Struggle for survival in Githa Hariharan’s The Thousand Faces of Night Essay

R .BRINDADEVI Ph.D. Research Scholar

Struggle for survival in Githa Hariharan’s The Thousand Faces of Night Literature has always been a means of reinforcing cultural and social values. The present day world is a changed world because of the development in education and modernization. But in spite of this fact, “the inner consciousness of the Indian psyche and the social relations are based on the traditional image of ideal womanhood even in the changed context.”(Rao1995:159).

Women are the catalysts of development of life in the universe. Man is simply a reflexive reflection of women’s desires. No man can move a finger without a woman pushing him from behind. There is validity to the adage , behind every great man stands a great woman. But even in the modern changed ambience their position is still debatable as they stand on the threshold of social change. The Commonwealth award winning first novel by Githa Hariharan, The Thousand Faces of Night, could be considered a milestone in the realm of Indian fiction in English in general and Indian contribution to feminist literature in particular. India is a land where tradition is mingled with the lives of the people and women are the subjects of tradition. They are perennially caught in the nexus of tradition and values and that they suffocatingly suffer in all walks of life especially in the Indian families. Women are harassed and humiliated by the partial codes and ethics designed by men. The codes are partial because they do not restrict men and because of these codes women have to sacrifice their wishes which cause existential dilemma in their minds and results in claustrophobia. Hence their existential crisis becomes greater and greater. This novel examines thoroughly the particular conditions of Indian women characterized with self abnegation in their different appearances. It depicts the struggle of three women of consecutive generations for their survival in their relationship with man and society. Speaking to Urvashi Butalia, Hariharan explains: “My first book deals with the lives of three women.

The limited space of their lives is enlarged with myths, some twisted in the retelling, some remaining the same, but still all are retellings” (83). It reveals more than a thousand faces of women who are still struggling for their survival in the dark with despair and disappointment. The Thousand Faces of Night, “[…] is about separate yet linked stories of three Indian women Devi, Sita and Mayamma. These stories explore the various hues of darkness engulfing their married lives” (Tripathi 175). Devi, Sita and Mayama belong to three different ages, three different generations and are the possessors of three different levels of education, but the sufferings are almost the same. The Thousand Faces of Night, is chiefly the story of Devi, the protagonist of the novel. Devi studies in America, as the story opens. America is a land where “you can brazenly plead your rights as an individual” (Hariharan 6). She has a friend, Dan by name and she even being proposed for marriage by him. At this juncture Sita decides to call her back from America. Having completed her M. A. degree; she returns to India only to fall as a prey to the tyrannical clutches of the Indian tradition. After coming back to India Devi realizes that her mother is going to arrange her marriage through swayamvara. The Indian tradition forces women to marry. But Devi is not prepared for her marriage. Much against Devi’s wish and for her mother’s sake, she accepts to marry.

Returning to India, Devi is unable to adjust herself thoroughly to a traditional life as she has been influenced by the modernistic ideas of the west. In spite of being influenced by modernistic ideas, she has to be engulfed by tradition. Finally Devi married to Mahesh, a business executive who is often in his tours on the matters of his business. Devi wants to have Mahesh always with her company. But he never speaks a single affectionate word to Devi. She cannot bear with solitude. Devi feels desolated and deserted as she lives in isolation finding no one to chat with her or to love her. Mahesh views the role of a wife as confined to the house only. He does not allow her to read books. He does not even take into account her education and says “This is what comes of educating a woman. Your grandmother was barely literate. Wasn’t she a happier woman than you are?”(74). He wants Devi to be a dutiful Indian wife. Devi’s married life proves quite unhappy. Her heart is throbbing and longing for a loving heart. She is exasperated by the mechanical living of married life. She hates the purposeful love-making. Unable to bear the confinements of life she elopes with the musician Gopal fascinated by his music believing that he will love her. But that fellow also lures to the beauty of Devi. In this situation the educated girl’s heart is broken and the crisis becomes higher. She spends some time in conflict and alienation. Finally she decides to return to her mother with whom she can live a better and respectable life. House hold duties like cleaning, washing clothes, cooking and all are ordained on women whereas men are free from doing these works. Sita, Devi’s mother is of no exception in falling as prey to the tyrannical clutches of the Indian tradition and customs. She is a middle aged woman, represents a life between the two extreme generations of Mayamma and Devi. She is a cool, confident, middle aged woman. Before marriage Sita’s parents taught her to play Veena. She entered her husband’s house with a Veena as part of her dowry. After completing the household affairs, which was considered as the foremost duty of the house- wives, she used to play Veena. One day her father-in-law called her for performing some works before puja in morning. She could not hear, as she was playing Veena. The father-in-law scolded Sita: “Put the Veena away. Are you a wife, a daughter-in-law” (30). In a momentary anger and frustration, she pulled out the strings of veena and vowed not to play the veena again and replied in a whisper: “yes, I am a wife and a daughter-in-law” (30). Often women have to give up their talents after marriage. They are not able to survive with the originality.

She sacrificed everything and devoted herself to keep up the prestige of the family as well as the fortunes of the family. Sita’s behaviour and attitude was greatly appreciated by her husband Mahadevan. He is pleased with Sita who manages the home carefully. He holds that Sita is “A woman who did not complain, a woman who knew how to make sacrifices without fanfare” (103).She is a practical woman and is not moved by dreams. Thus she spends her life with full of sacrifices and self-control. Mayamma, the caretaker cum cook in Mahesh’s house narrates to Devi her tale of tears and experiences as wife and daughter-in-law. She reminds the early days of her marriage. Mayamma is married at the age of twelve to a useless gambler. After two years of marriage she could not bring forth a child. She was harassed by her mother-in-law for infertility. She suffered a lot in the hands of her mother-in-law. Not even did she provide her to eat. She explains: “No, no, Maya. No rice for you today. It’s Friday. No rice today, no vegetables tomorrow, no tamarind the day after. Stop thinking of food, daughter-in-law, Think of your womb. Think of your empty rotting womb and pray.” (114) After delivering a boy Mayamma’s husband left her isolated and went away nowhere. She was again tortured by her son.

Mayamma suffered of the survival strategy, though she takes life as it comes to her. She is portrayed as an ideal female character. As she could not find any alternative choice, she has to accept her fate, though rude and offensive to it, she did not dare to put it a matter of issue and she lives her life according to what has been expected from her. She represents the generation of Indian women who feel life is merely accepting and adjusting to one’s destiny without complaint. Women of her generation are meek, submissive, bound to the traditions of family and the institution of marriage. The three women in the fiction, Devi, Mayamma and Sita are the embodiments of the typical Indian women who suffer a lot during their daily transaction of life. They are not granted freedom of their choice during the daily transaction of their life. Sita and Mayamma represent the women who attempt to come to terms with their duties and surroundings whereas Devi emerges as an invulnerable individual and uncompromising survivor. She does not want to be meek and submissive like Mayamma or her mother Sita. Githa Hariharan portrays Devi as a new woman, who leads life from submissiveness to rebelliousness. Thus “The novel brings alive the underworld of Indian women’s lives- where most dreams are thwarted and the only constant is survival” (Trikha 169).


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