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ISSN: 0974-892X


January, 2017



Women in the Novels of Namita Gokhale

Dr. Vinita Jain, 456, 'Magan Kunj', Baghpat Road, Kamla Nagar, Meerut

The image of woman is well known as an obedient, unprotesting, submissive, self-sacrificing creature of the patriarchal social set up the world over. She has been culturally programmed to be an ideal wife, a mother and an excellent homemaker with diverse roles in the family. The women have been described as the embodiment of purity and spiritual power and respected as godly beings on the one hand and on the other, viewed as being essentially weak creatures constantly requiring the protection of man as their lord and master. Increasing number of women is coming out to prove themselves. The gender justice is the only tool to create an amicable adjustment for men and women both. Many of the Indian women novelists focus on women’s issues; they have a women’s perspective on the world. Namita Gokhale is a versatile personality who writes in English and is one of India’s most celebrated writers who have touched the pulse of the society by eulogizing fiercely strong, fiery, and assertive, individualistic women who are cultural icons, with intense sense of loyalty to the clan and community. Her works voice a protest, an attempt to construct “new selves in new structures”. On asking her views about the condition of women in India, Namiita Gokhale answered,

“…things haven’t changed. Earlier women used to try to be nice traditional wife material…Girls from good families were made to carry one big towel in their bags so that they would always bend as it was not supposed to be good to stand straight. They were told to have a slight bent posture…..nowadays you suppose to look slim and glamorous all the time. What a waste of time to do it all the time. I am not anti that but the whole thing to fitting into a mould, not being who you are. That is what I find, I think, somewhere all my books try to push women subconsciously to just be natural, spontaneous and themselves.” (1)

Namita Gokhale has portrayed some tremendous women characters. Apart from Indianness in her works, we also find historical aspects. The names of the heroines like Paro and Parvati are historical names. She has frankly revealed the realities of life. She says that all her women protagonists somewhere there in journey to become themselves. Namita Gokhale has mellowed down in her later novels like “The Book of Shadows” and “Gods, Graves and Grandmother”, compared to her debut novel “Paro: Dreams of Passion”.
In ‘Paro: Dreams Of Passion’ she describes the realities of the life of Delhi and Bombay and how two women are jealous of each other. In the novel  there are two women, Paro and Priya. Paro is always herself but at another level she is a bit dramatic and she is not very thoughtful. So she meets a sad end. Paro and Priya are of two different kinds of women. Priya was a sort of woman who holds her family together. Paro was a woman who didn’t care and ideal woman is somewhere between them both. Here one finds the perverted shape of liberation as women do not get the right to enjoy sex freely without bothering the ethical values. Paro is not used to lonely nights and changes life partner as one shifts from one uncomfortable house to another. She appears to be vindictive and hateful towards men; and devoid of affection. It seems men are indirectly responsible for women’s behaviour; as B.R. sewing machine magnate, to whom Paro had married was a man without principles and did not hold the institution of marriage with respect. Due to such behaviour from her husband Paro became vindictive. The character of Priya can be compared with Paro. It suggests the life principle of binaries. The new generation wants to move ahead speedily, comfortably and without any baggage. Hence without responsibility, without duty one cannot acquire stability or happiness. It indicates that the society is under flux. Paro is a woman who has affairs with many men. But in reality she yearns for a man’s love and security; though outwardly she appears to be strong. The portrayal of Paro`s character is quite significant. She represents the new woman living in cosmopolitan cities of India on her own terms.

The novel “Gods, Graves and Grandmother” also has a realistic touch about it. Here she has very well brought out the shrewdness, smartness of `Ammi, the way she adopts the survival strategy. Grandmother is the strongest character of the novel because she is in every situation knows how to adjust and make things work. There is another interesting character in the novel, which is Phoolwati.   The story is centered around the young girl, Gudiya alias Pooja. She shows her real strength after Kalki left her.

Even the novel highlights the social behaviour and the religious fervour prevailing in the society. The protagonist maneuvers things to her advantage. Kalki allures Gudiya- who belongs to the younger generation. The writer has portrayed the difference between the older and the younger generation of the Indian society. The older group is more practical than the younger group who exhibit their weaknesses. This is the story of displacement, but instead of being displaced, they have created their own space. Here the minor characters like Phoolwati and Lila are portrayed as dutiful, powerful women who can handle any situation. Lila is duty conscious towards Ammi and faithful; even Phoolwati is fully aware of her duty and takes care of Gudiya in Ammi`s absence as a real mother.

