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Cultural Difference and Influence in Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's Esmond in India

Paper type: Essay
Pages: 9 (2101 words)
Categories: Cuisines, Culture, Food, India, Indian Cuisine, Influence, Society, World
Downloads: 43
Views: 347


Ruth Prawer Jhabvala has lived in four countries on three different continents, and this has inevitably affected her work considerably. Jhabvala wrote mainly from the European point of view and her majority of readers is westerner too. She is constantly aware of her western values, of her western readers and this has affected profoundly the technique and the content of her novels. It is clear that she wrote mainly for westerners, and she intends to show the image of India to the world, for this she used her characters as tools.

Jhabvala nicely portrays how her western characters faced the problems in Indian society and how all of them overcome from all those problems.

Jhabvala sees herself as an external observer and makes leading characters as her own image. Her position as an outsider herself has always made her highly conscious of cultural differences and influences and consequently her novels and stories always force the reader to be aware of and even confront the cultural influence and prejudices she exposes.

This aspect of her writing is implicit and this paper focuses attention on the East-West encounter, manifesting itself in her novel, Esmond in India.

Ms.K.Sankari, Research Scholar, AVVM Sri Pushpam College (Autonomous), PoondiDr.R.Shanthi, Associate Professor in English, AVVM Sri Pushpam College (Autonomous), PoondiRuth Prawer Jhabvala, one of the outstanding Indo Anglian women novelists, deals with post-Independence India, concentrating on European expatriates and the members of the educated Hindu middle-class families. Love, marriage and familial relationship are major themes of her early novels. India reacts strongly on her Western characters and changes them to a great extent. She is able to describe the experiences of the Westerners in India and their interaction with the Indians beautifully. She, being a foreigner, gets married to an Indian and this enables her to deal with mixed marriages of the Indians and the Europeans in a critical but amused manner. The interaction between the two cultures, the Eastern and the Western, forms an integral part of her novels.

Esmond in India is the first major novel of western character. Esmond is the westerner who faced many problems in India. This novel can be viewed as an expression of the author?s inner dilemma: Whether to belong to India or not to belong, how to go about it. In An Experience of India she states this central problem that bothers the Westerner:

To live in India and be at peace one must to a very considerable extent become Indian and adopt Indian attitudes, habits, beliefs, assume, if possible an Indian personality. And even if it were possible-without cheating oneself-would it be desirable? Should one want to try and become something other than what one is?

Esmond, like any other foreigner came to India and stayed on. He learnt a lot about Indian culture, art, architecture and literature so much. So that he gave tuitions to foreign ladies who came to India for a short time and made them to learn as much as they could. Not only this, he also acted as guide and took these ladies to various places of interest. Accidently he falls in love with an Indian beauty Gulab and marries her, and here starts his problems. When their rosy dreams come to an end, he starts to realize the real problems. It reveals the fact that Esmond and Gulab are poles apart as far their habits of sleeping, eating and dressing is concerned.

Gulab prefers more oil in her food, she enjoyed her food on the ground only, she eats more fatty items, totally she loves Indian food, which is spicy one but on the other hand Esmond is totally opposite to Gulab. He hates more oil in food and even he hates the spicy meal he prefers only boiled vegetable. Bachani, Uma’s maid servant ridicules this European lunch she says, ‘What sort of man is that… who eats grass for his food?’ (Jhabvala, Esmond 23). He gives much importance to outoook rather than inner look. Esmond prefers to sit on the dining table to eat rather than floor. It looked, ‘rather like a beautifully photographed full-page advertisement in an American magazine. It was very different from Gulab’s spicy meal eaten on the floor out of brass bowls’ (Jhabvala, Esmond. 33). He felt Indian food smell is like DDT.

Esmond faced lot of problems in the food, so he feels that he has committed a mistake by marrying Gulab because she could not adjust with him. It’s all strange to her. So, he is in a state of dilemma. He knew Indian history, Indian culture and folk-lore from this only he got money by guiding but the irony is that the same person is facing the problem to adjust to Indian food. At last he switched over to western way of life. Esmond a master of Indian art and culture is the husband of an Indian wife and father of an Indian son. He was Indian only outwardly and to those foreigners who took tuition from him. He basically remained a staunch European. He has furnished his apartment as a typical Europen would do, making proper use of each and every corner, he took great pains in choosing proper colours and furniture. Though Gulab doesn’t say anything to him, he was frustrated because of her behaviour. He forced her to follow the western culture, through this we came to know that he is trying to dominate over her. The most important thing is that whenever Jhabvala brings out this comparison between Esmond and Gulab she makes it quite obvious that her own sympathies are always with the Europeans and she describes Indians in satirical vein, leaving it to the reader to interpret the lines in his own way.

