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Independent but Unique State of Mind of Sumi, the Deserted Mother with Three Daughters: A Study of Shashi Deshpande’s A Matter of Time

Dr. S. Sudha
Assistant Professor of English
Dr. N. G. P. Arts and Science College (Autonomous)
Coimbatore – 641 048, India.


Modern women of today are totally different from those of yesteryears. Unlike traditional women of the past, they are equally educated and professionally well placed like their men. Besides, they are more practical than their men in devising ways and means for their betterment in life whenever some unexpected but grave situations arise during their sojourn on earth because they have independent income of their own. Thus, their empowerment has strengthened their mind how to survive successfully as and when some dire need arises. But at the same time, there are also some empowered women who remain rooted to their traditional life as house wives and yet, they do not lose their hope of survival when they meet with unfortunate situations in life. They have got their mental inclination strengthened for their survival without much ado and without dependence on anyone, either a relative or a friend. With their strengthened survival disposition, they can adjust themselves cleverly to their unpredicted predicament in life. They also take timely decisions then and there to keep themselves completely free from any kind of domination and discrimination for their betterment of independent life at home. But in doing so, they never deviate from their destined ways of familial and marital life nor do they lose their state of mind in their precarious situations. They find some meaningful ways in their irretrievable situations. In the process, they prove themselves practically wiser women in preserving their peace and happiness. In many novels of Women of Indian Diaspora and those of the native women writers, it can be clearly seen how women face their familial, marital and societal problems, and then how with their positive state of mind, they establish their individual and independent identity. Their self-confidence helps them carve out their indelible name for themselves. This article critically analyzes how a deserted mother and house wife with her three daughters in Shashi Deshpande’ novel A Matter of Time braves unexpected hardships because of her being suddenly deserted by her husband, and how the mother decides her own destiny without losing her state of mind and individuality. 
Key Words:

Positivity, Adjustment, Betterment, Courage, Predicament


Fiction is not completely fictitious nor is it purely imaginary in content. Everything narrated is based only on the real life incidents, happening at home and in the society. It is only the women novelists who highlight the indescribable harassment that is meted out to women by patriarchy. As a woman novelist, Shashi Deshpande is no exception. She portrays her women characters not as submissive ones, silently accepting everything that is happening against their interest and welfare. She has portrayed her women characters as women of individuality because her women survive any patriarchal humiliation with positivity and assert their independence in time of need. They have an optimistic attitude of survival in any unfortunate and unexpected situations, arising out of their life partners’ betrayal or desertion or death. Yet there are women who do not have an inherent trait of survival disposition and such women easily succumb to all types of discrimination and misfortunes without any semblance of fight and traces of hope. If they are empowered and if their empowerment does not act as the protective armour against any kind of patriarchal domination and unfortunate happenings, they need not have education and profession. They could remain as passive and voiceless traditional Indian women and accept all such unpleasant and unfortunate things, happening to them as the ways of their Creator.

Cordial and understanding relationship between a man and his woman is the need of the day. Man as a husband should display his trust and love towards his wife. As a father, he should be an embodiment of paternal love and affection to his sons and daughters. He should not show disparity in his love towards them. Every unmarried man is the affectionate son of his mother till he takes another woman as his wife through marriage. But every woman before and after her marital life till the last days of her earthly life is always a mother’s daughter wherever she is. This is what Emily Giffin, an American novelist, has also endorsed when she has said. “A son is a son till he gets a wife but a daughter is a daughter all her life [to her mother]” (Love One You’re with, goodreads n.pag). Life offers innumerable examples of unchangeable and constant love and affection between mothers and daughters, irrespective of the distances, they have between them and in spite of the misfortunes that both experience in life. But as mothers experiencing misfortunes without any remedial measures, they even fail to heed to the advice of her daughters by asserting their individuality and continue to live in predicament, without finding solutions themselves.