The name of the novel ‘A Himalayan Love Story’ leads the reader to falsehood. The novel deals with the theme of deprivation in respect of education and career, sexual desire and frustration, suffocation of a caged loveless marriage, numerous affairs, the futility of lust, the shame and sorrow of not finding love after repeated attempts, the loneliness and neurosis that stalks woman and such other things in their works. Through her female characters from different sections of society, Namita Gokhale portrays the woman deprived of love, understanding, and companionship which is the center of her works.

Similarly, the life of Parvati is pathetic and tragic. Throughout her life she remains deprived of love because she could not get the love of her parents as well as her husband as her father died very early and after some time her mother also died due to tuberculosis. She could not marry the man she loved and the man whom she was married was a homosexual who could not satisfy her physically and mentally. She survives through her daughter-Irra. Apart from Parvati, the characters of Irra, Marie, Pasang Rampa, and Neera are there. For all the ladies except Irra physical aspects are of more importance rather than inner beauty. Adeleine the Eurasian lady is also portrayed to be emotionless.
‘The Book of Shadows’ is Gokhale`s autobiographical novel. Like the heroine Rachita, she also oscillates in the shadows in her life. In the novel the characters are in search of love. Rachita, the protagonist of the novel, has been disfigured by an acid attack and this physical harm is less in comparison to the psychological trauma she undergoes. She retreats to her childhood home to get mental peace and solace. She wishes to be in the past, in the pristine days as her present is disturbing. She takes time to come to terms with reality. The writer has also used ghosts to narrate her story. Namita Gokhale is a contemporary writer; hence she has dealt with the present day problem of acid attack from this perspective.

In ‘The Book of Shadows’ and ‘Shakuntala: The Play of Memory’ one finds the mixture of the probable and the improbable elements. ‘Shakuntala: The Play of Memory’ portrays the notions of the birth-cycle are described through the life of Shakuntala, the protagonist of the novel. Shakuntala is a very powerful character and the strangest thing about Shakuntala is that it could be today. The question of equality of women with men has been raised here. It is centered around a woman’s vision of freedom. Things haven’t changed even today. Thousands of years ago things were not far different as they are now. It shows quest of a woman who wants to know about Hindu scriptures.

In her non-fictional work ‘Mountain Echoes: Reminiscences of Kumaoni Women’ she describes the culture of Kumaon region. The women work hard in this region since morning till night. Kumaon, the fascinating hill region of western Uttar Pradesh, has been brought to life by four well known women of the region. This book is based on the reminiscences of their homeland. The women whose accounts are included in the book are famous writers Ms. Shivani, Ms. Lakshmi (Jeeya), Ms. Tara Pande and Ms. Shakuntala Pande. All these women mirror a social universe that no longer exists, that has dissolved in the mainstream of modernization and urbanization of democracy, education and emancipation. The book reflects the deepest and most intimate convolutions, a culture and society in rapid transition through the remembered history of four women, all of them exceptional for their intellect and exposure to events.

This book also throws up interesting questions for contemporary feminists. We the contemporary women must ask ourselves what we should do in our lives to gain our sense of autonomy. If we really want to empower ourselves, then we should educate ourselves and our daughters to pursue that we live a life of dignity. These women are important because they seem to have at least recognized the importance of living these values. But the way they translated those values in their lives depended on the larger historical context in which they live. They cannot give us fool proof answers to the dilemmas that we face in our own times, but reading about their lives does give an idea of how traditional educated women respond to the changing values of the times and we in our own turn can see what course of life would be most suitable for us.

In her second non-fictional work ‘The Book Of Shiva’ Namita Gokhale has described the Shiva -- Shakti: the reconciliation of Male-Female polarities. Here she clearly talks about a very important conversation between Parvati and Shiva, where Parvati challenges Shiva's misogynistic attitude towards her. Parvati was the first of the feminist ladies. Namita has a lovely way of recreating philosophical conversations between gods that shaped the thoughts our entire culture rests upon be it the role of Sati, and its warped understanding over the ages, or the role of women in society.

