Book Name- That Long Silence
Author(s) Name- Shashi Deshpande
Published Year- 1988
Genre(s) - Novel, Fiction
Award(s)- Sahitya Academy(1990)
The protagonist of "That Long Silence" is Jaya. She is a middle-aged, educated woman. The whole story revolves around her life and the changes which she has adapted unwillingly. This is not a story of a single woman, but it's a story of many women whose dreams, emotions and feelings are getting crushed by the norms of our society. Again, this is a story of the communication gap between a couple and how that communication gap devastated their relation and family life.
Jaya was a very bright girl since her childhood and she was also too good in her studies. Jaya was asking a lot of questions about everything. Because of this nature, her grandmother was quite unhappy with her. In her view, girls must remain silent and submissive all the time. They don't have any right to ask so many questions. Jaya's father was very fond of her daughter and he used to support her always. He encouraged Jaya to follow her dreams of being a successful writer. But, after his sudden death, Jaya became alone and no one ever tried to understand her feelings and emotions. She started suppressing her desires in order to satisfy the criteria of our society. In the subsequent time, she got married to Mohan. Mohan was a good man, but he was also a man and just like every other man in our society, he also never gave the effort to understand Jaya's heart and her feelings. He was thinking whatever he will do, Jaya will follow him blindly. So, he never bothered to ask about her views from small to big decisions. They shifted to Bombay and there Jaya gave birth to her son Rahul and daughter Rati. Her world revolves around her family.
Suddenly Mohan got suspended from his job because of some allegations. Thus, they shifted from their luxury apartment to a small house where they used to live during their initial days. Then, Mohan tried to discuss his issues with Jaya, but she didn't know what to say and how to console him. Because of her silence during all these years, she has forgotten to express her thoughts. On the other hand, Mohan thought, she was behaving like this because he has lost his job. Misunderstandings started to occupy the gaps made with Jaya's silence. One day after a huge fight with Jaya, Mohan left the house and did not return for several days. Jaya's physical and mental condition got devastated. She had no clue how to manage without Mohan. During all those years, she was only a follower and she did not learn how to make decisions of her own. Jaya went back into her thoughts and analyzed her actions. Then she felt, she has only half-lived her life and followed others. She was a wife and mother, but not herself. After Rahul got lost, she decided she will break her "that long silence" and will speak for her own. At last, she received a telegram from Mohan that, he is fine and he will return home soon.
This story not only reflects the unusual transformation of Jaya but also reflects the difficulties of several other women from different age-groups and different socio-economical backgrounds. We must not judge her grandmother for being conservative and supporting male dominance. This story portrays the picture of our society in the late 80's and 90's. So, you can get an idea about the lifestyle in which her grandmother had spent her whole life. She belonged to that phase of society where girls must always be silent and tolerate all the injustices. I can say that Jaya's grandmother was also a victim of our hollow traditions that are meant to just restrict the progress of girls. Jaya's mother-in-law also lived similarly and never raised her voice against her abusive husband for her basic rights. She also mentioned that she was bound to conceive several times without her wish. Isn't this strange? A mother has no right to simply say, "No, I don't want to conceive"! After Jaya's and Mohan's marriage, she wished to have closeness with her husband both physically and emotionally. But, Mohan never cared to get close to his wife emotionally. More importantly, Jaya was also unable to put her feelings and thoughts in front of her husband. This was the beginning of "that long silence" for her. It's not like that, both were not talking with each other. But, there is a huge difference between talking and understanding each other. Mohan kept enforcing his wishes on Jaya and all wishes of Jaya got buried in some corner of her heart. The saddest part is, she just allowed to bury all her wishes and accepted this transformation of her silently. Her voice started fading off day by day. She was very much interested in her writings before marriage and after marriage, she also tried to write something about her feelings and the communication gap between a couple. But, she didn't receive any appreciation from his husband for her amazing writing. Instead, she was advised not to write this kind of stories which are considered bad in our society. Mohan didn't ask her to quit her writing, but he asked her to change her writing. How can a person write something which she doesn't want to write? Again, she quitted her writing silently. Such kind of situation can be seen in many families even today. In such cases, women are forced to do those jobs which are approved by their family (male members). What's about their wishes and desires? Everyone must get the liberty to follow his/ her dreams. No one can force you to like some other person's dreams those are acceptable according to your family.
Another character of this story was Mohan's sister who died because of disease but never told anyone about her decaying health conditions. At that time, women were taught to tolerate and hide all their sickness from other family members. Women were not allowed to say about the diseases or infections of their private parts. In the present time, still in the rural areas, women never speak about these diseases and never consult doctors for doctors. Thus, this is the responsibility of every family member to make women comfortable, so that they can at least speak about their illness with the healthcare professionals. After moving to the old home, Jaya had a conversation with her maid. Her maid was another victim of the cruelty of our society. She was forced repeatedly to give birth to a boy child and her in-laws also threatened her to throw out of the house, if she refuse to do so. She also stated that she wanted a boy so that, he will not get suffocated by these rules made by our society. Isn't it shocking? After being a girl her whole life, how can a mother doesn't want to give birth to a girl child! All these women knew very well that if they will give birth to a girl, she will also suffer the same way they already have. How can a mother want her child to die out of suffocation?
I like the author's narration. She referred to different normal day to day events, but these events have somehow affected women since a long time. "That long silence" book has an essence of feminism. If you observe the book cover, you can see a strong modern lady who never wanted to let go of her identity because of social barriers. The old building behind her represents the struggle and difficulties she faces in her everyday life. You can also see an old clock on the cover, it signifies the travel of her thoughts beyond time to discover the true reason behind her "that long silence".
Thanks for reading.