Sunday, 15 July 2007

Understanding 'Pride & Prejudice'..

It took me some 25 years to understand Jane Austen’s Victorian classic Pride & Prejudice.

Preface….

As a teenager, mostly fed with Tinkles, Nancy Drews, Sidney Sheldons and the likes, Pride & Prejudice, honestly, wasn’t one of the books I considered shifting to my little book shelf (made of shoe-cartons) from MaPa’s huge one. Nevertheless, Kamala Das’ Life Story, and this other novel called The Song of my Heart, did sit there (in my shelf) like misfits. My love for “Life Story” is that old. And the other novel qualified to be there just because it had pages (that I dog-eared) I was not supposed to read at that age.

Pride & Prejudice appeared again during early twenties, and this time, it was a part of my curriculum. Impromptu it disappeared from MaPa’s book-shelf and got shoved into mine (a metal shelf this time), amongst Kafkas and Coelhos, and other books of my curriculum. P & P was digested and excreted (read done away with) at the examination hall, without an ounce of affection. In fact, it was George Eliot’s Mill on the Floss’ Maggie (her identity crisis and later, self-discovery) and Tagore’s Home & the World’s Bimala (her feminism), that enamored me completely.

Pride & Prejudice – My take

I was really amused, when at 25, one fine day I looked back at life and found it so resembling the crux of that much-ignored, never dog-eared, Pride & Prejudice. The novel, as you know, centers on the theme of marriage in a Victorian society, illustrated finely through the parable of a family with four marriageable daughters and the urgency to get them married.
And whether Gurinder Chaddha’s Indian take, Bride & Prejudice, was released or not, I can vouch that an average Indian woman of my situation, i.e. one who has read the book, belongs to a middle class family, is of marriageable age and unengaged, and at home, will be able to relate to it in someway or the other, if not completely.

It was not without a pinch of salt (add pepper and chilies) that I gulped down MaPa’s ‘landing’ me to the Marriage Market. Well, a ‘market’ it has to be, because there the unmarried (men and women alike), get ‘commodified’ and their chances of getting a good mate (consumer) depends on certain definite and defined attributes. For men, it is profession and education, while for women, it is her face and character. This might sound too generalized and narrow, to say, very Victorian, but ironically that is how it is. Try peeking into the matrimonial advertisements and you will know what I mean.

Ma, like Mrs. Bennet, picked this famous one-liner: “Eir karoney eta bhal lora sabo soon dei” (Please search a good groom for my daughter), and gave it to relatives, acquaintances, you name it. I either grow red with anger or blue with embarrassment, but who cares! Was it not declaring to the whole world that her daughter has been incapable of finding herself a good match – I would often ponder!

Having brought up in an atmosphere that saw not a trace of patriarchic misgivings or gender bias, the recent developments at home were a ‘shock’ through and through. Every dictum had an underlying ‘this is what a lady is supposed to do’ and no action escaped scrutiny. I was even served a home-arrest of 6 months before I really got married, so that I could be groomed to be a ‘good wife’ (reminds me of the ‘accomplishments’ Lady Catherine defined that an ideal lady should possess). My outings were restricted. Maa’s advising to grow my hair long, left me slack-jawed, because ‘boys-cut’ was all I was allowed till I gathered the guts to revolt. Tresses, academic degrees, certificates and what not – all seemed ornamental accomplishments, that would decide my ‘value’ in the ‘Marriage Market’.

I could understand what made Lydia elope with that unworthy Wickham. The pressure boils down to a mental state that ‘escape’ is all you can think of, be it through marriage or elopement. How I hated being the Jane Bennet, at the receiving end, waiting to be ‘whisked away’, not ‘deciding’ but ‘accepting’ what others decide fit for her. The penultimate decision seemingly lies with the girl, but when ‘it’ is arranged between families and all factors (families, charkas etc.) seem compatible, the girl (sensitive and under ‘pressure’), has very little to ‘choose’, you see. Besides, the mind gets conditioned to the threaten - ‘aru bhal lora napaba’ (you will not get a better guy, if not this one) and like Charlotte Lucas you tend to ‘hold on’ to what seems ‘best’ your situation could afford.

