Emerging South Asian Women Writers : Essays and Interviews

941 80 2MB

English Pages [236] Year 2016

Report DMCA / Copyright


Polecaj historie

Emerging South Asian Women Writers : Essays and Interviews

Table of contents :
List of Illustrations
Introduction (Feroza Jussawalla and Deborah Fillerup Weagel)
1. Chandani Lokugé’s If the Moon Smiled: Female Subjectivity and Trauma at the South Asian/Australian Cultural Crossroads (Dolores Herrero)
2. Injustice, Resistance, and Subversion: A Study of Selected Plays by Indian Women Playwrights (Seema Malik)
3. Transnational Feminism in Sidhwa’s Cracking India: A Geocritical Study of the Great Divide of the Indian Subcontinent (Sobia Khan)
4. South Asian Muslim Women Speak for Their Rights and Resistance (Feroza Jussawalla)
5. Women Trapped in a Quagmire: A Study of Mrinal Pande’s My Own Witness (Manoj Kumar Mishra)
6. Constructing “Home”: Eros, Thanatos, and Migration in the Novels of Anita Rau Badami (Laurel Ryan)
7. “Womenspace”: Negotiating Class and Gender in Indian English Novels (Geethanjali Singh Chanda)
8. Neelum Saran Gour: Novelist of Small Town India and Beyond (Shyamala A. Narayan)
9. Hybridity and the Politics of Identity in the Writings/Texts of Diasporic South Asian Women (Umme Al-wazedi)
10. Language, Diaspora, and Identity: An Interview with Yasmine Gooneratne (Deborah Fillerup Weagel)
11. A Journey from Sri Lanka to Australia: A Conversation with Chandani Lokugé (Sissy Helff)
12. Gender without Borders: An Interview with C.S. Lakshmi/Ambai (Antonia Navarro-Tejero)
13. Speech-Act: An Interview with Susan Visvanathan (Geetha Ganapathy-Doré)
14. Afterword (Feroza Jussawalla and Deborah Fillerup Weagel with Jill Dehnert)

Citation preview

1 bility for South Asian women writers whose work has not had much exposure in the West. It contributes to FEROZA JUSSAWALLA (left) is Professor of English at the University of New Mexico. She is the author of Family Quarrels: Towards a Criticism of Indian Writing in English (Peter Lang, 1985) and of a collection of poems, Chiffon Saris (2003); editor of Conversations with V. S. Naipaul and co-editor with Reed Way Dasenbrock of Interviews with Writers of the Post-Colonial World; and editor of Border Crossing, the special online issue of the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association Review (2012). She is the author of numerous articles in Indian, European, and U.S. literary critical journals.

cluding scholarship not only on little-known writers but also by scholars from India—in particular, those whose voices do not necessarily find themselves in western academic publications. Many South Asian women writers engage with the overall quest for survival, which can be affiliated with all the themes expressed in this volume: trauma, diaspora, injustice, resistance, place, space, language, and identity. The texts discussed herein contribute to the ongoing discourse related to such themes in postcolonial studies and transnational literature, and could be used in courses on South Asian literature, women’s writing, postcolonial studies and literature, and world or transnational literature. “These engaging essays and interviews offer valuable insights into the work of South Asian women writers, playwrights, and academics. They underscore the culturally enforced and often unique challenges women from South Asia face to create literary production.” Bapsi Sidhwa, Author of Cracking India, Water, An American Brat, The Crow Eaters, and other novels

Jussawalla & Weagel, Eds.

DEBORAH FILLERUP WEAGEL (right) holds a Ph.D. in English with an emphasis in postcolonial literature and is term teaching faculty at the University of New Mexico. She is the author of Interconnections: Essays on Music, Art, Literature, and Gender (2004), Women and Contemporary World Literature: Power, Fragmentation, and Metaphor (2009), and Words and Music: Camus, Beckett, Cage, Gould (2010). Her articles have appeared in the South Asian Review, the Journal of Comparative Literature and Aesthetics, an anthology on Rohinton Mistry, and a variety of other scholarly journals.

the knowledge of South Asian women writers by in-

Emerging South Asian Women Writers

This volume was conceived as a space to provide visi-




Emerging South Asian Women Writers

Essays and Interviews EDITED BY

Feroza Jussawalla and Deborah Fillerup Weagel

1 bility for South Asian women writers whose work has not had much exposure in the West. It contributes to FEROZA JUSSAWALLA (left) is Professor of English at the University of New Mexico. She is the author of Family Quarrels: Towards a Criticism of Indian Writing in English (Peter Lang, 1985) and of a collection of poems, Chiffon Saris (2003); editor of Conversations with V. S. Naipaul and co-editor with Reed Way Dasenbrock of Interviews with Writers of the Post-Colonial World; and editor of Border Crossing, the special online issue of the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association Review (2012). She is the author of numerous articles in Indian, European, and U.S. literary critical journals.

cluding scholarship not only on little-known writers but also by scholars from India—in particular, those whose voices do not necessarily find themselves in western academic publications. Many South Asian women writers engage with the overall quest for survival, which can be affiliated with all the themes expressed in this volume: trauma, diaspora, injustice, resistance, place, space, language, and identity. The texts discussed herein contribute to the ongoing discourse related to such themes in postcolonial studies and transnational literature, and could be used in courses on South Asian literature, women’s writing, postcolonial studies and literature, and world or transnational literature. “These engaging essays and interviews offer valuable insights into the work of South Asian women writers, playwrights, and academics. They underscore the culturally enforced and often unique challenges women from South Asia face to create literary production.” Bapsi Sidhwa, Author of Cracking India, Water, An American Brat, The Crow Eaters, and other novels

Jussawalla & Weagel, Eds.

DEBORAH FILLERUP WEAGEL (right) holds a Ph.D. in English with an emphasis in postcolonial literature and is term teaching faculty at the University of New Mexico. She is the author of Interconnections: Essays on Music, Art, Literature, and Gender (2004), Women and Contemporary World Literature: Power, Fragmentation, and Metaphor (2009), and Words and Music: Camus, Beckett, Cage, Gould (2010). Her articles have appeared in the South Asian Review, the Journal of Comparative Literature and Aesthetics, an anthology on Rohinton Mistry, and a variety of other scholarly journals.

the knowledge of South Asian women writers by in-

Emerging South Asian Women Writers

This volume was conceived as a space to provide visi-




Emerging South Asian Women Writers

Essays and Interviews EDITED BY

Feroza Jussawalla and Deborah Fillerup Weagel

Praise for

Emerging South Asian Women Writers “Arguably, one of the pressing obligations for literary academics in the West is to provide opportunities for colleagues in the emerging world, and particularly women, to be seen and heard, authors who otherwise might have little access to publishing houses focused on profit. This intelligently conceived collection of analytical essays does just that, introducing readers to women who often write of local and personal concerns that may surprise postcolonial theorists. Emphasis on scholars in India is welcome as well. The book’s interviews are fascinating windows into the worlds of writers seeking larger audiences, and clearly deserving them. The editors’ introduction is an eye-opener, demonstrating the extent to which this ‘emerging’ world is more than ready to be heard—and one result may be an enlarged comprehension of globalization.” John C. Hawley, Professor of English at Santa Clara University and Editor of the Encyclopedia of Postcolonial Studies

Emerging South Asian Women Writers


Jamsheed K. Choksy General Editor Vol. 1

This book is a volume in a Peter Lang monograph series. Every volume is peer reviewed and meets the highest quality standards for content and production.


New York  Bern  Frankfurt  Berlin Brussels  Vienna  Oxford  Warsaw

Emerging South Asian Women Writers Essays and Interviews


Feroza Jussawalla and Deborah Fillerup Weagel


New York  Bern  Frankfurt  Berlin Brussels  Vienna  Oxford  Warsaw

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Emerging South Asian women writers: essays and interviews / edited by Feroza Jussawalla, Deborah Fillerup Weagel. pages cm. — (From antiquity to modernity: studies on Middle Eastern and Asian societies; Vol. 1) Includes bibliographical references. 1. South Asian literature—Women authors—History and criticism. 2. South Asian literature—Women authors—Interviews. 3. Women and literature—South Asia. 4. Postcolonialism in literature. I. Jussawalla, Feroza F., editor. II. Weagel, Deborah Fillerup, editor. PK5410.W65E44 891.4—dc23 2015005815 ISBN 978-1-4331-2890-5 (hardcover) ISBN 978-1-4539-1577-6 (e-book) ISSN 2328-9236 (print) ISSN 2328-9244 (online)

Bibliographic information published by Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek. Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the “Deutsche Nationalbibliografie”; detailed bibliographic data are available on the Internet at http://dnb.d-nb.de/.

Front cover image: Indian art, Jahangir period, painted image, Rajasthan, India (© 2015 iStockphoto.com/scotto72) Back cover image: Photo of Feroza Jussawalla and Deborah Fillerup Weagel by Terry Ann Gugliotta (Used with permission of photographer)

© 2016 Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., New York 29 Broadway, 18th floor, New York, NY 10006 www.peterlang.com All rights reserved. Reprint or reproduction, even partially, in all forms such as microfilm, xerography, microfiche, microcard, and offset strictly prohibited.

To our colleagueship, families, and support systems

In the new world, this is what we have become— Chiffon Saris. —Anomalies— Is it better to be —Dharmavaram—— Conjeeveram—? Feroza Jussawalla, Chiffon Saris

In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf writes that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” She asserts that in order for a woman to develop innate gifts, she needs a certain degree of financial freedom and private space in which to create. The concept of having one’s own room, or space, that can be segregated from the activities of home and public life can be considered both literally and metaphorically. How does a creative, intelligent, and gifted woman find a room of her own both physically and mentally? How does she attain a position in which she can have the necessary solitude and space to transform the meanderings of her mind and heart into structured and concrete expression? Although Woolf was an author, her words are not limited to writers. They can be applied to any type of academic, artistic, musical, and/or creative output. Furthermore, they can be useful in analyzing not only the lives of her contemporaries, but women in the past and future, not just women in England, but women all over the globe. Deborah Fillerup Weagel Women and Contemporary World Literature: Power, Fragmentation, and Metaphor


List of Illustrations xi Acknowledgments xiii Introduction 1 Feroza Jussawalla and Deborah Fillerup Weagel Essays 1. Chandani Lokugé’s If the Moon Smiled: Female Subjectivity and Trauma at the South Asian/Australian Cultural Crossroads 23 Dolores Herrero 2. Injustice, Resistance, and Subversion: A Study of Selected Plays by Indian Women Playwrights 43 Seema Malik 3. Transnational Feminism in Sidhwa’s Cracking India: A Geocritical Study of the Great Divide of the Indian Subcontinent 55 Sobia Khan 4. South Asian Muslim Women Speak for Their Rights and Resistance 69 Feroza Jussawalla 5. Women Trapped in a Quagmire: A Study of Mrinal Pande’s My Own Witness Manoj Kumar Mishra


6. Constructing “Home”: Eros, Thanatos, and Migration in the Novels of Anita Rau Badami 103 Laurel Ryan 7. “Womenspace”: Negotiating Class and Gender in Indian English Novels 117 Geetanjali Singh Chanda



8. Neelum Saran Gour: Novelist of Small Town India and Beyond 135 Shyamala A. Narayan 9. Hybridity and the Politics of Identity in the Writings/Texts of Diasporic South Asian Women 147 Umme Al-wazedi Interviews 10. Language, Diaspora, and Identity: An Interview with Yasmine Gooneratne 163 Deborah Fillerup Weagel 11. A Journey from Sri Lanka to Australia: A Conversation with Chandani Lokugé 175 Sissy Helff 12. Gender without Borders: An Interview with C.S. Lakshmi/Ambai 181 Antonia Navarro-Tejero 13. Speech-Act: An Interview with Susan Visvanathan 187 Geetha Ganapathy-Doré 14. Afterword 199 Feroza Jussawalla and Deborah Fillerup Weagel with Jill Dehnert Contributors 213


Figure 1.  Nisma Zaman, Hanan as Bengali/Indian from the Ethnic Ambiguity series, 1992. C-print, 11 in. × 14 in. Photo: Courtesy of the artist. 149 Figure 2.  Nisma Zaman, Hanan as Arab from the Ethnic Ambiguity series, 1992. C-print, 11 in. × 14 in. Photo: Courtesy of the artist. 150 Figure 3.  Yasmine Gooneratne. Photo by Effy Alexakis. 164 Figure 4.  Susan Visvanathan. 188


We express sincere appreciation to those who have assisted in the publication of this volume. First and foremost, we thank the authors for their contributions and for their patience as we have worked on this book. We are also grateful to international scholars who have participated in the peer review process and who have provided useful feedback for some of the essays and interviews. We acknowledge emerging South Asian women writers who have inspired the collection and who are an important focal point in the articles and interviews. It is our desire to recognize their efforts and to help their work become better known. Some of these essays and interviews were included in a Special Topic Issue of the South Asian Review 29.1 (2008), “Perspectives on South Asian Women’s Writing,” guest edited by Feroza Jussawalla and Deborah Weagel. We are grateful in particular to Professor K.D. Verma, former general editor of the Special Topic Issue, for providing support and editorial advice. We also deeply appreciate Professor Pradyumna S. Chauhan, current editor of the South Asian Reivew, for permission to reprint and revise the following essays from that particular issue: Chanda, Geetanjali Singh. “‘Womenspace’: Negotiating Class and Gender in Indian English Novels.” Ganapathy-Doré, Geetha. “Speech-Act: An Interview with Susan Visvanathan.” Herrero, M. Dolores. “Chandani Lokuge’s If the Moon Smiled: Female Subjectivity and Trauma at the South Asian/Australian Cultural Crossroads.” Jussawalla, Feroza. “South Asian Muslim Women Speak for Their Rights and Resistance.” Jussawalla, Feroza, and Deborah Weagel. “Guesteditors’ Introduction.”

xivAcknowledgments Malik, Seema. “Injustice, Resistance and Subversion: A Study of Selected Plays by Indian Women Playwrights.” Ryan, Laurel. “Constructing ‘Home’: Eros, Thanatos, and Migration in the Novels of Anita Rau Badami.” Weagel, Deborah. “Language, Diaspora, and Identity: An Interview with Yasmine Gooneratne.”

We thank our colleagues at the University of New Mexico for their encouragement and support. Ezra Meier has been particularly helpful with editing and proofreading assistance. Feroza Jussawalla expresses gratitude to Senior Vice Provost Carol Parker and the UNM Dean’s Office for support. Finally, we would like to acknowledge Dr. Jamsheed Choksy, the series editor, and the staff at Peter Lang Publishing who have helped us to bring our efforts to fruition. They have provided significant assistance with this project.

Introduction Feroza Jussawalla


Deborah Fillerup Weagel

Writing by men and women of South Asian origin has received considerable attention in the western publishing world and with the reading public over the last few decades. Much of this attention can be traced to the success of Salman Rushdie’s groundbreaking work Midnight’s Children (1980), for which he received the Man Booker Prize in 1981, the Booker of Bookers in 1993, and the Best of the Bookers in 2008. Arundhati Roy also gained recognition for her novel The God of Small Things, for which she was awarded the Booker Prize in 1997. The novel was on the New York Times bestseller list for approximately thirty-six weeks and was named one of the New York Times Notable Books of the Year. On both sides of the Atlantic, major literary lists, publishers, and prizes have borne witness to the fecundity of South Asian creativity, making whatever we want to call it—“postcolonial literature,” “world literature written in English,” or “national literature in English” (such as “Indian literature in English” or “Bangladeshi literature in English”)—central to contemporary literary production. These literatures have also become central to the literary dialogues current both in the media and in academia. Consequently, these literatures have also become central to the academic study of literature per se, bringing with them the theoretical perspectives that have been used to understand them, from the early approaches such as Commonwealth Literatures, focusing mostly on the development of national identities, to the more complex theoretical approaches that constitute postcolonial criticism. As Professor K.R. Srinivasa Iyengar’s seminal work Indian Writing in English, published as far back as 1962, shows, literature in English from South Asia and particularly from India, in English, is a not a novel phenomenon. Since the 1800s there have been major writers in English literature emanating from India, and women have been at the forefront of writing. Indian literature in English is largely identified by the writings of R.K. Narayan,


Feroza Jussawalla


Deborah Fillerup Weagel

Raja Rao, Mulk Raj Anand, and Khushwant Singh, who were widely read both in India and abroad. Familiar names of women authors include Aru and Toru Dutt, Cornelia Sorabji, and Sarojini Naidu, all of whom have been very well known. It was not until the work of Kamala Markandaya (1924–2004) and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (1927–2013) that South Asian women’s writing started to be recognized on a larger scale. In the past, various South Asian women succeeded in publishing their works, sometimes on a small scale. In the late nineteenth century, Toru Dutt (Torulata) wrote two novels, one in English and the other in French. Both were published posthumously: Bianca, or The Young Spanish Maiden (which was not completed) in Bengal Magazine in 1878, and Le Journal de Mademoiselle d’Arvers in France. Although only twenty-one years old at the time of her death, Dutt drew upon her own limited experience to tell her stories. Other South Asian women writers who produced novels during the latter part of the century include Raj Lakshmi Debi (The Hindu Wife, or the Enchanted Fruit, 1876) and Krupabai Satthianadhan (Kamala, A Story of Hindu Life, 1894, and Saguna: A Story of Native Christian Life, 1895). Other poets and authors published their work into the early twentieth century: Sarojini Naidu (The Golden Threshold, 1896; 1905); Santha and Seetha Chatterjee (Tales of Bengal, 1922); Svarnakumari Debi Ghosal (The Fatal Garland, 1910, and An Unfinished Song, 1913); and Iqbalunnisa Hussain (Purdah and Polygamy: Life in an Indian Muslim Household, 1944). The latter novel deals with the theme of purdah and veiling, which Feroza Jussawalla’s essay considers in the current contemporary context of the controversy about wearing the headscarf. Cornelia Sorabji, the first Parsi woman writer to have both studied and published overseas, was an ardent defender of purdahshins or veiled women. In 1901 she published her landmark Love and Life Behind the Purdah and several other memoirs and a play. Her nephew, Sir Richard Sorabji, published Opening Doors: The Untold Story of Cornelia Sorabji (2010). Parsi writers, both men and women, have been central to the development of South Asian Writing in English. While Rohinton Mistry is the male Parsi writer most acclaimed for his stories about the small migrant Zoroastrian community from Persia that made India their home, Pakistani writer Bapsi Sidhwa is best known for her novel of Partition, subsequent feminist works, and collaboration with Deepa Mehta. In addition, Bachi Karkaria is acclaimed for her journalistic writing. We have included here an essay on Thrity Umrigar. US academic Tinaz Pavri has just published Bombay in the Age of Disco (2015). India has really been the leader in literary production in South Asia, which is why much of this literary history relies on Indian writers’ production. In fact, during the mid-twentieth century, many writers from smaller



countries carved out of the subcontinent—and even the continent of Africa— trace their literary roots to India. Unfortunately, most of this literary history is ignored in favor of the current and contemporary scene. And yet, even the contemporary scene underscores the fact that South Asian women continue to write, even more ferociously and urge to be heard, even if they are ignored by mainstream western media. This volume seeks to give voice to those unheard voices. Over the last decade or so, South Asian women’s writing seems to have literally exploded. Almost every week, The New York Times Book Review seems to have a review of at least one South Asian (primarily from India) woman’s book. Often The New Yorker will have a short story or a narrative. Between the Arundhati Roys and the Jhumpa Lahiris, however, there is a sea of names, sometimes supposedly well published by reputable New York publishers, who are lost in the mix and have short shelf lives. Sometimes a negative review causes an author to be put aside even as she is emerging. Those who we think of as the stalwarts of literary publishing are not necessarily so, nor recognized as being so, in South Asia. Women in South Asia are doing their best to get their voices heard, regardless of recognized outlets such as New York publishing houses. Arundhati Roy’s novel, for instance, has not been as well received in India as has her political writing. Not only do Indian women seek whatever outlet to be published, but have had a long history of establishing themselves through self-publishing. And so it is that none of the Western media and academic world cover half the women who are producing today. Small publishing houses, like Rupa in India, or Zubaan (for scholarly publishing), Nurjehan Aziz’s Toronto South Asian Review Press in Canada, and others in the UK and Australia, are giving voice to the many Indian women who are producing good, if not great, literature. Nurjehan Aziz’s short story collection series, Her Mother’s Ashes, includes many writers seeking publication. Most important among these smaller self-founded publishing houses is Kali, a feminist press founded by Urvashi Butalia and Ritu Menon. Butalia has had great success with her Duke University Press book The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition in India (2000). There are probably more women of South Asian extraction or origin, whether in South Asia itself, in countries like India and Pakistan, or overseas, not just in the US and the UK, but in the Caribbean, the African diaspora, and as this volume shows particularly, in Australia, writing their experiences, allowing their creativity to flow, than elsewhere. This is a bold claim and one which invites research. But a cursory look at the names of the many South Asian women writers, often not considered in reviews or academic studies, shows us how many new writers are emerging literally on a daily basis.


Feroza Jussawalla


Deborah Fillerup Weagel

As readers and scholars we know the familiar names, Bharati Mukherjee, Arundhati Roy, Anita Desai, Chitra Divakaruni Bannerjee, and to a lesser extent, someone like Anita Desai’s daughter, Kiran Desai, but do we know the names, Tanuja Desai Hidier, Shani Motoo, Kamila Shamsie, Quratullain Hyder, Uzma Aslan Khan, or even less so Renita D’Silva (Monsoon Memories), Madhulika Chauhan (The One Night Affair), Nitasha Kaul (Residue), or British Bangladeshi writer Rekha Waheed (Saris and the City), also published by a small press? Other well-known writers of the in-between generation include Anees Jung (Unveiling India, 1987), Shashi Deshpande (That Long Silence, 1989), and Sunetra Gupta (The Glass Blower’s Breath, 1993). Academic women writers include Kirin Narayan, Miriam Pirbhai, and, of course, Chandani Lokugé who is written up in this collection. Physician Sunetra Gupta is known for her fiction and her work in epidemiology. Manju Kapur, Professor of English, at Miranda House published Difficult Daughters (2010) which received the Commonwealth Award, Custody (2011), and several other works. Other writers have needed or maintained academic positions in South Asian countries and overseas. Even some very well published authors, like Abha Daweswar (Babyji, 2005, and That Summer in Paris, 2006), or Kiran Desai (Hullaballoo in the Guava Orchard, 2006), appear and disappear simultaneously as it were. Some other well published recent names that have made something of a mark, but have not been taken up either by the academic scholarly world of Postcolonial Literatures, or of the widely reviewing world of the mainstream media, are Indu Sundaresan (The Twelfth Wife, 2002, and The Mountain of Light, 2013), Anita Nair (Mistress, 2006), Amulya Malladi, (A Breath of Fresh Air, 2002), and Kirin Narayan (Love, Stars and All That, 1994). Parsi writer Thrity Umrigar is finding some recognition as we can see in the article by Geetanjali Chanda. Among Pakistani writers writing about contemporary issues is such a work as Kamila Shamshie’s Broken Verses. A cross cultural author published by a small literary press in the US, FiveChapters, an online publisher of short stories, is Nina McConigley (Cowboys and East Indians), which tells of the cross cultural adventures of an Indian woman in Wyoming. The most grievous omission from critical consideration perhaps is Gita Mehta, wife of publisher Sunny Mehta (Knopf ) whose finely wrought works from Karma Cola (1979) to Raj (1989), River Sutra (1993), and Eternal Ganesha (2006) (non-fiction), deserve more serious consideration. Even a writer as well known and filmically produced as Bapsi Sidhwa, recently said to me in an email that she considers herself also “still emerging.” The vagaries of acknowledgment of these writers are quite quixotic.



Meanwhile as we said before, publishing in India is burgeoning, as it always has. Rupa, IndiaInk, and Zubaan make up some of the newer local presses that have subsisted alongside the India offices of almost all major publishers, with Mills and Boon entering the “Romance” market after the success of novels such as Shobha De’s Bollywood Nights (1992), considered altogether too steamy for proper Indian fiction. Orient Longman has always been part of the Indian publishing scene, publishing such stalwarts as Shanta Rama Rao and Anita Desai, in their Orient paperbacks. Of course, the ground-breaking well-respected publishing house in the Indian publishing scene has always been Professor P. Lal’s Kolkata Writers Workshop,1 giving such writers as Anita Desai and Agha Shahid Ali their start. In terms of literary fiction, Rasana Atreya is an Amazon-India self-publishing phenomenon, who was short listed for the Tibor Jones award for her unpublished manuscript and who has gone on to stake her place in the cannon of Indian literature in English. At the Hyderabad Literary Festival 2015, she encouraged women to publish with Amazon and to let their voices be heard. Better to be heard in whatever way one can be, than to be left unheard. This volume attempts to give voice to those whose work, despite publishing and some academic recognition, remain unheard. Historically, there have been two trends in the publishing and establishment of Indian literature in English. Writers like Aru and Toru Dutt and Sarojini Naidu packaged and sent off their materials to mentors like Edmund Gosse, who was enchanted with the exoticism, published them, and called them the “Nightingales of India.” Ruth Prawer Jhabvala is said to have written her stories on Aerogramme paper and mailed them to The New Yorker, whose editors, impressed simply by the effort of the air mail envelope containing thin blue paper, published them and found them to be a big hit, telling, as they seemed to, the stories of a Polish woman attempting to understand an exotic India. This method of publishing was also true of the men who found British publishers. R.K. Narayan is said to have sent his stories to Graham Greene and found a publisher through him. Others sent manuscripts off to E.M. Forster. Most often they found a sympathetic audience in these writers because of the Indian material. Now with the proliferation of such writing, the publishing has gotten harder. Sri Lankan critic Maryse Jayasuriya says this in the excerpt we have quoted below. It has not exactly been easy for Indian women to get published despite the material. In a recent email to me, Uma Parmeswaran, one of the earliest critics of Indian Writing in English and perhaps the first Indian critic to interview Salman Rushdie, told me of her findings at the Harry Ransom Center in Texas. Anita Desai’s archival materials showed that


Feroza Jussawalla


Deborah Fillerup Weagel

she sent her work out to a long list of publishers. But since she was in India, she simply requested the publishers and agents on her list to send her manuscript on to the next person on the list if they were not interested. Similarly, Feroza Jussawalla found in the archive at Columbia University the list of agents and publishers whom Bapsi Sidhwa had approached. It seemed to be trendy in those days for authors to simply write a hand written letter and send it off to an agent or a publisher to see whose eye it caught. This exotic means of approaching a publisher has long faded. Bapsi has noted how she would write her stories on “bridge score cards.” Somewhere in an archive these materials must be available. Self-publishing has been a major part of Indian women’s writing historically. Bilkiz Alladin published For the Love of a Begum (1989), the story of Sir James Achilles Kirkpatrick and his love for a Hyderabadi woman called Khair-un-Nissa, from her home and her own press, Hydeco. Kirkpatrick, who was a diplomatic official in Hyderabad, built what was called the Residency, a majestic building to house the future British envoys to the Mughal state of Hyderabad. After Indian independence, this became a women’s college. Feroza Jussawalla was raised on this campus where her mother was a principal. Her essay, “Hyderabad’s Garden of Memories,” published in Mirror, also tells of Kirkpatrick’s love story and of the twins who were born there. Twentyfive years later, William Dalrymple popularized this story as White Moghuls (2002). Other books about Hyderabad include Bilkees Latif’s The Fragrance of Forgotten Years and Meheroo Jussawalla’s On Six Dollars to America. This volume was conceived as a space to provide visibility for those women whose work has not had much exposure in the West and elsewhere. Ironically, it is when the western establishment finds a text that it gains currency in its own native land. In the architectural designs of knowledge laid out by the academy, there has been no space created for these particular authors. This is why we wish to build a space of recognition. Our work thus truly contributes to the creation of knowledge in the wider fields of postcolonial literature, postcolonial studies, and feminist studies, which take into consideration the sociological and societal value of these contributions. We are contributing to the knowledge of South Asian women writers by including scholarship not only on little known writers but also by scholars from India—in particular, even those critics whose voices do not necessarily find themselves in western academic publications. Much of the scholarship on South Asian writing, or postcolonial writing from the subcontinent, is generated by “star” academics in the United States and relies upon the work of a few well-placed “postcolonial” critics who serve as “translators” of the work on the subcontinent.



Certainly some works by women from South Asia, whether written in the writers’ home countries or written by diasporic writers in Britain and the US, have attracted wide publishing interest and literary criticism and are actively sought by publishers in the West. However, as noted before, only a few writers have received wide acclaim. An author like Bapsi Sidhwa, who has had significant exposure in the West through films associated with her writing, is more widely read and written about on the subcontinent. Our volume provides other women authors—such as Varsha Adalja, Anita Rau Badami, Yasmine Gooneratne, Neelum Saran Gour, C.S. Lakshmi/Ambai, Chandani Lokugé, Mrinal Pande, and Susan Visvanathan—who are not as frequently read in the West or written about in the western academic context, a space for some name recognition and legitimacy. Some of these authors are published in their home countries but are relatively unknown elsewhere. As said before, it is very difficult for some South Asian women to see their work in print, among the mainstream presses. Maryse Jayasuriya poignantly pointed this out in her essay previously published in the “journal version” of this collection. Writing about Sri Lankan authors Jean Arsanayagam and Kamala Wijeratne, Jayasuriya bemoaned the lack of support for unheard voices: There is no significant support system or infrastructure to help Sri Lankan writers in English edit, publish, or distribute their work, perhaps because local publishers and booksellers find it more profitable to cater to the majority of Sri Lankan readers who prefer their reading material in Sinhala or Tamil. There are only a few local presses—such as Vijitha Yapa, S. Godage, Sarasavi, and most recently, Perera-Hussein—that publish works in English. There are no literary agents or editors, and it is up to the individual writers to make sure that their work gets into print. One option that is open to Anglophone writers is to publish short pieces in English-language newspapers such as The Daily News and The Island and their Sunday editions, or in the English literary magazine Channels. If they want to publish collections of their poems or short stories, these writers invariably have to self-publish their work at enormous expense to themselves and then persuade bookstores to carry copies. Since publishers and booksellers have little or no investment in privately published works, this means that there are no promotional campaigns for such works, and they are literally allowed to gather dust on the shelves. (83–84)

This difficulty is hard to imagine when one considers the success of Sri Lankan writer Michael Ondaatje. Few readers in the West realize the challenges that talented but unconnected South Asian writers face in bringing their work to publication. Attracting attention from western publishers has been difficult at best, and many writers publish through small literary houses like Professor P. Lal’s Writers Workshop in Kolkata, already mentioned above. This is also


Feroza Jussawalla


Deborah Fillerup Weagel

why we have chosen to focus on less prominent critical voices in this collection. Dolores Herrero, writing from Zaragoza, Spain, notes in her essay on Chandani Lokugé the difficult publishing and marketing conditions for South Asians, whether in Australia or elsewhere. This particular essay is truly a transnational articulation of this particular problem. The same is true of Muslim women writers from the subcontinent. Recently, Muslim women authors from Iran—Azar Nafisi, for instance— have received wider exposure, whereas a writer like Taslima Nasrin, who confronts issues of fundamentalist Islamicization and the controversy over her place of residence, has not received the same attention. The works of an early writer, Rokeya Hossain, were almost forgotten until they were republished by the Feminist Press in New York. The difficulty in being published is particularly true of authors who write in indigenous languages. This is why we wanted to include an author, such as C.S. Lakshmi/Ambai. One significant point made by K.R. Srinivasa Iyengar in Indian Writing in English, is that “women are natural story-tellers even when they don’t write or publish” (435). We see our volume as giving voice to some of these natural storytellers who are not frequently heard in the western academy. Their writing is rarely considered in the larger context of postcolonial scholarship, which tends to concentrate on issues like global conflicts, politics, and history—issues that often eclipse the softer voices of women and their particular challenges. South Asian women, as bearers and nurturers of children, often have perspectives that differ from their male counterparts. Since they are frequently reared in patriarchal societies where the male child tends to be more celebrated, better educated, and encouraged to succeed outside the home, these women offer a unique point of view that expresses their particular experience. Why study these authors? Simply to provide legitimacy? Or to hear their particular stories that shed light on our cultures? Whenever we write about less famous authors, the case needs to be made for what we gain by producing scholarship on them. Reading such authors promotes understanding of the particular moment in time as well as of discourses that are circulating at this time, as also on how they shed light on cross-cultural communication and understanding. Feroza Jussawalla attempts to address this issue in her essay on South Asian Muslim women writers and their rights, which are being questioned and challenged in contemporary discourse about Islamicization. One topic of particular interest in contemporary discourse regarding South Asian women involves the question of their liberation. Despite their advancement in politics and other areas, do these women genuinely speak for themselves or do they allow themselves to be subservient or oppressed in some way? The



essays on characters depicted by authors, like Chandani Lokugé, raise the issue of the liberation of diasporic women in the “host countries.” The essays in this volume show that many women authors, even if their voices have not been heard thus far, are speaking out and presenting pictures of their lives that have never been seen in the West. In addition, the question of why a writer writes in English is frequently asked in South Asia. Should South Asian authors write in their mother tongue as opposed to English? Do they write in English in order to gain commercial success? Feroza Jussawalla and Reed Way Dasenbrock’s Interviews with Writers of the Post-Colonial World (1992) gives the perspectives of various writers like Raja Rao, Bapsi Sidhwa, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, and Chinua Achebe on this question. Some writers growing up under colonialism, learned English as their first language, and many such writers—like Yasmine Gooneratne— have asserted their right to use that language. Then there is the question of the material: Is it suited to a western or local audience? What happens with diasporic experiences? Who relates to them? And the larger question is one of audience: Who is the writer writing for? Is it for a western audience to impress them with exotica? Or is the writer telling a particularly disturbing local story not relevant to a larger audience? Shyamala A. Narayan suggests that Neelum Saran Gour includes many local terms and references, and seems to be addressing an Indian audience. However, with the assistance of a glossary, could her work be made accessible to a larger western audience? These are some of the critical issues that critics have approached South Asian women writers with. However, with the advent of postcolonial criticism and theory, the emphasis has been more on how women negotiate the territory of home and belonging, nationality and politics, transnationalism and diaspora. Criticism seems to focus on those who have been written up over and over again in the West. Yet, there are edited collections of essays that suggest that even publishing scholarly work on contemporary South Asian women writers is difficult. Prominent among these volumes are such works as Beena Agarwal’s Women Writers and Indian Diaspora (2011), Mythill Anoop and Varun Gulati’s Contemporary Women’s Writing in India (2014), and Geetanjali Singh Chanda’s Indian Women in the House of Fiction (2008). Sushiela Nasta’s Home Truths: Fictions of the South Asian Diaspora in Britain (2001) fits nicely with her work in publishing lesser known writers from across the “Commonwealth,” in her journal Wasafiri. Another prominent Indian critic is Jasbir Jain, whose book Beyond Postcolonialism: Dreams and Realities of a Nation (2006), and her book on Anita Desai, Stairs to the Attic: The Novels of Anita Desai (1987), make significant contributions to


