Writing on Women Writers

A site for college students to write about women writers.

Desai and Her Culture

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   Anita Desai was born June 24th 1937 in Mussoorie, India. She got her BA with honors from Delhi University then in 1987 moved to the United States with her family. Desai now teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Here is a short interview with Desai.

   Desai has written several novels in her life, which are critically acclaimed for there imagery and observations on Indian culture. One of her stories, “Surface Textures”, that dives into Indian marriages and the emphasis that her culture puts on divine insight. In this piece Desai wanted to expose the issue of single mothers having very little support when a marriage crumbles.  On page 1025 it states, “I suppose you want me to take the boys home to my parents,” said Sheila bitterly, getting up from the bed. “Any other man would regard that as the worst disgrace of all- but not you. What is my shame to you? I will have to hang my head and crawl home and beg my father to look after us since you won’t .” This is showing that Sheila really has no place to go after her husband, Harish, stops contributing to the family. It is a disgrace in the Indian culture if the man does not take care of his family. Now that Harish, in a way in giving up his family, he is leaving his wife to defend for herself. Being a single women with children, she does not get taken care of as well as she should. Harish on the other hand ends up getting taken care because the people of the community think he is a Swami. 


“Shepard children, seeing him stumble about the reeds, plunging thigh-deep into the water in order to pull out a water lily with its cool, sinuous stem, fled screaming, not certain whether this was a man or a hairy water snake. Their others came, some with stones and some with canes at the ready, but when they say Harish, his skin parched to a violet shade, sitting o the band and gazing at the transparent stem of the lotus, they fell back, crying “Wah!”….they held there children still by their hair and shoulders, and came to bow to him.”

   Here the community is accepting Harish as a Swami. It is interesting how Desi describes the interaction because at first the people did not see him as anything but a hermit but then something clicked and they thought he was indeed a man with divine insight. Deasi is critiquing her culture here by saying that people in her culture sometimes put emphasis on something that isn’t truly there. They are making Harish a Swami because they need him in society. Harish though did not really do anything great to get this honor. So Harish left his family, a disgrace in the eyes of his culture, but then because of his lack of action he is seen as a Swami. On the other hand his wife, who is now on her own taking care of there children, has to work harder to make up for Harish’s absence does not get any support from the community and is looked down upon. Desai feels like this balance within her culture is something that needs to be addressed.

The video shows a man going to visit a Indian Swami.

-Erica Nelson

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