A peek into the perils of patriarchy

There seems to be no dearth of art on the every day perils that a patriarchal society inflicts on women.

Published: 07th May 2022 06:55 AM  |   Last Updated: 07th May 2022 06:55 AM   |  A+A-

Photos: R Satish Babu

Express News Service

CHENNAI: There seems to be no dearth of art on the every day perils that a patriarchal society inflicts on women. We still find stories of abusive husbands and in-laws, discriminative workplaces, overbearing parents (even if well-intentioned) and children lost in the midst on the big screen, silver screen and stage because there seems to be no dearth to the perils that a patriarchal society inflicts on its women. Komal Theatre’s latest production, Aval Peyar Sakthi, dives into the lives of four generations of women to present just that. 

Written and directed by Tharini Komal, the play opens with the story of a young mother, Janani, and her absentee husband. Even as she attends to all the needs of her daughter — from parent-teacher interviews to watching over the babysitter, from medical appointments to everyday  duties — while handling a senior role at work, it is the husband who gets to whine about work pressure and a wife who simply doesn’t get it. When she decides to take a break, from the marriage of seven years and go to parents’ place, there, her younger sister, Harini, is facing a whole other kind of tussle. This time around, her father is the one who takes issue with her returning home late from work; perhaps, it was time for marriage, he wonders. 

Every woman I know and I have faced either or both scenarios at some point in our lives. From one generation to another, women have had to find their ways to deal with the restrictions placed around them. Even as the men get to find newer reasons to keep the status quo. Aval Peyar Sakthi depicts all this but in the backdrop of a family that actually cares for each other’s well-being. In doing so, it gets many things right. Like the bond between the sisters, who see each other through the highs and lows of life.The kollu paatti who grew up in a time where education was never a plan but now, in her older years, is the unofficial head of the family. Janani’s mother, who got a chance at a career, thanks to the support at home; who fights for her daughters’ right to the same. Janani’s daughter who gets to grow up in the presence of such camaraderie, a cornerstone of feminism even when it wasn’t called by that name. 

Amidst all this, while Janani is caught between making a life of her own in Chennai, what becomes of her marriage? Does Harini end up with the prospective maapillai her family finds for her? That’s where the story takes you. While it manages to provide a happy ending, it gets a lot of things wrong too.
Every fight for rights and liberties requires one to break down the system that perpetuates control and constraints. Here, even as the younger women strive in their own capacity to break out of the norm, they are put back into the box, the same construct that had them dissatisfied and deprived in the first place.

Even in the face of seven years of neglect, Janani contemplating the idea of divorce is met with such resistance and moral distaste. While there is enough evidence to suggest that children are affected far more by parents who emulate a disappointing version of love and togetherness than by amicably divorced parents, everyone holds Janani back with the accusatory “Think what will happen to the child”. Someone from such a beautiful family will never take such a bad decision, says a complete stranger.

Janani is constantly advised by her well-meaning mother and grandmother to shoulder it all — responsibilities at home and work — to prove that she is an independent, career woman. Of course, this is never asked of her husband. The only relief was that the husband was given room for redemption, where he owns up to the faults in his ways, thanks to a society that expects no better. 

Even as Harini argues the logic behind policing women from staying out late, when it curbs their freedom to work, have fun or simply exist, her parents shockingly fall back on the “Look what happened to Nirbaya? Was she not without dreams of her own?” What’s worse, Harini agrees to that logic. When Harini is asked to meet her prospective groom, she objects to the idea of being expected to agree to a lifetime of marriage based on half an hour of interaction. Yet, she eventually agrees to the system, overcoming all her rightly held reservations. 

Eventually, all these missteps fall into the right place only because the fictional family still has love and care for each other’s well-being. However, that is precisely the explanation offered when women are still made to fit into pre-conceived roles and responsibilities, into another’s idea of a good life. Would Janani have done well had she decided to be a single mother? Would that have served as a better role model for her child, who would know that she doesn’t have to suffer in attention to stay married? Would Harini have managed to find love had she been left to her own, without an arbitrary timeline drawn out for her life? Could she have decided not to get married at all? Perhaps. Maybe these questions are better to be answered by the women themselves?


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