Dr. Chandreie Mukherjee

Assistant Professor, Indian Institute of Management(IIM), Visakhapatnam


The paper navigates through the socio-cultural footmark that Satyajit Ray (1921-1992) etches through his detective fiction in nineteenth century Bengal. It locates texts and their recurring themes and motifs in a wider social and historical context. This would deal with the emergence of the genre initially as an adaptation of the West. The essay tries to focus on Ray’s uniqueness in his characterisation, origin, methods of detection, and nuances of narrative technique that makes him the stalwart of Bengali Detective Fiction for Children. Ray indigenised the genre and attempted to decode the unsolved mysteries through his protagonist by appropriating the cultural richness of Bengal.

Keywords : Satyajit Ray, Detective Fiction, Bhadralok, Culture, Feluda.

The system of patriarchy has always relegated women to the periphery in a systematic manner. In patriarchy the role of men is considered as the primary authoritarian figure who is central to various social organisations, and where the central male-figures hold authority over women, children, and property. It implies male rule and privilege and entails female subordination. In such a context, Simone de Beauvoir’s observation, “Throughout history they [women] have always been subordinated to men …” (Parshley et. al. xxiv) occupies a special significance. In fact, as Kate Millett opines in her Sexual Politics, the patriarchal society uses various mechanisms to employ power relation in the society and paves the way for dominance of men over women. Millett observes that women, in a patriarchal society, are often made to internalise patriarchal ideology so that they accept their subjugation and they also become instrumental in the marginalisation of other women.

Patriarchal societies run on principles which in most cases identify women as the conditioned “other” to the male “subject” (Parshley et. al.  xxii). Beauvoir adds that women have always been dependent on “… fathers or husbands – more firmly than they are to other women” (Parshley et. al. xxv). Such a system is deep rooted in Indian culture and Manu viewed, “In childhood must a female be dependent on her father in youth on her husband, her lord being dead, on her sons, if she has no sons, on the near kinsmen, on those of her father; it she has no paternal kinsmen, on the sovereign, a woman must never seek independence” (Chandra 64). In such a social set up women have traditionally been dependent on some male family members like father, husband, or son or even on some male relatives. They are often identified not on their own but in relation to some male member of the family – as someone’s daughter or as someone’s wife, or as someone’s mother and so on.

Women, in most Indian societies, are scarcely allowed independence and worst is the case of the girl children who, in some societies, are either killed or abandoned. Thus, patriarchy seems to be such a system which tends to work on the binary and which marginalises women. With the development of civilization, patriarchy got associated with capitalism and both continue to contribute to marginalise women. One of the principal factors for such combined oppression of women is obvious for the fact that both patriarchy and capitalism were constructed by men and are run to facilitate men over women.

Capitalism may be defined as “an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market” (Merriam-Webster). Thus, capitalism is a system run by private ownership, not by the government; and decisions, in such a system of economy, are arrived at by private firms wherein prices of goods and even the production and distribution of the same are dictated by the market. In such a system, decisions are arrived at eyeing on the profit and ethical considerations appear secondary. Capitalism and patriarchy combine to further marginalise women, “The oppression of women is very ancient: it existed before capitalism, which is also a system of oppression” (Comanne). Under capitalist system, women are oppressed and such oppression helps the capitalists to control the workforce of men. It is understood that “capitalism and patriarchy together reinforce the oppression of women” and further “Patriarchy cannot possibly be considered as independent from capitalism” (Bruneau). Apparently capitalism seems to help women attain independence, but it actually damages the condition of women and thereby further contributes to the age old subjugation of women in a patriarchal system.

The phases of injustice and discrimination against girl children and women are common in a predominantly patriarchal society like India, in which it is believed that the Vansh (clan) continues through the male child. It is also believed that parents can attain moksha (liberation) only if the son performs the kapaal kriya (breaking of the skull while being cremated). So under such conditions women seem to have almost no significance and hence they are used for the purpose of men only. The operation of power-relations in society also causes for the oppression of women. On the operation of power, Michel Foucault views:

Power must be analysed as something which circulates or as something which only functions in the form of a chain…. not only do individuals circulate between its threads; they are always in the position of simultaneously undergoing and exercising this power…. individuals are the vehicles of power, not its point of application (Gordon  98).

The play of power is often subtle and hegemonic in nature wherein power is exercised through negotiation and not through the application of brute force.

