Dr. K. Sandhya
Associate Prof. of English
Dept. of English Maris Stella College Vijayawada – 520 008
Mrs. G. Sundari
Assistant Prof.of English Vijaya Institute of Technology for Women
Andhra Pradesh INDIA
“…That women writers are likely to place their sense of values is likely to differ and that they will deal with what may appear trivial to male readers because it appears to have less consequence than the usual male consequences do, with what is less solid and tangible than the concerns of most men that is, less with action, experience and achievement, and more with thought and emotion and sensation.”
– Anita Desai
The role of women writers is a topic of concern in the present scenario for, being a woman and a creative writer, she has some distinctive perception of life to comprehend the world. Though Indian writing in English was shaped and sustained by male writers, it was women writers who struggled to create a new and unexplored space for women. They have really made miraculous feats with words blended with the kind of robustness of language and fertility of ideas, which churn inside the kernel. Most of the women writers today are all time icons because the old pattern is no longer applicable. Women have broken through the mould and their mindsets have changed and they seem to be liberating on several levels. Women today are no longer the victims of patriarchal society that subdued them to silence. The image of the New Woman and her struggle for an identity of her own also emerges as a dominant theme in the Indian English novel. The introspective novel consists of the “ objects that are hidden and reveal themselves to the avid look that establishes meanings by composing experiences in polithetic act, that is knowing a being or a thing, loving something, yearning for something, all things considered in the plural.” (http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-169876970.html)
At the outset, Indian women writers relished the idea of making an extensive exploration of Indian myth and legend but Nergis Dalal delved deep into the layers of the human mind and gave ample evidence of her prosodic skill in portraying the sister relationship. Having been written in English, a work of this scope of psychoanalytical
depiction of the intricacies of mind between sisters is no mean a feat that evolved the imperatives of the form of the novel in artistic utterance.
Psycho-analytical problems evolved out in the twentieth century fiction, bringing in its wake, the introspective novel. Thus, a considerable part of literature was based upon the psyche and its inner conflicts, paralleled with the struggle for social existence. Since the origins of psychoanalysis, the field has displayed a powerful set of connections to literature that embarked upon breaking new ground in women’s psychology that led to an intrinsic exploration of the intricacies of life’s conflicts, and love in the bonds between sisters. Moreover, the image of women in fiction has undergone a change during the last four decades. Women writers have moved away from traditional portrayals of enduring, self- sacrificing women toward conflicted female characters searching for identity, no longer characterized and defined simply in terms of their victim status. The theme of East-West encounter, contemporary social practices and political issues, Indian immigrants and many a varied theme were treated deftly by the Indian Women writers.
In the novel Skin Deep, concept of “sisterhood” was taken as a causative theme by Nergis Dalal for, “where everything in the novels can be imbricated with biographical revelations and thus psychologised or approached formalistically so as to focus on the technical expertise with which she deploys what are taken to be characteristic themes in her work.” (Ruthven : 49-50)
The writer herein takes the idea of an unconscious, a submerged iceberg, and transformed it into a dynamic force with awesome power and often cruel and crippling consequences. How the unconscious is not under the control of civilization, or any other relationship remaining as a voice within that rebels against the demands morality of the main protagonists of the novel, is an explorable question.
The most engrossing feature of a woman writer’s creative art was its vitality which exposed her individual talent to the optimum and her capability of extending her writing to scale on to the peak of artistic control and an agile consciousness of the abiding values of Indian life.
In 1974, Juliet Mitchell, in Psychoanalysis and Feminism, signaled the redemption of psychoanalysis as, at the very least, a tool for the exploration of the unconscious and as an explanation of the construction of subjectivity and subject’s sense of sex and gender. (Stimpson : 188)
Nergis Dalal, in exploring the relationships between the non-identical twins, Yasmin and Naaz who were often freighted with a rocky mix of emotions and most of the time they
disregard and envy each other, leading to anguish and confusion on the playground, in the home, and in the school is sought to exploit psychoanalysis by the novelist, for her creative purpose focusing on the twin’s experiences negotiating their layered feelings toward each other sister shapes their psychology as forcefully as their relationships do, with their parents. Naaz in her heart of hearts thought..
