A Suitable Boy Themes

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The Suitable Boy

The Suitable Boy is the central theme of the novel by that name. The idea comes from the Indian tradition of arranging marriages for eligible young girls with several points that comprise the ideal match. First, the boy must be of the same religion as the girl. This becomes the main hindrance between Lata, a Hindu, and Kabir, a Muslim. The only way they could have married was to elope and marry without their parents' permission. Another consideration is the caste or social standing of the boy and his family. Much of that is based on appearances. Mrs. Rupa Mehra is able to arrange a marriage for her daughter Savita into the Kapoor family without a large dowry by the fact that Pran Kapoor is dark complexioned. His skin coloring precluded his marriage to a girl from a wealthier family. The ability to support a wife is another consideration. Haresh gets the approval of Mrs. Rupa Mehra because of his industriousness and ability to make a good living. Mrs. Rupa rejects Amit Chatterji because he is a writer, a profession for which she has little appreciation.

The theme of The Suitable Boy also brings up the conflict between an arranged marriage and a marriage precipitated on romantic love. Because of modern films and youthful ideas, the idea of being in love with the person a girl marries becomes more and more popular at the time of the novel. Lata raises the question at the wedding of her sister to Pran Kapoor and concludes that it is good for Savita but possibly not good for her. Mrs. Rupa takes the matter seriously and solicits help from relatives and close friends to keep an eye out for The Suitable Boy for Lata. To keep peace, Lata appears to go along with whatever her mother is doing, but she secretly questions whether she will follow her heart and marry Kabir with or without her mother's blessing. Interestingly, Lata eventually selects Haresh Khanna to be her husband, even though she does not love him. She comes to her conclusion, to the horror of her friend Malati, by recognizing religion would eventually create serious problems for her and Kabir and by the feeling that the love of literature would not be enough to sustain a marriage between her and Amit. Lata's reasoning includes the ideas that, eventually she will come to love Haresh, he will be able to support her comfortably, and she will enjoy stability in her married life. In antithesis to The Suitable Boy theme is Malati, Lata's friend, who is a free spirit and given to have relationships with whatever boy turns her fancy. In that regard, the theme of The Suitable Boy stands as a hallmark of traditional Indian customs and culture.

Religious Intolerance

The theme of Religious Intolerance runs heavily throughout the novel. Religious difference prevents Lata and Kabir from fulfilling their hearts' desires for each other. The Raja of Marh becomes the arch symbol of religious militancy with his erecting the Temple of Shiva adjacent to a mosque. The phallic symbol of Shiva he intends to use as the centerpiece of the temple is an act of spite designed to insult Muslims. On both sides, riots and attacks occur in the name of religion. Saeeda Bai, the courtesan, is disdained by the Hindu society more for her religion as a Muslim than for her lifestyle. When the holy days of both religions happen to coincide, even death results when neither side is willing to give way to the other. The Religious Intolerance theme occurs when Maan travels to visit the family of Rasheed. He is only begrudgingly accepted by most of Rasheed's family after he demonstrates not so much his tolerance of their customs as his indifference to religion in general. That truce, however, runs thin after Maan is accused of attempted murder of the young Muslim man, Firoz Khan. The Partition of 1954 is the pinnacle of the theme of Religious Intolerance. It partitioned off parts of India to become Pakistan where Muslims were expected to go, leaving mainland India to the Hindus. Although a good many Muslim did go, the Partition never really worked because of ties many people had to their ancestral lands. Majority in location plays a big part in the theme of Religious Intolerance in the novel. In the city of Brahmpur, where neighborhoods are a majority of one religion or the other, there is more prejudice and conflict than in the more rural predominantly Muslim areas such as in Rasheed's village. Rasheed, perhaps the most fanatical Muslim in the novel, replies when his wife asks about the noise of automobile horns honking outside, "Nothing. Nothing. They're just Hindus." The theme is notably carried out in the scene after the riot when Hindu ruffians have cornered Firoz in their territory. Maan manages to get him out, but not without suffering the verbal abuse of the Muslim boys.

Women's Roles in Post-Partition India

Arranged marriages are not the only cultural customs Seth details in A Suitable Boy. There is an emerging shift in the role of women in the culture. On the one hand, there are the traditionalists like Mrs. Rupa Mehra, Mrs. Mahesh Kapoor, Savita Kapoor, and Mrs. Chatterji who represent the old ways of social custom. Lata represents the middle ground. She is traditional in her respect for her mother and her ultimate choice of marrying the man who her mother approves. Nevertheless, she is at the stage of questioning traditional practices and taking a few steps on her own as a modern young woman. Other women in the novel represent the post-Partition modern Indian woman. Malati has broken with tradition by going about on her own and accepting the favors of young men she finds appealing. Meenakshi is the truly liberated woman who indulges in promiscuous affairs that have nothing to do with her feelings for and relationship to her husband, Arun Mehra. She dresses flamboyantly, goes out at will, and thumbs her nose at gossips who criticize her behavior. Kakoli Chatterji is a young woman flexing her independence by consorting with a young German boy, Hans. She holds her own with the eccentric Chatterji family in their pseudo-intellectual rhyming games. Begum Abida Khan is perhaps the most startling of the liberated women in the novel in that she is a Muslim woman, living alone, and active in politics. Like Meenakshi, she is unaffected by the gossip of the more traditional people who surround her. This recurring theme runs throughout the novel about women breaking free of the cultural limitations traditionally placed on them. Interestingly, however, the Muslim courtesan, Saeeda Bai falls more into the category of a traditionalist than in the liberated woman category. Her vocation as a courtesan is often regarded as the oldest profession in the world. Entertainers, likewise, are not culturally held in high social esteem. However, Saeeda Bai follows most of the cultural rules and habits living an otherwise pious life of religious devotion.

Political Machinations

Although the theme of politics in the novel is secondary to the Suitable Boy theme, it nevertheless lends credence to the social upheaval of post-Independence India. Just as women are becoming more assertive (i.e., Meenakshi, Begum Khan, Malati), there is the movement to elevate the status of the untouchable lower caste. Central to that theme is the controversy over the Zamindari Bill which would take portions of land away from wealthy land holders and give it to the farmers who have been feudal slaves to work the land. Even, however, with the final passage of the bill and its being upheld by the courts, the struggle between the haves and have nots continues. The implication is clear that the wealthy have the resources to maintain the status quo. It is not his hereditary wealth that brings about the downfall of the Raja of Marh, but rather it is his war against all Muslims that finally brings him to his knees. Eventually politics divides families as in the case of Rasheed who is banished and eventually commits suicide because of his inability to help the helpless. The theme is at its strongest in the opposition between Begum Abida Khan and L. N. Agarwal in the legislative House. It becomes tied in with religion in the campaign for a House seat between Mahesh Kapoor and Waris. Avoiding the subject of vote buying, Seth uses the fake handbills implying that Firoz is dead as the dirty trick used by Waris to win the election. In another vein, the subject of politics revolves around Pran's application and interview for the position of head reader in his department at the university.

This section contains 1,449 words
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