POLARITY IN FEMALE PSYCHE: BURROWING IN THE MYSTERY
“Silence the Court is in Session”
“The conscious mind is based upon and results from an
unconscious psyche which is prior to consciousness and
continues to function together with or despite consciousness”1
The dictum from C.G. Jung’s well known book “The Integration of the Personality” furnished the punctilious reader with a satisfactory answer to the apparently weird behavioral in the character of Benare, the heroine of Vijay Tendulkar’s well- acclaimed play “Silence the Court is in Session”, whose exhibition of diametrically diverse and discordant demeanor prompts the audience to doubt the bona fide of her predicament. But as a matter of fact, the apparent dichotomy actuating Benare to indulge in reactive contradictions is itself an inevitable corollary of the age old conditioning of every women’s psyche into the matrix of lopsided patriarchal discourse, as a result of which patriarchal mode of cerebration has sunk into her unconscious, indubitably shaping her reactions and conscious responses to a particular situation in a determinate fashion, even if she wished them to be otherwise. In his play, Vijay Tendulkar has unerringly presented a microcosm of the generic reality of female psyche by dramatizing the cognitive dissonance overtaking a native and gregarious girl, who quite naturally displays a train of polar, emotional and behavioral reactions, as diverse as remonstration and supplication, fulmination and succumbing, repugnance and unctuousness, reprobation and acquiescence, when she is subpoenaed as a convict in the chauvinistic court of law in contravention of the moral code meant strictly for women and entrenched by sanctimonious tradition redolent of male chicanery.
The opening of the play witnesses the apparition of a bold and a desperate Benare, who with a view to cozen the docile villager Samant in a prospective romance ( and perhaps marriage) quite uninhibitedly makes audacious and amatory overtures to him. This and many other examples reiterate the fact of Benare’s being inconsistent, freaky and illogical in her behaviour. Several initial performances of the play were ensued by a hue and cry against the sudden reversal in the attitude of the protagonist, from that of precocious brashness at the beginning to servile submission at the end. The accommodation of characteristics like meekness, flaccidity and flippancy to the vignette of Benare who, in the first half of the play, is a law unto her self and who by the dint of her unyielding self-assurance and intellectual articulation vanquishes every barb at her kudos, appears a bit improbable and incompatible with aesthetic coherence and virtuosity of characterization. The fact which keeps on nettling the credibility of the audience is the total failure of Benare to put up a brave front and to exhibit tenacious resoluteness to give birth to her offspring, though illegitimate in the face cacophony of the votaries of habitudes and customs. This seems a plausible objection a t a surface examination in as much as until the end of the second act, Benare etches an image of being a maverick woman, single-handedly turning her litigants’ flank by the sleight of her truculence and intelligence, which are both unusual and impressive. Her reclusive immiscibility outsmarting eloquence and the way of repudiating the rapier-thrusts of her assailants evinces and establishes her intellectual superiority over others. But from the end of the second act her intractability and determination are suddenly mollified into docility and courteous subservience to her encroachers, leading her to mutely accept the invalidity of verdict on her, for the perpetration of the unpardonable crime. The sentence meted out to her is savage: the infant in her womb must be destroyed: she must lose her teaching job, her only source of livelihood.2 That Benare silently obeys the verdict is expressed symbolically by Tendulkar in the narration of her condition at the end of the play.
“Benare feebly stirs a little. Then gives up the effort. The bright green-cloth parrot is near her” (78)
The green cloth parrot is a symbol of the foetus taking human shape in her womb. But she would be losing in the due course of time in deference to the enjoinment of the fustian value-holders of society. An average reader does not have a right to disdain the lack of charisma and unflinching steadfastness in Benare, but a verily perceptive reader would, in act, sympathize with Benare and felicitate Tendulkar for his acuity in the cognition as well as effectual rendering of Benare’s psyche in particular and that of womankind in general. Quoting Betty Friedan here would definitely throw explanatory light on the problem.