Feroza Jussawalla


Deborah Fillerup Weagel

postcolonial studies from the Indian perspective. SUNY Press has historically published collections on postcolonial writing, such as John C. Hawley’s works. Other important texts include Sandra Ponazanesi’s Paradoxes of Postcolonial Culture; Mariam Pirbhai’s Mythologies of Migration, Vocabularies of Indenture: Novels of South Asian Diaspora in Africa, the Caribbean, and Asia-Pacific; and Arun Mukherjee’s Postcolonialism: My Living, which offer insights to postcolonial studies from a Canadian point of view. There are additional contributions, such as the Handbook of Twentieth-Century Literatures of India, edited by Nalini Natarajan, and Nalini Iyer and Bonnie Zare’s Other Tongues: Rethinking the Language Debates in Indian Literature. Fawzia AfzalKhan has written about both the canonical Indian writers as well as more recently about Muslim women speaking out. The purpose of this literature survey is to show that our volume has a significantly different focus in that it allows access to the work of lesser known writers by lesser known critics. The essays we have included in this book not only give more exposure to lesser known authors but also contribute to a broader discussion in postcolonial studies. They deal with such general topics as trauma, diaspora, injustice, resistance, space, place, language, and identity, but in some cases, they seek an even larger lens than can be found in current postcolonial theories. In the first article, “Chandani Lokugé’s If the Moon Smiled: Female Subjectivity and Trauma at the South Asian/Australian Cultural Crossroads,” Dolores Herrero argues that the protagonist in Lokugé’s novel experiences a sense of fragmentation, confusion, and trauma from the oppression of religion, patriarchy, and migration. She suggests that the challenges of diaspora and trauma presented in the text provide a means to evaluate various myths and to explore identity issues, particularly in cultures that tend to deny women “the self-respect, dignity, and freedom that are concomitant with human nature.” Although she includes examples that are specific to the novel and its setting, the general ideas dealing with diaspora, fragmentation, trauma, oppression, and identity can be applied to a wide variety of postcolonial narratives. Although South Asian women have struggled and suffered due to trauma, oppression, abuse, diaspora, rape, and national conflict, some have, over the years, learned to express their stories, inner struggles, and perspectives in various ways, including writing. One way that South Asian women have dealt with the trauma and injustices they have encountered is to portray their challenges on stage. In “Injustice, Resistance, and Subversion: A Study of Selected Plays by Indian Women Playwrights,” Seema Malik analyzes injustice, resistance, and subversion in Nabaneeta Dev Sen’s Medea, Mamta G. Sagar’s The Swing of Desire, and Varsha Adalja’s Mandodari. She asserts that the works “critique women’s status and role, challenge repressive patriarchal



and societal norms and articulate subjective experiences of injustice.” She suggests that “[t]hrough their cultural agency, they incorporate autonomy, dignity, choice, desire, bodily integrity, and space” and contribute to a more general discussion on social justice. These are lesser known playwrights than Gurpreet Bhatti, whose plays are also taking London by storm as they tell the stories of Asian men marrying “white” British wives and having situations of cultural conflict among “joint” families. Sobia Khan in her essay “Transnational Feminism in Sidhwa’s Cracking India: A Geocritical Study of the Great Divide of the Indian Subcontinent,” writes about Bapsi Sidhwa’s perspective on the partition of India. Sidhwa, a Parsi novelist of great acclaim, whose book was made into the film Earth as part of Deepa Mehta’s trilogy, not only looks at Partition from the eyes of a child, but also through Parsi eyes, i.e. unbiased eyes. Bapsi Sidhwa’s novel, Cracking India, was the first novel written by a female novelist who broke through the silences of women to tell a semi-autobiographical tale of what happened when India was divided by the British into two nations, India and Pakistan. As such, Sidhwa’s novel published in 1988 is a pioneer in a tradition that has produced multiple works of fiction on Partition by female writers among other works of historical, cultural, and critical insights which examine India’s Partition. This essay adopts a geocritical lens to study transnational feminism in Sidhwa’s work to tease out the complex journeys women undertake to survive the Great Divide. In many ways, Sidhwa’s novel is a lament for women who suffered Partition and who remained silent for decades keeping their stories of horror hidden from the national gaze. Sidhwa’s novel negotiates the unacknowledged boundaries of multiple dimensions such as boundaries of silence and speech, territorial boundaries of the Great Divide which cracked Punjab and Bengal into two nations, religious and ethnic boundaries that divided friends, and feminism which was lost and found in the in-between spaces of class, gender, and religious difference. In the analysis of Cracking India presented here, Sidhwa’s transnational feminist and geocritical concerns highlight the dynamics of space, place, and the importance of historicizing the Partition anew. Her work speaks for the silenced stories and produces a new historical narrative of India’s Partition. Feroza Jussawalla contributes further to the topic of contemporary Muslim South Asian women writers and the manner in which they assertively share their viewpoints on a more global scale. In “South Asian Muslim Women Speak for Their Rights and Resistance,” she focuses on Muslim women writers whose works might assist readers, particularly in the West, to better ­understand elements of Muslim culture that have been part of daily life for centuries. The wearing of the headscarf, for example, has been a focal point in


Feroza Jussawalla


Deborah Fillerup Weagel

discourse surrounding Muslim women’s rights and resistance. Although from the western perspective, the veil may be associated with subservience and oppression by a patriarchal culture, some Muslim women choose to wear the headscarf as a gesture of commitment to their faith and as resistance to outside criticism. Jussawalla focuses on five Muslim women writers—Monica Ali, Samina Ali, Attia Hosain, Rokeya Hossain and Taslima Nasrin—and demonstrates how independence for women and the practice of cultural rights tend to be shaped in oppositions that depict submission as well as resistance. Manoj Kumar Mishra expresses general concern for the well-being and treatment of women who live in a patriarchal society. In “Women Trapped in a Quagmire: A Study of Mrinal Pande’s My Own Witness,” he specifically analyses the discrimination and difficulties a female journalist in the novel encounters in the work place. It is challenging for such a woman “to carve out a place for herself in society” when she receives unequal treatment by colleagues and superiors, deals with inappropriate comments intended for her as a woman, and does not have the same opportunities for advancement as her male counterparts. In his article, Mishra is a strong advocate for women and suggests that men can learn how to better interact with women by considering the way their sex treats the journalist and other women in the novel. Place and space also become salient elements in South Asian women’s writing and are often integrated into a person’s sense of identity, purpose, and focus in life. Displacement from familiar surroundings upsets and blurs a woman’s perception, not only of herself, but also of society. Laurel Ryan, in “Constructing ‘Home’: Eros, Thanatos and Migration in the Novels of Anita Rau Badami,” asserts that “the conflict between placement and displacement reflects Freudian tensions between life and death instincts” and that “the drive to move can be simultaneously creative and destructive.” In her analysis of Badami’s novels, Ryan presents challenges related specifically to South Asian-Canadian diaspora. She suggests that the concept of home is more strongly associated with an internal, psychological struggle that involves leaving and finding places that seem secure and comfortable than it is with a particular physical location. Her ideas regarding this sense of home can be applied to other postcolonial narratives that deal not only with South Asian diaspora but also with postcolonial diaspora and relocation in general. Geetanjali Singh Chanda continues the discussion of home in “‘Womenspace’: Negotiating Class and Gender in Indian English Novels.” Focusing on Shashi Deshpande’s That Long Silence (1988) and Thrity Umrigar’s The Space Between Us (2005), she suggests that in certain Indian English novels the conflict between tradition and modernity can be frequently found in a domestic space such as an apartment. She points out that



in the past certain female bonds and friendships were formed in a haveli (a large Muslim mansion from colonial and Mughal times—today often found in much disrepair), which included a space for women, a zenana, that was physically separate from other parts of the dwelling yet still part of patriarchal structure. It became a space where females, regardless of class and age, found companionship and refuge. The bungalow eventually replaced the haveli, and was then replaced by the apartment. Chanda argues that women’s marginal status has enabled them to ignore class distinctions with each other; however, in relation to dominant patriarchal structures, they have conformed to traditional class and gender divisions in order to survive. Her insights about the significance of domestic spaces, particularly for women, can be applied to postcolonial literature in general, especially in regard to situations where women leave more traditional spaces and move into urban apartments. In her article, “Neelum Saran Gour: Novelist of Small Town India and Beyond,” Shyamala A. Narayan also writes about place, with a focus on small communities and larger cities. She suggests that Gour skillfully depicts life in India with intimate details including descriptions of people and place, with the generous use of terms and references best understood by an Indian audience. Narayan points out that Gour “avoids stock themes of metropolitan writers like Salman Rushdie and Shashi Tharoor—Partition, the Emergency, etc.” Narayan writes that Gour’s stories and novels, which bridge “the gap between Indian English literature and fiction written originally in Indian languages,” deserve to receive much greater attention. In “Hybridity and the Politics of Identity in the Writings/Texts of Diasporic South Asian Women,” Umme Al-wazedi focuses on critically addressing and assessing the portrayal of Muslim women in diasporic South Asian literature and visual texts. The burden of negotiating identities, hybrid and multiple, in the new world is borne bravely by South Asian Muslim women, characters, and writers alike. During such negotiations, how are their identities formed or transformed? This paper seeks to offer insights on how these women react by “living in the world at this moment of tense geopolitics and interlinked economies,” transnational connectivities and the “global” by examining how hybrid identity creates ethnic ambiguity as well as “a canvas of representation” for second and third generation South Asian Muslim women in the US. Tahira Naqvi points out the constraint of a mother, who tries to define a hybrid identity so that it will not create any stereotype, “we [who] answer questions … that can neither be waved nor be dismissed with flippant ambiguity” (59). Whereas, Nisma Zaman, through her photography, argues how artists can go beyond ethnic ambiguity and use hybridity as a way to


Feroza Jussawalla


Deborah Fillerup Weagel

investigate multiple identities. Zaman, a child of mixed heritage raised in the US, could pass for a number of different cultures and locate herself in multiple spaces. Deborah Weagel, in her interview with Yasmine Gooneratne, discusses issues of identity, language and diaspora—all salient topics in postcolonial studies. Gooneratne, who wrote The Sweet and Simple Kind (2006), was born in Sri Lanka but has lived in Great Britain and Australia. She does not present herself in hyphenated terms, such as Sri Lankan-Australian or Australian-Sri Lankan, or as a women author, but prefers to be regarded simply as a writer. Although she was taught to read, write, and recite Sinhala at school, she became interested in the English readings available to her. Regarding her choice to write in English, she explains: “[T]here was never any doubt in my mind that English was the language in which I felt most at home.” Despite the sense of confusion and the challenges that some postcolonial South Asian women have experienced in relocation, Gooneratne seems to have embraced both the English language and diaspora with the ease and elegance that are reflected in her writing. Sissy Helff speaks with writer and scholar Chandani Lokugé, who was born in Sri Lanka but made a successful transition to life in Australia. They discuss diaspora, nostalgia, and “exotic” novels that present a foreign culture. An author who has left a homeland to live elsewhere, in a diasporic setting, may be inclined to write of the mother country with a sense of nostalgia. Lokugé explains that her first novel was filled with nostalgia, but in some of her subsequent work, she has attempted to move in another direction. She also acknowledges that there is market value in South Asian Australian writing that presents a different or “exotic” culture to Australians. However, Lokugé also suggests that South Asian influences in writing are not as exotic as they have been in the past: “British literature is now mainly Indian writing, because every prize seems to go to an Indian author. When this happens, such literature has become mainstream writing and can no longer be classified as minority or ‘exotic’ literature.” Antonia Navarro-Tejero probes into the life and writing of C.S. Lakshmi/ Ambai, who uses her own name, C.S. Lakshmi, when writing non-fiction in English and the pen name, Ambai, when writing fiction in Tamil. Lakshmi explains that she enjoys using the pen name Ambai because of its connection to Mahabharatha. In this text, the woman Ambai becomes the man Sikandi and takes revenge on someone who she thinks has ruined her life. Lakshmi explains that she appreciates “the androgynous quality of Ambai” in Mahabharatha and she likes “the idea of a borderless gender.” Lakshmi also comments on the founding of SPARROW, an organization which documents



women’s lives and history and is associated with the Indian Association of Women’s Studies. Finally, Lakshmi discusses her own quest to become better known as a woman writer and speaks of feminism in Indian culture. This is one of the non-English language authors we have represented because of the importance of some of her themes. Geetha Ganapathy-Doré presents the career and work of Susan Visvanathan, author of such works as Something Barely Remembered (2000), The Visiting Moon (2002), and The Seine at Noon (2007). Having been educated in both English and the Malayalam language, Visvanathan writes of Syrian Christians in Kerala, life on the Malabar coast, Malayalam diaspora and survival in Delhi. She points out in the interview that “the survival instinct” is one of the most important themes in her work, and it is also evident in her personal life as a writer. She explains: “I’ve always survived as a human being and as a writer through the kindness and clarity of my friends, who did believe that, yes, I might always be a ‘niche’ writer, but that the work was lucid and fragile, yet resilient.” The theme of survival can be found in many postcolonial texts and that frequently underlies women’s writing in general. The quest for survival can be affiliated with all the themes we focus on in this volume: trauma, diaspora, injustice, resistance, place, space, language, and identity. Women who have experienced trauma struggle for a way to persevere. Women who encounter injustice feel compelled to stand up for their rights and counter their unfair treatment. Women, particularly those who live in diasporic situations, seek a sense of home and belonging in foreign lands. Even those women who live in their native lands crave companionship and acceptance in their effort to survive in patriarchal societies. Seeking to understand one’s identity, both at home and abroad, is another way that women in general, and South Asian women in particular, attempt to survive in a world where they have traditionally been the minority. Many South Asian women writers who depict these struggles in their works experience challenges in publishing in contemporary society. Some resort to self-publishing in order to make their work accessible to the general public. In some cases, their published works are not readily available to the western reader. These authors patiently persevere as they encounter various obstacles and roadblocks. This volume is dedicated to lesser known South Asian women authors whose work is worthy of greater attention, particularly in the western academy. The texts discussed herein contribute to the ongoing discourse in postcolonial studies and transnational literature. As co-editors, we encourage readers, scholars, professors, and students to probe more deeply into the writings of lesser known South Asian women to discover the depth and richness they have to offer. We also hope that in this introduction,


Feroza Jussawalla


Deborah Fillerup Weagel

we have a provided a short snapshot of the burgeoning field of South Asian women’s writing as it has developed and changed and continues to progress.

Note 1. See Feroza Jussawalla’s Chiffon Saris and Deborah Weagel’s Interconnections: Essays on Music, Art, Literature, and Gender, both published by the Writers Workshop in Kolkata.

Works Cited Adalja, Varsha. “Mandodari.” Trans. K. L. Vyas. Staging Resistance: Plays by Women in Translation. Ed. Tutun Mukherjee. New Delhi: Oxford UP, 2005. 99–116. Print. Afzal-Khan, Fawzia. Cultural Imperialsim and the Indo-English Novel: Genre and Ideology in R.K. Narayan, Anita Desai, Kamala Markandaya, and Salman Rushdie. University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 1993. Print. ———. Shattering the Stereotypes: Muslim Women Speak Out. New York: Olive Branch, 2004. Print. Agarwal, Beena. Women Writers and Indian Diaspora. 2011. New Delhi: Authors, 2013. Print. Alladin, Bilkiz. For the Love of a Begum. Hydeca: Hyderabad, 1989. Print. Anoop, Mythill, and Varun Gulati. Contemporary Women’s Writing in India. Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2014. Print. Atreya, Rasana. Tell a Thousand Lies. Amazon, 2012. Aziz, Nurjehan, ed. Her Mother’s Ashes: and Other Stories by South Asian Women in Canada and the United States. Toronto: TSAR, 1994. Print. ———. Her Mother’s Ashes 2. Toronto: TSAR, 1999. Print. ———. Her Mother’s Ashes 3. Toronto: TSAR, 2009. Print. Butalia, Urvashi. The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2000. Print. Chanda, Geetanjali Singh. Indian Women in the House of Fiction. New Delhi: Zubaan, 2008. Print. Chatterjee, Santha, and Seetha Chatterjee. Tales of Bengal. London: Oxford UP, 1922. Calcutta: Chatterjee, 1936. Print. Chauhan, Madhulika. The One Night Affair. New Delhi: Authors, 2014. Print. Dalrymple, William. White Moghuls: Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth-Century India. 2002. London: Penguin, 2004. Print. Daweswar, Abha. Babyji. New York: Anchor, 2005. Print. ———. That Summer in Paris. 2006. New York: Anchor, 2007. Print. De, Shobha. Bollywood Nights. New Delhi: Penguin, 1992. Print. Debi, Raj Lakshmi. The Hindu Wife, or The Enchanted Fruit. Calcutta: Ghose, 1876. Print.



Desai, Kiran. Hullaballoo in the Guava Orchard. New York: Grove, 2006. Print. Deshpande, Shashi. That Long Silence. New Delhi: Penguin, 1989. Print. D’Silva, Renita. Monsoon Memories. Bookouture Digital P, 2014. Dutt, Toru. The Diary of Mademoiselle d’Arvers. 1879. New Delhi: Penguin, 2005. Print. Ghosal, Svarnakumari Debi. The Fatal Garland. Ed. Christina Albers. Calcutta: Kahiri, 1910. London: Laurie, 1915. Print. ———. An Unfinished Song. London: Laurie, 1913. New Delhi: Oxford UP India, 2008. Print. Gooneratne, Yasmine. The Sweet and Simple Kind. Colombo: Perera Hussein, 2006. Print. Gupta, Sunetra. The Glass Blower’s Breath. New York: Grove, 1993. Print. Hussain, Iqbalunnisa. Purdah and Polygamy: Life in an Indian Muslim Household. Bangalore: Hosali, 1944. Print. Iyengar, K.R. Srinivasa. Indian Writing in English. 1962. 2nd ed. New York: Asia, 1973. Print. Iyer, Nalini, and Bonnie Zare, eds. Other Tongues: Rethinking the Language Debates in Indian Literature. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2009. Print. Jain, Jasbir. Beyond Postcolonialism: Dreams and Realities of a Nation. Jaipur: Rawat, 2006. Print. ———. Stairs to the Attic: The Novels of Anita Desai. New Delhi: Rupa, 1987. Print. Jayasuriya, Maryse. “Violence spilt blood smashed glass”: Representations of Sri Lanka’s Conflict in the Works of Jean Arasanayagam and Kamala Wijeratne.” South Asian Review 29.1 (2008): 83–102. Print. Jung, Anees. Unveiling India. London: Penguin India, 1987. Print. Jussawalla, Feroza. Chiffon Saris. Kolkata: Writers Workshop, 2003. Toronto: TSAR, 2003. Print. ———. “Hyderabad’s Garden of Memories.” Mirror (Oct. 1972): 88–90. Print. Jussawalla, Feroza, and Reed Way Dasenbrock. Interviews with Writers of the Post-Colonial World. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1992. Print. Jussawalla, Meheroo. On Six Dollars to America: A Tale of Adventure, Courage and Reward. Booksurge, 2006. Print. Kapur, Manju. Custody. London: Faber, 2011. Print. ———. Difficult Daughters. London: Faber, 2011. Print. Kaul, Nitasha. Residue. New Delhi: Rupa, 2014. Print. Latif, Bilkees. The Fragrance of Forgotten Years. New Delhi: Rupa, 2009. Print. Lokugé, Chandani. If the Moon Smiled. New Delhi: Penguin, 2000. Print. Malladi, Amulya. A Breath of Fresh Air. New York: Ballantine, 2002. Print. McConigley, Nina. Cowboys and East Indians. fivechapters.com. Web. 2 May 2015. Mehta, Deepa, dir. 1947 Earth. Perf. Aamir Khan, Nandita Das, and Rahul Khanna. 1998. Eros, 2014. DVD. Mehta, Gita. Eternal Ganesha. New York: Vendome, 2006. Print. ———. Karma Cola: Marketing the Mystic East. 1979. New York: Vintage, 1994. Print.


Feroza Jussawalla


Deborah Fillerup Weagel

———. Raj. 1989. New York: Ballantine, 1991. Print. ———. River Sutra. 1993. New York: Vintage, 1994. Print. Mukherjee, Arun. Postcolonialism: My Living. Toronto: TSAR, 1998. Print. Naidu, Sarojini. The Golden Threshold. London, 1986. Hyderabad, 1905. Full Books. Web. 30 Aug. 2008. . Nair, Anita. Mistress. New York: St. Martin’s, 2006. Print. Naqvi, Tahira. Dying in a Strange Country. Toronto: TSAR, 2001. Print. Narayan, Kirin. Love, Stars and All That. New York: Simon, 1994. Print. Nasta, Sushiela. Home Truths: Fictions of the South Asian Diaspora in Britain. London: Macmillan, 2001. Print. Natarajan, Nalini. Handbook of Twentieth-Century Literatures of India. Westport: Greenwood, 1996. Print. Pande, Mrinal. My Own Witness. New Delhi: Penguin, 2000. Print. Pavri, Tinaz. Bombay in the Age of Disco: City, Community, Life. Dahlonega: UP of North Georgia, 2015. Print. Pirbhai, Mariam. Mythologies of Migration, Vocabularies of Indenture: Novels of the South Asian Diaspora in Africa, the Caribbean, and Asia-Pacific. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2009. Print. Ponazanesi, Sandra. Paradoxes of Postcolonial Culture. Albany: SUNY, 2004. Print. Roy, Arundhati. The God of Small Things. New York: HarperPerennial, 1997. Print. Rushdie, Salman. Midnight’s Children. New York: Penguin, 1980. Print. Sagar, Mamta G. “The Swing of Desire.” Trans. Chaitra Puttaswamy. Staging Resistance: Plays by Women in Translation. Ed. Tutun Mukherjee. New Delhi: Oxford UP, 2005. 232–48. Print. Satthianadhan, Krupabai. Kamala: A Story of Hindu Life. Madras: Varadachari, 1894. Kamala: The Story of a Hindu Child-Wife. Ed. Chandani Lokugé. New Delhi: Oxford UP, 2002. Print. ———. Saguna: A Story of Native Christian Life. Madras: Varadachari, 1895. Ed. Chandani Lokugé. Saguna: The First Autobiographical Novel in English by an Indian Woman. New Delhi: Oxford UP, 1998. Print. Sen, Nabaneeta Dev. “Medea.” Trans. Tutun Mukherjee. Staging Resistance: Plays by Women in Translation. Ed. Tutun Mukherjee. New Delhi: Oxford UP, 2005. 86–95. Print. Shamsie, Kamila. Broken Verses. London: Mariner, 2005. Print. Sidhwa, Bapsi. Cracking India. 1991. Minneapolis: Milkweed, 2006. Print. Sorabji, Cornelia. Love and Life Behind the Purdah. 1901. Ed. Chandani Lokugé. New Delhi: Oxford UP, 2003. Print. Sorabji, Richard. Opening Doors: The Untold Story of Cornelia Sorabji, Reformer, Lawyer and Champion of Women’s Rights in India. London: Tauris, 2010. Print. Sundaresan, Indu. The Mountain of Light. New York: Simon, 2013. Print. ———. The Twelfth Wife. 2002. New York: Washington Square, 2003. Print.



Umrigar, Thrity. The Space Between Us. New York: Morrow, 2005. Print. Visvanathan, Susan. The Seine at Noon. New Delhi: IndiaInk/Rolibooks, 2007. Print. ———. Something Barely Remembered. New Delhi: IndiaInk, 2000. Print. ———. The Visiting Moon. New Delhi: IndiaInk, 2002. Print. Waheed, Rekha. Saris and the City. London: Headline, 2010. Print. Weagel, Deborah. Interconnections: Essays on Music, Art, Literature, and Gender. Kolkata: Writers Workshop, 2004. Print.


1. Chandani Lokugé’s If the Moon Smiled: Female Subjectivity and Trauma at the South Asian/Australian Cultural Crossroads1 Dolores Herrero

This paper intends to analyze the way in which Chandani Lokugé’s novel If the Moon Smiled tackles problematic issues such as the inevitable sense of confusion and fragmentation resulting from diasporic experience, especially when the protagonist, Manthri, is a woman who has been traumatized and suppressed by the combined oppression of religion, patriarchy, and migration. Lokugé’s novel charts Manthri’s unhappy and traumatic marriage to Mahendra, a man whom she cannot possibly love or understand, and who virtually rapes her on their wedding night, and her consequent failure as a “good” wife and mother throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Forced in the late 1980s by her husband to leave her Sri Lankan home and migrate to Adelaide, Manthri undergoes in the host land an ever-increasing sense of alienation and numbness that triggers her premature aging and finally her confinement to a nursing home. So traumatic is Manthri’s narrative and post-marital condition that the insights, findings, and hypotheses put forward by so-called “trauma studies,” an area of inquiry that emerged on the literary/theoretical scene as one manifestation of the “ethical turn” affecting the humanities in the 1990s, is especially relevant to and useful for the analysis of her psychological evolution. First of all, I will briefly survey the background of South Asian immigration and writing in Australia. Second, I will summarize the main arguments put forward by the primary figures in the field of so-called “trauma studies.” Finally, I will explore the way in which Lokugé’s novel makes use of all these postulates in order to bring to the fore and denounce the oppression and isolation suffered by many South Asian female migrants.2

24Dolores Herrero

South Asian Immigration to Australia Before embarking on the novel’s description of diasporic female subjectivity and trauma, it is worth considering the complexities involved in South Asian immigration to Australia and how they have affected the writings of South Asian Australians. Very little has been written about South Asians in the fifth continent. Although it is true that South Asian immigration to Australia is belated and small, if compared to immigration to countries such as Britain, Canada, or the United States, this nonetheless does not account for the little attention that critics have devoted to the study of this diasporic community.3 As Vera Alexander explains (156–58), the scattering of South Asians in geographical areas as diverse as South Africa, East Africa, the Caribbean, and Australia was mainly due to the colonial indenture system that was in effect from the abolition of slavery in the 1820s to the 1920s, and distributed over one million Indian laborers in Britain’s less densely populated colonies. As was also the case in the other indenture locations, the South Asian indenture workers who settled permanently in Australia and their descendants eventually became traders and farmers. Most of these laborers attended school for a very short time, if at all, which explains why this group generated hardly any relevant South Asian Australian writers. Two major waves of South Asian migration to Australia followed. In 1947, as a result of India’s independence and partition into India and Pakistan, many Indians and Anglo-Indians, who were classified as British subjects, migrated to the different countries that made up the Commonwealth, including Australia. Another wave of South Asian migration to Australia, and of a rather more professional nature, has been taking place from the 1970s to the present.4 Moreover, an important number of South Asian students are now being admitted to university courses in Australia, which is undoubtedly contributing to the brain drain that is depleting India and other South Asian countries of an important percentage of their young intellectual elites.5 If scholars have not devoted much time to writing about South Asians in Australia, it is likewise true that very little has been written by South Asians in Australia.6 When it comes to considering the literary production of South Asian Australians, the number of writers that comes to mind is very small indeed. Makarand Paranjape explains: The literary output of South Asian Australians is neither vast nor especially impressive, at least for now; the secondary material on it is equally scanty. The bestknown writers can be counted on the fingers of two hands—in alphabetical order: Mena Abdullah, Chitra Fernando, Yasmine Gooneratne, Adib Khan, Chandani Lokuge, Ernest MacIntyre, Christine Mangala, Satendra Pratap Nandan, and perhaps a few others. (248)

Chandani Lokugé’s If the Moon Smiled


Several reasons could be given to account for this: difficult marketing and publishing conditions;7 the lack of a strong group consciousness of South Asians resident in Australia;8 and the fact that South Asians in Australia subdivide into many smaller communities which do not feel part of a unified and all-embracing group, and which, therefore do not subscribe to a particular kind of writing. Writers like Chandani Lokugé are not widely known on an international scale, and very little has been written on them. Hence, the importance of assessing their work is to show their value and relevance, and thus contribute to finally putting South Asian Australian writing on the map. Lokugé was born and educated in Sri Lanka, came to Australia in 1987, and now teaches at Monash University, where she is the Founder Director of the Centre for Postcolonial Writing, Coordinator of the Creative Writing Programme, and Senior Lecturer in English. In addition to being a novelist and short story writer, Lokugé has published several scholarly editions of Indian women’s writing in English, and has played a leading role in developing international research in this area. She belongs to a family that encapsulates an interesting mixture of cultures and religions,9 her main concerns as a scholar and creative writer. She affirms on the website of the Arts Faculty where she works, an interest in “our search for vishranti (true restfulness) in the restless world of travel and migration” and the way in which diasporic authors negotiate “the cross-cultural complexities and nuances of the IndoEuropean encounter.” In other words, she offers a unique lens through which to focus on “questions about belonging; how far the authors and their writing illuminate the emergence of an imperial, and later post-colonial, modernity; and what their hybrid literary identities mean in today’s global context” (“Dr Chandani Lokugé”). If the Moon Smiled, the novel I am going to analyze in this paper, is a wonderful example of Lokugé’s use of lyrical imagery to convey the emotional vulnerability and heart-breaking experience of her protagonist, and by extension, the tragedies of many other Sri Lankan/South Asian women at home and abroad. It movingly depicts the hardships undergone by the migrant generation, thus preventing their children’s success stories from obliterating their foremothers’ painful past. Manthri’s story is, no doubt, a traumatic one—hence, the ideas forwarded by trauma theory are relevant in order to understand her evolution in depth.

Trauma Studies As Stef Craps argues (9–13), an intense concern with the demands of otherness is a defining feature of ethical criticism, and also of an important substrand of this critical branch, the so-called trauma theory, whose most prominent

26Dolores Herrero representatives include Cathy Caruth, Shoshana Felman, Geoffrey Harpham, and Dominick LaCapra. Although the study of trauma began as early as the nineteenth century, this field of analysis reached its climax in the twentieth century, an era saturated with unprecedented violent and wounding events. It was in 1980 that the American Psychiatric Association officially acknowledged the phenomenon of trauma under the title “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” (PTSD). In her seminal work Trauma: Explorations in Memory, Cathy Caruth explains what PTSD is all about: There is a response, sometimes delayed, to an overwhelming event or events, which takes the form of repeated, intrusive hallucinations, dreams, thoughts or behaviours stemming from the event, along with numbing that may have begun during or after the experience, and possibly also increased arousal to (and avoidance of ) stimuli recalling the event. (4)

Caruth makes it clear that the pathology in question cannot be defined by the event itself, nor in terms of a distortion of the event. It consists, rather, in the way in which this event is experienced or received. The event is not assimilated or experienced fully at the time, but only later on, in its repeated possession and haunting of the one who experiences it. Consequently, it is the very unassimilated nature of trauma, the way it was not acknowledged in the first place, that returns to haunt the survivor afterwards. The force of the experience, Caruth goes on to explain, is registered in “the collapse of its understanding” (7). Trauma theory, as elaborated by this critic, becomes a speaking and listening practice with a clear ethical agenda. In the testimony of survivors, Caruth argues, trauma reveals itself as a departure from the non-­ experience that they witnessed. Therefore, trauma challenges us to “a new kind of listening,” a listening “to departure” (10), which is put forward as the key to overcome the isolation imposed on us by this catastrophic event. Trauma urges us to get involved in each other’s stories. Caruth insists on this in her book Unclaimed Experience, when she affirms that it is the “plea by an other who is asking to be seen and heard” that “constitutes the new mode of reading and listening that both the language of trauma, and the silence of its mute repetition of suffering, profoundly and imperatively demand” (9). Yet, trauma theory, heir to the legacy of poststructuralism and deconstruction, emphasizes the impossibility of fully understanding and reaching a monolithic, coherent, and all-embracing explanation for traumas. With its refusal to appropriate or impose closure on that which addresses our understanding but cannot be fully grasped by it, trauma theory defies neo-humanist complacency and urges us to engage with alterity and develop new and more just ways of being with others. Whereas Caruth (and to some extent also

Chandani Lokugé’s If the Moon Smiled


Felman) seems to put the emphasis on the symptomatic acting-out of trauma, other critics like LaCapra are more interested in transformative practice, that is, in describing a way of working-through trauma that avoids becoming “compulsively fixated” (Representing the Holocaust 195) on it. Acting-out and working-through, however, do not stand in opposition to each other, since the latter process requires and presupposes the former. In contrast to all these critics, in “Trauma, Repetition, and the Hermeneutics of Psychoanalysis,” Linda Belau equates a responsible ethical stance with a radical refusal to understand trauma and with a permanent commitment to acting it out. In other words, the need and convenience to act it out does not mean that this will eventually allow us to find out some kind of meaning that will expand our understanding and interpretive capabilities. According to Belau, trauma cannot possibly be brought into the realm of the understandable, because it is simply undecidable and untranslatable (151–76). In spite of all their differences, there is something that unites all trauma theorists: their shared concern with the unsettling impact of trauma and with the consequences and obligations this imposes. All of them accept the need to confront the challenge that trauma poses to our ordinary forms of understanding, and to do so in such a way that this force is registered rather than erased. Disorientation, fragmentation, disruption, confusion, and undecidability are omnipresent in all these critical accounts. The differences between them are mainly a matter of emphasis. Whereas some theorists like Caruth and Belau are chiefly concerned with acknowledging the shattering experience of trauma by constantly enacting it, others, like LaCapra, prefer to insist on the idea that one cannot stay within trauma forever but has to “reengage life in the interest of bringing about a qualitatively better state of affairs” (LaCapra, History 40). This situation can be seen as the tension between, on the one hand, a predominant emphasis on ethical purity (the realm of the undecidable) and, on the other, a focus on desirable action (the realm of the decision), a tension that, as Geoffrey Harpham has stated, is constitutive of ethics itself (29–30).

