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Through all the incidents, Nair searches for deeper meanings in art and life. Nair’s Mistress is set in the backgrounds of the river Nila- Kerala’s own Ganges. Many writers and kathakali artists have lived and died there while some still live on.
Of her formation of female liberation and the gendered roles in the family, Anita Nair elucidates in an interview with Sneha Subramanian Kanta:
I don’t believe a woman’s emancipation is tied to the roles she has to play in life. In fact, a wife/mother represents only a facet of a woman in a relationship. However even as a single woman she is still, daughter, aunt etc. Hence it would be almost impossible for a woman, or for that matter, a man to be completely isolated from relationships.
Nair’s Mistress explains the married life of Radha getting entangled in a love triangle. Nair’s concept of a free woman surpasses the limits of economic or social freedom but relates to her mental and emotional attitude of wellbeing. Anita Nair describes how the Indian women are exploited even in the modern times both by individuals and the society.
Nair holds revolutionary ideas about marriage, man-woman relationship and concept of new woman. Radha is a well-educated woman. She works in a company where she falls in love with a senior manager, much older than her. In fact, the man uses her body. At one point she becomes pregnant and gets herself aborted. Radha’s father, who is aware of what she has gone through in her life, feels distress because she is the only daughter of her wealthy parents.
He thinks that marriage is the only solution that will alleviate the distressed temperament of his daughter. Her father finds no other way than marriage to save his daughter from depression and social scandals regarding her pre-marital relationship. She is forcefully married to Shyam by her father. It is a marriage of convenience for her. In those days marriage was the ultimate goal for all Indian women.
Radha is not happy with her married life. Shyam loves her but they are an unsuited pair emotionally as well as culturally. Simone de Beauviour in her The Second Sex says, “The institution of marriage has marred the spontaneity of feelings, between the husband and wife by transforming freely given feelings into mandatory and shrilly asserted rights” (445). She is completely dominated by her husband and his elder sister.
Though Radha is married to Shyam, she is not comfortable with him. She is forced to become a housewife and has to play the role of a traditional wife. Radha accepts her marriage with Shyam but she cannot love Shyam. She does not protest whenever Shyam makes love to her. He says, “When she responded to my touch and I knew that she was trying to block a memory, I closed my mind to it” (M 123).
In the beginning of her marriage, the patriarchy exists in different ways such as she is not pregnant even after eight years of her marriage. So she is called as infertile by the society. She is blamed by the society though Shyam is impotent. Shyams’s dominant nature is to put her end to all her plans. So Radha reacts with:
‘I hope that is not going to undermine your standing in society. Is there anything I can do that won’t? I wanted to teach in one of the primary schools and you said it was too much work for too little money. When I wanted to start a tuition class, you said the same. Then I wanted to start a crèche and you said you didn’t want the house filled with bawling babies. So I thought I would find something else to do which didn’t involve making money, but even that isn’t right. Don’t I have a right to an opinion? I am you wife. Your wife, do your hear me? But you treat me as if I am a kept woman. A bloody mistress to fulfill your sexual needs and with no rights. (M 73)
Radha is search for strength and independence from unfulfilled life. Shyam, business minded man who is well versed in all the tactics of business. He is in love with Radha. Even though he knows that she had pre-marital relationship with a married man. He accepts to marry her. His mother agrees their marriage. His sister, Rani Oppol is not willing to allow her brother that Shyam to marry her. She says, “You can get any girl you want. You don‟t have to be saddled with her just because we owe her father a debt of gratitude” (M 122).
Despite his Oppol’s objection, Shyam marries Radha. After some years of their married life, they start to face many ups and downs. Shyam is considered ill-suited to her nature and taste by Radha. Often Radha criticize Shyam’s tastes and his choice of disharmonies. Shyam and Radha’s marital life is harassed with sharp incompatibilities and disharmonies. Shyam is an overbearing husband. He does not like Radha interfering in his business affairs. He thinks a wife should always be subservient to her husband. Here, Nair shows the attitude of male in patriarchal society.
Radha thus makes her objections quite clear. In the Indian society a woman is not supposed to express her opinion against the husband openly. But, Radha is an educated new woman, who has her own dreams and aspirations. She is not ready to tolerate Shyam’s chauvinistic attitude and his habit of saying no to everything. Shyam is using her as a sex object and never think of her individual freedom. Radha does not get love and respect from her husband; he treats her only as a partner in bed.
To a certain extent, Radha never tolerate Shyam’s dominate character she thinks she is a possession a much cherished possession that her role in Shyam’s life. He does not want Radha to be his equal and he protests against her involvement with his business. All he wants is a mistress, someone to indulge and someone to indulge him with feminine wiles. When Radha says, “ I think of some of the cruel acts of committed as part of biology projects in school. I think of the butterfly I caught and pinned to a board when it was still alive, its wings spread so as to display the markings, oblivious that somewhere within, a little heartbeat, yearning to fly. I am that butterfly now” (M 53-54).
Shyam loves Radha but his mind is highly clouded with sexist notion and hunger for power. When he forcefully makes physical relationship with her, Radha feels rape is rape, even when sanctified by marriage and the rapist does not have to be a stranger emerging from the shadows. She thinks Shyam is a rapist because without her willing he uses her body as he wished. She feels sore and bruised, invaded and robbed because of Shyam’s cruel attitude. But Shyam who hardly understands her feelings ruminates over the incident in a different way. He never understands his act of force and violence. Shyam sees Radha as a supply for the benefit of his pleasure.
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