‘People put birds in cages for their own amusement. Well, I was like a caged bird. And I would have to remain in this cage for life. I would never be freed.’
This quote is from Rassundari Devi’s autobiography, Amar Jiban. Written in 1876, this book is considered the first autobiography written by a Bengali woman. I mention this book because of the echoes that one finds occasionally in Swet Patharer Thala (A Plate of White Marble). Whilst Rassundari Devi was widowed when she was nearly sixty years old, Bandana, the protagonist of this novel, is only in her twenties when she is widowed. A young widow and her struggles with a patriarchal society that attempts to stifle her at every stage of her life by turning up in various avatars. The book opens with a description of the house and then describes the roles demarcated for men and women. Partha Chatterjee in his essay Colonialism, Nationalism, and Colonialized Women: The Contest in India (1989) looks at the colonial discourse where the stress was on the creation of the identity of an Indian woman as being superior to that of a western woman; the home/world dichotomy being one of the criteria. He writes:
Applying the inner/outer distinction to the matter of concrete day-to-day living separates the social space into ghar and bahir, the home and the world. The world is the external, the domain of the material; the home represents one’s inner spiritual self, one’s true identity. The world is a treacherous terrain of the pursuit of material interests, where practical considerations reign supreme. It is also typically the domain of the male. The home in its essence must remain unaffected by the profane activities of the material world—and woman is its representation. And so one gets an identification of social roles by gender to correspond with the separation of the social space into ghar and bahir.
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