Gokhale is very frank in the portrayal of her bold and powerful characters. . Invariably Gokhale`s heroines paint and repaint their nails off and on; which implies that they wish to wipe out memories and hope for a better tomorrow. From high-class lady like Paro, ambitious Gudiya, dominating Phoolwati, and simpleton  Parvati all paint their nails or henna their hair. It seems Namita has obsession for removing and painting nails. It is also significant that the modern society people use various colours and bold colours to hide their vacuum. Gokhale further wants to throw light on the fact that discipline is on the diminishing in the modern cosmopolitan society and men and women do prefer sobriety and simplicity but they prefer a pompous and glamorous life. So in that way also colours are symbolic of hope.

“In Search of Sita” (2010) presents essays, conversations and commentaries that explore different aspects of her life. It revisits mythology, reopening the debate on her birth, her days in exile, her abduction, the test by fire, the birth of her sons and, finally, her return to the earth—offering fresh interpretations of this enigmatic figure and her indelible impact on our everyday lives. This book is not just about Sita. It is an active collaboration that brings into focus other strong women characters from Kaikeyi to Surpanakha, from Mandodari to Lakshmana’s wife Urmila. Sacrifice, self denial and unquestioning loyalty are some of the ideals associated with popular perceptions of Sita. Namita Gokhale says,
“Sita suffered injustice and somewhere I feel injustice is everywhere in India and it began with this Sita syndrome.” (2)

“Priya In Incredible Indyaa” (2011) is a book in which author Namita Gokhale brings back some unforgettable characters from her 1984 bestseller ‘Paro: Dreams of Passion’.  She writes a sequel featuring Paro’s beloved friend, Priya. The novel traces her roller coaster life. She is   a girl from India's growing middle class, who works her way up through social and professional ranks to become the wife of an Indian minister, Suresh Kaushal. Priya copes with social vertigo, infidelity, menopause and relationships and learns some vital lessons watching her new friend Poonam chase status, sex and designer shoes.

Priya has grown into a middle-aged woman, struggling with Delhi's high society, her approaching menopause and finding a suitable wife each for her twins. At the same time she is also struggling with all the pretenses that come along with being a wife of a public figure. She keeps remembering her humble beginnings in Bombay and where she is now. Namita Gokhale says, “The book is a mirror of our times. If Paro... was the first triumphant chicklit of those days, then Priya... must be the first haglit!”(3)

“The Habit of Love” (2012) is a collection of thirteen stories that reflect and internalize the lives of women. There are essentially two sorts of stories: contemporary, urban narratives and a re-telling of stories from the epics employing a female, subaltern point of view. But they all share the whimsical and quirky humor with which they speak of themselves and their lives. Most of these women are not extra-ordinary but straight out of your regular lives but at the same time, they are broken - either emotionally or physically or both. They are happy and angry at small things in life and allow the readers to go through their experiences, decisions and multitude of expressions in as little words as possible. Delicately poised between irony and grief, ‘The Habit of Love’ is elegant and acute, arch and melancholic. In these moving stories she displays both sympathy and understanding as she unveils the workings of a woman s heart. In the book, "The stories speak of a woman's need to love, rather than the objects of love. Women love passionately, deeply, often angrily. Real love is not about sexual conquest, it is not a triumphant place, but a space of surrender," (4)

Thus Namita Gokhale represents a woman’s quest for liberation which is not something new or unique to India. She has courage to express her women’s essentially feminine sensibility honestly and sincerely. She has voiced the pangs, problems and fears of weaker sex. The inner psyche, the gloomy depression, the bruised and broken heart breaks, the melancholy, loneliness and isolation, the social bycott, the angry agitation, the struggle- all have been loudly pronounces. Most works of Namita Gokhale are inspired by the status of women in society and in patriarchal system. Through her novels she gives voice to the sufferings, to agony and pain of women within their social norms and conventions. Her women are victims of a conventional society which does not permit women to hold their own and considers the very issue of identity-crisis as preposterous apropos women. Namita Gokhale feels strongly about female exploitation and male sarcasm towards the issue of women’s identity crises. She demands social justice for women, her focus being on freedom. Gokhale represents new morality, according to which woman is not to be taken as a mere toy, an object of lust and momentary pleasure, but man’s equal and honored partner. Her women characters undoubtedly reveal her feminist ideology. Namita Gokhale wants women to recognize themselves.


  1. Deccan Herald ‘Concept of 'Bharatiya Nari' a can of worms’ New Delhi, May 29.
  2. Personal Interview with Namita Gokhale on April 6, 2014.
  3. Summer of sequels:’ The Telegraph, Sunday, June 12, 2011.
  4. Chatterjee Madhusree, Habit of love: The Tribune, Sunday, January 22, 2012.