Shashi Deshpande and Indian Feminism


Shashi Deshpande is one of the novelists whom you can read with seriousness. She is never after gimmicks. There is an ernest voice, very serious about the story being told and its manner. She is one of the writers with little posturing.

from: google images

from: google images

Her novels usually have women as the protagonists. This has led readers to call her a feminst writer. She has often complained against this title. Earlier I used to find this discomfort puzzling. In an earlier entry on Kamaladas here, I have in fact been vocal about writers’ hesitation to the ‘feminst’ title. But then I heard her at a seminar in Dharwad where in interactions she explained her reluctance.

Shashi Deshpande is of the view that in calling her novels feminst, one straitjackets the works; imprisons them with the label. She feels that while she is feminist, her novels are novels. She hasnt written the novels as a debating voice, to develop a thesis in a debate. She feels her novels are open examinations of the experiences of people in specific setting. In other words, I understodd her to be saying that ‘do not read these novels only within the framework of feminist concerns, they are novels like any other with a gamut of issues and experiences.

from google images

from google images

Absolutely fair. It is true that labeling a work is not much of a tribute. Categorizations invariably raise questions of in and out. Every category becomes an exercise in the imposition of certain limits. Then these categories themselves become a type of concession. For example, first label Shashi D as a feminist, then read her within the limits of feminist concerns, then make concessions by saying things like: ‘she is ok among the feminist writers’ as if outside the confines of the label she would not deserve place. This becomes another way of exclusion.

The issue is equally relevant in the case of Dalit literature too. More discussion here. Assertion of identity cannot be punished with a ghetto label. The issue is rather complex, not available to this kind of  simple discussion. For example, one may say that the category is an assertion of identity, not a limiting label. That through the label one is signifying ones politics. That the work itself is political in its claim of that label. For example, a dalit writer may say that in claiming the label ‘dalit’ for the work, s/he is asserting the value of the work.

Sucharita, a friend of mine, herself a writer, has an interesting take on Shashi D here. I found the reaction of her mother v. interesting. Let me quote.

I remember presenting Shashi Deshpande’s That Long Silence to my mother. She was still teaching English Literature in college at that time and managing life in an extended family. She said she lapped up the narrative not for its literary subtleties or niceties but for the empathy it created for the woman in the narrative.

Sucharita goes onto further observe:

I remember asking the question of other ‘female’ elders who read the book after that. It was identification primarily that made the novel appealing to them. Jaya, Indu, Sumi, the list goes on …. strong, intelligent, educated, urban women who speak out, question, introspect, present in a literary microcosm the condition of women in India at large. Her prose is clear, simple, stark, setting forth a narrative of familial issues and crises arising from them. The long silence that has enveloped women across cultures forms the crux of her plots, the silence eloquent with unheard and unuttered doubts and worries, self questioning and suppressed grievances.

It appears to me that Shashi D’s appeal lies in the feminist themes. Her plots mold into emphatic pictures of feminist points of view. Many of us are blinded by this optics to such an extent that we fail to see any other merit in her. For example, I was thinking of her novel That Long Silence. I think in this novel the use of the modernist idiom is very interesting. THe manner in which Shashi D in this novel weaves together two kinds of intertextuality is also very interesting.

from: google images

from: google images

32 responses »


  2. i’m doing phd on some of your works.i’m really enjoying the books & appreciate your endeavour in giving expression to the frequently suppressed voices of the women

  3. Tanishka and Sujata
    I am happy that you enjoy Shashi Deshpande’s works. I will convey your responses to her if and when I can. Thanks for visiting sotosay.

  4. I am planning 2 do some research on Shashi Deespande’s novels. I would like to know the areas in which research has not been done. Thanks.

  5. I am very my impressed by her work and planning to do the Paper presentation for the novel “THE DARK HOLD NO TERROR”.

  6. i am doing ph.d on shashideshpande’s feminist appraoch.any related views are well come on my mail.

  7. i am doing ph.d on shashideshpande’s.this author stands great in terms of empoowring women status in india.

  8. I am impressed by the way she projects the psyche of women and their sufference. Neither jaya nor madhu fails to give voice to, what was up until now a concealed reality and lived mental torture. She certainly give a different treasure ; of womenn’s lived experience.

  9. I have done my project in shashi deshpande’s novel “Roots and Shadows” in which she depicts about the tradition culture and modernity. She tells how the roots of tradition culture have been shaken by modernity through shadows.

  10. sirisha.k.

    I am doing Phd on shashi deshpande .
    The hub of silence might be the best topic in her novels.


  11. Latest addition about Shashi Deshpande’s work is book by Pallavi Thakur ‘Shashi Deshpade’s Fiction; Awoman’s Journey’. Publisher Prestigebooks 2011 ISBN; 81-7851-091-X.This book contains an interview by S.D

  12. mr kamalakar Bhatt,
    i would be very obliged to you if you could make some comments on V.S. Naipaul’s novel rather a short story In A Free State on the line of Exploitation in the novel .
    i have already refered your comments in my studies on Booker prize.

  13. I’m thinking of pursuing my ph d on Sashi Despande’s novel Small Remedies and Dark holds no terror.What area should I cover.

  14. I m doing M.A i hav red some f novels f Deshpande n i got deeply imprsd aftr reading her novel”DAT LONG SILENCE”well india z a male dominant society n here raizing voice against an inequality f woman z appreciable…az itz one f law f our indian constitution”RIGHT TO EQUALITY”

  15. I am doing my project in M.A. I am dealing with her novel “The Dark Holds No Terrors:”.. Really I feel its as an great novel. I really loves the end where she makes women to discover herself. Her narrative technique is also so simple. I can able to read her novel in a short time..

  16. am doin my phd on shashi deshpandes short fiction lover her writing.Kindly convey my regards even this article is superb thx been of much help

  17. men in shashi deshpande’s novels. i want to know ,more about this pls. help me

  18. Now read ‘Ships That Pass’ by Shashi Deshpande, Penguin 2012,the book fails to give us a heroine whose fate we care about.

  19. I am doing M.A i have chosen Shashi Deshpande’s novel The Dark Holds No Terror for my project. its really nice.

  20. I have just now completed reading “IN THE COUNTRY OF DECEIT”, I just could not stop thinking of devyani mudhol. Very thought provoking.

  21. I am doing my Ph.D ,I have chosen shashi’s novels for my research. suggest some titles related to current issues in her novels

  22. maam it’s being honour if we’ll ever be able to make our thinking as ur’s …. thanks a lot maam for such novels and all

  23. hi i’m doing M.phil project on your work in comparison with west feminism . which means your women characters are just equal with west.i am sticking this with a great proved. thank you

  24. Am doing my dissertation on Deshpande ‘s novel That Long Silence and Dark Holds No Terror. It’s really amazing experience for me

  25. am much inspired by the theme of the novel ‘That Long Silence’ which reflects my life. This made to choose this novel for comparative study….with Theodore Dreiser’s novels,,’Sister Carrie and Jennie Gerhardt’…Thank u…if fortune permits i ll converse with Shashi Deshpande at least through mail…

  26. I decided to write my first article of my life n selected your Matter of time I’m looking forward to do my best by selecting a best writer

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