Whether Marriages are made in Heaven, by Ma-Pa or by me, it hurts my self-respect to just ‘stay there’ waiting to be ‘selected’. Are living this ‘Victorian past’ and arranged marriages an assurance that you will live ‘happily ever after’? Is it right to groom daughters into believing they are ‘equal’, only to expect them to conform to ‘patriarchy’ in the end? For example, docile and unambitious women are preferred over ambitious and career-centric ones, and the parents do not raise a brow if that becomes a condition for marriage. Resembles Mr. Collins’ preferences, don’t they?

My situation, resembling a Jane Bennet best, with occasional impulses of a Lydia, depressions of a Charlotte, weird takes of a Mary (minus the snake dances, though), is an anti-thesis to everything my ‘accomplishments’ has made of me.

Transported to and caged in Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, Elizabeth seems the only role ‘livable’ and the hope of finding a Darcy in good time, the only respite.
Dated..2nd December:
Darcy made it in good time.......wonder which novel it is going to be like next....till now Erich Seagal's Love Story is all I can think of..but I'll have to find another one soon..the heroine dies young, if you remember ;)

15 comments:

Asmita said...

This write-up of urs reminds me of those gud old days in college alongwith the bitter truth of reality. Its so fascinating that now we have come to a stage where we can relate our favourite fictions and novels to our not so favourite lifestyles or "LIFE" in general. The honesty blended within it deserves applauds...GOOd JOB!!

grey-orgasms said...

Hey thanks ash...

Yea, life's never going to be the same again....and to be honest, I am beginning to enjoy the challenges.

You know it all...

namami said...

oi....amazing work...very well written...m so proud of you...!

namami said...

oi....amazing work...very well written...m so proud of you...!

Geetanjali said...

Your growth from writing answer sheets (so as to get good marks) to understanding life so closely is absolutely comendable :)

The best part of your blog is that you have made the fiction REAL by bringing it sooooo close to life. Nothin could have been better than this.

The new interpretation of Lydia's elopement is wonderful. This interpretation sets her free from the condemn she has been facing since the novel was written.

As I wnt through your blog I was missing Elizabeth & Darcy the most. They are suposedly the best characters of the novel & only two lines were dedicated to them. I was put off a lil' bit only to realize that here we are talking about Reality & not fiction - and that too in Indian context where all Elizabeth are condemned & Darcy(s)are a dream.

Sentence by sentence I could say jus two wodrs, " So True!!!"

Keep going dear :)

grey-orgasms said...

Thanks for all your rants and raves...

Knowing my situation through and through, Ash and Nams sure could relate a lot to it.

Geet's one read like a critical appreciation..and I really want her to re-think about my suggestion of starting her own blog.

I deleted a comment from some 'brutal' who seems to be totally infatuated with hating-me! will keep them if he/she happens to post again...hehe

Vaibhav Arora said...

Though I haven't read the book, your post has certainly made me curious. Being an avid reader dunno how did I manage to miss this one. Hope to read it soon.

bedanta said...

Books...even though they may be classified as fiction sometimes...are more or less an account of what goes on with our mundane lives. It is just that every author has a unique way of putting forward his/her thoughts and many people tend to miss the link in between the above two. Many a times, a book has to be read twice over to get its hidden meaning. But a write-up as good as yours simplifies the basic idea of a book to an extent where people less gifted like me to actually
understand it better. I liked the book when I read it the first time, even though I just hated the snooty Victorian times combined with the British "stiff upper-lip" factor. But when I saw the movie, i enjoyed it a lot as Gurinder Chaddha was able to bring to life an old boring story, especially since it hit closer home. But your writing gives a whole new dimension to the story, one that has always been there but overlooked everytime.

Though some may argue that only girls have to go through this whole charade before marriage, even boys are not spared. Though being bought up in a patriachal society has its own perks for the men, like more acceptance for a love marriage, when it comes to an arranged marriage...it is more or less the same. In fact, there is more pressure on them when they are of marriagable age. As you had mentioned, a potential groom is defined more by his monthly earnings than by the qualities a girl wants in her husband. earlier, parents used to run after "engineers" and "doctors" as if they were the only eligible bachelors alive on this planet. Time has not changed this attitude, only the focus. Now they prefer NRIs above everyone else perhaps ignorant of the fact that the value of the dollar has fallen drastically over the years and India has a booming economy now. As one of my good friend ays..."we have tough times ahead of us" i.e. for the non-NRIs like us.

