Seeking the Self, a Study of the Female Protagonists in the Novel of Anita Nair's 'Ladies Coupe'

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Seeking the self: A Study Of The Female Protagonists In Anita Nair’s ‘Ladies’Coupe’

Dr. Kumkum Bhardwaj
Professor & Head, Dept of Humanities
Skyline Institute of Engineering and Technology
Greater Noida

Anita Nair is a name indelible in the arena of female Indian writers in English. Her books, set in the everyday world of India, mesmerize the reader with evocative language and descriptions. For Bangalore based author Anita Nair Kerala is the source of inspiration, weakness and strength. In her works Nair presents the dilemmas that women face in their relationships with parents, husbands, siblings, friends, employers and children and their struggle towards self-realization. It is not easy to be a contemporary Indian woman. On the one hand she is aware of her rights and the need for an identity. On the other hand tradition dictates that she submerge it in her role as daughter, sister, mother and wife. If a woman starts asserting her individuality then the transition from something else to her own identity is easy. But someone who subsumes herself into the identity of her husband and allows her other roles to contain her will find it difficult and wouldn't even know where to begin.

Nair’s popular work Ladies Coupe (2001) is a tale of the indomitable spirit of contemporary Indian women told with great insight and solidarity. In this novel she reflects the perpetual tension between the predicament of the contemporary Indian woman and the traditional Hindu culture. Nair’s India suffers from a patriarchal system which has tried in many ways to repress, humiliate and debase women. The novel deals with multiple lives and multiple voices, where Nair answers a few questions that every woman would have faced in her life-questions related to her vulnerable position in society. The questions Nair poses in the novel, whether a single woman can really survive all by herself in this world or does she need a man to love her, protect her, and care for her. Nair has a humanitarian approach and is sensitive to Indian womanhood as being wronged. The answer that the novel provides is that ‘there is a lot of strength in deep inside that every individual has’ and that ‘women must be courageous and claim their lives and possibilities.’ Nair’s Ladies Coupe has been hailed as one of the most important feminist novels to come out of South India. However, there is none better than the novelist herself to talk about her own writing. In a chat with Suchitra Behal, Nair talks about her book. Nair herself remarks, “I am not a feminist. I enjoy being in the house, I like to be treated nicely and pampered. I don't think this book is about feminism. It's about that inner strength which I see in so many women that overwhelms me. It doesn't come naturally. It has to be forced out of them, it could be circumstances or a change in lifestyle.” Raising a question, “Ladies Coupe is a real life scenario in the lives of many Indian middle class women. How did you draw the inspiration for this novel?” She traces the origin of her book to 1998 when at the Bangalore station, “there was always a separate line for ladies, senior citizens and the handicapped….why they are being clubbed together, why women have to be treated like this. The book is about why women insist on using this line. When 15 years ago I was travelling in a ladies' coupe the women around me began talking — I was on the top berth — there is an atmosphere of intimacy that comes in. People talk more openly to strangers — there is no judgment.” (Suchitra Behal; Writing for Oneself; Caffedilli.com) At the onset, the story mainly concerns Akhilandeshwari, or Akhila– a forty five year old, unmarried, yearning to be independent, but has never been allowed to live her own life. A deep analysis of the novel reveals that the writer narrates stories of six women who are from different demographic and social backgrounds. The ladies coupe of a train bound to Kanyakumari finds these women thrown in...
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