The Dark Room Novel by RK Narayan is about the discord of a troubled family. It paints a grim picture of a disturbed household plagued with domestic conflict.
The story revolves around Ramani who is a secretary in a company located in Malgudi called Engladia Insurance Company. He is a man who is consumed by cynicism and is very controlling in his outlook. In his self-interest and arrogance, he runs a very tight ship in his house.
Due to his irascible and rude attitude, there is always a sense of dreadful misfortune and sadness permeating his house. He is like a tyrant in his conduct with his wife Savitri, daughters and domestic help.
Savitri is the antithetical or polar opposite of her husband. She embodies the characteristics of a dutiful and faithful wife. She is immersed in the traditions of Indian womanhood and exhibits qualities of loyalty, honesty and devotion to her husband.
She suffers her husband’s wrath in meek silence and relegates her presence to her darkroom i.e. the kitchen. Even though she is beautiful, Ramani does not appreciate her.
His reaction to her is devoid of any warmth and affection. On the contrary, he abuses and condemns her often. Even after 15 years of marriage and commitment, Ramani can only see flaws and errors in his wife’s service to him.
Ramani is a bad husband and an even worse father. He frequently reprimands his children even on trivial matters. Being self-obsessed that he does not show any kind of love and care for his own flesh and blood.
The Other Lady
Soon the story gets a new character named Shanta Bai. She is a beautiful, middle-aged woman who has left her husband. She is an ambitious lady and starts work at Ramani’s company. She has loose morals and loves to flirt with men and make them fall for her beauty.
Unable to fend off the advances and seductive ways of Shanta Bai, Ramani is transfixed by her beauty and machinations. He starts visiting her house and starts an adulterous and illegitimate affair.
Savitri is told about the affair by a teacher named Gangu. She is heartbroken and devastated by the news of her husband’s infidelity. She decides to suffer the torment in silence.
Instead of rebuking her husband she wallows in self-pity. She questions her own beauty and inability to give more children to Ramani.
The Final Straw
Savitri is still strong in her constitution and decides to win her husband back from the claws of her concubine. She prepares and dresses in order to seduce her husband and make him desire her as before.
She is naïve in thinking that she can turn the clock back on their relationship and get back to the amorous passions of the first week of their marriage. Unfortunately, all her hope is ruthlessly crippled when she fails in her attempts.
She gets angry and loses her calm when Ramani tries to touch her. All her deep-seated and repressed anger and anguish come out in the form of meltdown. Charged with emotions and pain, she leaves her husband’s house with the intention of ending her life.
Savitri reaches the river and jumps into its fast currents. However, a blacksmith and burglar, is crossing the river at the same time. He sees and rescues her. She is saved by Mari’s bravery and sheer good luck.
Savitri is overcome with guilt and pity and narrates her story to Mari and his wife. Ponni, Mari’s wife, entreats Savitri to come with them to their village and live a life devoted to the temple Gods.
Savitri agrees. In the village, Savitri becomes a Hindu nun and starts working in the village temple. She hopes it is the start of an independent life away from the tyranny of her husband and married life.
However, soon Savitri finds herself broken by various inner conflicts. She is perturbed by the attitude of the temple priest who molests her and hates the fact a woman is working in a place dominated by male Brahmin priests.
She also feels homesick. Her biggest worry, however, is her daughters whom she left at home. She becomes more restless by every passing day and finally succumbs to her grief and motherly sentiment.
The inevitability of fate and the futility of her exile dawn on her and she decides to go back to her family and house. She returns to the same dark room that was her prison before.
Nothing alters. Her husband gloats in the glory of what he considers his victory. He continues to be callous to her devotion and she continues to live a life of pain, shame, self-loathing and devoid of affection.
The Dark Room: Key Thoughts
The tale of The Dark Room paints the ideal Indian wife-submissive, obedient, self-sacrificial and beautiful. The story depicts Savitri has the lacking courage to leave her husband and resigned to a life of pain and embarrassment.
This is representative of so many Indian women who live under the dominance of the patriarchal system. They sacrifice their personal destiny for the betterment of their husband and children. The present condition of women in India is not far from that of Narayan’s time.
Even though there are more opportunities for women and girls, there are still millions who suffer in silence. They are victims of domestic abuse, intimidation, sexual harassment, physical violence and materialistic greed.
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