Sita: Character Analysis - The World of Nagaraj

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      Sita, Charu, Saroja and Nagaraj's mother are four female characters in the novel, The World of Nagaraj. Sita occupies a pre-eminent position amongst all of them because of her sterling human virtues and her ubiquitous presence in the novel. She is the wife of protagonist Nagaraj. She is fourteen years old and Nagaraj is under twenty at the time of their marriage. She looks a timid, little creature at that time. Her personality has not by then fully developed. Her obscure features do not give an idea whether she is good looking or not. She appears as if she has just come out of a nursery school. Her features at the time of the would be bridegroom's inspection are depicted like this:
She had a rotund face, a scraggy slight figure and a long, long braid, with a wheaten complexion over which some kind of face powder stood out challengingly.


Sita is always aware of her domestic duties. She is engaged, most of the time, in fulfilling her family responsibilities. She observes a regular routine in day-to-day activities. She gets up at 5 o'clock early in the morning, washes clothes and after taking ablutions with cold water, she busies herself with preparing morning coffee for all the members of the family. When her mother-in-law grows old, she always bothers about her restlessness in perambulating continuously around the house.

      Seeing her unimpressive figure, Nagaraj is not able to decide at once. Still, he is favourably inclined towards her as his own personality is "stocky and dark complexioned" though he has done his graduation degree. Sita's father is a retired government servant and lives in Sullivan street of Malgudi.. The favourable factor on the, bridegroom's side is his aristocratic ancestry as the families living in Kabir Street are landlords with inheritance of "vast rice fields in the village." Moreover, Nagaraj's father considers him a 'wishy-washy and dreamy' fellow who cannot hope for a better match. Under such circumstances, both the families agree to the marriage of Sita with Nagaraj.

      In her early married life, Sita behaves like a timid, bashful, hesitant and conservative housewife. She is very restrained in her relations and meetings with her husband. She tries to avoid him during the day and always follows her mother-in-law like a hanger-on. She obeys her commands regarding domestic routine chores of the day. She is very dutiful and modest to the extent that she maintains secrecy when she is talking to Nagaraj. Nagaraj desires to be with her "for a tete-a-tete." Whenever she comes to his room, she keeps the door partly open on the excuse that her mother-in-law may need her or she may summon her for some help in the culinary work. When the mother-in-law has gone to the temple in the evening, she comes to have a talk with Nagaraj who is sitting on the pyol. She will resist if he tries to catch hold of her in order to drag her near him. She likes to talk in low voice so that the passersby in the street may not listen to them talking. She will maintain "a discreet distance from each other" to give the impression to the on-lookers that they are semi-strangers. During such hours of conversation with her husband, she will relate to him the homely activities of the day like "How she put the kettle on for coffee, how she almost toppled down the filter while pouring into it boiling water. How lucky mother was not there!" She is so secretive in her relations with Nagaraj that when she notices people returning from the temple, she will go away into the kitchen despite the latter's attempt to catch her and hold her back. She takes up the job of grating half a coconut for chutney as per her mother-in-law's instructions. On her return from the temple, Nagaraj's mother will hear from a distance that she is busy with kitchen work. Sita is shrewd, coy and behaves in consonance with the conventional norms and decorum of a middle-class houselady.