The play, Tara, centres round a family comprising of the father (Patel), the mother (Bharati), and two children (Tara and Chandan), “They are almost an all Indian family!” (Prasad 138). Mee views, “Dattani focuses on the family as a microcosm of society in order to dramatize the ways we are socialized to accept certain gendered roles and to give preference to what is ‘male’” (320). The birth of the children leaves the parents utterly shocked as the children are born as Siamese twins. The medical reports add to the worry of the parents as it unveils that the “third leg” (Dattani 378) gets its blood circulated through the girl child (Tara), not, as they would have been happy to know, through the boy child (Chandan), and that the third leg biologically belongs to Tara and hence it will be safe to provide Tara with two legs through surgery.

Tara is a satire on the contemporary society in which “All the propagandas of equality between male and female, equal opportunities to women in all the fields are belied” (Das 51). Bharati’s father, who happens to be the architect behind Tara’s handicap, does not have any sense of remorse or even sympathy and leaves all his property only to Chandan. Subhas Chandra rightly opines, “It is the socio-cultural system which is responsible for her (Tara’s) death” (62). He adds, “No one individual is responsible for what happens to her [Tara], because this has to do with the positioning of the girl-child in the Indian society” (64). In other words, “Taras (stars) do not twinkle on the Indian sky! Because they are not allowed to!!” (Chandra 67). The society that Dattani portrays is one where girl-children are not expected or are drowned “in milk” (Dattani 349).

Tara subtly questions gender prejudice, “… the primary theme [of Tara] … is the way we Indians discriminate between male and female children” (Prasad 135). This play can be read as a play about the combination of man and woman in one self. Hence, the play can also be read as the search of individuals for the self which unites man and woman. The play ends by showing that the twins hug each other suggesting that they are “together once again, and whole, complete” (Prasad 140). This suggests that the capitalist-patriarchal societal norm separated them, who once again form a whole when they are beyond the limits of society. Tara represents the case of Tara and Chandan and attempts to indicate that both men and women together form the social fabric and they need to be looked as equal. Dattani attempts to establish this thesis by making “a medical improbability an artistic possibility” (Rizvi 14). Tara appears as “an archetype, an icon of the postcolonial Indian women who are crushed in the mill of tradition and modernity” (Kanupriya 71).

The patriarchal-capitalist society represented by Bharati’s father is disturbed at the revelation about the “third leg” (Dattani 378) as he finds it difficult and at times even impossible to support anything that comes as an obstacle to the benefit of a male child. Bharati’s father does not even appear on the scene but he is the most influential man who influences the lives of all the characters in the play. Influenced by Bharati’s father, Dr Thakkar operates upon the Siamese twins and favours Chandan with two legs though it was unethical. Dr. Thakkar does this as he has the “intention of starting a large nursing home – the largest in Bangalore. He had acquired three acres of prime land – in the heart of the city – from the state. Your grandfather’s political influence had been used. … Chandan had two legs – for two days” (Dattani 378).

The result is disastrous as Chandan’s body fails to retain the second leg, the Patel family is shattered, Tara dies at an early age, and Chandan fails to live with guilt in India and settles down in England, and Bharati loses her sanity and later dies. Erin Mee views, “Woven into the play [Tara] are issues of class and community, and the clash between traditional and modern lifestyles and values” (319). Mee adds, “Tara and Chandan are two sides of the same self rather than two separate entities …” (320). But the capitalist-patriarchal ideology fails to observe the beauty in each of the children and the outcome is disastrous.

Apparently, it is Bharati who betrays Tara and, thus, she suffers throughout her life. Bharati thinks, “… that it was her decision that caused this particular disability in her daughter” (Prasad 141) and gradually “Tara is emotionally devastated” (Mohandas). It may be said that the discrimination and injustice that Tara faces from her mother are the consequence of Bharati’s being a prisoner in the hands of collective unconscious that constitutes her psyche and therefore she believes that men should always be preferred to women. Such a decision of Bharati becomes the reason for her eternal suffering. She even attempts to atone for her guilt by donating her kidney to Tara. However, Patel, who is also a representative of patriarchy, does not allow her to do so and thereby denies her expiating for the guilt that she lives with.

In decision-making part for the operation on the Siamese-twins, Patel seems to be the cruellest figure. In his abstinence from action in the matter of surgery, it seems that Patel was a complicit, “He too believes in gender hierarchy and thus his protestations are ultimately hollow and his rejection by Dan seems apposite” (Prasad 141). He is a representative of patriarchy who remains silent in the subjugation of women. His words, “Maybe if I had protested more strongly!” (Dattani 378) clearly speaks of his dependence on the capitalist father-in-law. Even Patel appears to be a party to the injustice done on Tara but he takes the central position in the play and the reader knows whatever he relates about the past when Bharati is taken off the scene for the rest of the play.

