Nayantara Sahgal’s Modern Idea on Marriage

Nayantara Sahgal's Modern Idea on Marriage
Nayantara Sahgal’s Modern Idea on Marriage

The concept of marriage has formed a very long time. It can be said that the institution of marriage has exist forever and has always been the same. One can also say that the institution of marriage is a central pillar which our society is based. However, this does not necessarily mean that it should be that way. Modern society is changing. People have made certain changes in marriage according to their desires and that is against traditional marriage. Universal globalization has led to the mixing of cultures and changing national and racial composition to the population of the western world countries.

Sahgal’s idea of modern marriage in her novels presents a contrast to the traditional marriage. As in traditional marriage a woman is a passive, submissive sex object to a man and confirms the stereotyped role of woman in Indian society. But in modern concept of marriage the young women don’t conform the role of stereotyped woman they reject this role of woman, who makes them a slave to the husband not an equal partner to him. These young  woman make a bid to liberate themselves from male oppression and thus cherish the ideals of self reliance and self-sufficiency. The woman of today relieves herself from ancient grooves and bonds and that long time suppression. So this is the notion of modern marriage that girls don’t say yes and a man to everything he proposes. They are aware of their position in marriage. They think if they blindly follow their husbands in marriage they will finish up by not being allowed to breathe unless they give them permission. They see marriage is a matter of the heart and intellectualizing and analyzing and rationalise their unhappiness.

It is well known about Indian society that it is the marriage orientated, one implication of which is that a woman should seek fulfillment within the parameters of marriage. Woman as such is not as much important in our society as the woman as a mother who surrenders her individuality to an inimical system for the husband and the children.

In the novels of Nayantara Sahgal we find that women characters mostly with good education background in conflict with a patriarchal society and depict their struggle to pop out of their shells. It is because of much of imbroglio and chaos in a patriarchal society issues from the mis-constructed implications of man-woman relationship in marriage which as a socio-cultural phenomenon is emptied of its sacramental value if it is exploited by man as a power dividing device in a bid to justify his male hegemony. The marital discord comes from the dualism of the moral code which man has evolved in course of history to seek self-gratification and impose upon his womenfolk the compulsion of surrender and effacement of their individuality as human beings. Sahgal herself states:

“The new woman does the opposite. No more sati, she is determined to live, and to live in self-respect. Her virtue is courage, which is a willingness to risk the unknown and to face the consequences.”

In Sahgal’s novels modern marriage is not a sacrament; it is beyond caste, creed and race. It is based on love, mutual understanding and defies the traditional concept of marriage that is arranged by parents in the same caste. So carriage in the modern society is fixed by woman of her choice’ man and not by God as it was thought in the traditional Indian society.

This modern marriage works in the marriage of Simrit and Som in the novel The Day in Shadow. Simrit doesn’t believe in arranged marriage by her parents and she marries with Som, a businessman, against the will of her Brahmin parents. Although, Simrit is a Brahmin girl and Som is Punjabi, the caste of both is not same but still she gets married to him for she loves him deeply. Thus she defies the traditional marriage in Indian society that takes place in the same caste. Just because she sees her complete happiness with Som. That’s why she marries with him and gets satisfaction in her marriage that is arranged by her. But after sometime, when she gets disillusionment with Som she remains unhappy with him and ultimately takes divorce from her husband even after seventeen years of her married life. After from divorce she plans to marry Raj, who is a converted Christian. Her decision to marry with Raj for the second time shows her rejection of caste and religion factor completely that works in a traditional marriage and confirms the modern out look of marriage that depends on love and proper harmony between partners. So in this way she defies all the norms, conventions and customs of a traditional marriage.

Same this concept of marriage is further carried by Rose in the novel Rich Like Us. Her marriage with Ram also presents the instance of modern marriage. She rejects a Christian marriage with Freddie and becomes and Indian wife of Ram. When Ram first meets Rose, she is a twenty-year old lover class, cockney English girl, with very little formal education to her credit. She is the daughter of a factory worker, and is all set to marry Freddie (who is also similarly employed) Ram sweeps her off her feet. Her parents have spent all their lives saving for the proverbial rainy day, when in fact every day seemed like one. Rose’s “fateful” encounters with Ram caught her in a whirl that world not set her free. Her life before Ram had not prepared her for a life-time of commitment to someone like Ram, far less to his life-style.

