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ISSN: 0974-892X


January, 2019



A Critical Study of Theme of Second Thoughts of Shobha De

Dr. Rani Tiwari, Associate Professor, Dept. of English, S.S.V. College, Hapur. U.P.


Indian writers have been writing in English from many decades and have gained recognition on international platform too. Women writers in India have gained great recognition in the field of novel writing. Women writers put their experiences into fiction very successfully. The number of women readers in India has increased considerably. They derive empathetic awareness of their situations by reading novels dealing with existing problems of women like repression, struggle for existence, cultural crisis and other problems of modern day. It gets difficult for modern day Indian women to decide the path on which to tread.

British rule had deep impact on Indian mind and their way of thinking. The British education system of Lord Macauley aimed to remove the very culture of India. The modal of education system established was to meet out the needs of Britishers. Western culture was put forth in high esteem . They were successful in making Indians shy away from their own culture, tradition , and values. The modern Indian women fiction writers are aware of this. They have a strong sense of revolt against the patriarchal social system and have a deep desire to put forth the sufferings of women. They desire to establish the self-respect of women, assert their rights and call for their freedom from the age old boundations. The Indian women novelists have tried to present the dilemma of the struggling women who want to break away the old shackles but due to a typical traditional bringing up, at times, they are unable to do so. Henceforth they undergo all sufferings feel alienated and get distorted. Thus we find these women in the mid of transitional phase where they want to move to the new ideas of freedom and happiness but due to various social and other issues they are unable to break away the chains. Thus, the sufferings continue. This situation of Indian women can be seen all over India, I urban regions as well as in rural regions. Among the modern women writers of India, Shobha De is considered to be one of the most modern writers. She was a model cum journalist. She has written many novels like Socialite Evening (1989), Starry Nights (1991),  Uncertain Liaisons (1993), Strange Obsessions (1992), Sultry Days (1994) etc. She deals with various themes in them like that of life of film industry, the life of modern elite females, patriarchy, cultural codes and their significance in marital life, gender equality etc.  Shobha De is one of the most courageous, lively, uninhibited and expressive among Indian women writers. She has taken bravely the issues of modern Indian women. She skilfully deals with the very sensitive aspects of human life. Her narration is very frank having great power.   Unrestricted, she deals with the problems of contemporary women who break away from the traditions to seek their dream world of solace and harmony where their psychological and emotional needs could be fulfilled for a harmonious life. She deals with issues of modern women who fight with their struggles and move towards growth and betterment. She deals with the issues of woman’s liberation and freedom.

Shobha De’s novel Second Thoughts is a truthful study of contemporary women’s difficulty, plight and confusion in Indian metropolitan society where she is caught in complications and webs of traditional and modern life. Shobha De has taken brilliant, skilful language and bold style to take up these issues of women. She has demonstrated that how women in contemporary time are struggling to adjust in a novice set up of matrimony, how they are facing challenges every day, and at times, how their sufferings are breaking them internally which is leading them to face various emotional and psychological problems. The constant stress faced by them is leading them to various mental problems. They even have personality disorders where they alienate from public and get least interested in social relationship. Sometimes their situation leads them to neurosis  and  psychological disorders. Modern India has put women on such a difficult platform where on the one side she is supposed to be educated, modern , elegant and liberated and on the other hand she is supposed to kneel down before patriarchal family system especially in her marital life. She is expected to undergo all kinds of sufferings to save her marriage and keep her people happy. In her novel Second Thoughts, Shobha De has very deeply penetrated into these issues of modern Indian women. She has very well analysed the psychology of lone suffering women. She has fully exposed the serious problems arising due to the social and cultural adjustment in marital life of women.

The novel deals with the suffering of a middle class woman who suffers in her marital life and represents so many married women who suffer due to typical traditional arranged system of marriage . Maya was an educated, freedom loving girl from Calcutta. Her marriage was arranged with Ranjan Malik who was a business executive in Bombay having degrees from America. But the marriage is a failure because both of them antithetical attitude towards life. Although Ranjan’s bringing up throughout has been western , yet he gives no freedom to his wife and expects her to compromise and adjust like a traditional Indian housewife. He wishes her to be totally submissive to the whims and wishes of not only himself but his mother too. He humiliates her and satirises to make her subdue to his wishes. Contrary to this, Maya wants a totally free life. She wants to enjoy the free life of Bombay as since years she had been feeling that she had been controlled by her parents at Calcutta. She had come to Bombay to become a journalist and change the world.
The psychological ailment of modern Indian women is projected and revealed in many novels of Shobha De. Her deep study of female psychology shows that:

“Her women characters try to strike a balance between instinctual needs and intellectual aspirations. Deeply exhausted by this trapeze act , they are further bewildered when the existential absurdity of life is unmasked before them , when they face loneliness and lack of communication and communality and are finally brought to mental crises when masculine and institutional pressures are added to exacerbate them further.” (Shanta)

From his wife, Ranjan expected of only household chores and obedience to his mother’s words. At times he even hurts her with his sarcastic remarks on her working. Once he puts a question before if she has forgotten to work in the house. Although Maya keeps quiet at his remarks but the novelist penetrates into her psyche where she finds that Maya felt as if she was the servant of the house.

I had bitten my tongue in dismay. I had wanted to say that I had worked in Calcutta , done household chores, but I had Never been made to feel like a servant.  A menial. I didn’t have a problem about doing my own housework. It was Ranjan’s attitude that hurt me. The bank provided him a fairly generous allowance and we could well have afforded full-time help. But Ranjan was adamant. (Second Thoughts)

Ranjan gave a recurring reminder of laws laid by Hindu scriptures on conduct of women and their traditional way of life. He gave no freewill to his wife. His mother’s consent was supreme for every decision. The decisions were put forth before his wife who was supposed to follow it. She had no fee will of her own. During their honeymoon at Mahabaleshwar, Ranjan admits of having slept with another woman. Despite knowing this, Maya has no ill feelings for him. She behaves as normally as she was supposed to. But the irony is that had a women admitted this fact, the typical Indian man would never have readily accepted her. Further Ranjan is not comfortable to the marital needs of his own wife. He takes least interest in her. He is always passive towards her. Maya feels incomplete even in his presence. If she tries to take any initiative, it is turned down by him and she faces humiliation in his hands. He once says-“Whats your problem? You are beginning to sound like some sort of nymphomaniac. Are you that sex- starved? Nothing else on your mind? How can sex being so important to anybody? I’ve never understood.”

At times Maya stepped forth for her equal rights. Time and again she tries to assert her rights and freewill. But this has negative result. Ranjan develops suspicion. Their relationship gets strained and the peace and harmony gets disturbed. Maya contemplates over the entire situation. “Modern life is so lonely. So lonely. No body to talk. No body to share anything with.”

Maya looks for diversion. Her own home is no longer a place of solace. She looks forward to outsiders for an outlet. At times she speaks to vegetable vendor too. Once she has a conversation with a Bangladeshi shopkeeper who puts to her a very correct remark about the metro city Bombay. He says – “This is Bombay. No time. No feelings. Everybody is saving his own skin. You fight, you shout, you scream. You die. Others will step over your corpse and carry on.”

Maya is full of agony as she is again and again neglected and criticised by her husband. The result is that she is unable to have any happiness with him even in the light moments. Maya had expected a cozy marital life but on the other hand she feels very humiliated by the words of Ranjan.  Once Ranjan remarks on the girls of Bengal who come to Bombay and destroy their culture. He pictures the Bengali girls of Bombay as ultra- modern and immoral. He says-  

“You know… these Bombay girls are used to a very fast way of life. Their morals are no good. They don’t speak proper Bengali. They don’t know the rituals connected with our pujas. They wear all sorts of funny clothes, they refuse to oil their hair. They can not cook our preparations. They don’t know Bengali songs or dances. All they can do is to eat roadside food and dream of going to bars and discos. Such girls do not make good wives. Not at all.”

Such humiliating remarks give a mental harassment and torture to Maya. Shobha De goes into the minute details to present the psyche of the characters. Ranjan is happy with his work and his mother. Maya was always subjected to insults with comparisons. Ranjan compares her to Bengali ladies whom he calls to be hysterical women. He insults his wife by comparisons.   His humiliating remarks and indifference makes his wife totally unhappy and lonely. Due to her emotional cravings, Maya develops  a deep passionate friendship with a college going neighbour Nikhil. Her deep frustration and depression results into having an extra- marital sexual relation.

Maya’s life gets a new start with Nikhil. She enjoys her previous freedom with him. Her joys are limitless with him. For the first time she enjoys her presence in Bombay. She goes out with him to various places. Maya is pleased to be praised and honoured by the words of Nikhil. Before he came into her life, she was always judged, corrected, scolded and humiliated.  But now she gets bliss in his company. When she goes out with Nikhil to see the various spots of Bombay, she remarks, “For the first time since my arrival in your city, I felt like laughing, singing, enjoying the salty sea air on my face, I looked at the sky and felt happy.”

