Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Vaidehi : A Reluctant Feminist

During the 70’s when feminism in Europe had reached its zenith morphing phenomenally literary and cultural ambience, a writer in Kannada a quiet ‘crusader’ was doing her bit interrogating mildly the patriarchal text within the remnants of tradition. A sustained story teller with a penchant for uncovering the hidden agenda of patriarchy; an author who would subsume in her tales a wry sense of memoir; a soul of a writer who knew her effort was to sneak into mysterious and enigmatic domain of women with a language rich in regional moorings and a style which was to later establish her as almost a ‘cult’ figure in matters of defining women’s role inside a rigorous text of tradition.

Vaidehi is too renowned to need a fact file; any history of Kannada literature would remain impoverished without foregrounding her contribution. The range of her stories may not be very vast. But then she creates little texts of women whose woes have a morbidity of being gender specific.

She didn’t intend to create history of women and of women’s writing with an ideological indebtedness. Nor did Vaidehi have an exclusive aesthetic for women in mind. These were the marked features of European feminism.

Her stories might display a lack of awareness of where Feminism in Europe was heading from an innocuous and revisionary readings of male texts to an extremely radical and revolutionary text of lesbianism. Vaidehi wouldn’t question male hegemony to an extent that it would itself generate a crisis. She chose to be different.

Womanhood for her is a concealed text vis – a – vis the dominant text of patriarchy. Timid and shy, her women characters know they are women and recognized as such by established norms. No one is born a woman, feminists might say. She is made one and constructed how she should be!

Vaidehi is perceptively different. Womanhood is not a troublesome virtue nor is it a deplorable gender category either. She wouldn’t create male or female incarnations of the ‘other’. She would not even create a ‘Durgi’, a female incarnation of masculinity in her subtle narratives. Masculinity for her is not an answer to feminine pathos.

Her tales differ – from the preoccupations of a conscious philosophical and ideological frame of the feminism of the west as also from the mythical and the legendary past of the east. Though myth is not what it is in its ‘original’ text!

The texts she weaves in her tales are typically contemporary - both in spirit and time. Also in the way they negotiate a space for women amid an ever deferring peroration of male hegemony.

The backdrop is traditional; but the treatment cultural and societal; the stance is of a liberal humanist; but the trait, softly rebellious. The texture of her tales is a web of both the mellifluous and melancholic. Yet they betray a sense of political correctness.
In matters of morals and matrimony, Vaidehi wouldn’t ‘transgress’ lores of tradition. Most of her early tales are situated in the institutional text of marriage. A woman losing her husband early, one remaining unmarried for long and the married living in a deheded ‘paradise’ constitute macabre texts of the tales of woe. But then her narratives are not tear jerkers. A tradition that ‘others’ these woman is only frowned at. Not edged out as tenacious and an unaccommodating. Yes, tradition is a negotiable space for Vaidehi. But not at the cost of dignity and self - respect of woman.

A young woman becomes a widow in ‘Bedakata Badukella’ inside just six months of her marriage. She is destined to be so unless the fate would have it otherwise. The text of ‘widowhood ‘ is enough pretext for tradition to blame it on destiny and fate further isolating and enervating her. A woman in ‘O! Jagatthe’ is orphaned in the loss of her son. There is another world, of the rich untouched by the gruesome irony.

Vaidehi exposes the turbid and mean, defines a hierarchical structure by relocating women’s position in which women become aware albeit implicitly of a dominant discourse. Of patriarchy that hegemonises tradition.

Suma, a timid girl understands how she is left out of the ‘ceremonial’ text of marriage into which she is still uninitiated. Yet she tries to partake of the insidious rich and powerful who prescribe an ordinary woman’s role in the texts of ceremonies and occasions.

Women in Vaidehi’s fiction are a ‘muted’ lot. Their silent zones provide Vaidehi with a creative oeuvre. Their isolated spaces inside the oppressor’s territory send her coded signals to be tapped in the linguistic and cultural archiving.

Archiving hapless women’s psyche is a formidable repertoire in Vaidehi. Not vocal, but always reflexive such women would try beneath their conscience to unleash themselves from the tether of a prescriptive tradition.