I dont blame my parents for all this. They had given me the freedom till now to do whatever I felt was best. Deep inside their heart, i am sure that they also feel that they are imposing their views on us at this stage in life. A stage where we have matured to handle responsiblities of another person's life along with us. So, do they really think that we are incapable of selecting a good life partner for ourselves ? I think that it has more to do with the society they live in. It is easier for us to break the shackles of our society, because we have been bought up to be independent. But for our parents, after spending their lives with the same people almost more than half their lives, they feel helpless to break the norms of society. Perhaps it is also a combination of enviroment-induced phobia that makes them think that only they can find the best match for their child. Things like divorces and broken marriages that used to be rare in their times seem to be commonplace now. The reason for stable marriages in their times, is as we all know is due to social stigma and less expectations and to an extent in the "pati-parameshwar" syndrome. But our generation, which prides itself on being independent does not worry a lot about these. Mistakes and below par expectations are not forgiven. Second chances are almost non-existent. So, would our parents want to chose our life partner in an environment like this? The answer is a plain 'NO'.

P.S. I am so happy that my parents have not started looking for a bride for me yet...

Needarshana said...

Impressive viewpoint...

Men too are the victims of the same society, the same norms, aren't they! That stage of 'perpetual suffocation' is fading though. But this is more because of the fact that I am here in Delhi and not with my parents in Assam. Out of sight, out of mind - applies here. You know what I mean.....

Vishnu said...

You know NEEDARSHANA.. Its human nature, as long as parents let us do whatever we want to ... THEY ARE GOOD and when they try to set certain norms for us .. suddenly they become bad. TRY TO UNDERSTAND YOUR PARENTS TOOO..They wld like you to have the best.

Don't think that you are always correct, they are obvious mistakes which as a child you can make.

This you won't relize now...

Needarshana said...

@ Vishnu..

I have been thinking about what you wrote...

May be I understand what you mean, may be I don't... I am not cross with Ma Pa..I am not really complaining to anyone.

I was only not-liking the state of affairs I was stuck in.

The situation has bettered....and next time, hopefully, I should be writing about my interpretation of Shakespeare's "Romeo & Juliet"...

Don said...

The experience you are going through, I would suggest you write a book of your own... Who knows maybe your story will beat the crap out of Shakespear...!!

Needarshana said...

@ Don

Good Idea…

Whether I write a novel is a different story, but I really want you to re-consider calling Shakespeare’s a ‘crap’……I intend reading out the entire Antony & Cleopatra to you someday….I bet you too will fancy him as some ‘godhead’ of English Literature thereafter…

Don said...

Ok... Didn't mean to demean Shakespear... Nothing against him... Never read him... But I do fancy the idea of being read the entire Antony and Cleopatra... Didn't even know such a book existed... Frankly I find Shakespear or many of the old english authors a little difficult to read. I tried Ivanhoe once as a kid and coudln't complete 2 pages. After a couple of years when I was older, I thought maybe I have matured and might be able to read it, tried again and coudln't go beyond 2 pages this time too. You wouldn't believe it, I tried a third time about 2 years ago. Still the same results. I figured I cannot get any more matured than what I already am and if I still cannot read it, I perhaps lack the interest. But, mind you, being read out a difficult book, would be such an awesome idea. Because that's like pre-cooked and ready made food for the mind.

Jagat Jyoti Saikia said...

Hey nice work... can relate to the theme behind the post.
Life really takes a full circle and after a few years we would be doing the same things wht our parents are doing rite nw... The pangs of growing up has got its own strings attached and in our day to day life we can see the mirror image of many a novels-- replete with the characters we've grown up with in our childhood ;-)
As for the character I would like to be in my life-- Andrei Taganov from Ayn Rand's We The Living... the saddest part is that he ends up with a bullet thru his skull...

Ever wondered how we've started imbibing our parents idiosyncrasies... i mean i've started telling to the younger lots not to get wet in the rain, not to eat junk, cross roads properly etc... somethings that I used to laugh off when I was a bit younger ;-)
The saddest part of growing up is that the mind still remains young and the dichotomy can be a trifle bit of a cognitive dissonance!!

Keep the indigo flowin...

~jjs~