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CENSORING THE SILENCE: THEME OF CENSORSHIP IN THE SELECT WORKS OF

SHAHI DESHPANDE

Author: Nirja Vasavada

“You better not never tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mammy.” (TCP 1)

The first line of Walker’s prize winning novel The Color Purple depicts the very idea of
Censorship. Censorship is commonly defined as “any means by which ideas and works of art
that express views not in accord with the dominant ideology are prevented from reaching
their intended audience” (qtd. in Joseph 316)1. The concept of ‘Censorship’ is formed on
multiple levels i.e., moral/religious, social, cultural, political and legal. Of course, all these
levels are interrelated, and this interrelatedness plays a major role in making us internalise the
concept which eventually results in self-censorship. There is also a stark connection between
gender and censorship, as both the fields (gender and censorship) are very closely related to
the power structure.

The meaning of the word ‘censorship’ could take us back to our childhood, when we were
taught (mainly through moral tales, and if that does not work, through threats – as in the line
quoted from The Color Purple) the ‘lessons of life’ that usually ended up in stealing away our
freedom to live the life in our own way. This could be called a very raw version of
censorship, which, at some point was necessary, too. When we grow up, we meet the formal
versions of censorship – the ones that are mentioned above. Not only that, by this time, they
have also played a very important role in creating certain images, in framing certain culture,
certain ideologies in our minds.

In this paper I am focusing on two novels by Deshpande – A Matter of Time and The Binding
Vine, both dealing with the theme of censorship at various levels. The theme of silence –
taken as censorship of speech occurs time and again in Deshpande’s novels. The Binding
Vine oscillates between the two situations of rape that the protagonist Urmi gets involved in.
One is the persistent marital rape that Mira, her dead mother in law went through, and other

1
Taken from the power of the word: culture, censorship and voice, Meridith Tax et al.,
Women’s WORLD, 1995.
one is that of a lower middle class teenager Kalpana, that nobody wanted to talk about. This
censorship of speech is well depicted in Mira’s poems as she points out:

Don’t tread paths barred to you


Obey, never utter a ‘no’;
Submit, and your life will be
A paradise, she said and blessed me. (TBV 83)

These lines poignantly show the cultural censorship that is passed in the form of ‘blessings’.
Culture is defined as, “who we are, and who we are becoming” (Meredith Tax), and it is very
closely related to our religion and society. It is through religion that the culture passes the
prohibitions to make the lives better, and maintain ‘order’ in the society. However,
Deshpande also questions this order of the society through the character of Gopal in A Matter
of Time. it is a story of Sumi and Gopal, whose marital life is in jeopardy, when Gopal walks
out on his wife and children. Deshpande, in this novel shows how both the genders suffer
because of cultural roles assigned for a husband and wife by the society. Nobody understands
the reason behind Gopal’s actions and he is entirely unable to explain the situation, as
husband is ‘believed to be a sheltering tree’ and he is prohibited to act on his free will in
order to hold a respectable position in the society. We can see in this novel that the cultural
roles assigned by the society are closely related to the issue of censorship as it is these roles
that take away the freedom. as Gopal says: “Only the creator is free. Only the creator can be
free because he is out of it all.” (AMOT 55). This novel questions the institution of marriage
and family.

Kalyani, too, has her own inhibitions and prohibitions she has put on herself. it is in her
character that we see the self-censorship. This ‘censorship within’ (joseph 302) is vividly
shown through her character. Her yawnful silence is not only the sign of boredom, but it also
signifies the ‘guarded tongue’, which is not used to speak at all, as her husband has stopped
any kind of communication with her for the past thirty years.

Deshpande, in most of her novels shows that our mythology, culture, society, law and politics
have drawn lines for all of us, but she also shows the characters who cross/try to cross these
lines, like Mira through her poems. Reading her poems Urmi is astounded to realise that Mira
could survive only because of her poems – only because of pouring out her feelings on the
paper, as she could not speak it aloud:

Huddled in my cocoon, a somnolent silkworm

Will I emerge a beauteous thing?

Or, will I, suffocating, cease to exist? (65)

We can see Mira question herself here. On the other hand, we can also see Sumi questioning
the myth, the main source of Censorship, when she talks about Surpankha. Sumi questions
the very image of the ‘evil sister’ of ‘evil Ravana’ who tried to ‘seduce’ the two princes
Rama and Laxmana, and in turn was cruelly mocked and insulted.

“Female sexuality. We’re ashamed of owning it, we can’t speak of it, not even to ourselves.
But Surpankha was not, she spoke of her desires, she flaunted them. And therefore, were the
men, unused to such women, frightened? Did they feel threatened by her? I think so.
Suprpanakha, neither ugly, nor hideous, but a woman charged with sexuality, not frightened
of displaying it – it is this Surpanakha I am going to write about.” (191)

Sumi here questions the censorship on sexuality and reads the whole episode of the
Ramayana from a new angle, the act in itself is prohibited. She shows how women (in the
context of patriarchal society) are excluded when they break the taboos, and cross the drawn
lines.

Who draws these lines anyway? Who enforces the censorship? the politics of power is at the
base of any censorship. Deshpande in her novels shows this through relationship between
husband and wife, mother and daughter(s), through marriage and through the predominent
metaphor of silence mainly in That Long Silence and A Matter of Time. however, she has also
succeeded in showing her characters breaking the silence, breaking the ‘norms’ and taboos.
At the same time she has also emerged as a writer who has broken/censored the silence.

It would be most apt to quote her own words for her style of breaking the silence:

‘telling it slant’ : Emily Dickinson’s words....if you don’t want to be marked out, to be
damned (and banned too) forever as an angry woman, perhaps the policy of telling it slant in
safer. Wiser. (Masks and Disguises 187-8)

She has indeed, censored the silence by ‘telling it slant.’


Works Cited:

Bose, Brinda, ed. Gender and Censorship. New Delhi:Women Unlimited, 2006. Print.

Deshpande, Shashi. A Matter of Time. New Delhi: Penguin, 1996. Print.

---. The Binding Vine. New Delhi: Penguin, 1993. Print.

---. Writing from the Margin and Other Essays. New Delhi: Penguin-Viking, 2003. Print.

Jain, Jasbir. Gendered Realities, Human Spaces – the Writings of Shashi Deshpande. New
Delhi: Rawat Publications, 2003. Print.

Joseph, Ammu. ‘The Censor Within.’ Ed. Brinda Bose. Gender and Censorship. New
Delhi:Women Unlimited, 2006. Print.

Tax, Meridith, et al. The Power of the Word: Culture, Censorship and Voice. Np: Women’s
World, 1995. Web. 30th August 2010.

Walker, Alice. The Color Purple. New York: Pocket Books, 1982. Print.

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