Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Muslin Connection: Pride & Prejudice and India

Muslin, Source: Andrea Nguyen
Last night, when I was leafing through the pages of Pride & Prejudice, a novel by Jane Austen, a two syllable word caught my attention, muslin. Muslin, a light weight Indian fabric, that was pretty much in vogue in Austen’s Britain. After reading a few more pages, I thought, perhaps it is an only Indian connection, we share with Austen’s Britain. Though they were ruling a major part of India and the World, at that time, and she must be aware of this. But after reading the whole text, I realized there is something more than a muslin connection.

When we look into the Pride and Prejudice timeline, the Austen’s Britain was going through a major change, i.e. the First Industrial Revolution, the emergence of a new social class, tradesman or rather say the Middle class, the emergence of the female voice and downsizing of church authority.

Now coming back to India, after the downfall of the British Raj, and lately, Mafia Raj, a new kind of India’s picture have emerged. The IT revolution, the emergence of a new social class, the Middle class, the emergence of the female voice, and India’s approach to the religion. So when we compare them, the new Indian picture is strikingly similar to Austen’s Britain.

Even when we search for heroines and other characters of Pride & Prejudice, we may find them somewhere around us, in our neighborhood. Like Jane, they are transfixed between modernity and old traditions. Like Lizzy, they want their voice to be heard. Like Charlotte Lucas, they are confused with the business of love and marriage. Like Mary, they are trying to prove themselves in the shade of their better siblings. And like Mrs. Bennet, Lydia, and Kitty, some of them are in the lust of money, power, and sex.

Though you can identify the male characters around you as well, Like Bingley, some of them are amiable but confused. Like Darcy, some of them are not good in expressing themselves and can be wrongly interpreted. Like Wickham, they are wicked and roguish. Like Mr. Bennet, they are liberal and sometimes, irresponsible. And like Mr. Collins, they are dumb and minions.

The nature of the society we are living in, and Austen’s British society is pretty much same. They are confused between modernity and old traditions. They want their girl child to be educated, not to stand on their feet but to marry them off a rich guy. They like gossips and try to hide when something scandalous happens with them.

Let us start with the case of Ms. Elizabeth Bennet, Austen has never shown her as a young lady who wants to fell in love with a man of fortune and have a secure life. Instead, Austen has shown her as a girl of wit, great education, a girl who can walk three or four miles, someone who can jump, someone who have opinions of her own, one who can refuse two marriage proposals and one who does not comply with societal rules. With Eliza, Austen tried to give us one of the first feminist characters, while at the same time, not try to give any hint of it.

Austen gave a tinge of feminism in Jane, and Charlotte, too. When you see Jane, she is shown as an amiable creature who see the world through rose-colored glasses. But her instance of leaving to Loungbourn with Mr. and Mrs. Gardiners in hope to meet Mr. Bingley, her involvement in the process to save Lydia’s grace, shows her side of feminism. And with Charlotte, who may have complied with societal norms to marry, she is shown as a woman, who is in charge of getting rid of her husband vices, though she is not much successful in her endeavors.

Though Austen also portrayed her male character in good shade, I mean Darcy, (here I can be wrong), someone who does not fall in love with someone superficial features, but someone who falls in love with her wit, humor, attitude and the whole of persona. He also changes when confronted by Elizabeth, showing men can accept their flaws too and change themselves for the better. And also with Mr. Bennet, who agrees with her daughter’s refusal of Mr. Collins hand.

Though Austen has woven her characters from her sense of the society where she lived and never thought of India (in true sense contemporary India) in her farthest senses except a mention of muslin, that’s unconscious. We still share a connection, and I call it, the Muslin Connection.

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