Chandan in Tara remains at the centre of action of the play – the play begins and ends with his speech – though the play is titled after the name of Chandan’s sister, Tara. Throughout Tara’s life-time, Chandan appears to have been highly concerned about Tara and he declares that he escapes to London to expiate for his sense of guilt, but his escape can also be seen as a pretension, “I had even forgotten I had a twin sister. Until I thought of her as subject matter for my next literary attempt” (Dattani 324). Thus, it appears that he thinks of Tara while he actually thinks about the “subject matter of … [his] next literary attempt” (Dattani 324) – concern of a capitalist patriarchal man. Thus, Tara is seen here as a commodity and not as an individual. Guided by patriarchal ideology, Chandan, when he is able to write the play, becomes selfish and makes the play his tragedy with a simple statement of apology, “Forgive me, Tara. Forgive me for making it my tragedy” (Dattani 380). It, thus, appears that patriarchal society may appear to be sympathetic to the cause of women but it cannot bear to see women as more successful than men. The way Bharati’s father deprives Tara of the leg, Chandan too deprives Tara of being the protagonist of the tragedy.


The followers of patriarchal ideologies generally attempt to make gender roles specific for male and female children. Generally, awareness is created about their specific gender roles and they are expected to follow the same rigorously. Judith Butler opines that gender is “a constructed identity” in which “actors … perform” (Butler 520). Tara represents such defined gender role where men and women have their separate zone, and where they are expected to fit in well. It is observed that both Patel and Bharati are bound by patriarchal norms and they do harm to Chandan and Tara, though their purpose was to help their son. Both Bharati and Patel set different roles for the children – whereas Bharati is concerned in growing Tara like a woman; Patel is concerned to make a man of his son – expecting manly behaviour from his son.

References :

Primary Texts

Ray, Satyajit. The Complete Adventures of Feluda Vol.1. Translated by Gopa Mazumdar, Penguin Books, 2000

Ray, Satyajit. The Complete Adventures of Feluda Vol.2. Translated by Gopa Mazumdar, Penguin Books, 2000.

Secondary Texts

Bandhyopadhyay, Saroj. “Goyenda Kahini te Satyajit Gharana”. Satyajit Jibon ar Shilpo. Edited by Shubroto Rudra., Ananda Publishers, 2005.

Chakrabarti, Gautam “The Bhadralok as Truth-Seeker: Towards a Social History of the Bengali Detective”, Cracow Indological Studies vol. XIV, 2012, pp. 255-270

Chowdhury Sayandeb. “Ageless Hero, Sexless Man: A Possible Pre-history and Three Hypotheses on Satyajit Ray’s Feluda”. South Asian Review, 2015, 36:1,pp.109-130, DOI: 10.1080/02759527.2015.11933006

Francesca, Orsini. “Detective Novels. A Commercial Genre in Nineteenth-Century North India.” India’s Literary History. Essays on the Nineteenth Century. Edited by Blackburn, S. and Dalmia, V., Permanent Black, Delhi, 2004, pp. 435-482.

Hazra Indrajit. “Felu Mitter: Between Bhadrolok and Chhotolok”, edited by Boria Mazumdar, Feluda @ 50. Harper Collins, 2016.

Joshi, Priya. In Another Country: Colonialism, Culture, and the English Novel in India. Columbia University Press, 2002. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/josh12584. Accessed 25 Aug. 2020

Majumdar, Rochona. “Feluda on Feluda: a Letter to Topshe.” South Asian History and Culture, vol. 8, no. 2, 2017, pp. 233–244., doi:10.1080/19472498.2017.1304094.

Mathur, Suchitra. “Holme’s Indian Reincarnation: A Study In Postcolonial Transposition.” Postcolonial Postmortems: Crime Fiction from a Transcultural Perspective, 2006, pp. 87-98

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Drishti:the Sight is a National refereed Bi-annual Research Journal in the disciplines of Arts and Humanities founded in the year 2012 publishing articles in the subjects of English Literature, Assamese Literature, Folklore, Culture.The journal has been enlisted in the UGC-CARE list (Sr.No. 42) in Arts and Humanities section.The journal is dedicated to the cause of young upcoming scholars of the nation.The journal publishes only authentic research articles. It tries to follow the research ethics to the core.