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Shobha De, who occupies an outstanding place in Indian Literature in English, skillfully narrates modern urban life in her debut novel entitled, Socialite Evenings. The novel brings out the modern urban life of Bombay, now Mumbai, which easily grips the young boys and girls, particularly of middle and upper class families, into its glamour. Small wonder the female protagonist of the novel, Karuna, at a very young age, falls into bad habits nourished in the so-called advanced urban society. She as well as a few other characters– Anjali, Abe, Ritu, Kumar etc. leads her life in her own manner, ties in inter-caste and inter-religion marriages, involves in extra-marital affairs, gets frustrated in social relations and occasionally enjoys the new bonds.
Key Words: Modern urban life, Marriage and sex, Extra-marital affair, Modernization, Frustration, Freedom
Shobha De (b. 1948) is one of the most prominent women authors of Indian Literature in English. She has taken urban life for presenting a realistic picture of upper-middle and high profile societies of modern India. She has penned down conspicuous novels like Socialite Evenings (1989), Starry Nights (1991), Strange Obsession (1992), Sisters (1992), Sultry Days (1994), Snapshots (1995) and Second Thoughts (1996). She has written about day-to-day life in advanced cities and its routine happenings with all its pains and pleasures. Being bold and truthful, she has described the things, in their natural ways, as they happen in the urban city life. Her novel, Socialite Evenings candidly explores modern urban India, particularly the city of Mumbai, where money or materialism has hypnotized men and women and concomitantly affected their family life, marital bonds, social relations and cultural beliefs. In this regard, Abnish Singh Chauhan aptly remarks in his book, The Fictional World of Arun Joshi: Paradigm Shift in Values:
Since the code of values differ from society to society and country to country, Indian code of values also differs in many respects from the rest of the world. But, recently it is observed that Indian society is aping the West blindly and, therefore, some perceptional and behavioural changes are taken place in the modern Indian society (238).
Socialite Evenings is the story of a prominent socialite, Karuna. To flee from the nightmare of the present, she escapes into the past and begins to write her memories. While writing about her life-story, Karuna doesn’t want to start it with her childhood as she doesn’t find anything exciting about it: “Bombay- it is Bombay which has shaped me into what I am and it’s the story of Bombay. I want to tell” (Socialite Evenings 1). Bombay leaves its deep impression on her. She, in her school, sees the well-pampered girls of high-class families. She yearns to be like them. She becomes rebellious and starts doing whatever are denied by her parents. In the company of her neighbour and class-mate Charlie, she, at a very young age, enjoys nude magazines, turns out to be an addict to smoking and becomes conscious to her appearance. It is only because of this company that she steps down in modeling. In college, she comes in the contact of Anjali, who is “dabbling in fashion designing and advertising” (2). She is basically a Gujarati and married to rich Abe (Abbas Taiyabji), a Muslim, who prefers Hindu virgins. Even in her own house, sometimes she has to sleep with her daughter Mimi, as her bedroom is shared with Abe, by any other girl. Anjali doesn’t find it awesome as she herself has her involvement with other men than her husband. She becomes angry with Karuna when she, in the party, talks and laughs with a man, who Anjali finds attractive.
Karuna, though born and brought up in a middle-class family, has higher expectations from her life. She wants to live her life like high-profile rich people. Karuna breaks her engagement off with Bunty, a middle-class boy, when a rich ad film maker proposes her; but, finally she accepts the proposal of the boy who, since her college, liked her and has just come back from America after completing his studies and is looking after the business of his father. Simultaneously, Anjali and Abe decide to divorce each other. The decision doesn’t bother to Abe much, but Anjali feels troubled as she cannot live without a man beside her. As a result, she sobs on various shoulders and within no time, those sympathetic shoulders change into even more sympathetic bed. She has affair with various men, but as soon as they come to know that she is serious about marriage, they vanish from her life. On the other hand, Karuna, after one year of marriage, doesn’t find anything enthusiastic about it; she rather thinks that “my marriage went sour because I’d married the wrong man for the wrong reason and at the wrong time” (57). They both are quite different from each other, Karuna is romantic and her husband is quite indifferent from the things like romance and love making.
