Shashi Deshpande’s Roots and Shadows focusses on the question of woman’s place in society where the traditional joint family functions as a miniscule cross-section of the same. Indu embarks on a quest for self-identity to unearth her roots, as she finds that she thrives on the shadows of others and the past. The various characters serve as archetypes of the typical roles women subscribe to in society and exemplify her position in relation with the various other characters in the novel. The novel presents this family saga in twelve chapters with the opening prologue retelling the story from Indu’s point of view: the story of three generations as dominated by Akka. This motif of retelling also retells the story of Woman.
Family is the smallest social unit. The joint family therefore functions as a microcosm of the patriarchal society that we live in. Each woman in the joint family that Indu visits presents a stereotype of how women have relegated or withheld their own concerns/aspirations to fulfill their roles with regards to the ones close to them, especially men. We live in a society that is all about power politics and particularly control over the female in a heteropatriarchal society. The assertion of this domination begins right at the family, and the woman is made to internalize this ideology as it is perpetrated through generations, so that it comes across as a written rule beyond the precepts of questioning. Evading it, one becomes a rebel against decorum itself and the very concept of femininity. There is gender stereotyping as evident in the play where women are to adorn their putative domestic roles, not succumb to individual aspiration but only social obligation. Mini is asked not to work on the day of the marriage as a bride was not supposed to and Indu tells her to do whatever she wanted to. Minis delicate wrist seemed loaded with bangles, as they had lost the carefree touch of girlish life and looked heavy like a symbol of womanhood. The bangle if it cracked only hurt her hands.
Amongst the rituals, women are described to be running around like “demented souls”. This is why Indu gets termed a rebel. She always questions the ways of the family where the woman is accorded a secondary citizen status, goes away from home and later arrives with the person she loves. Later, to her utter dismay she finds these principles of patriarchy ingrained in her marriage too. While the uneducated had a direct way of establishing control, the educated had a hegemonic way of going about the same. She is caught between aspiration and tradition, aspiration and obligation. She discovers herself unconsciously imbibing this subliminal ideology as she find herself complete only with Jayan. She finds herself always thinking about him while he comes across as not reciprocating her feelings. This subliminal ideology is too deep rooted, that even when a woman (Akka) rules over the family though the sex is female, the female gender almost transmogrifies to an androgynous dictator. There is a particular instance when the female voices in the kitchen are silenced by an authoritative male voice, that of Akka. The lady is invested with powers and exercises them and enjoys the position, and in doing the same advocated the male power paradigm. Akka had experienced severe injustice at the hands of her own husband and mother-in-law. However, this factor and the power wealth had invested in her makes her play the same role with a renewed vigour. Her caustic tongue renders Kaka into a stuttering school boy. She remains a huge question mark on Simone de Beauvoirs dictum that sex is biologically determined but gender socially constructed.
While she is the quintessence of male authority, in contrast, Kaki and Atya while away their lives slaving on the male members of the family. Indus attitude is a reflection of the asperities of a divided family set up where women are treated as domestic animals without individuality. Mini is married to a man much below her stature. Indu ruminates over the unquestionable stance: “A womans life,they had told me contained no choices. All my life, especially in this house I had seen the truth of this. The women had no choice but to submit, to accept. And I had often wondered have they been born without wills, or have their wills atrophied through a lifetime of disuse?”(Roots 6). At a point, the women folk are shown to blame themselves for having girls. A womans life seems to end and begin with marriage, and if she does not possess children, she is deemed to have no utility value. In other words, she is objectified, a machine that produces children. Her efficiency is judged on the basis of the capacity for production, and later how well the goods are processed. In the case of Indu, when she returns home, Kaku, the old maid looks upon her with a sense of sympathy. Mini also has been paraded as an object auctioned before many men who have rejected her on the basis of being fashionable, tall short or dark. Finally she had to settle for someone who accepted her. The question is not whether she has accepted the man. Indu realizes that her love marriage with Jayant has not made her fare any better. She made all sort of adjustments in the name of love, and in the process was only deluding herself from the truth. Her adjustments were taken for granted as women were meant to compromise and man, not even keep the promise. She treats marriage as a sort of bargain when she quips: “What as marriage after all, but two people after cold-blooded bargaining to meet, mate and reproduce so that generations may continue”(Roots 3).
