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Jul 2015 - Jan 2016



Distorted & Dilapidated Indian Families with Reference to Mahesh Dattani’s Families in his Selected Plays

Dr. Gunasekharan Dharmaraja

Post-Doctoral Fellow Centre for Civil Society, School of Built Environment & Development Studies, Howard College Campus, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa


“Lately it has become the fashionable to deny the existence of this initial stage in human sexual life. Humanity must be spared of this ‘shame’”.

-Frederick Engels

Family always stands out from the deconstruction. No one in this world has the guts to question this traditional and orthodoxy form of so called culture. The family plays such a sacred and divine here. Before plunging very deeply into the deconstruction of family it is very much important to understand the origin of family. Family got its origin from class society. When one is talking about the family, one cannot forget the role of the surplus. Human beings live by wandering always for the sake of food. Obviously when the groups’ strength was increased, there was shortage of food and basic necessity. Thus necessity is the mother of invention; human beings started working on making further production. They concentrated on agriculture, animal husbandry and etc. Men and women went for hunting; Women at the time of their pregnancy stayed back in their shelters. Same time children were the main production and productive force and tools for hunter gatherer society were identified by their mother because of herd system prevailed in that time. There existed a matriarchy system. Women led the role by inventing all the new inventions like fire, wheel and that made the men, the real literal civilized men. Women were the one who found out the usage of iron that made the hunting powerful and the level of food production high. There was born the surplus, the deciding factor of human beings’ struggle. Surplus acted as the historian who registered the class history keenly after its birth. With the patriarchal family, we enter the field of written history. In front of the classless human beings, surplus stood as the forbidden but beloved apple. The men’s greed ate it with lots of lust and eager. When human beings got the surplus, a question raised and arrived before the common wealthy human beings that who will be the shareholders of the surplus. Those who have strengths to regularly participate efficiently in hunting (Here basically, physically women were wiped out from the scene due to their continuous pregnancy) become the real shareholders of the surplus. Same time those men who have the surplus in their hands wanted to pass this superiority onto their heirs as hierarchy. For that they wanted to avoid polyandry in order to avoid the confusion of whose child it may be (Since in matriarchal system, off springs were identified only after mother). They imposed the strict polygamy in which a man can marry many wives but where woman cannot do so. The over throw of mother right was the world historical defeat of the female sex. The man took command in the home also; the woman was degraded and reduced to servitude; she became the slave of his lust and a mere instrument for the production of children. Now women became the sexual tool of men and she becomes the reproductive system of men. When polygamy was introduced, there was the birth of family and the children were identified after men. In order to protect their legitimacy and their heir’s legitimacy, they created slaves, slowly it took the form of the premature stage of creation of the state and gradually it became the real state with its all oppressing powers and forces. Such a form of family shows the transition of the pairing family to monogamy. In order to guarantee the wife’s fidelity and therefore the paternity of the children, she is delivered over unconditionally into the power of the husband; if he kills her, he is only exercising his rights.

Thus with the defeat of women class history starts its life. At very first women become slave to the men; gradually majority men become the slave to the minority men, who control the majority with their muscle power and theological power like God and etc, slowly it was identified as state machineries and religion and etc. So those who want to make a radical family and those who want to revolutionize the family have to have their mind about the birth of family i.e. family is not the divine form of human relationship but it is the very first product of human slavery, Unequal stage of men set its ball roll with the birth of family only. One could assess the nature of family, only by understanding its radical form.

