The Indian Girl in ‘Eat Pray Love’


by guest
11th November, 2010 at 12:32 pm    

This is a guest post by Rita Banerji

‘Eat Pray Love’ was showing in theaters in India about two weeks ago, and I have to admit, that like most here, I too went to see it just to see how the country looks on the big screen. But the one question that’s been nagging at me since is, “Why did they have to get Tulsi married?”

The seventeen-year-old Indian girl, Tulsi, who Liz Gilbert befriends at the ashram, has a colorful wedding in the film, which she does not in the book. True, films often distort their source to suit the audience’s whims. And a Bollywood style wedding would certainly spice up the visual appeal. Yet I found Tulsi’s wedding to be a symbolic slaughter of the spirit of this book; a mockery of one of its core issues.

Since Liz already travels, explores and writes, doing all she truly loves, what was her big soul-searching journey all about? In her own words: “I don’t want to have a baby,” an issue she wrestles with incessantly. “That deadline of THIRTY loomed over me..and I discovered I did not want to be pregnant.” And again, “I well know what desire feels like. But it [the desire for a child] wasn’t there.” Her real concern about motherhood, it seems is how she would be perceived if she openly admitted she didn’t desire children. She agonizes over how people would “judge” her. “What kind of a person does that make me?”

The women’s movement in the west may have promulgated birth control, abortion rights, and certain sexual freedoms, but the fact is there persists an under-handed control over women’s bodies and sexualities. The presumption, as amply evident in every form of media, is that giving birth is the ultimate fulfillment of femininity. It is what every woman apparently craves and plans for. And what about those who don’t? Would they like George Clooney be judged as free-thinking spirits, who follow their convictions and for that are all the more sexy and desirable? Certainly not. Such a woman is either in denial of her natural yearnings, or she is a bitter, insensitive specimen of womanhood, who is incapable of deep love and care.

Happily Liz is able to thumb her nose at this model by discovering both feminine fulfillment and deep love in her wonderfully caring Brazilian boyfriend, who much to her relief not only has a vasectomy, but as she admits later in an Elle interview, he “doesn’t want me to do any of the things I don’t want to; he doesn’t want me to be a mom.”

This is why Tulsi provides such an interesting parallel to Liz. They are essentially the same personalities, two women wanting the freedom of their bodies, the choice of expressing their sexuality their way. We see this in Tulsi’s vehement resistance to the idea of marriage, her confiding in Liz that her family considers her different and difficult when what she really wants is to “roam like you,” and her lamenting, “Why was I born an Indian girl?” The difference is that where Liz’s prison is virtual, her choices locked in the confines of her mind, Tulsi’s prison is the actuality of the family and culture she was born into. It is her family’s prerogative to decide which man Tulsi will share her bed and her life with, even if he is a complete stranger to her, and her husband will decide when and how many children she will have.

Within my own circle of family and friends I have seen too many women forced into marrying men they did not want to or desire to. One woman shaved her eyebrows on the day of the wedding. She was beaten, her eyebrows were painted on and she was marched to the altar. Another woman hid in her room for days, went on a hunger strike and sobbed the entire time. Her relatives bombarded her with guilt and emotional blackmail, till she finally relented. And every few days a young woman is gang-lynched for daring to choose who she wants to love – the so called “honor killings.” But by and large girls in India are raised to submit to this eventuality of their lives, without kicking up a fuss. Even if it is the worst kind of rape, the kind in which your own family is complicit.

That is why for me, Tulsi’s spirit of resistance was unusual and inspiring. And no doubt that Liz recognized this too. After all, isn’t there a global agenda in the women’s struggle for autonomy over our bodies? Of all the women Liz met in India, she chose to present Tulsi. She observes her to be “un-Indian,” and she does not end the encounter with Tulsi’s wedding, like in the film, where Tulsi looks like a sad little monkey, on a collar and leash, performing a dance mechanically. No, the last we see of Tulsi in the book, she is running in circles yelling out, “I want to live in Hawaii.” That is the dance of real freedom. That is what Liz wishes for her friend. In the movie, we see Liz advising a very miserable looking Tulsi, in bridal gear, to learn to find happiness in the penitentiary she has just been committed to. Isn’t that a mockery of her truth? A ridiculing of the quest that set Liz across the globe?


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Filed in: 'Honour'-based violence,Culture,India,Media






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  11. BeeZid Pro :: laptops

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  12. The Indian Girl in the movie ‘Eat Pray Love’ « Rita's Blog

    [...] Since Liz already travels, explores and writes, doing all she truly loves, what was her big soul-searching journey all about? In her own words: “I don’t want to have a baby,” an issue she wrestles with incessantly. “That deadline of THIRTY loomed over me..and I discovered I did not want to be pregnant.” And again, “I well know what desire feels like. But it [the desire for a child] wasn’t there.” Her real concern about motherhood, it seems is how she would be perceived if she openly admitted she didn’t desire children. She agonizes over how people would “judge” her. “What kind of a person does that make me?”  Read the article here on Pickled Politics [...]


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  14. Women's Web

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  15. Was the Film ‘Eat Pray Love’ Culturally Relative About Women’s Rights? «

    [...] First published on Pickled Politics [...]


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  22. sexandpower

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  1. Rumbold — on 11th November, 2010 at 3:45 pm  

    Excellent piece Rita. Thanks for this. I certainly don’t want to see the film after this.

  2. Shamit — on 11th November, 2010 at 4:28 pm  

    ditto Rumbold.

  3. Don — on 11th November, 2010 at 5:34 pm  

    It sounded like self-indulgent slop anyway.

  4. Rita Banerji — on 12th November, 2010 at 5:52 am  

    thank you for posting. I thought the film was made for a female audience, and the format was adjusted to what I think they perceived the female audience would like to see. Sadly, they are right. But I think keeping to the true spirit of the book, would have given women something to think about however discomforting. In the Elle interview when Liz comments that she sees no reason to have children because there is no “giant kid shortage out there,” the interviewer responds with, “If that sounds misanthropic don’t be fooled.”

  5. aparna — on 12th November, 2010 at 12:12 pm  

    Excellent post. I haven’t read the book or seen the movie, but your post makes the double standards clear enough. I wonder if this is cultural relativism at play, as in, of course, freedom and self-actualization is important for the western woman, but the indian woman just has to take what she gets and “it’s their culture, you know!”

    Also, a 17 year old getting married is actually illegal in India and for very good reasons, so presenting that as a positive or even tolerable situation is horribly disrespectful of the many struggles being fought in this country to end child marriages and forced marriages.

  6. Rita Banerji — on 12th November, 2010 at 3:28 pm  

    @aparna — yes I wondered too if it is “cultural relativism.” But it seemed to me they were downplaying this whole issue that Liz did not want a baby. They make it seem like she had no idea what she wanted, and why she was doing what she was doing. But in the book that’s her issue, and towards the end she makes peace with the fact that just because she is a woman she is not required to want to have a child. In the movie you don’t see this at all. And when they remove this central issue from the film — Liz just comes across as a confused, neurotic woman having a mid-life crises, hopping like frog from one end of the world to the other. And then finds love in a man who cures her of her confusion and rescues her :-) Oh — it is Snow White, and Cinderella, all over again!

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