Gender Trouble in the New Hindi Novel : The Ambiguous Writings on Womanhood in K.B. Vaid’s Lila and Mridula Garg’s Kathgulab Article - 2013

Anne Castaing

Archiv Orientalni, Special issue : Social Tension in Modern Indian Literature and Film, 2013, pp. 67-88


Some recent studies aim at highlighting the way post-independence Indian literature can reveal the ambiguities linked to the representation of the “self”, whose “indianness” would lie on both indigenous and exogenous sources, in a continuous dialogue with Western form of discourses (Marxism, psychoanalysis, and existentialism, for example). The gender issue remains nevertheless quite excluded from these debates. It is undeniable that the development of Western feminist discourses and Gender Studies since the 1960’s, from Simone de Beauvoir to Judith Butler, significantly modified the representation of woman and womanhood. Indeed, many studies aimed at deconstructing the mythic model of the docile and silent “Oriental” woman, represented by the figure of Sita, and at underlining, even stimulating her empowerment, thus radically opposing the passivity of Indian traditional women with a militant feminism nurtured by the ideal of gender equality and even gender indetermination. Nevertheless, cultural forms, performances or productions can reveal porosities between these two opposed representations. Examining two recent Hindi novels (K.B. Vaid’s Lila, 1990, and Mridula Garg’s Kathgulab, 1996), whose polyphonic structure allows the empowerment of women within the narrative space, this paper aims at underlining the way literary feminism can also rest on a composite and complex representation of womanhood which constantly re-negotiates its models and can also be nourished by traditional sources. The gender issue and the fluidity of this notion are not only echoed, but also find their roots in an indigenous mythical ethos, whose paradigms cannot be reduced to an essential manhood and womanhood. This paper thus interrogates the cultural specificities of this “gender trouble” in the Indian context, showing that feminism in this particular background can lay on a re-interpretation of traditions rather than on a radical break with them.

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