“No one loved me, I cried, because I was not pretty like Yasmin, and Sophie deliberately dressed me in clothes that made me look ridiculous. I hated those horrible dresses she forced me to wear”. (Pg.24)
Her grandmother helps her to get educated and become skilled in areas such as efficient management of finances, running a smooth household and developing her personal poise in a dignified manner. She always used to motivate Naaz by saying,
“You have to make the most of everything you can do and Yasmin can’t – you are clever and can work hard to do better, not only better than Yasmin but better than everyone in your class. Don’t try to compete with Yasmin. Be different, make people look up to you because of your exceptional abilities and focused work ethic’. (Pg. 25)
Structurally, psychoanalysis in general elicits and tells stories. Psychoanalysis explores the complexities of the human soul, which emanated as a major preoccupation of literature. Psychological and ideological conflicts are part of human life which reveal as much about her own personality as well as Yasmin’s, ‘her sister, her twin, her enemy’. Naaz is the teller of the tale and the novel is structured around her narratives, mediated by the language employed by the writer.
The novel starts with the awaiting of Yasmin’s visit to Dehradun where Naaz had a beautiful house, ‘something that Yasmin, for all her beauty, has never had’. She starts her narration as her emotions of confrontation race back and forth between envy and appreciation and probably “Beauty and Brains” could be best used to describe Yasmin and Naaz, individually. Naaz, emerges out as a secured woman and Yasmin as a failure in life. Until then Naaz lived a peaceful and serene life but after her sister’s arrival she happens to read ‘sinister meanings into everything around her’, looked depleted of her with and moreover, she is subjected to a kind of psychological harassment and it is well communicated as such in expressing the emotions and feelings in varied forms. Their expressions look very ordinary but on second thoughts, they carry profound meaning, result of a deep psychological analysis.
“Yasmin said, ‘The house looks enormous…Why do you need such a big place?’ (Pg.18)
“With Yasmin here I felt the old sense of insecurity, never quite knowing what the day would bring”. (Pg.20)
Skin Deep is one of Dalal’s finest novels reflecting upon the concept of sisterhood bond in the family. She emphasizes on the psychoanalytic technique and dwells on the role of the nuances of the psyche’s ponderings mostly of the two twin sisters. Their past and their childhood scenes are brought before the reader’s eyes in flashes and images and the formative years of the two sisters lack any sentimental significance which is termed as an inevitable ingredient of the labyrinth of human relationships between the sister siblings in the family.
The novelist portrays the visible and vibrant dissimilarities of the sisters in a heart rending manner, that most often the reader sympathizes with Naaz. According to practical psychology, a child’s behaviour is scrutinized to understand the adult behaviour because any kind of a present problem, has its roots in the past. Yasmin staunchly felt that life would provide everything for her because she entertained utmost confidence in herself that the world of female magic and her beauty would fetch anything that she wanted in life but everything evaporated into thin air after clashing against the harsh realities of life. Love and affection that is received through the bonds of human relationship brings out the best in the humans because an element of growth is visibly present. Yasmin did not adapt to situations and the state of evolution was utterly absent in her way of doing things and establishing a relationship with Ramesh that had been termed frivolous by Naaz.
Freudian theories point out that adult problems can be traced to unresolved conflicts from certain phases of childhood and adolescence. With Yasmin’s arrival, it seemed as though the past continued indefinitely in the present life. And so, Naaz very often used to get reminded of her childhood, where she suffered the manipulated, exploited and jealous filled experiences with her sister Yasmin.
‘The true heart of darkness has no real physical location, and even after all these years I can find myself there”. ( Pg.13)
As in Freud’s psycho-analysis the patient gets isolated from external stimuli that his mind may play over his past and link it to the present, and so Yasmin without any self- analysis seduces her sister’s husband. At times, Naaz’s mind reflected the feelings that she had about her sister as if, ”the sip may evoke other coffee-drinkings that in turn flood out memory as if it were a flickering cinema that pulls together images and words”(Leon : 28) Somehow life became conflicted for her because of the intense emotions that she experienced in their childhood in the household.
