Mother and Son : Oedipus Wrecks in Rohinton Mistry

Jennifer Takhar []

Post Colonial Literature in English: Canada

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

CRIME PASSIONNEL: "There is a dark side to Indian parent-child relationships" (260) (Mistry in Other Solitudes -- Canadian Multicultural Fictions, edited by Linda Hutcheon and Marion Richmond.)

In the short story, "The Exercisors," from the collection entitled, Tales from Firozsha Baag, we have the best example of a sexually ambiguous and horrifyingly pernicious relationship between a mother and her son. Mrs.Bulsara is the castrating mother par excellence. She manages to ruin the nascent love between her son Jehangir and his girlfriend Behroze. This she does through emotional blackmail, trenchant sarcasm and a mystical subterfuge : she hires the services of a guru to make Jehangir believe that Behroze is trying to trap him through seduction, and that Behroze will thwart his ambitions: According to Mrs. Bulsara, her son's girlfriend is nothing but a whore : "That his girlfriend, as far as she could see, was nothing but a slut " (315). In fact this is not a love story, it is a tragedy. Mrs Bulsara's obsession kills a completely innocent love, because she does ultimately triumph at the end of the story.

What we have ignored up until now is the homo eroticism supposedly encouraged by maternal domination or dictatorship. At one point in "The Exercisors" Jehangir finds himself in a mild tug-of-love situation between his strong feelings for Behroze and the homo-erotic desire for the butch athletes that he visually caresses and lusts over whilst he observes them furtively from behind a thick mass of bushes in the hanging gardens. These powerful male bodies exert a "strange influence on Jehangir's chetif body."(299) According to Freud homosexual urges in young boys create the preconditioning for their eventual recognition of heterosexuality. It is after his first lascivious homoerotic sighting of the athletes that Jehangir meets Behroze. Interestingly when Jehangir's love life becomes problematic he seeks refuge and respite by returning to watch the sinewy men who therefore represent an ersatz for Behroze. He only develops a fully blown physical relationship with Behroze after this second homoerotic observation when he has admitted to himself that he would feel ashamed to show off his puny body to the powerful exercisors. His heterosexual relationship with Behroze extinguishes all his innate homo erotic tendencies.

Mrs Bulsara becomes pathologically jealous of Behroze and her behaviour is that of a mentally unstable woman concerning the sexual life of her son. The mother's obsession culminates when Jehangir surprises her examining the gusset of his trousers: "Mother was...sniffing, scrutinising the gusset under the light.." (315). She is caught unawares, looking for powdery stains which might attest to the sexual relations between Jehangir and his girlfriend. Even at this point, such is the hold his mother has upon him, Jehangir does not violently confront her, choosing only mild lily-livered sarcasm as a riposte. How could Jehangir defy the woman who gave up so much in order to enable her son to enjoy the spoils of her sacrifices?

Mistry has already alluded to homosexuality in his early story, The More Important Things. The character "Father Varma "is a convent teacher where the young narrator is a student. The father is described as a paedophile. His sexual persuasion is directed towards his students who have nicknamed him "a homo "firmly believing that this teacher "became a priest so he could be in a boy's school, where thrashing the boys gave him a sexy feeling" (45). In Such A Long Journey Mistry criticizes Indian society for its intolerance towards homosexuality. When he leaves for a trip to Delhi, Gustad Noble shares a compartment with a young eligible bachelor, " the luggage-rack man " (262) who is going to select his future spouse in Delhi because his parents want him to marry. Gustad is shocked to discover that he is being fondled during his semi-sleep by the very same groom to be.(263). Gustad's immense pity for this individual, "Poor fellow...forcing himself to select a wife, to please his parents. And the poor woman whoever she will be" (263), underscores a pressing problem which is that of the blinkered minds of Indians vis a vis homosexuality, a closed attitude which leads to emotionally charged and dramatic Bollywoodish situations.

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Last Modified: 14 March, 2002