That’s why she marries with Ram despite his first marriage and having a son. She ignores all views of a traditional Christian marriage and avoids her mother’s warning:

It is her great love for Ram that she marries with him and leaves Freddie, a good lover of her for Ram and couldn’t get Ram’s dubious nature in courtship. She believes what he says to her. Therefore, Ram doesn’t tell her in the beginning of love that he is already married and having a son. He announces his marriage before her when he sees that she is deeply in love with him, so that she may not leave him easily. It is her modernity in marriage that after knowing Ram’s reality she had to reject him, but on the contrary she accepts him for what he is and is ready to marry him knowing well that he will not take divorce from his first wife, as she cannot think her life without Ram.

In this way she defies the traditional concept of marriage and establishes modern concept of marriage which is free from the barriers of caste, creed and race. Rose sees her marriage to Ram as a lifelong commitment she tells Freddie (the man she nearly married in England before she met Ram), when she meets him at Lahore years after her marriage, that she had romanticized about a whirlwind courtship ending with a Church wedding. Ram had courted her the way she had imagined it would be. So attached had she become to Ram that it never took place.

Likewise, Rose, Lulu also does modern marriage in the novel ‘Plans for Departure’ by Marlowe as her husband for herself and later her decision to leave Marlowe in her disillusionment. She is attracted by Marlowe’s missionary work and decides to marry with him at once despite her father’s disapproval of Marlowe. It is her intense desire of happiness and self fulfillment that she seeks Marlowe as a husband.

Lulu, born and bred as an indigo landowner’s daughter is a woman of extremes. She falls in love with an American preacher, Croft, the only man around her father plantation who questioned his right to terrorize his workers. Intrigued by his display of courage, Lulu attended his last sermon in a country church. She tells her father about Croft’s moving sermon that had put her in a trance.

Mr. Firth, Lulu’s father, gets Croft a two month’s jail term for daring to meddle with his local administration. When she decides to marry Marlowe, an American missionary, after his release from jail, she goes against the wishes of her authoritarian, landlord father. Having plunged into matrimony with a man who is, above all else, a zealous missionary, she finds the going rough. Her upbringing as an Anglo-Indian zamindar’s only daughter, coupled with her disillusionment with Marlowe, results in her being enemies with everyone she met. He had his church and his mission. She is later disillusioned with Marlowe and, therefore, with her marriage. She has nowhere to go and no one to turn for help. Though she is caught in a trap of her own making, we feel sorry for the one-time landlord’s only daughter who waits indefinitely for the right time to tell Marlowe about her decision to leave him. But unfortunately she meets death in an accidental way without telling her departure to Marlowe.

Lulu’s decision to leave Marlowe results from her acceptance that they were two very dissimilar people who had come together in marriage for all the wrong reasons. Stella also states Marlowe’s bad behavior towards Lulu to Anna in the novel.

Self-fulfillment, happiness and love is the main principle of a modern marriage. To be loved by man is the most wanted desire of a woman in marriage in modern age. This thing is seen in case of Stella in the novel Plans for Departure. Henry, her husband loves her too much and is devoted to her, but she remains dissatisfied with him as her temperamental differences work with Henry. She thinks herself superior to Henry and cheats him by not showing her indifference to him openly. At last she leaves Henry and goes with Robert Pryor. In her departure with Robert for her second marriage the notion of the happiness and self-fulfillment work out prominently. Henry, her husband tells Anna frankly:

“Happiness was important to Stella, and I did all I could to make her happy.”

After her departure with Robert Pryor Henry realizes that, “She didn’t even know what I meant by love, and we certainly did not have it in common.”

Love, as experienced by Stella, involves more the head rather than the heart she is so much a product of the Raj that she wants to share her life only with a man whose ideologies coincide with her. Therefore, Stella is quite content married to Robert Pryor. He upholds the traditions of the Raj that she so ardently believes in. She is so blinded by her faith in the system that she is unable to appreciate Henry’s genuine devotion to her the fact that he understands her well enough to accept that she could not help being influenced by her background.