“There was a strange discrepancy between the reality of our life as woman and the image to which we were trying to conform, the image that I came to call the feminine mystique”3
In her proclivity to take every odious humiliation lying down, Benare conform to the image of feminine mystique. Her initial assumption of unyielding frame of mind and her hardliner responses are nothing but the subversive protests of the weak and the marginalized. In fact her personality has been shaped by her feminine experiences in the patriarchal society and more importantly by the experiences of her predecessors of the same species, which has inculcated in her a sense of inevitable conformity to the patriarchal discourse. The reason for apparent contrariness in her lies in her unconscious which is incessantly functioning and conditioning her responses. Her adoption of flirtatious posture has got explanation in her inveterate belief that maternity outside wedlock is deemed abysmal from the social standpoint and that it can be legitimized only by trapping a man in the bond of espousal, irrespective of her lowbrow ness and crudity. Her state of mind is dissected and analyzed with mathematical accuracy by Tendulkar in her soliloquy in the third act where she says that her son,
“…must have mother…a father to call his own – a house to be looked after…he must have a good name.” (75)
Thus what rouses Benare to beg for alms of marriage to Samant and the other men present, as is sworn by them during the trial, is not actually concupiscence or footloose waywardness but her motherly sensitivity and her anxiety for the well- being of her offspring, her consciousness that a little lisping bud of unlawful maternity would never be conceded effervescence in the garden of insensate rocks. On the other hand, her instantaneous withdrawal springs from her intrinsic fear of undergoing caustic castigation, in case her infringement gets publicized prior to or after her marriage. Here Tendulkar has, with masterly skill, used the dramatic technique of split personality, which has enabled him to show the schism yawning between the rifted heart of Benare, one half of which is fraught with abhorrence of her wrongdoers and the other conversely ingratiating the same entities for succor. The oscillation of rebellious and relinquishing feelings in Benare’s heart instantiate the pathetic condition of woman in male-oriented and male-dominated society.
Let us peep into the past of her life in order to gauge the forces and factors, which contributed to the formation of her present self. Benare is portrayed as an epicurean, possessing an uncompromising independence of spirit and natural alacrity for the fullness of living. We get an idea of her modus vivendi when we hear her statements like,
“We should laugh, we should play, we should sing…shouldn’t have any false modesty or dignity. Or care for anyone! I mean it. When your life is over do you think anyone will give a bit of theirs?” (8)
The gravest of the grave crime that she is said to have committed is that she has indiscreetly ventured into pure love twice, formerly without endeavouring to know the name of their relationship and later without caring to give the relationship a name. In fact, if we get down to the bed-rock of her temperament, we would realize that the stretch pf her life following her age of recognition was punctuated by a ceaseless hungering for a cozy and love-laden life, enshrouded by tepidity of emotion, mutual understanding and wholesome affection. Her fantastic desire is verbalized in her comment upon the relationship of the Kashikars,
“…they are both so full of life! I mean Mr. Kashikar buys garlands for Mrs. Kashikar. Mrs. Kashikar buys readymade bush shirts for Mr. Kashikar… it really makes one feel nice to see it.” (12)
This spontaneous joie de vivre drove her to get enmeshed in liaison with a maternal uncle who came close to her in the prime of her unfolding youth. Extolling her blossoming pulchritude to the sky and giving her fervid love. She recalls her naiveté:
“How was I to know that if you feel like breaking yourself into bits and melting into one with someone-if you feel that just being with him gave a whole meaning to life- and if he was your uncle, it was a sin! Why, I was hardly fourteen!” (74)
she insisted on marriage so that she could live her “beautiful dreams openly”. But how can this be carried out in a blindly conservative society when her brave man turned tail and ran away. Out of sheer disconcertation she attempted to embrace death in order to obviate the stigma gradually ravaging her conscience, but the luring arms of life once again beckoned her. Life instinct preponderated over death wish and it did not take her resurgent spirit long to sway her once again into an appreciably sacrosanct love relationship tantamount to worship of her ‘intellectual god’, Prof. Damle. She offered her body on the altar of her worship but much to her chagrin her lord took the offering and went his way after inseminating budding life in her.
