Through these three female protagonists,
Manju Kapur has revealed the life circle of a woman who is devoted from
beginning of her life. As a child, a girl has to do domestic, house hold
activities as Virmati does, after marriage, she has to bear pain to give
birth to child as Kasturi’s condition is revealed after having 11 children
and after being mother, her whole life is dedicated to her whole family. A very
pointed statement brings attention: “How trapped could nature make a woman?
(Kapur DD 77)”
Women in Difficult Daughters
in this novel, one may delve into family history and examine grandmothers and Great
grandmothers. Virmati spends her time as nurse / mother, while her mother,
Kasturi, spends her life reproducing; Virmati sets upon a course of education
that doesn’t radically change her way of thinking, but gives her the initiative
to demand to make her own mistakes. The catch is that she marries a man with
two children. Their love is found out. Harish
emerges unscathed. Virmati on the other hand is ostracized, and kept imprisoned
at home until she agrees to marry someone of her mother’s choosing. She
refuses, holding firmly on to her love for Harish. As per wish, she is sent to
higher study. Her lover marries her after five years as a socially accepted
second wife. Education for girls was always seen as a path to immorality. As
for Virmati education is concerned, as a way of escapism. But her family is
convinced that it led to her moral degradation. Her falling in love made her a
fallen woman. Manju Kapur successfully portrayed early twentieth-century
Punjabi life and has effectively captured the relationships.
Virmati, the daughter, symbolizes the
country’s struggle for independence on macro level. Psychologically, she
reveals her rebellious nature against deep-rooted conventions of morality
especially for a girl. She undertakes her journey to the path leading to one’s
individuality but to her, it leaves in the midway with no achievement. But her
image is of a woman unfettered: “Here she comes running, out of prison and off
the pedestal; chains off, crown off, halo off, just a live woman” – remarks
Charlotte Perkins in an article on the new woman. As Susan Polis Schultz says:
“The new woman arises full of confidence, she speaks eloquently, and thinks
independently, full of strength. She organizes efficiently and directs
proudly.” (Schultz 39)
Ida, Virmati’s daughter is the product
of post independence era and establishes herself as an independent woman. She
starts her journey to find an insight into her mother’s past, denies her and
revolts against the ways and follies. The opening line reveals her anguish:
“The one thing I had wanted was not to
be like my mother. Now she was gone and I started at the fire that rose from
her shriveled body, dry-eyed, leaden, half dead myself, while my relatives
clustered around the pyre and wept”. (Kapur DD 1)
Identity Crisis in Difficult Daughters
novel traces Virmati’s quest for freedom and identity, her desperation for a space
of her own to study. Her desire to shed the surrogate motherhood, imposed on
her. Being the eldest daughter she is burdened with family duties because of
her mother’s incessant pregnancies. The girls: Virmati, Indumati, Gunvati,
Hemavati, Vidyavati and Parvati. The boys: Kailashnath, Gopinath, Krishnanath,
Parkashnath and Hiranath.
since Virmati could remember she had been looking after children. It wasn’t
only Baby Parvati to whom she was indispensable; to her younger siblings she
was second mother as well” (Kapur DD 6).
one cause for Virmati’s frustration was her mother’s continuous breeding.
Virmati was never remained free. At times Virmati yearned for affection, for
some sign that she was special. But – “When she put her head next to the
youngest baby, feeding in the mother’s arms, Kasturi would get irritated and
push her away.
you seen to their food – milk – clothes – studies?’ . . . ‘I am just going’,
protest Virmati finally. ‘Why can’t Indumati also take responsibility? Why does
it always have to be me?’ ‘You know they don’t listen to her’, snapped Kasturi.
‘You are the eldest. If you didn’t see to things, who will?’ (Kapur DD 6-7)
A constant sufferer Virmati, nurses a
desire of being as independent, defiant and assertive as her cousin Shakuntala.
Shakuntala sows the seeds of freedom in Virmati. She symbolizes modernity as
not following the conventional norms which limits daughter to an early marriage
and then home and family. She encourages her for independence and for equal
rights for women, thus epitomizing the post colonial emancipated ‘New Woman’.
