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Exploring the Elements of Post-structuralist Thought in Sudha Murthy’s Wise


and Otherwise: A Salute to Life

Payagonde B. K.
Assistant Professor
Department of English
Central University of Karnataka,
Gulbarga- 585106, India

Abstract:
With the endorsement to Saussure’s (proponent of structuralism) concept of binary opposition
(Black/White), Derrida, French philosopher, cleverly eschews the privilege of any set of binaries
and posits that one element has its existence in the discourse only because of the existence of the
opposite of it. The main objective of this paper is to explore the elements of post-structuralism in
Sudha Murthy’s Wise and Otherwise: A Salute to Life. In addition to this it would be an attempt
to show how the distinction between the two sets of binaries has either become blurry or
ambiguous. The study of the events from the book would make oneself to introspect in his/her
thinking in terms of binary oppositions.
Key Words: Post-structuralism; Binary opposition; Equal status of the binaries in discourse.

Exploring the elements of the post-structuralist thought in Sudha Murthy’s Wise and Otherwise: A
Salute to Life can rejuvenate the pessimistic people’s life into the optimistic one. The indelible
imprints of the encounters Murthy had with people during her travels and lifetime has been
delineated in the beautiful manner by her in the book. It has been translated into several Indian
languages. The present paper is an attempt to study the events from the book through which one can
learn how the two sets of the binaries in the discourse are equal in status or no any of it is privileged
to the other.

With the endorsement to Saussure’s (proponent of structuralism) concept of Binary Opposition


(Black/White), Derrida, French philosopher, cleverly eschews the privilege of any set of binaries
and posits that one element has its firm existence in the discourse only because of the existence of
the opposite of it. Post-structuralism is most clearly distinct from structuralism in its rejection of
structuralism’s tendency to seek simple, universal and hierarchical structures. Post-structuralists
challenge the structuralist claim to be a critical metalanguage by which all text can be translated.
Instead, they pursue an infinite play of signifiers and do not attempt to impose or privilege one
reading of them over another.

Jacques Derrida, Roland Barthes (after the publication of the essay “Death of the Author” in 1968),
Michel Foucault (Historian) and the philosopher Jean-Francois are the key figures of Post-
structuralism. Basically, Jacques Derrida’s paper on “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of
the Human Sciences” delivered in Johns Hopkins University is considered as the origin post-
structuralism. It, unlike structuralism (originated from linguistics) has its origin from philosophy
and from there it inherits the habit of skepticism and intensifies it. This emerged in France in the

Vol. II Issue V 1 September 2013


www.galaxyimrj.com Galaxy: International Multidisciplinary Research Journal ISSN 2278-9529

late 1960s and displaced the prominence of structuralism by dealing with language in an innovative
way.

It is true that some critics of post-structuralism assume that it boils down to sense of negativism,
since everything is essentially meaningless and therefore lacks any reason to exist, if one continues
to explore closely the fundamental ideas by Jacques Derrida s/he would definitely find something
interesting to lead a positive life. Post-structuralism underscored the indeterminate and polysemic
nature of the semiotic codes and the arbitrary and constructed nature of foundations of knowledge.

Sudha Murthy’s Wise and Otherwise: A Salute to Life is pervaded with the elements of post-
structural thought. The present paper would be an attempt to investigate the events from it in which
one can find the equality in the two sets of binaries. Murthy is an Indian social worker and author.
She is the chairperson of the Infosys Foundation and a member of public health care initiatives of
the Gates Foundation. Along with the above mentioned book her Dollar Sose (English: Dollar
Daughter-in-Law), is a best novel originally authored in Kannada and later translated into English
as Dollar Bahu.

The present paper is consisting of some incidents from Wise and Otherwise: A Salute to Life and
attempted to show the existence of the elements of post-structuralism. One of the chapters from the
book titled, “Not all’s wrong with the next generation” deals with two incidents from the author’s
life. Among them the experience of Murthy during her visit to Egypt while she had gone to see the
oldest Pyramid in the country is the first one and the next event is her interaction with her son. The
following are those two events:
The guide who was accompanying Murthy in Egypt was describing the writings on some of the
pyramids.
Pointing to some inscriptions, he translated aloud, “The children of the next generation will be
spendthrifts, will not think much and will not know much about life. We really do not know what
their future will be. Only the Son God Ra can save them.
(Wise and Otherwise 101)
Her interaction with her teenage son:
Murthy: “Tell me the three most important revolutions or ideas of this country.”
Her Son: “You seem to be a teacher even at home. The most important revolutions and ideas of this
century, according to me, are the principle of non-violence, the effect of violence and the impact of
the communication media.” (Wise and Otherwise 101-102)

Here, on the basis of her experience Murthy rejects the idea that old generation is best and the next
or new generation is not that good in comparison with its older one. This can be understood has the
presence of poststructuralist element in the book.