The daughters, even after their marriage, are very close to their mothers than to their fathers but it does not mean that there is no love in them for their father. As daughters, they always identify themselves with their gender in their mothers as mothers do with their daughters. Eric Daniels, Founder of Hope Grows for Autism, has said in one of her quotes about the relationship between a mother and her daughter:

 There’s nothing quite as special as the unique and unbreakable relationship between a mother and her daughter [even before and after her marriage]. Mothers want what the best is for their daughters and as the daughters they always look up to their mothers for inspiration and advice wherever they are placed. The relationship may shift and change as time goes on but one thing always remains  the same, and  that is their unconditional love that they have for each other. (6 Mar. 2020)

However, this is the world where one can see a lot of changes in the mental make-up of women playing different roles as mothers, daughters and mothers-in-law. During the social progression, women shed off their old avatars as powerless and weak and assume new avatars as powerful and mentally strong women. They decide who they are and what they should do in time of crisis in a family so that they can keep their morale strong. Their timely decisions even surprise all and sundry around them. They do not act as per the expectations of men and society for being the weaker and inferior gender. They change as per the situations arising in their life and this change of attitudes to life can be seen in Sumi, the mother of three daughters in Shashi Deshpande’s novel A Matter of Time. 


            As a traditional house-wife, Sumi lives with her loving and faithful husband Gopal. She has three grown-up daughters and they are Aru, Charu, and Seema. She is leading her marital life with contentment and happiness with the earnings that her husband brings to her. She never expects anything extra for their still better livelihood from her well settled sister Premi who is a doctor. Nor is she ready to accept any help from her mother or from the relatives of her husband. She always establishes her individuality by being different from her relatives and by living within the income of her husband. She does not want to stay with her family in the big house of her parents. She wants to be independent with her own family and lives in a rented house. Her marital life with Gopal has passed nearly twenty three years without having any visible strain in their relationship. 
            Usually as and when Gopal returns home in the evening from his work, he used to sit beside his wife who is watching TV and spend his time with her. But on one particular evening, on his return home, he does not follow his regular habit. He draws an arm chair from some corner and sits on it just a few inches away from his wife. It is quite unusual in his behaviour but Sumi does not take it very seriously. Then he informs her of his shocking decision that he is getting separated from her and her relationship once for all never to return. After dropping a bombshell, “Gopal looks at her for any kind of reaction, but Sumi still sits silently, simply gazing at him just as expectantly, waiting for him to go on” (8). Her way of gazing at him silently simply reveals her nature that she is a woman having undisturbed state of mind and in that state, she does not appear to be mentally upset. She digests the announcement of his desertion without any traces of disappoint or sadness. She does not ask the reasons for his sudden breakup of his marital life with her.

            Though one of Gopal’s daughters finds fault with her father, Sumi realizes who she is and what she should act and do in an unexpected situation of her life. She cannot express her anger like her daughter and simply looks at her husband without any expression. But Gopal expects that his wife will plead with him to stay back but she does not. This is her state of mind in any situation that she faces in life. Ashish Gupta in his article “Quest for Female Identity” reveals the inner self of Sumi showing her strong mind in any difficult situations. According to him, “Sumi does not coerce him into coming back to her and her children. Her silence reveals her dignity. Moreover, she explores the different ways of coming to terms with the painful reality of her present predicament and keeps thinking how to lead her life without her husband” (3).

            Sumi knows well that she cannot change her husband. She thinks of the possibilities for his sudden desertion of her but “her mind slides from one clarification to another, over and over again” (9) but she cannot find any possible clues to his desertion. Next day, as a deserted wife, she looks like a woman without either mentally disturbed or losing a hope for a new and single life. She becomes determined that she has to change her predicament something better for her and her three daughters. She knows well that what has happened cannot be set it right nor does she want to change it. She has the feeling that it is to happen and so it has happened. She does not lose her heart and becomes strong-minded to establish her indelible and independent identity as a new woman every inch without any traces of cultural violations. Her appearance as if nothing untoward had happened to her deceives everyone close to her and her daughters.

Sumi, soon after desertion of her husband, comes back to her mother’s own big house with her daughters. Though there is a forty year silent war going on between her parents, she knows that they do not regard her and her three daughters to stay in the big house as a burden or a nuisance. But on seeing her mother and her concern about her plight, the silence of Sumi gives way to her awareness of eternal loss of her life partner. However, she decides that she should not lose her heart for all that has happened to her. Neither should she look upset at the silent war going on between her father and mother for being with them. She has to reconcile herself willingly to her life of uncertainty. She decides to keep herself engaged in some other literary activity so that she can completely forget her desertion and her uncertain earthly life. She starts drafting a play with the title “The Gardener’s Son” for the school function. On seeing its success and appreciation by others, she feels her heavy heart lightened and appears to be very positive of her future without Gopal.

