Lakshmibai Tilak: The Marathi writer who stood strong against patriarchy and prejudice | #IndianWomenInHistory

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In the history of the patriarchy, the stories of legendary women have been passed down in whispers almost as if those stories were sacred and had to be carefully guarded lest they break and fade away.

Lakshmibai Tilak is one of those names that women heard growing up in their Marathi homes either as a warning or as an inspiration as she was a pioneering figure not only in the literary world which in itself was an outstanding achievement at this age, but also in her varied struggles against patriarchy while trying to establish herself as an independent woman with a voice and opinions of her own in a nation torn by conflict and chaos.

The account of Lakshmibai Tilak’s life comes mainly from his magnum opus, his autobiography titled ‘Smritichitre‘ which was published in a four-part serialized format in the magazine Sanjivani of the years 1931-1936.

The life of Lakshmibai Tilak

Lakshmibai Tilak, then Manakarna Gokhale, was born in 1868 into an Orthodox mainstream caste family in Maharashtra. At the very young age of 11, she was married to a much older man named Narayan Waman Tilak, a poet and social reformer, whose home was dominated by patriarchy and orthodoxy, very similar to her own home.

Tortured verbally, physically and mentally by the men in her life – her father, husband and father-in-law, Lakshmibai Tilak, nevertheless managed to forge a path of her own free will in her life journey, an act that must have require a lot of strength and courage.

Smritichitre‘, a Sanskrit word for memory sketchesfirst translated into English by Josephine Inkster and published as ‘I am after‘, begins with Lakshmibai Tilak growing up with his parents. A landscape of women’s lives in Orthodox Indian society is poignantly portrayed in the book. The patriarch of the house, Lakshmibai’s father, is tyrannical and envelops the environment of the house in imposing practices and rituals. Women, of course, are made to take the worst end of this stick.

Taught basic Marathi by her husband, Lakshmibai Tilak continued to write prose and poetry while doing various odd jobs to support herself and her family after her husband’s death. She even completed the work her husband was unable to complete during his lifetime, an epic titled ‘Christiyana‘ concerning the accounts of the miracles of Christ and his work on Earth.

What is perhaps remarkable among all of this is Lakshmibai Tilak’s tenacity to survive against all odds. Despite the upheavals she faced, she never gave up on art and a life dedicated to the arts. Her husband’s conversion to Christianity was one of the biggest challenges she faced in her life and even considered giving up her own life at one point.

She suffered so much, that she wrote in her autobiography, “My ears were ringing. I couldn’t see any path opening up in front of me… They started trying to open my teeth and poured some medicine between them. I was aware of everything, but I lay like a log of wood. My tongue was tight and covered in prickles that didn’t go away for an entire month. Bhiku’s illness disappeared, and rolling her bed, she now spent night and day standing next to me. She had to wait for me feet and fists. I could only lie [down]. She even had to brush my teeth. From time to time I was given milk and buttermilk. Several days later, my strength returned a little and I started to sit up in bed. Now opened the floodgates of my tears. I cried continuously. My tears couldn’t be damned, unless there was a respite from sleep. I haven’t spoken to anyone.

Lakshmibai Tilak eventually converted to Christianity later, after struggling with her loyalty to her husband and her emotions regarding her own religion and culture, and traveled many places with him before his death.

In all of this, Lakshmibai was steadfast and unapologetic. She was never ashamed of the details of her life’s adventures, never shied away from being honest, and her works reflect that same tenacity and rebellion of character.

At an age in a soon to be decolonized nation, where women had little access to a basic education let alone an opinion, the life and unique voice of Lakshmibai Tilak is awe-inspiring. Almost unbeknownst to her, her autobiography provides a detailed insight into the lives of women during the era when India was aiming for independence. Lakshmibai’s life opens up a nuanced picture of family, society, love, religion, social reform and, most importantly, the struggle for independence.

Read also : Malati Bedekar: the first feminist writer in contemporary Marathi literature | #IndianWomenInHistory

The Work of Lakshmibai Tilak: Narratives Challenging Patriarchy and Holding Up a Mirror of the Times

Smritichitre‘, a Sanskrit word for memory sketchesfirst translated into English by Josephine Inkster and published as ‘I am after‘, begins with Lakshmibai Tilak growing up with his parents. A landscape of women’s lives in Orthodox Indian society is poignantly portrayed in the book. The patriarch of the house, Lakshmibai’s father, is tyrannical and envelops the environment of the house in imposing practices and rituals. Women, of course, are made to take the worst of this stick.

