care of his family, where as women have to work only in the house. Her work is to look after her house, husband and children. This is her world. She can’t break this rule. This is how the gender perspective is described by Mahesh Dattani in the above quotation. The above mentioned words are the proof of our Indian society that this is the situation of male and female in Indian society and both have to work in their boundaries. Both have to follow this situation.

There is another example in which we can see this gender perspective of male-dominance. Patel is the father and he represents the male domination. He wants Chandan to behave like a boy. He expects Chandan instead of Tara to join him in the office at least to get the feel of it. When Mr. Patel says to Chandan,:  “I was just thinking… It may be a good idea for you to come to the office with me. ”[Batra 8] So, here, anyone can see very clearly that these above words of Mr. Patel represent the male-dominance of Indian society. Mr. Patel says to join the office to Chandan, not to Tara.

Mr. Patel very well knows that what is good or bad for Chandan and Tara. “It may be good for you…” this shows that coming office is good thing for Chandan and when Chandan says that he and Tara, both will come to the office. At that time, Mr. Patel completely denies for he completely denies for that. For Chandan, it is a good thing to come to office, not for Tara. For Tara, the good thing is to work at home or help her mother. This is how, here, this gender image reflects male-dominance. And another thing that Mr. Patel always thinks about future plans for Chandan.

He never thinks Tara’s future and also the difference between the two genders can be seen. In our Indian family, people always think about boy’s future, first, because people give more significance to boy than girl. A girl has to learn how to cook how to look after house? How to behave with other? All these things a girl must learn otherwise people criticize her and her family. In case of a boy, he has to follow his father. He should become a support of his father. He has to learn, how to make his business progressive. How to deal in such situations in the case of business?

All these things, a boy must learn. This is how the Indian society believes in case of boy and girl. These are the parameters in which a boy and a girl have to believe according to their parameters. And this can also be notice clearly in the case of Chandan and Tara. Another example in which the disappeared female gender identity has been reflected here when Dan talks with himself, he utters: “What is Tara? ” These words question where is Tara’s identity? Her disappeared identity shows her helplessness. The responsible thing for this is

male-dominant society. She is the victim of the patriarchal society. In a way, Chandan is responsible for that. Because during the operation Bharati and her father favored boy and told the doctor to save the boy. This shows the cruel identity of the Indian society. At that time, Bharati and her father think about a boy, because, perhaps, they thought that boy can bold the heritage of his father and can be helpful to his father in his business. So, a boy is better than a girl. Like Tara, Bharati is also victimized by the male-dominant societ because she did as her father said while operation.

After operation, when she knows the condition of Tara, at that time she realizes her mistake but it is too late to repent on it. Now, she shows her strong feelings towards Tara but all in vain. She dotes Tara but she is prevented by Mr. Patel. In both cases, at the time of operation and when she loves Tara, Bharati is forced or pressured to do the thing. In a way, she is victimized by the patriarchal society too. So, in a nut-shell, Mahesh Dattani has presented an analysis of gender identity in an unbelievable way in Tara. Tara and Chandan are separated physically, not emotionally.

Dattani has depicted the views of Indian society regarding boy and girl (male and female) in Tara. Under this light of gender theory anyone can better understand the women characters in this play. According to my opinion the most attractive character is Tara and without her glorious presence this drama remains incomplete. Tara is a girl who wants to twinkle and shine, just like her name . She is a feisty girl who is not given the opportunities given to her brother[although she may be smarter]eventually wastes away and dies. Tara was more enthusiastic and full of jest and spark of life.

She had high aspirations which she could not accomplish because of her handicapped state but the boy was comfortably ensconced and had come to terms with his handicapped life. Separated from the time of their operation in Victoria Hospital, Bombay, Tara is not deterred by the injustice done to her by her parents but she presents herself as an empowered lady to face all the hurdles. She is sympathetic, bubbly and energetic girl who had all the qualities of a normal girl. If she had been given moral support by her parents. She might have shone like a star as her name signifies. Tara’s life was a burden on this earth.

This made her lose interest in life altogether. She was a bright star and a source of cheerfulness and happiness of the family. A complete life could have done wonders and she would have scored the limits which her brother Chandan couldn’t have but alas! Her potentiality was sacrificed on the alter of gender. Despite pity this play generates a death like response from Tara when she learns the truth that she was discriminated against, because of her gender but not by her father. One of the saving graces of Tara’s life is perhaps the kind of special relation she shares with Chandan.

