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Survivors of the New World: A Study of Desirable Daughters



                                                                         
                                                Dr. R.Chitra Shobana
                                                                                                Asst Prof of English
                                                                                    A.P.A. College of Arts and Culture
Palani, India.
                                                                                       shobanachitra2@gmail.com

Abstract
           
Bharati Mukherjee throughout her novels discusses the condition of Asian immigrants in North America, with particular reference to the changes taking place in south Asian women in the new world. The protagonists of Bharati Mukherjee fight for their right as a woman and as an individual in the new world. They prepare themselves to be their own gravitational force rather than revolving their male counterparts. Desirable Daughters is the story of the different paths taken by three sisters, Padma, Parvati and Tara. Of the three sisters two immigrate to America after their marriage while the other settles at Bombay. Padma, the eldest, lives with her husband in New Jersey. She is a TV personnel anchoring a famous programme on an Indian channel run by her lover. Padma is the provider of her family. She maintains her image as an Indian symbol in all ways. She always advocates the eastern tradition and is seen criticizing Tara for being too Americanized. She is living a life of a successful careerist in New Jersey and she does not want to disturb her smooth life on any untoward old sentiment. She moves her life successfully and she is a successful survivor of the new world.  Tara seems to be the most detached of the three sisters yet a successive valley lady. She is a divorcee who lives in Francisco. In the early years of her marriage, while she lived with her husband Bish at a gated community in Atherton, Tara exhibits the behaviour of a typical Indian wife, deep rooted in tradition and Indian culture. In her days at Atherton she believed that she was leading a contended life. But as time goes by she feels that this form of life is not fulfilling for her. She realizes that she is not the fittest to play the role of an Indian wife, so she asks for a divorce. Tara’s decision to divorce Bish represents a new consciousness in Tara where the regulations of Indian traditions and culture no more bind her actions. Tara is now more independent and a progressive Californian who has changed many of her ideals, including her concept on sexuality.   Tara liberates herself from being a traditional Indian mother and tries to act as an American mother. Tara is a valley lady, being a divorcee she works as a volunteer at a preschool unmindful of her husband’s high position in the society, she is a single parent of a teen age boy who proclaims himself to be a gay and she leads a happy private life with many boyfriends. Tara is a successful survivor of the new world.

Key words: gravitational, Americanized, Careerist, Consciousness, Culture, Transition, Survivor

            Bharati Mukherjee throughout her novels discusses the condition of Asian immigrants in North America, with particular reference to the changes taking place in south Asian women in the new world. While the characters in all her works are aware of the brutalities and violence that surround them and are often victimized by various forms of social oppression she generally draws them as survivors. Though victims of immigration her protagonists fight for their right as a woman and as an individual. They prepare themselves to be their own gravitational force rather than revolving their male counterparts.

                    Desirable Daughters is the story of the different paths taken by three sisters, Padma, Parvati and Tara. Tara and her sisters were renowned for their beauty, intelligence and wealth and privileged positions in the society. The three sisters’ were given enough freedom and expression at its furthest in their up-bringing. They were inculcated with convent education by catholic nuns in their convent constructed school and college.

            Of the three sisters Padma and Tara immigrate to America after their marriage while Parvati settles at Bombay. The three sisters were born exactly three years apart from each other and shared the same birthday. Their mother named them after Hindu goddesses hoping that they will prosper in their lives. Despite the long distance between them they remained in constant touch. After marriage Padma lives with her husband in New Jersey. She is TV personnel anchoring a famous programme on an Indian channel run by her lover. Padma is the provider of her family. She is an actress who performs for local school and community centre shows. She is described by her friend as “Padma Mehta is a television personality. She is an icon among Bengalis in the Tristate area. What she wears and what she recommends are taken as fashion statements in the community.”(DD 231)

            Padma is a type of Indian celebrity in New York. She is entirely Indian in her attire and cuisine. She maintains her image as an Indian symbol in all ways. She always advocates the eastern tradition and is seen criticizing Tara for being too Americanized. Padma even after long years of stay in America has maintained Indianness in her. Padma maintains the appearance of a traditional Bengali woman. She was more of the Indian type who was afraid of rumours. When Tara tries to open up the topic of her illegitimate son on a crowded subway she stops her and says “Don’t you ever let up? If you must bring unpleasantness can’t you find a better place than a New York subway? Just watch your tongue .This train is full of Bangladeshis and they pick up every word. You say police and their heads jerk around. Then they see me and believe me, they know who I am and before you know it, this famous person on Television is in trouble with the police and it will be all over in a Calcutta second. You know how these people are Tara, they’re terrible gossips, they’ll have me smuggling gold or falsifying visas or being involved with some cabinet minister. May be you’re shameless enough out there in California with all your money and your American friends not to care about your reputation, but it’s all I have. Now that’s my last word on it” (DD197).  It is clear from the words of Padma that she doesn’t want to open up her dirty past. She is living a life of a successful careerist in New Jersey and she does not want to disturb her smooth life on any untoward old sentiment. She moves her life successfully and of course she is a successful survivor of the new world.