There are two contradictions in the history of contradictions; they are personal and impersonal contradictions. Normally personal contradiction could be between the likeminded people and those who do not want to depart one another. But impersonal contradiction has to be sorted out in the streets. Impersonal contradiction could go for the reconciliation some times but maximum it would go for the departure of two who indulge in those types of contradictions. When one considers the family as contradictory part, when couples indulge in contradiction, there are no chances for them to have the second choice of impersonal contradiction i.e. if one of them feels they are suppressed. Surely the women folk are extremely excluded from this contradiction. All the couples here are advised to solve their problems with the mind of set of living together; even the legal procedure in the name of protecting the women folk does the same, thus family is being protected. People and also the self-acclaimed vulture of Indian culture proudly claim that Indian families are known for its pride and heritage. They further go on to say that due their Indian family set up; Indian relationship is far better than other countries comparatively. Though Indian family has the feudal touch and security and other quite few things to be proud of, they are getting slowly distorted and dilapidated gradually but steadily. Since in the name of human bond and forceful petty bourgeoisie values and legal means it survives little bit, but the core of Indian family is rotten. By the single word adjustment it survives. But the adjustment also confined with women alone. The so called family pride and values and the vigilant upbringing creates the nature of women to practice and prepare for adjusted lives. The authors of this paper never want to say marriage and family have to be forbidden and such, but it has to be understood that marriage and family were the forms and side effects of the ugliest human relationships i.e. class society. So with this mind set only marriage and family have to be understood and deconstructed. Monogamous marriage was a great historical step forward; nevertheless, together with slavery and private wealth, it opened the epoch that has lasted until today in which every step forward is also relatively a step back ward, in which prosperity and development for some is won through the misery and frustration of others. (Page.75)

Woman sided Silence saves family in Mahesh Dattani’s Families:

Here Mahesh Dattani focuses on husband and wife relationship with reference to day to day’s life. As Mahesh Dattani spoke to the corresponding author, he concentrated on the petty bourgeoisie class families only where he emerged from. He never tried his hands on the working class family. In Seven Steps Around the fire Uma Rao, the daughter of Vice Chancellor and Wife of Deputy commissioner Suresh was portrayed by Mahesh Dattani as an emergence from petty bourgeoisie class representative but as the petty bourgeoisie intellectual and also a radical one. Though she acts like a real revolutionary she never tries her hand anything in her family. Inside her family she adjusted since to make the family survive.

Here the husband Suresh is portrayed as a sex centered person; by yielding to his desires Uma achieved some things, some time for her own purpose and sometimes for the betterment of the subaltern society, Transgender. Though she has contradictions over the approach of Suresh towards Transgender she never tried her hand to have a chat with her husband to change him or at least to have mere discussion with him. She merely accepts the point of view of her husband with out questioning, but then and there her style of addressing the transgender with respect was criticized by her husband. Here one could find out that man keeps arguing and imposing his points but in order to save the human bond and family set up woman maintains silence.
Interior. The bedroom of Suresh and Uma.
A Hindi movie fight scene blaring from a TV set in the next room.
Suresh. That is just the sort of name a hijra would fancy, (Chuckles.) Anarkali!
Uma. Why do they put her in male prison? Suresh. They are as strong as horses. Wear the purple one.
Uma. I wore that last night.
Suresh. Again
Silence. Uma opens the ward robe.
Uma. She is being beaten up all by the male prisoners.
Here Uma addresses Kamla, transgender as Anarkali, (also a transgender)’s sister as Kamla addressed by Anarkali. But Suresh makes fun out of it. For this there was no opposition or at least a trial of discussion from Uma’s side.
“Uma. Yes. I know she is arrested for the murder of her sister, but...
              Suresh chokes with laughter as he is gargling, and coughs.
Suresh (off).What’s that you said? Sister? (Re –enters.)There is no such thing for them. More lies. They are all castrated degenerate men. They fought like dogs every day, that Anarkali and...
Uma. Kamla.
Suresh. Look, it is one thing that I am allowing you to go through these cases for your thesis, but don’t feel any compassion for them. They will take advantage...Keep your soft heart for me.
Uma. What is the evidence against Anarkali?
Suresh. Come here.
Silence. Uma lies down on the bed. Suresh moans with pleasure as he kisses her.”
(Page 9-10, Seven steps around the fire)

Thus the above spoken conversation starts with the approaches of a husband and wife. But there were no initiatives from the wife’s side to discuss anything. But husband keeps on insisting his point. Here if Uma wants to have discussion with Suresh about his views on transgender, the scene would not have ended in the bedroom, but in a courtroom. But Uma, the woman, the sub trodden, meant for adjustment adjusted with her husband though she has contradictory views to her husband. Thus survives one Indian family.

