The World of Nagaraj by R.K. Narayan: Character Sketch of Sita

In the novel "The World of Nagaraj," there are four female characters: Sita, Charu, Saroja, and Nagaraj's mother. Among them, Sita holds a prominent position due to her exceptional human virtues and pervasive presence throughout the story. As the wife of the protagonist, Nagaraj, she was only fourteen years old at the time of their marriage, with Nagaraj being under twenty. During this period, Sita seemed like a timid and petite figure, and her personality had not yet fully developed. Her indistinct features made it difficult to determine her level of attractiveness. It appeared as though she had just emerged from a nursery school, as her features during the prospective groom's inspection were described in this manner:

“She had a rotund face, a scraggy slight figure and a long, long braid, with a wheaten complexion over which some kind of face powder stood out challengingly.”

Sita is consistently mindful of her household responsibilities, dedicating most of her time to fulfilling her family duties. She adheres to a regular routine in her day-to-day activities, waking up at 5 o'clock in the morning to wash clothes and perform ablutions with cold water. Subsequently, she busies herself with preparing morning coffee for all family members. As her mother-in-law ages, Sita is concerned about her restlessness as she moves continuously around the house.

Upon observing Sita's unimpressive figure, Nagaraj is initially indecisive. Nevertheless, he leans favourably towards her since his own physique is described as "stocky and dark complexioned," despite having earned his graduation degree. Sita's father, a retired government servant residing on Sullivan Street in Malgudi, adds to the favourable aspects on the groom's side. Nagaraj's family holds an aristocratic ancestry, being landlords with an inheritance of vast rice fields in the village, which further contributes to the positive aspects of the match. Nagaraj's father considers him a 'wishy-washy and dreamy' individual unlikely to find a better match. Given these circumstances, both families agree to Sita's marriage with Nagaraj.

In the early stages of her married life, Sita behaves as a timid, bashful, and conservative housewife. She exhibits restraint in her interactions with her husband, avoiding him during the day and shadowing her mother-in-law. Sita dutifully obeys her mother-in-law's commands regarding daily domestic tasks. She maintains modesty to the extent of keeping conversations with Nagaraj secretive. Despite Nagaraj's desire for private moments, Sita keeps the door partly open under the pretext of her mother-in-law possibly needing her assistance. When her mother-in-law goes to the temple in the evening, Sita engages in conversation with Nagaraj on the pyol, resisting if he attempts to draw her near. She speaks in a low voice to ensure privacy and maintains a discreet distance, creating the impression of being semi-strangers to onlookers.

During their private conversations, Sita shares details of her daily activities, such as putting the kettle on for coffee and nearly toppling the filter while pouring boiling water. She is cautious about secrecy, retreating into the kitchen when people return from the temple. Engaging in tasks like grating coconut for chutney as instructed by her mother-in-law, Sita displays shrewdness and adheres to the conventional norms and decorum of a middle-class housewife.

Sita consistently attends to her domestic obligations, dedicating much of her time to fulfilling the needs of her family. Following a daily routine, she rises at 5 o'clock each morning to launder clothes and perform her ablutions with cold water. Subsequently, she diligently prepares morning coffee for all family members. As her mother-in-law ages, Sita anxiously monitors her ceaseless wandering around the house, concerned for her safety to prevent any potential falls or injuries. This responsibility falls solely on Sita's shoulders since Nagaraj's elder brother, Gopu, has relocated to the village with his wife, Charu, and son, Tim, after the partition of their ancestral property.

Sita occasionally finds herself irritated by her elderly mother-in-law's restless and resentful behaviour. Compounding her challenges is Nagaraj's lack of interest in domestic duties. He maintains a leisurely daily routine, observing and contemplating the activities on the street, including individuals like the retired, inebriated engineer, Talkative Man, etc. Following his meals, Nagaraj visits Kanni's shop for betel-leaf and then heads to the Coomar's Boeing Sari Centre on Market Road. There, he spends a significant amount of time recording shop transactions in ledgers without charge, displaying a sense of supreme satisfaction.

Nagaraj's complete indifference toward household responsibilities, coupled with his persistent and obsessive focus on writing a book about the celestial sage Narada, further intensifies Sita's domestic burdens. She remains confined within the home, primarily concerned with caring for her aged mother-in-law, who roams the sprawling house, muttering incomprehensible words. Sita's discontent and frustration stemming from the overwhelming constraints of her family circumstances are articulated through these sentiments:

"Her secret grievance was that his mother had become her sole concern while Nagaraj went about freely without a care. She often said when the mood was dark, that she had become a prisoner in the house owing to the old lady's restlessness."