Anjali’s divorce finally takes place and in terms of divorce, her daughter, Mimi, comes at her side, whom she decides to send California to join some class. Anjali herself falls in love with man who later on finds her wife better than her. She joins French language institute where her affair starts with her teacher, but after their trip to Agra, Anjali’s mind changes as she finds his living standard quite different from hers. Though, Karuna’s husband is not like Abe, yet she has lost her interest in her wedding. Karuna hates her husband’s attitude of show off and his evening parties while he hates Karuna’s indifferent attitude towards all these things. Karuna doesn’t like womanish fashion talks; while her husband wants her to be like other wives. She thinks why she is sensitive even about his insensitivities and why should always think about and care for him while he never does so. In a party Karuna meets Ritu who later on comes to her and tells her about the hollowness of her life: “You are married to a wrong man I saw it at the party but I had to come to your house to confirm it. You aren’t happy and you feel trapped” (77). She reveals the truth to Karuna that she herself is in the same boat and that’s why she realizes her condition very well. Later they become friends.
After a while, Karuna’s life starts turning worse. Whenever she tries to share any of her thoughts with her husband, he never responds positively and due to this paucity of communication, Karuna starts feeling mental as well as physical suffocation. They live together, but in their own different ways. Karuna finds herself unable to understand that who among them is wrong- she or her husband. Both find each other socially awkward and pretentious. What is suggested by one is always rejected by the other. The more their marriage fades its hues, the more Karuna tries to convince herself that everything is right and she is happy. She doesn’t think about her problems as she doesn’t want to take any decision against her marital life.
Anjali, once again, is in love but this time with a twenty four years old guy who later on proves a crook who wants to take advantage of Anjali’s name. Anjali, whose parents had done her boycott from them because she had married to a Muslim against their wish, hears of her father’s death and goes to her home where she is not welcomed and asked by her mother to stay away from them. Anjali feels very lonely without any place to go to.
Karuna, when comes to know about her sister’s divorce, feels envious that her sister, unlike her, has the guts to break off from unhappy relation. She also likes the way in which Ritu seduces and dominates men. Therefore, Anjali takes a bold step. She finally marries Kumar, who is a gay and has relationship with a boy, Murti. Kumar suggests Anjali to keep her mouth shut about it as in return he will provide her with all facilities. After marriage, Anjali’s perception of sex and life changes and al her attention from sex and diamonds diverts to the worship of Lord Krishna. Anjali and Kumar are the followers of a ‘baba’ whom they call their spiritual guide.
Karuna, in order to escape from her frustration, turns or diverts her mind to Krish, her husband’s friend and theatre. Karuna’s heart starts developing feelings for him. When Karuna’s husband comes to know about their affair, he tries to convince Karuna that Krish is a man of no use and he will spoil her life. Finally, Karuna comes to her husband, after her journey to Venice with Krish, and her husband also welcomes her warmly. After sometime, Karuna comes to know that she is pregnant. She conveys it to her husband, who, calling it Krish’s child, asks Karuna to break their relation off and have divorce. Karuna leaves his home and stays with Anjali, where she gets her baby abort. Then and there she comes to know that in future she cannot be a mother and to escape from further more damages she has to remove her womb. Now Karuna feels lonely and unprotected. Anjali, in such lonesome moments supports her a lot and also offers her to help in her business rather than to do a 9 to 5 job in some ad agency, which Karuna is looking for. But Karuna doesn’t feel herself efficient enough to do it. Finally, she, from Anjali’s home shifts to a P.G. where Krish comes to her and informs her that her husband has kept a woman Winnie in his home and wants to marry her without any delay. She feels heartbroken, but doesn’t show it. She starts working in a theatre ‘Prithvi’, where she gets a small role in a play. The great art film maker Mr Girish Shridhar notices her performance and sends his son to her to fix a meeting as he wants her to sign her for his new movie ‘Shakuntala’. Initially, Karuna denies but agrees later on. Girish starts liking her and wishes to marry her and sends his proposal through his son. Karuna finds herself unable to take any decision as now leaving her P.G. has shifted with her parents and doesn’t want to leave them alone in their old age. Meanwhile, Karuna’s husband comes to meet her as Winnie has proved a scoundrel. He also asks for apology from her, as he, through Krish, has come to know that Krish is not able to make Karuna mother, that’s why the baby is their own one. Hearing all this Karuna shows him the way out calling him a worm who deserves Winnie.
