The conflict between tradition and modernity in the female characters of Anita Nair- Sreelekha

Anita Nair is one of the most successful contemporary writers in Indian Writing in English. Her works present the reader a female perspective of events and incidents that unfold in human lives. The novels are also a reflection of mindsets of the Indian woman and show the various socio-cultural conflicts which significantly affect their course of action as they chart out their lives. It is interesting that the novelist is a product of her time and that she mirrors through her characters the angst and agony of the new age women, her struggle to balance tradition and modernity.

The new age Indian Woman’s devotion to family and her aspirations for self – dependence, her desire to uphold morality yet explore her sexuality, her timid approaches to self – exploration to growth and authoritarianism are reflected truly and authentically in Anita Nair’s Characters. 

 Nair’s characters whether it be Meera ,Kala Chithi or Shruthi ofThe Lessons in Forgetting , Akhila and her companions in the LadiesCoupe’ , Anjana in the The Better Man or the delicate Radha in Mistress, stand apart in her own space , facing the music of her life , carving her own niche’ , defiant, experimental and sometimes even temperamental.

Indian writing in English has never been so enriched with female characters so sensual yet so bold, so rooted in tradition yet so rebellious. Nair’s ability to stay rooted in the country which has its own cultural and social idiosyncrasies lends credibility to her characters.

The paper is an exploration of the variety of female characters so cleverly and so truly portrayed by Mrs. Nair that one just needs to look around to see one of them among us. 

In her second novel titled ,Ladies Coupe, ’Anita Nair depicts her female characters with an unmatched understanding of the inherent complicities in their daily lives 

Margaret is a house wife who devises devious means to rein in her arrogant husband. Akhila is a spinster whom one would dismiss as uninteresting but Anita Nair shows us the struggle that she is into to shed that abusive title of a lonely middle aged woman. Marikolunthu is symbolic of the maid who visits your home every day , of whose life you may have no interest , nor inclination to know about , in the novel she reclaims her small island of happiness when she overcomes the pain and stigma of rape and accepts Muthu as her own.

Janaki is the cosseted, cared for woman whom her son accuses of being spoilt . She discovers her love for her husband and joy in his companionship in her old age while facing the brutal verbal assault of her only son.

Prabha Devi redeems herself when she discovers and later masters her love affair with the swimming pool and its expanse of serene blue waters.

Sheela is the little rebel, who places her own identity at risk ,when she sets about to fulfil what she thinks is her grandmother’s death wish.

 Each of these characters wrestle with their destinies, their families , the society to achieve their share of self respect . The demands of tradition and society tie them down to lead vegetable lives until they are awakened by the need for self-assertion and independence which will make their lives wholesome and joyful.

Though Anita Nair refuses to be clamped down by the label of a feminist and though she espouses no desire to bring about a change in the society , her characters in Ladies Coupe’ do inspire an urge to explore ways for wish fulfilment, content and a general self – worth in the readers.

The protagonist of Anita Nair’s Lessons in Forgetting published in the year , 2010 , is a suave , corporate wife who builds her life brick by brick after her husband walks away . Suddenly, Meera overcame her niggling doubts as to whether Giri was in love with her or what she represented as she dutifully donned the cap of a devoted doting wife , an impeccable corporate wife. When Giri, wanders into the hands of a PYT leaving behind their two children, Nayantara and Nikhil , Meera takes up on herself the role of the‘ protectress’ of the family which included her own mother and grandmother. Meera learns to stand on her feet having taken up work as JAK’s research assisstant .She tries to move on but she is haunted by guilt when she finds herself enjoying the attention of men like Rishi Soman and JAK.

JAK and Meera are two consenting adults who discover that they could give each other company and a shoulder to lean on .JAK’s mother , Sharadammal is heartbroken when her husband chooses to lead an austere life as a sannyasi. Later she fights the feeling of defeat by joining for B.Ed and then chooses to marry a quiet Physics teacher and move abroad setting up a new life for herself. 

Kala Chithi ,JAK’s aunt is a woman of  courage who cuts off her long burdensome plait and gifts it to her husband while walking away from his life. She could not stand the shame of having to share her husband with another woman. Smrithi is JAK’s daughter who in her youthful rebellion reduced herself to a tattooed apparition. In an attempt to do something meaningful , the young Shruti seeks to end to sex determination in a remote village in Tamil Nadu, Minjikappuram . However the brutality of the village thugs reduce her to a vegetable state.

The women in the Lessons in Forgetting are driven by a need to be assertive and be counted. They do not let the practices or beliefs in tradition and rituals tie them down. Instead they fight to retain their self- respect under the most demanding circumstances. Anjana in The Better Man is a long sufferer of an unhappy marriage . She had given up all her hope of marital bliss until she met Mukundan , whose gentle , sophisticated ways first intrigued and then enchanted her. Anjana is the one expresses her desire to Mukundan though he is reluctant to take such a step .Radha in the novel, Mistress is a sensual woman bonded in marriage to Shyam who is an uncouth boor to her . It is with Christopher that Radha realises love that is intensely passionate. Radha’s revulsion to Shyam and later her decision to learn to love him following her break – up with Chris adds a new dimension to her character .

India as a country exists in different time zones and the women in the country have the onus of upholding tradition and marching in tune with modernity. It is challenging and difficult .The female characters of Anita Nair balance the values of tradition and modernity in an effort to strike a fine balance between the two. The women seem to draw strength from the tradition and society they belong to even as they try to find self- expression and their individuality. Anita Nair’s characters seem to forever struggle for reinstating their self-esteem against all odds and it is this journey to self-realisation that makes them memorable.

References :

V.Chandra: Journey of Self –discovery in Anita Nair’s Ladies Coupe’ Dr(Ms)Rathore,

Manjeet: Images of women in media and literature : Journey from DifficultDaughters to Desirable Daughters

Ms. Barnes Anjali : A Comparative Study of Shashi Deshpande’s and Anita Nair’s Feminism Blog : PeporoniInterview published in The Hindu Literary Review , 2004

Issac, Sithara: Ladies Coupe’ : A Voyage of Rediscovery for AkhilaSarna, Navtej: A Sisterhood of SpaceS.

Suganya: Rupturing the Wedding BondMathiaparanam

Poornavally, R. Saraswathy: Towards Self – Discovery: A Comparative Study of the Lead Characters of Anita Nair’s Ladies Coupe’ and The Better Man

Ps: published on


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