Title: Gender Discrimination and Parental authority in Mahesh Dattani’s play Tara
Mahesh Dattani is a contemporary Indian playwright and his play Tara revolves around the separation of conjoined twins. Gender discrimination is the reason for the separation and the exercise of the parental authority is also observed in the course of the play. The research focuses on how parental authority and gender discrimination lead to the death of the daughter Tara and deterioration of Patel’s family. The gender discrimination and parental authority account for the death of the innocent girl, Tara. The paper also looks into the aspect of society playing an invisible role in the separation of the twins.
Key words: Parental authority, Gender difference, Gender role conflict, Society, Separation
Drama in India was evident since the time of Vedas, yet the English drama was made familiar only in the twentieth century post Independence. Theatre is a dynamic and a powerful tool of expression as the emotions and feelings are visually realized by the audience. The impact of a drama is vast because of its dialogues, narrative composition, settings and light effects. The Contemporary Indian theatre has experienced many prominent playwrights like Girish Karnad, Vijay Tendulkar, Mahesh Dattni etc. These playwrights serve as the voices of the society and the contemporary Indian English Drama serves as a medium for the playwrights to express their opinions and ideas about the society. Mahesh Dattani is an eminent contemporary Indian playwright who uses his plays to represent the dark evils of the society. All his plays make the audience or the readers think about the social evils that are dominant in the society. Tara is a play by Mahesh Dattani which encompasses several themes related to social evils into one play. This research paper focuses on the parental authority and gender discrimination that victimized the children and how gradually the family was also led to pain and suffering. Parents and their notion of gender led to the death of their own daughter and it is also the reason why Chandan flees to London to escape the harsh and crude memories that burdened him in India.
Tara and Chandan are conjoined twins and their separation brings in a lot of chaos into the family. Though it is only the mother and the grandfather who were keen on separation, the father can also be held responsible as he gave in to the decision of his wife. The father and the mother should be the source of impartiality towards their children. Patel and Bharati failed to be in the true sense of the term ‘parenthood’. They made their children suffer both psychologically and physiologically through the operation. Their impudent decision over separation and preferring Chandan over Tara, not only with regard to separation but also the post-operation concerns that Patel had for Chandan and his education made Tara feel low and unnoticed by her father. Her life was a sacrifice and she was not even aware that she was making a sacrifice for the sake of her brother. The operation went futile as it did harbor only pain and suffering.
The article “Contemporary Indian Theatre: Three voices” by Erin B Mee highlights the parental authority in the plays of Mahesh Dattani. In Tara, the parental authority is vital as the children comply with the words of their parents. The children do whatever their parents wanted them to do. Starting from their separation, Chandan’s education, Tara’s food chart was decided by the parents. The playwright Mahesh Dattani himself mentions in an interview with Erin B Mee that his plays deal with the invisible issues of the society and Tara is about a life of a girl who “wastes away and dies after coming to know she wasn’t really loved the way she thought she was” ( Mahesh Dattani 21). Lata Mishra’s “Gender Politics in Tara” also talks about the gender discrimination that is meted out to Tara and how Mahesh Dattani uses the medium of the family to discuss the gender role conflicts that dominate in our society. S.L. Bhyrappa in “Abiding values in Indian Literature” suggests that “Not by proposing solutions to the immediate problems of his society, but by transforming the nature of the human being does the writer try to cure the ills of society and make his unique contribution to the betterment of the human conditions”(Bhyrappa 183). Mahesh Dattani does not give any suggestions or ideas at the end of his play. He leaves it open to the discretion of his audience.
The research incorporates Jim O’Neil’s theory of Gender role conflict. Jim O’Neil’ claims that gender role conflict occurs when rigid, sexist, or limiting gender roles result in restriction, devaluation, or violation of self and/or others (1981b). This theory holds true with regard to Tara. In the course of the play, she undergoes two operations and she eventually dies. Her death is because of the gender difference that the mother saw amongst her children. Tara’s value or importance was not recognized. They wanted Chandan to be the beneficiary of the separation. Tara lost her leg that belonged to her. She was not even aware that the leg belonged to her neither had they got her approval for providing her leg to Chandan. This does not mean that Tara would have refused to give her leg; she would have given it to Chandan without any complains. The parents have behaved in an unjust manner. Their illusion was disillusioned through the consequences of the operation. Both the children were doomed to suffer because of one unjust decision. Further speculation of the cause of this prenatal preference is that it is deeply rooted in the society. The society has invisible issues and this gender difference within a family space is because of the societal expectations of a man to be physically strong and helpful to the family. The girls should be the silent sufferers and Tara becomes a symbol of sacrifice herself.
The death of the daughter Tara is the ultimate result of parental preference of the son over the daughter. The parents wanted the son to have a distinct future for himself, so the mother preferred to give the third leg to Chandan and the father, after operation, was so keen on the education of his son. The Gender discrimination begins with parental preference of son over the daughter and belittling the importance of daughter. Home, in this play, is a reflection of the society and how parents blindly give in to the notion of gendered preference. The concept of a girl and a boy had let to the major destruction of Patel’s family. Parents have complete authority over their children and they do not give them any reason for their actions and decisions. Patel did not want the children to know about the reason of the separation operation because it is a gendered preference and the children will not be unable to stand it because it will hurt them so much. Nevertheless they could not hide it from the children and when they came to know about it, Tara and Chandan were shocked and Tara dies and Chandan flees to London. Mr and Mrs. Patel destined themselves to sorrow and misery and they are left only with guilt. The parents ruined the lives of their own children and they failed miserably as the family is broken beyond repair.