Chandan refuses to join college unless Tara does. He recognizes his sister’s interests and personality and accepts that she might be a stronger person than him (“I’m sorry if I don’t have your strength! ”). He calms her in her moments of distress and understands her more than is in the capacity of anyone in the world. A dialogue which surmises Chandan’s love for Tara most aptly is, “No difference between you and me? That’s the nicest thing you have said to me. ” The relation between him and his sister is special, but is ridden with emotional tribulations of the harshest kind.

Metaphor and perhaps prophecy for the separation of these two souls, so much in communion with each other, is visited at the very beginning of their existence. Two operation tables being put together and then pushed apart – two loving souls brought close and then violently separated, never to come back together again. The image of separation at the operation table translates into jarring emotional parting between them, the effect of which is so profound on Chandan, that he escapes his identity, becomes Dan and sets out to narrate Tara’s story, essentially trying to find a completion to his own.

The place where Chandan (or Dan) falters is when he becomes the agent of perpetuating the wrong done to Tara in her life. Chandan had always been interested in writing, and when he sets down to write Tara’s story, he writes it as his own tragedy. He apologises to Tara for doing this – “Forgive me Tara. Forgive me for making it my tragedy. In one word, Tara was a bright and shining star which was a source of happiness and cheerfulness of the family. Ultimately Tara’s potentiality was sacrificed on the alter of gender.

On the other hand the relationship of Bharati and Tara, the mother and the daughter is subordinated to her subjugation to the expectations of the society. She has no free will and her compassion for Tara, proves weak in her preference for her son Chandan. She plans for the surgery for the separation of the children to offer her kidney to give a new lease of life to Tara. When Chandan enquires her if she has any plans for Tara, Bharati says:”yes, I plan for her happiness. I mean to give her all love and affection which I can give. It’s what she… deserves. Love can make up for a lot.

Bharati is quite much fearful about the future of her daughter as we observes: It’s all right while she is young. It’s all very cute and comfortable when she makes witty remarks. But let her grow up. Yes, Chandan. The world will tolerate you. The world will accept you-but not her! Oh, the pain she is going to feel when she sees herself at eighteen or twenty. Thirty is unthinkable. And what about forty and fifty! Oh God! [Batra 29]. Bharati tries to shed her burden of guilt by showing maternal love and concern for her daughter and to assert her moral superiority over her husband.

She also tries to expatiate by the act of donating her kidney to her daughter which was ultimately futile. Dattani establishes that mother and daughter relationship is ultimately subordinated to the directives of patriarchy. Roopa, Tara’s friend, a next to door neighbour of this family here represents the norms of the society. Dattani talks of female infanticide, shows how new born girls are killed, how insensitive we have become . Roopa and Tara belong to two different classes, and hence their perceptions differ.

Roopa accepts the predicament of girls in society and hence she narrates what the Patel’s did matter-of-factly without sounding concerned or alarmed but Tara is surprised when she learns from Roopa the fate that waits a new born girl child as we notices in the following lines: ROOPA: Since you insist, I will tell you. It may not be true. However, this is what I have heard. The Patel’s in the old days were unhappy with getting girl babies. You know dowry and things like that . So they used to drown them in milk. TARA: In milk? ROOPA: So when people asked about how the baby died they could say that she choked while drinking her milk.

The other two female characters in this play are Nalini and Prema. A very clear account of these two characters from the conversation between Tara and Chandan can be seen as Tara says: You know who I met? The ugliest girls in the whole world. Prema and Nalini. They live in the building opposite. They had a friend with them. Equally ugly. They were all running across the street, laughing their ugly heads off over something. When they saw me get off the car, they stopped. They stopped running and they stopped laughing . . .embarrassing me, making me go slower than I would.

When i reached them, they grinned. Nalini whispered something to her ugly friend . . . we exchanged names. The duckling couldn’t believe her eyes. She stared at my leg. She felt it and knocked on it. Silly as well as ugly, I thought . . . I’m going to tell them exactly how frightful they look. CHANDAN: Maybe they already know. [Batra 15] Thus Tara expresses her feelings about them. Actually Dattani portrays the actual social construction and it’s very impact on every citizens of the society. Thus we get a clear view of the women characters of this play through this needful description.

On the other hand this paper will remain incomplete without the characters of Dolly and Alka in Bravely Fought the Queen, which is an outstanding specimen of Dattani in revealing the women characters. Dolly is the elder of the two sisters of Praful and wife of Jiten. She is portrayed as an isolated woman who has been hooked in a loveless marriage with an uncaring husband. Jiten marries Dolly not because of any attraction or love for her but only for the sake of the societal norm of marriage. He is neither loyal to her nor he tries to understand her, he gets his satisfaction of sexual desire from whores instead.