Sumi displays the strength and maturity of her mind when she feels completely free from the clutches of Gopal. She appears satisfied with her single life because it will not be like the life that her mother and father lead together. Journey of her marital life with Gopal till his separation from her thus creates matured thinking in her heart. She feels, “Our journeys are always separate, that is how they [journeys] are meant to be. If we travel together for a while, [it is nothing but mere] coincidence” (212).  She knows well that it will take time for her to accept her status of being a single woman with independence yet she is not completely free from the feeling of alienation. However, she does not let others know what kind of feeling she has in her heart. She remembers what Gopal has said before both have become life partners through arranged marriage that “if either of [them] wanted to be free [from their marital binding], [one] should let the other go as they are not going to be tied together” (221). His words of the past strengthen her mind in the present so that she can face the reality with hope. She is also quite confident that her hope will neither disappoint her nor weakens her mental make-up. She looks like the epitome of hope and she decides to “rejoice in suffering [for being a single woman] knowing full well that [Her] suffering [as a single woman] will produce perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope will not disappoint [her] because God is her hope [during her single life]” (Family Devotional Study Bible, Rom. 5:3-5). 
Sumi is not like any other married woman shedding tears for being deserted. She is against getting divorced legally though she appears to have got her heart hardened towards Gopal. Hence, “She presents her image to the world as graceful and courageous. She expects everyone to admire her [for her strong mental make-up] instead of being pitied. She is also against her daughter’s advice for a legal separation from Gopal. She does not want to be found fault with for being legally divorced. She feels that just desertion by Gopal will not give any chances for her neighbours to talk ill of her. S. Prasanna Sree correctly judges the positive attitude of her desertion by saying in his book titled Women in the Novels of Shashi Deshpande: A Study: 
 Divorce frees a woman legally but the memories attached to the marriage cannot be erased easily. The social stigmas associated with divorce in the Indian society haunt her and she has to continue to struggle and suffer at various levels- economical, emotional and psychological. A woman may get relief from the painful life of a wrong marriage through divorce, but it will not always re- establish her socially, psychologically or financially. (108-109)

Sumi is a woman who knows her situation fully and she does not like others to know of her situation and pity her. She is what she appears to be and she never likes the sympathy of others for her single life when her husband is still all alive. Without minding the talk of the people about her predicament and the pleadings of her daughters that she should get united with Gopal, she begins to pursue her independent life and fortunately she gets a job in a school. If any woman with very weak mind had been deserted by her husband without anything to depend on, she would have ended her life. But Sumi is not like one. She has emotional indifference as her indelible trait and she has been bestowed with patience, silence, and endurance and she has shown them in the face of adversity. Till her unnatural death due to accident:

  Sumi maintains a stoic silence. Her silence is an emblem of power rather than powerlessness, the power, which is usually associated with male sex, is now her forte. It is in fact that her mother Kalyani who has suffered a lot silently as a wife has been her indirect motivator to keep her morale strong in all adverse situations (Ritu, Transcending Gender Confines n.pag.)
                                                               Works Cited

Daniels, Eric. “Mother-Daughter Quotes: 101 Quotes that Are as Perfect as They Are.”, 6 Mar. 2020.      quotes. Accessed 17 Apr. 2020.

Deshpande, Shashi. A Matter of Time. Penguin, 1996.

Giffin, Emily. “Love the One You’re with.”  Goodreads,                                                                   Accessed             17 Apr. 2020.

Gupta, Ashish. “A Matter of Time: The quest for Female Identity.”  Galaxy: International             Multidisciplinary Research Journal, vol.1, no.3, 2012, pp. 1-5.

“Romans 5:3-5.” The New Testament. The Family Devotional study Bible, The Bible Society of India, 2006. 

Ritu. “Transcending Gender Confines in Shashi Deshpande’s A Matter of Time.” The       Criterion: An International Journal in English, vol.6, no.1, 2015, n.pag. www.the –—in-shashi-deshpandes-a-matter-of-   time/  Accessed 19 Apr. 2020. 

Sree, Prasanna S. Women in the Novels of Shashi Deshpande: A Study. Sarup and Sons    Publishers, 2003.