Instead of assisting or directly addressing her mother-in-law's irritable moods, Nagaraj opts to divert the situation by exchanging pleasantries and retreating to the backyard to wash his fingers and gargle. To distract her, he brings up new saree patterns at Coomar's Sari Centre. The increasing irritability of his elderly mother becomes a source of contention between Sita and her mother-in-law, prompting Nagaraj to stay away from home for most of the day to avoid constant mediation.

Sita's frustration with Nagaraj's mother isn't rooted in a lack of respect or sympathy. Instead, it stems from her husband's lack of involvement in household matters and the old lady's growing restlessness. Sita expresses her distress to Nagaraj, urging him to keep his mother in check, as she feels hindered by constant questioning while trying to manage household tasks. Instead of offering reassurance, Nagaraj responds vaguely and leaves.

Despite occasional tension, a deep bond between Sita and her mother-in-law becomes evident when the elderly woman dies from a hip-bone fracture during an unintended stroll in the backyard. Sita mourns her absence, regretting her occasional impatience in the final days. Despite grievances, Sita harbors genuine reverence and understanding for Nagaraj's mother, doing her best to care for her.

Sita demonstrates practical wisdom, surpassing her husband in pragmatism and foresight. She consistently provides timely advice to Nagaraj in critical situations, even though he often dismisses her counsel. Over time, he comes to recognize the validity of her wisdom. Instances in the novel illustrate this trait, such as when Sita advises against admitting Tim to Albert Mission Junior College without informing his father, but Nagaraj disregards her counsel, leading to consequences and criticism from his elder brother.

Sita frequently urges Nagaraj to monitor Tim's suspicious behavior and fulfill his duty as the boy's guardian and uncle. Nagaraj's procrastination and failure to confront Tim directly result in the boy's withdrawal from classes, leading to embarrassment and condemnation from his elder brother. Sita's perceptive ability to foresee practicalities contrasts sharply with Nagaraj's impractical and indecisive nature, as seen in her understanding of Tim's misleading actions:

"Sita did not share her husband's blind leniency towards the boy. She felt at times that he would benefit by a sound thrashing, she found it impossible to depend on his words. He was full of charms but never meant what he said, and proved slippery."

Sita's practical and sensible approach starkly contrasts with Nagaraj's impractical ideas and lack of worldly wisdom, a theme reiterated throughout the novel. The situation takes a turn for the worse when Tim and his wife Saroja leave the Kabir Street house without any explanation. Nagaraj, unable to gather the courage to inquire about their departure, faces a moment of weakness. In contrast, Sita boldly questions them, but they choose not to respond, causing her considerable distress.

Gopu's return to their house adds to Nagaraj's embarrassment, as he struggles to convincingly address his elder brother's inquiries about Tim and his wife's sudden departure and Nagaraj's negligence regarding their current whereabouts.

The novel consistently illustrates Sita's wisdom, practicality, perceptiveness, and alertness, surpassing her husband in these qualities. When she advises Nagaraj to take concrete actions, such as discussing Tim's unpredictable behavior or going to the village to update the boy's father about the situation, Nagaraj consistently fails in managing crisis situations. To mask his cowardice, nervousness, and lack of courage, Nagaraj imagines Sita as Lady Macbeth, persistently urging him to take action, while he lacks the bravery to express such feelings openly, fearing disruption to their harmonious domestic life.

This tendency of Nagaraj to indulge in literary parallels, like the Lady Macbeth comparison, reveals his inclination toward irrelevant literary references, exposing his ineffective self-delusion. In contrast, Sita, characterized as clear-headed and a realist, demonstrates her ability to make timely decisions, not only in critical situations but also in minor matters, underscoring her superiority over Nagaraj in practical matters. She says:

"His wife had a genius for doing the right thing and he felt a profound gratitude for her attention as he poured water over his head and messed about with the green soap, which as usual smarted at his eyes."

She possesses a friendly and light-hearted disposition. Observing Nagaraj's discomfort, when Saroja practises film songs on the harmonium while he attempts to focus on writing a book about Narada in the morning, she finds amusement in the situation. Nagaraj, bothered by the distraction, turns to Sita for assistance in convincing Saroja to refrain from playing the harmonium in the morning. Amusingly, Sita declines and playfully suggests that Nagaraj addresses the matter himself. Despite Nagaraj's initial intention to speak assertively to Saroja, he finds himself disarmed in her presence, silently retreating without responding to her inquiry about the new tune she is practicing.

Sita, finding humour in Nagaraj's predicament, teases him further, proposing he write about Krishna instead of Narada, given the challenges he faces in obtaining relevant material. She light-heartedly advises Nagaraj to plug his ears with cotton to avoid the harmonium sound, and he takes her suggestion literally, leading to a series of comical situations as he searches for cotton.

