Salman Rushdie and Rohinton Mistry: Fatal Attractions

Jennifer Takhar [takharjennifer@hotmail.com]

Post Colonial Literature in English: Canada

This essay has been translated by the author from the original French.


Mother and Son : Oedipus Wrecks

"Mummyji comes into the picture at a very early stage in a man's life...Our whole attitude to sex was coloured by our mother... Mama's views on it are clear enough...bad girls do it for pleasure. Good girls endure it as duty." [In Uncertain Liaisons eds. Shoba De and Khushwant Singh, 1993., p. 5]

Freud's audacity introduced the term "Oedipus Complex" to the public at large. This theory can easily be explained: in a male child's mind, a desire exists to see the death of the father and sexual desire is expressed towards the mother. (3) For the time being we will not interest ourselves in the countless feminist (amongst other) reappraisals of Freud. What we will look at though is how this theory is so obviously portrayed in Rushdie's fiery Zogoiby family in The Moor's Last Sigh. There are also variations on this groundbreaking, now obsolete, Freudian take, illustrated by overly possessive Indian mothers in "The Exercisors" by Rohinton Mistry.

The Nehrus and the Zogoibys: Husbands and Wives

In The Moor's Last Sigh the relationships between parents and children are, from a psycho-sexual point of view, extremely complex and worthy of further probing. Describing the rapports between the different members of the Nehru dynasty, Rushdie seems to want provide his readers with a prototype for the often equivocal rapports between father and daughter and mother and son in India. Rushdie claims that in the Nehruvian/Gandhian family, the rapports between Jawaharlal and Indira, Indira and Sanjay usurped the marriages of these couples. "Those who married Nehrus-Jawaharlal's Kamala, Indira's Feroze, Sanjay's Menaka-have rarely been happy spouses. (Imaginary Homelands, 62).

In his novel Such A Long Journey Mistry launches numerous attacks on Jawaharlal Nehru, his moody temperament, the political shenanigans in which he was involved (11) but especially his dangerously close relationship to his daughter Indira. Jawaharlal publicly reviled her husband, Feroze "...the thorn in (Jawaharlal's) side" (11) because the latter had denounced the political scandals in Jawaharlal's government. Mistry subtlely comments on Jawaharlal's obsession concerning Indira, "...his darling daughter Indira...the only one...who loved him truly" (11). Indira, equally obsessed by her father, left Feroze, "her worthless husband " (11) in order to return to live at Panditji's, ("the learned man," Jawaharlal Nehru's sobriquet in hindi) Chacha (Paternal uncle" -- in hindi) Nehru's, who possesses a "monomaniacal fixation [with Indira, who] occupied his days and nights" (11).

The troublesome relationship between the eponymous hero, the Moor, Moraes, and his mother, Aurora reflect the same rapport as that between Indira and her son Sanjay Gandhi There are those who believe that Sanjay and Indira had a sexual relationship. At several occasions in The Moor's Last Sigh we have good reason to believe in the sexual ambiguity prevalent in Moraes' and Aurora's relationship. Now that Indira and Sanjay are no more, Rushdie need not fear a second trial instigated against him for his speculations on their special kind of bond. The most interesting insinuation in The Moor's Last Sigh is that the introduction of the internal Emergency was due to the unhealthy rapport between the Prime Minister and her son. Apparently, Indira blindly followed the advice of Sanjay (more than ever) during the rocky time of the Emergency. Ironically Rushdie puts this accusation in the mouth of Moraes who evokes this equivocal relationship : "I...made some remark -- the Emergency remember, was still quite new -- about the unhealthy relationship between Mrs.Gandhi and her son Sanjay. The whole nation is paying for that mother-son problem " (197).

Indira Gandhi, like the character Aurora, confirms that "protean Mother India...could turn monstrous " (61). Especially towards her son's lover Uma, Aurora lashes out. From the outset she has no trust in the girl and even refuses to see her on one occasion. (244). Wanting to protect her son and not sever the umbilical cord, Aurora shows herself to be intransigent and suspicious : "...my egotistical mother was unable to find a good word for (Uma)....she yelled .. "That little fisherwoman has her hook in you and like a stupid fish you think she only wants to play.... (246).... Aurora in her maternal jealousy of her son's first true love had created this cry of pain, in which a mother's attempts to show her son the simple truth ...were doomed to failure by a sorceress's head-turning tricks." (247). Rushdie goes even further by blending the mythical life of the Zogoibys with that of the nation, suggesting that Aurora is Nehru's mistress ; consequently Aurora is deeply despised by Indira. To reinforce this love affair Rushdie quotes a whole letter from Nehru to his daughter, though in the context of the novel Aurora is the recipient of this letter. Aurora's paintings become allegories which reflect the preoccupations of the nation from the birth of Moraes in 1957 until the internal Emergency 20 years later, continuing with the fall of Indira. The political scene darkens with the return of Indira and the rise of Hindu fundamentalism in contemporary India.

Aurora's absent husband, Abraham, gets his son to notice the similarity between Uma and Moraes' mother, confirming the sexual ambiguity between Moraes and his mother. The two women are doted with an exceptional talent for painting, they possess impressive pulchritude and a complex contradictory psychology. Moraes unwittingly finds himself a partner who is a younger version of his own mother: "Abraham Zogoiby suggested that Uma Sarasvati had something in her of the young Aurora" (311). At the moment when Moraes has to choose between his family and a life with Uma, it is as if he had to choose between two lovers, Aurora and Uma : "If I chose Uma, I would have to break away from my mother, probably for good. But if I accepted Aurora's evidence (that Uma is a schizophrenic psychopath)...then I was condemning myself...to a life without a partner" (267). Aurora protects Moraes more than her four daughters, one of the reasons for this is the bizarre ageing disease/curse which afflicts him. He is the only child she breastfed, her husband becomes redundant as soon as Moraes is born. Miss Jaya, the family's ayah/wetnurse, confirms our suspicions about the Zogoiby womens' treatment of Moraes when she affirms that he was "touched incorrectly" by his sisters and by his mother: "Your family. Perverts. Your sisters and mother also. In your baby time. How they played with you. Too sick" (197).

What Rushdie unveils in his work is the terrible ambivalence at the core of male-female relationships in contemporary India. The blame for this ambivalence can partly be attributed to Mahatma Gandhi's attempt to marginalise human sexuality. His personal belief was that "the natural affinity between man and woman is the attraction between brother and sister, mother and son, father and daughter" (49. Quoted in Rushdie's Imaginary Homelands). What we have noticed in The Moor's Last Sigh particularly, is a perversion of the Mahatma's dream vision: it is especially the relationships between mother and son that are comparable to those between two lovers!

[Follow for "Mother and Son : Oedipus Wrecks in Rohinton Mistry"


Postcolonial Web India OV Canada Rohinton Mistry