With Robert Stella shares a common faith. It, therefore, seems to the reader that she goes to bed with an ideology, not a lover. She can proudly state that the country, during those war ridden times, needed men of experience like Robert, suggesting that she sees no difference between the man and the faith. Of course, the fact that Robert dotes on Jennie makes matters simpler. But the detail is just incidental, hardly central to what Stella is looking for in her man. In Robert she finds a kindred spirit, who has this to say about Henry, “A capable man, one of our best ….. but he never understood the ideology of rule.”

When Stella later hears of Henry’s death on the Somme, during the war, she merely comments (to Pryor)—

“Poor Henry’s dead too. His death made up for everything, didn’t it, darling?”

She does not feel guilty for having treated Henry so shabbily without sparing a thought for him. This only reaffirms the fact that in modern marriage if husband and wife don’t share things in common, women don’t stay with husbands they seek an alternative to satisfy themselves and thus break the sanctity of marriage.

Sahgal has shown through these women characters in her novels that if some accept the traditional stereotyped ungrudgingly adhering to the ideals of ‘Pativarta’ dharam and bear all shades of experiences silently as a portrait of art in an art gallery, there are others who are aware of their individuality and refuse to submit to such conditioning factors of victimization and do not hesitate to seek self-expression outside the bond of marital fidelity. These women present themselves as models of fearless, articulate, self-assertive, self-respecting women who accepted that feminine role with equal-measure of understanding and pride. They believe in the equality of women in marriage.

Marital relationships are established with the explicit purpose of providing companionship to each other. However, the element of companionship is sadly missing in the relationship between Rashmi and Dalip in the novel This Time of Morning. She is a victim of wrong marriage but unlike Maya and Kusum she does not confine herself to the cult of domesticity assigned to a ‘virtuous woman’ rather she seeks separation from her husband to fully realise her identity as a human being. She was married to Dalip, six years ago, the novelist tells, but the marriage turned to be a misalliance and since then she has been living with her parents in Delhi to avoid clashes. Though Dalip’s physical existence in the novel is peripheral, the novelist keeps the circumstances in the background under which they were married and the factors responsible for converting the marriage into failure.

The marital ties are not dissolved; the formal divorce is not affected but Rashmi shows moral courage and takes a quick decision to go to her parents to evade the existing situation of suffering loneliness and incompatibility. Delhi is a place to provide her, “respite from the clashes that had become her relationship with Dalip”. 6 The impact of the failure of marriage on her sensibility causes an emotional vacuum; life becomes a mechanical affair having no warmth of love. She has nourished no ill will against Dalip, perhaps she is well aware of her weakness as a woman, but the quarrels between them have landed her into an unpleasant situation where in the possibility of the resurrection of their togetherness is remote :

“I do not hate him, she had told herself wearily during the blank intervals between quarrels, I don’t wish him harm, but he and I – she could not even think “we” any longer cannot go on together.”

During her moments of brooding over her predicament Rashmi is roused into consciousness how wrong marriages rob a woman of her natural looks and beauty. “How like prolonged starvation wrong marriage could be robbing luster defeating courage and will.”

But there rises a spark deep within her heart to encourage her that all is not lost and there is nothing wrong to rise on her knees to re-harmonize her vision to live a life of significance:

“Away from it she was beginning to understand that a part of life, though destroyed, could be rebuilt and then go on, incredibly, as before, at least in bare outline.”

She is shut in within the layers of labyrinth of herself never sharing her agony with the parents. During these crucial moments of self-scrutiny the thought of seeking divorce comes to her mind which she rejects on the ground that “there was no such thing as a clean break. A break had jagged edges and did violence to some part of one’s being”. The sufferings which Rashmi experience during this unhappy phase of marriage have taught her the value of endurance and preservation of life at any cost.

She is so changed by marriage that her friend Rakesh also finds her that she looks a great sufferer. Rakesh at once apprehends, “something was missing”, however, concludes that it is the marriage that sealed her fate.

For Rashmi it is a satisfying experience to meet Rakesh there at the Ball because he : “had been closer than a brother, more than a friend.” She is suffused with new hopes and gains confidence which she had lost in marriage ending in disaster:….. “She was thinking: I am lost. Something will work out. It’s not the end of evehing.”

Rashmi is slowly grouping her way back to a life of emotional stability and normalcy and thus she finds comfort first in the company of Rakesh, her childhood friend and playmate and then she turns to Neil Berensen, the chief architect of Gandhi Peace Institute to have a short affair to give free expression to her individuality.

