From women who endure namelessly fulfilling the ideal of the devoted wife-goddess, South Asian fiction by women has progressed to a conflicted yet liberating naming of one's one experience and that of other women. Although Easterners and Westerners can debate
Like Fernando's Three Women, Anita Desai's In Custody criticizes traditional society, but her novel focuses on a pathetic, trapped male character whose wife despises his inability to succeed financially. A terrified, insignificant person, Deven moves from mediocrity as a college lecturer to impending professional and financial ruin as he incurs increasing monetary debts, which he finally decides to endure rather than committing suicide. His wife gives him little support -- in fact, the women in the book seem rather nasty, especially the enraged young wife of Deven's hero, the poet Nur. As the story progresses, however, Desai makes clear that just as the male characters are trapped in a world that offers no possibility for success, the female characters have even more right to feel frustrated with a sexist society that reduces them to clinging to these men who cannot provide them with what they want.
Unlike the evil Kunthi from Kamala Markandaya's Nectar in a Sieve, Desai's characters seem justified when they act out of self-preservation. Furthermore, unlike Markandaya's Rukmani and Ira who appear justified for their rebellion yet suffer punishment anyway, Fernando and Desai's women successfully defy traditional mores. The Urdu poet's young wife in Desai's In Custody, who rages at her limitations and writes in her own defense, stands out as the most outrageous of these woman. In fact, she radically redefines her experience by insisting on telling her story. This character's self-justification has continued in recent years as women writers tell their own stories and that of other women. When women make the lives of real women the center of their books, they go beyond creating sympathetic female characters to making claims for an alternative reality, an alternative truth. The illicit, self-interested qualities so condemned in earlier fiction become liberating, positive, and creative forces.