The Binding Vine written by Sashi Deshpande is the narration of Urmi, who was grieving over the death of her baby daughter and surrounded by the loving care of her mother, Inni and her childhood friend and sister-in-law, Vanna. Through her grief, Urmi is drawn into the lives of three very different women. As the stories of these women unfold, so does a tale of quiet courage and strength.
The first woman Urmi is drawn to her long-dead mother-in-law, Mira who exists only in the notebooks she has left behind, discovered by chance in a dusty storage trunk. Mira’s journals and poetry reveal the pain of a vibrant young woman trapped in an unhappy arranged marriage, and of a gifted writer whose work, because she is a woman, must remain shrouded in secrecy and silence. Then there is Kalpana, the survivor of a brutal rape and a young woman who has also been silenced. As she hovers between life and death in a hospital ward, Kalpana is watched over by her impoverished mother, Shakutai, with whom Urmi forms an unlikely bond of mutual comfort. The lives of three women who are “haunted by fears, secrets, and deep grief” are bound together by strands of life and hope—a binding vine of love, concern, and connection that spreads across chasms of time, social class, and even death.
Memories from the past stray to Urmi’s mind and a journey to the past helps Urmi uncover mysteries about herself, but not her past alone: “The past is always clearer because it is more comprehended”. One theme that was stressed in her book is rape – both as a random violent act and within marriage. The disgrace is not the girl’s, the disgrace is the criminal’s. That is not how it is. It’s really the dilemma which Urmi, the narrator, faces because, if she makes it public, it’s possible the family is going to be affected, and if she does not, you know it’s like saying the woman is the one who is in disgrace, who has done wrong.
When Bhaskar, a doctor in the hospital, raises the question of why it’s so important for women to marry, his question is raised right after Shakutai pleads with Bhaskar not to release the report of rape because it would ruin Kalpana’s chance of marriage. In his eyes, she is focusing on false significance. She should be more concerned with the fact that her daughter is lying in a hospital bed unconscious. Reputation becomes everything for a woman.
The issue that has mattered the most is the conflict between the idea women have of themselves and the idea that society imposes on them of what being a woman is. And there’s a struggle to conform to this image, the guilt when you can’t do that. Though, the characters are women, they represent the human being lurking inside. And that human being is often a lonely one though not one who is alone. It is a loneliness deep rooted in their souls. It is a result of being honest with oneself.
A question Urmi often asks herself is why does she feel the need to forget her dead daughter? Women are tied to their children, and the binding vine, as written by Mira, signifies the umbilical cord to which mother and child are physically connected. Urmi is emotionally numb in the beginning after the realization that her daughter is really gone: “what’s broken cannot be mended” She learns, however, that pains can be mended after she learns to reach out to those who need to find their own strengths.
Shakutai’ s decision towards the close of the book, to reveal the truth about her daughter’s rape gives her a new sense of liberation. The Binding Vine beautifully brings about the feelings, which are left unspoken in the Indian women, and shows the pursuit of love in their journey of life. It’s a triumphant story of victory and defeat, when women find their voices.