If the Moon Smiled: The Enactment of a Female Migrant’s Trauma The reading presented here will focus on the experience of overwhelming loss that the novel’s main character, Manthri, desperately strives to cope with. Chandani Lokugé narrates in this novel the story of Manthri, a Sinhalese village girl who has been married away and who one day, much to her discomfort, has to follow her husband to Adelaide. Yet, Manthri’s story is that

28Dolores Herrero of many immigrant South Asian women like herself: a traumatic story of cultural and personal conflict, rootlessness, and impotence. Robbed of a happy childhood and its expectations, Manthri will be humiliated and abused by her husband’s narrowness and bigotry, and eventually annihilated by the confrontation between her traditional husband and her children, who are logically influenced by the country in which they were born and have grown up. If the Moon Smiled is, therefore, haunted by bereavement, both real and symbolic. Recurrent themes in Manthri’s narration are unrequited love; the heart-breaking estrangement of her husband, mother, and children; her questioning of traditional Buddhist beliefs and her eventual loss of faith; and the ­undermining of her self-esteem and final dissolution of her sense of identity. Manthri’s reality is an intensely traumatic one. The challenge that is placed before her is to work through this distressful reality in order to come to terms with it. This will somehow protect her from the destructive force of the trauma without, however, ignoring its lethal potential. The starting point for the story is Manthri’s need to account for her current predicament. Disconnected from everything but her memories and the love she feels for her son and daughter, she is confined in a nursing home, all by herself, unable to lead a normal and functional life and, even worse, unable to recognize her own image, the heart-shaped face that she has always had, in the mirror (213). She is so confused that she no longer knows who she is: “I must remember who I am and where I am. What am I doing here? In this house? Whose house? Who am I? Unsteady in the darkness at the edge of this emptiness? The ripples ever-widening” (197). Revisiting and narrating the past becomes an existential necessity for her. Manthri’s mind feels the compulsive need to remember the past, to tell her story, if not to wholly resolve her crisis, at least to partly understand how she has arrived at this moment of utter confusion and darkness. The crisis in the narrative present points to the hold exerted over the present by a traumatic past, in particular by her wedding night, which was to mark her for the rest of her life. “For no reason at all my wedding night is on me” (87), Manthri suggestively says at one of her moments of extreme anguish. Significantly enough, the whole novel is narrated in the present. The exclusive use of the simple present, the present perfect, and the present continuous makes it clear that the past is by no means past, since it has left perennial marks on the present. On the other hand, the fluctuation between first- and third-person narration (I/she) in the chapters dealing with her happy childhood memories corroborates Manthri’s present schizophrenic alienation. The opening page of the novel reads as follows:

Chandani Lokugé’s If the Moon Smiled


The wattle is in full golden blossom and the most beautiful thing in the garden just now. The araliya that I take so much trouble with, that I have nurtured for years, has shed all its leaves. It is autumn. The ends of branches are pinched and black-scabbed. In the wattle’s haze, I see my father’s village. There, the araliya is laden with succulent green leaves and clusters of white blossoms. It is poya day. … The little girl can no longer contain herself in bed. She rushes out of the house. She wants to be involved in this flower romance. (1, my emphasis)

The different seasons only contribute to emphasizing the abyss that separates the innocent child that she was from the tormented adult woman that she has now become. However, the predominance of the third-person narration (she) from this moment onwards clearly points to her actual difficulty in facing up to such loss and acknowledging the trauma that has been gnawing at her for years and years. The narration of her traumatic wedding night’s rape and her husband’s accusation that she had been with another man before is carried out in the third person: He touches her forehead with his lips. She is crying. He holds her awhile without speaking. Giving her time to settle down, to adjust. But she quivers and seems to relinquish herself where he cannot follow. Something of his tender awakening collapses. … A wantonness about her anguished cry, her intense gestures, arrests his desire. He will remember it always with shame. Had she no self-respect? No decency? She seemed a woman of endless wiles. He will not be ensnared. He will not allow it. He pins her down. He would strangle her very breathing. Yet, he drowns in her. Long stretch of silence, at last. … The crushed white sheet bears no stain. He focuses on the cold centre of reason. “You have been with another man?” he demands incredulously. “No,” she cries. “No,” but he flings the denial aside. (34–35)

But this will not be the end of the story. From this moment onward, Manthri’s situation will be one of ongoing oppression and sexual violence. She will be unable to overcome the negative image that Mahendra is constantly projecting upon her. Moreover, conforming to her husband’s wishes and the traditional feminine passive role that he wants her to play does not guarantee any protection against violence: But tonight, tomorrow, the night after, he will rise from their bed, obsessed by her treachery, by this woman to whom he has given his name, to whom he is bound by the shame of discovery. She who would bear his children. … She stands at her mirror, draping around her a new sari. He regards her with cold, abasing eyes. As she sinks to the floor and into the flamboyant tangled silk, he pulls her up and pushes her against the bed. There is a sense of worn-out triumph in him as she lies passive beneath him. And silent. (36–37)

30Dolores Herrero Gender and power relationships are closely related. Powerlessness and silence are clearly equated with the feminine. Mahendra, the man, is strong and in control of his destiny; Manthri, the woman, is weak, vulnerable, inarticulate, and in need of constant supervision. Manthri cannot possibly defend herself and retaliate. She is condemned to absolute silence and utter powerlessness. Not only has she lost her self-esteem, but she desperately tries to disappear, to cling to the past, to the memories of her childhood, the only time when she felt safe and happy. Her quest into womanhood has been linked with unjustified cruelty: With lidless eyes, she seduces sleep. Let Mahendra be freed of hatred, and her of guilt. As another dawn breaks, the child she was, the girl, the maiden, beckons her from the edges of life. She wishes she had spent more time with her, known her better. But she gave up somewhere along the way. She glimpses her now and then. A firefly, sparkling just out of reach. And in the sight of this truth she is reborn as wife and, again, as mother. (38)

It is right in the following chapter that the third-person narration (she) vanishes and the first-person narration (I) finally imposes itself: “So I transfer from my father’s house into my husband’s. I leave behind the temple, the river, the lotus lake” (39). The dilemma Manthri now faces is how to respond to this situation of humiliation, unsettlement, and confusion. She has seen herself as a burden since her early childhood days. It was a son her parents would have preferred, a son to carry on her father’s name and inherit his wealth. As Suman Bala states, “[I]n Asian families the male child is always preferred and the female child is almost always discriminated against. A common blessing on the newly wed woman is ‘May you be the mother of a hundred sons’” (183). That is why Manthri feels sorry for her parents, and thus for having been born: “She is saddened that [her father] has no son. She has felt her mother’s distress and understands that nothing and no one can compensate for that loss” (10). Manthri’s life is wholly shaped by the demands of family and tradition. As soon as she starts growing up, the limited amount of freedom that she enjoyed as a child is drastically curtailed. The beginning of menstruation is dealt with almost like an illness. She is confined within the home and in semi-darkness, is not allowed to go to the river, and has to go on a special and scanty diet. Manthri suddenly realizes the burden that womanhood actually imposes on her. Even Dingiri, the servant, makes this clear when she says: “We will work before the wedding. After the wedding it will be Manthri menike who will bear the burden” (26). Without a man, a woman is valueless. It is only through marriage that her life can acquire some meaning. Manthri’s

Chandani Lokugé’s If the Moon Smiled


mother’s words speak for themselves: “[L]ike a floral offering to a deity, you will blossom for your husband and derive value from him” (7). However, her arranged marriage to Mahendra will only contribute to annihilating her self-esteem and making her feel more and more alienated. Deep down in his heart, Mahendra despises women. He blames his mother for his marital failure. His mother, he claims, persuaded him into marriage by arguing that Manthri was a well brought up girl, belonging to a good traditional family and would be a pure, innocent wife, which, as he has decided to see things, was nothing but an illusion (35). Mahendra has accused Manthri for such a long time of so many things—not being a virgin, flirting with their Sri Lankan guest Gunasekera, not having raised their kids properly, not being sociable—that she has internalized all these accusations to the point of becoming paralyzed and adopting a passive attitude towards almost everything in life. “I am sorry” (88) is all she seems to be able to reply to Mahendra. As R.K. Dhawan put it, Manthri comes from a very conservative Buddhist background and finds it very difficult to change with the circumstances: “She is depicted as a thinking person, one who is so chilled by a philosophic vision that she fails to act. Manthri describes herself as defenseless against ‘the unfulfilled promise of life’. … She is caught between the two cultures and fails to adjust to the change” (173). At first, Manthri seems to fatally accept the Buddhist philosophy of being born with our destinies written on our palms. There is nothing we can do to change our lot, for we are totally impotent and powerless. Manthri’s mind resounds with her father’s words: “As these flowers must fade, so must my body towards destruction go” (Lokugé 3); “we hold not the power to disappoint, to hurt or be hurt” (37). All we can do in this imperfect existence is “try to be like that nelum flower. … Blossom free of the mud in which it is born, unsoiled by it” (3). Nevertheless, resignation in Manthri’s case is by no means liberating. Her passivity is responsible for much of her suffering, to the point that it becomes a destructive force. Manthri cannot even stand up for her kids when her husband is about to destroy all their dreams, which will eventually make them both, but especially Nelum, her daughter, wholly withdraw from her. Manthri has become a non-entity. Her absolute lack of self-esteem will lead her to put up with all sorts of bad things as they come—“This must be my karma” (44) and “It is easier to say yes to everything” (150)—and to affirm things like “I am a blank space even in my children’s lives” (l75), “I am a failure in everyone’s eyes” (100). The only activity she loves doing is reading, because only in books can she find company and consolation: “I only care about going to the library. It sends me into a depression if I miss out on Friday morning at the library. I browse among the shelves. The books

32Dolores Herrero are mostly old friends now. I talk to them, and they tell me that I am one of them” (199). Just as books lie silently on shelves, waiting for a curious reader to open them and grasp their message, Manthri’s psyche holds an intimate story that nobody seems to be interested in deciphering. Despite the comforting moments that she spends in the library, Manthri finds it impossible to deny the demolishing impact of trauma, and her mind keeps on acting out the past in a desperate attempt to work it through and partly heal her deep psychological wounds. The happy moments that Manthri spent with Thilakasiri, the young servant she was in love with, come to her mind once and again, and by no means can she stop this feeling of loss and loneliness: “Thilakasiri. He has receded in these long years into a deep cavity within me. Now, in the humid still afternoons, in this familiar adolescent scene, he slithers around me at will. I am defenseless against the memory of the unfulfilled promise” (163). To make matters worse, Manthri, like most trauma victims, is assaulted by recurrent and intrusive hallucinations and nightmares. In her dreams she keeps on seeing Vana Mohini, the phantom she-demon who lures young men to destruction, the wild-eyed woman “standing by the river, lonely and beautiful, clutching to herself an infant … touched with the chill glittering [full] moon” (31). Not in vain is this transgressive female figure closely related to the moon. As is well known, in past civilizations the moon was regarded as a female deity which alone exerted rhythmic control over the tides and the cycle of female fertility. Ancient lore and legend tell of the power of the moon to instill spells with magic, to transform humans into beasts, and to send people’s behavior swaying perilously between sanity and lunacy. Furthermore, as Therese Hamilton argues (para. 4–9), the solar and lunar symbolism is directly related to male and female zodiacal signs. Indian culture, and by extension Sinhalese culture (although the island of Sri Lanka was influenced by several migrant cultures, its close proximity to India, particularly South India, brought its greatest cultural influences), is very clear as regards the two lights. Sanskrit names for the sun mean fixidity, steadiness, firmness, and strength of purpose. The sun rises day after day regardless of weather conditions, the behavior of humanity or the placement of planets in the sky. On the other hand, the moon is said to to be fickle and changeable since it rules the senses and the emotions. Moreover, the moon is cyclic. It waxes and wanes and finally disappears each month before it is reborn again. The Lunar Calendar determines, among other things, the observation of Poya Days once per month by the Sri Lankan Buddhist Sinhalese majority. Finally, if it were not for the light of the sun, we would not be able to see the moon at all. Bearing all these assumptions in mind, it is easy to understand why in most patriarchal

Chandani Lokugé’s If the Moon Smiled


cultures the sun has been systematically associated with the ruling male figure, whereas the moon has been seen as the ultimate embodiment of otherness and the female condition: inferior, unstable, untrustworthy, and thus in need of constant control and supervision. Lokugé’s novel, however, seems to put all these patriarchal assumptions to the test. By taking its title, If the Moon Smiled, from the poem “The Rival” by Sylvia Plath, the novel openly challenges clear-cut patriarchal binarisms. The beginning of the poem reads as follows: “If the moon smiled, she would resemble you” (line 1). Plath writes that both the moon and a particular person are “great light borrowers” (line 4), but the moon’s “O-mouth” is disturbed by the state of the world, while this individual “is unaffected” (line 5) and has a certain coldness towards “everything” (line 6). Most critics agree that this poem is about Plath’s turbulent relationship with poet Ted Hughes. However, in this case, it is not the woman, but the male lover who cannot be trusted. It is he who baffles, torments, and destroys his lover and whatever he touches, thus openly contravening traditional gender stereotypes. Significantly enough, Manthri saw Vana Mohini first on the night before her wedding. A premonition of the sadness, longing, and insanity that her arranged marriage was to bring about, was to accompany her for the rest of her life. The phantom woman is said to annihilate men, but the one and only truth is that Manthri will be brutally destroyed by her husband. Vana Mohini is, therefore, the announcement of her imminent abduction and loss, the ultimate embodiment of her repressed fears and desires and future failure as wife and mother. This eerie vision is often accompanied by another, as frightening as the former: she sees herself as a dismembered body, that is, as someone who has completely lost her sense of identity: I jolt awake to a chaotic silence. I am a dismembered body. Here a breast, there a floating thigh and swelling lip. I spin a web of desire to entrap the body parts, but they escape and connect high up where I can’t reach. I see her more sharply defined than myself: the lonely wild-eyed woman. I am nothing but phantom pain. (42)

Manthri finds it more and more difficult to believe in the traditional Buddhist ideal of detachment from desire and all earthly affairs. She could not even do it as a child. When boarded in the Buddhist girls’ school in Colombo, Manthri “rereads the familiar scriptures and recognizes the truth of the teacher’s words. But she cannot agree with it. Not just yet. Perhaps not ever” (23). Now that she is an adult and frustrated woman, she keeps on trying—what else can she do?—but in vain. When, following Mahendra’s wishes, she lies passive in bed, another nightmare reclaims her. She is lured into a grove of gum trees. She

34Dolores Herrero hears “the gums swinging back and forth, back and forth, now closing in, now receding. [She changes] shape and form—first in the arms of a lover, and then of a husband” (59). Manthri cannot stand Mahendra, nor forget about Thilakasiri. She feels like escaping, like meandering away in search of some other reality. She is a long way from detachment. In the end, she will do away with traditional Buddhism altogether: “[M]y old Buddhist texts. They gather dust on the shelves. When I have the time I will tear them apart page by page” (200). It is this painful process of acting out and working through her trauma that will eventually pave the way for some kind of redemptive solution, as precarious as it may be—namely, the possibility of leading a life based on self-respect and openness and respect for the other. Obviously, it is too late for action on Manthri’s part. As is often the case with many trauma victims, Manthri’s annihilating past has transformed her into a liminal figure who must forever remain on the fringes of society. Manthri cannot possibly be as brave as a scorpion surrounded by a circle of fire. The scorpion writhes, circles the inner edge of fire and spins round and round, until it realizes that there is no release, and then “turns in on itself. In the last and fearful violation, it stings itself ” (145). Being finally capable of acknowledging her grief and failure does not necessarily mean being able to get over her trauma completely and start a new life altogether. However, like the scorpion that Thilakasiri put into a small closed box instead of burning it, Manthri refuses to die of suffocation. She chooses to pierce some holes in the box of herself. She has finally realized that truth is never monolithic, that respect for otherness and difference is the only way out. This openness to alterity will allow Manthri to resist the potentially murderous consequences of ideological and religious mystification, and will, in turn, enable her to stand up for herself and enter respectful and nontotalizing relationships with other people, especially the ones she most cares about: her own son and daughter. At the end of the novel, Mahendra is only a shadow of the dictatorial man he used to be. He has failed to make his children obey him so as to make his own wishes come true. His unfortunate son, Devake, being denied the possibility of following his musical vocation—“Music? What music? What future with music, ah? … Do you want the whole world to laugh at us? No, you’re going to become a doctor” (73)—has become a drug-addict and will never be a doctor. As for Nelum, his daughter, she refuses to have an arranged marriage, elopes with her Australian boyfriend and eventually becomes a prestigious surgeon. Paradoxically enough, she is the son Mahendra would have loved to have. Traditional gender roles are, again, clearly questioned and subverted. Mahendra ends up living on his own. He is a helpless old man, full of regrets and nostalgia. He can no longer hurt his kids, nor Manthri, who now

Chandani Lokugé’s If the Moon Smiled


feels free to say: “His passivity and his defeat are his own. He has lost power over me. … I find that I don’t care” (199). As far as her children are concerned, Manthri will finally be able to accept and love them as they are and, most important of all, deep down in her heart she will set them free, free to live their own lives their own way, free to fail, free to succeed. She will always be there for them, no matter how much or how little they need her. Furthermore, when at the end of the novel Nelum visits her at the nursing home, Manthri is at last able to identify with her daughter—no matter how antagonistic and detached she has always been. In fact, Manthri suddenly realizes that Nelum, like her, also has a heart-shaped face. In addition, Manthri refuses to have any arguments, no longer out of fear as in the past, but simply because she does not want to engage in any more confrontation. They have all wasted enough time on that. Yes, I know, Nelum. Let’s not talk about it. Your brother is weak and helpless, unlike you. And you detest him. … You blame me for everything. For what he has become. For his failure. Like your father did. … Yes, let it be. Let us leave your brother alone. Leave him to me, and to this life that he will not leave behind. Not for you. Not for me. In a minute she’ll be gone, my daughter. So young and confident, so cool and elegant. Unlike me, all knotted and tangled. But I’ve found the heart-shaped face that was lost somewhere in the mirror, in the wool, and for which I searched. And here you are now, right before me. But you would hate that. You want to be yourself, as always. That would start an argument, and I am tired of arguments. We’ve had enough. No, just go your way, my lovely blossom. Across oceans, ride the crests of waves. Leave me. … I must let her go. (222–23)

It is time to atone for her sins, to claim responsibility for her actions and omissions: “I, of all people, am responsible” (120), Manthri finally admits. It is time to “leave the past behind” because “the present is upon [her]. And the future” (128). Unfortunately, there are many precious past things that the future will never bring back. Manthri will insist on remembering past times, especially those happy moments when both her kids ran up to her and drew back against her knees, when the three of them fused into one. She will never get rid of desire, she will never stop longing for “the promise. The promise of life” (156). She will always be the woman who dared to go down to the river, unheeding her mother’s disapproval, in order to dip into the flowing water and “float in swelling waves of desire” (157). If the Moon Smiled raises some important questions: What does it mean when women writers denounce the traumatic experience of subjection and sexual assault undergone by other women? What is the connection between individual psychic trauma and cultural representations of it? Is it possible to

36Dolores Herrero offer a textual/literary representation of trauma and to break the self-destructive patterns that rule most patriarchal societies? It is clear that an accurate representation of trauma can never be achieved since, as Kalí Tal argues, “By its very definition, trauma lies beyond the bounds of ‘normal’ conception. Textual representations … are mediated by language and do not have the impact of the traumatic experience” (15). As is well known, the combination of the compulsive need to verbalize and the impossibility of recreating the traumatic experience for the reader is one of the defining characteristics of trauma literature. However, it is only by striving to bear witness to these traumas that some kind of change can be enforced. Bearing witness is a highly politicized act. As Kalí Tal goes on to argue (7), it is born out of a refusal to surrender to outside pressure to revise or to repress experience. It is a decision to advocate conflict rather than submission. Its ultimate aim is change. The battle over the meaning of a traumatic event is fought in the arena of political discourse, popular culture, and scholarly debate, and the outcome of this battle inexorably affects the rhetoric of the dominant culture and, by extension, influences political action. In most cultures, women have been educated into assuming violence against them as a natural extension of their powerlessness. The narratives of female subjection and sexual abuse openly challenge this assumption by making it clear that violence has been perpetrated systematically and regularly by men upon women mainly in patriarchal societies that overtly supported female oppression and subjugation. It would therefore be no exaggeration to assert that these texts somehow corroborate Anthony Wilden’s words when he claimed: “Male control over women and their bodies is the oldest form of private property; the division of productive labor by sex is the oldest form of class distinction; male monopolies of myth, ritual, and religion are the oldest forms of ideology; male supremacy is the oldest form of imperialism” (207). Bringing these issues to the fore and preventing patriarchal societies from silencing and drowning out defiant female voices will eventually force a shift in their social and political structures, these narratives seem to suggest. One final question remains: How much do displacement and transculturality contribute to generating new and rather more liberating constructions of identity? It is undeniable that migration drastically changes the lives of immigrants, interrupts their family lives, separates them from known surroundings and turns them into strangers. Migrants, and diasporic people in general, face the enormous ordeal of working out new relationships and finding new meanings in their lives. They are “other”—both in their homeland and hostland. The confusion and dilemma that Manthri experiences when she comes back to Sri Lanka from Australia can be cited as an apt example of the “self ” becoming an

Chandani Lokugé’s If the Moon Smiled


“other”: The army officer “leers back at [her], hostile and mocking, as if [she] had no business to return home for a holiday” (Lokugé 154); and her relatives “see [her] changed. … They wonder why [she has] come back alone. … There is a growing sense of claustrophobia” (156). However, it must also be noted that, if this displacement can often lead to anxiety and alienation, all the more so if migrants happen to be women, then this disruption can, on the contrary, also give rise to creative processes of revision and reinvention. This is widely exemplified in the writings of many diasporic writers who, like Chandani Lokugé, strive to reconcile themselves to both past and present. They bring to the fore, to quote Suman Bala’s words, “the sadness of those women whose lives are bound by tradition but who must nevertheless learn to survive in the changing situations of a contemporary world where ‘home’ is neither ‘there’ nor ‘here’” (184). However, it is distance, both geographical and cultural, that ultimately helps them to look at the political and cultural histories of the nation they left behind with critical eyes. Furthermore, since the diasporic/transcultural condition highlights the dissolution of borders and clear-cut binarisms and hierarchies, these writers also feel entitled to forge and cling to a rather more flexible, creative, and enriching sense of self and identity. The case of Australia is especially interesting, since the vast space of the fifth continent overtly challenges any traditional space classifications and simplistic postcolonial binarisms, such as center versus margins/periphery, east versus west, etc. Vera Alexander explains the paradoxical nature of Australian space as follows: By being predominantly white and anglophone, but situated outside the ‘western’ centre (usually comprising the Eurocentre and North America) and constituting an ex-colony with a history of loss, violence and suppression as well as marginalization, Australia presents a complex and unique quandary with regard to space and identity construction. (154)

If, for immigrants in general, this is a conceptual challenge, for colored immigrants this paradox poses even more problems. Dealing with the unknown/ other is always harsh and demanding, quite an exercise in identity reconstruction. This explains why colored immigrant writers obsessively deal with questions of space and identity in their works. Australian space is very seldom seen by these authors as being one, but rather as being made up of multiple different spaces that are subject to constant transformations, and that, therefore invite non-stop negotiation and allow for multifarious responses. Chandani Lokugé’s novel is no exception. The different attitudes that the various characters show towards the host country clearly disclose their discordant natures. For Mahendra, Australia is “a land of opportunity” (44).

38Dolores Herrero However, he is totally unable to identify with Australian space, and by extension, to accept the idiosyncrasies of Australian society and culture. Not only does Mahendra refuse to understand his children’s obvious difficulties to stick to old Sri Lankan traditions and wish to lead a life different from the one he originally planned for them, but he also feels the obsessive need to gather Sri Lankan objects in his home, which thus resembles, according to Manthri, “a handcraft shop in Colombo” (56). Mahendra strives to artificially and grotesquely reproduce his Sri Lankan home in the new and foreign host land: “No other Sri Lankan home could boast of so many local artefacts” (53), Mahendra proudly asserts. On the other hand, Manthri’s perceptions of Australian space clearly reveal her unvarying condition of confusion and confinement, no matter the country she inhabits. The Australian climate reminds Manthri of her home in Sri Lanka, thus bringing to mind increasingly painful memories of her lost home. The heat and sharp constrasts between interior and exterior spaces are similar, except that the araliyas and nelum flowers, symbols of the Sri Lankan nation and culture par excellence, are nowhere to be found in a land which abounds with strange animals and which proclaims a religion so different from hers: “The land is dehydrating. There are warnings about bushfires. TV rekindles memories of Ash Wednesday, when birds and koalas burnt alive in trees. I could do with a walk, but we stay in because it is too hot to venture out. The house is a sealed box, artificially cooled” (62). Australian space is undoubtedly different, if only because it is far away from her homeland and has very different inhabitants, social customs, and traditions. Yet, physically speaking, it eerily resembles Sri Lanka. And the same can be said of the house. Manthri is as confined in this “sealed box” as she was in her parents’ home after her sudden quest into womanhood. Fixed and rigid border-lines between Australian and Sri Lankan space are uncanningly blurred in Manthri’s mindspace. To quote Vera Alexander’s words again, “Manthri’s mental wanderings end up creating a collage where past and present melt into one another and where Sri Lanka and Australia are inseparable and indistinct” (171). To put it differently, Manthri cannot help projecting her own feelings of alienation and confinement upon the Australian landscape, to the point that she personalizes the country, that is, uses Australian space as a tool to make her painful past revisit her alienated present, and thus act out, and in vain strive to work through, her abiding trauma. In short, what this analysis has tried to show is Chandani Lokugé’s use of diasporic experience and trauma narrative as vehicles to revise and question national and personal myths from a healthy distance, and also as a challenge in the transcultural processes of identity recreation, especially in the case of women who have been, and still are, the victims of societies that deny them

Chandani Lokugé’s If the Moon Smiled


the self-respect, dignity, and freedom that are concomitant with human nature: “If only life could be an invitation, this luminous. If only” (Lokugé 157). If only the moon smiled!

Notes 1. The research carried out for the writing of this paper has been financed by the MEC/ FEDER, Proyecto HUM2007–61035/FILO. 2. Although I am aware that the term “South Asian” is far too vague and problematic, for the context of this paper I will use it to refer to the inhabitants of the whole Indian subcontinent, and thus to cultures and countries as different as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. 3. Colin Clarke, Ceri Peach, and Stephen Vertovec’s work South Asians Overseas: Migration and Ethnicity (1990) is one of the first books to deal with South Asian migrations. Yet, while it considers the South Asian presence in countries such as Britain, the Caribbean, and Fiji, almost nothing is said about the South Asian migration to Australia. A thorough study on South Asians in Australia is therefore still to be written. 4. With regard to exact figures, they are very difficult to know. The umbrella term “South Asian,” however useful it may be for didactic reasons and the purpose of academic cross-referencing, has little correlation with socio-political realities. As a matter of fact, very few Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, and Sri Lankans would agree to categorize themselves as belonging to such a vague and artificial identity. As is well known, even within each of these countries, societies are divided into multifarious cultural and religious communities, which goes against any kind of terminological oversimplification. Actually, it is easier to find information on specific groups such as “Sikhs in Australia” than on a rather more general subject like “Indians in Australia.” Besides, different generations see things differently, which increases internal differences within apparently coherent minor communities. 5. For more information on Indian immigrants in Australia, see Paranjape (2003); Awasthi and Chandra (1994); Shu (1996), and Waddell and Vernon (1987). 6. The first work by a South Asian immigrant to achieve a certain degree of success was Mena Abdullah’s short story collection Time of the Peacock (1965). However, the fact that Abdullah co-authored her book with poet Ray Mathew renders labels such as “South Asian Australian” or “Australian Indian” deeply problematic when referring to this joint production. 7. To give but one example, it was the marginal location of Australia as a publishing country that led promising Australian-born writer Suneeta Peres de Costa to publish her first novel outside Australia. She desperately wanted to avoid being labeled as a local migrant writer. 8. However true this statement may be, it must also be said that the internet is increasingly contributing to strengthening the links and connections between the different diasporic Indian groups. Thanks to this new means of communication, Indians living in very remote and different places can express their shared nostalgia for the homeland, distribute Bollywood DVDs, and carry marriage ads across the globe. The importance of Australian cyberspace should not, therefore, be underestimated. Similarly, the ever-increasing importance of global organizations such as GOPIO (Global

40Dolores Herrero Organization of People of Indian Origin) is helping to develop strong links between the different communities that make up the Indian diaspora. 9. While Chandani Lokugé’s father is a conservative Buddhist Sinhalese from the hill country of Sri Lanka, her mother is a westernized Christian Sinhalese from the coastal region.

Works Cited Abdullah, Mena, and Ray Mathew. Time of the Peacock. 1965. Sydney: Angus, 1977. Print. Alexander, Vera. “Beyond Centre and Margin: Representations of Australia in South Asian Immigrant Writings.” Australia–Making Space Meaningful. Ed. Gerd Dose and Britta Kuhlenbeck. Tübingen: Stanffenburg, 2007. 153–73. Print. Awasthi, S.O., and Ashoka Chandra. “Migration from India to Australia.” Asian and Pacific Migration Journal 3 (1994): 393–409. Print. Bala, Suman. “The Woman Question: The Fiction of Chitra Fernando and Chandani Lokuge.” Austral-Asian Encounters: From Literature and Women’s Studies to Politics and Tourism. Ed. Cynthia vanden Driesen and Satendra Nandan. New Delhi: Prestige, 2002. 179–85. Print. Belau, Linda. “Trauma, Repetition, and the Hermeneutics of Psychoanalysis.” Topologies of Trauma: Essays on the Limit of Knowledge and Memory. Ed. Linda Belau and Petar Ramadanovic. New York: Other, 2002. 151–76. Print. Caruth, Cathy. Trauma: Explorations in Memory. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP, 1995. Print. ———. Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative and History. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP, 1996. Print. Clarke, Colin, Ceri Peach, and Stephen Vertovec, eds. South Asians Overseas: Migration and Ethnicity. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1990. Print. Craps, Stef. Trauma and Ethics in the Novels of Graham Swift: No Short-Cuts to Salvation. Brighton: Sussex Academic P, 2005. Print. Dhawan, R.K. “Chandani Lokuge’s If the Moon Smiled and and Arun Joshi’s The Foreigner: A Comparative Study.” Austral-Asian Encounters: From Literature and Women’s Studies to Politics and Tourism. Ed. Cynthia vanden Driesen and Satendra Nandan. New Delhi: Prestige, 2002. 171–78. Print. “Dr Chandani Lokugé, Arts, Monash University.” Web. 15 Jan. 2008. . Hamilton, Therese. “The Zodiac of the Stars.” Web. 25 Jan. 2008. . Harpham, Geoffrey G. Shadows of Ethics. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1999. Print. LaCapra, Dominick. History and Reading: Tocqueville, Foucault, French Studies. Green College Lectures Series. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2000. Print. ———. Representing the Holocaust: History, Theory, Trauma. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1994. Print.

Chandani Lokugé’s If the Moon Smiled


Lokugé, Chandani. If the Moon Smiled. Melbourne: Penguin Books Australia, 2000. Print. Paranjape, Makarand. “Writing Across Boundaries: South Asian Diasporas and Homelands.” Diaspora and Multiculturalism. Ed. Monika Fludernik. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2003. 231–60. Print. Plath, Sylvia. “The Rival.” Web. 10 Feb. 2015. . Shu, Jing. “Labor Force Status in Australia of Newly Arrived Immigrants from Asia.” Asian Migrant 9.2 (1996): 48–56. Print. Tal, Kalí. Worlds of Hurt: Reading the Literatures of Trauma. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996. Print. Waddell, Charles E., and Glenn M. Vernon. “Ethnic Identity and National Identification: The Social Construction of Commitment of Indian Immigrants to Australia.” Studies in Third World Societies 39 (1987): 13–23. Print. Wilden, Anthony. Man and Woman, War and Peace. New York: Routledge, 1987. Print.

2. Injustice, Resistance, and Subversion: A Study of Selected Plays by Indian Women Playwrights Seema Malik

The inherent plurality of the concept of social justice defies any monolithic understanding of its meaning and implication. Social justice has multiple contexts and sites as it is influenced by various ideas, expectations, mechanisms, and practices. It is rather relative, depending upon varying situations, subjectivities, and marginalities. The sheer durability of the marginalization of women and gender inequality led to various movements and campaigns by women in India. Blurring the public/private dichotomy, such campaigns resulted in a broad spectrum of legal and governmental measures that were not confined to merely political or economic justice but encompassed issues like bodily integrity, domestic violence, health, education, and women’s social status. Besides these conventional parameters, there are certain non-conventional dimensions, like mental and emotional well being, dignity, self-respect, betrayal, non-humiliation, agency, and freedom of choice, that are particularly salient for women. They may be difficult to measure but need to be given due consideration in order to make gender justice more comprehensive and all-inclusive.1 However, the question that confronts us today is whether gender justice can be approximated merely by passing stricter laws. Can the progressive legal changes for women’s equity exist in a vacuum? Can the desired social change be brought about despite the underlying mechanism for containment and the processes of internalization? It goes without saying that social justice is an area only partly covered by law. It is the milieu and the sociocultural dynamics therein that not only facilitate or impede social justice but also greatly influence the delivery mechanisms or legal measures. Aesthetic practices are

44Seema Malik a significant component of the concerted efforts being made across sections to bring about the conducive attitudinal shift in the mindset of the people. Indian women playwrights, through their plays as cultural enterprise, embody a conscious social perspective, critique the existing power structure and uphold the selfhood of women. “Self ” means individual consciousness and the seat of subjective thought and action, with its four constituents being body, intellect, mind, and emotions. Control over body inevitably includes sex, rape, marriage, procreation, birth control, and abortion—in short, bodily integrity. Intellect presumes the right to know, to rationalize, and to have ideas. Mind implies the will to exercise discretion, consider a decision, make a choice, and have the freedom to act. Emotion suggests the right to feel, respond, and relate (Jain and Singh 84). These playwrights challenge the ­repressive, patriarchal societal norms, articulate subjective experiences of injustice, and take up sensitive issues like girl child sex abuse, female foeticide, bigamy, and rape in plays such as Lights Out by Manjula Padmanabhan, Getting Away with Murder by Dina Mehta, Mangalam by Poile Sengupta, Gamble by Muktabai Dikshit, and Woman by Rasheed Jahan. Besides this, Indian women playwrights also foreground certain non-conventional dimensions of gendered injustice that are rather elusive but no less oppressive and are difficult to measure. They leave the body intact but dent the mind and soul forever and are a pivotal aspect of gender justice. Through their cultural agency, these playwrights incorporate autonomy, dignity, choice, desire, and space for extension under the broad umbrella of social justice. They speak of the power matrix, gender disparity, and make specific calls for justice. Resistance to oppressive hegemonic tactics and power differentials is both integral to and distinct from all resistances to global injustice. The essay seeks to bring forth the respective notions of injustice, resistance, and strategic subversion as rendered in dramatic texts like Mandodari by Varsha Adalja, Medea by Nabaneeta Dev Sen, and The Swing of Desire by Mamta G. Sagar. Though the Indian women playwrights’ texts vibrate with resistance to injustice, this paper is not an attempt at a systematic scrutiny of their entire corpus. The texts chosen for the study dramatize resistance and subversion in the cultural context and focus upon the overlapping networks of desire, freedom, betrayal, commitment, responsibility, and obligation within the cultural space of family through which injustice and/or oppression is not only understood but also negotiated and transformed. These plays represent the subtle and subjective kind of injustice that succeeds in eluding the legal orbit. The representation of resistance and subversion in these plays is nuanced and indigenous; i.e., their treatment and differentiation reproduced therein does not neglect the overall stratification of the Indian social system and are cognizant

Injustice, Resistance, and Subversion


of the ethical and cultural values. While portraying resistance and subversion, these playwrights keep in mind the behavioral constraints that are implicit and socially attitudinal. As opposed to “protest,” which generally is associated with collective activism, “resistance” can be understood as a non-confrontational, non-­ apparent motive constantly present in the behavior and consciousness of the subaltern having the power to “tear through the fabric of hegemonic forms” (Haynes and Prakash 1). Patriarchy and tradition work in conjunction as ­hegemonic forms vis-à-vis gender relations, empowering men and disempowering women. Multiple structuring of power inherently has the seeds of resistance. Dominance and resistance are not mutually exclusive because it is the lived experiences, or experiences of social marginality, that start the politics of thought and resistance. Since resistance is enacted in the socio-cultural milieu, any approach to it needs to be culture specific. It is a subtle act that can be expressed overtly or covertly by gestures, actions, words, or mood. In the Indian context, the heavy weight of tradition, combined with the effect of socialization, prevents women from being vociferous. Having accepted and internalized the patriarchal notion of femininity, they exhibit what Amartya Sen calls “adaptive preferences,” or preferences that have adjusted to their second class status (qtd. in Nussbaum 38). The tolerance of gender inequality is closely related to notions of legitimacy and correctness (A. Sen 421). In fact, the behavioral practices of women reflect those aspects of gender ideology and identity that project women as passive recipients in the cultural-cum-material patriarchal setup. The indigenous construction of femininity functions as a sort of “cultural disarmament” of women’s fighting-back potential. The expression of dissent and negotiation for a better deal for themselves is, therefore, quite indirect. The masculine yardstick of “heroic” resistance cannot measure women’s resistance. Because of “women’s complex and differentiated relations with men and with patriarchy” (Sunder Rajan, “Introduction” 158), their resistance becomes difficult and variable. They are in a state of flux, caught between the conflicting emotions of consent and dissent. Moreover, their subjectivity is marked with differences on the basis of gender as well as caste, socio-economic, and educational backgrounds. Therefore, women’s resistance, as pointed out by Meenakshi Thapan, “may not be a situated act but varies according to not only multiple subjectivities but also different contexts” (11). Taking upon themselves the task of self-actualization through their cultural agency, yet working from within the socio-cultural milieu, these playwrights reproduce the indigenous character of resistance that is not bereft of moorings.