New woman breaks the customs of the tradition bound society. Since the
establishment of the society, woman is divided social security, political awareness,
and economic liberation. In this context, Simone De Beauvoir comments: “The
situation of woman is that she – a free and autonomous being likes creatures –
nevertheless finds herself living in a world where men compel her to assure the
status of the other. (Beauvoir 167)
Both Shakuntala and Virmati come out of
this ideological framework of being typical Indian woman. Shakuntala takes part
in the political Gandhian Movement whereas Kasturi’s ideology is confined to
patriarchy and she thinks ‘marriage’ as the duty of every girl rather than
studies. She remarks –
“Hay re, beta! What is need to so a job?
A woman’s shaan is in her home. Now you have studied and worked enough Shaadi.
After you get married, Viru can follow.’ (Kapur DD 16)
For Kasturi, Education means developing
the mind for the benefit of the family and nothing more than that. But
Shakuntala, like new woman, shares her view with Virmati:
“These people don’t really understand
Viru . . . women are still supposed to marry and nothing else” (Kapur DD 17).
Lajwanti and Kasturi, on the opposite, get
into clash with Shakuntala’s ideas. They behold the stereotypical opinion that
only a man is free to do a job, to go outside and to do his desired task
whereas a girl has to take every step according to the norms of society. She
does not have her own life. In one of the passage Kasturi says:
“All the time in lab, doing experiments,
helping the girls, studying or going to conferences, I tell her she should have
been a man” (Kapur DD 16).
Catharine Stimpson has called the
attention towards the “omissions, distortions, and trivializations” of women’s
experiences and the spheres to which women have historically been consigned,
such as private life and the family” (Stimpson 17). Trying to find a woman’s space
and quest for her identity, Seemanthini Niranjana in Embodiment underscores a
Lingyat woman Sharadamma, in this context in contrast with the activities of
men: “Who will cook, and care for the children and home if the woman? What will
happen to the household if we don’t the dharma of men is different . . . they
only do outside work. (Niranjana 113) Virmati feels influential impact of
Shakuntala and at once blurts:
‘I want to be like you, Pehnji . . . I wish I
too could do things. But I am not clever’ (Kapur DD 17-18).
Virmati comes to know about her inner
desire to find a self identity. So it was now useless looking for answers
inside the home. One had to look outside to education, freedom and the bright
lights of Lahore colleges. Thus, Shakuntala’s visit plants the seeds of
aspiration in Virmati, seeds to find her true place in society. For Kasturi,
Virmati’s practical education was complete but Virmati wants to study further
even if she has to fight her mother. But Virmati was under household burden. All
time, there were demanding noises. Eventually Virmati fails her FA (Fine Arts).
She shows a great fuss. Kasturi tells her that it is over now. Virmati, at the
age of 17, was engaged to a canal engineer, Inderjeet. Virmati was outraged and
frustrated at her failure, on this Kasturi says:
“Leave your studies if it is going to
make you so bad tempered with your family. You are forgetting what comes first”
(Kapur DD 21).
Thus, during her search to find an
individual space, Virmati has to face many obstacles. Family plays an important
role in the novel. For the sake of family’s name, Virmati is forced to
sacrifice her study, her freedom. She is taught to be an ideal daughter. In the
words of R.J. Kalpana in her article Motherhood: “The family is at once the
source of women’s affirmation as well as their subordination. They are heralded
as martyrs of the struggle and as a source of regeneration and yet they are
denied leadership position” (Kalpana 30). Family, the fundamental unit of
society, can be seen as perpetrating the larger patriarchal power structure.
The institution of marriage makes woman an object of barter and subverts the
right of woman to name children after the man. In this way, an entire sex lost
its identity, in terms of socio-political and economic position and was
vulnerable to exploitation. Virmati, in the novel, rejects both institutions.
