The book critically examines Shashi Deshpande's award-winning novel, That Long Silence (1988), which is usually regarded as a feminist text of immense power and appeal. As a collection of critical essays, the book sheds sufficient light on various aspects of Deshpande's art and mind as specially reflected in That Long Silence. It consists of eight essays by as many hands, a brief write-up by Deshpande (in the form of an appendix), and two more appendices by the present editor. Those who have contributed to this book, apart from the editor and Deshpande, include Sanjay Saksena, Ashok Kumar Sharma, Veena Dwivedi, Sanjana Shamsherry, Sthitaprajana, Monika Mathur, Minakshi Lahkar, and Roopali. These scholars have variously interpreted and evaluated That Long Silence, adding significantly to its proper understanding and appreciation. It is, however, improper to read the novel as an autobiography. There are strong evidences to show that it is a faithful mirror of life, raising as it does, "the Woman Question" in a forceful voice. It deals with the raging problems of womankind, with its anguish and dilemma, and the protagonist Jaya is just a representative of the struggling womankind in a patriarchal set-up.
The book will be useful for the students and teachers of English literature, particularly Indian English literature and researchers in these fields.
Amar Nath Dwivedi is a Senior Professor of English who retired from the University of Allahabad, Allahabad (India) a few years ago. After his retirement, he joined the U.P. Rajarshi Tandon Open University at Allahabad as a Senior Consultant in English and then proceeded to the Republic of Yemen on an official assignment as Professor & Chairman, Department of English, Faculty of Arts and Education, Taiz University at Al-Turba, Taiz. On his return to India in 2010, he taught English literature at the University of Allahabad as a Guest Faculty till February 2016. Now, Dr. Dwivedi is engaged in his multiple writing projects.
Dr. Dwivedi is a well-known critic and poet in English. He edits The Journal of Contemporary Literature (Allahabad; a peer-reviewed international journal; U.G.C. approved).
Dr. Dwivedi is listed in the International Who's Who (in "Men of Achievement" and "Register of Intellectuals") of Cambridge, U.K.; Book of Honor, A.B.I. Inc. of Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S.A.; and in the International Who's Who of Contemporary Achievement of Cambridgeshire, England. He also appears in the biographical Directories of Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi. In 2011, the International Poets' Academy, Chennai (T.N.) honoured him with Lifetime Achievement Award.
Shashi Deshpande is one of the leading Indian English novelists of today. Her persistence with the theme of 'Woman Question' in her novels and short stories occasionally raises doubts in our minds that she has taken sides with the problems of womankind, pushing the other half into the subordinate role, but this is far from the truth. She is not an aggressive feminist-quite unlike Lord Tennyson's princess who set up an academy solely for women, having barred the male entry strictly-who wants to live in an isolated tower, having no truck with the male world. Deshpande knows it well that this kind of existence is not possible in the real world, and that man and woman are the two equally important wheels of the chariot of life. Her attitude is, therefore, a balanced one, and does not create any fissure or fragmentation in man-woman relationship. And it is clearly reflected in her fictional writings.
That Long Silence (1988) is precisely a novel of this nature. Divided into four parts and carrying the Author's Note, the novel under review has raised the 'Woman Question' squarely and deals with the bitter-sweet life-story of Jaya and Mohan in their married relationship. At the beginning of the novel, the narrator (Jaya) says, "I'm writing of us. Of Mohan and me.... Self-revelation is a cruel process" (1). Jaya and Mohan lead a dull and monotonous life in a Dadar flat with their two children named Rahul and Rati. They live with the illusion of happiness, punctuated by dreary quarrels. Jaya is an educated woman, with a flair for writing, but on the objection of her husband she gives it up. She feels throttled and estranged from him. They are compared to "a pair of bullocks yoked together" (7). In an insightful article, Adle King calls the uneasy couple "odd misfits" involved in "petty bickerings over money" and "jealousy over affections" (1990: 165-66).
Jaya's relationship with Mohan becomes very bitter when in a mood of anger, she speaks of his mother 'a cook' (and this is a truth). Hearing this unexpected outburst from his educated wife, Mohan is upset and he stops speaking to her. He thinks that anger does not behove a woman and that it makes "a woman 'unwomanly" (83). He observes a 'long silence' and maintains a distance from her. As in some other novels of Shashi Deshpande-The Dark Holds No Terrors (1980), Roots and Shadows (1983), and The Binding Vine (1993)-here too 'silence' becomes a recurring metaphor (as shown in my paper appended at the end of this book). This metaphor is so persistent in That Long Silence that it appears about half-a-dozen times in this novel. Silence signifies lack of communication, freezing of feeling, and want of understanding. The strain in conjugal relationship leads to the loss of identity, individuality and "personal vision" (147) on the part of Jaya. Also, because of this friction in personal relations, Jaya fails in her creative writings, precisely in her short stories. She is not happy with the change of her name from Jaya to Suhasini by her husband.
Jaya seeks solace in the company of Kamat, with whom she discusses her personal problems arising from the indifference of Mohan towards his family and children. Mohan suddenly slips away to Delhi, without letting anyone know about his whereabouts. Kamat consoles Jaya, like Bhaskar doing the same to Urmi in the Binding Vine, at this critical moment. They draw closer to each other and even start making physical advances. But unexpectedly, Kamat dies, leaving Jaya lonely and deserted. Jaya now decides to cut the ice and break the barriers of 'silence' on Mohan's return from Delhi. She is fed up with her marooned life, and the only way to come out of it, or to "erase the silence" (192) between Mohan and herself, is to speak to him and to listen to him. That indicates the change of attitude or the change of mind between the two. Both Jaya and Mohan come to realize that life cannot go on without the support of life-partners.
This is where the novel ends, on a note of hope and promise: "But we can always hope. Without that, life would be impossible. And if there is anything I know now, it is this: life has always to be made possible", says Jaya (193).
Here, in this collection of critical essays, That Long Silence is minutely studied by different scholars. The thrust area is 'the Woman Question', or still better, man-woman relationship in the fast-changing human world of our day. That Long Silence is a very popular novel of Shashi Deshpande, and it won the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award for her in 1989. After that, Shashi Deshpande was offered the coveted Padmashri Award. This novel is prescribed in Indian and foreign universities, and hence its increasing demand day by day.
Apart from the editor's brief note on That Long Silence in the form of Introduction, this collection contains seven papers on this novel by as many hands as well as three appendices. The first paper, "'Writings of Us' in That Long Silence", by Sanjoy Saksena points out that Jaya's feminist role in the novel is both self-protective and subversive, and that it is a part of her domestic politics. Her silence serves as a shield for her as well as a self-evolved device against assertive Mohan. After a good deal of tension between the couple, good sense dawns upon Jaya and Mohan to come closer to each other in a spirit of understanding and to break the long-drawn silence. The telegram from Mohan-that all is well-reinforces the conjugal bond between them and puts them on the right track. Jaya's imagination starts working and brings in hope and relief for the family.
The second paper, "Defamiliarization of Self-Script in Shashi Deshpande's That Long Silence", by Ashok Kumar Sharma suggests that That Long Silence may be a part of Deshpande's past life, but it is not her autobiography. The novel may have self-reflections in certain episodes and through certain characters, but such reflections can't be connected to the life-story of the artist. What the paper emphasizes is that the reader should approach the novel with a detached and dispassionate mind. The paper concludes by saying that Deshpande’s novel under consideration is a clarion call for half the world’s mute population to break the silence for better family relationship.
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