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«The Dance of Life in the Shadows of Death: A Study of Anita Desai’s ‘Cry the Peacock’ Madhu Jindal Assoc. Prof. of English, M.P. College, Mandi ...»

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International Journal of Engineering Technology Science and Research



ISSN 2394 – 3386

Volume 2, Issue 11

November 2015

The Dance of Life in the Shadows of Death: A Study of Anita

Desai’s ‘Cry the Peacock’

Madhu Jindal

Assoc. Prof. of English,

M.P. College, Mandi Dabwali 125104 Haryana, India


The search for truth, for Anita Desai, consists in inner life rather than outer life. It is, as she tells Yashodhara Dalmia, “the individual, the solitary being that is of true interest.” 1 Often in her novels there is an effort to depict and understand the thoughts, ideas and fears which remain locked up within the inner recesses of an isolated female heart. In nearly every novels of hers, she attempts an intimate and close study of a private life, the tensions and conflicts which the females face without any possibility of redressel through action. But it must be noted that all her female protagonists come alive when they are caught in crisis of hostile circumstances of changing society. They always appear to be growing and a changing in the dynamic process of life and are shown to be involved in a struggle to provide their lives an authenticity. In doing so they even threaten their own existence. Cry, the Peacock gives the same cult of characters who stand against the general current and manage to say the “great No” 2 This article attempts to study her wish to lead a full life although it remains shadowed by the idea of death and ultimately she leaves this world, liberated.

Introduction Cry, the Peacock, Desai‘s first noval, seen by Darshan Singh Maini as ―next to Raja Rao‘s book The Serpent and the Rope is the most poetic and evocative Indo-Anglian novel‖. 3 Sheetal Y. Thakore sees it as a ―harrowing tale of blunted human relationship.‖4 Anuradha Roy observes that in this novel Desai has undertaken a quest to display ―a sensitive and question the inequalities of such systems. ―5Certainly, the noval has the quality of a tour de force and is a turbulent story of a couple engrossed in dealing with some enigmas of life.

Maya and Gautama form an incompatible couple not because of any material reason but because of the diametrically opposed attitude which they hold towards life and its variousfacets. The reason of the impossibility of their living together does not lie in the fact that Gautama is dull and matter-of-fact and that her life is totally lacking in love. What is more agonizing to her is that not only love is denied to her, she is even asked to give up her urge for it. But as it is, she is to sensitive to live a complacent life where all worries and tensions can be brushed aside by talking of Michelangelos and by sipping dead coffees. Though she has all means comforts, she hopes to seek fulfilment of body and soul in her marriage with Gautama.

However, she feels destabilized and depontentiated because even after four years of marriage, Gautama has failed to fecundate her. Moreover, what she longs for is a vital consciousness, not any cerebral configurations. Hence, she distrusts Gautama for his grossness, for his attempt to monetize the fundamentals and basis of life.

Anita Desai portrays sensitive individuals in her novels and Cry, The Peacock is the most appropriate example of a neurotic protagonist. Maya feels herself at odds with society and thus compulsively undergoes various psychological transformations. There is a constant struggle between her conscious and unconscious urges. And this is tragic, for neither the conscious nor the unconscious can ever be completely dominant without causing death, whether physical or spiritual or mental. Desai explores the tormented consciousness of this introverted girl who is both obsessive and extremely sensuous by nature. Undoubtedly, one may have a peep into Maya‘s mind, which is always in a state of constant flux through incessant clusters of images. As Meena Belliappa says, ―It is the way images form and reform in Maya‘s mind that constitutes the unfolding of her consciousness‖.6 As we read the novel, we become aware of the phobias, the unreasonable demands of the security of her childhood. We can trace her graph as she slides into her insanity.

