Assistant Professor, Department of English,
Jagannath Barooah College, Jorhat, Assam, India

This paper attempts to focus on exploring the traces of family and society in the selected works of Anita Desai and Nirupama Borgohain. It is basically a comparative study of the two writers writing in two languages. Anita Desai writes in English whereas Nirupama Borgohain writes in a regional language; Assamese. In spite of writing in two diverse languages, the two writers possess many interesting points of similarities and dissimilarities.Therefore the paper intends to undertake a thorough comparison of the two writers and it also attempts to examine the points of similarities and dissimilarities in the two writers taking into consideration the relationship between families and society.
Key words: Family, Society, Comparative, Similarities, Dissimilarities

1. Introduction
Anita Desai, an Indian English novelist and short story writer, happens to be a leading voice in Indian English literature. She is occasionally referred to as an ‘explorer’ of inner life of her female characters. She appears to be very conscious about unravelling the inner turmoils and tension of her female characters. She becomes therefore a recorder of the dilemma faced by an individual in the Indian urban set up. She seems to be interested in analysing and portraying human relationships. The novel is essentially a vehicle for delineating human relationships mostly baffling in nature in the sense that man’s actions and volitions often take to uncertain ways under different situations.

On the other hand, Nirupama Borgohain’s writings could be regarded as feminist insofar as she deals with the issues of women. Many of her novels are feminist as they deal with the women problem. Borgohain addresses women’s issues extensively and she also adopts certain means by which her characters speak (Borgohain, 2002). She believes in the idea of socialist Feminism, where women should work for the society and other women. Her novels present before us many interesting female characters and transport us into their inner world (Bordalai, 2008). Her novels also presents before us some traces of intricate relationship between family and society.Therefore, the paper attempts to locate the points of similarities and dissimilarities in the relationship between family and society in the writings of Anita Desai and Nirupama Borgohain.

2. Objectives
  • To locate the relationship between family and society.
  • To undertake a comparative study of the two writers.
  • To find out the points of similarities and dissimilarities in the writings of the two writers.
3.   Methodology
The study will be carried in the form of analysis from different sources. Data or information will be collected from the primary and secondary sources like original texts, reference books, essays, journals, PhD theses and so forth.

4.   Results and discussions
Anita Desai and Nirupama Borgohain are the leading voices in Indian literature as they have been addressing the issues of women for quite some time. They write in two different languages but that obviously does not restrict them from addressing women’s problems in their writings.  Anita Desai happens to be a leading voice in Indian English literature. She is occasionally referred to as an ‘explorer’ of the inner life of her female characters. Her forte has consistently been the unraveling of the inner turmoils and tensions of her female characters. Thus Desai adopts the novel as a vehicle for exploring the inner psyche of the female characters. (Fludernik, 1999).

In the case of Anita Desai, there is a clear reevaluation of the link between society and family in her novels.  N.R. Gopal opines that Desai’s novels are a real reflection of the familial relationship and its relation with society. Further, writers like Jayita Sengupta (Sengupta, 2006) also commented on locating relationship between the family and society. Desai’s novels, according to writers like Jayita Sengupta, present before us a world of different characters that are directly linked to the society.

In the first novel,Desai very successfully  presented before us the interweaving story of four characters: Nirode, Monisha, Amla and Otima. It depicts the corrosive impact of city life on an Indian family–a Bohemian brother and his two sisters caught in the crosscurrents of changing social values and norms. Each of the characters becomes a part of the society in which they live in. As already mentioned in the initial part of the study, the key themes of Voices in the City grasp the delicate intricacies of the underlit, subconscious self. It attempts to put forward the complexities of the‘lonely’ individual in relation to society and the interior journey into the dark forces of a ‘closed’ mind in order to resolve the psychological knots within. In the novel, Desai explores the four major ‘voices’, Nirode, Monisha, Amla and the mother in the city of Calcutta. The locale is Calcutta and the lives of these four are inevitably linked with the city of mother Kali.

Calcutta, the ugly city, becomes an extension of society to Nirode. The irony is that Nirode struggles to find and independe identify, by freeing himself from the ugly side of Calcutta. The associations with friends like Dharma and Jit Nair throw up into relief the individual traits of Nirode. It is not only Nirode who suffers from the constrictions of society but also Monisha, who struggles to come out of the oppressive joint family system. She feels as though she is trapped by evil forces which go against the grain of her individuality. Her life in Kalimpong was in sharp contrast to her life in Calcutta.   Her life with Jiban in the joint family household can be compared to the thick iron bars of prison. Cooped in the four walls of the house, Monisha longs to break free from such a claustrophobic existence.

