This paper offers a close reading of the intergenerational trilogy by Ashapurna Debi, one of the first-canonized women-novelists of post-independence India: Pratham Pratisruti (The First Promise), 1965, Subarnalata, 1967, and Bakul Katha (Bakul’s Story), 1974. Reconstituting a history of almost two centuries and countering the colonial/postcolonial grand narratives, these novels act as a saga of Bengali Hindu lower and middle-class women’s plight under and resistance against a patriarchal social order operating at the most intimate levels of domestic relationships. Ashapurna Debi’s treatment of the intricacies of gender inequality and a woman’s response to the violence inflicted on her body in one of the centres of South-Asian modernity and its vicinity intervenes crucially in the twentieth century feminist discourse. At the same time, her narrative closely follows a promise, accompanied by a sense of commitment and responsibility, handed over from mother to daughter to granddaughter to rise as self-conscious individual subjects by overcoming personal and social reservations and taboos. This paper, therefore, examines the micro-physics of power exercised in gender relations as evident in the concerned trilogy. It focuses on the performing bodies of women amidst all sorts of physical and psychological oppressions and how they provide a critique of the broader aspects of social change, like reform and nationalist movements. While considering the intersections between the poststructuralist gender studies in the West—developed as a sustained critique of the mechanism of modern power being proposed by Michel Foucault among others—and Ashapurna Debi’s observations, this paper theoretically emphasizes how the factors of contingency in Bengali women’s lives posit new insights into what, after Judith Butler, may be called “gender trouble” as they undo many of the morally ordered gender roles.
Ray, Subhadeep and Karmakar, Goutam
"Mothers and Daughters: Reclaiming the Besieged Body of Woman in Ashapurna Debi’s Trilogy,"
Journal of International Women's Studies: Vol. 24:
5, Article 25.
Available at: https://vc.bridgew.edu/jiws/vol24/iss5/25