“He didn’t want my mind or my devotion, he didn’t care about them. He wasn’t a god. He was a man. For whom everything was of the body, for the body. That’s all.” (75)
Thus Damle turns out to be a lascivious wolf, masqueraded as human being whose squall of desire washes away the honour and self-respect of poor Benare. And it is in appreciation her silent suffering and her demure reluctance to fabricate spurious stories to make circumstances operate in her favour and of her firm resolve to sanguinely walk down the thoroughfare of future that she is saddled with inordinate penance. The irony of her life is that in spite of despising her body she could not reject it and in spite of loving it she couldn’t accept it. It would definitely strike the mind of the discretionary that in bith the cases, Benare, a woman, is held responsible for the conjointly perpetrated act of social trespass, while male counter-parts are allowed to get away scot-free and further gallivant with impunity. The submissive stance that she has adopted is the result of the age-old conditioning which women have interminably undergone and which has now assumed statutory gravity in that, now the women have indubitably come to believe in the axiomatic significance gender-based hierarchy and hegemony.
Right from the post-Vedic age women have been undergoing unremitting persuasion to fish out her wellbeing under the tutelage of men, the mascots of their life, capable of charting out the itinerary of their definite salvation, as is echoed in the verse an Indian woman would recite at the first step of Saptapadi. The sage Manu has also commoditized the status of women, imparting her secondary importance on the score of her utility to the male which ultimately boils down to procreation and bringing up children.
“Procreation, upbringing the progeny and following the rituals if life, are directly contingent upon women.”4 (Manusmriti 9/27)
Even a sapient like Kalidasa and his followers have bestowed upon women the status of a minor who is constantly required to magnify the competence and massage the ego of men at the same time diminishing her skills and dissatisfaction with her status. In Abhijnanasakuntala, the didacticism of Kanva is revealing.
“…Do not comport in obstinate manner towards your husband, in a fit of anger, even if he insults you…”5 (Abhijnanasakuntala 4/20)
Thus the line of demarcation between a woman and a marionette disappeared in the course of several ages and they became supplementary appendages to the lives of men, chock-a-block with activity, goals and destinations all of which became ignis fatuus for the woman. Deprived of the right of autonomy and self-governance, of scopes and opportunities for development, she came to discover the significance of her life in cultivating herself, pursuant to the expectations, aspirations and decrees of men. All the above-quote injunctions and many more have egregiously steered the woman to deem the unconscionable effigy caved out for her role as definitive and irrevocably correct. The impression has been so deeply engraved upon her mind that she literally fails to give her desire for remonstration a sharp edge of action even after taking umbrage at patriarchal discriminations: in fact it quite unwittingly casts her into the mould, congruent with masculine criteria. As result of the impersonation of female psyche, the quintessential nature of the woman still borders on tenterhooks. Elizabeth Cady rightly remarked,
“Thus far women have been mere echoes of men. Our laws and constitution, our creeds and codes and customs of social life are all of masculine origin. The true woman is yet a dream of future.”6
1. Jung Carl G., The Integration of the Personality, Lowe and Brudon Printers Ltd., London, 1940, p.13.
2. Mehta Kumud, Quoted in Introduction of Silence! The court is in session, OUP: Madras, p.6.
3. Friedan Betty, the feminine Mystique, Penguine Books, Harmondsworth, 1971
4. Manu, Manusmriti, rev. ed. 1993, Shri Hariharan Pustakalaya
5. Kalidasa, Abhijnanasakuntala, ed. by M.R. Kale, Motilal Banarasidas Publishers, Delhi, p.143
6. Cady Elizabeth, Quoted in Introduction of Feminism in ourTime, Vintage Books, New York, p.xiv-v.
Published in “Reflections” Jan-July issue, 2003.