He takes the advantage of being under the category of ‘fortunate sex’ where there is no restriction in every aspect of his life. And in his sixteen years of married life, he has taken Dolly out only once and this shows that he is not treating her the way she deserves. Her husband is there bearing the symbol of patriarchal domination. He used to beat her up for every petty matter. Then we have her mother-in-law unconsciously or consciously imposing dominance over her and her sister and exploiting their husbands as the strength and basis of her patriarchy. Then another man who indirectly has let her suffer is her brother, Praful.

He deceives Baa and her sons by making them to think that his father and the two sisters’ father is only one person . So, society including Baa takes her as a whore and Dolly is the daughter of that whore and Baa doubts Dolly to be like her mother. Therefore, she induces Jiten to beat her up in the advanced stage of pregnancy . As a result, Daksha is born prematurely at seventh month. She is deformed and mentally retarded. Thus, Daksha too, is victimised. She has a silent presence in the play and stands as the symbol of Jiten’s violence and torture on Dolly.

The mother of Dolly and Alka also suffers and she had been betrayed by her second husband. These two women also suffer because of the norms of the patriarchal society of India. Again, the confrontation of Dolly with Lalitha when she comes to her home to discuss the ball hints that her husband has no value for her existence in his life and there is no desire in him to tell her anything about him and his office. Thus, in the hands of patriarchy Dolly suffers torture, violence and ill-treatment. Her husband’s lack of concern for her and the loveless marriage results her to have some psychic problem.

She is let to create an imaginary world and live there with imaginary people providing her what she does not get in reality. She poses herself very cool and calm and happy in her married life but in her we see the opposite. Jiten has no love for her and Baa is there to aggravate her unhappiness. That is why she creates her own world to be happy in which she beautifies herself, takes enormous pleasure in the sweet tune of thumri song from which she gets the ideal love she is longing in her life and Kanhaiya, a character the minds of two sisters have created. So, she suffers not for her own fault but for Praful .

She suffers because she is a woman. It seems that men can never think women as human as they are and they are always victimising women because they need to show their superiority over them. Alka who is the younger sister of Dolly and wife of Nitin suffers from two different hands one from her brother, Praful and the other from Nitin, her husband. Jiten and Baa are also no less from them in torturing her. Her brother burnt her hair for returning from school with the neighbour’s son on his scooter instead of walking with Dolly, and here starts her being victimized.

Praful arranged her marriage to Nitin. She did not know anything about Nitin, but she thought if she readily agreed to marry the person proposed by her brother, she would make up the dissatisfaction she had caused to her brother by the incident of returning from school with the neighbour’s son. But in Praful’s arrangement of her marriage to Nitin, we can see that he is only using her to achieve his own end. He is having gay relation with Nitin that he wants her to marry Nitin so that he can continue his affair with Nitin.

Thus, he tricks her and uses her as an instrument to maintain his affair with Nitin and she has to suffer her whole life because of it. So, Nitin is homosexual and losing himself in the strong arms of Praful. Then, we have Baa who does not like her to be her daughter-in-law because of the same reason as she doubts Dolly to be a whore. Nitin is homosexual and further it is under her (Baa’s) control to let Nitin have his children or not. There is no happiness in the married life of Alka. But she is blamed for being childless that she is not perfect as a woman.

We can quote Alka’s lament from the play: “ You (Baa) know why I can’t have children. You won’t let me”. That’s why! ” [Penguin Books 64]Moreover, she also wants to compensate for the shame she had don’t to them by declaring Daksha as the heir to the house. In this context we will consider the following words of Nitin to his mother: “Baa, this is important. Will you give me the house if I send her back- for good this time? ”[Penguin Books 85]. A point that can be considered here that for the sake of the house he is ready to throw her out of the house for she is of no importance to him.

He has taken Alka only as a commodity which can be taken off if it comes out to be an obstacle in his way. Thus, Alka suffers severely. She is childless, she lacks decency and qualities of an ideal wife. Further, she is an alcoholic and thus an immoral woman. But it is her brother, her husband, and her brother-in-law who urge her to be such a woman. She is victimised upto the extent that she is turned into a totally different facet from herself. Thus, all Trivedi women suffer from male domination. They do not get what they deserve.