46Seema Malik As cultural agents, their creativity is also subjected to the same social and ideological constraints. They do not transgress the cultural constraints; rather, they draw upon the available resources and wring the maximum out of them by refocusing or reinterpreting them. Thus, they become the users as well as the makers of culture and subtly incorporate the idea of change. They deploy a variety of strategies, including resistance and subversion through revisionist myth. While examining the reconstruction of mythical women by Indian playwrights in “Interrogating Tradition: Reconstruction of Mythical Women,” Pankaj K. Singh writes, The use of myth in drama has definite aesthetic advantages, both as a thematic statement and as a structural principle. It provides a structure of shared beliefs through which the playwrights work out their ideological preoccupations in a temporal and spatial framework wider than the immediate social specificity. (22)

Through “revisionist myth making” (35), to use Adrienne Rich’s phrase, the Indian women playwrights interrogate, re-evaluate, and reconstruct the structure of shared beliefs that the myth provides. An iconic figure or culturally accepted tale is appropriated, transformed, or transcreated for the desired end. The arbitrary privileging of the traditional oppressive power structures are exposed and/or subverted, which often get reflected in the choice and portrayal of the protagonist. This is highlighted in Mandodari, a Gujarati play, by Varsha Adalja, which presents an eponymous character Mandodari from Ramayana.2 Mandodari espouses the cause of innumerable wives and mothers who inevitably suffer the consequences of war that take place as a result of pathogeny of male lust for power and passion. But the play is predominantly about betrayal, deep sense of hurt, violation of dignity, and a woman’s strategic triumph in her personal struggle. In her chamber, Mandodari suddenly encounters the omniscient, omnipresent, and immortal Kaaldevta, who holds the entire universe in his fist. He proclaims the destruction of the golden Lanka and Ravana’s life. Mandodari pleads for mercy, but when Kaaldevta insists that his decision is unalterable, she invites him to accept her challenge that Kaal’s task will remain unfulfilled. Confident of his victory, Kaal accepts the gauntlet and plays the game with pawns invented by Mandodari. Kaaldevta plays a number of moves that are desperately countered by Mandodari. She is anguished by Ravana’s abduction of Seeta and tries to persuade him: “Lankesh, a woman is not an object to be used to settle enmity nor a victim of lust. Listen to me, my Lord, please free Seeta … some unseen power maintains the balance of justice and injustice in this world. Do not upset that balance” (Adalja 105, 108).

Injustice, Resistance, and Subversion


She sends Bibhisana to dissuade Ravana but to no avail. Meanwhile all the pawns of Kaaldevta are in motion—Lanka is in flames, Ravana tries to seduce Seeta, and both the armies are ready for battle. But Mandodari begs Kaaldevta to allow her to play her last pawn: herself. She goes to Seeta and asks her to surrender to Ravana. Taken aback, Seeta reprimands Mandodari: Seeta:

Do women get no respect in asura culture? Among aryans, woman is worshipped as goddess. Mandodari: O Seeta, the daughter-in-law of the Suryawamshis, don’t you think that there is ambiguity in the treatment of women as goddess? When the victorious kings confiscate kingdoms, don’t they also take the women folk of the defeated kings? (110)

Mandodari thus draws attention to the paradoxical status of women in India. On one hand, culture theoretically deifies and empowers women, but on the other, in practice, renders them powerless and treats them as puppets. Ultimately, Kaaldevta claims Ravana’s life. In the following passage, he consoles Mandodari: Kaaldevta:

Mandodari: Kaaldevta: Mandodari: Kaaldevta: Mandodari: Kaaldevta: Mandodari:

Kaaldevta: Mandodari:

Maharani Mandodari, in this life the only truth is death. I am touched by your love for your country. I bow to you and bless you. May you always be honoured as a great Sati. Now I take leave of you, Devi. My mission is complete. I had told you earlier that Kaal can never be defeated. (As Kaaldevta turns to go, Mandodari laughs loudly and scornfully. Kaaldevta is surprised.) You are mistaken, Dev. You have lost the game and I have won. What are you saying? Yes, every move of yours led me towards my ultimate goal. Then was your ultimate goal, war? No, I was waiting for my lord’s death. What are you saying, Mandodari? How is it that you are omniscient yet did not know my thoughts? Well, to read a woman’s heart one has to be a woman perhaps! How would you understand the agony of being the wife of such a lustful yet blind man? I don’t understand you. Through Seeta’s abduction and the ensuing war, I sought redemption of my clan. The arrow that killed Ravana actually released his soul and gave the egoistic man his salvation. Though I am widowed now, I am a happy woman. I have succeeded in what I set out to do, ha, ha, ha. (114)

48Seema Malik Mandodari’s apparent desperation, helplessness, and the conforming surface behavior form a subterfuge that conceals a hidden transcript of subversive female rage and her dogged resolve to achieve her goal. She maintains a balance between complicity, conformity, and the undercurrent of resistance. Conformity, without subscribing to its implied ideals and values, is the strategy employed by Mandodari to accomplish the desired subversion. Thus, resistance may not necessarily be transparent. Differentiating women’s resistance from protest, Sunder Rajan writes: Women’s quietism, passivity, their consent and acquiescence to and even complicity with patriarchy are no longer understood simply as signs of abject powerlessness or of false consciousness. These are instead recognized as real alternatives to ‘resistance’ available to women in negotiating a better deal for themselves in an objectively real situation of disempowerment. (“Introduction” 158)

Locating resistance within the scene of cultural production, Sunder Rajan explains, “Resistance is not always a positivity; it may be no more than a negative agency, an absence of acquiescence in one’s oppression” (Real and Imagined Women 12). In the play Medea by Nabaneeta Dev Sen, Rupsa does not acquiesce and registers her resistance through the subversive mode of simulation and dissimulation. To simulate is to assume a false appearance and to dissimulate is to pretend the contrary of what one is, to conceal or disguise. In the play, Rupsa refuses to accept that she is Manas’ wife and pretends to be a stranger. Nearly a decade earlier, Manas, Rupsa’s husband had just vanished out of her life without a thought about his responsibility towards their two children: Tutu and Ratan. He was involved in fraudulent activities, which he had not disclosed to Rupsa and he had to leave the country to save himself. Rupsa is hurt and embittered due to the irresponsible behavior of Manas, whose sudden disappearance left a vacuum in her life. She does not hear from him even once during his absence. She finds his indifference toward her and their children unpardonable and wants to sever all ties with her husband. The play begins with the sudden meeting of Manas and Rupsa on a railway station after a lapse of eight to ten years. Both in their forties now, the man recognizes the woman and is pleasantly surprised. He inquires about their children, but she refuses to recognize him as her husband or acknowledge their children. In a society that not only privileges men but also glosses over their lapses vis-à-vis women, Rupsa does not hope to get any justice and decides to tackle the situation on her own. As a potent tool of resistance, she adopts the strategy of simulation and dissimulation and feigns amnesia:

Injustice, Resistance, and Subversion


Woman: Man:

Tutu-Ratan? Who are Tutu-Ratan? Who are Tutu-Ratan? (Hesitating.) Then, aren’t you … well, aren’t you Rupsa, then? Woman: Yes, my name is Rupsa. And yours? Man: Rupa! Don’t you know me? I am your … I am Manas. Rupsa: Manas? Now, which Manas would that be? Majumdar or Roychoudhury? …. Manas: Two men called Manas! You knew two men. … What are you saying, Rupsa? Aren’t you Rupsa Mullick? Or have you another name now? Rupsa: My name is Rupsa Mullick. Manas: Then can’t you recall the name of Manas Mullick? Rupsa: Manas Mullick? Sounds very familiar indeed. Are you related to the family of Rajen Mullick? Manas: Rupa! Don’t try to be funny. There is a time and a place for everything! Rupsa: Look here, please don’t speak to me like that. When I don’t even know you, where is the question of trying to joke with you? (86–87)

She then informs him that she is going to McCluskiegunj to bring her foster children Ratan and Tutu home for the puja vacations, that they are orphans and live in a hostel, and that she had adopted them from Mother Teresa’s orphanage: Manas:

Mother Teresa! Rupu! Rupu, dear. Are you calling Ratan and Tutu orphans? Don’t you remember the pain of Ratan’s birth? … And for Tutu, there had to be a caesarian operation. And now you … you so calmly call them orphans! … Rupa darling, can’t you recall that day of Ratan’s birth? That was the month of Sravan, of ceaseless rain. .. Rupsa: (Repeating to herself, dreamily) That was the month of Sravan … of ceaseless rain … I had gone to Mother Teresa’s ashram … I asked Mother, please give me this child! That was the first … our first child. (88)

Rupsa negates every association and event with Manas and fabricates alternate stories to all the factual happenings and memories that she shared with Manas. When he reminds her of their marriage at the Registrar’s office, she says that her father married her off in a great style to a man in the railways. Instead of saying overtly that she had severed all relations with Manas when

50Seema Malik he suddenly disappeared from her life, she says that her husband died in a train accident at the age of thirty-six. She hits below the belt by saying that her husband was impotent: Rupsa:

Oh, he was overjoyed and so grateful the day I brought Ratan home. In fact, he had a little physical problem, you see, and we could not have children … He didn’t confide in me, though. I suppose it is not easy for a man to volunteer such information. No man can. He could not either … Poor thing! Just imagine the distress, the cruel injustice of fate … to deprive a man of the essence of manhood? It is not fair to be angry with such a man. He must have suffered too—all by himself—trying desperately to hold on to his self-respect—unable to share his anguish with me. (91–92)

Manas desperately pleads forgiveness, “Don’t people make mistakes? … Why are you letting your anger destroy every thing? Think of Tutu-Ratan, at least?” (93). To this Rupsa says, “You are still mistaken. … One has to make a choice but who can tell what might be lost in the process?” Then gently pushing Manas aside, she walks away towards the train. He shouts that he wants to go to the hostel and meet the children. Rupsa says, “Hostel? What hostel? Whose children?” and goes away in the train, leaving the dejected man behind in darkness. The lights come on and the director comes to the stage along with the actors. She says, “This play may be called Medea; it might also be called Jason. You can choose to call it what you will. But, tell me, who do you think is the subject of this drama? To whom does the drama really belong: Jason or Medea?” (94). The play makes an interesting comparison to the Greek mythological figure Medea, who fell in love with Jason. Later, Jason is said to have married Glauce of his volition, whereupon the enraged Medea bewitches a robe with magic herbs and sends it to the princess as a gift. When Glauce puts it on, the garment immediately catches fire and burns her to death. Medea then kills her own children by Jason and escapes in a chariot to Athens. She resorts to filicide because she is extremely distressed and furious at Jason for his betrayal and feels it to be the best way to hurt him. She revels in his pain at being separated from his children forever. However, Medea’s actions have been seen as erratic and extreme and not in keeping with the feminine demeanor. In the Indian context as well, women are inextricably caught in the traditional web. Rupsa’s sense of hurt and betrayal is so deep that it is difficult for her to reconnect to Manas, but it is equally difficult for her to overtly sever all ties with the man who now professes love for her and her children and seeks

Injustice, Resistance, and Subversion


forgiveness. Therefore, she feigns amnesia and the strategy of simulation and dissimulation adopted is her act of dissidence through which she produces a kind of impasse, a sheath that Manas cannot pierce through. She cannot and does not want to forgive Manas. As punitive measures, like Medea, she negates the existence of Manas’ children. Without giving a clue of their whereabouts, she leaves Manas in the wilderness. While the two plays, Mandodari and Medea exhibit the unlikely forms of resistance that can be termed as subversions, in The Swing of Desire by Mamta G. Sagar, Manasa breaks the silence and articulates her resistance in words and deeds. Cultural values and gendered prescriptions of behavior leave no scope for the unraveling of a woman’s autonomous self. Having internalized the notions of sacrifice, guilt, and shame, she sees herself only in relation to the significant others. Woman’s real self is crushed between the relational self and the ethics of care. Negotiating for personal freedom and desire within the family structures is fraught for women, as it leads to conflict and allegations of irresponsibility and self-centeredness. In this play, Manasa questions the traditional imperatives of self-abnegation. Resistance in her stems from desire: the desire to assert her identity, the desire to exercise freedom of choice and the desire to fulfill her dreams: Manasa:

I want to be a star … a butterfly dancing in the sun. I want to fly away, spreading my wings far and wide. I want to be a song, to step to the tune, to dance and sway and twirl. … I want to chase my dreams! (Sagar 243)

But Manasa’s husband, Pratap, strongly opposes her desire to pursue her career in dancing. The play brings out the sham, hypocrisy, and double standards in the patriarchal society: Manasa:

A woman glows at her husband’s success. She never complains, never envies. Have you ever heard a woman envying her husband? … Why can’t a man accept the fact when his wife goes ahead of him? (234)

She feels stifled, trapped in quicksand. With a determined exertion of will, she crosses the threshold. But she cannot escape the critical gaze of society because “if female identity within the legitimate sphere of domesticity is always manifested in the functional aspects of woman’s life, identity of woman outside the parameters of domesticity becomes a loaded sphere of moral values and judgmental comments” (Mangai 33). In The Swing of Desire Manasa voices a similar opinion, “No matter what a man does, society is ready to

52Seema Malik support and defend him. But for a woman, the smallest mistakes become monstrous. She is insulted and thrown out of the society. She belongs nowhere, has nowhere to go, no place to live” (Sagar 246). Women are not only socialized into rendering selfless service but are also discouraged from negotiating for justice. However, Rupsa in Medea and Manasa in The Swing of Desire evolve their own punitive measures as redress for their suffering and the injustice meted out to them. While Rupsa leaves Manas pining for his two children, Manasa in The Swing of Desire leaves her husband Pratap restless, humiliated, and bewildered by saying that he has not fathered one of her children. She says, “Even though he declares that he left me, that one arrow I shot hasn’t let him rest in peace, and never will, I know that!” (246). In her discussion of anti-realist plays, Aparna Bhargava Dharwadker considers plays like Girish Karnad’s Hayavadana, Chandrashekhar Kambar’s Jokumaraswami, and Habib Tanvir’s Charandaschor as important contributions to the dialogue on gender, because they embody several principles largely absent in realist drama. She says that women in these plays are objects of desire as well as desiring subjects (330). But in the plays chosen for the study, these women playwrights do not resort to the anti-realist or the utopian mode to portray women as “desiring subjects.” Grounded in social reality, they foreground the immediacies of women’s experiences and their desire for the extension of the self. Through the subversive mode of dramatic idiom, Varsha Adalja, Nabaneeta Dev Sen, and Mamta G. Sagar, in their plays Mandodari, Medea, and The Swing of Desire, respectively, draw attention to the subtle kind of injustices and the subsequent psychological conflicts experienced by women in everyday life. They bring to the fore the invisible or the seemingly not so important experiences of women which otherwise get subsumed or deflected. The “woman-subjects” in these plays negotiate their identity and redefine their social position despite the underlying cultural exigencies and “flag the direction and thrust which they intend to move collectively and as individuals” (Chatty 11). These women playwrights do not aim at a cultural catharsis or equipoise through their play texts. Instead they “roil the equilibrium, disturb the mind, resist closure and deny a therapeutic purging of the mind” (Mukherjee 19). They aim at “consciousness raising” and envision a more just and equal society by bringing about attitudinal change.

Notes 1. See the list endorsed by Martha C. Nussbaum in “Capabilities as Fundamental Entitlements: Sen and Social Justice.”

Injustice, Resistance, and Subversion


2. In Pradip Bhattacharya’s “Five Holy Virgins, Five Sacred Myths: A Quest for Meaning,” it says: Ahalya Draupadi Kunti Tara Mandodari tatha Panchkanya smaranityam mahapataka nashaka [Ahalya, Draupadi, Kunti, Tara and Mandodari: constantly remembering these virgins five destroys great failings.] (4) By remembering these five women—Ahalya, Draupadi, Kunti, Tara and Mandodari— all sins are destroyed. These mythological women have become icons of chastity, and women in orthodox Hindu families recite the above verse. Adalja in her play Mandodari transcreates the eponymous character.

Works Cited Adalja, Varsha. “Mandodari.” Trans. K.L. Vyas. Staging Resistance: Plays by Women in Translation. Ed. Tutun Mukherjee. New Delhi: Oxford UP, 2005. 99–116. Print. Bhattacharya, Pradip. “Five Holy Virgins, Five Sacred Myths: A Quest For Meaning.” Part 1. Manushi 141 (2004): 4–12. Print. Chatty, Dawn. Foreword. Casting Gender: Women and Performance in Intercultural Contexts. Ed. Laura Lengel and John T. Warren. New York: Lang, 2005. xi–xii. Print. Dharwadker, Aparna Bhargava. Theatres of Independence. New Delhi: Oxford UP, 2005. Print. Dikshit, Muktabai. “Gamble.” Staging Resistance: Plays by Women in Translation. Ed. Tutun Mukherjee. New Delhi: Oxford UP, 2005. 310–60. Print. Haynes, Douglas, and Gyan Prakash. Contesting Power: Resistance and Everyday Social Relations in South Asia. Delhi: Oxford UP, 1991. Print. Jahan, Rasheed. “Woman.” Staging Resistance: Plays by Women in Translation. Ed. Tutun Mukherjee. New Delhi: Oxford UP, 2005. 517–38. Print. Jain, Jasbir, and A.K. Singh, eds. Indian Feminisms. New Delhi: Creative, 2001. Print. Kambar, Chandrashekhar. Jokumaraswami. Trans. Rajiv Taranath. Calcutta: Seagull, 1989. Print. Karnad, Girish. “Hayavadana.” Three Plays. Trans. Girish Karnad. New Delhi: Oxford UP, 1994. 67–140. Print. Mangai A. “What Does She Want? Female Identity in Indian Drama.” Theatre India 2 (Nov. 2000): 29–35. Print. Mukherjee, Tutun. “Prolegomenon to Women’s Theatre.” Introduction. Staging Resistance: Plays by Women in Translation. Ed. Tutun Mukherjee. New Delhi: Oxford UP, 2005. 1–27. Print. Nussbaum, Martha C. “Capabilities as Fundamental Entitlements: Sen and Social Justice.” Capabilities, Freedom and Equality: Amartya Sen’s Work From a Gender Perspective. Ed. Bina Agarwal, Jane Humphries, and Ingrid Robeyns. New Delhi: Oxford UP, 2006. 39–69. Print.

54Seema Malik Padmanabhan, Manjula, Dina Mehta, and Poile Sengupta. Body Blows: Women, Violence and Survival. Three Plays. Calcutta: Seagull, 2000. Print. Rich, Adrienne. On Lies, Secrets, and Silences: Selected Prose, 1961–1978. London: Virago, 1980. Print. Sagar, Mamta G. “The Swing of Desire.” Trans. Chaitra Puttaswamy. Staging Resistance: Plays by Women in Translation. Ed. Tutun Mukherjee. New Delhi: Oxford UP, 2005. 232–48. Print. Sen, Amartya. “Gender Inequality and Theories of Justice.” Capabilities, Freedom and Equality: Amartya Sen’s Work From a Gender Perspective. Ed. Bina Agarwal, Jane Humphries, and Ingrid Robeyns. New Delhi: Oxford UP, 2006. 420–36. Print. Sen, Nabaneeta Dev. “Medea.” Trans. Tutun Mukherjee. Staging Resistance: Plays by Women in Translation. Ed. Tutun Mukherjee. New Delhi: Oxford UP, 2005. 86–95. Print. Singh, Pankaj K. “Interrogating Tradition: Reconstruction of Mythical Women.” Theatre India 4 (2000): 22–29. Print. Sunder Rajan, Rajeshwari. Real and Imagined Women: Gender, Culture and Postcolonialism. London: Routledge, 1993. Print. ———. “Introduction: Feminism and the Politics of Resistance.” Indian Journal of Gender Study 7.2 (2000): 153–65. Print. Tanvir, Habib. Charandaschor. New Delhi: Pustakayan, 1997. Print. Thapan, Meenakshi. “Gender and Embodiment in Everyday Life.” Introduction. Embodiment: Essays on Gender and Identity. Ed. Meenakshi Thapan. Delhi: Oxford UP, 1997. 1–34. Print.

3. Transnational Feminism in Sidhwa’s Cracking India: A Geocritical Study of the Great Divide of the Indian Subcontinent Sobia Khan

Much has been written about the partition of British India into modern day India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Despite historical accounts and some fictional imaginings of the Great Divide, initially a woman’s perspective was largely absent in the discourse on Partition. Bapsi Sidhwa’s novel, Cracking India, first released under the title, Ice-Candy Man, was the first novel written by a female novelist who broke through the silences of women to tell a semi-autobiographical tale of what happened when India was divided. As such, Sidhwa’s novel published in 1988 is a pioneer in a tradition that has produced multiple works of fiction on Partition by female writers such as Kamila Shamsie’s Salt and Saffron (2002), Qurratulain Hyder’s Fireflies in the Mist (2010), and Shaheen Ashraf–Ahmed’s The Dust Beneath Her Feet (2012), among other works of historical, cultural, and critical insights which examine India’s Partition. The story is primarily of women and chronicles the impact Partition had on the lives of Indian women. Let me be clear that Sidhwa’s story is of “Indian” women and how they are broken, fractured, and divided into religious and ethnic categories as a result of the geographical divide. My work here adopts a geocritical lens to study transnational feminism in Sidhwa’s work to tease out the complex journeys women undertake to survive the Great Divide. In many ways, Sidhwa’s novel is a lament for women who suffered Partition and who remained silent for decades keeping their stories of horror hidden from the national gaze. My interest in Cracking India, like many other South Asian’s, stems from a personal place. Like a million others, my family left their ancestral home in

56Sobia Khan Dehradun and traveled from the foothills of the Himalayas to the plains of Punjab and then to the port city of Karachi in Pakistan. Their train was the first to escape murder and mayhem as it crossed the border from India into Pakistan. The few stories we have heard of that time relate how neighbors turned against neighbors because of religious difference, and how everyone had to escape to save themselves. Far more stories, I know, remain untold. No one speaks of the girls who disappeared, the men who lost their hands, or the severed relationships among family members as a result of displacement. Sidhwa’s novel then negotiates the unacknowledged boundaries of multiple dimensions, such as boundaries of silence and speech, territorial boundaries of the Great Divide which cracked Punjab into two nations, religious and ethnic boundaries that divided friends, and feminism which was lost and found in the in-between spaces of class, gender, and religious difference. As the title of the novel suggests, we find Sidhwa’s characters in the in-­ between spaces—in the “cracks” of British India’s Great Divide. These in-­ between spaces are fraught with anxiety, disillusionment, and despair, as we see in the story of Sidhwa’s protagonists. After Partition, non-Muslims who belonged to Lahore, Pakistan, became “outsiders” and found themselves neither here (unwanted in Pakistan) nor there (far from their family homes in India). I label those that do not belong as transnationals. As such, Sidhwa’s novel is a story that focuses on those outsiders who did not belong in the new Pakistan and became trapped in in-between spaces on the literal and metaphorical borders between India and Pakistan. Many theoretical frameworks, such as Bhabha’s “in-betweeness” as outlined in Location of Culture, Hitchcock’s “long space” explained in The Long Space,1 Anzaldúa’s articulation of “borderlands” in Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza,2 and Pratt’s idea of a “contact zone” discussed in Imperial Eyes,3 among others, have emerged as a way of understanding the new spaces occupied by transnational subjects. My work here will rethink Sidhwa’s novel to directly address the crisis experienced by transnational subjects trapped in an in-between space. Geocritical studies as explained by Robert Tally in The Geocritical Legacies of Edward W. Said “have helped to reframe or to transform contemporary criticism by focusing attention in various ways, on the dynamic relations among space, place, and literature” (ix). Tally clarifies that the term “space” is not to be taken only in its literal sense. In the newly envisioned scholarship on space and place, “spatial criticism examines literary representations not only of places themselves, but of the experience of place and of displacement, while exploring the interrelations between lived experience and a more abstract or unrepresentable spatial network that subtly or directly shapes it” (x). I use an expanded understanding of space as suggested by Tally to study Sidhwa’s

Transnational Feminism in Sidhwa’s Cracking India


iconic novel depicting the trauma of Partition. My study here examines the dynamics of the space, place, and the text to reveal the anxieties ridden in trauma literature such as Cracking India. Much scholarship precedes my intervention on Cracking India and it is worthwhile to recognize the layered readings made possible by Sidhwa’s text. Ambreen Hai, in “Border Work, Border Trouble: Postcolonial Feminism and the Ayah in Bapsi Sidhwa’s Cracking India,” cautions against a simplistic understanding of border crossing on gendered bodies and raises concerns against overlooking “other lines of difference” in favor of focusing on crossings and of inhabiting borders. Her critical stance on Cracking India is that it is a non-canonical, Anglophone work from a Pakistani female writer of fiction. Hai goes on to write, “As a Pakistani woman with Muslim parents who also migrated from India in 1947, I find Cracking India both compelling and importantly interventionist, but at the same time I also cannot read it without certain qualms, without pausing over its contradictions and ambivalences” (386). For my purposes in this essay, I would further add to Hai’s comments that Sidhwa’s work is doubly marked by marginalization not only as that of a non-canonical Anglophone woman writer’s fiction, but also as a text that exclusively deals with marginalized characters on the periphery of society and who remain on the borders of the Partition by not partaking actively in the Great Divide. The protagonists in the novel never “act,” but are seen “reacting” to the political upheaval around them. I see the double marginalization of the text, author, and characters as a worthy place to examine inter and intra relations of space, place, and the literary text. Unlike Hai, it is precisely in the realm of “contradictions and ambivalences” I find Sidhwa’s work most compelling. It is in this space we find Sidhwa’s characters trapped between the cracks of a breaking nation. My reading of Cracking India shows how Sidhwa negotiated issues of feminist identity suppression and transformation in a realm of contradictions through the story of Shanta. Referred primarily as Ayah in the novel, I will refer to her as Shanta, thereby giving her character agency by recognizing her individual identity separate from other relationships in the novel. Shanta’s character encourages a re-reading of the Great Divide of the Indian Subcontinent in ways that resistance, globalization, and re-mapping collide into our contemporary understanding of marginalized South Asian women and thus, provides what Kamran Rastegar calls a “counterhistory,” which challenges political narratives of Partition by including marginalized experiences. Rastegar writes, “as contemporary literary and historiological inquiry problematizes the notion of ‘objective’ histories, ‘fictional’ representation has begun to be accepted as fulfilling a specific role in the larger question of what

58Sobia Khan history is and can be” (26). Cracking India was one of the first few texts written by a woman to fill this gap in historicizing the Partition. It is from the position of a geocritical transnational feminist scholar that I re-examine Sidhwa’s Cracking India as a text that blazed a trail for other female fiction writers, social scientists, and critical analysts to follow. In studying Cracking India we begin to fully understand the complexities of Shanta’s story as a marginalized, gendered, silenced, and fractured subjectivity during Partition of British India in 1947 as representative of a specific experience allowing the inclusion of multiplicity of experiences that had been overlooked until Sidhwa’s text.

Trangressive Borders, Cracking Nation In Cracking India, Sidhwa captures the tragedy of a partitioning nation through the perspective of a young Parsi girl, Lenny, who is witness to the multi-religious love and warfare, the victimization of Shanta as the direct consequence of Partition, and the creation of new nations. Through her narrative, Sidhwa traverses literal and metaphorical transnational boundaries marking the contemporary landscape of South Asia. Her feminist text questions the role of religion, female sexuality, and innocence, and she questions loyalties to nationalist dogma in comparison to loyalty based on love. The Hindu woman, Shanta, called Ayah by the child narrator, loses her place in her society when her loyalties to a new Muslim state, Pakistan, are put into question. She is subjugated and defeated sexually, emotionally, and spiritually when she no longer has the security of her old home state—India, or the security of her pseudo family of contrabands who were united despite their ethnic, lingual, and religious differences. The first time we meet Shanta and her suitors it is as if Sidhwa creates a country that revolves around Shanta. Queen’s Garden, the park in Lahore, India, where Shanta lounges with Lenny is Shanta’s utopia, her self-created sanctuary where she is the queen. Shanta experiences a sense of freedom in the park where her suitors gather around her seeking her attention. Despite the sense of imagined freedom, Sidhwa is astute to remind the readers that neither the park nor any of its occupants are truly free. A statue of Queen Victoria looms over them. Lenny, the narrator of the novel tells us, “Queen Victoria, cast in gun metal, is majestic, massive, overpowering, ugly. Her statue imposes the English Raj in the park” (Sidhwa 28). The statue serves as a reminder to the visitors about the British rule over India. Colonial by design, the park and every sense of false freedom permeates Shanta’s encounter with her admirers, leading us to question if Shanta’s utopia is real or

Transnational Feminism in Sidhwa’s Cracking India


imagined. From the very beginning of the novel, tension between space and place underpin the text’s narrative illustrating the ambiguous boundaries of the Indian subcontinent viz a viz Queen’s Garden. In addition to the imposing British Raj in Queen’s Garden, Shanta’s personal boundaries are encroached upon as well. The reader is privy to these transgressions through Lenny’s observations of Shanta’s encounter with her admirers. Lenny tells of her time in the park with Shanta, I lie sprawled on the grass, my head in Ayah’s lap. The Faletti’s Hotel cook, the Government House gardener, and an elegant, compactly muscled head-andbody masseur sit with us. Ice-candy-man is selling his popsicles to the other groups lounging on the grass. My mouth waters. I have confidence in Ayah’s chocolate chemistry … lank and loping the ice-candy-man cometh. (28)

Sidhwa goes on to write about how all Shanta’s admirers flock to her and flirt with her, each in his own way. In recounting how each man flirts, Sidhwa exposes how it is Shanta’s personal physical boundary each aims to cross. Lenny observes that the gardener and Shanta only talk to each other, “nothing much happens except talk” (29). Shanta allows the masseur more privileges than to any other man. She lets Masseur massage her under her sari and Lenny detects Shanta’s response to the masseur’s tactile attention. In comparison, Ice-candy-man’s sneaking toes are sharply pushed away each time they over step Shanta’s boundaries. However, sometimes Ice-candy-man’s stories are so engrossing that Shanta and Lenny “are taken unawares” (29) of his traveling toes. If the story is really good and his toes are polite, then Lenny tells us that Shanta tolerates them. It is as if Ice-candy-man pays for his transgressions by divulging juicy gossip. This seemingly idyllic scene of flirtation, mild transgressions, and a burgeoning romance between Masseur and Shanta is the background against which Lenny comes of age in a nation held delicately together despite British rule. It is also the world of Shanta in which she is somewhat in control. Despite the British rule, Shanta, Lenny, and all those surrounding them constructed a life that they could live with. Through scenes such as the one in Queen’s Garden, Sidhwa portrays life in India during British Raj, a life that is at the threshold of change. Tensions and contradictions permeate the literal space of the park and the lives of its visitors. Lenny is at the threshold of maturity, Shanta close to choosing her true lover, Masseur at winning Shanta’s hand, Ice-candy-man at the brink of rejection, and India at the edge of war. A few pages later, Sidhwa’s story takes a sharp turn on the brink of independence from British rule and at the time of Partition of India. Shanta and her world are destroyed as is her sense of self. It is as if the cost of winning

60Sobia Khan independence from the British is the breaking up of the mighty country, its way of living, and its people. Sidhwa foreshadows the plight of the country and its occupants in the seemingly tranquil activities of Lahoris. Replicating the political anxieties over India’s impending partition and the fierce animosity between Hindu and Muslim leaders, Sidhwa shows Masseur and Icecandy-man’s rivalry in winning Shanta over. They try to outdo each other in entertaining and impressing Shanta. When Masseur shares his invention of an oil that can grow hair and how he is raking in money with its sale, Ice-candy-man declares that he has developed a fertility-pill. Simultaneously, Sidhwa also recounts how Nehru tried to win Lord Mountbatten over while Jinnah stood firm on his ideas of how India should be partitioned. Sidhwa uses Lenny’s innocent narrative point-of-view to show the absurdity of how each stakeholder in Indian politics was trying to get his way. Lenny says: There is much disturbing talk. India is going to be broken. Can one break a country? And what happens if they break it where our house is? Or crack it further up on Warris Road? How will I ever get to Godmother’s then? … This side for Hindustan and this side for Pakistan. If they want two countries, that’s what they’ll have to do—crack India with a long, long canal. Gandhi, Jinnah, Nehru, Iqbal, Tara Singh, Mountbatten are names I hear. And I become aware of religious differences. (101)

While Lenny may be voicing the notion of how to “break” a country, she also discovers that people around her are now redefined by other symbols than what she was used to. Her relationship to those around her was not based on differences, but on what was common between them. Her circle of servants existed because they all had Shanta in common. The realization of differences and of alliances between people alarms Lenny. She says, “It is sudden. One day everybody is themselves—and the next day they are Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian. People shrink, dwindling into symbols. Ayah is no longer my all-encompassing Ayah—she is also a token. A Hindu” (101). Similarly, Lenny sees others around her “turning into religious zealots” (101) acting with a born-again religiosity, observing their particular religion with renewed fervor around the time of Partition. With the changing political climate, Lenny observes that the dynamics of people were also changing. In Queen’s Garden, Muslims sat with Muslims, Hindus had their own enclave, and Sikh boys played among themselves. She notes that only her Ayah’s group had not changed. Around Shanta, she felt that there was still heterogeneity. Lenny’s optimisim and sense of hope is crucial to illustrate the geopolitical divide that existed all around Lenny and in her Ayah’s circle too, but at this point in the novel, she is oblivious to it.

