BOOK REVIEW / Beyond this veil of tears: Inside the haveli by Rama Mehta: Women's Press, pounds 7.99
Sunday 29 May 1994
The ground, it seems, is set for the most predictable of feminist tracts, but Rama Mehta resolutely avoids the obvious path. Set over a span of 15 years, the book traces Geeta's increasing accommodation to the ways of the haveli, her integration into the society of the women she had initially thought spiteful and empty, and her growing recognition of the customs she had so chafed against. At the same time Geeta's concern for her daughter's education and independence militates against the possibility of her complete absorption into the old ways.
The enclosed women, and the narrative itself, never leave the walls and courtyards, except for short car journeys, heavily veiled, to call at neighbouring havelis, exchange formal pleasantries, conduct the business of marriage and gossip with friends and relatives. The trivial stuff of everyday life, endlessly repeated, marks the passage of the years. An enormous amount of time is given over to the preparation and presentation of food, the choosing and wearing of saris and bangles, and the overseeing of the many servants. Gossip and noise are omnipresent, and Geeta chafes at the impossibility of solitude or privacy, even in her conversations with her husband.
This subtle, sensitive and intelligent novel investigates that most fraught of feminist debates, which can be crudely summed up as the baby and the bathwater. The haveli has to go, and its inevitable decline is implicit throughout the book, but with it will go much else. Geeta's desire to help educate her maids' children is of course praiseworthy and progressive, but by pulling this one thread, she threatens to tear a hole in a social fabric which sustains and supports even while it limits and confines.
Inside the Haveli is deservedly regarded as a classic in India, where it was published in 1977. By avoiding any breath of didacticism, Mehta allows us to understand the complexity of the dilemma, suggesting that there are many kinds of fulfilment, and warning that we should be very certain before discarding all our mothers' values, lest we lose in the process much that is irreplaceable.
filmFilm producers sue Warner Bros for $75m over Hobbit films
sportNapoli 2 Arsenal 0: Gunners must now face either Real Madrid, PSG, Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid or Barcelona in knock-out stages
Swedish stars ask fans for £195 pledges on crowd-funding website
voicesJust when you thought you could find a man, get married, and have a baby by the age of 35... it turns out you’re too late, says Grace Dent
musicAs Mariah Carey and Noddy Holder rake in the royalties from their classics, why there hasn't been a decent festive hit for 20 years?
theatreAuthor Daniel Rosenthal recalls the mishaps that almost brought the curtain down on the likes of John Gielgud and Diana Rigg
lifeAs the Royal Mail plans to phase out deliveries on two wheels, it's no wonder posties are in a spin
musicThe 21-year-old beat Ella Eyre and Chlöe Howl to win the honour
lifeFull of the joys and want to help your fellow man? December isn't the time to do it
techLuke Blackall reports on precision engineered prams and babygros that monitor your child 24-7
Arts & Ents blogs
The desolation of the Weinstein brothers: Film producers sue Warner Bros for $75m over Hobbit films
Christmas songs: the best and the worst
X Factor winners: Where are they now?
Your Money, Money, Money please - Abba ask fans for £195 pledges on crowd-funding website
Lost Peter Sellers films Dearth of a Salesman and Insomnia Is Good for You hailed as the movie equivalent of 'finding Dead Sea Scrolls'
- 1 Nelson Mandela memorial: ‘Bogus’ interpreter made mockery of Barack Obama’s tribute in Soweto
- 2 John McAfee's $100 'anti-NSA' device: 'this is coming and cannot be stopped'
- 3 French café starts charging extra to rude customers
- 4 Is Facebook making us forget? Study shows that taking pictures ruin memories
- 5 Australia incest case: Filthy and severely deformed children found in remote farming community after generations of inbreeding