Nataraj's Wife: Character in - The Man-Eater of Malgudi

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      The protagonist Nataraj's wife is a homely woman, she sincerely carries out her routine domestic chores. She does not seem to have much education. She feels satisfied with her being confined within the four walls of the house. Hence, her outlook shaped by her homely way of life is orthodox, tradition-abiding and conservative. The sphere of her activities remains limited to her dutifulness towards her child and husband. She is a faithful, sincere and considerate woman. She is ever ready to come to the help of her husband whenever she finds him in trouble. The following incident testifies to her sense of concern for her husband. Nataraj, under nervous stress, goes hysterical and raises a loud cry when the function at the temple of Krishna is in progress. A big crowd of men, women and children has assembled to join the religious ritual. The Chairman of the Municipal Committe has arrived at the stage. Nataraj is standing on the outskirts of the gathering. The glee and gaiety of the occasion makes him feel nervous as in his heart of hearts he is worried about Vasu's plan of shooting down the elephant through his attic's window when the procession with the elephant at its head reaches the Market fountain at night. His mind grows feverish with the imaginative scene that will ensue the stampede caused by the shooting incident. An immense loss of life of men, women and children will be the result.

Hence, her outlook shaped by her homely way of life is orthodox, tradition-abiding and conservative. The sphere of her activities remains limited to her dutifulness towards her child and husband. She is a faithful, sincere and considerate woman. She is ever ready to come to the help of her husband whenever she finds him in trouble.
Nataraj's Wife

      The prospect of this appalling scene makes Nataraj behave like a mad person and a cry louder than the babble of the crowd and the Chairman's speech on the microphone comes out of his throat. Everyone over there is stunned by the shrill cry. Nataraj is immediately surrounded by sympathisers, the Chairman and his friends like the poet, Sen and Muthu. His wife forces her way through the crowd to reach her husband. She feels highly agitated to see Nataraj's condition and appeals to him to go back to the house with her and their son, Babu. Nataraj resists this move and tells all the persons over there not to feel disturbed and to resume the normal activities of the ceremonial occasion. He tries to assure his wife saying, "Why are you behaving like this? I felt a little choked in there and so came out to sit here." But, she is too shrewd to be misled by him. Hence, she takes him home alongwith her child. The incident reveals the depth of sympathetic feeling, she nourishes, for her husband.

      This trait of Nataraj's wife's character is further reflected in the devotion, care and attention she bestows upon her husband at home. She pleads with him not to go back to the festival but to take rest and food. Eventually, he is restored to his normal state of mind. She knows that his nervousness is the result of his constant over-work and the lack of food-intake for the last few days. Her feelings of mirth and pleasure in serving her husband are expressed through her elaborate preparation of delicacies of food that her husband is habitually fond of eating. She spares no effort in pleasing him and making him feel at home in the house. Nataraj narrates the enthusiasm and keen interest of his wife in cooking a variety of food delicacies for him in these words:

She had prepared a feast for me, she knew all my preferences: potato and onion mash, rice patties fried in oil, chutney ground with green chili, sauce with brinjal and grated coconut, cucumber slice, peppered and salted.

      When food is ready, Nataraj's wife invites her husband to dinner. She serves him food in a special way as one does to a guest. She has spread out a plantain leaf and serves all the delicacies on it. She places a plank for him to sit on. She feels happy to see her husband eating all these delicacies with relish. Nataraj asks her to put out a plantain leaf for her also so that they may eat simultaneously. She refuses to do so as she likes to serve him ceremoniously like a hostess that day. After dinner, she persuades him to remain at home and to take rest and sleep. She seeks his permission to allow her to attend the starting ceremony of the procession in the company of her neighbour and Babu. She promises to come back home immediately after the start of the procession. She is doing this, especially, in order to appease the curiosity of the child for looking at the grandeur and fun of the occasion. All these details reveal her sincerity, faithfulness, love and care for her husband.