The next scene of this couple also happened in (Deliberately?) bedroom. More over in this play more number of scenes of Uma and Suresh happened only in bedroom (Family happens to survive because of bed room).
When Uma talked about their condition of not having a baby, she told him she had gone to hospital for check up and doctor wanted to see him for a normal sperm count. But Suresh refused for that since he believes the reason for not begetting a child does nothing to do with him (or nothing with the male), but it is the concern of female and shutter in his speech proves that he believes the sperm count will mean that it is a check up on his masculinity and it would be a scar on his masculinity.
Uma. I went to the doctor again. Your mother insisted she takes me
Suresh. What did they say?
Uma. Nothing...They want to say see you.
Suresh. I don’t think so.
Uma. Just a test for your sperm count. Suresh. I don’t have to go...
Uma. Would you like to go shopping with me?
Pause. (P.32)”

Here also When Uma was insisted and taken to hospital, the question of potency never came up, but though the doctor insisted to bring Suresh for a sperm count test, he was not willing. But Uma Rao keeps silence to avoid the untoward situation between her husband and her. So she diverted the topic by having spoken about shopping. After that there was a pause in the dialogue. In that pause Indian family survives. Due to Uma’s silence this time also a discussion was diverted to shopping and her silence saved the family.

In the hunter gatherer age, the women’s control over all the productive tools got lost. Once they lost their control over these all, they have lost their power and they stood at the mercy of men. “If now the economic considerations disappear which made women put up with the habitual infidelity of their husbands- concern for their own livelihood and still more for their children’s future.”(P. 95, The origin of the family, Frederick Angels, Foreign Languages press, Peking).Here in this play also the money of them is controlled by Suresh only. Though Uma Rao employed as lecturer in Bangalore University, she is at the behest of her husband for money. Though Suresh is lenient on money matters, the issue one has to be very much concerned about is Right can not be given; but it should be shared. So the money of the family is not in the control of both but in the control of Suresh where Uma is in the position to request or ask or demand.
Suresh. Your father called.
Uma (stirs her cup). When?
Suresh. Yesterday some time, I can’t remember when. He said something about money. (Puts down paper.)Why do you need so much money?
Uma. I don’t. It’s for something else. I have it all with me right here in my bag. (Picks up bag and unzips it.)See... (P. 32 Seven Steps around the Fire)
Why did you ask your father for the money?
Uma. Oh, no particular reason. I was visiting him and...
Suresh. You should have asked me. Have I ever refused me any money? (P. 32 Seven Steps around the Fire).
In order to save the family relations, Uma kept quite for all the out bursting issues that regards from personal to general issues. Uma was ready to accept transgender as sister
“Uma. One day you will understand. Anarkali, I would love to be your sister, if you will be mine.
Anarkali. Oh! You are only being kind. Don’t hurt my heart.
Uma. No, I mean it”.
And she even she corrects Constable Munswamy when he uses in animate pronoun for transgender i.e. it.
Munswamy. If you don’t mind me saying, what is the use talking with it? It will tell only lies. I will bring it.
Uma. No. Can I meet her in there? (P. 7 Seven Steps around the Fire)
But she fails to correct her husband when he addresses Trangender in the filthy language for the sake of family.
“Uma. Yes. I know she is arrested for the murder of her sister, but...
            Suresh chokes with laughter as he is gargling, and coughs.
Suresh (off).What’s that you said? Sister? (Re –enters.)There is no such thing for them. More lies. They are all castrated degenerate men. They fought like dogs every day, that Anarkali and... (Page 9-10, Seven steps around the fire)

Women’s silence/ Locked room’s crying is the Final Solutions of Family crisis:

Final solutions the Sakitya Akademi awarded play by Mahesh Dattani concentrates more on two things. They are Hinduism’s supremacy and male dominated family. It is one of the famous plays of Mahesh Dattani in which he speaks voluminous about gender relations and gender war. Here a character named Daksha introduced to us by Mahesh Dattani as a scapegoat and victim of this male dominated family. Her versions and talking are full of gender war and also the position of female in the gender crisis. The play starts with her diary writings. Here she writes her diary.

Daksha (reads from her diary). ‘Dear Diary, today is the first time I have dared to put my thoughts on your pages. (Thinks for while.) (Final Solutions P.165).

Now one can understand the real family condition of Daksha. Even in writing in her diary, today only she has dared to write. Writing her opinion even in diary needs too much courage and these many days for her. So how long and how much courage will it take for her to speak to her husband openly about her thoughts.
She further proceeds her writing that

“I am sharing my inner most thoughts with you. No body else knows what I think or how I feel, except now- you (Final Solutions P.165).”