Indus dream has a particular significance. She dreams that she is in an immensely large hall and they are being led by a Christ-like bearded figure who is dressed in white. He has an ascetic quality but power without gentleness. His holds significance as she realizes that the people following him are her own. The connotations of religion invoke a sense of religiosity in which women adhere to their roles with unflinching obedience. The Christ-like figure leads them on a journey of life that is this time without redemption particularly for women. Particularly, Indu says that she can feel the subterranean feeling that the whole endeavour is taking place where women move about in the maze of male monopolistic chauvinism. Even the very mode or the methodology of their domestic chores highlighted the mechanical nature of their life that the men of the household engineered for them. “ Since childhood the right method of serving food had been drilled into me. Salt here, chutney and pickles below it, vegetables on the right, dal in the centre, ghee only after serving the dal.” The pattern was rigid and there could be no deviation from it. These rigid boundaries had lines ingrained on Akka, the oldest woman in the house: “the semi-darkness deepened the shadows on the old womans face making it all sharp lives and angles”( Roots 27). Indu realizes as she looks at the body of Akka that if one lived long enough one could practically lose everything even one’s sex. Thus, Akkas transformation comes as an attempt to evade the submissive path outlined for her and renders herself into the prototype of male patriarchy.
And the walls seemed to smell of childbirth only, as that was the only relevant benchmark set by the women of the house. Indu tries to carve out her individuality, which is why she gets hurt when Naren tells her that her sharp edges had blurred. Indu wanted her lines distinct even if the sharpness hurt the others. At the end of the day, the lines were her own. And yet, Indu could not find solace in the women’s hostel that she lived. The loneliness used to appall her and repel her at the same time. She meets Jayant and loses the ability to be alone. In her case it is not a financial dependence but a purely emotional one. She wants to dress for him, undress for him. She describes herself as a fluid that attained shape only with the thing that contained her. Her marriage had only one gift to give her: “ The gift of silence”( Roots 40). “Indu, the journalist, is torn between selfexpression and social stigma” , says Smita Jha in “Indu in Dilemma: A Critical Analysis Shashi Deshpandes Roots and Shadows” There is no point of intersection in their lives where their souls meet. The novelists states: “ Husbands and wives: their worlds touched briefly only in the darkness of the night”(47). Her mother who died at birth proves to be a non-existent entity that only left a sense of void or blankness in her. “ Indus problematic of becoming expresses Deshpandes feminist polemics against sexual and gender roles imposed upon woman in a patriarchal culture” (Prasad and Chandra 66).
In a metafictional stance, the writer also ponders on the themes of woman as a writer. Even with respect to writing, women are supposed to pen about domestic experiences. The novel thus becomes a mouthpiece of its theme. However, they are asked to draw the line there also. When Indu ruminates on writing on menstrual pains, pangs of childbirth , the ecstasy of orgasm, even Naren; the not-so conservative stops her. When the woman becomes expressive or takes the upper hand in the course of sex, the man by default gets put off by the act as in the case of Indu and Jayant. It left a biased chasm where there was supposed to be a neutral union. The woman in this case is supposed to roll over and play dead. Indu terms herself an anachronism(82). She loves him passionately and is ashamed of it. Here is an act of unconsciously submitting to a custom that she consciously does not subscribe to. The protagonist admits that she is caught between two names-one given by her father when she was born, and the other by her husband when she was married. A woman does have her own roots but thrives in someone else's shadow.
© Rukhaya M.K. 2013
(Published in Academia - A Multi disciplinary Journal March-April 2015)
 Beauvoir, Simon de. The Second Sex. Ed. H. M. Parshley. London: Vintage, 1997. Print.
 Deshpande, Shashi. Roots and Shadows. New Delhi: Orient Longman Ltd., 1983. Print.
 Prasad. N. K. and N. D. R. Chandra. “Feminism in Shashi Deshpandes Roots and Shadows.” Journal of Literature, Culture and Media Studies 1.2 (2009). Print.