      Sita is always aware of her domestic duties. She is engaged, most of the time, in fulfilling her family responsibilities. She observes a regular routine in day-to-day activities. She gets up at 5 o'clock early in the morning, washes clothes and after taking ablutions with cold water, she busies herself with preparing morning coffee for all the members of the family. When her mother-in-law grows old, she always bothers about her restlessness in perambulating continuously around the house. She keeps watch over her lest she should fall and get injured. She has to do this job single-handedly as Nagaraj's elder brother, Gopu, has gone away to settle in the village alongwith his wife, Charu, and his son, Tim, after the partition of the ancestral property between the two brothers following their father's death. She, sometimes, feels peeved at the restless and resentful behaviour of the mother-in-law in her dotage. Her botheration is enhanced by the non-chalance of Nagaraj towards domestic duties. He keeps to his daily leisurely routine of watching and brooding over the activities going on in the street and the persons like the retired, drunken engineer, Talkative Man etc. passing through the street. After taking his food, Nagaraj goes to Kanni's shop for taking betel-leaf. Thereafter, with a supreme look of satisfaction, he reaches the Coomar's Boeing Sari Centre on the Market road, stays there for a considerable time making entries of transactions of the shop in ledgers free of charge. Nagaraj's attitude of total indifference towards household responsibilities added with his recurring, obsessive pre-occupation with his mission of writing a book on the celestial sage, Narada, enhances Sita's burden of domesticity. She has to remain confined to the four walls of the house, specialy because of her sole concern for looking after the old, decrepit mother-in-law who keeps on moving about the sprawling house and mumbling something or the other. Sita's resentment and dissatisfaction caused by the over-burdening constraints of family circumstances are expressed in these words:

"Her secret grievance was that his mother had become her sole concern while Nagaraj went about freely without a care. She often said, when the mood was dark, that she had become a prisoner in the house owing to the old lady's restlessness."

      Instead of helping her or confronting her directly in her surly moods, Nagaraj will try to prevaricate the situation by uttering a few pleasantries and walking to the backyard to wash his fingers and gargle. For the sake of the diversion of her attention, he will mention some new patterns of sarees that have come to Coomar's Sari Centre. The growing irritability of the mother-in-law in her extreme old age, occasionally, becomes a bone of contention between Sita and her mother-in-law which induces Nagaraj to keep away from the house for the greater part of the day so that he may not have "to arbitrate between his mother and Sita all day." Faced with this spectacle, he is wonder-struck at the transformations brought about by age.

      Sita's cause for feeling pestered by Nagaraj's old mother is not that she lacks due regards and sympathy towards her. She is rather forced to feel upset at times due to her husband's absolute non-involvement in home affairs combined with the increasing restlessness and inquisitiveness of the old lady. That is why, she expresses her chagrin to Nagaraj by telling him, "Please keep your mother in one place. I feel paralysed when she is following me about, questioning and questioning. I can't cook or sweep or clean if I'm bothered like this." But the latter, instead of assuring her of his help, will give some indistinct and incognito reply and go away. However, the bond of warmth and hearty attachment with her mother-in-law comes in explicit evidence when the old lady dies of hip-bone fracture because of her sudden stumbling over during her unwanted perambulations in the backyard of the house. Sita feels forlorn and sad in her absence. Her heart is pricked by the void created as a result of her mother-in-law's death. She feels contrite for her occasional peevishness and irascibility with the old lady in her last days. Sita possesses a feeling of reverence and understanding, in general, towards Nagaraj's mother. She does her best to serve and satisfy her.

      Sita abounds in worldly wisdom. She is more practical-minded and far-sighted than her husband. She always tenders opportune advice to Nagaraj in various critical situations. Although, he does not treat her words of advice with seriousness and generally takes a light view of what she exhorts him to do. But conclusively, he realises the soundness and validity of his wife's wisdom. There are a number of glaring instances in the novel which prove this conspicuous trait of her character. At the sudden appearance of Tim at their house in Kabir Street with his trunk, she advises Nagaraj to inform his elder brother, Gopu, about the boy's arrival and not to admit him in Albert Mission Junior College without first getting consent from the boy's father. Nagaraj ignores her and gets him admitted. Gopu, on his arrival at the Kabir Street residence, bursts out at his younger brother for his negligence in not informing him about the run-away boy. He challenges Nagaraj's authority to get Tim admitted in Albert Mission school without seeking his prior permission in the matter. Nagaraj has to cut a sorry figure before him and renders himself a laughing stock and worthless dreamy fellow in the eyes of his elder brother. Sita, off and on, exhorts her husband to keep a tab on Tim's movements as his behaviour has become totally suspicious. Moreover as guardian and uncle of the boy, it is his duty to keep himself well-acquainted with the boy's activities. Ultimately, Nagaraj comes to grief due to his long procrastination in taking a decision and his failure to pluck the courage to interrogate Tim directly about his usual sudden disappearances from the house and late home-coming at night. He is told by Jesudoss, the headmaster, about the boy's sudden withdrawal from his classes who otherwise can have made a good grade because of his above average intelligence. Consequently, Sita's husband has to eat an humble pie before his elder brother who uses invective, intemperate language against him and alleges him to have acted like Narada by weaning away his son and thereafter allowing him to go astray on wrong ways because of the wilful dereliction of duty on his part. Sita's uncanny perceptive power of foreseeing practicalities and realities of a situation, which is in contrast with her husband's impractical, brooding, evasive and gutless temperament, is reflected in this description of Tim's misleading ways:

"Sita did not share her husband's blind leniency towards the boy. She felt at times that he would benefit by a sound thrashing, She found it impossible to depend on his words. He was full of charms but never meant what he said, and proved slippery."

      The glaring contrast of Sita's practical perceptions with Nagara's impractical suppositions and lack of worldly wisdom is reiterated by various situations in the novel. The worst happens, when, Tim, alongwith his wife Saroja, leaves the Kabir Street house and Nagaraj fails to muster up the courage to ask them why and where they are going away. Sita, on the other hand, shows the courage to ask them the reason for behaving like this. But they don't bother to reply her which hurts her the most. Gopu's reappearance at their house causes embarrassment to Nagaraj again by his utter failure in answering convincingly the queries put up by his elder brother regarding, Tim and his wife's sudden departure from their house and the irresponsibility demonstrated by his negligence about their present whereabouts.

      It is abundantly evident from occurrences on various occasions that Sita is wiser, more practical-sighted, substantially more perceptive and alert than her husband. Whenever she advises him to take some concrete, practically effective corrective steps such as holding a face-to-face discussion with Tim regarding his unpredictable, disorderly behaviour or his wilful withdrawal from the college and thereafter going to the village for the sake of passing on the latest information about the boy to his father, Nagaraj ends in disastrous failure and discomfiture in managing such situations of crisis. On the other hand, for the purpose of covering up his cowardice, nervousness and gutlessness, he conjures her up imaginatively like Lady Macbeth egging on her husband insistently to murder the sleeping King. He lacks the pluck to vent such an inward feeling openly for fear of inviting turbulence which will upset the apple cart of their life of "harmonious domesticity." Such a far-fetched literary parallelism unwarranted by the existing situations in the novel exposes ironically Nagaraj's tendency towards frequent indulgence in literary inane irrelevancies ending in his ineffectual exercise in self-delusion. Sita is more clear-headed and a down-to-earth realist vis-a-vis her husband's habitual concoction of hyperbolic literary precedents. Her capability of taking well-timed decisions not only in grave circumstances but also in small matters like hurrying him up in taking a bath is unambiguously confessed by the protagonist. He says:

"His wife had a genius for doing the right thing and he felt a profound gratitude for her attention as he poured water over his head and messed about with the green soap, which as usual smarted at his eyes."