Esmond feels embrassed taking her out to social gatherings. She is also miserable when forced to meet and mingle with his friends. In the end he leaves her alone and this process of estrangement suits them both, he found that her absence was for more impressive than her presence. He gives his English friends the false impression of Gulab as a real old fashioned Indian lady, veiled, shy, sitting in a marble courtyard with the fountain splashing around, her maid singing love lyrics and serving her assiduously. He escapes social scrutiny by cleverly giving evasive or distant replies when questioned about his wife, ‘suggesting that the internal arrangements of his household were too private and oriental to be discussed’ (Jhabvala, Esmond 34). Ravi is another dispute for Gulab and Esmond, both want to bring him up in their own style. Uma, Gulab’s mother wants to bring him up in the Indian way. Like giving hair oil massage every day, shaving the hair once and serving him good meals. She tells Esmond:

Such food he needs, and also he needs to have his legs rubbed with oil to make them strong and his hair must be shaved… in the night he must sleep with his mother so that she may comfort him if her wakes with bad dreams. (Jhabvala, Esmond 112)

Esmond, a typical European, despises all these things. He wants Ravi to have light and healthy food, he does not believe in shaving the head and, of course, he vehemently opposes the idea of a child sleeping with his mother. He made it a point to keep Ravi’s bed in his room, for he does not trust Gulab and knows that she would be tempted to sleep with Ravi:

He had insisted that Ravi should sleep in his room. He knew that if the child slept with Gulab there would be far too much petting and unhygienic sharing of beds. He had now trained Ravi not to get up at night: or if he did wake, to keep quiet and still and not disturb his father. (Jhabvala, Esmond 43)

The above statement of Esmond is truly European way of bringing up of a child. We find Esmond clinging to his own culture as far as he can, but the question is, is he a true European, is he a typical example of a westerner? If he is, then we find him worse than Indian men or at least no better than them, and if he is not, then he appears to be a hypocrite, who wants to be a European but has long forgotten how he should behave like a true westerner. The picture a normal Indian would have of European, is of a cultured man who has full control over his mind and body. Esmond at times is far from that. He often uses abusive language towards his wife Gulab, he never hesitates in calling her an animal, he even takes delight in hurting her physically.

She looks pretty but she is so unresponsive and stolid that Esmond wants to break out from his trap of a dull, heavy, alien and meaningless marriage, ‘He thought of himself as trapped-trapped in her stupidity, in her dull heavy, alien mind, which could understand nothing : not him, not his way of life nor his way of thought.’ (Jhabvala, Esmond 37).

Esmond gets attracted towards Shakuntala by her momentary passion and sensuality. With the Taj Mahal in moonlight, with the poetic beauties of Shelley in the background, she succumbs completely to the temptation of the flesh. She has no qualms about betraying the domestic felicity of her friend and classmate Gulab, she said:

Esmond, I know you are married and also you have a child, but I tell you this means nothing to me. Only I know you have come into my life and now it is my duty to give everything I have to you, to adore you and serve you to be your slave.

(Jhabvala, Esmond 148)

Esmond, on the rebound from Gulab, piqued by Betty, feels proud to be loved by a young romantic girl and gives in with tolerant affection to her pleading for love. It is not an affirmation of love that Shakuntala enjoys but a brief moment of physicality ; she is too young and foolish to distinguish between the two. Esmond exploits his appeal to her sensuousness, awakens her responses and lets her share a night with him.

Shakuntala imagines herself to be in love and goes around singing . ‘Esmond, my love telephones him often and makes herself a bit of a nuisance in his well manicured life. She engineers to him come home as tutor to herself and her brother’s wife. She is cloaked in pseudo-romantic thrills of her own imagination, while Esmond finds her as cloying and crude as Gulab. While Gulab is labelled as a slattern of the lazy variety, Shakuntala is called a slattern of the Bohemian variety. He endures the latter mainly for the sake of the money her father pays him, while at times he feels flattered by the devotion she showers on him. He had allowed her to sleep with him, one more conquest in a series of casual encounters. To him it is nothing more nor less than a temporary physical need and its fulfilment.

To Shakuntala it is of unspeakable significance and it has far reaching consequences in her life. She turns into a lover demanding constant attention from him and he starts feeling trapped by her too. Gulab behind him and Shakuntala before him and lessons in culture to silly woman with money paid out discreetly in envelopes–he is tired at it, the eternal shabbiness, internal and external.

Neither Shakuntala nor Gulab and Ravi mean anything to him. He has a negative response to love and life in India. The women who cross his path do not aid him in discovering an inner core of fulfilment. His restlessness drives him onward. One wonders whether Shakuntala would retrieve her balance and get settled down to married life with an arranged partner after Esmond?s departure from India. The pretentiousness and the hollow philistinism of the so-called cultured and sophisticated people, Indian and European, have been expressed sharply by Jhabvala. Thus the author has beautifully brought about the novel so that it deftly shows the marital dissonance in the life the couple Esmond and Gulab and that is mainly because of the basic differences they have between their cultures.


  1. Jhabvala, Ruth Prawer. Esmond in India. George Allen and Unwin, 1958; Rpt, London : John Murray, 1978.
  2. Swamy, Shanta Krishna. The Women in Indian Fiction in English. Chapter VII, New Delhi : Ashish Publishing House, 1989.
  3. Sahane, Vasant. An Artists Experience of India : R.P. Jhabvala?s Fiction. English and India. Ed. M. Manuel and K. Ayyappa Paniker, Bombay : Macmillan, 1978.

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Cultural Difference and Influence in Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s Esmond in India. (2019, Dec 11). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/paper-with-abstract-example-essay

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