The Independent Indian Woman Painted by R. K. Narayan
Narayan has covered a whole range of human ages from boyhood to the old age. He has presented a whole variety of characters, viewing the landscapes of human existence from a rich assortment and perspectives. His characterization ranges from adolescent fantasy to renunciative reflection. He has tried to show the real picture of the south Indian middle class society with their agony and sufferings especially in the case of women
R. K. Narayan’s protagonists, antagonists and peripheral characters are mostly men. One tends to forget that he has also created a number of complex, and sometimes, strong women characters. Interestingly, the novels featuring women in significant roles, namely The Dark Room, Mr.Sampath, The Guide and so on virtually offer a timeline on the changing situation of women in India before and after Independence. One has to analyze Rosie fully by locating her amongst the gallery of Narayan’s women.
Shanti, in ‘Mr.Sampath’, seems to function as an anticipation of the far more fully developed character of Rosie. Unlike Savitri in ‘The Dark Room’, when Rosie is rejected by her husband in ‘The Guide’, she is able to uphold herself through her art, like Shanti, who was an actress and dancer in ‘Mr.Sampath’. Shanti, and then Rosie, represent the more independent women of an India, gradually undergoing a transformation under the influence of the West. Nonetheless, both the women remain solely objects of the male gaze. Shanti, as well as Rosie, necessitate the support of men for a long time to initiate and form their respective careers, and are thus exposed to their whims and desires. Rosie’s situation is symbolic of the double standards of patriarchal society that does not even spare religion to exploit women.
Savitri in ‘The Dark Room’ is a middle class Indian housewife, who, like Nora in Ibsen’s ‘The Doll’s House’ slams the door and walks out on her bullying husband. In ‘Mr.Sampath’, Shanti the widowed actress and dancer whose trademark is her handbag made up of cobra hood complete with the spectacle-like mark has become the mistress of Sampath, who is to bring her recognition by casting her in a movie. As a writer of fiction, Narayan’s interest has always been in people and their specific experiences rather than social issues in and for themselves. Gayatri Chakravarty Spivak had once critiqued Narayan with making Rosie the heroine of a tragic-comedy, rather than revealing through her condition the tribulations of the ‘devadasi’ system. R.K. Narayan is a novelist of common people and common situation. His plots are built of material and incidents that are neither extraordinary nor heroic. One can describe the tone of his novels as quiet and subdued. He selects day-to-day incidents that happen to almost every one of us one time or another. His characters are average human beings and they do not possess extraordinary capacities, but through some incidents attain greatness very soon to return to their original state.
Rosie has often been called a ‘snake woman’ in ‘The Guide’. The repeated use of the snake image is to make us aware of the anguish and torment a modern Indian woman goes through, who has a self-sufficient character with an aspiration to establish herself against all the odds in a patriarchal society. In this way the novel showcases her hard work in converting her gift of the art of dance to success. She also has a singularly channeled earnestness regarding her art. Her vivacious persona is an honest and uncomplicated expression of her joy in living.
R.K. Narayan successfully deals with women characters as he does with male protagonists. They are fully drawn and developing characters. M.K. Naik, in his work ‘Prospective of Indian Fiction In English’ rightly comments on the characters in Narayan’s works- “Narayan’s is the art of quiet surfacing and self-landing, not of headlong diving or vertiginous take off. His characters are entrapped in, and discomfited by a variety of illusions, self-deception; and miscalculations and mischance. They are made to have strange assignations with a circumstantial world which is full of ambiguities and ironies.” The author has tried to probe into the mind of his characters. He has portrayed in them in the frame in which he has perceived them. He presents their feelings, emotions, thought and ideas. He is more interested in the inner conflicts of their life. It is in relationship with the male protagonists that female one can be better understood and this is what we find in his novels throughout. In a nutshell, R.K. Narayan’s portrayal of his characters is practical and genuine, which makes his works extremely applicable to the lives of his readers.