She rebels against stereotypical ideas provoking the honor of family relating
to daughter. She goes against her family’s will of arrange marriage with an
engineer, Inderjit and falls in love with a Professor, Harish who is already
married, who first appears in her life as her parent’s tenant. The Professor
was married as a child to an illiterate woman, whom he had tried to educate and
had miserably failed. Professor’s wife has no name till the middle of the book
– she is the woman whose life’s mission was to cook for and feed her family and
keep the house clean. So the Professor falls in love with his student Virmati
who is passionately interested in studies. Professor and Virmati were in the
same as college where –
“Virmati always sat in the front row
with the four other girls who were in the Professor’s class and that was the
only place he saw her in college, flower-like, against a backdrop of male
students . . . The Professor drank in the symbolism of her posture greedily. It
moved him so deeply that he remembered it in all its detail . . . the
Professor’s desire to possess had extended to her heart and mind”. (Kapur DD
The above lines point towards the greed
to possess Virmati, in Professor. Freud discusses women as “sex objects to men.
Men, he suggests split women symbolically and erotically into, mothers and
sisters, on the one hand and prostitutes on the other” (Freud). The first
attraction is Virmati’s flower-like structure. It is to be noted that for
centuries, female body is perceived as an object to be possessed by man.
Seemanthini Niranjana speaking about Foucault (1978), “the body is the site of
a range of institutional and regulatory discourses. The body becomes the very
medium through which feminity (in its cultural form) is constituted” (Niranjana
109-110). V. Geetha talking about social attitude says: Women’s bodies were
often routinely viewed as objects of male desire and lust; a fact that was
particularly evident in media images of women. Women’s groups pointed to the
range of sexual crimes that were directed at women – child abuse, incest,
marital rape – to argue that their social existence was invariably sexualized
and therefore not seen as worthy of equality or justice. The family and larger
kin group, they noted, actively aided this sexualization of women’s bodies by
valorizing against women, they insisted, which secured the patriarch’s power,
both at level of family and society. (Geetha 191)
Virmati’s thought of her fiancé has been
replaced by the thought of Professor. She was aware of Professor’s paying
attention to her. She was caught in Psychological conflict as on the one side
there was – family, customs, norms, and traditional values; and on the other
was – her illicit love for Professor, her desire to educate herself. Days
passed and Virmati’s confusion grew.
“She would sometimes wish that . . . but what
could she wish? Early marriage or no education. No Professor and no love? Her
soul revolted and her sufferings increased” (Kapur DD 54).
Her thoughts were splitter, by now, into
two socially unacceptable pieces. Virmati has finished her BA and her marriage
date was fixed. Professor insists her to tell Inderjit, her fiancé about their
relation. Virmati thinks that
“It was not his fault, how could he help it if
he had been married off at the age of three” (Kapur DD 55).
By gathering all her courage, Virmati
defies her marriage. Her ideas come into conflict with Kasturi who always
reminds her – You are the eldest, Viru, your duty is greater. You know how much
the younger ones look up to you. Your grandfather and father both have
confidence in you; otherwise would they have given you so much freedom? They
thought school and college would strong than you, not 68 change you. Now what
will they feel when you want us to break our word and destroy our good name?
How will they understand it? (Kapur DD 58- 59)
Due to her modern outlook, Virmati
becomes the victim of violence. Under ‘mental slavery’ in the male-dominated
structure Kasturi grabbed Virmati by the hair and bangs her head against the
“May be this will knock some sense into you! .
. . What crimes did I commit in my last life that I should be cursed with a
daughter like you in this one?” (Kapur DD 59).
In the words of Kalpana in her article
Phallic Reflections: Seen in relative terms to the male, female is denied the
opportunity to forge an identity of her own. If and when she dares she comes
face to face with the last weapon in patriarchal arsenal: violence. In most
simplified form, violence is defined as abuse and it takes on many guises, from
physical assault to psychological domination to social subjection to cultural
oppression. (Kalpana 68)
Like Shakuntala, Virmati herself demands
to go to Lahore for further studies. Kasturi is shocked to see this
transformation in Virmati.
“What had come over the girl? She had
always been so good and sensible . . . what kind of learning was this that
deprived her of her reason?” (Kapur DD 60).
The novel also traces history of India of
independence and pre-independence days. By adapting the technique of flashback
in a smooth manner, we get glimpses of history like – “Sultanpur, West Punjab,
1904 . . . Child marriage is evil . . . Their Swami Dayanandji had said that
marriage was a union between rational, consenting adults . . . when Kasturi was
praying to a picture of Christ was no small matter, he (Kasturi’s father)
agreed, it was exactly in this way that the British sought the dominion over
their mind” (Kapur DD 61).
