A Married Woman

23 05 2012

As the title indicates, A Married Woman by Manju Kapur is a subtle portrayal of a married woman. The protagonist Astha symbolizes a typical married woman of India. There are countless ways a woman’s married life can be made a wreck by abusive and demanding  husband and/or in-laws. However, Astha, fortunately, doesn’t have to go through it. By all means, she has a fairly good marriage –  financially comfortable, large house, servants, fairly considerate husband, non-interfering in-laws, and two kids. She also works. Bingo! What can she possibly complain about??

Love – she pines for the ever elusive elixir of life. The insensitiveness of her husband creates a void in her. She is “allowed” to work, but her work and the resulting money she makes is considered inconsequential. Decisions are made without consulting her, not only about the family as a whole, but also about “her” things. Her indulgence in her art is seen as extravagance. The time she spends outside the home, in the things that interest her and those that she believes in, is resented.

Mind you, all this acrimony is not displayed overtly. But still, she has to fight the invisible chains to be able to do something for herself. ‘Permissions” are to be sought, explanations are to be given, and people are to be convinced before she can  step out and do something on her own. Each time, they let go of her reluctantly at the best.

Such a scenario has so become a part of marriage that it is never questioned.  Nor many people realize there is anything wrong with it. But if there is nothing wrong with it, why would women like Astha feel  dissatisfied, unloved, unappreciated and lost in a void? Why do they store pent-up anger and rage at their life in general?

Whenever I think of the deep-rooted conditioning about the role of woman in the family and society that has been instilled in the minds of the people since forever, I’m scared to bits. It reminds me of  the horrors as portrayed in the literary classics 1984 and Brave New World. People all over the world were alarmed and frightened at the idea of such “brain washing” as depicted in those pieces of fiction. But a similar kind of “mind-control” and “conditioning” has been taking place in reality since ages and none gives a damn. The problem is none even recognizes the problem or acknowledges it and its magnitude, let alone work towards a solution.

In my immediate circle, I’m yet to see a woman completely satisfied in her marriage. I wonder if it has always been like this. Have women of all ages felt the same in their marriages? May be in the past, owing to the ignorance thrust upon them by way of confining them to the four walls and the resulting limited sense of individuality, women weren’t even aware of the pathetic state of their lives.  But I doubt if there weren’t an occasional free spirit here and there perplexed at the injustice of it all.

If half of the human race isn’t happy with their lives, isn’t there something wrong with the whole system? And isn’t there an urgent need to address this?

Marriage kills the individual in a woman. To begin with, the family instills self-doubt and attacks the woman’s self-confidence. Once  succeeded in destroying the woman’s self-esteem, it’s a cakewalk to tread all over her. Isn’t it?

From the point of sharing of responsibilities, the traditional view is that while one spouse (typically husband) works for a living, the other spouse (typically wife) takes care of the children and the house.(Note that usually women are not free to choose what and how much they want to do. Of course, this applies to men too. Stereotypes rule.)  If it is as simple as just distribution of duties and responsibilities, why are women not content with the part they (are supposed to) play?  Because, the effort she puts in is not valued as much as it deserves. She and her duties are looked upon as inferior and menial, despite they comprising an inevitable part of family life. I believe if a woman is given the respect and freedom she deserves, then she wouldn’t feel lost in her role as wife/mother.  All this appears to come out as strong statements and  seems obvious, but the interesting thing is that in many cases the ill-treatment is practiced in a very subtle manner, not because people around are bad, but because they believe that’s the way things are and are unaware of any other way of dealing with women. what a pity!

It may seem like I’m generalizing things here, but I’m only trying to give a typical picture. If you are one of the very small percentage of lucky ones, who find love in your marriage (in long-term), are respected, shown interest and are encouraged in your individual interests without the slightest protest/reluctance, can make your own decisions, not feel burdened by the expectations of a good wife, mother, DIL etc., then I whole-heartedly congratulate you.

On the other hand, men too, quite possibly, have their own share of dissatisfaction from their marriages and I’m curious to know how much and in what way the social stereotypes are burdening them.

In this novel, Astha finds love, missing so far in her life, in Pipeelika. Actually, it makes a lot of sense. Given the biased society and the insensitiveness of men towards women’s needs in general, lesbian relationships make a lot of sense.