But what sustains her courage and defeat and humiliation is the realization that a part of her own self which remains undamage and unhurt can still make her live a life free from the compulsion and oppressive dictates of male chauvinism:

“But there was a self that had stood free from all this, the unyielding core of her, and the waiting, watching, guardian spirit that belonged to no man.”

Perhaps Rashmi, like her creator, is a victim of early marriage—there is no hint of bearing even a child. Looking back at her own matrimonial alliance, Sahgal regrets.

Rashmi – Neil Berensen episode constitutes an important part in the novel in regard to a modern woman, seeking a self-fulfillment outside marriage. Rashmi’s frequent quarrels with her husband results in separation and since then she is living with her parents in Delhi. Rashmi never opened her heart to tell her parents what propelled her to initiate such a drastic step of severing relationship with her husband. Perhaps a little sharing of it would have saved the sordid situation, but the reality is shrouded.

Though, Neil is a foreigner but Rashmi finds easier opportunities to talk to him at the level of equality, some kind of communication is restored which is the prognostication and prelude of a new life. There is a free play of emotions which were hither to suppress in cold frigid relationship. During one of Rashmi’s visit to the site of the Peace Institute the intimacy between the two develops to the extent of emotional involvement. Neil is to get the maximum out of his relationship with Rashmi and that is why he puts a personal question pertaining to her marital affairs which it now no more obscure to him. “Does your husband come to Delhi often? “Fairly often on business. We are separated.”


Rashmi feels aghast at her inadvertently making announcement of her marital affairs to a stranger but by doing so she feels relieved of the pain and the mysterious burden of the strained relationship on her psyche. Neil’s observation about the concept of happiness and marriage being two separate things is characteristically a bourgeois outlook on man-woman relationship, suggesting that one should not let one’s happiness be over-shadowed by marital discord.

Rashmi’s relationship with Neil restores her faith in the healing power of love and friendship. She broods over the existing predicament the universe looks to be emptied of sensation. She is scarcely aware of her identity and therefore she resolves to start her life a new finally dissolving her marital ties. “In morning full of courage, she told her mother that her marriage had ended.”

Rashmi’s observation underlines the need of marriage provided it has the right ingredients. That is man-woman relations in marriage can be made happy if the two sustain faith in each-other’s integrity and uphold the value of love and harmony.

“I don’t want to drink to that”, said Rashmi, “Since marriage can be so unhappy. I suppose it can be happy, too, with the right ingredients.”

Her dreams of marriage and collected marriage values disintegrate when she finds her husband is not sharing thing with her and thinks only as sex object. Indifference by her husband is attack on her marital status and therefore, she prefers to leave him not to stay with him any longer like traditional wife. As this thing we see in Saroj’s case. She leaves her husband Inder when she gets that there is no harmony with Inder. Saroj who has been brought up in the liberal atmosphere of freedom expects equality within marriage. She is greatly suppressed by her husband’s violent reactions to a pre-marital affair she had in her college days. Inder is obsessed and could not forgive this act of Saroj and constantly exploits her sense of innocence. It is ironical that Inder considers it to be a serious moral lapse while he himself carries an extra marital affair with his children’s teacher Mara. Saroj becomes a victim of the male tyranny. Saroj however, is not really guilty. She thinks it is a part of her growing up. For Saroj is warmly involved in her marriage. Inder fails to maintain a genuine partnership with Saroj. She learns the value of freedom from Dubey during their lonely walks.

Saroj grew in her personality through debates and discussion with Dubey. She is amused to hear him say, if chastity is so important and so well worth preserving, it would be easier to safe guard, it by keeping men in seclusion not women, for he believes that,

“The biological urge is supposed to be much stronger in men, so it is they who should be kept under restraint and not allowed to roam free to indulge their appetites.”

Going out for a walk with Vishal, Saroj feels much relieved and freshened from the suffocation of the four walls of her house. She counts it to be a blessing of her life. When Inder forbids her to meet Vishal, she refuses to listen to him. It is at this stage that she rebels, and under stands the truth of failure of her marriage; she feels that there could be no hope of communication with Inder. Ultimately it is Vishal who takes the final decision for her.

By leaving Inder she shows that she shall not remained doll or a puppet but she will take decisions for her and affirm her being.