Yashee in ‘Chippu’ wants to wriggle out of the cocoon, a metaphor for tradition. Out of which she peeps reflecting if the change in her marital status would alter her matrix of an imagined bliss.

Achala in ‘Antharangada Putagalu’ is unmarried. Subbi too is unmarried, but a mother. Subbi demythifies the text of marriage and Achala can only try to textualise its myth. For Subbi, marriage is a myth and for Achala a text. An indispensable text to be possessed and if possible ‘read’! Morals and mores of tradition don’t really bother Subbi. Subbi and Achala represent varied zones of marriage and their interactive impact.

Like wise Boby and Kusum in another tale of woe reexamine codes of marital life. Considered the sole text of a woman’s happiness, marriage is only a common space between man and woman whether the woman is guaranteed a blissful zone in marriage is trivial.

Marriage is a signification - a sign of a secure well being. Bobby is eager to marry off her daughter. Kusum has left her husband behind. The dialectical is very intriguing. Both are desperate. One to get inside the text of marriage and the other to deflect from it. One feels the agony and pain of being married and the other wants to discover the pleasures though she had none, in her daughter marrying. One registers a break and the other expands the texts of tradition.

Vaidehi too needed a break. A break from revealing intrepid versions of tradition with woman used as cultural and social practitioners of it. Mapping woes and worries of women inside a rigid text of tradition would have famished her creative potential.

Vaidehi would now tap abstract spaces in women’s texts for a possible invariant in story telling. Her narratavising would change. From the matter of fact to the lyrical and poetic. Women’s voices become ‘asides’, their roles symbolic and suggestive. They would arraign themselves in their inner being even as a ‘meandering’ tone would try to possibly subvert and effectively dislodge a tradition that has always consigned them to their fractions periphery.

‘Gola’ and ‘Tarangagalu’ are stories featured in this mould. Shakunthale is a character, though not created in the mythic ‘time’, but indentured in an emotional past. She wants to be recognized in this past. A past that Dushyantha in his ‘mythical playfulness’ has ignored. A myth is recreated. Which sustains Shakunthala’s deeply held feelings.

The advent of modernity situates Vaidehi in the third phase of her writing. From the realistic to the poetic and lyrical and now to the discursive.

The patriarchy shifts its emphasis in the modern paradigm. Relationships too shift. From the social and cultural to the economic and material. Modernity is believed to enhance woman’s idea of freedom. But then it is a connivance. Between this text and an avuncular patriarchy. Only to delimit a woman’s conscience.

Vaidehi portrays Sougandhi ( ‘Sougandhiya Swagathagalu’ ) a woman who is initiated into the modern ‘text’. She gets a transfer to a different place of work of her own volition. Away from her parents but into the care of a woman substituting as parents. When this woman too goes away, Sougandhi would not take leave to back home. A day’s off work and away from the parental care would have given ages to brood over her liberty. But opening the door, she finds her parents standing at the threshold. Sougandhi too for her sake stands ‘muted’ on the threshold between modernity and tradition! She is a lone incumbent of the two conniving texts! Which claim equal shares of her body and mind. She is not only detextualised, but ‘detextured’ too!

‘Gulabi Talkies’ presents a different paradigm. Of modernity which sees in woman a real proclivity for change. From the male dominion which had obfuscated women territory. Arrival of cinema ushers in an indulgent pursuit of life restructured by modern glamour and glory. It sets in a glut of exigencies of desires and fulfillments. It crates for them a fairy land. It distills in them a hopeful morrow from a silted past. A coded life of tradition is thrown open like ‘magic casements on perilous seas’.

Vaidehi may have refused time and again to be called a feminist. She is not a stilted reader of tradition and culture either; but a firmly footed exponent of woman’s texts. She may not be a feminist in the western theoretical mould. Yet feminism is ingrained in her texts. She may not have been consciously creating history of woman and of women’s writing. But beneath her tales is a vision of the mundane and ordinary. She may not have developed an exclusive aesthetics for women’s writing. Yet her tales exhibit a rare linguistic oeuvre.

Ideology and politics are far off. Her diagnostics of culture and society are rooted in her moorings. Feminism may be a loaded term to describe her tales. But calling her a feminist would accord her fiction political correctness. Read as discourses her texts would assume the ideological and philosophical.

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