Anjali and Karuna’s spiritual guide ‘babaji’, caught by the police with smack, has now been released. To celebrate the occasion Anjali throws a party in his honour. In the party Karuna meets a journalist, Ranbir Roy, with whom her meeting starts and ends with fight. Karuna besides working on Grish’s script of ‘Shakuntala’ also works on some other projects and for one of them she gets ‘Best Ad. of the Year’ award. It brings both name and fame for Karuna. She starts Ad films and there also she proves herself. As a result, she gets the proposal to script a major TV serial sponsored by a soft drink company. After one month of Anjali’s party, Karuna, once again, happens to meet the same reporter from Washington, at a recording. Here also their meeting begins with tiffs, but later on when the reporter comes to know that she is the soap queen in the making, whom he had come to interview, becomes polite and friendly. After some time he comes to Karuna with a proposal: “Why don’t we do an update on the status of the Urban Indian woman, using you, baby kin, as the central figure” (297). He wants to make a documentary on her life, from her birth to her school, lovers, parents, husband and then her career as a soap queen. In his documentary, he wants to show how a girl born in a remote village of Maharashtra, becomes a socialite of Bombay. Karuna gets the idea and tells him that instead of doing a documentary she will write a book about herself. And also tells her that the opening lines of her book will be: “I was born in a dusty clinic in Satara, a remote village on the outskirts of Maharashtra” (298).
In Socialite Evenings, Shobha De has shown how hectic life is in metropolitan cities. People are so much after money and status that they don’t care for their family and relations. Their sole aim is to be rich and to move one step forward from others and for this they are ‘semper paratus’ (always ready) to sacrifice love, affection, feelings, emotions, relations, and other things on the altar of name and fame. Families are broken due to the lack of love, care, cooperation, kindness and dedication. Parents don’t have time for their children and children don’t have respect for them. Marriage is no more a pious relation to carry on the whole life; rather it has become a contract based on the convenience of two persons. Sex, once a taboo subject, has become so common now that not only people talk about it frankly but they don’t feel hesitate in having pre-marital as well as extra-marital sex. None of the spouse feels embarrassed if the other one is having relation with anyone else. Girls and boys, at an early age, enjoy sex fearlessly and shamelessly. Homosexual relations are also rampant in the modern urban society.
Shobha De writes this novel on modern urban India as its backdrop and it is invariably one of the best publications to her credit. She truthfully speaks her mind in this work. She often expresses her dissatisfaction with respect to the behaviour exhibited by the present day generation. The real picture of modern urban life has been depicted in this spectacular novel. She knows it well that in urban city life of modern times, women are envious to each other and middle-class and upper-class girls prefer high profile aristocrats; whereas men very easily cheat and enjoy their bodies, but when they are asked for marriage, they abandon them instantly; even husbands and wives are rarely seen emotionally attached or satisfied from each other as they have different views, attitudes, opinions and expectations. This is not a good sign for the growing countries like us. Hence, like Swami Vivekananda, she wants to give a strong message of love, kindness and devotion to the Indian society:
That is what Vivekananda wanted to teach and that is why he laid great stress on developing the inner qualities such as– love, kindness, affection, etc. before going to the external world to stretch one’s helping hands to the needy (Chauhan 15).
De, Shobhaa. Socialite Evenings. New Delhi: Penguin Books India, 1989.
Chauhan, Abnish Singh. The Fictional World of Arun Joshi: Paradigm Shift in Values. New Delhi: Authorspress, 2016.
Chauhan, Abnish Singh. Swami Vivekananda: Select Speeches. Bareilly: Prakash Book Depot, 2004.
Gupta, Monika. Depiction of Tense City Life in the Novels of Shobha De. M.J.P. Rohilkhand University, Bareilly, Thesis submitted on 24th Dec 2010.
About the Author:
Monika Gupta is a Doctorate in English from M.J.P. Rohilkhand University, Bareilly. The areas of her interest are Indian English Literature, Comparative Literature, American Literature, World Literature and Literary Theories. She resides at H. No. 384, Dayanand Nagar, Peetal Nagri, Moradabad, U.P., India. She can be contacted at email@example.com.