Transnational Feminism in Sidhwa’s Cracking India


Madhuparna Mitra, in “Contextualizing Ayah’s Abduction: Patterns of Violence Against Women in Sidhwa’s Cracking India,” discusses how telling the story through Lenny’s point-of-view is an advantage to the story Sidhwa is recounting. She writes, “Lenny herself is a child of privilege, born into an upper-middle class Parsi family is thus a ‘doubly’ neutral narrator, by virtue of her age and ethno-religious affiliation” (25). Sidhwa purposefully positions Lenny as a distant observer of the horrors of the Great Divide of India, thereby allowing the reader to feel safe within Lenny’s world and guilty because of her Parsi community’s immunity to the horrors of Partition. The narrator’s position is problematic precisely because it is on the borders of Indian society enjoying the security afforded to them because of their religious disassociation. I view Lenny and the Parsi community’s distance from Partition as “thirdly” distant because of the social and class status. Lenny remains in the safety of her family’s home while the working class servants she spends time with are victimized because of their ethno-religious-class difference. Sidhwa infuses the text with multiple and layered distance between the characters as they each experience the break of the Indian subcontinent. Lenny and Shanta’s sojourns to Queen’s Garden halt in the throes of a breaking India. Shanta’s group of admirers stop meeting at Queen’s Garden. Instead, they visit Shanta at Lenny’s house in groups of two or three, or alone. “There is dissension in the ranks of Ayah’s admirers,” Lenny notes (157). Religious differences and a sense of proprietary ownership of land and people drive Shanta’s group against each other. Ice-candy-man’s jealousy of Masseur becomes palpable as does the hatred between different religious groups. Ice-candy-man succumbs to partisanship and becomes a Muslim goonda against his Hindu neighbors. His remark, “They thought they’d drive us out of Bhatti! We’ve shown them!” (147) is very telling of how his hatred for Hindus escalated after Partition. It is important to discuss the progression of hate between Shanta’s group of admirers in the wake of India’s Partition as the events that follow show the consequences of “cracking” a country.

Sacrificial Spaces, Mutilated Bodies Lahore was burning. Sikhs from Lahore were fleeing the city leaving their native homelands. Hindus were leaving, and Muslims escaping from Hindu dominant areas were butchered on the trains they traveled. In the midst of it all Pakistan was born. As Lenny states, “I am Pakistani. In a snap. Just like that” (150). Ice-candy man’s hatred for others grew as a result of all the atrocities he saw levied against Muslims. He tells the small group of friends around Shanta, “I lose my senses when I think of the mutilated bodies on that

62Sobia Khan train from Gurdaspur … that night I went mad, I tell you! I lobbed grenades through the windows of the Hindus and Sikhs I’d known all my life! I hated their guts … I want to kill someone for each of the breasts they cut off the Muslim women … The penises!” (166). Ice-candy-man’s angry rhetoric and actions depict the self-destructive behavior committed in the name of nation and religion. Unashamed he tells Shanta, a Hindu, and others gathered around her of the atrocities he committed. Ice-candy-man’s characterization is indicative of the larger canvas of hate exhibited by people of different religions. The nonsensical and baseless atrocities indict the perpetrators. What is more incredulous is that these crimes are committed after India’s independence from Britain, which should have been an occasion for celebration but gets misdirected into fearmongering and hatred. The human body becomes the space for rendering the rupture India suffers as a result of Partition. Sidhwa references nameless bodies which are mutilated on both sides of the new border from the Muslims migrating into Pakistan on trains to villages obliterated because they were the wrong religion and on the wrong side of the border. Women suffered doubly, first used and transgressed against because of their gender and then murdered, or if they were left alive they were left homeless in an alien place. Sidhwa doesn’t shy away from chronicling these human ruptures. Lenny being an upper-middle class child is not privy to all the horrors, but she is witness to the debasement Shanta and other non-Muslim servants endure at the hands of their so-called Muslim friends. Through the cook’s grandson, Ranna’s story, Sidhwa tells of women in villages who are raped and abused by conquering men and of the murder of the men in their village. In telling Ranna’s story, Sidhwa remains true to the semi-autobiographical lens through which we are told the story of Partition. Lenny, loosely based on Sidhwa herself, would not have been in a Muslim village nor would she have suffered like them. Sidhwa would have heard such stories second hand just like Lenny does in Cracking India. The neutrality and distance discussed earlier in the essay in reference to Lenny and the Parsi community is exactly the privilege Sidhwa herself would have enjoyed. As poignant and important Ranna’s story is to the story of Partition, it is not Lenny’s story to tell and Sidhwa is perceptive to this distinction. She plays out the dynamics of space, place, and the text when she abstains from co-opting Ranna’s story as her own. However, Lenny is witness to another mutilation of the human body in the case of Hari, the gardener, a devout Hindu. “Hari has had his bodhi shaved. He has become a Muslim. He has also had his penis circumcised” (172). In an attempt to avoid persecution and to fit in with the new Muslim state of Pakistan, Hari becomes Himat Khan, and discards his dhoti for a

Transnational Feminism in Sidhwa’s Cracking India


shalwar. Later when Masseur’s body is discovered by Hari and Lenny, Lenny notes, “Faces bob around us now. Some concerned, some curious. But they look at Masseur as if he is not a person. He isn’t. He has been reduced to a body. A thing” (186). Through these and other incidents in the novel, Sidhwa clearly shows the enactment of violence over land enacted on the human body, most specifically the private parts of the human body. The parallel of a “broken” land with the broken and desecrated human body reflects the manifestation of a cracked nation. The inhuman and cruel actions of men on either side of the conflict like those of Ice-candy-man set up events to follow in the novel. After Partition, Ice-candy-man was not the same man we met at the beginning of the novel who recited couplets to Shanta and tried to win her over with his stories and wandering toes. For me as a Muslim reader and critic, the novel is at its most destructive when Muslims are shown as barbaric people after the birth of Pakistan with its new Muslim identity. It is here, in the self-criticism of my ancestors’ actions that I find Sidhwa’s novel most poignant. Sidhwa portrays the vigilante mobs that searched for all Hindus in Lahore. A mob descends on Lenny’s house asking for Hindus to be turned over to them. Hari is left untouched because he became a Muslim as is Moti, the sweeper because he converted to Christianity. But the relentless mob asks for Shanta who is a Hindu. All the servants and Lenny’s mother protect Shanta and do not divulge her hiding place. Ice-candy-man, who is still in love with Shanta and has followed Shanta around every day, emerges from the crowd and tricks Lenny into revealing Shanta’s hiding place with a promise to protect her Ayah. Immediately, the crowd marches into the house and drags Shanta out with her clothes tearing at the seams and men pushing and shoving her. Shanta is kidnapped and taken away “staring at us as if she [Shanta] wanted to leave behind her wide-open and terrified eyes” (195). Ice-candy-man, the very man who professed love for Shanta, betrays her. Lenny, who was wholly dependent on Shanta, betrays her. Sidhwa locates Shanta in between the cracks of society, nations, and loyalties, and this space betrays Shanta in every way.

Fallen Women In the post-Partition Lahore, Lenny’s world transforms into an unknown space. Located near Lenny’s house is a shelter for “fallen women” called the Recovered Women’s Camp. Lenny’s new ayah is one of the women who was first housed at the shelter. At night, Lenny hears the women wail. At first, she thinks they are in some danger, but eventually learns that women like her new ayah, Hamida, have been abandoned by their families. Lenny’s

64Sobia Khan Godmother explains, “Hamida was kidnapped by the Sikhs. She was taken away to Amritsar. Once that happens, sometimes, the husband—or his family—won’t take her back” (227). When Lenny expresses her frustration saying that it wasn’t the women’s fault that they were kidnapped, Godmother replies, “Some folk feel that way—they can’t stand their women being touched by other men” (227). These lines also reveal what may have been Ice-candyman’s thinking. He felt betrayed by Shanta and Masseur’s love. Sidhwa is impartial (again, the neutrality she enjoys as a Parsi) in detailing the atrocities committed by all sides during Partition. Sikhs killed Muslims, Muslims killed Hindus, everyone was after the other. In the story of Ranna, we learn that his entire Muslim village was butchered to death by the Sikhs. But the women had it worse. They were tortured and raped, and then killed. The cook’s grandson, Ranna, hears the women screaming in his village mosque: “From the direction of the mosque come the intolerable shrieks and wails of women. It seems to him [Ranna] that a woman is sobbing just outside their courtyard: great anguished sobs—and at intervals she screams: ‘You’ll kill me! Hai Allah … Ya’ll will kill me!” (213). In his semi-conscious state, the grandson also imagines he sees his eleven-year-old sister run “stark naked into their courtyard: her long hair disheveled, her boyish body bruised, her lips cut and swollen and a bloody scab where her front teeth were missing” (213). Sidhwa does not show the rape and the horrors the women of the village suffer at the hands of men directly, but we can hear them. We hear their screams and their wails. The women are neither killed nor left alive. They find themselves in an in-between space of anguish. The women’s shelter, Recovered Women’s Camp, in Lahore itself is a space between two nations, between a life lived and a future lost, a space that harbors women who do not belong anywhere. Similarly, in the case of Shanta, Sidhwa shows the trauma she undergoes for being a Hindu woman at the hands of Muslim men. She is the main protagonist of the novel, the story revolves around her and all the people that occupied her life. Like Lenny, the reader becomes a witness to Shanta’s suffering at the hands of men she trusted. The reader cares for Shanta. As she suffers, the reader suffers too. Shanta becomes a “fallen woman” like many other women during the Great Divide of India. We see her fall from the status of a queen and goddess to a mere body that is used and transgressed against for being a Hindu. Ice-candy-man sets Shanta up in Hira Mandi, the red light district of Lahore. Lenny is told this by her cousin who tries to show her physically what actually happens to women in Hira Mandi. Even though Lenny is still a young girl, she knows “Ayah is in trouble. I [Lenny] think of Ayah twisting Ice-candy-man’s intrusive toes and keeping the butcher and wrestler at arm’s length. And of those strangers’ hands hoisting her chocolate body into the

Transnational Feminism in Sidhwa’s Cracking India


cart” (253). The idea of other men touching Shanta sickens Lenny. Godmother and Lenny meet Ice-candy-man and they confront him with what they have heard. He took Shanta to Lahore’s brothels where she was raped and abused for four months until Ice-candy-man decides to save Shanta by marrying her. In his defense, Ice-candy-man tells them, “I saved her. They would have killed her … I married her!” (260). Godmother does not let him off the hook and asks him, “Why don’t you speak? Can’t you bring yourself to say you played the drums when she danced? Counted money while drunks, peddlers, sahibs, and cutthroats used her like sewer? … Did you marry her, then. When you realized that Lenny’s mother had arranged to have her sent to Amritsar?” (262). Ice-candy-man has no response. He transfers his revenge of Shanta’s preference for Masseur and his hatred for all Hindus who killed Muslims during Partition onto Shanta’s body and soul. He punishes her for crimes she did not commit. Her female body is assaulted until he feels justice has been done. And then he marries her. Sidhwa is astute is her portrayal of how nationalist and religious dogma blind Ice-candy-man and others like him who turned on their neighbors during Partition. With Shanta, Sidhwa shows a glimpse of how all ethical and moral boundaries are trespassed in favor of imagined loyalties. We find Shanta, a Hindu woman in a Muslim country, further marginalized as a “dancing girl” living on the outskirts of society in the red light district. She lives, but is not alive; these are the contradictions Sidhwa confronts her readers with. What further deepens the wound inflicted by religious and political criminals is the treatment the so called “fallen women” receive by their own communities. Sidhwa confronts communities who abandon their daughters, sisters, and wives when they fall between the cracks. In many cases, they are shunned and disowned. Lenny is perceptive to this kind of abandonment, another cruel punishment that women endure. Lenny tells Godmother, “I want to tell her [Shanta] I am her friend. I don’t want her to think she’s bad just because she’s been kidnapped” (266). Lenny and Godmother locate the address of Ice-candy-man’s house in Hira Mandi and go visit. They find Shanta as a decorated, “rouged and lipsticked bride” (272) in Ice-candy-man’s home. He has renamed Shanta, Mumtaz. Not only is Shanta assaulted physically, she is forced to take on a new identity, one that pleases Ice-candy-man. She loses her dignity and her identity because of him. When Lenny meets Shanta, it is not the same Ayah Lenny spent afternoons with in Queen’s Garden: Ayah’s face, with its demurely lowered lids and tinsel dust, blooms like a dusky rose in Godmother’s hands. The rouge and glitter highlight the sweet contours of her features. She looks achingly lovely: as when she gazed at Masseur and inwardly glowed. But the illusion is dispelled the moment she opens her eyes—not timorously like a bride, but frenziedly, starkly. (273).

66Sobia Khan Lenny penetrates the layers of camouflage to see the real Shanta and this Shanta is not happy. She tells Lenny and Godmother, “‘I want to go to my family.’ Her voice is harsh, gruff: as if someone has mutilated her vocal cords” (273). These are the first words Shanta utters to her guests, the only words that mattered to her. Shanta tells Godmother that she cannot forget what happened, that she’s not alive. She wants to leave Ice-candyman. Godmother asks her what if her family doesn’t accept her? Shanta replies, “Whether they want me or not, I will go” (274). Shanta is resolute in her decision to get far away from Ice-candy-man and return to Amritsar, India where the rest of her family lives. She tells them that Ice-candy-man is no longer cruel to her, “but I [Shanta] cannot forget what happened” (273). Shanta’s desire to escape to her family in India is indicative of the role place occupies in her mind. Lahore had been her space when she was with Masseur, her friends, in a sanctuary of her making. But her life and her space are ruptured both physically and metaphorically by India’s Partition. Abandoned by all, she seeks refuge in kith and kin. Eventually, in the story, Godmother manages to get Shanta to the Recovered Women’s House until she is sent to Amritsar. Sidhwa in recounting the story of the Indian Subcontinent and its people fractured by the largest ethno-religious and political upheaval in recent history, reveals the fate of women who are similarly marginalized, demarcated, and conquered. Her novel highlights the trangressive, ambiguous, and contradictory nature of war. As Rani Neutill explains, “The project of State building is invariably a gendered and sexualized phenomenon. The overwhelming number of women raped during the Partition of India is an example of the manner in which the creation of the modern nation state occurs in tandem with the sexual violation of bodies and the organization of desires” (74). Sidhwa’s transnational concerns depict the horrors of division along gender, ethnic, religious, and ethical lines. Prior to the Great Divide and the creation of borders everyone lived in harmony, respecting each other’s religion and culture. Sidhwa indicts the Indian people for the atrocities committed during Partition. It wasn’t the British who betrayed Indian people, but their own national and religious dogma. Trapped on the borders of society, the marginalized population, and specifically women like Shanta, suffer immeasurably for belonging to the wrong religion, gender, nation, and social class. In my analysis of the novel Cracking India, Sidhwa’s transnational feminist and geocritical concerns highlight the dynamics of space, place, and the importance of historicizing the Partition anew. Her work speaks for the silenced stories and produces a new historical narrative of India’s Great Divide.

Transnational Feminism in Sidhwa’s Cracking India


Notes 1. In his recently published The Long Space: Transnationalism and Postcolonial Form, Peter Hitchcock brings the theoretical frames of transnationalism and postcolonialism together to understand what role world literature plays in the construction of globalization. He coins the term “long space” to understand and negotiate the distance between transnationalism and postcolonialism in a novel. He writes that “the long in [his] title refers to future persistence, a mode of engagement more extensive than the exigencies of the present and a level of commitment constant with the task of facing the enduring facility for exploitation in global integration” (4). His coinage of the term “long space” and the critical engagement that takes place here reveals, once again the difficulties and negotiations required to articulate transnational concerns. 2. Another prominent theorist who has furthered the idea of in-between spaces for those subjects neither here nor there is Gloria Anzaldúa. In Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, she focuses specifically on the US-Mexico border area, which she claims is an unnatural divide. She confronts the history of Texas as understood by white America, and inserts Chicano history as a force to reckon with. She calls this borderland area a “third country” and the “closed country” (3). While rewriting Anglo-American history, she simultaneously reworks the Chicano nationalist agenda. Residing in between borders and histories, Anzaldúa and other transnational subjects forsake their individual transnational identities for one at the edge. The third space is fraught with questions of identity and a sense of belonging to neither place. 3. Mary Louise Pratt’s essay “Arts of the Contact Zone,” published in Imperial Eyes, discusses her coinage of the term “contact zone” to account for how people of different cultures, geographies, histories, and languages interact with each other, and this forms the genesis of my work. Pratt defines these moments of contact as the “social this spaces where disparate cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in highly asymmetrical relations of dominations and subordination, such as colonialism and slavery, or their aftermaths as they are lived out across the globe today” (7).

Works Cited Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco: Spinsters/ Aunt Lute, 1987. Print. Ashraf-Ahmed, Shaheen. The Dust Beneath Her Feet. Amazon Digital, 2012. Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994. Print. Hai, Ambreen. “Border Work, Border Trouble: Postcolonial Feminism and the Ayah in Bapsi Sidhwa’s Cracking India.” Modern Fiction Studies 46.2 (2000): 379–426. Print. Hitchcock, Peter. The Long Space: Transnationalism and Postcolonial Form. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 2010. Print. Hyder, Qurratulain. Fireflies in the Mist. New York: New Directions, 2010. Print. Mitra, Madhuparna. “Contextualizing Ayah’s Abduction: Patterns of Violence against Women in Sidhwa’s Cracking India.” Ariel 39 (2008): 23–44. Print. Neutill, Rani. “Bending Bodies, Borders and Desires in Bapsi Sidhwa’s Cracking India and Deepa Mehta’s Earth.” South Asian Popular Culture 8.1 (2010): 73–87. Print.

68Sobia Khan Pratt, Mary Louise. “Criticism in the Contact Zone.” Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation. London: Routledge, 1992. Print. Rastegar, Kamran. “Trauma and Maturation in Women’s War Narratives: The Eye of the Mirror and Cracking India.” Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies 2.3 (2006): 22–47. Print. Shamsie, Kamila. Salt and Saffron. New York: Bloomsbury, 2002. Print. Sidhwa, Bapsi. Cracking India. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed, 1991. Print. Tally, Robert T. The Geocritical Legacies of Edward W. Said: Spatiality, Critical Humanism, and Comparative Literature. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. Print. Geocriticism and Spatial Literary Studies.

4. South Asian Muslim Women Speak for Their Rights and Resistance Feroza Jussawalla

In a world where the words “Muslim” and “Islam” have become synonymous with terror and oppression, and evoke images of ISIS beheadings and bombings of the offices of Charlie Hebdoe, it is imperative for us to learn more about Muslim cultural practices to understand why Muslims are increasingly turning inward and even embracing practices they had long disavowed. The wearing of the veil is one of these practices that Muslim women had long sought to be liberated from and yet have now espoused as a badge of resistance and expression of their loyalty to their religion. In this paper I trace South Asian Muslim women’s attitudes towards some of their cultural practices, such as veiling, segregation, and arranged marriages, through literature written in English over the last century. From the advent of the twentieth century, with increased Englishlanguage education for women in South Asia, Muslim women have been writing about their rights, both to function as Muslim women and to become liberated within the tenets of Islam, but, to do so on their own terms. In this essay, I hope to show how the dichotomy of both wanting to be Muslim and wanting to be liberated from certain cultural practices—those that may be seen as “oppressions by men”—is expressed and written about by women. Today in the UK, France, and elsewhere, Muslim women’s donning of the veil in the twenty-first century, after years of having rejected it, is a gesture of resistance and assertion of identity. All over Europe, marginalized diasporic youth are looking for a sense of identity. It is in this situation that Muslim émigré women seem most to be looking for a way to express their belonging to a group—if they cannot belong to the mainstream. This is very vividly described in Monica Ali’s Brick Lane (2004). However, this is often misunderstood as an allegiance to Islamicist politics, or the refusal to adapt to the host culture.


Feroza Jussawalla

Reading about the various ways in which Muslim women writers in South Asia have asserted their rights to freedom, while at the same time exercised their right to be different, and asserted their cultural rights to Muslim practices, helps in understanding the current global situation regarding Muslim women’s rights. Muslim women, especially on the Indian subcontinent, have long been unafraid to assert their right to live their own lives, to criticize their culture and their religion, and yet to defend their right to function within it. More recently, in the face of criticism­ world-wide regarding women who choose to be veiled, Muslim women are adopting différance as a strategic resistance, both in the Islamic world and in the western world. I hope to show this as I discuss the following Muslim women’s texts from South Asia: Rokeya Hossain’s Sultana’s Dream, Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column, Taslima Nasrin’s Shame, Samina Ali’s Madras on Rainy Days, and Monica Ali’s Brick Lane. The last two, though better known perhaps than the other works because of having been published in the US and UK, still do not command the worldwide recognition that works such as Arundhati Roy’s God of Small Things and Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake do. In this paper, I examine the cases of these five Muslim women writers, three from the subcontinent and two raised and living in the US and UK, to show how they are critical of their culture and yet assert their Muslimness. Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasrin is known less in the literary world than in the political, because of the furor her books caused in the contemporary Islamic world at large, because of the criticism of the Mullahs. British-Asian writer Monica Ali is also somewhat better known, though perhaps more in Britain than in India or the US. The earliest Muslim women’s writings that emanate from India illustrate the liberated attitude of Muslim women. Rokeya Hossain’s Sultana’s Dream, published in 1905, is a feminist utopia. Ismat Chugtai (1915–1991), as early as the 1930s wrote of activities in the women’s segregated quarters, a theme picked up later by Sara Suleri in Meatless Days (1989). Attia Hosain, the famous alumna of Jamia Millia University in India, where an institute is named after her, published Sunlight on a Broken Column in 1961, a novel about a young Muslim girl preferring to be educated rather than married. This work is both a Partition novel and a coming-of-awareness novel, whose young Muslim protagonist resists cultural and religions assumptions. Laila, the novel’s heroine, resists the attempt at an arranged marriage, gains education by going against the reigning traditions for Muslim girls, despite having been an orphan and brought up by rich relatives, and eventually becomes a physician. Long known in India, this book has not had much exposure in the West.

South Asian Muslim Women Speak for Their Rights


These texts reveal a strand of liberated thinking that extends from the early 1900s into the 1980s. In her 1997 novel, Shame, Taslima Nasrin writes of Hindu and Muslim religious atrocities. Consequently, Bangladesh’s imams issued a fatwa on her. The book drew the attention of the Islamic world and the exertion of Muslim women’s rights became an issue. Samina Ali’s criticism of a marriage arranged for a woman raised in the US, Madras on Rainy Days (2004), seems silently to have fallen by the wayside. Monica Ali’s Brick Lane (2003), the story of Nazneen, a Bangla woman brought to Brick Lane in an arranged marriage, a woman searching for a place to belong in the cross-cultural community of British Muslims, a woman who turns inward to Islam while also criticizing its outward manifestations, was set to make a big filmic splash, but did not. Most of these works present young women growing up into their culture and questioning its values, even if they are not the major protagonists. While Nazneen is the main character in Brick Lane, her daughters question their father’s Muslimness and his intellectual Britishness. In a sense, all the works, except for Rokeya Hossain’s Sultana’s Dream, are female bildungsromans, coming-of-age novels in which the child comes to a recognition of herself as definitely Muslim, despite having questioned the practices of the religion. I have argued elsewhere that the bildungsroman is the genre that most defines postcoloniality and that many of the most important postcolonial novels follow this particular genre.1 Here, it is interesting to see how this genre defines Muslimness. The children go through a period during which they question their Muslim values, and yet by contrasting themselves with the “others” around them, they ultimately define themselves as Muslims, despite recognizing what they consider cultural injustices or violence that they disapprove. However, this is true, not just of a young girl like Laila in Attia Hosain’s book, but also of the young daughters of Nazneen growing up in Brick Lane in the UK. Somehow, it seems easier for the authors to voice their subversive thoughts through the voices of children or adolescents. I want to examine the texts of these lesser-known writers for their questioning of Islam and their assertion of their rights both within Islam and as Muslims in the larger secular community of South Asians. Such Muslim women on the subcontinent have always asserted their right to live their own lives, to criticize their culture and their religion, and yet to defend their right to function within it. “Within” is the operative word. They are still Muslims and will defend that faith and its practices when faced with pressures from the outside. As mentioned above, the recent worldwide criticism of veiling has raised the issue of Muslim women’s cultural rights—specifically, their right to express themselves and their culture by adopting différance as strategic resistance and


Feroza Jussawalla

intervention. Traditionally in postcolonial theory, Jacques Derrida’s term différance indicates the difference of the other, thereby establishing a binary opposition resulting, basically, in oppression. Thus, différance has been an indicator of, or a reason for, oppression. Derrida writes, “Différance is the non-full, non-simple, structured and differentiating origin of differences” (“Différance” 126). It is a marker of the activity of “originary” (128) differences. But, in “The Violence of the Letter” in Of Grammatology, Derrida shows how différance moves from enslavement to liberation. This is what has happened with the veil. It has become a marker or a signifier or a trace—at one time of oppression, and now of liberation—of the freedom to be Muslim in the face of opposition or discrimination or distancing. Derrida describes the dualism: “What is going to be called enslavement can equally legitimately be called liberation. And it is at the moment that this oscillation is stopped on the signification of enslavement that the discourse is frozen into a determined ideology.” He further explains: It is precisely the property of the power of difference to modify life less and less as it spreads out more and more. If it should grow infinite—and its essence excludes this a priori—life itself would be made into an impassive intangible and eternal presence: infinite difference, God or death. (131)

The inherent dualism of différance is similarly, yet differently, seen on the Indian subcontinent. It can be said that Muslim women have asserted their right to purdah and veiling in the face of Hindu confrontations or now, world-wide confrontations. I hope to show how Muslim women writers from Rokeya Hossain to Samina Ali have both resisted and yet affirmed their identity as Muslims. These works show that the issues that Muslim women are facing today in the larger world were dealt with on the subcontinent almost a generation ago: whether to veil or to segregate, whether to agree to arranged marriages, whether to speak out against their religion and its mullahs/imams and their interpretations of their laws, and whether to speak out against the violence perpetrated in the name of religion by their religious brothers. More than the others, the last issue has dogged Taslima Nasrin: the lack of permission to speak out against the violence perpetrated by Islamicists, particularly violence against women when that violence seems to demonstrate a lack of obedience to Islamic law. Often, on one hand, these women want to take pride in cultural Islamic ways, whether veiling, segregation, or arranged marriages, while, on the other hand, they resist these practices and speak out against their wrongs. In the texts that I examined, the primary issues of concern for South Asian Muslim women seem to be arranged marriages and the (in)ability to speak

South Asian Muslim Women Speak for Their Rights


freely about such issues. Physical violence against women and general domestic abuse are other concerns. The inability to criticize Islam from within the culture also raises the dichotomous critical issue where, from current postcolonial theoretical perspectives, Taslima Nasrin, like Iran’s Azar Nafisi, has been denounced for portraying her own people critically, supposedly through a western lens—the same condemnation that Salman Rushdie received for The Satanic Verses. In fact, riots focused on Nasrin’s representations of Muslims, as did the Brick Lane riots in response to Rushdie’s 1988 novel. In actuality, these women speak out for the right to be Muslim and yet to be able to criticize the functioning of Islam by saying, “We are Muslims, and we don’t want our culture to be desecrated by our own people!” These women, in fact, want the right to their religion. Nasrin writes in her essay, published in the Times of India and cited below, about wanting to pray. However, they are denied their cultural right to their own religion both from within their Muslim societies, which regard them as apostates, and from without because “the West” has its own misconceptions. In the case of Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, it was often suggested that the Muslim individuals who protested his book were denied their cultural right to their “difference,” by “the West,” to speak out against the book in the face of western assumptions of freedom of speech. Rushdie was not seen as Muslim but as western. In Taslima Nasrin’s case, she was denied her cultural right from within the culture, the culture she wants to keep, and yet to speak out against the individuals oppressing her. To avoid the kind of religious and cultural oppression of women as noted in Nasrin’s Shame, Rokeya Hossain, in Sultana’s Dream, had dreamt a feminist utopia in which women are freed from Muslim cultural restrictions. For instance, segregation is reversed. The women go to war because the men have already been defeated, and these men, tired as they are, gladly stay at home in secluded quarters to execute duties traditionally considered feminine. Hossain wrote, “Since the mardana system has been established, there has been no more crime or sin” (15). What she satirically refers to is the zenana system, whereby Muslim women were kept in segregated quarters. Mardana is a system that was already in existence, a system where the men and women are in segregated quarters, especially at weddings and in social situations; however, Rokeya Hossain meant to keep the men in these segregated quarters much as women are kept in the zenana quarters and prevented from moving about freely without a veil. Here is a conversation with a fictional member of the utopia: “Where are the men?” I asked her. “In their proper places, where they ought to be.” “Pray let me know what you mean by their ‘proper places.’” “[W]e shut our men indoors.” (9)


Feroza Jussawalla

Hossain posits this utopia where the men are locked up in purdah as wild beasts and lunatics, and the women develop scientific innovations and reign by the power of their brains. The women win wars by their brainpower. The idea is to show that women can execute masculine duties fully and efficiently. This book artfully posits that women in any society can overcome factors that create and foster gender inequalities. In five articles published between 1903 and 1904, “The Degradation of Women,” “The Female Half,” “The Good Housewife,” “The Cloak (Burqa),” and “Home”—Hossain challenged not only cultural assumptions about women’s roles, but also Islamic law regarding those roles. In much the same way as Elizabeth Cady Stanton did in The Woman’s Bible, Hossain questioned a fundamental theological assumption made by people of the Book, whether Judeo-Christian or Islamic, that women are created inferior to men. Roushan Jahan in “Rokeya: An Introduction to Her Life,” in a critical edition of Sultana’s Dream, writes, On the improbability of divine ordination Rokeya wrote, referring to the Islamic legal stand of recognizing two women as equivalent to one man: “Had God Himself intended women to be inferior, He would have ordained it so that mothers would have given birth to daughters at the end of the fifth month of pregnancy. The supply of mother’s milk would naturally have been half of that in case of a son. But that is not the case. How can it be so? Is not God just and merciful?” she concluded that “men are using religion as an excuse to dominate us at present. … Therefore we should not submit quietly to such oppression in the name of religion.” This required great courage on Rokeya’s part, for she was questioning a legal position based on the text of the Quran itself. While Muslim scholars and jurists do not hesitate to debate the hadith—the body of traditions based on sayings or actions of the prophet and his companions—few Muslims dare to challenge the revealed text of the Quran which they are expected to ­accept unconditionally. (48)

The revealed text, the Qur’an, also sanctions purdah rules by hadith. Whether these rules express or pervert Surah 24, which simply enjoins modesty, was an issue among Muslim women writers in Hossain’s time and continues to be debated among contemporary Muslim writers. Rokeya Hossain avidly spoke out against purdah, and veiling, the wearing of the burqa. She objected to the general segregation of women. In India, women were segregated even from other Muslim women such as Kabuli women who moved about freely. She records a ghastly tale of an aunt of hers who was going to Patna, who, because of her heavy burqa, stumbled and fell on the railroad tracks and could not be rescued. She could not be touched by men and she could not be unveiled. So she lay there until the train ran over

South Asian Muslim Women Speak for Their Rights


her. Hossain asked if this was the fate women should suffer. She was ferocious in her questioning (27). Hanna Papanek, in her afterword to the Feminist Press’s re-issue of Hossain’s Sultana’s Dream, tells the story of a woman she calls Khala Hamida, who, when married to an Indian civil servant gives up the purdah as a sign of being civilized. In the story, Hamida says, “It was a big sacrifice for me to leave purdah. … The real purdah is modesty (haya). If a woman has no modesty, then even in a burqa she is not in purdah. If she has modesty, she is in purdah even without burqa” (75). Hamida studied the Qur’an and the hadith carefully before she came to this conclusion. Saleem Ahmed, in Beyond Veil and Holy War, reinforces Hamida’s conclusion by quoting from Surah 24: Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them. And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty or ornaments except that what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, … and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. (Qur’an 24:30–33; Ahmed 123–24)

Hamida had given up her makeup and her jewelry when she gave up her burqa. It is interesting to note that the American-raised Layla in Samina Ali’s Madras on Rainy Days also gives up her makeup and is surprised to find her father’s mistress at the Muhharum procession wearing pink lipstick and mascara. Papanek sees Sultana’s Dream as Hossain’s message to women to wake up to their self-interests and to regain their natural rights (58). One of the earliest fictionalized autobiographies about women’s place in South Asian Muslim society at the early turn of the twentieth century is Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column. The work begins when the narrator is fifteen years old, presumably in 1932, and continues in four parts that cover the next twenty years of her life, up to when she says that the second half of the century is now two years old, so presumably 1952. Though usually considered a novel about India’s maturing into independence, Sunlight is also a novel about the coming-of-age of Muslim women’s rights. Laila is the bookish tomboy who watches a marriage being arranged for her cousin and questions the treatment of her maiden aunt, her desire for education, the separation of men and women and various such social practices. Laila becomes a doctor, is married and widowed, and has a career of her own. This book is often hailed as the great paean regarding the education and emergence of Muslim women in Indian society.