Through Monisha, Desai speaks of the fate of Bengali women. These women are forced to follow the patriarchal norms of the society. On one such instance Monisha is seen to echo her experience in a joint family system. She was left in the midst of the family members of Jiban and here she learns a lot of adjustment tactics.Being a new member of a joint family system it was realy difficult to make adjustment in such a situation. On the such condition , Monisha experiences her new life in this way- 

“The Bow Bazar house. Central, an idol in the shape of an umbrella stand. Hung with folded black umbrellas like the offerings of pilgrims and worshippers. On either side of it, the reputation arranged by the heads of this many headed family. In the small of my back, I feel a surreptitious push from Jiban and am propelled forward into the embrace of his mother who is all in white and smells of clean rice and who, while placing her hand on my head in blessing, also pushes a little harder than I think necessary and still harder till I realize what it means and go down on my knees to touch her feet. They are rimmed red with Alta. Another pair of feet appears to receive my touch, then another. How they all honor their own feet! More–I lose count–but many more. Feet before faces here, but the jumble of sounds are soft, tolerant”,(Desai, 200).
         Another character who plays a significant role in the novel is Amla. Amla enters the city of Calcutta with aspirations and ambitions. Though she grudgingly becomes a part of the society, it doesnot stop her from continuously challenging the parochial norms laid down by society for the “weaker” (Desai, 2007) gender. Amla is portrayed as an energetic person who wanted to live out her experiences “in the centre of the exciting world” (Desai, 2007). But this does not last long as she was weary and dissillusioned. Calcutta doesnot oppress her in the beginning but slowly the city creates an upheaval in her little world.

The last part of the novel is termed as ‘Mother’, which describes Monisha’s mother Otima. Desai presents her as a complex character in the novel. During the course of the novel we find that she accepts the full responsibility for her drifting children. The character of Otima is presented as a real embodiment of Goddess ‘Kali’. In Indian mythology, Kali represents a Goddess who symbolises destruction and death.  According to Hindu religious custom, whenever Goddess Kali appears in the Universe, it is to kill and destroy the wrong doers. Thus Otima also represents such a demythifying figure of the Goddess. Although Otima’s physical presence in the novel is not felt, still she occupies a dignified position as she represents a ‘mother’ who is endowed with many qualities of heart and mind.

The next novel that throws interesting light on the theme of family and society is Fire on the Mountain. In this novel, Desai very strategically establishes a close connection between the characters and the society. The three characters – Nanda Kaul, Raka and Ila Das are products of the society and as such they cannot pull themselves out from the vortex of social norms.
Even towards the fag end of her life Nanda Kaul is deprived of a secluded place to live because of the intrusion of family and society.  Almost her whole life is spent in nurturing her children and taking care of her husband. She was a product of the society and as such has close affinity with the societal norms (Desai, 2008, FOTM).

Raka and Ila Das also present two distinct products of the society. Being very much a part of the society, their individuality and voice of reason is curbed by (the stronger forces of the society.Ila Das is a product of society because she was born in the society and worked for the betterment of the society.

The third novel of Desai also throws interesting light on the issues of family and society. Desai’s Fasting, Feasting is a novel which deals with the description of two contrasting cultures. The term ‘Fasting’ and ‘Feasting’ have different layers of interpretation. Fasting in simple words may refer to Indian culture and Feasting may refer to American culture.  As society forms an important part in the novels of Anita Desai, the characters in this novel too are closely linked to society. During the first part of the novel, we find that Uma, her Mamapapa, Anamika and Aruna are all products of the same social order (Desai, 2008).

Uma could not extricate herself from the social mores. She was a product of the society. Her world is the world of her Mamapapa. Uma could not come out from the society as she is very much a part of the society. For her, a woman need to listen to the patriarchal rules that society has created.  It is generally seen that the major characters in the novel like Uma, Anamika, Arun and Aruna are directly or indirectly victimised by the patriarchal social structures, (Desai, 2008). 

Anita Desai presents the girls in the family as repressed and suppressed. They are seen as women whose wings are clipped by the male- dominated society and patriarchy. Desai’s novels reflect this condition of Indian women especially belonging to the educated middle class. According to Mann, Women are seen basically as unpaid domestic help in such families (Sachdeva, 1994).

During the course of the novel, we also find that the novelist adopts different ceremonies to strategically reveal the concept of patriarchy in the Indian system of hierarchy. One of such ceremony is the ‘Orange Ceremony’ through which Desai tries to present a prototypical image of Indian patriarchal structure (Volna, 2005). The novelist uses the motif of food which occupies a special place in the Indian social and cultural context to unravel the deep rooted concept of patriarchy. In the analytical part of the Study, a detail analysis of the motif of food is discussed through the ‘orange ceremony’ which reveal a clear idea about the Indian hierarchy where the patriarch is on the top of the hierarchy pyramid. n the second part of the novel, we find Arun playing an active role in the society. His relationship with the Pattons in America forms a vital part in the novel (Volna, 2005).