      She is genial, good-humoured and light-hearted by nature. She feels amused, but not vicariously, at the discomfiture caused to Nagaraj by Saroja's practising some film songs or tunes on the harmonium when he is trying to compose his mind to write a book on Narada in the morning hours after finishing his routine of taking ablutions and performing puja etc. at an early time. Nagaraj's mind is distracted by the harmonium sound. He seeks Sita's help in advising Saroja not to play upon harmonium in the morning. She, amusingly, refuses to do this and suggests to him to tell her so himself. Nagaraj decides to speak to Saroja in categorical words to postpone her practising film songs. He goes hurriedly past the kitchen towards Saroja's room but feels disarmed before her and returns mutely without responding to her question to him whether he likes the new tune she is practising. Sita hilariously enjoys Nagaraj's helplessness. She teasingly suggests to him why not to write about Krishna rather than about Narada when he tells her his difficulty in getting relevant material about the sage's life and achievements despite his strenuous efforts for extracting worthwhile details from pundit Kavu and the stationery-man, Bari. In a lighter, vein, she makes a suggestion to him that he should plug his ears with a piece of cotton in order not to hear the harmonium Sound. Nagaraj takes it, literally and undergoes a series of humorous situations in search of cotton. At the same time, she wants to help her husband in procuring for him the conditions conducive to his mission of writing the book. Hence, she cleans the room in the third courtyard which is much far away from Saroja's room for him to sit undisturbed while pre-occupied with his business of writing. She spreads a mat on the floor and puts an old sloping desk on which he can do his writing work squatting on the floor. Looking at the convenient arrangement made by her, Nagaraj comments:

"After so many years I am discovering her, he thought, I have been doing her an injustice, thinking of her only as companion to feed me and look after my comforts."

      But, even this arrangement does not disentangle Nagaraj's mind from his obsession about the harmonium sound. Sita derives innocent pleasure from her husband's predicament of this type.

      Sita is replete with human feeling of love, gentleness, tenderness and respectfulness. She has a warm heart for family ties. She has unbounded affection and love for Tim, her sister in-law's son. When the boy is just three months old, she feels attached with him and tends to him leaving Charu, the boy's mother, unworried about the botheration of looking after the baby. When Tim suddenly comes to their house to live with them and not to go back to his village after picking up a quarrel with his father who calls him 'a donkey' she entertains him. She looks after his needs as she will do in case of her own son. She feels a serious concern about the wayward activities and undependable ways of Tim. She feels hurt at the news that the boy has given up attending his classes without their knowledge. She cautions her husband, time and again, about his duty towards the boy as he is his uncle and guardian. That is why, she insists upon him to find out the truth about Tim. She is always ready with proper advice to her husband regarding the boy. On the disclosure of Tim's withdrawal from Albert Mission surreptitiously, she urges upon Nagaraj to go to the village to acquaint his elder brother with the factual position. She threatens that in case he does not go, she will go herself the very next morning.

      The sudden departure of Tim and Saroja from their house makes her sad and sullen. She feels pained by reading the post-card received from Gopu wherein he has expressed his anger and has blamed Nagaraj for Tim's waywardness. On Tim and Saroja's return home without prior notice after Tim's quarrel with the Secretary of Kismet, she feels revived and welcomes them back home. She hands ever to them their previous room to live by removing from there the desk and notes belonging to Nagaraj. She has a sensitive, tender heart as she very well vis halides the agony and misery caused to Tim's mother, Charu, by her son's unceremonious departure from his village home. When Charu comes to Kabir Street house in the company of her husband in connection with the settlement of Tim's marriage with Saroja, Sita feels very happy in meeting her after such a long time. Sita is endowed with a liberal and magnanimous temperament. She is well-mannered and courteous.

      Sita is full of courtesy and due respect towards the elderly members of her in-law's family. At the time of Nagaraj's elder brother Gopu's visit to their house in connection with Tim, she shows him full regards. She is hospitable to him and serves him with coffee and delicious food. When she returns from the temple and finds Gopu already seated in their house, she enters with due decorum and calls Nagaraj to her side in order to enquire about coffee and to purchase proper provisions for his brother's food. Nagaraj shows covert disinclination to go with his elder brother in search of Tim and Saroja. She intuitively notices the signs of hesitation on her husband's part. She considers it as something discourteous and unbecoming. She, therefore, suggests to him to accompany his elder brother. She serves both of them with food before their departure in search of the boy and his wife because such a task may take indefinite stretch of time. Her liberality is also illustrated by her habit of preparing some spare food everyday which may be utilised for some unexpected guest or visitor or a beggar. She is a good, efficient house-keeper. She shows no signs of stringency, narrow-mindedness or of jealousy.

