Negotiating The Idea of Women’s Relationship With ‘Home’— Roshni Subba

Nov 25, 2022 | Bookworm | 0 comments

Two Nepali short-stories, Sampurna Rai’s ‘Rama’ and Lakhhi Devi Sundas’ ‘Tesro Ghar’, reviewed by Roshni Subba


Just like water and food, finding a home or shelter is one of the primal longings of the human race. Defoe s famous classic spoke of a shipwrecked man whose foremost urgency was to build a shelter for himself on an uninhabited island. The well-known Nepalese authors, Sampurna Rai and Lakhhi Devi Sundas, have deftly dealt with the idea of home in their works. I shall probe Rai’s story Rama and Sundas’ story Tesro Ghar, originally written in Nepali, to understand these two narratives that interrogate the shape of belonging, of the idea of a home, and what it means for them to own a  space. Rama and Tesro Ghar both have women protagonists, albeit located on either side of nuptial bonding. Rama, in the story Rama, is ‘free’ of wedlock, and the other protagonist, who lacks a name in the story Tesro Ghar, is married. The stories reveal their associations with the homes they have been raised in.

Rama who stays unmarried, occupying her room at her parentshouse comes out as independent, strong, and a strict disciplinarian. The children in her family are scared of the strict codes of conduct she imposes in the house. Ramas extended stay at her parent’s house is, of course, unappreciated by her sisters-in-law. She is considered a burden by them and remains a constant threat to their existence in their husbandshomes. She runs her rule over the household from her room which has the air of a  fortress. This space that she occupies stays almost inaccessible to the rest of the family. One of the walls of the room is full of the idols of Gods and Goddesses; no one could disturb her, especially during her prayers. Later, when she decides to leave the house, it is only the room that she feels attached to. Rama’s room reminds one of Woolf ’s A Room Of One’s Own . Woolf talks about the significance of a room where a woman can be free to write and build her social standing. Rama’s room too was more than just space, the base of her present, an apparently solid anchor to her dominating persona. In the course of the story, the house she is born into slips from under her feet as the power of possession is handed over to her brothers, and to a certain extent, to her sisters-in-law. She is made to wake up to the fact that she has overstayed. As readers, we are made to wonder if her overwhelming personality, the unignorable weight of it erupted from a deep subconscious awareness of this reality. When her niece elopes to Kathmandu with a lover who belongs to the same caste as the family, suspicious eyes turn on Rama and she is blamed” for the niece’s doings. The incident fuels the family members to team up against her and criticize Ramas strict household regime to be what must have compelled the young girl to elope instead of coming out clean about the relationship. Rama is turned into a villain at her own house. This shatters the glass house of belonging. The house to which she ties herself so strongly (unknowingly or knowingly, how it was she who had to cling to it and not have it embrace her) ejects her with a heartbreaking immediacy. Rama decides to leave the house without defending herself and decides to move into a hostel where belonging is physical without any vapid pretense or serrated edges of unreciprocated relationships or emotions. The hostel becomes the truest of the rooms that will take her in without ever belonging to her. 

Tesro Ghar by Lakhhi Devi Sundas begins with the arrangement for a puja ceremony for the new house that an estranged wife is shifting to. This is the third house of the woman, which is built to compensate her when her husband brings the second wife for himself. She had learned that women only have two homes in their lives, one their parentshome and the other that she is married off to, the third is the one that she goes to only after her death—

From her early childhood days, she had learnt that a womans first house is that of her parents, second that belongs to her husband and the third house is that the one has to go to after completing her existence on earth. But then today, it was perhaps her ill fate, which made her enter the third house while alive.” (Translated) 

Everyone expects her to be happy, and it was true that she finally had a home that she could call her own, but she has her doubts. The priest blessed the house and performed rituals for her home, but she wondered if she would find protection there. She questioned herself regarding the idea of belonging to a home—if having furniture and other home items would turn a house into a home, and so on and so forth. She remembered how she had centered all her efforts on building their marital home, only to be treated as an outsider afterward. 

Both writers have spoken about the role women play in discriminating against each other. Instead of supporting their kind and speaking for them, writers in these two stories point out how women equally played roles in dominating their lot. In Rama, the opposition comes from no one else but her sisters-in-law. She is perceived as a burden by those women who have recently become a part of that household, they themselves hold positions lower than their male counterparts in the house. Ramas existence in her own house is frowned upon and is made to feel unwanted by no other gender but women. In Tesro Ghar too, there are two incidents that portray how the protagonist is made to empathize with herself. At the beginning of the story, the protagonist is not very happy about her new house because she has recollections of how she had contributed equally towards the house that she was married off to into a home. She was hurt to receive indifferent treatment from her husband, but as mentioned above, other women in the story are equally responsible for discomforting her. Her sister-in-law sees her shedding tears and tells her not to cry because she thinks it is a very auspicious day for her since she now has a home she can call her own. What follows next is problematic because the sister-in-law tells her that the new house was built because she disagreed to stay with anyone and it was her wish to stay elsewhere. This remark shows how it was insensible of her sister-in-law to say something like this, as if, the protagonists decision to not share the home with the second wife of her husband or with her brother and sister-in-law is a mistake. Her mother-in-law too tries to convince her about settling with the son and staying in.

We empathize with the protagonists of Rama and Tesro Ghar when we understand how they are ‘othered’— not just outside their homes but inside their homes too, the homes which they considered their own. They are pushed into other homes not because they wanted to shift but because their presence in the homes, which they considered their own, is unwanted. 

Also, read two flash fiction written in Bengali by Sunetra Sadhu, and translated into English by Dr. Padmakali Kar, and published in The Antonym:

Behind The Veil & Mbaa… — Sunetra Sadhu

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Roshni Subba is an Assistant Professor at the Department of English, University of Calcutta. She taught for more than three years at Satyawati College, University of Delhi. Her current research interests include folk literature and children’s literature. She has numerous journal publications to her name. 



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