ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Patiya: A Pre-independence Tale of Homosexuality and Feudalism

Patiya is a bold story at the intersection of female desire, same sex relationships, and feudal society in Bundelkhand.

Highlighting the complexities of queer relationships, Kedarnath Agrawal’s Patiya (1985) offers a peek into female desire, homosexuality, and patriarchy in the 1940s. As one of the foremost figures of Hindi poetry, while some of Agrawal’s works are immensely celebrated and popular, others such as this novella have woefully remained isolated. Exploring the subject of female sexuality and sexual psychology, Patiya suffered obscurity possibly owing to its sensitive subject matter which is, even today, considered taboo. Despite being written by an established poet, Patiya thus remained untouched by literary critics for many years. In far more orthodox times than today, Agrawal was creating characters within the feudal society of Bundelkhand who belonged to the working class and lower castes, surviving under harsh circumstances while being astonishingly aware of their bodily desires. It is assumed that this novella was first published in 1985 by Parimal Prakashan, 40 years after being actually written. The sensitive themes decelerated its space on the bookshelves of the traditionalist era.

The novella’s uniqueness lies in its nuanced exploration of the naive women’s dissatisfaction with their “allotted” husbands from an arranged marriage. This vexation is both physical and mental. Voluptuous and attractive Mohini is unrelenting in her quest for a fulfilling life instead of one full of compromises. She is opinionated and does not shy away from extreme risks to maintain her freedom and individuality. Unlike the other women characters, she is bold in her choices, unabashedly feminine and despises mediocrity in any form. She detests hard labour and prefers to rely on her beauty and sexuality to make all men “dance to her tunes.” Unhappy with a marriage alliance, she escapes her marital home. Under immense societal pressure, which dictates that the marital home should only be left by women on their funeral pyre, Mohini takes the shocking step of eloping with the lustful and misogynistic Thakur, preferring to become his mistress rather than suffer an unfavourable marriage. She ultimately leaves the businessman’s house upon realising his dubious intentions, fearlessly moving forward towards her new beginning with her sister-in-law Patiya. Mohini’s sexual liberation thus heralds a new wave of thinking towards the end of the novel.

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