In The God of Small Things Arundhati Roy notifies the reader that her novel makes people upset “because the way I see the world does not allow people to let themselves off the hook, it leaves little space for pleading innocence. And it’s uncomfortable to face the fact that all of us are complicit in what’s going on-victims as well as perpetrators” (Roy 330). The novel centers around the Ipe family and the main characters, Estha and Rahel’s grandaunt, Baby Kochamma. She is a persistent, manipulative, and bitter Indian woman who lives in a town in India called Ayemenem. Baby Kochamma is important to show Roy’s idea of being a “victim” of her Indian culture as well as “perpetrator” of the British culture.
Baby Kochamma doesn’t openly admit the fact that she is “complicit” about being caught between cultures but her actions reveal how she belong finds herself belonging to neither culture. Baby Kochamma has a double consciousness of being a victim of her Indian culture but also a perpetrator of gaining the British culture. This double consciousness Tyson defines as “a consciousness or a way of perceiving the world that is divided between two antagonistic cultures” (Tyson 421). Baby Kochamma’s Indian culture has her stuck between that and the British culture through falling in love with Father Mulligan, arrogantly talking about Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and ditching her garden for a television. She hopes these will allow her to become part of the British culture as well, but she often has the feeling of “belonging to neither rather than both,” and by the time she is thought to gain belongingness it’s too late in her life (Tyson 421).
When Baby Kochamma is 18 years old she falls in love with Father Mulligan, an Irish priest but she does not gain his affection back. She figures that if she shows him how charitable she is, he will fall in love with her. She thinks of them together and “that was all she wanted. All she ever dared to hope for. Just to be near him” (25). Baby Kochamma longs for Father Mulligan to accept her love but because he’s a priest, he cannot marry. Through her ongoing love for him she shows her double consciousness taking hold of her and leaving her stuck between wanting his culture and her own. Baby Kochamma forcibly baths a kid in the public well every Thursday so Father Mulligan will see how sweet and wonderful she is. When this does not work, her “stubborn single-mindedness” (25) causes her to pretend to be interesting in religion and enter a convent where she “defied her father’s wishes and became a Roman Catholic …She hoped somehow this would provide her with legitimate occasion to be with Father Mulligan” (25). Though this seems like a foolproof plan, it does not actually work, and Baby Kochamma is miserable at the fact that Father Mulligan does not love her back. Baby Kochamma’s persistence of gaining a relationship with Father Mulligan is shut down and she eventually drops out of the convent forcing her to neither feel part of his culture or her own that she tries to stray from.
Baby Kochamma continues to try to be part of the British culture by showing her knowledge of The Tempest, but she finds her double consciousness keeping her from neither culture again. When Margaret Kochamma, Baby Kochamma’s nephew’s ex-wife and her daughter Sophie Mol come to visit from England, Baby Kochamma tries to show off to Sophie Mol and Margaret her expertise on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Rahel notices that Baby Kochamma starts speaking in a “strange new British accent” (137) along with trying to show off her knowledge of Shakespeare and all things British. Baby Kochamma tells Sophie Mol she “was so beautiful that she reminded her of a wood-sprite. Of Ariel.” (138). Before Sophie Mol can even answer Baby Kochamma jumps on her and repeats “‘D’you know who Ariel was? Ariel in The Tempest?'” (137).
Already before Sophie can even speak Baby Kochamma is displaying her knowledge of this novel and the spirit Ariel in it by putting them down, as to be shocked they do not understand her. Sophie Mol repeats over and over she doesn’t know this reference but Baby Kochamma is persistent again with hoping to gain their culture and repeats “Shakespeare’s the Tempest?” (137). It is clear by that now Sophie Mol has no clue what Baby Kochamma is saying and Baby Kochamma is purposely doing this to show she knows of this British works. Again Baby Kochamma is rejected by Sophie Mol and her culture, by Sophie Mol not understanding her reference to Ariel. Baby Kochamma hopes to gain a part of the British culture by being overly full of herself in front of Sophie Mol and trying to show off. But as Sophie Mol reveals, Baby Kochamma’s double consciousness leaves her rejected by the culture and she finds herself back where she started, not part of either culture.
Later in Baby Kochamma’s life when she is 80 years old she is able to gain a feeling of being part of other cultures through the television. After her first rejection of trying to gain Father Mulligan’s culture, Baby Kochamma’s father comes to get her out of the convent and sends her to the University of Rochester in New York, where she gets a degree in Ornamental Gardening. Baby Kochamma has a passion for her garden: “raised a fierce, bitter garden that people came all the way from Kottayam to see” (26). She raises many different flowers like “Rubrum” and the “Honneymoon,” but “the flower she loved the most was the anthurium,” (27) which is natively from South America. Her garden has many plants from around the world, even “a host of Japanese varieties,” (27) and they demonstrate her desire of different cultures in which she hopes to be part of. After “enduring more than half a century of relentless, pernickety attention,” (27) Baby Kochamma now later in life, abandons her ornamental garden.
Baby Kochamma has installed a dish antenna on her roof of her home in Ayemenem and “presided over the world in her drawing room on satellite TV” (27). This new way of living brought “the impossible excitement that engendered in Baby Kochamma” (27) out and she never looks back to her garden. She now feels a sense of belonging with other cultures because through the television she is able to watch “blondes, wars, famines, football, sex, music, coups d’etat,” (27) all at the same time. Baby Kochamma feels a connection to the western culture around her but its too late. There is no one in her life anymore for her to show off her new cultural identity. Rahel notices her beginning to wear makeup but “her lipstick mouth had shifted slightly off her real mouth,” (22) revealing it’s too late in life for her to change anything, especially to make cultural changes. Rahel then acknowledges Baby Kochamma is “living her life backwards,” (23) because wearing this make-up and watching television is something others usually begin their life with. If Baby Kochamma was able get through her double consciousness earlier in life when she wasn’t alone she would have been living her life the way she wanted, not being struck between cultures.
Baby Kochamma is left late in life with the luxury of her television and a sense of belonging to some part of a culture unlike earlier in life, in which her double consciousness frequently left her not belonging to her own culture or to the British culture. Although she is able to gain belonging, Baby Kochamma still finds herself as Tyson describes “arrested in a psychological limbo” (Tyson 421). This mental doubt is left because she is still uncertain about belonging to these cultures when there is no one in her life to experience it with. Baby Kochamma’s personality is intended to advise the reader how “double consciousness…persist in decolonized nations today” (Tyson 422). She is a miserable character throughout the novel but is helpful in the novel to show how one can be a victim of their culture as well as a perpetrator of another, even in today’s society.