“In the mind past and present merge: we suddenly call up a memory of childhood that is chronologically of the distant past; but in it memory becomes instantly vivid and is relived for the moment that it is recalled.” (Leon : 41)
As viewed by Padilla-Walker, in the August 2010 issue of the Journal of Family Psychology, “An absence of affection seems to be a bigger problem than high levels of conflict”.
The tragedy in relationship is that Naaz’s past fears are brought into the present that produce much of the unexpected outcomes. She could not preconceive the other’s point of action or any notion. Even when she tried to free herself from the past traumatic circumstances, we certainly notice that her childhood experiences have their impact on her which again would turn out to be the most painful adult experiences. As a child she was always looked at with a feeling that she was not as beautiful as her sister. Her primal experiences and her understanding produced in her the decision that she was not that beautiful to attract, her thoughts went unpleasant which were preoccupied with her sister Yasmin. At times in relationships sharing one’s true feelings is alsonot safe. The more Naaz tried to bury a negative thought with positive thinking, the louder the negative thought became. At times, the tenacity of what Naaz resisted turned out to be the most powerful reality of change. The more she tried to suppress the sadness with an impoverished state of feeling and seemed of false happiness, the less credible and veritable she felt.
Naaz constantly blamed a painful childhood. We always see that her twin has an agenda opposite and rarely at one’s best interest. One should be endowed with an enormous appetite towards life and concern towards sibling relationships, in order to support our perceptions towards life. Twins are born with full of potential that they can make things happen but at times never achieve tangible results. Constant discussions and debates went on inside the twin’s heads regarding certain situations disturbing the calm and peace. The louder the chatter, the fiercer the battling in their head became more difficult for us to comprehend their actions in life. Anytime, there exists opinionated, serious and critical dialoguing in their mind which does enable us to tap into our personally manifested destiny waiting to be unexplored. (Jasbir : 296)
There is more of “emotional chronology as Keatly points out. Childhood is important. In out formative years we are fed with bits and pieces of emotional and factual information. We do not store images in a chronological order but according to their sentimental significance”.
The sister relationship in life can turn out to be a curse than a blessing, like an unfulfilled dream, Naaz childhood haunts her in such a way that she cannot articulate and be logical with her reasons because she suffers most and begins to buy into her own rationalizations. Somewhere, deep down inside her, she confidently knows that Yasmin is not true. When intensions go unexplored, they leave a tremendous hole in the soul. Any substitute remedies may not be available for, all those are the indirect sources of satisfaction but the quest for fervance in relationship only bestows a fulfillment in life.
At certain times Naaz’s thoughts are uncomfortable and unpleasant, as if inviting a sister to her house becomes a self-inflicted torture. In such circumstances negative thoughts grew too large in Naaz’s psyche that they became very influential, leading her to visceral experiences in life. Naaz allowed intolerable thoughts, feelings of the kind that coexisted within her, but when they exceeded the limit, she lost her peace of mind. The main error of her was putting too much trust into her husband Ramesh when he was before the out-of-control and dominant sibling as Yasmin and so, she couldn’t gain back her earlier command of her life. Her relationship with Yasmin and Ramesh demanded too much of effort and caused her much of life’s struggle and pain.
Yasmin’s throbbing sense of insecurity makes her seduce Ramesh, so that she could be satisfied with the feeling of having taken vengeance on Naaz for the past. We wonder of what world we are in when we understand her strange way of thinking for, of how the sisters were brought up in a family, in which the past virtually engulfed the present. Certain layers are so dense that they remain obscure to any, and Dalal has rendered these obscure layers with remarkable dexterity. Her approach in rendering of the novel was treated with sensitivity and charm that rose above the plain of commonplace sentiments and traditional expression that urged upon flashy incidents in life, an astounding peculiarity of one whose vengeance was beyond question resulting in seducing one’s own sister’s husband.
