How does Shashi Deshpande's novel The Binding Vine voice feminist concerns?
Indian novelist Shashi Desphande’s work The Binding Vine, published in 1993, explores women’s changing roles in Indian society. However, Desphande rejects the term “feminist,” saying, “I am a human being, and I write about other human beings who happen to be women.” Regardless of whether or not it can be defined as “feminist,” The Binding Vine focuses on female characters, their struggle for independence in a male-dominated society, and women’s relationships and solidarity with each other.
Urmi is the central character in this novel that weaves together the multidimensional stories of several minor characters. Taken together, the various female characters depicted represent a cross-section of women’s lives in modern India. Urmi is an educated wife from the middle class who values her independence and freedom and encourages women around her to do the same. Another key character is Kalpana, a working-class woman and victim of a brutal rape. Urmi works in support of Kalpana; however, the victim’s family sees the public exposure as shameful and blame their daughter. This plot element shines a light on how sexual assault is often perceived in India.
Another key character is Mira, Urmi’s mother-in-law. Mira has already died when the novel opens, but Urmi learns about her through writings she left behind. Another female victim, Mira was raped within her arranged marriage. Urmi resolves to publish her dead mother-in-law's poems, showing how she encourages all female characters in the novel to voice their opinions, identities, and worth. Similarly, Urmi encourages the meek, submissive Vaana to be more assertive within her marriage.
Ironically, while the novel celebrates the power of female solidarity, these characters are often drawn together because of injustices committed against them at the hands of men.
I think that Deshpande's novel is a work that voices feminist concerns. Deshpande is able to construct a work in which the predicament of women is "the binding vine" between them. It is this bind that can enable solidarity which will overcome the structures that silence women. Deshpande is able to span time and generations in order to better articulate what it means to be a woman.
In being able to express the woman's predicament in different realms and with different contexts, a feminist statement is made. There is a vision of what it means to be a woman that cuts across time and space. Urmi understands what Mira endured, even though it is a generation prior. The condition of being forced into a loveless marriage and having creative voice silenced as a result is something that Urmi "gets." In this, a feminist concern is raised in how women share experiences across time. Kalpana's rape in the modern setting is another such example. Women from the modern setting and women from past contexts can share in their experiences. The institutions that silence their voices are present both then and now. In being able to critique these institutions, a feminist statement is made and becomes a driving force in Deshpande's work. "The binding vine" is this experience of being a woman, and the solidarity which emerges is a statement asserting feminist ideals.