Feroza Jussawalla

Taslima Nasrin’s novel, Shame, speaks strongly against the violation of women’s rights by fundamentalist Islam. She was exiled from Islamic Bangladesh for speaking out against the mullahs. Primarily, however, her books criticize the Muslim atrocities that followed the demolition of the Babri Masjid by fanatical Hindus. In essence, her novelized version of the attempt to drive out Hindus who have lived side by side with Muslims is a critique of both religions. In fact, her narrative tells the story of how such religious battles are fought on the bodies of women. Like Bapsi Sidhwa’s Cracking India (1991), Shame tells the story of a young child Maya, who at age six is kidnapped by Muslims, who, upon perpetrating atrocities on her body, send her home brainwashed to recite, “I am a Muslim” and “I believe in Allah” (33). It is interesting that, as an adult, Maya questions her Muslimness but retains her faith in Allah. Although Nasrin never directly asks specific questions about Islam’s treatment of women, such questions are implicit in her novel. Since being exiled for Shame, Nasrin has wandered homeless, most recently struggling to have her Indian visa extended, so that she would have a platform from which to speak freely. Shame’s Dutta family faces the problem of having to move from Bangladesh, due to the counterviolence the Hindus face from the destruction of the Babri Masjid. Hindus destroyed the 450-year-old mosque in India, which was regarded as the birthplace of Rama. In retaliation, Hindus were targeted by Muslims. Nasrin tells us that Suranjan Dutta had never been to Ayodhya. Nor had he seen the Babri mosque. The reason was simple enough: he had just never had any occasion to step out of his land. Where Rama, the protagonist of the epic Ramayana, had been born or how the mosque sprouted or from which point of the soil, concerned him the least. (Shame 18)

In the novel, there is much debate about whether they should change their names to Muslim-sounding names or move in with Muslim neighbors who would protect them. Suranjan and his father Sudhamoy are moved to inertness. But Maya, his sister, insists that they can all become Muslim by simply reciting “La Ilaha Illallahu Muhammadur Rasulullah” (30–31). Perhaps she used this recitation to save herself at age six when she had been kidnapped: Maya came back alone after two days. She couldn’t throw any light on who her kidnappers were and from where they had abducted her. She behaved abnormally for two full months afterward. Her sleep was disturbed by sudden spasms of shock. She would feel scared even at the look of any person. (33)

The reader is left to guess just what atrocities were perpetrated on her body. Suranjan, Maya’s brother, is haunted by this:

South Asian Muslim Women Speak for Their Rights


What had Maya done to deserve this fate? Was it such a crime to be Hindu? Could it go to such an extent that his house would be pulled down? Could he be assaulted whenever it pleased the raiders? Could his wife and daughter be raped with impunity? Suranjan walked and sometimes ran, without any particular sense of direction. He suspected any boy in early twenties, thinking him to be the abductor of Maya. (214)

Or again, he wondered: Did they tie her up in a closed room and rape her, all seven of them? Maya must have suffered like hell. Did she shout for help? When Maya was in her teens, once, while having a nightmare, she screamed, “Dada, Dada!” Suranjan, rushing to her, found her trembling all over even in the midst of sleep. (274)

The novel ends on the twelfth day of the Babri Masjid violence, the end of which Suranjan then celebrates by raping a Muslim girl. In his mind, his revenge is complete. He has wreaked vengeance on the Muslims for having raped and converted his little sister, who had been innocent and Hindu. Violence upon women’s bodies in religious conflicts is also the theme of Nasrin’s Meyebela, My Bengali Girlhood (1998). The rapes in Shame are reminiscent of the violence against her own young body as told in this autobiographical account. The hypocrisies of supposedly good, believing Muslims are exposed repeatedly. Shame is a bildungsroman. When readers first meet Maya, she is a fully grown young woman doing some tutoring. She hears a little Hindu girl reciting al Hamdallillah. She asks whether it is important for the girl to recite this at her school. The young girl not only tells Maya that it is but also informs her that she will no longer be studying with Maya because she is Hindu. Maya realizes the wrong that she herself has been subjected to—her own identity as Hindu violated by the colonialism of Islam in Bangladesh. Suranjan says at the end of the book, “I used to describe myself as a human being, a humanist. The Muslims did not allow me to remain a human being. It was they who made me a Hindu” (222). Suranjan comes into an awareness of himself as Hindu, while his converted sister, Maya, still asserts Islam, even though she recognizes the atrocities committed on her body. For telling this simple story, which does not challenge the Islamic law, Nasrin has been persecuted repeatedly on the subcontinent. Monica Ali’s Brick Lane actually makes similar points about the hypocrisies of the mullahs: Hasina, the protagonist Nazneen’s sister, writes from Bangladesh: Some people making trouble outside factory. They shout to us. “Here come the garment girls. Choose the one you like,” a Mullah organize whole entire thing. Day and night they playing religious message with loudspeaker. They say it is sinful for men


Feroza Jussawalla and women working together. But they the ones sinning take God’s name give insult to us and tell lie. (107)

But, published in post-Satanic Verses England, her words, unlike those of Nasrin, seem not to have caused offense. Nasrin was asked to leave Bangladesh and was not granted visas, and her stay in India continues to be perilous. There is not much that is critical of Islamic law in Shame. At most, only two pages are critical of the Islamicization of Bangladesh. Nasrin criticizes, for instance, the spending of two million takas of tax monies for creating Islamic encyclopedias for children to study (253) rather than spending the money to feed the poor. Her heart seems to be in Bengali nationalism, which objects to the Islamicization of Bengal into Bangladesh. Interestingly, her Bengaliness is not appreciated even in India. Nasrin describes her own history and her own right to her culture as follows: Although I was not born an Indian there is very little about my appearance, my tastes, my habits and my traditions to distinguish me from a daughter of the soil. My father was born before Partition; the strange history of this subcontinent made him a citizen of three states, his daughter a national of two. In a village in what was then East Bengal, there once lived a poor farmer by the name of Hardhan Sarkar, one of whose sons, Komol, driven to fury by zamindari oppression, converted to Islam and became Kamal. I belong to this family. Haradhan Sarkar was my great grandfather’s father. Haradhan’s other descendants obviously moved to India either during or after Partition and became citizens of this country. My grandfather, a Muslim, did not. When I was a child, the notion of the once fashionable pan-Islamic theory was exploded by East Pakistani Muslims fighting their west Pakistani co-religionists. Our struggle was for Bengali nationalism and secularism. (“Banished Within and Without”)

This Bengali nationalism, this cultural right to speak out, to correct the faults of her own religion and culture, is denied her. In addition, she embodies the paradox in cultural-rights theory that is explored below. As she has written so aptly, “The face of fundamentalism, its language and intentions, are the same the world over: to grab civilization by the scruff of its neck and drag it back a few millennia, kicking and screaming” (“Banished Within and Without”). Samina Ali’s Madras on Rainy Days exposes the lies and hypocrisies of traditional Muslim culture, particularly in a traditional society like that of the Old City of Hyderabad, where I grew up and where I went to Zenana College in Sultan Bazaar. Yet, it concludes with her keeping the chador and wanting to be there in the Old City. As the story unfolds, readers see the same juxtaposition of stereotypical and clichéd point of view about “the West,” and vice-versa, that mark the views of Muslims in the UK, which I have discussed

South Asian Muslim Women Speak for Their Rights


above. Layla is a young lady raised in America, who has had an American boyfriend, Nate, and perhaps an abortion, which bleeds out in India. Though she is quite westernized, Layla is sent to India for an arranged marriage to a young man who turns out to be gay. She visits an alim, or Muslim medicine man, who seems to guess what has happened. “Umrika is not the best place to raise a daughter” (25), he proclaims. His anti-American, Muslim feelings pour out: “Children begin to commit sins. … They don’t know better and do as their Umrikan friends. Drink alcohol. Go to dirty bars and dance with the opposite sex” (27). Her mother attempts to defend her: Her father is very strict with her. No phone calls from American friends, boys or girls. No going out of the house unless it is to attend classes. She’s been very … isolated.”

He asks her if this is true: “Very true,” I said, for it was, and I had always resented my parents for it. Isolation to prevent assimilation. If I happened to stay out late one night or got a call from a boy, Dad would beat me to remind me who I was. (27)

This passage shows how the polarized and hardened views of each culture affect the treatment of individuals and how their humanity is lost because of the ways in which they are viewed. But it is this very stereotyping that is overturned in the ending of the novel and in the asserting of Layla’s “cultural right” to be Muslim. Pressing on about her innocence, Laylas’s parents arrange her marriage to a young man who is lame. For the longest time, Layla thinks he is afraid to love her because of his lameness. He tells her about his accidents. She wonders where he goes after every azan or call for prayers, only to discover that he has been going to his lover in the park, here and there. She is the one to break the news to his father, “Papa, your son has tried to will himself to love me, but he can’t. He is gay” (249). She asks to be allowed to leave, but her father-inlaw says that no one is to leave the house. Sameer, her husband, attempts to make love to her. He wants to go to America with her. She has been right to guess that what he wants from her is his freedom to be himself. The pretext for attempting to keep Layla and her husband locked up is that there is a Hindu Ganesh festival as well as muhar’ram, the Muslim festival of martyrdom. There is the likelihood of religious warfare. There are also elections and political riots. Layla is locked up with her aunt Zeba, a green duppatta, green for Islam, and with a Qur’an. Her aunt takes to praying as she anticipates rape. Her aunt reads to her the Surah called “Man,” which describes “what believers should expect after death” (271). While her aunt Zeba and she are safe, Layla learns that her pregnant sister Henna has been raped mercilessly by Hindu men. There is a


Feroza Jussawalla

desperation felt by the Muslims because they are unable to call India home and because they are persecuted. And yet Layla is not permitted to leave this country and her Muslimness. She leaves her gay husband with his trunk filled with immigration papers, passports, and the money her mother had given her and goes to her mother’s old house in the old city, to the flat roof from which she is going to watch the Muhar’ram procession robed in a black chador. She has turned inward to her own “originary” culture. She has come into herself, her identity. People are filled with admiration for the Iranian men who come to the festival every year as examples and who are flagellating themselves as examples of good Muslims. Layla just steps out into the streets to find her own destiny alongside them: “Where would these streets lead me?” “The wind rose, lifting up my veil like ravens’ wings. Layla. Darkness. So I was. My body hidden and safe under the chador, belonging only to me.” (307)

For me as a reader, this is the ultimate assertion of Muslimness. Earlier, when her ayah’s relative had offered to do jadu, or magic, to bring back her Indianness, Layla said she was not Indian. And yet somehow in the face of Hindu oppression of Muslims in the old city, she espouses the ultimate symbol of oppression, the black chador from which Muslim women in India had tried to free themselves for a hundred years. Such espousals have become a cultural right—a right that more and more younger women assert as they wear the chador as their badge of identity. The same is true of Monica Ali’s protagonist, Nazneen, in Brick Lane. She is brought to the UK from Bangladesh in an arranged marriage to a Bangla scholar, named Chanu, who is a taxi driver. During the course of their marriage, she falls in love with a lame Islamicist organizer named Karim, for whom she literally does sweat-shop labor. Her consciousness is awakened. In contrast to her husband, a scholar who must weigh everything, who believes in European enlightenment and who is condescending toward Bangladeshis and how they live in England, Karim, in Nazneen’s eyes, is seen as someone who gives her a sense of identity and belonging. She witnesses his organization’s awakening of a community, scenes very reminiscent of Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, where KEVIN, Keepers of the Eternal and Victorious Islamic Nation, raise the consciousness of alienated and marginalized Asian youth, getting them to belong to Islam (355). Karim teaches her about Hadith (M. Ali 220), something she has not known in Bangladesh. She begins to wear a headscarf and to go to his organizational meetings to learn about the oppression of the Muslims in Palestine and in Egypt. She has an affair with Karim. Her daughter Shahana, however, resists both her father’s nationalism

South Asian Muslim Women Speak for Their Rights


and yearning to return to Bangladesh and her mother’s turn to Islam. She finally raises in her mother a sense of belonging to England—a sense that is immediately liberating: “This is England … you can do whatever you like” (369). Nazneen goes skating in a sari, indicating that she has not given up the Islamic sense of modesty and that she retains the connection to her original culture, while appreciating being in England. This is her awakening. But the journey to this freedom is one fraught with issues of racism, questions of the melding of the immigrants into Britain, and with questions of alienation from the peoples who will not accept these immigrants. Nazneen finds her identity as British and resists going back to Bangladesh where her sister lives as an abused woman, and yet Nazneen also yearns to be Muslim, to understand Hadith, to believe in Allah—Allah who forgives even the sin of adultery—which under normal Islamic circumstances would be punishable by stoning. After a century-long struggle to get free from these cultural and religious restrictions, women are beginning to espouse the symbolic purdah or veiling as a way of expressing or asserting their “natural” or cultural rights,2 I mean the ability to practice one’s own culture without criticism or judgment from outside that culture. To veil or not to veil has become an issue of cultural rights. In the face of British and French legislation against it and criticism from US feminists who regard it as an unfeminist practice from which Muslim women need to be saved, more and more Muslim women are asserting their right to wear the veil. To speak out against the wrongs within their own culture is another right that Muslims are beginning to assert. Salman Rushdie asserted this right when he opposed the mullahs, took the Qur’an apart chapter by verse and made implications about its reasonability and validity. Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasrin struggles against Islamic fundamentalists in a similar fashion. But for her too, this struggle is almost another love letter to Islam, asking for the wrongs within one’s culture—whether it be secular violence from both sides or the refusal to allow one to speak—to be corrected. This is a conundrum of this paper, which argues the following: 1. That Muslim women have always been liberated and have spoken their minds. 2. That there is a wide range of beliefs in their writing. 3. That they have been denied the right to speak for themselves. This conundrum exists both in earlier writing that seeks eternal liberation and in more recent writing that turns inward to an espousal of religion as an activity subversive to the West’s hegemony. In all these cases, women writers exert their rights despite being criticized for doing so.


Feroza Jussawalla

Similarly, there is the issue, to speak or not to speak.3 When Muslim women argue to wear the veil—where the turn is to more traditional Islam as a gesture of resistance against western domination and hegemony and where this becomes an issue, the West is unable to grant these factional groups what has come to be called “cultural rights.” It is precisely at this point that having this right became important to them. Thus, the importance of granting cultural rights must be recognized while also reading the underlying persistence of both pride in and resistance to certain dichotomies in Islamic culture, particularly as the notion of cultural rights emanated from the “Rushdie Affair,” which is very similar to the “Nasrin Affair.” Taslima Nasrin continues stateless and drifting because she is not well known in the West and because her case has not been defended with the same ferocity as Rushdie’s was. This essay shows how feminist and liberated Muslim women actually are, even if they were kept in segregated quarters, sometimes denied education (though in India they were often provided extensive education), and/or experienced much abuse—sexual, ritualistic, and spousal. But my point is that in fact these women, through speaking out, have overcome cultural and religious barriers and have asserted, in their own ways, their rights to their own culture and to the practice of that culture. In Monica Ali’s Brick Lane, one hears the echo of Michael Shaw, MP as described by Hanif Kureishi in his experience around Bradford. In his essay, “Bradford,” Kureishi quotes Sir Michael Shaw, MP for Scarborough, speaking to Bradford’s Muslim community, as saying, “You have come into our community, … and you must become part of that community. All branches must lead to one trunk, which is the British way of life. We mustn’t retire to our own communities and shut ourselves out. Yet you have felt you have needed schools of your own” (156). Kureishi notes in that article that Shaw was “speaking” out of a notion of “Britishness.” Kureishi writes, There is a word you hear in Bradford all the time, in pubs, shops, discos, schools and on the street. The word is “culture”. It is a word often used by the New Right, who frequently cite T. S. Eliot: that culture is a whole way of life, manifesting itself in the individual, in the group and in the society. … For Eliot culture “includes all the characteristic activities of the British people: Derby Day, Henley regatta, Cowes, the 12th of August, a cup final, the dog races, the pin table, Wensleydale cheese, boiled cabbage cut into sections, beetroot in vinegar, 19th century Gothic churches and the music of Elgar”. (168)

Nazneen’s family finds a flyer tossed in their mail slot which is quite reminiscent of what Kureishi describes. It is entitled “Multicultural Murder.” It reads:

South Asian Muslim Women Speak for Their Rights


In our schools it is multi-cultural murder. Do you know what they are teaching your children today? In domestic science your daughter will learn how to make a kebab, or fry bhaji. For his history lesson your son will be studying Africa or India or some other dark and distant land. English people, he will learn are Wicked colonialists. … Christianity is being gently slaughtered. It is “only one” of the world’s “great religions.” (181–82)

The pamphlet was written by people trying to hold on to the “Eliotian” idea of England that Kureishi had mentioned. Chanu, Nazneen’s husband, dismisses the pamphlet: “You see they feel so threatened. … Because our own culture is so strong. And what is their culture? Television, pub throwing darts, kicking a ball. That is the white working class culture” (184). In their own ways, both Samina Ali’s and Monica Ali’s novels show this lack of acceptance. There is no acceptance for an American-raised Muslim girl going to Hyderabad to have an arranged marriage. There is no acceptance of Shahana’s British ways by her father, by the local British culture, by the British Asian kids of Brick Lane or by the “estates,” the council flats that Asians in Britain have been relegated to. Nor is there acceptance of the changes that have come to British culture. Kureishi lists some of these changes: yoga, Zen Buddhism, the music of Bob Marley, etc. (“Bradford” 168–69). This lack of acceptance brings the notions of cultural rights to the forefront and causes Muslim women to turn to expressing themselves by such gestures as veiling which they had previously rejected in order to become liberated. The personal is the political. These women writers and their issues, as well as the young people depicted in the literature of Muslim women that I have written about, act politically, out of their personal experiences. The issue should not be one of attempting to integrate, assimilate, or hybridize. The issue should be one of understanding and allowing cultural rights. This can only come about by sensitive education. The personal should also be the political for those in academia. Instead of theorizing at a distance, academics must nurture change and diffuse tensions and help students in the academy to understand different cultural contexts. This must be done by educating about differences, without forcing those differences or our liberal ideologies onto one group or another.

Notes 1. Most postcolonial novels from R.K. Narayan’s Swami and Friends to Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children follow the format of the bildungsroman. I have discussed this in “(Re)reading Kim,” “Teaching R.K. Narayan’s Swami and Friends,” “Kim, Huck and Naipaul,” and other essays.


Feroza Jussawalla

2. See Feroza Jussawalla’s essay, “Are Cultural Rights Bad for Multicultural Societies?” This essay on Muslim women’s rights relies on this previously published theorizing. 3. See Gayatri Spivak’s article, “Can the Subaltern Speak?”

Works Cited Ahmed, Saleem. Beyond Veil and Holy War: Islamic Teachings and Muslim Practices with Biblical Comparisons. Honolulu: Moving Pen, 2002. Print. Ali, Monica. Brick Lane. New York: Scribner, 2003. Print. Ali, Samina. Madras on Rainy Days. New York: Picador, 2004. Print. Chughtai, Ismat. The Quilt and Other Stories. Trans. Tahira Naqvi and Syeda S. Hameed. Riverdale-On-Hudson: Sheep Meadow, 1994. Print. Derrida, Jacques. “Différance.” Trans. Alan Bass. Critical Theory since 1965. Ed. Hazard Adams and Leroy Searle. Tallahassee: Florida State UP, 1986. 120–36. Print. ———. Of Grammatology. Trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1976. Print. Hosain, Attia. Sunlight on a Broken Column. 1961. London: Virago, 1992. Print. Hossain, Rokeya. Sultana’s Dream and Selections from the Secluded Ones. Ed. and trans. Roushan Jahan. New York: Feminist, 1988. Print. Jussawalla, Feroza. “Are Cultural Rights Bad for Multicultural Societies?” The South Atlantic Quarterly 100.4 (2001): 967–80. Print. ———. “Kim, Huck and Naipaul: Using the Postcolonial Bildungsroman to (Re)define Postcoloniality.” Links & Letters 4 (1997): 25–38. Print. ———. “(Re)reading Kim: Defining Kipling’s Masterpiece as Postcolonial.” Journal of Commonwealth and Postcolonial Studies 5 (1998): 112–30. Print. ———. “Teaching R.K. Narayan’s Swami and Friends.” College Literature 19/20.3/1 (1992–1993): 219–24. Print. Kureishi, Hanif. “Bradford.” Granta 20 (Winter 1986): 148–70. Print. Lahiri, Jhumpa. The Namesake. 2003. New York: Harper Perennial, 2004. Print. Nafisi, Azar. Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books. New York: Random, 2004. Print. Narayan, R.K. Swami and Friends. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1994. Print. Nasrin, Taslima. “Banished Within and Without.” Times of India (10 Feb. 2008): 19. Print. ———. Meyebela: My Bengali Girlhood. Trans. Gopa Majumdar. South Royalton: Steerforth, 1998. Print. ———. Shame. Trans. Kankabati Datta. Amherst: Prometheus, 1997. Print. Papanek, Hanna. “Afterword: Caging the Lion: A Fable for Our Time.” Sultana’s Dream by Rokeya Hossain. New York: Feminist, 1988. 58–85. Print. Roy, Arundhati. The God of Small Things. New York: Harper Perennial, 1998. Print. Rushdie, Salman. Midnight’s Children. New York: Knopf, 1981. Print.

South Asian Muslim Women Speak for Their Rights


———. The Satanic Verses. London: Viking, 1988. Print. Sidhwa, Bapsi. Cracking India. 1991. Minneapolis: Milkweed, 2006. Print. Smith, Zadie. White Teeth. 2000. New York: Vintage, 2001. Print. Spivak, Gayatri. “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory: A Reader. Ed. Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman. New York: Columbia UP, 1994. 66–111. Print. Stanton, Elizabeth Cady. The Woman’s Bible. Boston: Northeastern UP, 1993. Print. Suleri, Sara. Meatless Days. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1989. Print.

5. Women Trapped in a Quagmire: A Study of Mrinal Pande’s My Own Witness Manoj Kumar Mishra

Mrinal Pande (b. 1946), daughter of Shivani, a celebrated Hindi woman novelist, is a well-known Indian author, journalist, and television personality. She was also the Public Service Broadcaster of the country. The first Indian woman to be the editor-in-chief of a multi-edition national daily newspaper, she is the founder president of the Indian Women’s Press Corps. She has been the group editor of the Hindi publications of the Hindustan Times houses: the daily Hindustan, a monthly digest Kadambini, and a magazine for children, Nandan. She has also been the editor of Vama and Saptahik Hindustan and senior editorial adviser to NDTV. She has anchored the Hindi news for Doordarshan, written columns for the Hindu and the Punjab Kesari, hosted a weekly interview show (Baaton Baaton Mein) on Lok Sabha TV, and worked for a couple of years on the National Commission for Self-Employed Women probing the conditions of rag-pickers, vegetable sellers, and domestics. She has written extensively in Hindi and English, including novels, short stories, plays, and essays. She is known for her editorship of celebrated Hindi magazines and national daily, for her probing analysis of contemporary women’s and socio-political issues in India, for her regular columns, for her works in Hindi, but not for her two English novels. She enjoys a respectable and enviable place in the history of Hindi literature, but her two English novels have not yet attracted much attention from readers and critics. Daughter’s Daughter (1993), her first English novel, presents the beliefs and attitudes of society to a girl child. The gender discrimination the novel talks of is seen through the eyes of a little girl, named Tinu, who is not accepted the way her uncle’s son is at her maternal grandmother’s home

88Manoj Kumar Mishra because she is a daughter’s daughter. My Own Witness (2000), Pande’s second English novel, sums up the discrimination a career woman is subjected to in a male dominated society. She reflects on the attitude of male colleagues, their understanding of the work women are capable of doing, and their belittling of their achievements, potential, and contributions. She is a force to be reckoned with in Hindi literature, but with regard to the two English novels she has written, she can be considered a marginalized Indian English novelist. This paper concentrates on My Own Witness, a novel that shows what taxes and torments women. M.K. Naik and Shyamala A. Narayan appreciate Daughter’s Daughter, but do not find My Own Witness “equally engrossing” (91). While writing on the achievements and contributions of women writers in India in Indian English Literature: 1980–2000, A Critical Survey, which is a sequel to Naik’s A History of Indian English Literature (1982) that “traced the course of this literature from its beginnings to the end of 1979,” they wrote: Mrinal Pande’s English style reminds one of R.K. Narayan’s; it is lucid and straightforward, and never calls attention to itself. As a study of Indian childhood, Daughter’s Daughter deserves to stand beside R.K. Narayan’s Swami and Friends. Mrinal Pande’s second novel is not equally engrossing: My Own Witness (2000) is a roman-à-clef based on Pande’s own experiences in television and journalism. (91)

There is little criticism available on the text to date. A few sketchy reviews were published in newspapers after the publication of the novel, but little serious academic discussion followed. This essay is the first to suggest that this novel on women’s concerns and perceptions, which has not caught the attention of readers and critics, deserves a dignified place in the history of Indian English literature. The purpose of this essay is to analyze My Own Witness, to understand what it is all about, and not to probe who neglected it and why. That is a topic of further research and the subject of another essay; the purpose here is to suggest why it should not be neglected, and not why it was neglected. Mrinal Pande finds the males’ world she surveys hostile and tormenting. It is her perception, which may not be shared by many, but then, this is what makes her novels worth reading. Her novels show what hurts women and why they might find the male attitude insulting and humiliating. There is nothing doctrinaire about her novels. She has simply shown what it means to be a woman in a society dominated by males. Indian women novelists have described their perception of their status in the family and society, and the state of Indian society in their women-centric

Women Trapped in a Quagmire


novels written towards the end of the twentieth century. These novelists have written on issues that concern and bother them, ranging from the trauma of a teenage rape victim (as in Shashi Deshpande’s The Binding Vine) to the ­attitude of a carping mother-in-law (as in Anjana Appachana’s Listening Now), but there had been none on the predicament of a career woman struggling for an identity of her own. Pande was the first to discuss their plight and their status in a male dominated society. My Own Witness is an insider’s comment on those we meet in the newspaper offices, press clubs, and drawing rooms of New Delhi. Pande describes the predicament of a woman journalist who chooses to work in a Hindi language news agency. She also reflects, in its wake, on other equally important gender centric issues women grapple within a male oriented society. She talks of the ignorance or indifference women have to feign when sexist remarks are made, the fear that grips women when they think of traveling alone, and their interest in television serials that show their “marital problems, pregnancies, abortions, extra-marital affairs and defiantly promiscuous progeny”(141). Pande also presents “the impossible dreams women and men dream through TV screens, but are unwilling to live out” (142), the “boring lives” of poor women confined to “raising families, cooking, gossiping” (142), and our craze for English and English speaking wives. She talks of women aiding and abetting discrimination, the status of girls and married women in the family and society, and the attitudes of daughters towards their working mothers. She refers to child marriage, rape, dowry deaths, prostitution, and the growing demand for reservation for women in Parliament and Assemblies. She sums up the beliefs of a Hindu wife in My Own Witness. She shows how her husband controls her, how she loves merging her identity into her husband’s, and how she considers certain traditions sacrosanct: Mother said Nani had hated the life of a doctor’s wife. She thought everyone was out to pollute her home, and everyone imposed on her. There were no set timings for her meals either, since the doctor could be called at any time and being a devout Hindu wife, how could she eat before he did? She suffered constantly from stomach ailments as a result of late and hastily consumed meals, but refused all allopathic medicines, treating herself instead with indigenous herbs and potions she mixed herself. This was the only area of their conjugal life which Nana failed to control. (10)

Pande alludes to the predicament of Hindu wives and the disrespect and slights they are subjected to when she talks of the unbridgeable gap that exists between the English and the Hindi journalists. The simile she uses is her masterstroke: “Hard and sleek and intelligent, most of these young men

90Manoj Kumar Mishra and women on the English desk just laughed a cold laugh and looked away when complimented on their efficiency. It was clear that the drones were expected to work tirelessly and self-effacingly, like traditional Hindu wives” (199). Discriminatory behaviors take many forms, but they all involve some form of exclusion or rejection. This operates at three levels—discrimination at home, discrimination at the work place, and discrimination in the community. According to Roberta L. Nutt, there is gender discrimination in most cultures: There is a long history of discrimination against women due to gender bias in different cultures. … Most cultures teach women that they are of lesser value than men, and this message is repeated throughout the life span. Characteristics viewed as masculine are more highly valued than those considered feminine, such as assertiveness versus submissiveness, achieving versus caretaking, and strong versus gentle. (125)

Pande sees women as silent sufferers and victims of injustice, exploitation, discrimination, and persecution, sometimes at the hands of the male members of their family, and sometimes at the hands of those they work with. A woman’s talent is neither accepted nor appreciated in a male dominated society that asks women to worship their husbands as gods and lead a husband-­ oriented life. She comments on the hypocrisy of people organizing seminars and lecture series on women, with the intent to highlight their cause. The arm chair intellectuals and so-called women sympathizers espousing the cause of women in air conditioned rooms cannot visualize the condition of tribal and rural women, and hence, they consider the reality they are ignorant of as a negative portrayal of women. The gap between their imagination and reality is referred to in the novel: How could she speak to a strange mob of tribal pilgrims, hustled sheep like into an enclosure next to a goddess Sati temple? What could she talk to them about? About the lives and images of women as reflected in the media? What the media in Delhi, Calcutta, Bombay and Chennai saw as a shockingly negative situation for women, was after all the reality of their daily lives here.(144)

Pande does not sound like a propagandist when she reflects on the condition of girls and women in society. They want to be treated as equals, but that looks like a distant dream. Indian women novelists have described in their novels written towards the close of the century how a daughter is discriminated against for being a daughter (as in Shashi Deshpande’s The Dark Holds No Terrors); how a son gets preference in all things, be it food, pocket money or education (as in Listening Now); and how women discriminate against

Women Trapped in a Quagmire


their own daughters in favor of sons (as in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things). Pande also reflects on this discrimination in both her novels. The gender discrimination she talks of in the first novel, Daughter’s Daughter, is very deftly presented in this book also. Krishna’s host tells her, when she lunches with them after her lecture on “Media and Women,” how men are cruel to their girls, and how they deprive them of education. Her host feels bad when she learns that she has two daughters only. She feels pride in informing Krishna that both her daughters-in-law have two sons each: She asked Krishna if she had children and looked concerned when Krishna told her she had only two girls. “God’s will,” she smiled again. “There is still time. Offer a coconut to the goddess before you go. She will bless you with a good son-in-law. See, both my daughters-in-law have two sons each.” (147)

The novel reflects Simone de Beauvoir’s belief that women’s “normal destiny is marriage, which still means practically subordination to man; for masculine prestige is far from extinction, resting upon solid, economic and social foundations” (xxxvi). Pande considers the predicament of a promising girl in our society and shows how she feels lonely despite her ostensibly successful marriage: They told Krishna they had thought she would be different, you know, like a film star. Then they talked to her about their loneliness in this town. Once upon a time they had gone to good schools. They too wrote essays, read in their books about the world beyond their town, and spoke eloquently in school debates about the need for change. Twice they had been on school trips to the hills. (148)

Krishna’s host’s daughters-in-law were promising girls, but once they got married they were not allowed to continue their studies. There are many such girls who suffer on account of that, but nobody is willing to listen to them. The idea that once married, a girl has to look after her husband and family, results in her not continuing her studies. A woman is expected to accept everything stoically and silently. She is not granted the freedom to speak out even on those issues that concern her. She is expected to accept whatever is dictated to her and remain silent for the welfare of her family, which virtually means her husband. Pande shows how even a family that boasts of encouraging its women does not grant them the freedom men have and enjoy. They can go wherever they like, but they do not give the same freedom to women: They showed her photographs. They apologized for any inconvenience caused to her. Men can go anywhere at will and travel as they please, but for women, coming this far is a sacrifice, they said … Next morning, the car arrived to take her to the railway station. Her host and sons came without the women to see her off. (148)

92Manoj Kumar Mishra Pande alludes to the role of mothers and their dictatorial desire to shape their daughters’ thoughts, actions, attitudes, values, and interests. They refuse to see from a daughter’s angle or appreciate her perceptions. A girl’s parents, who could be either mother or father or both, decide who she should meet, what she should choose, who she should like or dislike, and what she should prefer. They want their daughters to accept what they decide for them, be it their friends or their hobbies. They are taught to accept and respect the wishes of their parents. Their daughters find it oppressive, but their parents are unmindful of their interests or their choices and preferences. They find the behavior of their parents dictatorial and repressive, the environment stifling, and the values their parents consider sacrosanct questionable and unacceptable, but their views are neither accepted nor respected. It is a pity that the girl concerned is never asked about her choice of life or the sort of life that she would like to have for herself. She cannot decide about her own life; it is her neighbors and her relatives who decide for her. The parents of the girl are worried about what the neighbors and their relatives say and think of their daughter, but not what their daughter desires. The girls are made to feel that they are girls, and, hence, they must think of propriety. Pande describes how Krishna resents her mother’s instruction not to go to the library with a boy. Her protest is the protest of women still subjected to discrimination in our society: “I know you do not think of the neighbours and relatives,” she told Krishna, “but I do. Riding pillion on Amol’s scooter like that! Aren’t there cycle-rikshaws in town to take you to the library.” “There are. But scooters driven by your classmates are not monsters that will eat you up.” “No, I wouldn’t say they are.” “That’s right, be sarcastic,” Krishna snapped. Her mother was silent but she could read her thoughts as though she were reading a cartoon strip. “Such defiance will lead you nowhere,” Parvati said after a while. “I’m not saying that Amol is not a nice boy, but we have to think of propriety. You are so young and it may just fizzle out after a while, see. But life goes on–” “Damn right it will, and if you please, it is my life we are talking about.” (86–87)

Her desire to live her own life is the desire of women trapped in the quagmire of morals framed and imposed by men. She reflects on those women-centric TV serials which project them as fighters against injustice and oppression on the screen to highlight the gap that exists between idealism and reality in a male dominated society. They are appreciated on the screen, but not allowed to become what they are praised for. Such women are not found in real life, but the women portraying the

Women Trapped in a Quagmire


characters are raised to celebrity status by the same society that asks them to shun what is shown. She wonders why, despite people’s acceptance and endorsement of what they do, they are still alone in fighting a losing battle, and why a society, which calls itself civil, does not come forward to help her fight the evil. This is one of the questions that she raises for her readers to answer: The magazines and chat-show hostesses ran after those who participated in them, for exclusive interviews. Few stopped to wonder why these women were still always alone, and still carried on unbelievably risky crusades in the face of stiff opposition. Wasn’t there a time when civil society was supposed to support these issues, Krishna wondered. Now it seemed as though the only viable stories for women like her cousins, were the impossible dreams women and men dream through TV screens, but are unwilling to live out. (141–42)