Simultaneously, Sita aims to support her husband in creating conducive conditions for his writing endeavour. She cleans a room in the distant third courtyard, far from Saroja's room, providing Nagaraj with a quiet space to focus on his writing. Setting up a mat on the floor and an old sloping desk, she ensures a comfortable environment for Nagaraj to squat and engage in his writing work. Observing the thoughtful arrangement, Nagaraj comments on the convenience of the space created by her:

"After so many years I am discovering her, he thought, I have been doing her an injustice, thinking of her only as companion to feed me and look after my comforts."

However, even with this arrangement, Nagaraj's mind remains entangled in his obsession with the harmonium sound. Sita takes innocent pleasure in her husband's predicament. She is characterized by human feelings of love, gentleness, tenderness, and respectfulness. She harbours a warm heart for family ties, especially displaying unbounded affection for Tim, her sister-in-law's son.

From the time Tim is just three months old, Sita feels attached to him, taking care of him and relieving Charu, the boy's mother, of the burden of looking after the baby. When Tim abruptly moves in with them due to a quarrel with his father, she welcomes him and tends to his needs as if he were her own son. She is genuinely concerned about Tim's wayward activities and undependable ways, even cautioning her husband repeatedly about his duty as the boy's uncle and guardian. Sita insists that Nagaraj find out the truth about Tim and threatens to go to the village herself if he doesn't.

The unexpected departure of Tim and Saroja makes Sita sad, but she feels revived when they return home without notice. She willingly gives them their previous room, despite the inconvenience caused to Nagaraj. Sita demonstrates a sensitive and tender heart by understanding the agony Tim's mother, Charu, experiences due to her son's abrupt departure from his village home.

Sita is portrayed as having a liberal and magnanimous temperament, showing courtesy and respect towards the elderly members of her in-law's family. During Gopu's visit in connection with Tim, she treats him hospitably, serving him coffee and delicious food. She notices Nagaraj's reluctance to accompany his elder brother in the search for Tim and suggests he should go, considering his hesitation discourteous. She even serves them food before their departure, anticipating the task might take an indefinite amount of time. The stunned state of her mind is stated thus:

"She looked horrified and held the packet away from him. What an evil notion! To misuse God's lamp-wicks. I never thought you would stoop so low. It’s a sin to misuse God's wicks..."

When Nagaraj steps into the designated cubicle, revered as the puja room in their family for generations, adorned in his ochre dhoti and wrap following his bath, he discovers that "His wife had already kindled the oil lamps before the deity, arranged a basket of flowers from the backyard garden, and ignited incense sticks." This moment highlights Sita's punctuality and her deep reverence for religious rituals.

Sita radiates human warmth, tolerance, and cheerfulness, possessing significant feminine qualities of heart and soul. Despite her heart-breaking infertility, she remains remarkably free from bitterness. Although childless, she emanates maternal instincts and warmth, expressing them notably through her sincere attachment to Tim and later to Saroja. Sita experiences a sense of desolation and isolation when they abruptly leave Kabir Street but feels rejuvenated upon their return. She even encourages Saroja's fondness for film songs and the harmonium, although she herself had to abandon playing due to her mother-in-law's objections.

The narrative delves into various methods attempted to cure Sita's infertility, exposing a spectrum of beliefs and superstitions prevalent in Indian society. Her mother-in-law insists on her chewing neem leaves each morning, a herbal remedy with a purported history of effectiveness. However, this proves ineffective for Sita. Other remedies, such as a forty-day penance, special pujas, and pilgrimages, also fail to yield results. A temple visit involves anointing a cobra deity with milk and honey to lift a family curse, as per an astrologer's analysis. Despite taunts from her mother-in-law, who compares her to Gopu's fertile wife, Sita maintains her composure and resilience in the face of adversity.

Sita's defining characteristic lies in her all-encompassing love, kindness, and consideration for others. She harbours no resentment or ill-will towards anyone and selflessly cares for every member of the household. This starkly contrasts with her sister-in-law, Charu, who, from the beginning of her marriage to Gopu, maintains a separate identity and focuses solely on her husband's comforts. Charu establishes her own realm in the family kitchen, catering exclusively to Gopu, who seldom leaves his room. In contrast, Nagaraj fails to comprehend these dynamics between his brother and sister-in-law. Another notable distinction arises after Nagaraj's father's demise, as Sita refrains from involvement in the division of ancestral property, while Gopu aggressively pursues his share, possibly with legal manipulation, supported by Charu from behind the scenes. Sita's non-involvement sharply contrasts with Charu's active role in these matters.

Saurabh Gupta

My name is Saurabh Gupta. I have designed this blog to help those students and people who are greatly interested to get knowledge about English Literature. This blog provides precious knowledge and information about English Literature and Criticism.

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