The next chapter “Woman with a mind” is about the equal importance of both men and women
(binary opposition) in taking the vital decisions in life. Murthy had not seen her friend, Nalini a
professor at a college in Bangalore for a long time. Though her friend had received higher
education (PhD in History) is not confident enough to take crucial decisions on her own in her life.
In fact she herself thinks that her husband, Satish is competent in taking the decisions.
Murthy asked, “Nalini, don’t you have any preferences?”

Vol. II Issue V 2 September 2013


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Nalini replied, “Satish is better than me in all things. He knows the outside world, he has lots of
contacts. So, his decisions will always be correct.”(Wise and Otherwise 110)

From the above conversation between Murthy and her friend Nalini it is clear that in the binaries
‘husband’ and ‘wife’ the earlier is privileged over the latter in taking the decisions. However,
Murthy’s encounter with a village woman, Yellamma in a bus can be considered as the epitome of
the post-structural element in the book. Because in this incident she comes to know that how
Yellamma’s role is vital in taking the decisions in the family along with her husband in sowing the
seeds in the garden.
“Amma I have to rush back to my garden today,” she said.
“Why are you in such a hurry? Isn’t your husband in the garden?” I asked.
“Yes. But still I must go because I have to take an important decision today. I have to sow the seeds
ideal for the next three months.”
“Surely your husband, Rudrappa, can do that,” I suggested.
“No, I have to make my own decision. Rudrappa is also very good and experienced, but I should
also give my views because not all seeds can be sown in the rainy season.” (Wise and Otherwise
110)

With this above incident one can easily notice the importance Yellamma gives to her husband
without considering herself as the inferior to him. On the contrary to Nalini, Yellamma’s opinion
about the role of woman in decision-making is similar to one of the post-structural ideas.

Post-structuralists tend to focus on seemingly meaningless and small details in a piece of literature.
It would be of worth to study some trivial but meaningful incidents from Murthy’s Wise and
Otherwise: A Salute to Life. “A lesson in life from a beggar” is about the woman (Murthy’s friend
Meena) who is an LIC officer never had anything positive to say on any subject or about any
person. But after a small incident from her life she changed totally from pessimist to optimist and
started looking at all the things in a positive way in her life.
Interaction between Meena and Murthy:
“Then what’s the secret of your energy?” I (Murthy) asked, like Tendulkar does in the ad.
She smiled. “A beggar has changed my life.” (Wise and Otherwise 52)

Murthy’s friend Meena detailed about that incident in which she had seen a beggar with his five-
year-old granddaughter playing on the road because there was no traffic. They were laughing,
clapping and screaming joyously, as if they were in paradise. The scene made her to contemplate on
her own life and realized the truth.

Next chapter of the book “Truth about women” talks about the equality of man and women in small
countries of the world like Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. The study of all above mentioned
events from the book would make oneself to introspect in his/her thinking in terms of binary
oppositions.

Vol. II Issue V 3 September 2013


www.galaxyimrj.com Galaxy: International Multidisciplinary Research Journal ISSN 2278-9529

Works Cited:

1. Murty, Sudha. Wise and Otherwise: A Salute to Life. Chennai: East West Books (Madras) Pvt. Ltd.
2002.
2. Abrahms, M. H., Geoffrey Galt Harpham. A Handbook of Literary Terms. New Delhi: Cenage
Learning India Pvt. Ltd. 2009.
3. Selden, Raman and Peter Widdowson, Peter Brooker. A Reader’s Guide to Contemporary
Literary Theory. Pearson Education Ltd.
4. Jaaware, Aniket. Simplifications: An Introduction to Structuralism and Post-Structuralism.
Orient Blackswan. 2000.
5. Waugh, Patricia. An Oxford Guide Literary Theory and Criticism. Oxford University Press.
2011.

Vol. II Issue V 4 September 2013

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