A career woman cannot afford to spend as much time as required with her growing children, who feel her absence; at times, the absence irritates them. Pande talks of the conflict between family expectations and personal aspirations in My Own Witness. There are women novelists who feel that husbands do not like their economically independent wives, but Pande is different from them. She does not paint the husband black; she finds him instead encouraging and supportive. Krishna’s husband is supportive but her daughters misunderstand her; her daughters fail to understand the demands of a career woman. The atmosphere at home does not remain congenial despite her best effort to meet the demands of both the worlds she is torn between. Pande reflects on the strained relation between a mother and her children when the mother has to be away from home when the examination is at hand. She can neither stay at home as they desire, nor forget her concern for her children while at work as her employer desires. Krishna realizes the predicament she is in but does not know how to come out of it unscratched. She faces discrimination at the work place and misunderstanding at home. She is, thus, caught between two worlds; one requires her to be at home all the time and the other expects her to be at her work place most of the time. When she leaves home for her office, the guilt complex that she develops splits her further. The dilemma and the conflict a career woman is subjected to have been delineated by a novelist who is herself a career woman: Krishna was out covering yet another election. When she had told the family she would be travelling for the next few weeks, they had kept quiet. “Why do you even bother to tell us,” her youngest had said tonelessly. “Go,” her husband said to her, touching her face with his gentle fingers, “don’t mind them, they’re tense about their exams. Go.” Krishna went. (101)

94Manoj Kumar Mishra Pande also reflects on the mental state of the daughters of career women. On one occasion, Krishna goes to the airport with her husband to receive her daughters, who have come home after a gap of two years to celebrate their parents’ silver wedding anniversary. Their daughters are happy to see them at the airport, but they feel bad and cheated when she suddenly leaves them to meet an old friend of hers. Pande sums up their frustration and irritation: Krishna hugged him in a tight embrace and he patted her back with a wrinkled, arthritic hand. The girls watched this animated exchange from a distance, and slowly they began to feel the same old sense of dismay. They were shut out of their mother’s life. Cast out from her embrace by other, more time-consuming relationships. They felt dizzy as the familiar anger gripped them and love began to disintegrate into brittle shards with needle-like heads that hurt. (163)

Krishna feels for her daughters but she does not know how to strike a balance between her home and the demands of her profession. This is the dilemma of a career woman who does not know what to do with her agonized conscience. Krishna represents these career women, and hence, her dilemma is their dilemma, which Pande sums up very well: When Krishna finally returned to the waiting area, she found not the garrulous daughters she expected, but a silent and uncomfortable duo standing next to their father, all three looking pale and unwell under the neon lights. Krishna’s husband tried to crack a joke about how their mother has admirers and fans even at international airports now. The girls smiled politely and asked, Shall we go? When and how does the umbilical cord finally get severed? Or does it ever? When obstinately demanding love meets obstinate demanding love, who shall blink first? (163)

Her daughters recall how they used to feel for her, whenever she was in trouble, because of her profession and the professional hazards she was exposed to, but the moment they think of how she had left them at the airport they feel alienated: And suddenly the loving despair had curdled into a deep brown rage. How could she do this to them, time and again? … As they carried their bags into the house, the atmosphere was subdued. It was as though Krishna and her daughters no longer shared a language, or a space. Is it thus that exile begins? Krishna and her daughters wondered as they lay awake in their beds, in separate rooms. (165)

A woman cannot forget her children even if she happens to be at her work place. A career woman faces problems both at her work place and home. She thinks of her children’s safety and well-being despite being awfully busy in the office, but her children do not understand her concern for them. The

Women Trapped in a Quagmire


problem increases if the mother happens to be a celebrity. Krishna does not know how to manage the situation when observations of the gossipy schoolmates of her daughters have an adverse impact on their tender minds. She is unable to sustain her children because of her own preoccupations, and as a result they have to accept the nonsense their friends say about their mother: Often Krishna called from work around the time the girls got home from school. One such day, the girls reacted sharply. Stop calling up from work, they said. Do you think you are the only one who knows how unsafe the roads are? Later it transpired that their friends in school had told them about the strong opinions she had expressed the previous night in a discussion on national television. By the time they had finished talking, her children were holding back their tears. (98–99)

Furthermore, the marriage of a girl in a dowry ridden society is neither easy nor smooth. Problems do not end for her even after getting married. Her in-laws are still there to torment and agonize her, sometimes in the form of more dowry demands and sometimes in the form of insult and humiliation. Young brides are abused, ridiculed, tortured, taunted, persecuted, ignored, and rejected if the demands of groom’s family are not met. Pande shows how in-laws send “threatening postcards with dark hints about the thrashings their daughters would be subjected to if the sons-in-law were not given what they demanded—gold, cash, scooters, colour TVs” (35). The birth of a male child is welcomed and celebrated, but the birth of a female child is still a cause for grave concern and depression. A male dominated society refuses to accept girls as self-respecting, pulsatile human beings. Simone de Beauvoir has rightly said that “one is not born but becomes a woman” (267). Pande does not seem like a propagandist while talking of dowry. She remains composed, but the picture she paints of a career girl slogging for years to raise the dowry required for her marriage, and the predicament she presents of an elder sister looking after her younger siblings are all disturbing. The image she conjures up of a working girl trapped between her desire and the reality she cannot grapple with is more moving than a propagandist’s denunciation of the tradition: The make-up girl spoke to her haltingly in English. She was from Haryana and had a malnourished face. She lived on the other side of the river. She had six sisters and even though she worked night shifts four days a week, she did not think of quitting. Her pay was good. She would put together a very decent dowry for herself in two years, she had told Krishna. (219–20)

Though the biological distinction between a man and a woman is an accepted fact, the notion that women are inferior to men is no longer acceptable to women. The novelist alludes to the rise of women gearing up to resist and

96Manoj Kumar Mishra protest. She exhorts her readers to “look for a reality away from the sadhus and snake charmers and camel-riding Rajputs, to probe into the beginning of change” (144). There is a perceptible change in the attitudes of modern married girls. Krishna recalls how the women of her generation reacted when they learned about their husbands’ philandering. They did not want to deprive their children of emotional and parental security, and hence, they wanted to save their marriage, but the attitude of modern working girls has changed. They do think about their children, but in their struggle for a meaningful and graceful existence, they consider their self-respect and identity equally important; the emotional security of their children does not remain their only concern. They are assertive, vociferous, and economically independent, and hence, refuse to accept the cock-and-bull story their husbands tell to misguide them. They are also very sure about the time they need to identify the faithlessness of their husbands and the steps required to come out of the difficult situation to live a dignified life of their own. The difference in Krishna’s and the young girl’s perception of the situation reflects a change in the attitude of women, belonging to two different generations: What was it that women of her generation used to say to each other when they found their men were getting their kicks elsewhere? Fight to save your marriage. Do it for your children, dash it! Work on it! It takes two to tango. Now girls told each other, get out! Cut your losses and just get out. The kids will get used to it. They are resilient. Who could say which of them was right? (198–99)

Pande does not forget to delineate the male attitude toward marriage and men’s defense of their philandering as long as they have money on them to meet their wives’ economic needs: Krishna turned to Mongaji. “Do you think Neeraj-ji is cheating on his wife?” she asked. “Cheating on his wife?” Mongaji laughed. “What do the likes of his wife have to do with their husband’s ‘sources’ and connections?” “I don’t know. But they can’t be happy about it.” “What does happiness have to do with married lives anyway?” Mongaji ordered another gin. “Then why get married?” Krishna asked. (41)

Pande shows how things have changed. The values that guided and sustained women in the past are no longer considered sacrosanct by the younger generation. Parvati thinks that obedience and loyalty are the two qualities required for an everlasting bond between a mother and her daughter, but Krishna knows that her beliefs and attitudes have no takers now. The new generation

Women Trapped in a Quagmire


rubbishes the values Parvati’s generation was brought up on, and hence, the everlasting bond that she talks of is not there in the modern age: Parvati had once told her that parental bonds that last must consist of two things: obedience and loyalty. Krishna had laughed. What did her mother know about teenage daughters of the 1980s? Try as they might, her daughters and she had never been like other mothers and daughters in their family. They loved each other, they shared an intimacy of thought. But a confiding camaraderie? Don’t be silly, her daughters would have said. Maybe it would have been easier all round if they hadn’t loved each other so, Krishna thought. (98)

The importance for a woman to manage a family is always accepted, but a man in this male centered society believes that he is always required to give the members living together the status of a family. Pande shows how a priest refuses to accept a mother and her daughter as a family when Krishna goes with her daughter to Badrinath: “Many big big businessmen come here,” the Panda told them, “in big big imported cars. Big ministers and officers all come here with their families.” His voice registered a note of criticism. Two women do not a family make. (123)

Pande believes that if one wishes to understand a woman’s position in the world, one has to understand the system of patriarchy. Men look at women from their point of view. They are even forced to look at themselves from the male point of view. Sexual differences have been used to justify different roles for men and women, in some cases giving rise to claims of primary and secondary roles. Shirin Kudchedkar writes: The social roles of wife, mother, housewife assigned to women go hand in hand with a division into the public and private domains, the first being the sphere considered proper to men, the second to women. Women become ‘the second sex’ in Simone de Beauvoir’s telling phrase. Milton’s line, “He for God only, she for God in him” could well be cited as an example of the almost universally held assumption that man’s purpose in life is to serve God, the state, the society, not least his own self-advancement, while woman’s purpose is to serve man. Man is seen as the norm, woman as the ‘other,’ not merely different, but inferior, lacking. (33)

Pande captures the male attitude right when she describes how complex-ridden media persons denigrate women in their frustration and how they sully the reputation of women when they fail to achieve what they desire. She presents an incident and then leaves it for the readers to interpret:

98Manoj Kumar Mishra Later in the evening they swapped stories, sat at the bar and drank tall tankards of local beer. Some of the Indian mediamen who tried to make friends drew a blank. “White snobs saala!” they muttered and then joked about white women’s insatiable appetite for black men. (151–52)

She also reflects, in its wake, on the attitudes of male journalists to their female colleagues. They do not think that it is their caliber and dedication that help them in getting interviews from inaccessible and difficult persons. They think that their being women helps them in getting the desired interviews. They cast aspersions on them: “So, Livleen, once again I see you managed to cadge an interview with that motherfucker Paki fellow? How do you do it?” … “Try and get it yourself, Charlie!” she snapped in a plummy British accent, her voice deep and husky. “Damn it, woman. You have charms that work on them Pakis, which I don’t possess, you know.” (42)

In the article “Glass Ceiling Remains for Many Women: UN Report,” it states that women often experience a “glass ceiling” and that there are no societies in which women enjoy the same opportunities as men. The term “glass ceiling” is used to describe a perceived barrier to advancement in employment based on discrimination, especially sex discrimination. Despite pious legislations and tall claims made, life is not rosy for a woman. She endeavors to make both the office and her home a comfortable place to work and live but she is not appreciated. Pande shows why women find the existing work culture stifling. The discrimination at the work place operates at two levels, one for being a woman, and the other for being a Hindi journalist. Parvati sums up the male attitude to women when Krishna calls her mother to tell her about her decision to give up her teaching job for an assignment with a Hindi news agency. She tells her how they consider women cheap if they are seen in the company of politicians: “Can you cope? Do you want to? Men lose respect for women if they are seen too much in the company of these political creatures.” “It isn’t respect they lose. They lose their fucking sense of superiority.” Krishna realized she was shouting. Her mother was silent. “All the best then,” she said finally and disconnected. (14)

Krishna recalls how her colleague “had said the usual nasty things about her social connections and the clout it gave her, and made the usual wisecracks about a woman dreaming about becoming a man-sized success”(90). Munnoo Cha’s comment sums up the male attitude towards a career woman. He thinks that Krishna was not really looking for a job “but a

Women Trapped in a Quagmire


distraction that females needed periodically”(20). Her instinctive reaction, when she meets Neerajji, shows how a woman relies on her sixth sense and how she scans a male: Krishna’s instinct, sharp as a baby’s new milk tooth, told her again that this man might need constant and careful handling. Her years of teaching might be nothing to him. They had, however, taught her to recognize and circumvent even the most elaborately shrouded comments from the Indian male. (30)

Krishna also recalls how the answers of the new Prime Minister she had interviewed were “slow and had the gravelly authoritative rasp of an Indian male talking to a woman”(132) and how she felt when she talked to the bureaucrats in Delhi: But just then, the man she had pointed out turned to her and waved. “So what is the mighty feminist doing now?” he asked in the jokey, slightly offending tone that high officials in Delhi reserve for not-too-old, not-too-bad-looking women in important jobs. (178)

Indians consider the institution of family sacrosanct. The importance of family in sustaining a person struggling for existence has always been recognized and appreciated. Parvati tells Krishna the importance of family for an unconventional woman struggling for survival and self-respect. Pande does not paint the mother black. Parvati had been against Krishna’s going with a boy to the library for reasons she could understand, but she is not against her unconventional daughter trying to carve out a respectable place for herself in a male dominated society. The novelist shows how a mother always sustains her fighter daughter: “I won’t be here always, you know, and I’m the only one who has stood by you through everything. What’s going to happen to you once I am gone? And the girls, have you thought of how this is going to affect them in the long run?” “I don’t know, Mother,” Krishna said. “How can I know?” Parvati leaned closer, elbows on the table. “You need the support of a f­ amily,” she said finally, “no one sticks by you but your family, in the end.” (15)

Pande’s main concern is to show the shades which lie in between rather than painting her characters black and white. This prevents the novel from degenerating into a stereotyped novel out to propagandize. She agrees with Simone de Beauvoir that woman’s idea of herself as inferior to man and dependent on him springs from her realization that “the world is masculine on the whole, those who fashioned it, ruled it and still dominate it today are men” (298). The novel highlights how women have been made to learn to look at themselves and their wishes from the masculine point of view. Krishna’s mother

100Manoj Kumar Mishra reprimands her for going to the library with a boy because she knows how the patriarchal society would look at her going; Krishna’s host does not grant her daughters-in-law the freedom that her sons have because she knows it is not permissible in society. Pande sees the shades we tend to overlook. Krishna is not dismissive of girls, as her host is. She has two daughters only but she does not pine for sons, though her host sympathizes with her when she learns she has only two daughters. She looks after her daughters well and does not consider them inferior to boys as her host does. She believes that girls are capable of doing what boys can, while her mother does not. Krishna is worried about her daughters but she does not know how to handle the situation. Krishna’s mother sustains her whenever required, but Krishna cannot sustain her growing daughters. She cannot make her daughters understand her situation when she has to leave during their examinations, but her husband can. The sons of Krishna’s host discriminate against girls, but Krishna’s husband does not. Krishna’s husband and her host’s sons differ in their attitudes toward girls; this difference suggests the difference that exists in society. Krishna’s husband represents those males who refuse to agree with the likes of the host’s sons. They are in the minority, but the voice they raise against discrimination is heard. Pande has described both the attitudes for her readers; it is for them to decide which to accept and which to reject. She does not pontificate while describing the predicament of a career woman, but the image of women trapped in a quagmire that the novel conjures up is more lasting than a propagandist’s denunciation of what she dislikes. She finds the attitude of the male dominated society insulting because it accepts and promotes dowry, prefers a son to a daughter, ill-treats and discriminates against women, persecutes and humiliates daughters-in-law, prevents a talented woman from carving out a place for herself in society, forces women to remain silent even on issues that concern them, and refuses the freedom daughters desire for proper growth. Society is yet to learn to respect women—this is what the novel says.

Works Cited Appachana, Anjana. Listening Now. New York: Random, 1998. Print. Beauvoir, Simone de. The Second Sex. Trans. H.M. Parshley. New York: Vintage, 1980. Print. Deshpande, Shashi. The Binding Vine. New York: Feminist P at the City U of New York, 2001. Print. ———. The Dark Holds No Terror. 1980. New Delhi: Penguin, 2009. Print.

Women Trapped in a Quagmire


“Glass Ceiling Remains for Many Women: UN Report.” The Economic Times. Economic Times, 20 Oct. 2010. Web. 24 January 2015. Kudchedkar, Shirin. “Feminist Literary Criticism: the Ground Work,” Journal of Literary Criticism 8.1 (June 1996). Print. Naik, M.K. A History of Indian English Literature. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1982. Print. Naik, M.K., and Shyamala A. Narayan. Indian English Literature: 1980–2000, A Critical Survey, Delhi: Pencraft, 2001. Print. Nutt, Roberta L. “Prejudice and Discrimination Against Women Based on Gender Bias.” The Psychology of Prejudice and Discrimination. Revised and condensed ed. Ed. Jean Lau Chin. ABC-CLIO, 2009. 125–38. Print. Pande, Mrinal. Daughter’s Daughter. New Delhi, Penguin, 1993. Print. ———. My Own Witness. New Delhi: Penguin, 2000. Print. Roy, Arundhati. The God of Small Things. New York: HarperPerennial, 1997. Print.

6. Constructing “Home”: Eros, Thanatos, and Migration in the Novels of Anita Rau Badami Laurel Ryan

Home, to borrow Stuart Hall’s definition of cultural identity, is “a ‘production’ which is never complete” (234). However, home is also more than the production. It is more the process than the product; it lies in the searches for itself. These searches, especially for diasporic subjects, involve multiple relocations and dislocations as well as multiple homings and unhomings. These homings and unhomings are both temporary and mutually interdependent. Each homing involves a yearning for belonging and familiarity with one’s surroundings, and each unhoming necessitates losing that sense of belonging and recognizing the unfamiliarity of what at first seemed familiar. As Susan Stanford Friedman writes of traveling and relocation: “The body is the home of the heart. Flesh is the body of the home. But what is home? Who feels at home while at home? … Both home and elsewhere … are sites of dislocation” (191). Friedman’s notion of the discomfort of “home” implies its ambivalent nature, its opposing forces of attraction and repulsion. Because of this continuous push-and-pull, she suggests that it is impossible not only to feel at home but also to be at home, especially if “home” ceases to be a physical and readily identifiable place. Rather, through my examination of Anita Rau Badami’s novels, I propose that home becomes sets of competing drives: drives to leave home and to find home, and also drives to create home and to destroy home. Tamarind Mem, The Hero’s Walk, and Can You Hear the Nightbird Call? explore the violent ambivalence of these drives. Badami, as a first-generation immigrant to Canada from India, belongs to what Vijay Mishra calls the “new” Indian diaspora (422). The “old” Indian diasporas, which began as a result of the end of slavery, brought indentured

104Laurel Ryan laborers to British colonies and produced cultural enclaves—or, as Mishra calls them, “little Indias.” On the other hand, he argues that the new Indian diaspora of the mid- to late-twentieth century has the “overriding characteristic … of mobility” (422). Badami herself has always been particularly mobile. Even when she was a child, her family resettled every two to three years, since her father was a mechanical engineer for the railways and was transferred frequently (“Anita Rau Badami”). Badami also belongs to the class of diasporans who choose to resettle in other countries, in her case for educational purposes. Both she and her husband have graduate degrees from Canadian universities. Her own history of mobility and relative freedom to move (compared to the indentured laborers of the “old diaspora,” for example) have led her to foreground the importance of mobility to her characters in her books. Like her, many of them belong to Mishra’s “new diaspora” (422) or to Edward Said’s category of émigrés (166–67). Both of these categories imply not only that their subjects have a certain degree of choice in their resettlements but also that they maintain familial ties in and communication with the homeland. Not all diasporans have this freedom of choice in their migrations: the millions who were forced to relocate during India’s Partition in 1947, for example, had no such choice. However, Badami writes almost exclusively about the category of immigrants, of new diasporans, for whom mobility is a central concern. In an interview with The Globe and Mail, she claims, “I don’t think I could have written a novel if I had not left India. … I find that the distance gives me perspective and passion. I was twenty-nine years in India and ten years here, so I have a foot in India and a couple of toes here” (“Author Interview”). At a time when “homeland security” has become a common catchphrase in both Canada and the US and when the individual’s right to mobility is being questioned and frequently curtailed, Badami’s novels provide crucial insight into the provisional nature of home for the immigrant. In her work, the desire for a safe place to call home manifests itself in the competition between construction and destruction and also in the competition between life and death. These opposing forces need not act on the same home, even if they do act in tandem. As Friedman suggests, The story of home making is often the history of home razing—that is, the razing of some one else’s home to clear the way for one’s own settlement. The end of one people’s wandering can be the beginning of another’s diaspora. … Home making [is] built upon the unmaking of the homes of others: it’s history’s return of the repressed. (202)

This version of homing based on the deliberate displacement and unhoming of another puts an interesting twist on Freudian notions of the homely and

Constructing “Home”


the unhomely or of the canny and the uncanny. That which becomes unfamiliar must at one point have been familiar, but in this case, familiar to someone else. That which becomes familiar also, rather paradoxically, encompasses the strangeness of its familiarity to another; the unhomely resides within the homely. Homi Bhabha writes that in the displacement of unhoming, “the border between home and world becomes confused; and, uncannily, the private and public become part of each other, forcing upon us a vision that is as divided as it is disorienting” (141). Even these fusions of private and public, of home and world, are ambivalent; both signify divisions, disorientings, and dislocations as well as amalgamations. These dislocations, although demanding movement of some form, need not involve border crossings or transnational migrations to unhome their subjects and to render them diasporic. Heike Härting argues for a concept of intranational diaspora that is not necessarily bound to transnational border crossings. Instead, it thematizes the ways in which the effects of environmental and economic global restructuring, along with the disintegration of received local forms of national and cultural identification, transform the micro spaces of social life. (44)

Härting, like Bhabha, identifies an intersection of public and private in a diasporic unhoming, but for Härting the exchange seems unidirectional, and the global restructuring transforms the personal “micro spaces of social life” (44). Even though this intranational diaspora affects both individual and space, the movement is always from global to local. For Bhabha, however, the home and the world collide, producing a mutually unhoming and disconcerting diasporic effect on both individual and place; the home affects the world as much as the world affects the home. I propose that the homing instinct itself is the propulsion behind the collision between home and world, but that this instinct is by no means benign. Eros and thanatos, Sigmund Freud’s instincts of life and death, struggle with each other in the competition between homing and un-homing. I take Freud as my starting point, in particular his assertions that “an instinct is a compulsion inherent in organic life to restore an earlier state of things” (47), and that the life instinct acts both in the service of and in opposition to the death instinct. I also take into account Bhabha’s interpretation of the relationship between the canny and the uncanny, or the homely and the unhomely, for the homely resonates with Freud’s eros, which he sees as “the preserver of all things” (71). From this parallel, then, the unhomely becomes twinned with thanatos. The homely is the seat of all things familiar, all things that are known, and like eros, it preserves all that has been. The unhomely, on the

106Laurel Ryan other hand, springs from the homely and turns the familiar into the uncanny. The unhomely thus deviates from Freud’s death instincts, which drive their subject toward a “return to the inanimate state” (50), a restoration of “an earlier state of things” (47); Freud’s death instincts—although they do not seek to preserve—do strive to reinstate a once-familiar state, whereas the unhomely is an inversion of the familiar. The process of unhoming involves both of these concepts: not only does it drive its subject to search for the remnants of a lost home, but it also makes those remnants unfamiliar. However, the drive to piece together a once-loved home is a creative one. Thanatos thus works in the service of eros, just as eros works in the service of thanatos. Thanatos also has the flexibility of Bhabha’s unhomely in that anything that has become unfamiliar can, with effort, become familiar again. In the search for home, thanatos and the unhomely are essential to one another. Moreover, they are dependent upon eros and the homely. Creating a home requires both the willingness to move on when the familiar becomes unfamiliar, and the flexibility to take the pieces of an old home and turn them into something new.

Eros and the Homing Instinct The drive to find and to go home presupposes a separation from the familiar and the homely. As Friedman writes, “Home comes into being most powerfully when it is gone, lost, left behind, desired and imagined. … The story about home is the story of trying to get there” (202). There is no home without a preexisting dislocation from it. If “the story about home is the story of trying to get there,” then “home” is itself the “trying to get there.” Paradoxically, “home” becomes an attempt to reclaim something that never was, to find something that did not exist before it was lost. Home does not even come into being before it ceases to be. Thus “home” in this context is left only as a residual instinct; it is the attempt to create itself. In Badami’s The Hero’s Walk, seven-year-old Nandana’s parents die in a car crash in Vancouver, and Nandana is left first in the care of family friends and then in the custody of her estranged Indian grandfather, Sripathi, and his family in India. Nandana has no safe and comforting home; from the beginning of the novel, she is estranged from the people and places familiar to her. Badami’s introduction of Nandana also introduces Nandana’s desire to go home: Since everybody had forgotten to take her home, she would just have to get there by herself, decided Nandana. She had never done it before, but her father had often said it was only a hop, a skip, and a jump away. She knew her address—her

Constructing “Home”


parents had made her repeat it every day—250 Melfa Lane, Vancouver, BC, Canada, North America, The World. (16)

The joint introduction of Nandana and of her homing instinct foregrounds the instability of “home” for her, and both she and her home have no existence in the novel before she is displaced. Since her parents are dead, any home that involves them is no longer a reality but only a memory. She emphasizes the movement toward home, the getting there rather than the being there; she will hop, skip, and jump toward home. The only thing that she knows for sure about home is its address—but the address is now useless to her because the house itself no longer contains her family, who died in a car crash. Even though the geographical location still exists, her home does not. Although she knows she is currently at “the white [house] with the maple tree, behind Safeway” (17), as she tells her parents’ answering machine, she cannot recollect the way—safe or otherwise—back home. This positioning of movement, rather than stability, as a form of home suggests a rhizomatic model of the homing instinct, such as the model of identity formation proposed by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus. The multiplicity and heterogeneity of the connections of the rhizome link to the unstable and fragmentary nature of the imaginary home and suggest a homing instinct that is forever in flux. As Deleuze and Guattari write, “A rhizome may be broken, shattered at a given spot, but it will start up again on one of its old lines, or on new lines. You can never get rid of ants because they form an animal rhizome that can rebound time and again after most of it has been destroyed” (9). Like the rhizome, the home, too, may be broken in order to start up again, to form new connections; unlike the rhizome, however, the home must be broken in order for the rhizomatic homing instinct to occur. The breaking of any part of the rhizomatic network suffices in order to start the network again, but there must be some form of displacement for the rhizome of the homing instinct to surface.1 In Badami’s Can You Hear the Nightbird Call?, the subject’s desires for home manifest themselves not in a longing to travel home, as with Nandana in The Hero’s Walk, but as a wish for another home, as a desire to stop traveling, to end the journey by arriving at a home. The book revolves around two main factual tragedies whose victims are caught in the limbo of perpetual travel: the 1985 Air India bombings and the 1914 Komagata Maru incident. On June 23, 1985, a suitcase bomb exploded in the cargo hold of Air India Flight 182 off the coast of Ireland, killing all 329 people aboard. A few hours earlier, another bomb had exploded at Tokyo’s Narita Airport as baggage handlers transferred the luggage from Canadian Pacific Flight

108Laurel Ryan 003 to Air India Flight 301; this bomb killed two of the handlers. Both the Canadian and Indian governments tried to distance themselves and their countries from the bombings, and thus, in refusing to claim the victims as their own, left the victims metaphorically caught in between countries (as well as physically trapped in international waters off the coast of Ireland). Canada’s Prime Minister Brian Mulroney phoned India’s Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to offer his condolences for the attacks, effectively ignoring the fact that the majority of the victims were Canadian citizens (Nightbird 396–97); Clark Blaise and Bharati Mukherjee suggest that India distanced itself equally from the attacks, and that it was “happy to treat [the bombing] as an ‘overseas incident’ with containable financial implications” (ix). In an earlier incident in 1914, passengers aboard the Komagata Maru—a Japanese steamer—were also caught in limbo between India and Canada. The ship carried 376 potential immigrants from India, all of whom were British subjects and as such had a right to enter Canada, yet it and its passengers were held in Vancouver Harbor for two months, and eventually the Canadian government allowed only twenty passengers who could prove previous residence in Canada to disembark (Johnston 41–43); the rest were sent back to India via Japan (94). Can You Hear the Nightbird Call? is as much a response to the protracted aftermath of these tragedies as it is to the events themselves. In 2005, Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri—the two main suspects in the Air India bombings—were acquitted of all charges. Also in 2005, in India, the Justice Nanavati Commission completed its examination of the anti-Sikh riots in the wake of Indira Gandhi’s 1984 assassination;2 it revealed that “only one police official … was convicted in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in which more than 3,000 Sikhs were killed in Delhi alone” (qtd. in Nightbird 403) and that twenty-two other police officers were either acquitted or untried because of a lack of evidence against them. Both legal systems concluded that there can be no true ending to either set of terrorist acts. Badami explores this idea at its next logical step, that all terrorist acts—indeed, all acts of exclusion—have cultural aftershocks with no finite conclusion. Can You Hear the Nightbird Call? explores the impact of racialized exclusions upon cultural conflicts. Harjot Singh is a former passenger of the Komagata Maru from Hong Kong to Canada and back to India; he lies immobile in his cot all day and dreams of staying put in a different place. He asks his daughter: If they had allowed us to stay there, you know what your life would have been like? … If they had allowed me to get off the Komagata Maru, you and your mother and sister would now be living like queens. We too would have had a pukka house with five rooms, three cows, and twenty chickens …” (11)

Constructing “Home”


His homing instinct is conflicted in its dual desires to move and to rest, and because of his inability to resolve this ambivalence, he enters a state of limbo, much like that of the Komagata Maru when it was in Canadian waters. Even his wish to get off the ship is both a desire to stay and a desire to leave (the ship remained in a stasis of transit, in the harbor but without access to the dock, for two months). Harjot’s desire to get off the ship is a wish both to move again—to get out of limbo—and to end the journey. However, Harjot dreams not solely of a new home in Canada, but also of an old home. He desires the home of his neighbor, with its “five rooms, three cows, and twenty chickens,” in the village of Panjaur. Because his desires for home are static, he is always unhomed, and his longings for the past leave him unable to build (or to rebuild) new dreams of home. Benzi Zhang argues that writing about ancestry, for Asian diasporans, is a strategy of rehoming that internalizes the continual return to one’s cultural origin and rebuilds home into a dialogue between ‘here/now’ and ‘there/then.’ In this sense, home is a mode of traveling that reveals itself as caught up in the space between imagination and immanence. (114)

Harjot is diasporic because of his “breaching … [of the] psychological regimes of the normal” (Härting 58). His diaspora is a temporal one, as his mind refuses to ally itself with the present but rather draws him back and forth in time via his memories. In telling his daughter of his past desires for home, Harjot performs a kind of writing of the ancestry of his psyche. On the other hand, his “writing” of his psychological heritage is limited by his inability to perform at all: he gradually fades from the scene by lying on his cot and eventually even disappearing from the village. The immobility of this “strategy of rehoming” leaves him stuck in the “continual return.” There is therefore a temporal aspect to the processes of homing. Because he is unable to form the dialogue between “here/now” and “there/then,” he finds himself without a mode of traveling at all and thus without a home—and, eventually, without life. He disappears from the village as he disappears from the text; having lost his drive for home, he loses his drive for life. Jasbeer too wants to stop traveling, to find the home he left as a child. His parents give him as a young child into the care of Bibi-ji, his great-aunt, in the hopes that he might have a better life in Canada. However, Jasbeer’s sense of abandonment drives him to get involved with a terrorist group that advocates the creation of a Sikh homeland, Khalistan. Ultimately realizing that this group will not fulfill his desires for home, he decides to return to his family. He returns to his mother’s home not to ask for her forgiveness, but to forgive her for choosing to send him away. Implicit in this forgiveness

110Laurel Ryan is his recognition of her right to have left him and her right to be someone other than the ideal mother he may have wanted her to be. His returning as a grown man, one very different from the son she sent away, may help her to give up her own paralyzing fiction that the rest of her family, killed in the anti-Sikh riots in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination, will return to her unharmed and unchanged. By dismantling their illusions of a safe, secure home that never existed, they will also strive to surmount their alienation from the world. To find home they must first lose home, and to do either they must realize that homes are indeed always “provisional” (Said 170), always shifting. They must be prepared to accept each loss but not to define themselves around it; they must allow the loss to take its own shape in order to continue their search for home.

