Puspa Rai’s novels:  Different Shades of Feminism

Farak Baato”  or “Different Road”  is the title of the critical  book  written by Dr. Remika Thapa. As the title suggests Remika highlights the alternative  point of view proposed by Ms Puspa Rai in her two fictional works namely “Bholiko Pratikshya” or “Waiting for Tomorrow” and “Madhyantar” or “Interval”. Dr. Remika maintains that Bholiko Pratikshya is the first feminist novel in Indian Nepali Language and consequently Puspa Rai has become the first feminist novelist  in Indian Nepali writings. Dr. Remika Thapa is an acclaimed poet and critic who advocates the space for marginalized voice in the poetry.

 The two novels can be called duology as the second novel follows the theme of earlier one. The main characters of the fictions are women in both the novels.  The first novel “Bholiko Pratikshya” is about women’s  independence in choice of her existence and her life. It is about the motherhood outside the traditional family norms. This narrative puts a question mark on family values and conjugal lives from women’s perspective.

The main protagonist is named as Shanti, and she is an adopted daughter of a childless Thapa couple. She is loved and cared by her father but disliked by her mother. Smt Thapa is infertile and this causes her to develop complex of insecurity. She becomes jealous of her adopted daughter, to whom she never considers as her daughter.  She tries hard to create a distance between her daughter and her husband. But Mr. Thapa loves his daughter as his own offspring and desires to provide everything possible for her to make her life successful and better. He sends her to school as he knows this is only the way she would be successful later in her life. He is shown as pious and not gender biased. For him, an adopted daughter deserves the same treatment as his natural daughter.

But it is not so with Mrs. Thapa even though she is a woman. She is a traditional woman with patriarchal mindset. As Shanti is not a daughter born of her womb, she does not find any connection with her. For her she is not only a stranger in her house but an undesirable being disturbing peace. She does not love her. She does not miss any opportunity to humiliate her. Shanti bears every shenanigans of her mother calmly and she brushes it off her mind as though it was nothing serious or as normal thing. She does not consider it of any significance so far as her father loves her.

Shanti completes her education successfully, and after that she goes to Kathmandu for her higher education and get into the post of professorship in a college. 

When she grows up as a young woman as is normal with any women of her age, love and sexuality blooms within her. She gets into relationship with men for love. For her love is sublime, it is supreme surrender and sacrifice for ultimate union of two souls. But very soon she realizes the bitter truth that men never love and the pretense of love by them are for their selfish carnal pleasure only. She finds the world as loveless and treacherous. But without love the whole edifice of conjugal life and family gets crumbled. She believes motherhood is the essence of women. The gift of nature and the power of her body which ensures her happiness and continuity of her life must be secured. This is her essence and her very existence depends on this realization. She resolves to remain unmarried but she will give birth to a child. Though this would be against the norm of society but this is the only way she can reclaim herself, protect her femininity and her essence of being.


         Madhyantar (Interval) can be described as a sequel to “Bholiko Praikshya” as the theme of this novel supplements. This novel is also a feminist one but it goes deeper into the meanings of human lives. The title itself is imbued with layers of meanings. Madhyantar is interval but it is also an intervention to a flow of story or life. A man’s life is but an interval in history of mankind.


               The novel is about the life of Purnisha. She comes from a low income background as her father is only a low grade employee. But she is beautiful, intelligent and good in her studies. She is social and is ready to extend her services wherever required.  Purnisha helps her friend’s brother to recover from drug addiction. She pretends her love to him to make him understand how important it is for him to be free from such abuses. Later she falls in love with another brother of her friend and marries him. She lives a blissful married life for some years. She was very happy. As her husband was rich she could also feel secure about her life. But as years passes by she comes to know that her husband was different from what she thought of him. As a woman she loved her husband with her whole being and complete surrender. She trusted him from the deepest core of heart. She comes to know that her husband was a womanizer and abusive. He has no respect and love for her. Upon realization of her unredeemable situation with him she makes her mind to leave him despite the advance stage of her  pregnancy. She finds marriage only as an interval in her life. In a patriarchal society, marriage is a also form of oppression for women.