Though, pre-independence era is known as
Modern era due to the intervention of Britishers, but traditionalistic ideas
avail under the surface of modernity.
“During Kasturi’s formal schooling was
never forgotten that marriage was her destiny. After she graduated, her
education continued in home” (Kapur DD 62).
The novel has a backdrop of history. “In 1849
the British formally annexed Punjab, completing a process that had begun with
the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh ten years earlier. They set about
establishing their control in a manner that would persuade the Punjabis that,
of all possible political options, British rule was best” (Kapur DD 71). The
novelist’s depicts the history of pre-independence day points that Manju Kapur
has explored how the ideology of Britishers had shaken the roots of tradition
and thus changed the stereotypical thoughts. Kappur very skillfully, explains
her psychological condition. When Virmati finds no solution to her problem of
taking decision, then in the last she only tries to commit suicide thinking
that death can bring solution to her worries: Her mind wandered to the
thousands of mosquitoes that hovered around the drains and all the fruit and Halwai
stalls in the market. Then to her father’s shop, the old house, her old school,
her new house, her new college, incoherent pictures jumbling about in her
unhappy mind . . .
The waters going strangely and mysteriously
on, having a being in which her own would soon be inextricably mingled . . .
Now that she was actually going to merge her body with the canal she felt her
confusion clearing. (Kapur DD 75-76)
Meanwhile this news of Virmati leaves
Professor to nothing whereas she (Professor’s wife) was wishing evil of others.
Kapur’s tinge of Ramayana indicates her own classical epic style with which she
deeply and profoundly describes everything. Eventually, Virmati is saved. She
reveals her desire to study further and not yet getting married. At this
desire, Virmati is locked and her sister Indumati’s marriage is being arranged
with Inderjeet. Due to this act of Virmati, her family has to face disgrace.
Virmati feels penance at her fault. In the locked godown, she communicates with
the Professor through letters carried by Paro. In one of the letter, Viru says:
“Mati and Pitaji want me to promise I will have nothing more to do with you,
then they will let me out . . . A man who is already married and a traitor to
any woman. He is a worldly person caught in his own desires. I am just like the
sacks of wheat and dal here, without my own life” (Kapur DD 93).
Virmati becomes a pendulum between
education and marriage. When she is compelled to marry the canal engineer, she
protests and writes a letter to Professor Harish whom she loves dearly and
says: I couldn’t think, and all I heard around me was talk of marriage. If I
was to be a rubber doll for others to move as they willed, then I didn’t want
to live. I thought of what you taught us about Sydney Carton, and how noble and
fine in seemed at the moment of his death. His last words echoed in my ears all
that day. So you of all people should understand my actions! (Kapur DD 92)
Like an Epistolary novel, Manju Kapur
has devoted a complete chapter of her novel Difficult Daughters to the
letters of Virmati and Professor Harish. In one of the letter Virmati says ‘no’
to Harish for further love meetings and ends up with him as she comes to know
about the pregnancy brings calm and soothes Kasturi as for Kasturi, her
daughter is safe now, but it shakes Virmati completely as on the one side Professor
draws his intense love on Virmati and on the other, he is also involved with
his wife. How can a man be faithful and loyal to both sides? Professor, very
cunningly does not want to leave young Viru and also not his domestic and
devoted wife. This attitude of Harish is a criticizing one. Here, Stereotypical
ideology related to gender bias is depicted by Kasturi-
“It will be a boy, and this is what,
everyman wants, even if he is educated” (Kapur DD 104).
Thus, a girl is neglected in our society;
hence, the result is female feticide. Professor, on the other side, justifies
himself by saying the words that he does all this ‘to bring back domestic
harmony’. But now Virmati inclines towards her deep rooted traditions and norms
“I am proud that I belong to such a family, and
I must keep up its traditions” (Kapur DD 107). Thus, she finds herself in
cultural identity. Now she thinks: “This is the real punishment for what I have
done” (Kapur DD 109).