I sometimes wonder that when nature ordained for men and women to get together for procreation (which is the corollary of the very basic goal of any species – survival), why does the nature make them so very different in their thoughts, needs, and temperament? Wait a second, how much of it is nature, how much of it is nurture? Are men and women really as alien to each other as Martians and Venusians? It just seems so much trouble – trying to find a common ground (except bed, of course!):  trying to communicate, trying to complement each other, or just trying to “bear” with each other. I feel too much energy and effort goes into the attempt of creating harmony. Whether or not it can be achieved, I’m not so sure.

I couldn’t help noting down some observations made in the novel and would like to quote some of them here:

Given certain circumstances, there was no aphrodisiac more powerful than talking, no seduction more effective than curiosity.


‘Have you ever wanted more lovers?’

What could Astha say? She was living, the way people like her lived, where was the question of more lovers, or love for that matter?


‘Is he good in bed?’

‘I suppose.’

‘If you have to suppose, he is not,’ said Pipee severely.


And it also felt strange, making love to a friend instead of an adversary.


She was a wife too, but not much of her was required there. A willing body at night, a willing pair of hands and feet in the day and an obedient mouth were the necessary prerequisites of Hemant’s wife.


Now sexually involved with another, she realized how many facets in the relationship between her husband and herself reflected power rather than love. Hemant had managed to ignore her because ultimately he filled his own landscape. That her discontent had been expressed in nuances that were minor, only helped him in his disregard.


It was not fair. It needed his wife’s having an affair for Hemant to promise to see a video with her, something he knew she loved.


It was an illusion, ou could never be one with another, no matter how hard you tried. It was better to realize and accept that, life became easier once you did.


‘Teach me how to live, God. I’m not asking for happiness, but I would welcome some stability, so I need not run all over the place looking for love and confirmation. Give me substance, God, give me a life that has not been lived for nothing.’


Living with someone interested in the details of your work is companionship at the deepest level.


‘What do you want that I don’t give you?’

‘Interest. Togetherness. Respect.’


‘There has to be something more between us. I have to feel it is me you want.’

Hemant looked baffled. ‘Of course, it’s you I want. You are my wife,’ he repeated.

‘That’s the problem. Anybody could be your wife.’

‘What rubbish, I picked you, didn’t I?’

‘Picking is not the same thing as knowing.’ 


For a moment Astha felt an intense stab of envy, not just for Pipee, but for anyone who had the possibility of a new life. She had to remind herself sternly that if she wanted, she too had choices. 


He was lying. She had gone to Ayodhya twice, painted the masjid at least five times, scripted a play about it, and he didn’t know she was interested? This was his revenge for being concerned in things other than him. 

The first 100 and odd pages are more like premise for what comes later and I actually didn’t get hooked on until much later. All in all, it’s a good read.



4 responses

24 05 2012

How nice it would be to exchange the roles of man and woman in marriage? I speaking for myself would prefer doing household work than being a corporate slave. Do not be so sure that only fifty percent of population is unhappy with its marriage. Effectively marriage places your happiness in the hands of your spouse. Being left at the mercy and goodwill of others- I think the best solution is to tread into a society where marriage is an option but not compulsion but people obsessed with Indian tradition are not receptive to it.

24 05 2012

Rightly said. Marriage should be an option rather than a compulsion. Good to know that you want to exchange roles. Here, the question is not about the “work” but the way it is perceived and treated. As I mentioned in the post, if women/housewives get the respect they deserve (and unrealistic and too many expectations not made of them), they won’t be bitter about their roles. To delve deeper into the happiness in marriages, agreed that men too have their own share of unhappiness; each spouse affects the happiness of the other. When women are not happy about themselves and their roles in the marriage, their dissatisfaction, disappointment, hurt and unhappiness would obviously reflect on the rest of the family in some way – nagging, over dependence, trying to control the nitty-gritty of the spouse’s and children’s lives etc. (all this happens because the woman loses, or rather made to lose, her own sense of “self”).

26 05 2012

Looks like I have to make a lot of things clear to the prospective groom before I marry. However, marriage is a lot of hard work! I wonder how every body does it! I see people adjust a lot.

27 05 2012

Indeed! Marriage is a lot of hard work. All the best to you. 🙂

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