Common themes in modern literature on Indian woman

By Priyanka Badyakar & Priya Chetty on August 3, 2022

Twentieth-century writing has ushered a new area with the writing of many famous Indian woman writers who have depicted women’s sufferings, the discrimination they faced in society, and their pain in family life. Some of the most common themes in modern Indian literature are identity crises, feeling alone, and women rebelling against the patriarchal culture. In their work, especially novels, many writers have shown how unhappy and rebellious women can be. Some of the critically and commercially acclaimed writers on Indian women are Anita Desai, Smriti Singh, Nomita Gogkhle, and Manju Kapur.

Dawn of new-age writing on Indian woman

Fiction was written in the modern decade and focused on contemporary Indian women, leaving us to speculate about whether the status of women changed after those books were published. Female characters and their understanding of what it means to be a woman in a male-dominated, tradition-bound society were significant themes in 1990s literature (Kabir). No colonial baggage is brought to bear by these authors as they offer a fresh perspective on contemporary India. Their works explore the rural and urban middle class and the tensions that arise when these two worlds collide. Gods, Graves, and Grandmothers is a social realism satire on religious hypocrisy in India as described by Namita Gokhale while exploring the religious hypocrisy endemic to the country (Tiwari).

Namita Gokhale’s Paro: Dreams of Passion (1984) has a satirical tone and depicts an adulterous romance between a young guy and a submissive Indian woman (Priyadharshini et al 50). The title is a play on the contradiction between modern women’s conventional and current depictions, with their shifting expectations and modernist tendencies.

Depiction of Indian women through war and casteism

Another recurrent theme is the experiences of Indian women throughout the war for independence. Ida’s quest to comprehend her mother, Virmani, and grandmother to discover more about their pasts is a subject of Manju Kapur’s 1998 novel. A caste-based society and the suffering and humiliation she experiences when she resists it is shown in this novel.

Women novelists of the 1980s and 1990s showed women protagonists in search of self-fulfilment.

Santhosh Gupta

Themes of the modern Indian woman in the 2000s

Recent literature has featured significant discussions on various topics, including the role of women in middle-class employment and the evolution of a feminine sensibility that goes beyond feminism. They may delay getting married because of how happy they currently are. The role that men once played in their wives’ lives has mysteriously vanished. The books written throughout the 2000s encompass diverse themes and literary traditions.

The topic of “The predicament of British Asian men and women caught in the crossfire of the conventions and practices of their origin and adopted countries” is discussed in Meera Syal’s book Life is Not All Ha HaHeeHee (2000). This novel follows the lives of a single Indian woman from the time she becomes a teenager until she becomes an elderly grandma. The attempt at rapprochement between Eastern and Western perspectives on women’s proper roles is a recurrent theme across these stories.

Jhumpa Lahiri explores, for the first time in a very long time, the friction that exists between different generations and cultural backgrounds in her novel Namesake. The novel Love written by Anuradha Marwah-Idol Roy depicts a horrific dystopian future for India in the twenty-first century (1999). Both Meena Alexander’s Nampally House (1991) and Rani Dharker’sThe Virgin Syndrome examine a variety of topics that are pertinent to the experience of attending college (1997). Women’s roles in ChitraDivakaruni’s traditional practice of arranged marriage are on the cusp of undergoing a fundamental upheaval (1995). The novels The Mango Season by AmulyaMalladi and Matrimonial Purposes by Kavitha Daswani, both of which were released in 2003, discuss the topic of arranged weddings in their plots.

Rising against the patriarchy through literature

Anita Desai’s novel Cry, the Peacock, published in 1963, challenges women’s traditional roles in fiction. This includes the stereotypically subservient wife, her husband’s aggressive masculine authority, and her religious beliefs in karma and detachment. It is difficult for Maya to reconcile her feelings of self-worth with those of her husband, Gautama, because her father instilled a strong sense of self-worth (Ahmmed 25). Women are undervalued in society. Maya is fighting to build her ideals and self-worth while pondering the more prominent topic of what forms a balanced atmosphere that respects her values (Vijayalakshmi). A neglected wife’s life is illustrated through the theme of marital strife and the associated estrangement that develops in her life.

Another Desai’s novel, Fire on the Mountain, tells about the life of Nanda Kaul, an elderly widow in Kasauli, Himachal Pradesh, in a house by herself called Carignano. Kasauli is located in the state of Himachal Pradesh. She is one of those heroines who have been subjected to difficulties throughout her entire life because of the tendency of her husband to engage in extramarital affairs (Nithya and Sivakumar).

The protagonists of R.K. Narayan also underline the rise of the new-era woman. In The Dark Room (1938), The Guide (1958), and Grandmother’s Tale, strong female characters like Savitri, Rosie, and Baladisplay the characteristics of integrity, honesty, and self-worth that leave a lingering feeling of pride and optimism in the reader. Narayan’s heroines have bravery, independence, arrogance, and dogmatism in their character qualities. As they fight for justice and independence, her individuality and liberation are at stake (Adhikary 150). They also benefit the people in their lives, such as children, parents, and spouses.

Modern Indian literature has depicted the story of middle-class women, the housewife and their offerings, struggle, and misery that reflect in the theme of feminism, isolation, identity crisis, and rebellion of women against patriarchal society. It is notable that the representation of the unconventional Indian woman comes from not only female but male writers too.


  • Vijayalakshmi, Ms B., and K. S. Dhanam. “Themes Of Alienation And Reconciliation In Select Novels Of Anita Desai And Bharati Mukherjee.” Journal of Language and Linguistic Studies 17.2 (2022).
  • Priyadharshini, P., et al. “Authenticity of liberal feminism in Namita Gokhale’s texts.” Linguistics and Culture Review 5.S1 (2021): 46-59.
  • Nithya, A., and K. Sivakumar. “Unconventional Love and Sexual Liberation: A Feminist Study of Namita Gokhale’s Paro: Dreams of Passion.” Journal of Language and Linguistic Studies 17.3 (2022).
  • Adhikary, Ramesh Prasad. “Existential Maturity of Savitri in the Dark Room by RK Narayan.” UJAH: Unizik Journal of Arts and Humanities 21.1 (2020): 138-155.
  • Ahmmed, Md Firoj. “Female Individuality And Struggle In A Patricentric Society: A Critical Analysis Of Anita Desai’s Where Shall We Go This Summer?.” Sarjana 35.1 (2020): 23-31.

Priya is the co-founder and Managing Partner of Project Guru, a research and analytics firm based in Gurgaon. She is responsible for the human resource planning and operations functions. Her expertise in analytics has been used in a number of service-based industries like education and financial services.

Her foundational educational is from St. Xaviers High School (Mumbai). She also holds MBA degree in Marketing and Finance from the Indian Institute of Planning and Management, Delhi (2008).

Some of the notable projects she has worked on include:

  • Using systems thinking to improve sustainability in operations: A study carried out in Malaysia in partnership with Universiti Kuala Lumpur.
  • Assessing customer satisfaction with in-house doctors of Jiva Ayurveda (a project executed for the company)
  • Predicting the potential impact of green hydrogen microgirds (A project executed for the Government of South Africa)

She is a key contributor to the in-house research platform Knowledge Tank.

She currently holds over 300 citations from her contributions to the platform.

She has also been a guest speaker at various institutes such as JIMS (Delhi), BPIT (Delhi), and SVU (Tirupati).


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