On the other hand, Nirupama Borgohain’s novels are very closely related to the societal norms (Dutta, 2012). Each of the characters in her selected work are the products of society. There is a close relationship between family and society in her novel Mur Naam Champavati Kakati, where Borgohain throws interesting light on the relationship of the family and the society.  

During the course of the novel, we find that Jibanath Kakati and his daughter Champavati have a healthy relationship with the society. The novelist presents the characters as the by-products of the social order. The novel is set in Auguri village which is about thirty miles from Sibsagar district. The narrator refers to the village as a progressive one in the sense that education has spread in this part of Assam because of the establishment of a primary school in the late 19th century. So the villagers were very progressive and rational in their thought. 

Jibonath Kakati was a foremost educationist and humanist of Auguri village and as such he was concerned with the education of Champavati. Along with Jibanath, Borgohain presents other characters like Champavati, Surya, Sadori, and Sibananda who are products of the same social order. They play a vital role in the society. Both Champavati and Sadori work together for the communist block of Auguri. They work for the betterment of women’s position in the Auguri village (Borgohain, 1990). 

Surya also represents new ideals of Marxism in the village. He is seen working tirelessly for spreading the message of socialism in the village of Auguri. Thus we can say that all the characters in the novel are linked to the society. They are part and parcel of the society in which they were living (Devi, 1996). 

The next novel to be discussed under the heading of family and society is Abhijatri. Abhijatri is a novel which is based on the real life experiences of the protagonist Chandraprova Saikiani. And as such, the novelist in an attempt to discuss the life story of Chandraprova has thrown light on the relationship of Chandraprova and society (Hazarika, 2001). During the course of the novel, we find that Chandraprova has to depend on the society for many things in her life. The family of Ratiram Mazumdar has direct relationship with society. Society plays an important role in moulding the life of Chandraprova and her sister Rameshwari.There are references in the text which  presents before us the the relationship between family and society.

Both Ratiram Mazumdar and Chandraprova are products of the society and they had their own restrictions and obligations to the society. On the other hand, the novelist presents the character of Chandraprova as a person who is directly linked to the society in her work for the greater benefit of the society. And as such she always worked actively for the improvement of women’s condition in the society.

 During the course of the novel, we find that Chandraprova works hard for the cause of women’s uplifment in the society. She wanted to organize and work for the betterment of women’s position. She wanted to travel further and further, and reach the highest level of perfection. And later, when Chandraprova has to accept the mental and physical tortures, she does not bow down. Instead of surrendering, she utters the following words – 

“Aru tair hei annya jibontut somajkhonor mohilla sokalor sorboto prokar unnati aru mongolor babe tai aan je eta kot aru subho pothor abhijatri hoisil, aji tair ei natun jobinot tarie adorkho bukut saboti loi tai etiya punor hei pothere janu aguabo nuribo…” (Desai, 2009, Abhijatri).
“And just like an ‘Abhijatri’ or a Pathfinder she has been working for the all round development of women in the society. And today can’t she travel through this path and walk forward?”(translated by self).
These are the words which show the strong determination of Chandraprova to accept her destiny. Thus there are various instances in the novel which presents before us interesting facts  about the relationship between family and society.

The third novel Agragamini also focuses on the concept of family and society. As discussed in chapter 3 of the study, Agragamini depicts the real life struggles of a great educationist of Assam, Indira Miri.

During the course of the novel, we find that Indira was very much moulded by her society. Borgohain lays stress on the physical as well as mental development of the female protagonist. While presenting her as a real flesh and blood human being, the novelist presents the character as part of the society. From initial part of the novel, it was seen that Indira grew up in a perfect social atmosphere. Society has a lasting impression on the life of Indira. Human society plays influential role in her life at Shillong, Calcutta and NEFA. She was linked to the society in a positive way.

We can take for instance Indira’s early life when she had formal training in the school of Saroda Manjori Das. Being  a government servant, her father was transferred to Shillong, and it was here that Indira started her schooling. Sonadhar Senapati, who valued education for the moral upliftment it offers a human being, decided to give his daughter  primary education in a Bengalimedium school at Shillong. During her early education at the Bengali school, Indira was highly influenced by her teacher Sarada Manjori Das.