             Ms Puspa Rai opines wherever repression occurs an appropriate reciprocal response will be there from the oppressed side. Men have been oppressive to all women through the ages and women have been raising their voices against the repression. This raising of voices against men is collectively called feminism. Ever since the realization by women of their oppression they have been raising their concerns as per what they perceived of most important issue of the period. This is now described as waves by theories of feminism. So far three prominent waves have been recognized of these movements. They are named as first, second and third waves. The period covering from May Wolstencroft of eighteenth to first half of twentieth century marked by towering presence of Simone de Bouvoir is called first wave. From 1960 onwards a new wave of women made their forceful presence. Prominent among them are writers like Helene Cixous, Julia Kristeva, Luce Irrigaray, Kate Millet, Showalter etc. The difference between the first and second is on issues of feminism. First wave basically concentrated on education, wage employment, voting right and equality with men in all respects. The first wave was against treating women as a different specimen of human being.  It was anti essential and did not want typifying women with specific character. They believed that men and women are not different and separate parameters should not be applied while understanding women. Virginia Woolf maintained that women are as intelligent as men. They appear lesser only because their intelligence are not recognized by men. The second wave feminism which is first noticed in France lays emphasis on womanhood and the difference. Helene Cixous was influenced by Jacque Derrida and uses his findings in defining women. She maintains that women are different from men and to show this difference a new knowledge system should be developed. She says the language we use are patriarchal and biased towards men’s ideology so a new language should replace with which is in consonant with feminine characteristics. This she calls feminine escritoire or writing.


            Ms Rai in her interview appended in this book says that women are different from men and they should be defined as such. She is therefore appears to be of second wave generation. As per her age she is contemporary of second wave. It is amazing to find that a woman writer relatively less advanced place like India and Darjeeling to be specific who could conceptualise womanhood in the same spirit and intellectual brilliance  as that of from highly developed and advanced place like Paris France or United States of America.


            Third wave feminism is associated with that group of women writers who were born after 1970s and are pursuing feminism as the main objective. Baumgarten is the principal among third wave feminist writers and they have published manifesto also which highlights their issues. But it was Julia Kristeva who had predicted the arrival of third wave in her essay on third wave feminism in 1980s.


            The main objection to first and second wave feminist was that they did not address on concerns of coloured women and the problems of third world women which are different from white women. Third Wave has tried to take along as many voices of concerns as are seen and heard across the world. Motherhood, single motherhood is one of the issues incorporated by it. “Bholiko Pratikshya” advocates for single motherhood as the protagonist Shanti finds men coward and not at all reliable. She resolves to give birth to child outside wedlock. This makes Puspa Rai crossing over second wave to third wave as development of her idea of feminine existence.


            As for the literariness of the two novels narratives have been drawn from the lives of people of Darjeeling urban area. Most of the characters are well educated and are financially secure. The theme revolves around love, sexuality and existential anxiety. The dichotomy and the disharmony between male and female are well pronounced. Just as all male are not malicious female characters too are shown of having dominating nature and malevolent tendency. Sexism is not about having being a woman only but one has to appear as such. This is implicit in the narrative and characterization.


            Syntax and figuration are complex but quite poetical. The text is rhythmic and the structure of sentences long and with ample surprises. This builds up curiosity in the reader even though narration is not dramatic. There are very few developments and interactions as both these fictions have very few characters to built on winding narrative.


            These novels were written with specific idea for raising the issues of feminism in Nepali community. She has not shown all men as oppressive and harmful to women but nevertheless women do suffer from men folk.   These novels cannot be identified with tragedy comedy terms. The protagonists suffer but they find their way through these trials of travesty. What they aim and achieve cannot be called triumph in the normal sense but for these women this was the liberation and ultimate achievement of what they thought best for them. The preservation of being of womanhood is more important than patriarchal mode of societal values. This is not actually representing reality or adopting mirror theory of literature. Rai wanted to show this is what a woman should aspire to do to make her life happier. This is the roadmap for woman and the overall society to look forward to.

( Born and brought up in Sikkim, Gangtok-based author Pempa Tamang is an acclaimed critic and author. He writes in Nepali as well, and his books in Nepali include Akhyan Dekhi Parakhyan Samma(Criticism), Kipat practice and Tamang caste in the history of Nepal (article on Tamang caste), Kalobhari (Collection of Stories).