Annual of Urdu Studies, v. 7, 1990 p. 67.


Graphics file for this page
Jamila Feldman

TO BE OR NOT TO BE A GODDESS:

RAJENDER SINGH BEDFS WOMEN CHARACTERS

I am going to talk about things dear to a Punjabi's heart: sex, murder, mortals and goddesses. As I was reading literary criticism on Rajender Singh Bedi and as I did my research in India in 1984, interviewing literary critics and non-specialists alike, something kept haunting me like a persistent, insistent goddess waiting to be acknowledged. Almost without exception the literary critics whose works I read and the people I interviewed identified some of Bedi's women characters as goddesses, and further, they identified the same characters: Kaliyani (1974?)1 in the story of the same name (Bedi 1980a:75-90), Indu in "Give Me Your Sorrows" ("Apne DukH MujHe Dedo" 1965) (Bedi 1982a:121-55) and Rano in the Novelette A Slightly Soiled Sheet (1962?) (Ek Chadar Mail! Si) (Bedi 1983)2. However, try as I might, I could not elicit from my interviewees or assess from the literary criticism why these characters were understood as goddesses and how these differed from Bedi's other women characters. This paper seeks to address what makes a goddess in Bedi's literature and how his readers identify one. To aid in the task I discuss three Punjabi women characters from Bedi's fiction, the mortal Lajwanti in the story that bears her name (1957) (Bedi 1982b:9-24). -the goddess Rano in A Slightly Soiled Sheet and Ma of "A Barren Woman"

lBedl's works are difficult to date because they are sometimes available only in collections although published first in periodicals I have tried dahng the words as best I can However, for my analyses I preferred to use the author's most recent text, for Bedi wrote and rewrote his work, and I believe the author's last to be the definitive work. Some of Bedi's work has been translated into English. See Bedi (1967a:201-14), (1967b), (1968), (1976).

2Dunng my year in India I interviewed about 250 people. Some were literary critics of Hindi or Urdu literature; some were not. I tried to interview a cross section of the North Indian population with whom I had contact, so my records include information from highly educated people as well as illiterate people who could not read Bedi's stones but who described their lives. Since Bedi portrays the struggling underclasses, I wanted to know whether his writing depicted their experiences. People who read Bedi's works for me were men and women of varying ages and socio-economic levels In my sample was a middle-aged Sikh woman who read versions of Łk Cadar Maili Sfm Punjabi and in Urdu, a Bengali woman who read a Bengali translation of the novelette, and a South Indian resident of Delhi who read a Tamil version. Many of the interviewees read or reread a portion of Bedi's work either in the Urdu or Hindi translation and discussed the work with me. During the interviews I left time to discuss subjects besides Bedi's literature so that interviewees could comment about whatever they wished. For literary antics' discussions of goddesses in Bedi's literature see Ashraf (1984:88-112), Suroor (1981:383), and Narang (1981 405-24). Narang's essay is especially important because it surveys Bedi's use of mythology. Analyses of mythological elements in Bedi's work have been largely ignored because Urdu literature has increasingly become the province of North Indian Muslims and Pakistanis who more often stress social content or the literary relevance of Bedi's work.

Annual of Urdu Studies, #7 ^-j


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