Maya’s Neurosis The novel deals with the contingency of Maya‘s situation; her despair, anxiety, dread, anguish and her choice in the given situation, which is ultimately leads her to insanity. Part I of the novel depicts Maya as a hysteric character foreboding an impending tragedy. The novel opens with the death of her pet dog, Toto. To her

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husband it was an ordinary happening that required a quick decision and disposal of the corpse. Accordingly, he does not pay any attention to her pillow-beating and long wailing and shows no reverence to death, which she does, even if it is a dog that dies. When Gautama contemptuously dismisses burial rites as meaningless sentimentalism, Maya attempts to remonstrate:‖ I mean, how can you dictate? Oh, Gautama, pets mightn‘t mean anything to you and yet they mean the world to me. ―7The occasion of Toto‘s death serves a two-fold purpose in the novel. It points to the disparity that exists between the temperaments of Maya and Gautama, but more importantly it intensifies Maya‘s agony anguish. Toto‘s death fills her with a sense of meaninglessness of life. She unconsciously feels that if death challenges her by posing a very fundamental question about the reality of life. She seeks her husband‘s support for enlightenment, but feels disillusioned because noauthentic answer comes from him. Under the circumstances, an unidentifiable fear reaches her with a horrifying swiftness and seizes her subconscious mind. Images of lizards and rats, worms and snakes give sharpness and vividness to her fears and insanity. She admits the presence of this unexplained fear to herself:‖ It was not my pet‘s death alone that I mourned today but another sorrow, unremembered perhaps...‖ (p.18).

In Part II the narrative tosses back and forth with the interplay of Maya‘s past memory and Maya‘s present life. Time shifts rapidly from present to past and from past to present. A victim of lack of communication, she is too sensitive to accept her marriage on its face value. Consequently, she becomes furious whenever she realizes that she has to do nothing but to wait endlessly for a husband too engrossed in his work to have any time for her. As she gets no emotional response from Gautama, she suffers in her loneliness. Failing in making a contact with a husband with whom she can realize her true identity, she starts losing her grip over her senses. She reverts to her childhood memories to get some succor. Since Gautama fails to meet her needs for contact, relatedness and communication, she tries to gratify her emotional starvation with nostalgic reveries of childhood days. Maya regards her words as ―a toy specially made for me, painted in my favourite colours, set moving to my favourite tunes‖ (p.36). But forced by circumstances and time to move to the present, she is dismayed to find that this world of her husband is devoid of the things she longs for. She longs for love and emotional care. Through love, she desires to seeks her identity and obtain a source of sustenance in her otherwise meaningless existence. She longs for a relationship with her husband in which the physical aspect is of little relevance. She reflects: ―I had yearned for the contact that goes dipper than flesh --- that of thought__ and longed to transmit to him the laughter that gurgled up in my throat…‖ (p:104-5).

It is a longing for a complete union with her husband that Maya shows and we cannot fault her for having these urges. But Gautama fails to understand that the involvement of a wife in her husband is not only physical, but also spiritual. He puts before his wife a misplaced ideal of detachment: ―The Gita does not preach involvement in tradition. It preaches, recommends…, Detachment on every account.‖ (p.97). For him, love is only a splendid ideal of the young death is only a matter of replacement. But Maya is unable to put up with these ideas. Her intense awareness of the distance, both physical and mental, between her poetic feelings and his prose analysis leads to the creation of melancholic, nay, morbid and melodramatic broodings in her.

She ponders on the nature of reality, on the nature of the world around, and on the nature of the reality of human relationship. She tries to understand Gautama, who, if on one hand believes that the world is Maya, an illusion, then, on the other hand remains busy in his legal cases and money matters. She make ceaseless efforts to make a genuine rapport with him and keeps on waiting for intimacy with him, but ―he did not give another thought to me, to either the soft, willing body or the lonely, wanting mind that waited near his bed‖ (p.9). The heart of the matter is that Gautama needs a practical wife, one who is like him and can patiently listen to his court cases. But, Maya is very sensitive and imaginative. The seemingly ideal condition of life--- a secure home, an earning husband and a well-defined future---are, however, not acceptable to her. She loves to see nature in all its sounds and shades and forms. She calls a red insects ―a live ruby in the grass‖ (p.37).