She has the single out let to share her thoughts in her home out jail. Even with her husband she could not share her thoughts. And no body in her house knows or wants to know what she thinks or how she feels. This is supposedly called the good gender relationship between she and her husband. She further preceded her speech with her diary why she invented the diary and why she needed to tell all her secrets to the speechless and a non living object a diary rather than to her ‘live’ husband. Because her “dreams have been shattered”. Even the little dreams of her like singing was banned in the name of family pride by her father and mother in laws.

“All my dreams have been shattered...I can never be a singer, like Noor Jehan. Hari’s family is against my singing film songs. His parents heard me humming a love song to Hari last night. And this morning they told him to tell me...” (Final Solutions P.166).

In the next scene itself she hates Muslims as much she hates her husband and father and mother in laws since they have all broken “the songs of love that I had learnt to sing with, those beautiful voices. Cracked.”. When her father and mother in laws and husband were no more, her whole hatred turns as personal cum religious vengeance against Muslims.

She further elaborated her relationship with her sweet heart i.e. husband. There was no freedom in her house. Though she wanted to break that, she kept silence because she knew very well that it would result in the breakage of their so called divine bond. So here her silence saves her family bond from the wreckage. She never believed and loved her husband as her life partner. So she narrated him as her lord and master.

You must be wondering why there is not much mentioning about Hari. After all he is my lord and master. Well, that’s because I think my lord and master has the brains of a silly goat.” (Final Solutions P.166).
She does not have the courage to tell all these directly to her silly goat brained man because of male dominated and self-oppressive up bringing, so behind the curtain she does it.

Next to Daksha and Hari, another couple that is their son and daughter in law was introduced. Daksha felt envious towards her grand daughter as she enjoys her freedom. For her things have not changed that much. Before her son, she was the slave to her husband Hari, so she wrote all in her diary instead of speaking on the face of her husband. Now also in lieu of speaking to her son, she “rambles on about old times and bore her to tears”.

Both Ramnik and his wife Aruna (or Aruna and her husband Ramnik) were introduced with a fight between. Wherever they are introduced and they dialogue, there they start a fight.
Cross fading to the living room of the Gandhis. Aruna, Ramnik’s wife, enters just as Smita and Ramnik are retiring for the night
Aruna (sternly). Smita, go to Baa and be with her till I call you.
Smita makes way to go.
Ramnik. I think Baa will be fine. There’s no need.
Aruna. She hasn’t spent any time with Baa. She must learn to be with elders.
Ramnik. Baa will ramble on about old times and bore her to tears.
Thus they fought on how to nurture their daughter, Ramnik wants his daughter as he likes, but Aruna wants her daughter to develop as she likes. This problem is always solved by their daughter Smita. This couple does not have courage to discuss the issues between them on the table. They just keep on rambling the stories, fight well and return to their barracks with the heart full of pain. They fight like enemies for the silly matters. It clearly shows that how they were well knitted together. Though they have well claimed despite the differences between them, they are ‘united’ together for the sake of family pride. There lives Indian families, but there dies fundamental rights.


In both oxford and Long man dictionaries, one could find the meaning of wife is as follows “the woman that a man is married to”. But more than the married to, it has miles ahead. When the term ‘life partner’ is going to translate the word wife socially, economically, physically and psychologically, No messiahs can save the Distorted and dilapidated Indian families from its down fall and its internal crisis. Indian families look better externally, but behind the curtain they will do those things, which are not allowed by this society’s so called fake values and prestige. Keeping silence never means wives accept whatever the men folk speak but they will do those that are restricted by the men folk. The open discussion in between couple alone can solve the internally rotten stage of the family. 

“And if strict monogamy is the height of all virtue, then the palm must go to the tape worm, which has a complete set of male and female sexual organs in each of its 50 to 200 proglottides, or segments, spends its whole life copulating in all its segments with itself. Confining ourselves to mammals, however, we find all forms of sexual life-unrestrictiveness, indications of group marriage, polygyny, monogamy.”

-Frederick Angels



Bibliographical References:

Dattani, Mahesh. Collected Plays. New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2000.

Engels, Frederick. The Origin of the family, Private property and the state. Peking: Foreign Languages press, 1978.