Amar Jiban Questions and Answers
Amar Jiban Questions and Answers by Rassundari Devi
1. [Q. What is the central theme of the autobiographical writing “Amar Jiban”? Illustrate.]
“Amar Jiban”” or My Life was the first published autobiography by a female author in Bengali literature, having its publication in 1876. It was an extraordinary step towards change, considering the fact that Rassundari Devi was the odd one of unusual authors: an economically challenged girl, religious woman and a dedicated housewife. It was tough for a female to provide education to girls.
It was not even allowed to be thought of. It portrays Rassundari’s life as a whole: all the incidents from her childhood to the advent of her marriage, married life and life after marriage. On a deeper note it depicts the uneasiness, dissatisfaction and even frustration she had gone through for being forced to follow certain monotonous rules.
Her marriage, her household chores, everyday life gives the reader an entry into the life of a feudal housewife in 19th century reformist Bengal but also brings into light the issues of inequality, oppression and lack of opportunity for women. The book creates a picture of the changing world, the status and role of women and Rassundari Devi’s own views on the changing times.
‘Amar Jiban’ gives an insight into the life of a housewife in the house of prosperous East Bengali zamindars. It groups the saddening realities of a girl child in the 19th century. It talks about the pain, forced decisions and oppression that are faced by a woman. It reflects great loss and acry for help.It also, however, talks of resilience. It talks about the women who determined to live her own life despite being held back by custom and usage.
‘Amar Jiban’ speaks in lucid prose of a woman who taught herself to read and write beneath the black veil of her society.Awoman who wrote the first published autobiography, a woman who practised writing letters on a kitchen wall. In a nutshell this book essays a message of hope. A girl’s hope for leading a better life. An individual’s hope for help from the divine.
A caged woman’s hope for a better future. Rassundari Devi challenged the norms by her way of life itself by dreaming of what was deemed wrong. By passionately chasing that dream which she wanted to fulfil. By actually learning to write, and by telling this moving story of her Life, she set a benchmark of what a woman can achieve if she had the courage to break the norms of the society.
Rashsundari is a non-dialogic, self-absorbed narrative. There are no characters in her story other than just a mention of names. Even when she mentions her husband, it is for narrative requirements as she is aware that people would like to know about him. But that too is the description of a public figure, a zamindar and not a husband or father. Perhaps so because the focus of her story is she- herself.
It is herself that is being portrayed through an indirect mode, by telling what people talk about her and how she is received by them. Binodini’s s narrative is dialogic. It is addressed to a Mahashoy. An implicit struggle to get answers from him can be observed. She talks about the people in her lives whom she takes the effort to describe.
The hridoydebta or the mahashay are all given the shape of characters. This may also be a necessity. She owed her career to some people and while writing, many of them were still alive. She was fallen woman in the eyes of society and often in her eyes too, and writing an autobiography was already a transgressive act. She could not have done so without including them in her narrative and acknowledging their gratitude. She could not be as self-absorbed as Rashsundri was.
Moreover she was a public woman; hence her story or story was b bound to have the presence of others. But Rashsundari was a housewife of a respectable family. Other than the orthodoxy of the society there was nothing to inhibit her. She had no compulsion to mention others as it was her life- amar jih ny life). An audacious position she had undertaken, the confidence can be attributed to her privileged state as well, of belonging to an affluent family.
Rashsundari uses the word Bharatbarsha, the largest possible temporal and spatial frame to locate her life. “There is no local time, village time, family time. She gives herself nothing less than an entire subcontinent” Sarkar writes. A skillful strategy which shows she was not so an ignorant woman as she picturizes herself. She knows the public nature of her writing.
There is a brooding introspection of the pain, submission, obedience, fear, humility of her life. And there is no mention of contemporary happenings.She must be aware of them but chooses to only indulge herself. She makes it clear that it is about her life and not about writing. Binodini could not openly say the way she would have wanted to voice her anguish and pose questions at certain people.
Still the hints of betrayal by the very people whom she trusted and her vulnerable relationship with the Mahashoycannot escape the notice of an observant reader. She, time and again speaks of her bedona, jatana, her helplessness but she does not dwell upon them in detail.
Real tales of life have their own limitations. Rashsundari coined the word Jitakshara, one who masters the word,through which she proclaimed her achievement as though it was a divine intention. Making her work seem a secular miracle was the only way for her to present her life to the outer world. Woven in the sacred pattern, to depict that her desire of reading and writing was supported by God’s will and it was God who facilitated it, taking away the sting from her transgression.
Recourse to spirituality can also be seen in Binodini’s tale. Even she questions God time and again and wants answers for why she was to suffer so much. Even Girish Chandra makes it a point to cite that though Binodni is a fallen woman, her life deserves to be written because she had been blessed by Ramakrishna Paramhansa hence she can be an example for others, that other such women too can redeem themselves, as if without that Binodini’s plight and her struggle was of no account.
But as far as Binodini is concerned, for her it was more a matter of crisis of faith, so when the belief that it was God’s will that made everything happen she resorts to the idea of fate. It was fate that failed her.
Rashsundari has used divinity in a more skillful way. While she says she is all for what God wills without complaint,she does not fail to show that what God has willed has not been always good. The manipulation of various modes in Rashsundari’s narrative is more skillful and confessional. The autonomy of her mind can be easily seen as she has always been good with secrets.
Her fears and anxieties were known only to her, even her desire to read. Her decisions and opinions were her own. Though as a child she was always nervous and fearful. Even after marriage she did not have much confidence, even to talk to her younger sisters-in-law, but slowly as her status in the household consolidated, her confidence improved. Her clandestine act of reading and slowly opening up to the women of the neighborhood and their collective act of singing which were denied to upper caste respected women shows her capacity for opposition. She was an individual self.
As Virginia Woolf calls it, her depiction of self as a good wife is a case of ‘special pleading’ through which she rebuts the orthodox fears about educating women. Though all her life she was in veil, the act of unveiling in public through her writing makes it clear that the conventions that she upheld all her life, trying to please everyone, and being forever involved in labour, she was not very happy with it.
She lost her childhood to it, and though she had control over the household she did not have what Woolf calls ‘a room of one’s own’. She did not have a private space and no time for leisure. There was no place where she could learn privately how to read and write and publically she could not do so, she had to resort to tearing pages from Chaitanya bhagwat.
In subdued tone and through the mask of narrating how good a wife she was, she does speak of the oppression that lies beneath it. She says her in-laws loved her but the same people did not allow her to nurse her mother when she was dying, as her work was indispensable. Thus a silent grudge or a timid revolt through a masked tone against the codes of the society can be smelled.
But apart from the emphasis on education she does not talk of other emancipatory ideals for women, as perhaps she herself was not that enlightened on such issues as she too, like other women had internalized those norms that made for a good wife, though she may have come to detest them later.
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