The play is set in the twenty-first century where gender conflicts still continue to pervade in the lives of the Indian families. The Gender conflicts and differences begin at home. The society plays an important invisible role for gender conflicts to begin at home. The society had different evils in the past like female infanticide, through this play Mahesh Dattani makes the readers think that there may be no female infanticide in the society in the present but it has taken a new form where the son is preferred over the daughter in terms of education and providing opportunities. So a girl child’s future takes a back seat and in this play the same happens and Tara is dead at the end. The male child preference had always been a dominant part of the society. Ram Sharma in his “A history of Indian English Drama” article also talks about how Mahesh Dattani talks about the contemporary issues of the society. Mahesh Dattani and his plays are eminent for his contemporaneity.
With education and exposure to knowledge we tend to believe that the male child preference does not happen in the educated urban spaces and it is the thing of the past. The male child is always considered to be prominent even till date and Tara holds this true because of the separation of twins to prefer Chandan, the son.
Tara is unique in Indian writing in English as the play revolves around the lives of conjoined twins of different sex. The conjoined twins are usually of the same sex. This play gains its prominence because of the difference in gender of the twins. The separation of the twins comes into light only because of this aspect. Separation of twins here becomes a necessity as they are of different sexes. There is no noble cause or reason as to benefit both the daughter and son to have a distinct, wonderful future for them. The operation could have been justified only if it were to be performed with a genuine reason where Tara and Chandan could have their own future without depending on each other both physically and emotionally. The ulterior motive of separation was to favor Chandan. Mahesh Dattani brings into limelight the fact that even educated parents in the 21st century have biased notions and ideas towards gender. Tara is a byproduct of such notion. The mother, Bharati victimizes her own children by her impudent decision over the surgery.
The family’s ideas and perceptions are shaped by the society and the family ultimately reflects the society. The grandfather is absent in the play. Yet his presence is felt through the dialogues of the other characters in the play. He is a strongly gendered person. He was the one who was behind the idea of favoring Chandan. He has left his entire property to Chandan. He has also influenced his daughter in the separation of the twins. Patel feels inferior to his father-in-law because he is not as rich as his father-in-law and he assumes that he has no say against his father-in-law. He becomes passive and in spite of he knowing the fact that he is risking his own daughter’s life, he stayed quite. The invisible society is reflected through the invisible grandfather. The grandfather leaves all his property to Chandan and there is no share to Tara in his property. This shows that the grandfather marginalizes women and he had strongly believed that women are supposed to be under men and they should not be provided with power or any material benefits. Tara was almost invisible to the grandfather. He used his material power and wealth to make the Dr. Thakkar perform the operation. The grandfather comes across as a person with strong gender notions of preferring men over women. Yet all his actions went futile as both the children ended up being crippled and Chandan goes to London after Tara dies and he refuses to come back to India. The grandfather becomes more like a villain and he had inflicted sufferings on his grandchildren through his notion of suppressing women and denying them everything they deserve. Tara did not wish for anything in her life, she was an innocent and meek girl and she was shocked when she came to know the truth about the operation.
The preference of Chandan over Tara is a gendered preference. The doctors clearly mentioned that the third leg belongs to the daughter and it involves huge risk if the leg has to be given to Chandan. But they were willing to accept the risk rather than providing the leg to Tara to who it belonged. Dr. Thakkar also willingly accepted to perform the operation because of his own personal benefits. Tara’s grandfather was an influential person in Bangalore and Dr. Thakkar could use his influence to start a large nursing home in the heart of the city and the success of the operation will also bring huge fame and reputation to him. The operation, thus was not considered as the life and future of two children, rather on one hand it was to prefer the son and make him more strong physically and on the other hand it was a business where the doctor preferred his own benefits and Tara was not a subject of consideration and her future was unnoticed by the parents and the doctor.
The play also features how children are oblivious to the gender discrimination and how they fall prey to their parents’ decision. Chandan always considers Tara as an integral part of himself and he argues with his father when Patel asks him to go to office with him leaving Tara behind. When Patel says that Tara will not accompany them, she looks hurt and Patel immediately says that it is her wish to accompany them. This shows how Patel fails to be impartial towards his daughter and Patel is keen about the future of the son. The daughter stays out of the picture. He exercises his control over his son and he wanted him to work and he insists Chandan to go to office, whereas Chandan is more interested in writing stories and Patel fails to recognize the hidden talent of his son. Patel wanted Chandan to be independent and he wants to shape the future of his son. So he exercises the parental authority to make him comply with his decision. Patel uses his authority over the children to make them what he wants to do.
The irony lies in the fact that the daughter has done a great sacrifice but she is hardly recognized. The rigid gender difference make devalues the self of Tara. Tara is naïve and innocent and her life is more of a sacrifice, an unknown sacrifice. It can be called an unknown sacrifice because she didn’t know that Chandan will be benefitted out of the operation. The children are pure at their hearts and they are left with confusions and perplexities as they are unable to understand their own parents’ motives and intentions. Patel’s behavior made Tara think that her father hates her. Tara says to Chandan, Tara: You say that because he’s nice to you….he talks to you more often. ( Dattani 373)
Tara considers that Chandan is her father’s favorite as most of the times Patel talks about Chandan going abroad and pursuing his career. This shows how the gender conflicts and gender differences are made to be realized by the daughter unconsciously. After her kidney transplantation operation, she even tries convincing Chandan to go to college without her. But he is not ready to go alone. He wants his sister to accompany him. Tara and Chandan are clueless about the concept of gender discrimination and biases and hence they stand above Mr. and Mrs. Patel. The generation gap is apparent where Chandan is not biased towards his sister and he believes that both of them are equal.