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Lesser Women from Lesser Worlds, Penetrating the Centre in Kailash Puris Bachni

Trisha Sharma Assistant Professor Dept. of English BPS Mahila Vishwavidyalya Khanpur Kalan, Dist. Sonipat.

Bridges riding on the wings of technology and globalization have ostensibly brought previously distanced worlds together. News from one part of the world finds itself disseminated in the rest in a matter of seconds. Incidents of racial assault and more consistent racial abuse directed at immigrants from lesser worlds are reported regularly. Such inhospitable treatment of the (unwelcome) visitor to the developed white world ironically fails to serve as a deterrent, for millions continue to throng visa offices hoping to get a pass into the imaginary utopia of wealth and inconceivable luxury. Aspiring migrants, propelled by the el-dorado image of the West, are oblivious of the hardships that life in those lands entails. Driven by illusions, they view the developed world as a land of ready riches and abundant possibilities. Many Postcolonial theorists denounce the aspiring migrants perception of the Western metropolis as illusionary. The likes of Homi Bhabha voice the sense of instability, uncertainty and bewilderment which rack lives in exile highlighting the ills that plague immigrants on alien shores.

Theorists such as Said, on the other hand, also take note that crossing over from one culture to another may be a liberating experience, especially for the doubly marginalized female self in the diasporic enclave. It is argued that if migration offers escape from destitution to a marginalized third world man, for his female counterpart it is an opportunity to evade the stranglehold of poverty as well as patriarchy. Socio-economic status in the native place, varied levels of education, gender, age, etc are major determining factors which render each diasporic individuals experience unique. General patterns, however, emerge as we consider the experience of people from a particular class or strata of society. Those better placed economically and otherwise, often, merely trade a life of privilege in one place with another. A few steps down the socio-economic ladder the prospect of migration appears to be of greater potential. For those at the foot of this hierarchy impoverished, illiterate, rural Indian womencrossing over appears to be a promising means of liberation from economic dependence and gender oppression. The Punjabi writer Kailash Puris short-story Bachni allows an insightful exploration of this discourse; which is also the chief objective of this paper. Through this narrative the paper aims at addressing the pertinent question: Whether marginalized women immigrants achieve empowerment in the real sense or are their lives in the new land constricted by gross materialism and/or racism? Bachni, the protagonist of Kailash Puris short narrative with the same name, belongs to the class of Indian women who experience a double marginalization in their native location; one economic and the other gender based. Weary of her circumscribed existence Bachni covets personal freedom and economic independence through relocation abroad. This deep set desire culminates in her entry into the postcolonial metropolis when she embraces the chance to accompany her husband abroad.

As the narrative commences Bachni appears before the reader as an empowered woman who savours every bit of freedom that a life of self-employment in
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England offers against an innocuous and debilitating homebound existence in the village. Before taking a bus to the factory, she spends quality time in decking herself up: She took great delight in dressing up in a close fitting shirt high heels and a scarf around her head (Puri 17). We learn that Bachni leads a liberated life that other women in her village can only dreams of. She is independent and has no constraints of living in an extended family with her mother-in-law and other relatives. She feels more in control of her home and experiences a sense of empowerment that was culturally denied to her in the homeland.

A typical diasporic situation requires the newly arrived to make adjustments and acquire a new hybridized identity. Dress-code, writes Harish Narang, is one of the first identity markers that people in a diasporic situation shed. (2007:26). In Bachnis case the obvious markers of hybridity can be seen in the retention of her big and round bindi and a bun on top of her head (Puri 21) teamed up with western clothes. Such a fusion signifies the precarious balance created by migrants between honouring and breaking traditions, while negotiating the terrains of expatriate lives. Bachni retians her culture in feminine values, while assimilating the western culture visibly in her dress and in her adoption of western ideals of freedom and individuality. Bachni represents those immigrants who refuse to lament over lost roots. As opposed to expatriates these immigrants take the best from both cultures and carve out their own hybrid routes (Kaur 47). Jasbir Jain stresses the fact that women, more than men, wish to, and find it easier to re-negotiate both cultures simultaneously (2002:141). We notice that Bachni is willing to bond with the land to which her husband has brought her. Far from dwelling upon her ex-status she transforms into an immigrant by celebrating her present status in the new country. Women, even under normal circumstances, are
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mentally adapted to migration, to leaving a familiar home for an alien settlement with all the attendant possibilities of difference, conflict, reconciliation, union, etc, which come with marriage. One of the areas that have productively been explored in diasporic fiction is the gender difference in the kind and degree of nostalgia. Perhaps women, explains Parameswaran, with centuries of cultural indoctrinations and expectations are able to adapt more quickly and accept and love two houses without conflict or ambivalence (2002). But conflict and confusion are inevitable to a bicultural existence. Migrants, states Salman Rushdie, straddle two cultures, fall between two stools and suffer an ineluctable disruption (Rushdie 1992:51). As the narrative advances, we are told that for the last couple of days Bachnis heart was heavy (Puri 22), her body felt battered and bruised and the tension in her mind had increased manifold. The invectives hurled at her by her white colleagues at the factory and Enoch Powells speeches against immigrants, directing them to go back to their own countries (Puri 24), had settled into the innermost recesses of her heart (Puri 34). Bachni knows English enough to understand the racist abuse hurled at her by her white co-workers but could not speak the language so as to respond befittingly. She feels handicapped and helpless. Language, writes Spivak, is the instrument of mediation between the consciousness and the world that consciousness inhabits (1999:125). Deluze and Guattari locate the moment of alienation in the subjects ignorance of language (Bose 242). Knowledge of the language bestows the native with agency and the illiterate immigrants ignorance of it on the occasion of encounter enfeebles him.