The exploitation and tyrannical acts towards them are quite intense and it seems that Baa, Dolly and Alka all have some abnormality and deviation from their present life-hovering in reverie, sustained lingering on memory and creating their own imaginary world where they fancy anything they aspire to have in real life. Indeed they are severely victimised. Lalitha, the outsider and the wife of Sridhar is different from the three Trivedi women and she represents a kind of normality which the three Trivedi women do not possess. Her presence is contrary to the position of Dolly and Alka.

She is in a place a bit safer and better than that of Trivedi women and we can say that her position is much higher and free from that of them. Domestic life, where Trivedi women have to live is not the world where she is to confine to. She has a room in the outside world where men run their life. She has her part to decide whether they (she and her husband) should have children or not. But it is still doubtful whether she is getting enough freedom in our patriarchal society. She does not suffer in the hands of Sridhar, but suffers in the hands of society.

She still has something which the society does not provide with for her being a woman and which she tries to seek in her obsessive love for her bonsais. The bonsais’ bizarre shape, the grotesque look are the objective representation of the mental conditions of the different female characters in the play who try to escape from the frustration of their claustrophobia. “Alka seeks a consolation in alcohol. Dolly develops a fascination for Kanhaiya, the cook while the obsession of Lalitha transmutes her passion for bonsais” She too has something in her as the Trivedi women do. She too longs for something the society does not give.

Her passion for growing bonsais symbolically reflects her own mindset. The wiring and trimming she subjects to the growing plants may be the representation of the control and restriction she has done to her own life. The dead shoot means that she has many suppressed or unfulfilled desires and aspirations as a result of the male-dominated society, though not directly. In the play, not much is dealt with Lalitha, but it is highlighted that she also has areas where she thinks that she is being suppressed, neglected and dominated. She does not suffer to the extent of Trivedi women. But, she too is a victim.

Her obsession with the bonsais is the reflection of it. She might have not suffered in the hands of Sridhar but there is the society, the male-tyrannized one which does not even allow her to return home by herself from Dolly’s house. Thus, she too suffers and she reflects her sufferings through her creations of the bonsais that she herself is also a bonsai as all Indian women are in the hands of men and their patriarchy. Thus, Indian women are still under domination and oppression that the long sustained patriarchy is still going on and will be going on and on for men are not going to get themselves reformed.

The subjugation, the torture or the way our women suffer may be different but the age-old system of dominance over women by men will never end and they are and will always be victims in our male chauvinistic society. Baa, the mother of Jiten and Nitin Trivedi and the unnamed mother of Praful and the two sisters Dolly and Alka represent the first generation. The husband of Baa was a drunkard and he frequently used to beat up Baa. Now, Baa becomes old and her husband is dead but his remembrance is still affecting her seriously. Thus all the women characters suffer in the hands of male-dominated society.

But Dattani portrays Dolly as the “Queen” of the play because like the indomitable Rani of Jhansi Dolly Trivedi is a woman who has to fight a domestic as much as social battle of existence and identity against of violent and lecherous husband and also against her tyrannical mother-in-law. Thus within the confinement of the society the women have the ability to fight back and prove themselves as winners in their own fields. Another play of Dattani regarding this issue is Where There’s a Will where has many trademark qualities of Dattani’s play. Like other plays, the play has Gujarati milieu and successful runs on the stage.

The play presents how women in their own homes are marginalized. Though the kitchen or home is described as the kingdom of women, they are no longer ruling over them. Instead, they are pushed on the margins of invisibility. It is attributed: Where There’s a Will has several interesting aspects. Dattani described it as the exorcism of the patriarchal code. Women- be it daughter-in-law, wife or mistress- are dependent on men and this shows in this play. It is the most comic in tone and treatment. This play is a satire on the water tight patriarchal code.

He satirizes human follies and foibles in a very interesting way. Here in this play women can be distinguished in two categories: one bearing the household drudgery, victims of patriarchal society like Sonal Mehta who is a silent sufferer and the others (Kiran, Preeti) representing modern new women who is capable of handling both the household and the outside world and is capable of raising their voice against male chauvinism. They fight against patriarchal unjust authority for their rights and equality . Sonal is the most tragic comic character in the play. She lacks self confidence and discreet.

She is a parasite creature in the play. Her life is dominated by others. In the play, she constantly depends on her sister Minal in every matter of her life. Her character lends a humorous touch to the play. She spends most of her time in either kitchen or pujaghar and she is quite subservient and subordinate to her husband. She has no choice of her own. She has learnt how to execute her husband’s instructions and orders in toto. The tragedy of her life is that almost all the characters blame her by one or other way. In this sense, Hasmukh is anti-thesis to her.

