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Women-Only Homes

Women-Only Homes

Rs. 70

Colonization dramatically altered the understanding of Indianness in light of nationalism and womanhood in light of modernism. Geetanjali Singh Chanda argues effectively in Indian Women in the House of Fiction that the home is the nexus of the construction of Indianness and womanhood because of this Indo-English encounter. The centrality of women in domestic and familial spaces meant that architectural changes in the structures of the home dramatically affected notions of Indian womanhood. Women negotiated between a Westernization, often seen as emblematic of modernity, and an Indianness read as tradition, that they documented in English. Chanda traces the evolution of homes and domestic ideologies from the joint-family, indigenous patriarchal haveli dwelling to the Western import, the bungalow, to the urban apartment by analyzing texts of Indo-English women’s writings.
In preceding essays Chandra outlines how in the haveli and the bungalow, feudal lifestyles and Westernization were identified as the main threats. In the apartment space, the distinction between the home and the world is blurred but women were still constrained by conformity to notions of Indianness that manifest primarily as prescriptive gender roles. In this essay, Chanda explores the viability of women-only homes. Analyzing the women-only home, she asserts that it is an evolution of the womenspace—where women sleek out other women for emotional support—from the haveli’s zenana to entire domestic and extradomestic spaces. Women-only homes pose the question of whether and how the absence of men affects domestic space and domestic ideologies. By analyzing Shashi Deshpande’s Binding Vine, Anita Desai’s Fire on the Mountain and Gyaltsen’s Daughters of the House, Chanda shows that ultimately women-only homes are temporary refuges; an utopist reading is a superficial reading of the women-only space. Their very existence is premised upon a marginal space apart from mainstream, “male stream” society. While the women’s community is essential to the condition of being a woman, it does not guarantee the viability of women-only homes. They are temporary spaces that can provide sustenance and care. In the long run, this essay, in its reading of the three novels, suggests that homes are places for women, men and children—but not where women are silenced by the fear of sexual or emotional vulnerability.

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46 pp



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