Longing and Repression The novel abounds in incidents that show how her longings for outdoor life are constantly frustrated mainly by Gautama. As achild she had a enjoyed the scenic beauty and cool weather of Darjeeling wanted to go g. Now, she longs to go there with Gautama. But when she timidly suggests this possibility to him, he replies in a cold astringent tone, ―Why don‘t you?‖… Your father would take you wherever you wanted to go.

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He can.‖(p. 40). Likewise, the Kathakali ballets performed at night in parts of South India, hold great

attraction to Maya:

―I want---I want,‖ I stammered swiftly,‖ to see the kathakali dances. I have heard of the ballets they have in their villages... And the dancers are all men... The masks they wear---you must have seen them? And their costumes. And the special kind of music. And it is all out in the open, at night, by starlight--- and perhaps they have torches‖ (p.42-43).

To her imploration to take her to these dances, Gautama coolly asks her to wait till a Kathakali troupe comes to Delhi. He apparently sees no strong reason to undertake a tiresome journey down South in the sweltering summer. Nevertheless, there is in Maya something which wants to participate in life with enthusiasm.

Charmed by the vibratingly rich Urdu poetry recited by the cultured wine-drinking gentlemen, Maya breaks an old age old rule and join them. While the other men politely, but uneasily, respond to her presence, Gautama not only shatters her hope of participating in the pulsating and poetry-charged atmosphere but also subtly drives home to her the truth that she does not belong there.

Turning his back to me, he stood talking to a friend, a glass in his hand, and his voice rose, in order that I might hear, when he said, ‗Blissful, yes, because it is unrelated to our day, unclouded by the vulgarity of illeducated men, or of overbearing women …‖ (p.104).

Maya’s Obsession with Death In this way Maya keeps trying to go close to her husband who keeps on pushing her back. But her will to live, the desire to survive never ends. Even in the moments of frustration and disappointment, her quest remains alive. The note of muted protest gets stronger as she comes face to face with the unpleasant reality of marriage. She remains in quest for sexual union or communicative attachment with her husband But, unluckily, it is always denied to her. She yearns for, ―a moment pleasurable experience, but acts as a revitalizing force in an otherwise sterile life. Her earth bound nature makes her well inclined to derive the fullest satisfaction from this intimate experience. She listen to the piercing cries of the peacocks----―Pie, pia, ―which means ―Lover, lover‖, and ―Mio-mio‖, which means ―I die, I die‘ (p.95). The peacock is the most suggestive symbol of love, which can be achieved only at the altar of death. True love, for Maya, means

destroying one‘s self:

How they love the rain---these peacocks. They spread out their splendid tails and begin to dance, but, like Shiva‘s their dance of joy is the dance of death, and they dance, knowing that they and their lovers are all to die, perhaps even before the monsoons came to an end…Before they mate, they fight. They will rip each other‘s breasts to strips and fall, bleeding, with their beaks open and panting. When they have exhausted themselves in battle, they will mate. Peacocks are wise. The hundred eyes upon their tails have seen the truth of life and death, and know them to be one. Living, they are aware of death. Dying, they are in love with life‖(p.95-96).

The peacocks are symbol of both life and death. Never even for a while, the fear of impending death forbids the peacocks to participate in that moment of all consuming love which becomes tantamount to life itself for them. R.S. Sharma aptly observes: ―It is in the symbolism of the peacocks that Maya‘s predicament and anguish is fully articulated. The iterative symbolism of the peacocks suggests Maya‘s struggle for life in death and death in life.‖8 As her sense of excruciating loneliness deepens, she becomes increasingly vocal in defending her own intense

love of life. She blazes out at her husband:

―All the truth in living just passes them by, and I am so sorry for anyone‖---yes, even you, unsuspecting husband---―who misses it. It is like spending seventy years of one‘s life in a graveyard---being born in one and dying in one. It is a waste---a waste.‖ (p.91).

She attempts desperately to make him understand her point of view. Sometimes, she angrily bursts out with a strange, sharp and stinging voice. She retaliates in bitterness at his attitude of superiority, his evident contempt: ―Oh, you know nothing, understand nothing, nor will you ever understand. You know nothing of me---and of how I can love. How I want to love. How it is important to me. But you, you‘ve never loved‖ (p.112).

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