Q. How does Anita Desai exploit language in ‘A Village By The Sea’ to give us an insight into Indian culture and tradition as reflected by the people of Thul? T radition and cultural values are considered the benchmark for Indian society. These values and rituals are found almost everywhere in the country, be it the busy cities or the calm villages. They are given so much importance that they make an individual part of a society. The novel , ‘A Village By the sea’ attempts to capture the very essence of culture and tradition in a village.
Anita Desai’s use of language captures this very mood and scene that prevails at various times throughout the year in the village of Thul. Through the eyes of the people of Thul we learn what culture really is and what it means to practice it. From this novel we can also uncover many depths of the rituals, which are indeed an important part of India. The village, Thul lies off the coast of Bombay. The fact that this is a village sets the tone for the rest of the book. The reader will have to understand the importance of cultural practices even in the village.
The language sets the yardstick by which we can measure the degree of importance of traditional values in Thul. The family that is taken into context is a family consisting of three sisters and one brother. The father however is a drunkard and an ailing mother completes the family circle. Times were difficult for the young children. In a village, they struggle to survive with the little money their own hands can earn. Lila, the eldest, stayed at home and cooked. Hari, the only brother, worked in their small plot of land while Bela and Kamal, the two younger girls went to school.
Lila and Hari too had once attended school but had left due to financial problems. This sets the scene for the novel. It also represents the state of the village of Thul. From the very beginning we can see a reference to the traditional dress of the Indian woman. The woman wears what is referred to as a sari. ‘She lifted the folds of her sari and tucked them up at her waist. ‘ This shows that even Lila followed the customs even though she would be considered a child by the village. The older women of the village however wore brighter saris. ‘They were dressed in bright pink and orange and lime saris.
‘ This shows that the author uses colours to help the reader visualise the effect of such bright colours. It also shows that in India, most women wore bright colours. It is usually considered a sign of happiness and gaiety as the next line shows, ‘They seemed to be enjoying this part of their housework. ‘ This shows that perhaps the housework is perhaps merry because of their clothes and the clothes reflect their moods. There is more reference to colour and attractive clothing later on when we see that women craved for good clothing and good accessories.
These accessories included bangles of all and the following line proves this, ‘That’s why they have all those gold bangles,’ said one child enviously. ‘ Dialogue has been used here to express the general attitude of the women of Thul. One particular technique Anita Desai uses all throughout is that she uses a single individual to represent the entire community. Here she uses the child to voice the thoughts of even the older women. She tries to tell us that even children are fascinated by colour and perhaps the adults are a direct cause of this.
This we can associate directly with the fact that even Lila wore a sari at what is considered a young age. The next line proves the fact that women loved bangles, ‘All women loved bangles and although few could wear gold or even silver ones, all had dozens of glass bangles-blue and green and gold, covering them from the wrist to their elbows. ‘ This line once again conveys the use of colour in the vivid description of the clothing. The women seem to like bangles and wore any kind just to satisfy their craving. This shows us that Indian women love to be dressed well and look good too, even if they are at home.
The extravagance can also be noted but also the fact that the women of Thul thought alike. The word ‘dozen’ also shows us that the women loved extravagance. The number tells us that the author pays specific attention to detail. This mentality we can perhaps apply to most of the traditional Indian women. It was a tradition for the women to wear the sari and bangles and these lines have proved it so. The women of Thul fascinated the people from the city. We can take for example the line, ‘the children followed her about, fascinated by her glass bangles and the flowers she wore in her hair.
‘ This shows that the poet has used repetition in describing the fact that the women loved to dress well. She shows this and manages to portray the fact that people from the city were unaware of this. This is quite interesting. The cities where technology booms, the culture has been forgotten and while the children like Bela and Kamal who know what the traditional clothing is while the children from the city are unaware. This we know through the word, ‘fascinated. ‘ This also perhaps shows that people are exchanging their traditional values for technological prosperity and the reader has to derive a lesson from this.
The next line, ‘Mrs. De Silva standing there, dressed in an outlandish costume unlike anything worn by the women in Thul and really not very much of it either’, can prove this. This comparison with the clothing worn by Lila and other women of Thul is effective as it shows the two faces of India. One on hand is the traditional dress and on the other hand ‘an outlandish costume. ‘ This effective and sarcastic description tells us that it is against the customs for a woman to wear something like that. This also shows that culture may have died as technology progresses but in the village, it still remains.
The author effectively portrays the opposite sides of culture and compares them and also shows what people may have thought of it. The women of India mainly stay at home. There is no work for then to do, neither are they expected to earn any money for the family. Their main duty is related to the upbringing of the children and doing the household chores. However this is not true when it comes to Lila. She has to work to keep the family together. From this we can also see what circumstances can cause a person to do. According to Indian culture, many people think of daughters as temporary members of the family.