Nikhil takes advantage of her alienation. He forces her for a physical relation, which is initially opposed, but later on it is enjoyed by her. She feels a oneness in his company. She derives complete physical and emotional satisfaction from him. But she gets struck with a sense of guilt too. There is an inner conflict and various thoughts arise in her mind. “I should have stopped myself at that very point since I was not a free woman to pursue a friendship with a grown up man.”

“Her interior monologue continues as she thinks “But Nikhil most definitely affected me and one part of me didn’t approve. This was ridiculous- a newly married woman day dreaming about a neighbour’s son. Disgusting and shameful.”

Further she thinks that ”Somebody should have told me that this was what being married means. It means giving up everything that you’ve known as a carefree young girl. And for what? May be I am confused.”

Some conflicting thoughts emerge in the mind of Maya who feels that she should have tried to understand her husband better for mutual adjustment. The second thought to improve her marital life arises in her mind. But at the same time she is reminded of cold and frigid attitude of Ranjan. He always made her feel out of place. Henceforth whenever she thought of a home , it was always Calcutta, her parental home , which had sweet memories in her mind. Ranjan had married her only for the sake of fulfilling the wishes of his mother. He never cared for her feelings and she remained ever isolated with him. Once Maya sits down helplessly thinking about her empty married life where her dream of romantic life was totally shattered.

“Now here we are, locked in a relationship that didn’t satisfy either of us. e very obviously longed to be on his own, leading the life he had become so accustomed to as a student and then as a promosing bank executive living by himself. And I longed for the perfect romantic companion- if such a creature existed at all outside my imagination.”

Maya tries to bring out herself from her depressive state of mind by constantly reminding herself of the words of her mother. “The issue is, Maya, marriage involves sacrifice. And all the sacrificing has to be undertaken by the woman. The sooner you accept that, the happier you will be.”

But all her efforts fail because of Ranjan’s self- absorbed and egoistic attitude. Maya represents the sufferings of all the modern Indian women who are forced to accept their marriage as it comes to them.  Women silently suffer the harshness of life. Shobha De defines marriage as “Marriage to me connotes commitment and surrender, merging with, blending, overlapping and combing. It is a symbolic relationship where one feeds on the other, depends on the other, needs the other.”(Memory)
But this we do not find in the case Maya and Ranjan. There is no conjugal happiness in their life.

Although Nikhil was a hypocrite who deceived Maya, yet he had brought some life into the dead life of Maya for a short period of time. He had showered physical and emotional support to her. His remarks had fascinated Maya. She had found her own identity in his presence. She could bear her marital pain by just thinking of her happy moments with Nikhil. She had even thought to leave her husband and start her life afresh with Nikhil. She had had so many dreams to be fulfilled.  She had been dreaming of a beautiful life with him. But within a short span of time she is disillusioned. She comes to know of Nikhil’s engagement to Anshu. She now realises that she was deceived by him. All her dreams get shattered. She realises that she had fallen prey to the sweet words of Nikhil. Thus her craving for a true companion is never fulfilled. Their interpersonal dissatisfaction always remains.

There is an abrupt ending of the novel. Shobha De’s deep insight into the conflict of Indian women between conservatism and liberalisation can clearly be seen. The novelist has exposed the spiritual breakdown of modern day’s marital system. To name a few causes of this is liberalisation, gender issues, over dominant patriarchy etc. modern age is the age of transition where there is a call for new women’s freedom but still the old patriarchal system is dominant and women is forced to surrender before the existing social system. With her meticulous art Shobha De has succeeded in presenting the predicament of urban modern women. She realistically presents the human psychology. The main theme of the novels of Shobha De is the psychic problem which urban Indian women undergo, particularly due to the conflict between the age old system and the new one. She has talked of gender equality. In general, in most of her novels, the female protagonists struggle hard for their existence, fight with the situation, yet they assert their freedom. Shobha De is the spokesperson for women who call for peace and equality. She has deep insight into the emotional state of her protagonists.



Works Cited

De, Shobha. Selective Memory . New Delhi: Penguin, 1998,418.

De, Shobha. Second Thoughts. New Delhi: Penguin,1996.

Krishnaswamy, Shanta. The Woman in Indian Fiction in English. New Delhi: Ashish Publishing House, 1984, vi.