            Parvati, Tara’s second sister was married to a man of unequal status as her’s was a love marriage. She was leading a contended life among the Bhattacharjee sisters’. She lived with her husband and two teen age sons Bhupesh and Dinesh on the fifteenth floor of a spectacular high apartment at Nariman point. Aurobindo was earning more and he was spending about twenty five thousand dollars as rent for their luxurious apartment. Her life style was more luxurious than that of Padma’s and Tara’s and Parvati was most successful among the sisters.                                                               
                      Tara seems to be the most detached of the three sisters yet a successive valley lady. She is a divorcee who lives in Francisco. Tara’s was a purely arranged marriage and she married a multi millionaire,Bishwapriya Chatterjee, of the Silicon Valley. After the marriage rituals were over, she lived with her husband Bish, in a gated community at  Atherton. Being a successful businessman and an excellent provider, Bish did not want Tara to engage in any kind of activity. In her early days in America Tara exhibits the behaviour of a typical Indian wife, deep rooted in tradition and Indian culture. She was too submissive to her husband and was well versed in domestic duties such as serving pakoras and freshening drinks while Bish and his friends enjoyed watching Sunday football game. Tara devotes her entire life in supporting Bish and raising their family because the traits of fulfilling the domestic duties have been inculcated in her since birth.

                           Such a traditional Tara begins to dispense certain age old traditions and finds adapting to a western environment as an increasingly easier process. The crossing of the sea represents a new beginning, the period of transition for Tara. In her early days of Atherton she believed that she was leading a contended life. But as time goes by she feels that this form of life is not fulfilling for her. She realizes that the promise of life as an American wife is not being fulfilled and she wanted to do something creative in her life. She realizes that she is not the fittest to  play the role of an Indian wife, so she asks for a divorce. Tara’s decision to divorce Bish represents a new consciousness in Tara where the regulations of Indian traditions and culture no more bind her actions. The patriarchal Indian society can no more dominate Tara’s actions and the opinions and judgements of others do not pose any threat to her. After the divorce Tara becomes more independent and more Americanized, she ceases to be a good Hindu wife. Padma Rangasamy opines,  “The only way for many of  Mukhrjee’s heroines is to discard the past totally and irrevocably and embrace total Americanization” (Namaste America 91).

            Tara is now more independent and a progressive Californian who has changed many of her ideals including her concept on sexuality. Tara as a typical American started to believe that a woman’s sexuality is a private affair. She with full heart embraces this ideal and proceeds a live in relationship with her lover Andy whom she describes as her balding, red-bearded, former biker, former bad boy, Hungarian Buddhist, contractor, Yoga instructor (DD 25).  Her idea of sex has completely altered and began to resemble the sexuality portrayed in the American magazines she used to read with her friend Meena. The fear instilled in her by the Indian culture in sexual matters has dissipated as Tara assimilated to American culture. She is no more bound by the chains of Indian culture and tradition. She is free to act as she pleases as no one has the right to question her. Tara reveals her relationship with other men to her sister Padma,

 I maybe alone right now, this week, but these past three nights are the first time I’ve been without a man or attention of many men, most of it unwanted, in seventeen years! You thought my world ended when I left Bish, you think I’m so unattractive, so uncomplicated and so unadventurous that I’ve been sitting at home for five years just raising a son? I’ve never told you about Andy, or Pramod or Mahesh or Donald-but could you not have guessed?    (DD 184)

Although she mentions many names as boyfriends, it is her affair with Andy is delineated in  detail in the novel.
                 After getting the divorce Tara liberates herself from being a traditional Indian mother and tries to act as an American mother. As the first step she sends her son to the more liberal school –The academy of Atherton- in which he can develop his artistic abilities. Tara moves to be an understanding mother since she does not demand him to be traditional Indian son nor does she react with prejudice when he tells that he is a gay. Bhagabat Nayak observes, “thinking herself as an archetypal immigrant she is in a bizarre obsession of grief between her emotion and reaction in her cocooned Indian self and coddling American life.” (Quest for identity 277).  Therefore it could be concluded that Tara is a valley lady, being a divorcee, she works as a volunteer at a preschool unmindful of her husband’s high position in the society, she is a single parent of a teen age boy who proclaims himself to be a gay. Thus, Tara is a successful survivor of the new world who lives a happy private life with many boyfriends.

Works Cited

Mukherjee, Bharati.Desirable Daughters. New Delhi: Rupa &Co, 2003 Print.

Nayak, Bhagabat. Quest for Identity in Bharati Mukherjee’s Desirable Daughters. Contemprary writing in English: Critical Perceptions. Ed. N.D.R. Chandra, New Delhi: Sarup & Sons , 2005 .Print.

Rangasamy, Padma. Namaste America. Pennsylvania:State UP, 2000.Print.