The novelist has presented a detailed description about Indira’s experience in the school of Saroda Manjori Das. Indira was a very intelligent student right from her school days. She was also a very creative and nature loving person. Indira used to spend most of her time in enjoying the beautiful atmosphere of the school. 
Under the guidance of ‘Guru Ma’ or Sarada Manjori Das, Indira acquired a deep interest for Rabindranath Tagore’s composed Brahmo sangeet and these songs of Tagore can be interpreted from a symbolical level. These songs are repeatedly used by the novelist to bring out the loneliness and desire for a different life, which her character Indira always aspires for. These songs offer solace to the troubled mind of Indira.  One such line of Rabindranath Tagore, has been repeated like a refrain by the female protagonist Indira -

“Jibon Jokhon Sukaie jai Korunadharayee aso sokolu madhuri lukae jai geet sudharse aeso…” ( Borgohain, 2009).
“When life becomes a desert,
Come to God
when all the sweetness of life passes away,
Take refuge in the world of song.”

Thus the songs of Rabindranath Tagore leave a lasting impression on the tender mind of Indira.  These chidlhood experiences left a lasting impression in the mind of Indira.Her family and society was always there to support her in the journey of life.

4.1 Dissimilarities In Family And Society
Not much dissimilarity can be noticed in the two writers as far as family and society is concerned. Anita Desai believed in establishing an intricate relationship between family and society in her novels, whereas Nirupama Borgohain believes in the all-round development of the family and its relationship with society.

5.   Policy Implication
Anita Desai’s writings and Nirupama Borgohain’s writings reveals the similarities of women issues raised by them. In Anita Desai, we find her exposing the inner turmoils of the female protagonists, whereas Nirupama Borgohain writes about the condition of women within a regional boundary of India. And even if the two writes about women’s issues, there is also imporatnce of family and society in thier writings. Therefore both the writers try to rediscover some traces of this relationship betwen family and society in their writings.

Some constructive suggestions that can be offered are –
i)       More and more discussions on women writers will bring to the forefront issues and voices of women in the society.
ii)     Areas such as feminist study or women’s study should be given more prominence as it would add to the rediscovering and re-inventing women’s issues.
iii)        Comparative research might open up newer areas.

6. Conclusion
Thus we can say that in the writings of Anita Desai and Nirupama Borgohain, there are points of similarity in the theme of family and society. Both the writers write about the positive relationship between society and family. There is not much of dissimilarities as far as these two aspects are concerned.

  • A. Desai. Fasting Feasting. India: Random House, 1999, 2008.
  • A. Desai. Fire on the Mountain. India: Random House, 1977, 2008.
  • A. Desai. Voices in the City. London: Orient Paperbacks, 1965, 2010.
  • Bora saikia Lilawati, “Asomiya upanyakhor Rup –gathan, Pranali, Angik Aru silpanoipurna” in Kuri Shotikaar Asomiya Sahitya: A collection of articles on 20th century Assamese literature, B. Dutta, Ed.  Jorhat: Sadou Asom Lekhika Samaroh Samiti, 2012, pp.71-90.
  • H. B. Borgohain (Ed.). Asomiya lekhikar Grantha Sambhar:A bibliography of women writers of   Assam.  Jorhat: Asom Lekhika Sangstha, 2002.
  • J. Hazarika (Ed.). Sahitya Jigyasa. Dibrugarh: Banalata, 2001.
  • L. Volna (2005). Fasting Feasting and the conition of Indian Women. clc web., 7 (3).
  • M. Fludernik (1999). Cross– Mirrorings of Alterity. The Colonial scenario and Its psychological Legacy. 30(3), pp. 29-62.
  • M. H. Sachdeva (1994). Cracking India: Minority Women Writers and the Contentious Discourse of Indian Nationalist Discourse. The Journal of Common Wealth Literature, 29(2), pp. 71-94.
  • N. Bardalai (Ed.). Asomiya Sahitya aru Mahila Lekhok. Guwahati: Students Store, 2008.
  • N. Borgohain. Abhijatri. Nalbari: Journal Emporium, 1993,1996, 2009.
  • N. Borgohain. Agragamini. Guwahati: Students Store, 2009.
  • N. Borgohain. Mur Naam Champavati kakati. Guwahati: Shanti Prakashan, 1990.
  • S. Jayita.  Feminist Perspectives in the novels of Toni Morrison, Michele Roberts and Anita Desai, New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers and Distributors, 2006, pp. 112-129.

1 comment:

  1. What is the volume number and Issue number of the journal in which this article was published?


Share Every Sense on Art, Culture & Literature; Travel & Tourism; Commerce & Economy; Science & Technology; etc. Send us your Write-up by Email:


Share every sense on Art, Culture & Literature; Travel & Tourism; Commerce & Economy; Science & Technology; etc. Publish Article, Story, Poetry, Book Review, Travelogue, Recipe and News. Send us your creative contents written or transcreated in English at

Get Free Updates at Your Inbox! Enter Your Email Address:


Twitter Bird Gadget