      Nataraj's wife is a conservative believer in mutual love and loyalty in wife-husband relationship. That is why, she feels annoyed internally when Rangi comes to their house at night for the sake of meeting Nataraj in order to know what he has done in preventing the impending calamitous end of the procession. She does not express her annoyance explicitly to Nataraj. She becomes sceptical about her husband's intentions owing to her orthodox outlook. She feels peeved at the fact that her husband is talking to a socially inferior woman like Rangi. Her inner wrath gets exposed in the curt reply she gives to her husband in response to Nataraj's reaction that she is going away whereas he is to stay at home. She summarily dismisses his enquiry saying, "Stay or go, it's all the same to me." The sudden shift in her mood from winsome hospitality to one of indifference and intolerance towards him is strong enough to suggest to him her protest against his familiarity with Rangi. The feeling of jealously overtakes her. Nataraj, too, is conscious of his wife's probable reaction of disapproval towards Rangi's visit. That is why, he talks to Rangi standing in the dark passage of the house rather than inviting her inside as a matter of social courtesy. He does this in order to give an impression to his wife that he does not have any serious relations with her. His wife's jealousy, aroused by Rangi's presence, is expressed by Nataraj thus:

"I knew now. My worst fears were confirmed. All the fine moments of the evening, the taste of exquisite food, everything was turning to gall on my tongue. I knew my wife. Although I had no occasion to test it. I knew she could be fiercely jealous."

      His wife comes to him and suspiciously asks him, "That woman wants to see you. What's your connection with her?" The influences of the tradition-bound Hindu society on her do not let her tolerate the spectacle of a person like her husband of higher social strata talking to a woman of inferior, low position such as Rangi. The Hindu concept of untouchability is a product of this inflexible social hierarchical division of the Hindu society based upon caste-system.

      Nataraj's wife is a loving, tender-hearted and considerate mother. The maternal aspect of her personality is evident in her sense of concern and anxiety she experiences when her husband tells her about his suspicion that Vasu may someday abduct their son, Babu, in order to seek vengeance on him for his asking the latter to vacate the attic he is occupying at present. Moreover, Vasu has filed a suit against Nataraj to the Rent Controller while, in fact, he is paying no rent to him. She keeps a constant watch on the child and instructs him to come back home by six o'clock in the evening. She always keeps the front door of the house closed so that Vasu may not try to intrude into their house arid play some mischief upon the child. She goes to see the temple procession for the sake of the child who is persistently insisting on going to the temple for enjoying the fun and gaiety of the occasion. As a good housewife, she is hospitable to the guests like Muthu, Sen, the poet and the Veterinary doctor who visit her house in order to enquire about her husband's condition of health after the inauguration ceremony of the function is over in the temple. She serves coffee to all them ungrudgingly.

      Nataraj's wife is religious-minded. She believes in the sanctity of the temple festival and misses no chance to join the ceremonial celebration of Krishna's marriage with Radha. She attends the celebration function not only for the sake of fun and enjoyment of the bandobast of lights, pipes and drums that have been arranged by the organisers. Rather it is an occasion of pious faith for her. Participation in these religious observances, is a sort of fulfilment of duty which has been enjoined upon her by the long-standing tradition of religious faith: Thus, she possesses all the typical characteristics of a good homely Hindu woman.

      The other women, mentioned in the novel, are the adjournment lawyer's wife and his son-in-law's mother. Both of them are ordinary women who follow literally the age-old traditions, customs and conventions of the Hindu society. The lawyer's observations about women constitute a correct commentary on the custom-bound Indian woman. He details unhappily the customs which have to be observed on different occassions after one's daughter's marriage. The girl's father is compelled to go on giving presents, to the son-in-law on different occasions throughout the year in order to propitiate him as one gives offerings to a god or a goddess for his or her propitiation. The lawyer expresses his feeling of exasperation thus:

He must be given a present because it is the sixth month after the wedding, because it is the month of Adi, because it is Deepavali, because it is this or that; everytime you think of the great man, you must part with a hundred rupees in cash or clothes.

      He adds that these are all silly, old customs to the preservation of which "our women are responsible." He dwells further on this point that for this the youngman (bridegroom) is not to blame. Rather it is his (bridegroom's) mother who demands these things and the bride's mother, at once, responds by nagging her husband as these women know that if a man is sufficiently nagged, he will somehow find the cash. These observations of the lawyer very convincingly sum up the sway of customs and rituals that operates in the Indian social set-up. Women are cast in the role of custodian and defender of the convention-abiding character of the society. An ambiguous reference is also made to certain girls and women of different shapes and styles who are seen by Nataraj through the peephole in the bamboo curtain of the printing press while they come downstairs from Vasu's attic early in the morning. They have evidently spent the night with Vasu. All this gives a surprise to Nataraj who does not know earlier that the small town of Malgudi contains such a bewildering variety of womenfolk. The lawyer's wife, his son-in-law's mother and the nebulous immoral women who frequent Vasu's attic at night may aptly be placed in the class of shadowy characters portrayed, at times, by Narayan in his novels. They are not fully developed characters and are referred to sketchily for the projection of a certain specific viewpoint.

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