Vishal sets her free from the burden of guilt and helps her reaffirm her faith in Dubey. Marriage has completely destroyed her spirit. Even Gauri, when she visits Chandigarh tells Vishal, there is no question of any freedom of self-expression for Saroj. It is natural outcome of a person life Inder who belonged to the he-man school. In contrast to Saroj-Inder-Mara-Jit are better paired in many regards. Mara is portrayed as aggressive and her problem is more psychological than physical. It is the gentleness of his which makes her disqualified in her wed lock. Mara breaks her affair with Inder which upsets her great deal but saves her marriage. Jit believes in reason and differs from Inder in his role as a husband. Like Saroj, he has passive acceptance in his nature but that gives him strength to understand Mara at the end. This is Sahgal’s modern outlook in marriage, that not only female, but male also suffers in marriage, due to lack of harmony, but Jit presents Sahgal’s view that proper understanding of human values save marriage from failure. For Sahgal the test of a value lies in the freedom and growth that indicated a sense of fulfillment for the individual.

In Mistaken Identity (1989) the Rani of Vijaygarh also presents modern concept of marriage as she breaks all boundaries and makes her own rules. She is out and out a rebel. She belongs to an age when women were expected to stay behind veil. She remains completely detached and isolated in her family mansion. She meets and faces a very subtle and inhuman form of exploitation. Exhibiting exemplary strength of character the women behind the veil breaks all ties with her husband, when he marries for the third time. She, like other female protagonists, is expected to conform to the ideals of subdued woman hood but her life lacks continuity and warmth. She feels isolated within her skin. She is a woman, who is living in 1920-30s is uneducated, rather illiterate, has an apathetic husband, from her life, when she discovers the man has no respect for her kind.

Therefore, she leaves her husband and meets Yusuf, it is as if she chooses to live again for the first time. In this relationship based on mutual love, mother feels needed, loved and cherished. It matters little that love came her way late in life; it is well worth the wait. Yusuf is sensitive to her every need and to her longing, to be free with the elements. So he takes her to Leningrad in winter,

“Where she’ll see falling snow.”

When Bhushan’s mother decides to leave Vijaygarh, does not care for social recriminations. What use has she for a husband like father who had been a husband only in name? She has no reason to care about society’s reaction when it had coerced, controlled and dominated every aspect of her life. More significantly, she has no use for a society that had condoned and even cheered every callous, chauvinistic act of Father’s.

In fact, her free spirit, her strong will, submitted to the demands of neither her husband nor the world. Jasbir Jain portrays her aptly in these words—

“She has always been a rebel. Her character has been one of restless questioning. She is a stronger person than her husband and refuses to accept his continued pursuit of pleasure and new ranees.”

Sahgal believes in marriage a “new humanism” and a “new morality”, according to which woman is not to taken as a “sex object and glamour girl, fed on fake dreams of perpetual youth, lulled into passive role that requires no individual identity, but as man’s equal and honored partner.”

In this context Ram Krishan seems to us the mouthpiece of the novelist as he expresses her human outlook in his marriage. His relation with his wife is based on the principle of equality. For he treat her friend or companion not a slave to him.

Again, Sahgal’s idea of martial harmony on the principle of equality is presented by Anna and Nicholas in the novel Plans for Departure. As both have a mutual understanding with each other and makes marriage a success. Nicholas respects Anna’s views her desires, and her search for individuality.

On the other hand, Anna, also feels that things other than love, e.g. companionship and mutual respect, are important for any marriage to succeed. Anna stays married to Nicholas even though she believes that in spirit she is closer to Henry.

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This is because Anna’s marriage to Nicholas is the coming together of friends who understand each other and get married due to some combination of events. While Nicholas loves Anna, she, one feels, is merely in search of a world that could help her forget a man she had admired but grown disillusioned with because the wrongly believed he had killed his wife. She admits to herself that—

“She had fallen in love, with a vision, not merely a man. No such indivisible magic would ever come her way again.”

In spite of this realization her marriage does not break because Nick and Anna share a special kinship and have complete honesty and mutual respect that helps Anna’s and Nick’s marriage to succeed.

So, in modern concept of marriageSahgal pleads for the new marital morality against traditional stereotyped marriage. Her new marital morality is based on mutual trust, proper harmony, consideration, generosity, and absence of presence, selfishness and self-centeredness. Her artistic vision is intensely moral with profound respect for the affirmative values of life.

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