Women Gain Their Voices: Anees Jung's Unveiling India: A Woman's Journey

Shoshana M. Landow '91, Princeton University

Anees Jung, who first published Unveiling India: A Woman's Journey in 1986, also exemplifies another writer in search of new images of women. But in telling the stories of other women, her book becomes even more of a political, social statement, a sort of literary consciousness-raising. She explains the change that has taken place in Indian society so that now women will tell their own stories: "Not long ago a woman who spoke about herself was considered a loose woman. To voice a pain, to divulge asecret, was considered sacrilege, a breach of family trust. Today,voices are raised without fear, and are heard outside the walls of homes that once kept a woman protected, also isolated. Someof the women who speak here have stepped out. Others who have not, are beginning to be aware, eager to find expression. But let them speak for themselves" [Unveiling India: A Woman's Journey (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1988), 109].

Jung quotes the desperate, angry and hopeful stories of women from all over India. Her chapter "Women Find a Name" explores the wonderful consequences of Indian women renaming self and experience: "There are more women working today than there were a generation ago, more girls going to school and more women seen protesting in the streets, squares and homes. Their looks have not changed, their manner has. Individually they have gained a name, collectively an identity. Their new power was not imposed upon them but already existed, enclosed within walls. Now that power has stirred out into the open. Their new strength stems from personalities defining their own terms, lending grace to living" [122]. Jung's moving conclusion ends triumphantly, despite the sorrow and restrictions in so many of the women's lives she has presented. She affirms the constructive power of women.

She affirms herself at the same time, since she feels connected to the women of India, one of them. Jung herself, who grew up completely secluded in purdah, has remained unmarried and become a successful writer. She says about herself: "My reality no longer has one face. I have stepped out of an enclosed reality into one that is larger, more diverse, and mobile. . . . I continue to live out an experience for which I have yet to find a name[18, 17]". She presents her book, which begins with her own story and slowly blends into the story of other women as a "journey": "In the macrocosm of a vast land I find the microcosm of my own experience repeated and reaffirmed. . . . Coiled within the lives of these women I find myself transformed. The effort here is to probe the mystery of this experience and look beyond to another that is beginning to spell change and is centered in change. . . . It is the story of women who understand what survival is -- a story with grace" [20]. The most important contribution that Anees Jung's vision of survival and grace makes to developing literary tradition lies in the way it moves beyond the Sita-Savitri ideal of woman as wife.

[This contribution derives from work written for Professor Ranjini Obeysekere's Anthropology 302, South Asian Women Writers: Another Approach to Feminism, Princeton University, 1989]

[Postcolonial] India OV [Gender OV]

Last Modified: 15 March, 2002