Lakshmibai Tilak weaves her narrative masterfully, with small details of how women challenge patriarchy in their own ways and these incidents are presented as little tales meant to be passed down as advice to future generations of women subjugated under male domination.

It’s a terrifying, sometimes morbid image, but the strength of women shines even through the darkness. Life after marriage is also covered by Lakshmibai Tilak in her autobiography and the flair of her thoughts that take shape through her writing style is at its best as it would be an understatement to say that her relationship with her husband was complex.

Lakshmibai Tilak’s husband was generous, supported her literacy, but he was also the person who pushed her down the stairs when she was in crisis when she was seven months pregnant. “Perhaps because laughter was the most effective strategy she could use, but perhaps also because only the veil of humor allowed such experiences to be recounted, Lakshmibai describes the incident as if It was a hilarious affair, although she also comments, in passing, “probably that day that my infirmity brought me face to face with death.” I was saved by such a small margin. The chapter concludes, “Tilak wrote a prank about his own temper. It was left half finished.

Lakshmibai Tilak loved her husband but was not blind to his cruelties. His commentary is scathing but never bitter. She accepts the grayness of people and the world around her. In the fourth part of her autobiography, she writes:Since I was an eleven-year-old child, I had lived with and beside Tilak. We had lived apart for five years, but not for a single moment of those five years had Tilak moved from my eyes, nor I from his. What I am today is thanks to him. If he wanted to achieve a goal, I was there to help him; if he wrote a poem, I was there to sing it; if he had to beg, I was there to carry the begging bowl”.

These lines recognize Lakshmibai Tilak’s love for her husband, but they also recognize her role in his life and her efforts to sustain their lives, which is why when she writes: “Tilak was like a steam engine, running on its own power, and I was like a car running at the speed imposed by the machine. Once I had gained momentum, however, there was no stopping me. But now, the one who had held the strings of my life had left me. A new world has arisen around me. A new life has begun.”, we are assured that Lakshmibai will emerge victorious from the challenges of life.

At a time when stories of women in history were as rare as gems, the writings of Lakshmibai Tilak offer us a glimpse into the lives of women at a particular time in history. In the struggle for independence, on the road to decolonization, it is above all the stories of men that are highlighted, but the writings of Laksmibai Tilak are revolutionary because in addition to highlighting the domestic world, they summarize also developments in the outside world and the effects and consequences it has had. on human minds

Instead of feeling melancholy and helpless, Lakshmibai Tilak began to live his life even more fervently, with a stronger and more lively zeal. Tilak’s struggles with her Orthodox stepfather are further examples of the inhuman torture women face in the name of patriarchal control.

Lakshmibai describes such an example in the book-“Whenever we quarreled over oil and shikakai, he would tell me this story: “One time we ran out of firewood. My wife was pregnant. Even then, I made him chop wood. Why should I care about you? My wife never answered. When she realized she was out of food, she put the leftovers in front of me without a word. I understood that it lacked material. But today’s girls have become very arrogant. You will never learn how to behave with elders.During ‘these’ three days of the month, I was left to starve. Mamanji only cooked for himself. He only cooked for all of us when Mr. Tilak was around. On those days, I had to sit in a dark room. I was very afraid of the dark. But gradually, I lost that fear.

Lakshmibai Tilak and her husband Narayan Waman Tilak Image: Printing

Despite all of this, Lakshmibai Tilak also recounts a few times when her stepfather showed kindness as her husband disappeared for months. What is life if not the parallel existence of such contradictions? No wonder then, his writing is as engaging as it gets. Apart from autobiography and epic, Lakshmibai Tilak also wrote a collection of lyric poems titled ‘Bharali Gagar‘.

At a time when stories of women in history were as rare as gems, the writings of Lakshmibai Tilak offer us a glimpse into the lives of women at a particular time in history. In the struggle for independence, on the road to decolonization, it is above all the stories of men that are highlighted, but the writings of Laksmibai Tilak are revolutionary because in addition to highlighting the domestic world, they summarize also developments in the outside world and the effects and consequences it has had. on human minds.

In modern Indian literature, Lakshmibai Tilak’s autobiography is one of the few other autobiographies written by women, and its portrayals of poverty, domestic problems, patriarchal domination and the inherent orthodoxy of a nation then that she is moving towards independence, are unprecedented and mixed with her humor and her commitment. style.

Read also : K Saraswathi Amma: the pioneer of feminist literature in Malayalam


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