At times, we wonder whether Nergis Dalal is primarily a novelist or a psychologist. Ayn Rand, the famous fiction writer, explores certain philosophical thoughts to make things clear in one of her books entitled For the New Intellectual: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand . When she was constantly questioned by her admirers, of her philosophical explorations even in her novels, she states in her preface of the book,
“ I am often asked whether I am primarily a novelist or a philosopher. The answer is: both. In a certain sense, every novelist is a philosopher, because one cannot present a picture of human existence without a philosophical framework; the novelist’s only choice is whether that framework is present in his story explicitly or implicitly, whether he is aware of it or not, whether he holds his philosophical convictions consciously or subconsciously. This involves another choice: whether
his work is his individual projection of existing philosophical ideas or whether he originates a philosophical framework of his own. I did the second. That is not the specific task of a novelist; I had to do it, because my basic view of man and of existence was in conflict with most of the existing philosophical theories. In order to define, explain and present my concept of man, I had to become a philosopher in the specific meaning of the term”.(Ayn Rand : p.vii-viii)
In a similar way we can understand that Nergis Dalal, consciously or subconsciously endures the trait of understanding the deepest feelings and attitude of her characters’ psyche. The kind of psychological excavations that she goes for, is complete with undoubted dexterity, that she explores the mindscapes and many-layered complexities of human relationships.
We understand that the author is with total creative independence, but also driven by her intuition and emotional urges of some strains of her own life because she believed that originality of vision would gain newness of ideas which could make her fiction to be approached , to learning and assimilation. Nergis Dalal is one such writer, whose work is marked by an impressive feel for the language, and an authentic presentation of conflicted female characters searching for identity. They are no longer characterized and defined simply in terms of their victim status but are depicted in two folds, i.e; by the diversity of women and the diversity within each woman, rather than limiting the lives of women to one ideal.
Mrs. Dalal, drew her sustenance from the Parsi identity in India and its tradition as inspiration that made her to be very conscious of Indian culture. Her originality and novel approach in weaving out the sister relationship makes her identified in the ambiguous definition between the foreground and background space of the mind’s mystical aura which created the sister-knot. Moreover, Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, the human mind is said to be operating on two levels of consciousness, the ‘Id’ and the ‘Ego’. The Ego represents the conscious level of behaviour while the Id is where the repressed and frustrated emotions are stored. And so, the novelist focused on the inner recesses of her characters for a better manifestation of the sensibilities of the characters in the novel.
“Freud further developed the iceberg metaphor. Just as the vast bulk of an iceberg is submerged below water, most thoughts, wishes, motives, and so on remain out of consciousness. The small fraction of such psychological experiences that do come to consciousness show themselves as the “tip of the iceberg” above water. Most onlookers are only aware of the “tip of the iceberg’, but to understand the movements of the iceberg it
is important to be aware of its submerged bulk. In essence the submerged part of the iceberg, the unconscious, has an enormous impact on behavior, but remains out of sight.” (Moghaddam: 44)
The fair idea of what was going on in Naaz’s mind when Yasmin questioned about Ramesh’s sudden demise and spoke about his leaving of some fortune for her, does not reveal her relationship with him. Naaz, is very much conscious of her sister’s affair with her husband but does not intend to express anything to her, she questions herself thus:
“I wonder, did I intentionally create the confrontation which brought on Ramesh’s fatal heart attack? Was I unconsciously or even consciously, hoping it would happen? It is a question I prefer not to answer.” (Pg.301)
Primary Source : Dalal, Nergis, Skin Deep, Penguin Books India, 2005.
- Ruthven K.K, Feminist Literary Studies: An Introduction, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1991. p 49-50.
- Stimpson, Catherine R.,Where the meanings are : feminism and cultural spaces, Routledge , New York, 1989. p188
- Edel, Leon,The Psychological Novel, Kalyani Publishers, Reprinted 2002. Ludhiana, p28.
- Ibid. p.41
- Jain, Jasbir, Women’s Writing : Text and Context, Rawat Publications, Jaipur, 1996. p 296.
- Ayn, Rand. For the New Intellectual – The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, Random House,Inc., New York 1968. p.vii-viii
- Fathali M. Moghaddam, GREAT IDEAS IN PSYCHOLOGY: A Cultural and Historical Introduction, One World Publications, England, 2007.
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