      Sita is thoroughly religious-minded. After ablutions early in the morning, she performs puja in the puja room where the images of gods and goddesses are reverently placed. Moreover, she feels shocked at the mention by her husband that he has purchased the cotton lamp-wicks in order to plug his ears. She considers it as a sacrilegious act. The stunned state of her mind is stated thus:

"She looked horrified and held the packet away from him. What an evil notion! To misuse God's lamp-wicks. I never thought you would stoop so low. Its a sin to misuse God's wicks..."

      When Nagaraj enters the cubicle treated as the puja room in their house since generations with his ochre dhoti and wrap on his body after his bath, he finds that "His wife had already lit the oil lamps before the deity, filled a basket with flowers from the garden in the backyard; and lit incense sticks." This observation also registers Sita's punctuality and a feeling of solemnity towards religious rituals.

      Sita is abundant in human warmth, tolerance and cheerfulness. She possesses a good amount of womanly qualities of heart and soul. But, unfortunately, the sad and tragic part of her life lies in her incurable barrenness. Still, it goes to her credit that this does not afflict her temperament and behaviour with bitterness. She has no child of her own but she abounds in maternal instincts and warmth. The motherly affections get an eloquent expression in the sincerity of atachment she feels with Tim and later on with Saroja. She feels sullen and isolated on their sudden departure from the Kabir Street house and is rejuvenated and revitalised after their sudden coming back home. She does not want to restrict Saroja from her fondness for film song and harmonium. She is herself fond of playing upon a harmonium but has stopped doing it when her mother-in-law asks her not to do this amidst all in the house.

      While describing the various methods applied for curing her of her infertility, a whole gamut of beliefs and superstitions prevalent in the Indian society is mentioned. Her mother-in-law makes her chew a number of neem leaves every morning, a herbal cure of barrenness which her grandfather has practised effectively on numerous women as her mother-in-law has seen him being always carried by the needy persons in a carriage drawn by a double-pair of bullocks. But, this recipe fails in case of Sita. She gives it up preferring to remain issueless. Other remedies such as a forty-day penance, special pujas and pilgrimages to remote villages are also tried but in vain. She is taken to a temple some sixty miles away. The carved image of a cobra is the presiding deity there and it has to be anointed with milk and honey from time to time, since an astrologer has analysed from the horoscope that Sita's barrenness is due to a curse on her family caused by an ancestor's having killed a cobra. She has to bear the taunt of her mother-in-law on this score. The latter tells her that there is nothing wrong on Nagaraj's side as Gopu's wife has given birth to a son within two years. She will repeat the proverb to Sita. What can the hand that holds the plough achieve, if the hand that lifts the rice is unlucky? Despite these taunts, Sita maintains her calm and poise of mind and does not get soured or embittered by this hard luck.

      Sita's distinct trait of personality is embedded in her all-embracing love, kindness and regardfulness. She is untouched by rancour or ill-feeling towards anybody. She has a nature which cares for every member of the house. She is different from her sister-in-law, Charu, in this respect. Charu, right from the moment of her coming to her in-law's house after marriage with Gopu, maintains a separate entity and cares for her husband's comforts only. She sets up a separate notch in the family kitchen and cooks delicacies for her husband and for herself only. Gopu hardly moves out of his room and is served the whole day like a lord by his wife. Nagaraj who is unmarried at that time fails to understand such on-goings between his brother and his sister-in-law. Charu hardly shares the family food cooked by Mother even while occasionally eating jointly with other members of the family. The second point of difference lies in the fact that after Nagaraj' s father's death, Sita does not interfere in the process concerning the division of ancestral property between two brothers. It is Gopu only who is aggressive in getting the share in the property according to his own wishes. He has, perhaps, bribed the lawyer also in order to help conclude the partition as per his desire. Charu acts as a prompter on the side of Gopu from behind the scene. This role on the part of her sister-in-law, Charu, is strikingly at variance with Sita's attitude of non-involvement.

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