Of late, the housewives, (some of whom refuse to go by this title and opt for ‘homemakers’ instead), have managed to achieve the credit which was due since long… After all, society conveniently mutes their voice, ambitions, dreams, aspirations, and desires. The noise of the male chauvinistic, patriarchal, and ancient societal hierarchy has dwarfed all the humanity and individuality! The women in India have been fighting the battle. This battle is to gain the voice, to shun the silence, and come out of the shells, and soar towards the skies of independence, since ages now. The process of mustering up of courage after the shocking realization of the injustice mapped out, itself is painstaking, especially in the society where the religion overrules rationale.
Such is the tale of Jaya, in the novel ‘That Long Silence’. It is a tale of every Indian wife, who has to bear ‘silence’. She has surrendered to and become submissive to the life. Her father decides her course, until the time she marries someone. Thereafter, her husband (and even in-laws) control her, and later, her child/children. She spends entire life as per the standards set by the orthodox society, and the wishes of others. In some situations, they choose to be silent. It’s not their fault either as they are aware of the consequences. They would have to suffer if they decide to be assertive. So instead, they embrace the silence as the way of life . They even end up teaching this and expecting this from the future generations. Thus, the vicious cycle never ends.
Jaya’s story is no different than any other women in India. Since her teenage, she is living the “fact” that men are ‘the shelter’ for women. Moreover, women should submit to them. This notion is deep into their psyche. Such hard conditioning refuses to budge, and Jaya, soon after completing her education, she has to marry. He is the ‘perfect, ideal groom’ for her, according to the societal standards. Jaya discovers the blandness of the life, where there is no love, and sex is meaningless and shallow. Jaya realizes that this is pretty much what marriage is all about. She drags on herself through the pregnancies, upbringing of her two children, and household work.
Jaya’s silence is partly due to the fact that her life is so perfect. It is perfect according to the shallow standards of the society. She has a ‘doting’ husband who earns well, nice house, and ‘obedient’ children- after all. What else would a woman want in her life, more than this? Surely, her ambitions and dreams are not as important, as the house being ‘spic and span’- especially when she wants to become a writer. It is important to note, that the novel is in the backdrop of the era wherein feminist literary criticism was nonexistent in India, and female writers were a rare breed.
According to society standards, women should not have a functional brain of their own to think. You could hear this statement in the Indian Households that ‘women and cows should follow their masters’. The words ‘by the master’ are left unsaid here. This tough conditioning, wherein the women are ‘second-class citizens’, who have ‘owners’, like property, still exists and is difficult to remove.
After realizing that she is trapped in the ‘marriage of convenience’ for more than a decade, Jaya’s world comes crashing down. She is devastated after she comes to know the illegal work that Mohan has been doing, taking hefty bribes. Jaya is even more ashamed of her marriage when Mohan justifies the deed by quoting that he had been doing this for her and their children.
The feeling of disgust engulfs Jaya, as her future is now dark and bleak. Kamat inspires her. He encourages her to be vocal about her thoughts, emotions, and feelings. She is now determined to not to be one of the two bullocks yoked together, instead to take the reins in her own hands, and turning her silence into a protest of sorts, when Mohan asks for her help. Jaya returns to her passion for writing and continues with her role in the household.
The novel may not be comprehensible for the young men and women, but the Shashi Deshpande’s writing would certainly resonate with the elder people. The women, who had to go through several sorts of abuse, dehumanization, and troubles, every single day of their life will definitely relate to it. Shashi Deshpande has very aptly depicted the gender discrimination, in the most realistic way, and the novel is certainly an eye-opener towards the biased customs, traditions, ideals, and standards set by the society.