Despite its official policy of promoting multiculturalism, the British government has not been able to curb racial, ethnic and gender discrimination against immigrants:

Men and women looked at immigrants in the workplace with such hostility as every morsel in their mouths was the rightful share of an Englishman or woman (Puri 24). The English public generally believed that the immigrants were responsible for their problems the escalating prices and the soaring housing rents (Puri 23).

With the spread of globalization, policies advocating tolerance of diasporic minorities have received a big boost. But the problem of the colour line (Waugh 374) continues to deny to half the world the right of sharing to their utmost ability the opportunities and privileges of modern civilization. Besides, if globalization has facilitated the diasporic exodus of the black or non-white populations to the developed world, it is only to serve the ever-increasing variable needs of industrial capitalism. Be it the phenomenon of colonization or the reverse, present, inflow of migrants into the western metropolis, economic exploitation of the subaltern and the social ignominy flung at him have remained constant. Bachni argues logically: The whites kill us with murderous looks. They behave as if we have no right to the money we have earned through hard labour (Puri 26). The caustic comments of her white co-workers and the exhortations to the whites in the speeches by Enoch Powell force her to reassess her life in England. She is accosted by the possibility that they might have to sell their home in England and return to their village in India (Puri 34). A beautiful house lush with all modern comforts, fat pay packets earned by her and her husband with only two small children to look after, have made life in England beautiful: It is time to be happy, to feast and to enjoy (Puri 24). The prospect of having to return to the village appears harrowing:
Living in the village was worse than living in hell she remembered ... dressed in loose and oversized clothes, hidden behind a long ghund the endless chores of the household that tied her down to the hearth and the home (Puri 25-26).

Bachni cannot imagine how she would:


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bridge the gap between the person she was in England and the person she will have to become in the village (Puri 26).

But, if return to her roots entails an identity crisis and a cloistered existence in poverty, it is also the only escape-route from scenes of hate and insult suffered in an alien country:
At least the village will have no Enoch Powell, Rosemary or Eileen to look at me with their sullen and angry eyes. How proud and selfrespecting are the people of my village and my country (Puri 26).

Rekindled by racial abuse, her national consciousness resurfaces to disrupt her happy acceptance of the foreign land, leaving Bachni in the divided state that is home to the diasporic psyche:
Where was she ... wherever she was she was terribly disoriented (Puri 26).

Enchanted by the quixotic spell of the distant land, ignorant about the ills that plague immigrants on alien shores, aspiring migrants deem themselves fortunate when they actually gain entry to the western metropolis. Cognisance of the despairing exploitative, capitalistic environment and racial violence comes only when one sets foot there. Migration to an untraditional western society undeniably can prove to be emancipatory for marginalized women like Bachni, but often not without a cost. In comparison with their male counterparts, these women (also owing to their gendered conditioning and experience of being the second sex) adapt and adopt with greater ease. Movement abroad also offers more to these women in comparison with educated, citified women immigrants who enjoy privileged positions in their homeland. But the lives of these underprivileged women equally bear the brunt of the new set of problems. To look upon migration as a consummate route to empowerment, it appears, is fallacious as well as evasive. More viable and appropriate alternative routes to this object can be carved by tackling obstacles in its way on home turf.

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