The play depicts how women are subjugated and suppressed by their male counterparts in patriarchal social set up. With Kiran‘s entry her condition became intense however she found a true friend in her . It’s because of her support and help Sonal at last gains confidence to take decisions in her life. . Therefore, she tells Kiran. “How little I knew him. If I had understood him when he was alive, I would have died laughing. ” (Dattani, Collected Plays) Thus, a sea change occurs in her nature and thinking at the end. Her attitude towards her sister and other is totally changed. The play ends her denying any help from her sister Minal.

Kiran: (to Sonal) Your sister just said some of the rudest things to me. Sonal: Oh, did she? Give me the phone. (On the phone) Hello? Yes, Minal, this is Sonal! don’t another maharaj, not from you at least! … I just don’t, that’s all… Well, as far as I’m concerned you can go jump into a bottomless pit! (Slames the phone down and turns towards Kiran) (Dattani, Collected Plays,516) Kiran is the most important female character of this play. She is also a victim of patriarchal society however she raises her voice against this injustice. She represented the new women of society.

Kiran herself a victim very well understands the suffocation and dilemma of Sonal however she has the courage to stand and fight for her cause. Dattani explores the dichotomy between the male/female roles within the archetype of family headed by a man and what happens when a woman takes over. Sonal says Kiran is fortunate because she is an educated woman and knows much about life. Kiran breaks her conception of an educated woman saying that she has learnt her lessons from life, watching her mother . She says:” I learnt what life was when my mother pretended she was happy in front of me and my brothers…” [Dattani 508].

She tolerated all the atrocities of life and pains inflicted on her by husband. Kiran says :”My father, your husband– they were weak men with false strength. ” [Dattani 508]. Dattani here explores the issue of gender roles and their miserable plights . Even in post modern era women are being treated as sex objects and exploited physically and mentally. Feminine self has not been restored yet. The sorry state and plight of women from one generation to another has been depicted with wrath and anguish in Kiran’s words: “Isn‘t it strange how repetitive life is?

My brothers, they have turned out to be like my father… And I-I too am like my mother . I married a drunkard… learnt to suffer silently. Oh! Where will all this end…” (Dattani 508 ) Preeti is quite scheming and selfish lady. Soon after the reading of the will, she begins to behave differently. She shows true colour of her personality. She wants to contest will but all in vain. Hasmukh Mehta has made it leak proof. No one can find way out. Moreover, he has made Kiran as the trustee. So, she can put a check her and stops them finding any loophole in the will.

All the three members of the Mehta family have to learn new lessons every day under the Madam Jhavari. She is teaching them at home and office. At home, she is guiding and instructing Sonal and Preeti, whereas she is taking hard task from Ajit at the office. Now, they realize the very complexity and toughness of the situation. Conclusion Being a 19th century Indian writer , Mahesh Dattani’s plays have different issues that Indian society had faced time to time and in the same way these three plays are also examples of that.

Thus in Where There’s a Will, both men and women of the Mehta family suffer considerably due to the patriarchal authoritative head of the family. Bravely Fought the Queen portrays the plight of the women resulting from the unjust patriarchal norms and conditions. However, the play also shows women’s uprising against the scheming and cruel society. In Tara, the daughter experiences maltreatment and partiality from her mother as compared to her brother Chandan. The play shows how women are crushed cruelly under the pre-determined evil designs of society which subscribes patriarchal devilish pattern.

Bharati Patel, her husband Mr. Patel and their son Chandan undergo acute mental pain and agony for the past guilt which can be deemed as a response to the scheme and pattern of the society. As if his other plays addresses the misdial class. By studing these plays it can be understood that Mahesh Dattani has very skilfully revealed the theme of gender discrimination here. The purpose of him is to illuminate the minds of female gender for not to give preference to a male child over a female child. He stresses women to look back at their journey of life.

They were like Tara, Dolly or Kiran before they became women in real sense. Particularly his play Tara suggests many things to the mothers. As for instance, not to feel upset at girl’s birth, not to treat girl contemptuously and not to stop them from scaling newer heights in their life to come. Thus portraying all the major women characters related to these three dramas Dattani presents a clear view of the actual position of women under the male dominated society. On other side Dattani also raises some questions regarding gender and hierarchy such as: Why should men be masterly and women subservient? How are men and women constructed in terms of gender? But he has left these questions to be answered by the readers. The present generation have to ponder over these issues.

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