Thanatos and the Unhoming Instinct The other half of the drive for home is the drive to un-home, the drive to leave one’s present state to reconstruct an earlier home. The unhomely encompasses the homely, because what becomes eerily unfamiliar once seemed benign. The home is not a safe place, as Friedman explains: To inhabit the body of the stranger is to be never at home. But what if home itself is the site of violence to the body? Home may in fact be constituted upon an act of violence against the body, even as that body travels, migrates, or goes into exile. Safety might reside neither in home nor homeland but only in flight. Diasporic narratives often tell the story of travel to a new land where memory and desire produce an idealized image of the homeland. But violence done to the body in both old and new homes disrupts this familiar pattern. (200)

The drive for a safe place in which to belong then becomes a drive to leave home; the very act of settling in a place can become restricting and unhomely. Memory and desire need not produce an idealized image of the homeland; they can equally reproduce the terrifying image of that from which the body flees. I do not mean to suggest that the diasporic subject necessarily flees the homeland in fear of any physical threat, for there are many motivations for diasporas—economic and familial reasons, for example—and only some of these motivations involve persecution in the homeland; instead, I am suggesting that the element of the uncanny in any home(land) can produce a frightening estrangement from the home, and in this way neither Canada nor India can be a safe place. The uncanny is that which is uncomfortably strange, unfamiliar, and even dangerous by virtue of its eerie resemblance to the familiar. In a similar inversion, the unhomely, according to Bhabha, “is the shock of

Constructing “Home”


recognition of the world-in-the-home, the-home-in-the-world” (141). The shock of this recognition forces the subject away from the home and into the unhomely. Thus, no home is safe because all contain the submerged threat of estrangement and loss; however, contrary to Friedman’s theory, perhaps the flights between homes are equally unsafe. With her account of the Air India bombings in Can You Hear the Nightbird Call?, Badami challenges the idea that safety is possible anywhere, whether in home, homeland, or flight. The rhizome is, by definition, unstable, and both the nodes and pathways are subject to disruption. However, the breaking of the rhizome and the drive from home can have multiple outcomes. Sometimes they may be a violent act of unhoming, and at other times they may be benign forces that facilitate a movement toward rehoming. In Can You Hear the Nightbird Call?, Badami employs the rhizomatic image of a network of lights, as seen from a flight above, to illustrate the interconnectedness of migrations toward “home” and to warn of the cascade effect when a node in the rhizome is shattered. On their flight from Bangalore to Vancouver, Preethi reads to her mother, Leela, about the Buddhist concept of Indra’s Net: “When one gem was touched, hundreds shimmered or danced in response, and a tear in the net made the whole world tremble” (106). Indra’s Net and Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome are versions of each other, and both form planes of connections in which a movement or breakage at one node affects the entire network. The connections in both networks serve as passageways, not as structural fasteners but as conduits for transit. Looking down at the “valleys and plains cut by that rope of light,” Leela reflects, “Perhaps it was indeed Indra’s Net. And their movement, their migration from one world to another, had set it in motion, causing a series of tremors. How it would all end, she did not know” (106). The shivering movement in the net caused by their migration, by their literal flight from one home toward another, prefigures the tear caused by the Air India disaster later in the text. In both cases, the disruption of the net casts the movement between homes as a form of violence (even in the absence of terrorist acts); the movement between homes is a movement toward death. Before she gets on Air India Flight 182, Leela dreamed that she was in a plane, cutting through the infinity of space towards an unknown destination. … She saw, coming down the cramped aisle of the plane towards her, Yama the god of death. “Leela Bhat, are you ready?” Yama asked, his deep voice resonating through her body. “No,” she whispered. “No, I am not. Can you not wait until I get home?” “Your time has come, Leela Bhat,” Yama said gently. “I am merely the collector of souls.” (385)

112Laurel Ryan The plane itself acts as the agent of thanatos, and it cuts through the network of space, just as its fragments cut through Leela. Her body becomes Indra’s Net, becomes the rhizome of the drive for home, as the voice of the god of death resonates through her being. Even though her homing instinct and her will to live resist this movement toward death, they cannot stop or even mend the tear in the net that makes the whole world tremble. Death’s unwillingness to wait until Leela arrives challenges Friedman’s theory that safety lies in the flight between homes; however, Friedman’s correlative assertion that “[h]ome may in fact be constituted upon an act of violence against the body, even as that body travels, migrates, or goes into exile” (200) supports the idea that home may reside in the flight from and in the search for home. Perhaps, then, Death need not wait because Leela is already at home (although certainly not safe) in flight. In The Hero’s Walk, Nandana’s journeys between partial homes force not only her but also her extended family to undergo multiple displacements. As Sripathi and Nandana reach Toturpuram by train, “through the window he spot[s] his family scanning the compartments eagerly. He [shakes] Nandana awake. Minutes later they [are] on the platform, surrounded by all that [is] familiar to him and strange to the little girl swaying beside him” (152). Superficially, Sripathi seems to return home at this moment, and Nandana becomes a displaced diasporic citizen multiple times. However, the uncanniness of the place to Nandana also defamiliarizes Toturpuram for Sripathi and unhomes him in turn; the child’s multiple diasporic identifications affect the grandfather’s diasporic subjectivity. According to Avtar Brah, “The concept of diaspora space … includes the entanglement, the intertwining of the genealogies of dispersion with those of ‘staying put’” (209). By Brah’s formulation, the relationship between Sripathi and Nandana, or even between Sripathi and Maya, involves Sripathi in a space of diaspora, as their shared genealogy includes both Sripathi’s “staying put” and Maya’s and Nandana’s “dispersion.” If Sripathi is already diasporic because of Maya’s move to Canada, then Nandana’s move back to India renders him doubly so. She, a foreign body, introduces a strangeness into Sripathi’s home that dissociates him from the familiar and places him into a space in which he, too, must search for home. Ironically, it is perhaps Nandana’s temporary disappearance that has the most force in propelling Sripathi out of his stasis and into the realm of the unhomely, as her once-unhomely presence has become part of Sripathi’s notion of the homely. As he looks for Nandana, he “presse[s] his body against the wind and continue[s] to walk down the road that stretched out before him, long and dark and strangely unfamiliar, even though he had spent his entire life traveling it” (295). His search for Nandana is at once his movement into

Constructing “Home”


the realm of the unhomely and his search for home. His encounter with the uncanny must first propel him from the home and away from the familiar in order that he may begin to move toward home again. The road that he takes in these searches is “strangely unfamiliar,” not only indicating his shock at recognizing the unhomely and the collision of world and home but also suggesting the possibility of familiarity within the unfamiliar. That the road can be “strangely unfamiliar” implies that it could also possibly be “familiarly unfamiliar.” In other words, Sripathi could become “at home” with his propulsion from home; he could use the distancing from home, the breaking of the rhizome, in order to form new and vital pathways to home. In this case, the disruption of the rhizome and the drive from home are benign acts of unhoming that facilitate movement toward rehoming rather than the violent shattering of the rhizome of the Air India bombings. In Tamarind Mem, Saroja also creates a rhizome with her railway travels around India, and Badami describes the crisscrossing of the railway lines with no small measure of irony about the fixity of these lines and lands. Kamini recalls her father’s highlighting on a map all the passages he worked on, all his journeys away from home: Over the years, the map grew crimson with Dadda’s routes, marking out stretches of land that he had helped to capture and tame, setting them firmly on maps and time-tables, dots connected by iron and wood and sweat. Ma had the map now, and she was following the lines of faded ink. (51)

Appropriately, only the dots, but not the actual cities and towns connected by the railway lines, seem to be set firmly on maps and timetables. A living city—like a node in a rhizome—is always in a state of flux. Even the railway lines are susceptible to damage and decay, and the very materials used to create the lines are eventually quite harmful to one another. The sweat will rust the iron and rot the wood, and more sweat will be required to repair the lines with more iron and more wood. Even the map of these travels is deteriorating. The ink, once a bright crimson, fades by the time Dadda finishes creating railways and Saroja finally begins traveling of her own volition. Not even the pretense of being able to fix routes, to stabilize movement, can last; the rhizome’s nodes and pathways must always change. Saroja spent her married life following her husband wherever he was transferred, but because of the rhizomatic nature of these railway pathways, her independent journey along the routes on the map is more than a simple repetition of Dadda’s journey. Even though she travels along the pathways he helped create, each city she visits will have changed in the time between Dadda’s visit and hers, as will each of the railroads themselves.

114Laurel Ryan The uses of these routes also change. For Dadda, moving around while working on the railways was an escape from home, where he kept, and even trapped, his family. Kamini recalls that [p]erhaps Dadda was to blame for the person Ma had become. He shut … [Saroja] into rooms from which there was not even a chink of an escape. He himself had left again and again, and every time he came back, he needed to be readmitted into lives altered daily during his absence. (148)

The combination of Dadda’s continual absences, his silent treatment of Saroja, and his absolute refusal to allow her to share in his other life—in his travels— traps her and nearly suffocates her. His desire to escape the home makes the place dangerous and unhomely for the rest of his family. In attempting to create a form of prison for his wife from which there is “not even a chink of an escape,” he also builds a prison in which there is no chink of an air hole and no space to breathe, a prison that would eventually become deadly to its inmates. His unhoming instinct manifests itself equally in his repeated escapes and in his suffocating his wife. Dadda does not live his life in the home of his family; rather, he lives it in his work and in his travels away from home. Dadda’s travels on the railways, interspersed with visits “home,” are a way for him to search for his own home away from home—and incidentally to unhome his family. Kamini notices the resulting deadly tensions in the house, likening them to the dangerous eddies and hungry creatures lurking beneath the surface of seemingly calm waters. She thinks, “In this house full of unexpected currents … I would have to move silently, carefully, make sure I did not wake the sleeping crocodiles” (54). Conversely, Saroja’s traveling represents not only her desire to live and to find a home away from home but also her desire for peace and for her own death. Although Dadda, in his traveling, slowly and grimly asphyxiates those around him, Saroja is willing to accept her own death, should it happen on her journeys. She treats the subject of her own death glibly, as if it is of little consequence. She writes to her daughters, “I am now in Varanasi, the holiest of holy cities and the dirtiest. … I don’t know why people come here to die. I suppose if my heart collapses on me, I will depart a blessed soul, and some stranger will set my ashes afloat on the River Ganga” (142). As Saroja mentions, many Hindus seek the holy influence of both the city and the river before they die. The Ganga’s “flow from south to north refers to the life cycle from death (south, the realm of death, Yama) to life (north, the realm of life, Shiva, i.e., Kailash)” (Singh 2). It is at Varanasi that the river’s flow changes from eastward to northward toward the Bay of Bengal, making the city and the section of the river in it particularly sacred. Interestingly, it is only in the act of leaving that Saroja sees any blessing. She says that she “will depart a

Constructing “Home”


blessed soul,” not that she will be a blessed soul. Even in death, she would still be traveling, and in traveling, she feels free to confront her mortality. However, for Saroja, this acceptance of death comes less from a sense of spirituality and more from a desire of release and escape from the wifely and motherly duties to which she was bound earlier in her life. Saroja brushes off Kamini’s fears about her trip, telling her, What is the worst that can happen to me? I will die, that’s all. And if I die, the apartment and all that I have in it can be shared between you and Roopa. The bank manager has a spare set of keys. If he dies also, well, use your brains, break open the door, whatever! I don’t care. (30)

Saroja’s blasé attitude about her own death and her casual bequeathal of her apartment and property to her daughters indicates that she seems to feel that the apartment is not really her home nor of any value to her should she die. Indeed, Saroja takes solace in her escape from her apartment and from the belongings that mark her past as a railway wife; unlike Leela in Can You Hear the Nightbird Call?, she does find a measure of peace and safety in the flight from home, and that peace includes knowing that she will die. Saroja has no choice about moving until she is on her own; the lack of choice in her previous homes drives her now to find a sense of home in traveling where she pleases. She rejects the homes she was forced into as a railway wife in favor of a deliberately mobile existence. As Friedman comments, the building of one’s home on the ruins of another’s home “happens again and again—the uncanny repetitions of a territorial species, of people’s yearning for home and making others homeless out of the force of their own desire and suffering” (202). The desires of homing and unhoming travel in tandem, whether they manifest themselves as a partnership of needing to leave home to find home or to destroy home to create home. Home itself is always in a state of flux. It cannot be static, as it exists only in the conflicting desires to find it, and these desires are always in transit. Like the homely and the unhomely, they shift places constantly, familiarizing what was once strange and unhomely and defamiliarizing what once seemed to be home. Home is no one place we can go; it is the process of homing, unhoming, and rehoming.

Notes 1. Härting criticizes Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizomatic subject on the grounds that it is too volatile; she complains that the rhizomatic subject “suggests an assemblage of infinitely combined identity fragments, which are posited in equal relation to one

116Laurel Ryan another and emphasize movements rather than bodies as the central sites of identity formation. The rhizome signals a volatile form of identity that lacks memory, location, and history” (49). 2. These riots and the massacre at the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar were inflammatory events in the terrorist struggle for a Sikh homeland of Khalistan, and the Air India bombings are purported to have been motivated by these riots.

Works Cited “Anita Rau Badami.” Web. 9 Feb. 2015. . Badami, Anita Rau. “Author Interview.” BookBrowse. Web. 16 Aug. 2007. . ———. Can You Hear the Nightbird Call? Toronto: Knopf, 2006. Print. ———. The Hero’s Walk. Toronto: Knopf, 2000. Print. ———. Tamarind Mem. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 1996. Print. Bhabha, Homi. “The World and the Home.” Social Text 31–32 (1992): 141–53. Print. Blaise, Clark, and Bharati Mukherjee. The Sorrow and the Terror: The Haunting Legacy of the Air India Tragedy. Markham, ON: Viking, 1987. Print. Brah, Avtar. Cartographies of Diaspora: Contesting Identities. London: Routledge, 1996. Print. Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian Massumi. London: Athlone, 1987. Print. Friedman, Susan Stanford. “Bodies on the Move: A Poetics of Home and Diaspora.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 23 (2004): 189–212. Print. Freud, Sigmund. Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Trans. James Strachey. New York: Liveright, 1950. Print. Hall, Stuart. “Cultural Identity and Diaspora.” Theorizing Diaspora: A Reader. Malden: Blackwell, 2003. 233–46. Print. Härting, Heike. “Diasporic Cross-Currents in Michael Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost and Anita Rau Badami’s The Hero’s Walk.” Studies in Canadian Literature 28.1 (2003): 43–70. Print. Johnston, Hugh. The Voyage of the Komagata Maru: The Sikh Challenge to Canada’s Colour Bar. Delhi: Oxford UP, 1979. Print. Mishra, Vijay. “The Diasporic Imaginary: Theorizing the Indian Diaspora.” Textual Practice 10.3 (1996): 421–47. Print. Said, Edward. “Reflections on Exile.” Granta 13 (1984): 157–72. Print. Singh, Rana P.B. “Varanasi as Heritage City (India) on the scale the UNESCO World Heritage List: From Contestation to Conservation.” 13 June 2006. Swedish South Asian Studies Network. Web. 10 July 2007. . Zhang, Benzi. “The Politics of Re-Homing: Asian Diaspora Poetry in Canada.” College Literature 31.1 (2004): 103–25. Print.

7. “Womenspace”: Negotiating Class and Gender in Indian English Novels Geetanjali Singh Chanda

In many Indo-English novels, the domestic space is the site of contact and conflict between tradition and modernity and of changed gender and class relationships. In Europe and America the debates on the so called women’s question were often fought in the public arena. But, as Partha Chatterjee notes, in India there are few traces of nineteenth and twentieth century women’s struggles in public documents. The struggles took place quietly in individual homes and by individual women, and “the battle for the new idea of womanhood in the era of nationalism was waged in the home” (133). Shashi Deshpande’s That Long Silence (1988) and Thrity Umrigar’s The Space Between Us (2005) take up the terms of the battle of womanhood in postcolonial India. The modern urban apartment becomes the testing ground for friendships among women and the creation of a “womenspace” in spite of patriarchal conformity. The emotional yearning for friendship among women is one of the central aspects carried over from older haveli and bungalow homes to the newer apartments. This paper relies on my work Indian Women in the House of Fiction, where the haveli, bungalow, and apartment locations are explored in greater detail. Although Deshpande’s That Long Silence and Umrigar’s The Space Between Us are set apart by almost two decades, the basic premise of both novels—of the necessity of female friendships for survival and of the almost in-built, structural resistance to these friendships exerted from within the heterosexual domestic space—remains the same. This paper maps the contradictory pulls that both enabled friendship among women across class and age and yet the dominance of the normative heterosexual home that ultimately undermined and subverted these friendships. If, as Salman Rushdie notes, writing is the first step towards envisioning change, then this articulation and

118Geetanjali Singh Chanda careful delineation of the basis of female friendships without borders provides a blue-print for future homes.1 However, both novels also map the pitfalls that make these friendships unsustainable and those have not changed, even in the almost two decade gap between the novels themselves. My focus is predominantly on the gender and class aspects of women’s relationships in That Long Silence and The Space Between Us. The twin aspects of community, especially of a women’s community, and of individual interactions are pitted against the broader social structures of class and patriarchy. Before we delve into a consideration of the texts, it is important to reiterate the intersections of Indian writing in English with class. Writing in English generally presupposes an authorial background of middle class, westernized, and urban cosmopolitans. The authors and their protagonists in both novels are similarly located in urban, metropolitan cities. The subject position of author, protagonist, and reader in these texts is thus inflected by an urban, middle class sensibility where English continues to be a linguistic marker of privilege. This class differential in Indian English writing is significant in the ways it views and even structures the axes of power. In both these novels, for example, caste is subsumed under class. The middle class, urban-dwelling protagonists’ access to economic and social status regulates the dynamics of power. Although the authors may want to assert a female friendship across barriers of class (caste is not mentioned in either of the novels), they are keenly aware of class and gender hierarchies that prevent any such easy border crossing. But they do create spaces of friendship that sometimes succeed in crossing class lines. In both novels, rich and poor women alike are aware of social privilege and use it to parlay their particular interests in the process dismantling what Audre Lorde famously called “the master’s house” (110–13) or learning to live in it without necessarily reifying existing structures of oppression.2 Two of the most significant aspects of the haveli dwelling that are translated or carried over to the bungalow and then to the apartment are the dichotomous and yet dialectic notions of community and of isolation. Community in the haveli encompasses an extended, joint-family unit that includes servants, but Indian English novels also point to a more specific women’s community that often crosses borders of age and class.3 However, community notwithstanding, the notion of isolation and separateness of the family unit and of the individuals in it are as integral a part of apartment dwellings as they were of the earlier havelis or bungalows. Although housing patterns have changed from havelis to bungalows to apartments, many Indian English novels insist on the need for a womenspace as they continue to explore the isolation and silencing of women built into heterosexual homes. That Long Silence and The



Space Between Us explore community formation and the transformation of a specifically gendered female space into a “womenspace” that began in the enforced segregation of the zenana in the haveli but is carried over into the apartment metaphorically if not spatially. The open courtyard at the heart of the inward-looking haveli was the site of women’s household chores. Etymologically, Sunand Prasad points out that “the word haveli may derive from ‘haowla’, the old Arabic for partition” (1). The idea of partitions was necessary to the gendered division of labor and space within the haveli. The womanly rituals of domesticity undertaken to propitiate patriarchal deities of father, brother, and son, were carried out in segregated, women-only spaces. But these physically segregated spaces were everyday reminders that set behavioral patterns reinforcing women’s “conventional subordination” (Massey 195).4 The organization of the haveli space would support social anthropologist Shirley Ardener’s contention that the inter-linking of physical boundaries and social rules results in women being structurally “muted.” Authors like Deshpande and Umrigar, and others before them, however, attempt to create a womenspace from within this gendered, over-written, patriarchal space. The inner courtyard, the distinctive feature of the traditional haveli dwelling, could be read both as a segregated place for women—almost prison-like, and, as a womenspace—a community of and for women, a space that sustains and nurtures female friendships. The connection between women’s lives and women’s work in the home leads to a horizontal community formation where all women work towards the same goal: propitiating the living male deities (fathers, husbands, and sons) of the home. In spite of the common focus on male care, there is an almost spontaneous formation of a female community that transcends class and age. This is a gendered community both spatially and in the fact that the work that unites the women is taking care of the men. Males are excluded from the community both on the basis of gender and on the basis of their greater access to power in a patriarchal society. In these texts, writing and reaching out to other women often becomes for the authors and their protagonists a way of creating a sustaining community.5 Even class boundaries of who works and who supervises the work are temporarily blurred. The segregated women’s space becomes a location where, to use contemporary corporate-culture terms, women network: gather and exchange information. An emotional support system among women is prominent in both Deshpande’s and Umrigar’s apartment dwellers. The concept of “sisterhood” has, in recent times, been severely and justly criticized in feminist writings as homogenizing women and erasing crucial differences of caste, class, race, and ethnicity.6 However, sisterhood, female

120Geetanjali Singh Chanda solidarity, and communitas are crucial to an understanding of womenspace. Victor Turner describes communitas as “a modality of social inter-relatedness” (231) which emerges from liminality or a shared outsider status and is an “indispensable human social requirement” (243). In these novels we see that the social segregation of women to the domestic sphere and their lower status vis-à-vis men often marginalizes and silences them. But their joint work and seclusion create moments that allow them to transcend barriers of class and age, and enables communication “as women.” The interaction among these women in the home is often based on a shared “outsider status” but it is also an indispensable friendship, because it leads to moments of empowerment both individually and as a group. I am not suggesting that this womenspace is in any way structured, conscious, or permanent; on the contrary, it is fluid, sporadic, and unconscious. These are momentary alliances that can reverse themselves as easily as they were formed. Women’s common understanding of power and the sustaining nature of friendship and alliances as women, despite the power differential, is what characterizes womenspace. Researchers and activists N.B. Gomathy and Bina Fernandez, in writing about their reaction to Deepa Mehta’s film Fire (1997), testify that: Almost all women in our society have experienced women-only spaces—for confidence sharing, healing, mutual comfort and support—at some point in their lives. Often deep bonds, intimacies and sensuousness—sometimes extending to the sexual—have characterised these spaces. At the interstices of a patriarchal society with the potential to maintain the structures that control women, or transform them, these spaces act as essential ‘breathing spaces’ and sources of energy for women to share and recuperate from the misogynist society that we live in. However, ‘women-only’ spaces are ‘allowed’ only if women in it are seen as sexually inactive within them. (201)

The womenspaces constructed within these novels are exactly such “breathing spaces” of friendship and empathy, but ones where sexual relationships among women have not even been suggested. Both novels conform to this asexuality and, in fact, the very friendship is based on a normative heterosexuality where male power and female subservience are accepted. The construction of womenspace may appear to under-privilege, if not erase class, among other differences, but at these moments, gender is the unifying factor that temporarily subsumes class, generation, region, and other differences. This “coalition-politics,” to borrow Johnson-Reagon’s term, is not necessarily a political strategy but stems rather from a personal, subjective empathy that links women to other women and through that to a larger sense of community. Other novels by Indian English women writers also foreground women’s friendships revealing an awareness of and sensitivity to issues



of class and power which suggests that female friendships might be a key issue rather than one that occurs only in Deshpande and Umrigar.7 The interlinked stories can be read as lessons in how class and social status affect and shape individual women’s very different decisions. These alliances are not in any way fixed or permanent or even consciously sought tactics. However, the acknowledgement and celebration of female friendship, or a fleeting “communitas” in Turner’s sense of the word, is a characteristic feature of IndianEnglish women’s novels. The creation of a womenspace from within a dominant, patriarchal space empowers women without necessarily dismantling the “Master’s house.” This particular strategy may not seem revolutionary and indeed it is not–it is only a partial solution. But given the real life constraints of women, of both middle and lower class, a dismantling of the “Master’s house” may only succeed in rendering women homeless. But these spaces of female friendship are nurturing “breathing spaces” that allow women to carry on. Lloyd I. Rudolph and Susanne Hoeber Rudolph note the need of “certain persistent requirements of the human condition that tradition, as it is expressed in the past of particular nations, can and does satisfy” (4). I see womenspace as framed by the “persistent requirements” of the condition of being a woman. The yearning or “persistent requirement” of female friendships are carried over from havelis to apartments. Although contemporary women’s struggles are now also evident in the public arena, the home, as Chatterjee indicates, still remains a contested site of struggle. The apartment, as a location in Indian English fiction, is relatively underutilized and unexplored but it is a specifically urban and relatively new dwelling space. The potential of the apartment as a secular, intra-generational, community-forming enclave has not been adequately explored. Sharon Marcus’ study notes that “apartment buildings linked the city and its residences in real and imagined ways” (2); however, in these novels the apartment often remains the site of the isolation of nuclear or semi-nuclear families, marooned among a sea of other such similarly enclosed private little units. The awareness and real or imagined links to the city are not inherently closer in these apartments than they were in the havelis or bungalows of other novels. And in novels like The Space Between Us, the intensely private space of the apartment becomes a virtual prison for the protagonist. Umrigar notes that “the apartment is much more the icon of cosmopolitan and urban Bombayite’s desire” (“Thrity Umrigar”). Apartments are and have been the norm in urban Bombay unlike other metropolitan cities, such as Kolkata, Chennai, or Delhi. It is curious then that this particular urban dwelling—which has become fairly common in middle-class, metropolitan India,

122Geetanjali Singh Chanda and, especially among young, often single, working women—is largely absent from Indian English novels. Class may be one explanation for this absence. Two of the novels by Umrigar are set in Bombay (she moved to the United States from Bombay at the age of twenty one).8 Explaining the Bombay apartment location, and specifically the class divide in her novel The Space Between Us, she says, Growing up in Bombay, I was always aware of this strange, complicated, emotionally complex relationship between mistress and servant. With the dramatic class differences, with the kind of apartheid that exists in middle class homes— where servants cannot sit on the furniture they clean, where they have their own separate dishes and glasses etc.—it’s a relationship that would be easy to simplify and caricature. But what I wanted to show in the novel was both, the connections and the separations, the intimacy and the distance between women of different classes.9

Neither the class divide nor the complexities of the relationships though are specific to the apartment or indeed to Umrigar’s novels. Umrigar’s The Space Between Us delineates the relationship between Sera Dubash, a battered wife and now a relatively well off widow, who lives together with her son-in-law Viraf and pregnant daughter Dinaz in her (Sera’s) apartment. Bhima has worked for the family for twenty odd years and lives in a nearby slum with her orphaned granddaughter Maya, who is also pregnant and refuses to reveal the name of the father. Gradually, and unsurprisingly, it is revealed that the father is none other than Sera’s son-in-law Viraf. When Viraf frames Bhima for stealing money, Sera is faced with the terrible choice of siding with her family in spite of friendship and truth, or siding with the servant Bhima and losing not only family support but also possibly ruining her daughter’s marriage. Sera and Bhima’s long association and many shared confidences are nurtured in the privacy of the apartment. But even there the “friendship” does not alter the master-servant hierarchy, and the two women cannot, despite everything, transcend the class barrier. They manage, however, to negotiate and temper the rigid divisions to create moments of empathy where sometimes Bhima despite her poverty is the giver and can help Sera, and at other times Sera uses her status to help Bhima. Class distance in their case is measured by their starkly different life-styles. One lives in a posh apartment while her domestic helper lives in a nearby slum that is a “less than a fifteen minute walk away” but an entirely “different universe” (113). The physical distance, however, is nothing compared to the internalized and deeply ingrained class distance. This space between them compels Bhima to sit on the floor sipping



her tea from a stainless steel glass kept aside especially for her use, while Sera sits on an upholstered sofa sipping her tea from a china cup. The rather depressing conclusion is that despite the fact that Bhima, the domestic servant, is Sera’s only friend, nurse, and keeper of her secret of being a battered wife, Sera will choose family and class over friendship. The choice is complicated as it is rooted in a “blood is thicker than water” social ethos and a simple, understandable self-protection. Class, even between two apartment locations, signals a more complex perspective and social networking in Shashi Deshpande’s That Long Silence. The protagonist, Jaya, is a lower middle class woman who grows up in a poor suburban apartment block on the edges of metropolitan (again) Bombay. But as she and her marital family prosper, they move into an apartment in the upper class Churchgate area in the heart of the city. The story of Jaya’s self-discovery, however, unfolds back in the suburban apartment. Under suspicion of malpractice, her husband Mohan has to take leave from his job. He and Jaya return to their apartment in Dadar, a poorer Bombay suburb. An outwardly happily married couple with two teenage children and a beautiful home, Jaya and Mohan are separated by a wide chasm of silence. The apartment, inherited from a relative and then bequeathed to Jaya by her brother, becomes the location for her re-evaluating herself as a wife, a writer, and a person. The return to the apartment where she spent some of her childhood and which was also their first marital home is a hiatus from the Churchgate home with its rigid societal gender roles of woman, wife, and mother. Here Jaya confronts the fears that have led to her self imprisonment if not erasure. Jaya’s marital home in Churchgate is not described, so we don’t know what kind of a dwelling it is apart from knowing that it is in the prestigious part of town.10 Her personal drama takes place in the less affluent, suburban apartment in Dadar on the fringes of Bombay city. Both novels hint at an unarticulated subtext of how class privilege can imprison and isolate women like Jaya and Sera just as much as poverty can stifle their less affluent friends/ helpers Bhima and Jeeja. Equally That Long Silence clearly notes the gender divide as responsible for Jaya’s feelings of suffocation. The contrast between the wealth of the Churchgate home and the poverty of the Dardar apartment are noted at the very beginning and mark the differences between what Mohan and Jaya are striving to escape. As they walk up the stairs together Mohan seems to be almost absorbed by the squalor and poverty reminiscent of the childhood he had sought to flee. He climbs “gingerly, almost on tiptoe,” whereas Jaya walks “with the steadiness of familiarity, the dirt and ugliness obviously for her a normal part of the surroundings” (7). Her immediate ease and connection make it apparent that for her the return is a kind of

124Geetanjali Singh Chanda release and homecoming. Jaya acknowledges, “I only know that the bareness, the ugliness of this place pleased me more than our carefully furnished home in Churchgate. … I had a queer sense of homecoming” (25). But she notes how different it is for Mohan who “prowled about uneasy and fearful, like a trapped, confined animal” (25–26). For him this return is more a banishment than a homecoming. The differences in their ease with this poorer home are portrayed as much as an individual reaction as it is a gendered one. Jaya’s connection with this home is more through her affective relations with people, especially the women, whereas Mohan’s striving for upward mobility is an escape from the poverty represented by both the people and the location of the Dadar home. Both Mohan and Jaya’s childhoods had been problematic so this is not quite the Bachelardian return to a felicitous childhood for either of them. The insistent trope of staging a return to a known, earlier home, especially for women protagonists is fairly common in many of the novels. A different future cannot even be envisioned until the “return home” allows the protagonists to come to terms with their pasts. A re-evaluation of their situation and their selfhood is enabled only by this home-coming.11 The old home seems to be the essential launching pad towards a future that will not repeat earlier patterns of confinement and silence often located in these very childhood homes. Early in the novel when she returns to the apartment, Jaya perceptively notes that “the ghost most fearful to confront is the ghost of one’s old self ” (13). Similarly, though unarticulated, the ghost of Sera’s old self that had accepted husbandly abuse in silence and isolated herself in shame is so deeply etched in her psyche and almost structurally built into the apartment that it prevents her from breaking away. On the other hand, Jaya’s acceptance of the apartment, dirt and all, is an essential first step to an acceptance and confrontation with who she was. The “history of the flat” (41) is deliberately narrated as such to establish it as a concrete location with its own specific antecedents. Both Sera and Jaya own their apartments. Jaya’s ownership and sense of self in the apartment are interestingly linked in that although the apartment was left to her brother, he gifts it to her because he feels it is their natal family inheritance. Jaya’s childhood links to it give her a greater emotional right to it than simple patriarchal laws of inheritance that exclude her. As a woman, it is made clear to her that she is not entitled to even a place in her family genealogy let alone an inheritance of property. An ever present awareness of class also leads her to note that her sister-in-law, like Mohan “despised this part of Bombay, not just the filth and squalor, but the kind of people who lived here” (42).



Sera, on the other hand, lives in an apartment among her own class of people. Although she has little meaningful interaction with them, they are the people she socializes with. Her treatment of Bhima which they see as “spoiling,” however, sets her apart from them. And although within the isolated space of the apartment Bhima and Sera do come together as almost friends, that connection cannot be sustained in either the larger social context of the apartment building or of society or even in the presence of her son-in-law. In the end, Sera’s emotional dependence as well as her inability or unwillingness to give up class privilege make her a prisoner of the apartment. Jaya, on the other hand, is young enough and willing to risk an unsatisfactory present to renegotiate different terms even if it means living alone in a poorer neighborhood but with the help of women who may not be her friends or equals but whom she recognizes as her real support system. Jaya’s easy acceptance of the squalor of the Dadar home is directly linked to her everyday comfort with the poorer neighbors. The audible rhythms of their lives mark time and shape the patterns of her days in synchronic existence. Like Sera, she is aware of the class divide but her natural and instinctive sympathy allows her to form a bond with them without necessarily desiring intimacy or friendship. However, her husband Mohan’s gendered “indifference to things that did not concern him” (8) isolates him from his wife, the neighbors and, of course, the women domestic workers. It is the women who interact with each other across class lines, and, in fact they even wait till Mohan leaves to knock on Jaya’s door. What I term, “Gender deference” and an unwillingness to intrude on the heterosexual couple-unit, along with Mohan’s male-hostility, makes the women reticent. The absence of men—both physical and emotional—marks the lives of both the domestic workers and the apartment dwelling women and unites them in a common cause. It is the easy and constant presence of the community of women, her neighbors and the domestic workers that, even if at times irritating, surrounds and sustains Jaya. They, and not her husband, take care of Jaya when she is desperately ill and alone in the apartment. At one level the women’s common cause is sheer survival. The everyday mutual dependence of household chores and their daily ritual of tea and conversation provides Sera and Bhima “breathing space” in their difficult and lonely lives. Jaya too honestly acknowledges that her freedom is predicated on the work of the domestic help: “It was Jeeja and her like I needed; it was these women who saved me from the hell of drudgery. Any little freedom I had depended on them” (52). Jaya unlike Sera does not necessarily seek to bridge the class divide but she is cognizant of the mutual support system among women. Sera’s relationship with Bhima though is more intimate. Bhima eases

126Geetanjali Singh Chanda Sera’s burden of housework but more importantly she shares Sera’s home space and its secrets. Sera remembers: When the house felt tomblike, encased in silence, a silence that prevented her from reaching out to others, from sharing her darkest secret with even her closest friends. When Bhima was the only one who knew, the only one who felt the dampness of the pillowcase after long nights of shedding hot tears, the only one who heard the muffled sounds coming from her and Feroz’s bedroom. (18)

Sera and Bhima develop an intimacy and a language that does not need words within the apartment, even if they cannot bridge the class divide to face the outside world together. The dependence is not a one way street either. Whether it is a throwback to a feudal ethos or just mutual help, Jeeja turns to Jaya when her drunken son is in the hospital. She appeals to Jaya, not for financial help but for contacts. She recognizes the doctor as someone who knew Jaya’s brother. And she knows that Jaya’s class privilege will open doors that are otherwise shut for the poor. And Jaya willingly uses her class access to ensure that Jeeja’s son gets better treatment in the hospital. Similarly Bhima acknowledges that when her husband lay ill and abandoned in a government hospital, “Sera and Feroz Dubash had stridden in like movie stars and made sure that he got the best care. … Rich, confident, and well-spoken, Serabai has a way of making doors open like a magician” (56). Where state institutions cannot be relied upon to provide services, then class provides access and contacts to individuals within the system. Not only is Bhima’s granddaughter Maya’s college education facilitated by Sera but equally Bhima anticipates: the good job that would inevitably await her [Maya], thanks to Dinaz’s and Viraf’s influence and business contacts, the escape from the menial, backbreaking labour that had marred the lives of her mother and her mother before her—that path would shrivel up, that much was certain. (21)

Domestic workers in both Deshpande and Umrigar’s apartment novels are aware of how the system works, and parlay the access their upper class employers enjoy to at least solve their immediate and specific problems. Personal space and privacy are luxuries for Indian women of all classes. Women’s lives in these apartments particularly, are open secrets and generally passed on from one woman to another. That Sera and Bhima manage to keep the secret of wife-beating is surprising. In That Long Silence, the cleaning woman Nayana updates Jaya about her domestic helper Jeeja and Jaya’s neighbor, and divulges that she was aware of Jaya’s secretive visits to the gentleman neighbor, Kamat. Sera’s neighbors also know exactly how often Sera goes to



check in on her mother-in-law. The “gossip” aspect of these interactions can be seen as an informal networking that creates a common pool of knowledge and concern. Women talking to other women are bound together in what Jaya terms a “conspiracy of women” (37). Men, like Mohan, are not deliberately kept out, but render themselves outsiders by their indifference. If the woman to woman connection in the haveli was enabled by a segregated women’s space, in the apartments it seems to be enabled by men’s distancing and deliberately choosing not to interact with the women with whom they share the domestic space. The title That Long Silence is explained in the prologue quote which also tellingly articulates its core premise: “If I were a man and cared to know the world I lived in, I almost think it would make me a shade uneasy—the weight of that long silence of one-half of the world.”12 Men’s lack of caring and estrangement from women’s conversations is one aspect, but their inability to hear women dramatically alters their perceptions of a situation. Both That Long Silence and The Space Between Us are narrated from the woman’s viewpoint. The male protagonists—Mohan, Feroz, and Viraf—are the kings of their castles, and for them the home is a space where they can and do assert their authority and even physical dominance over the women. In an iconic moment when Mohan recounts to Jaya the story of his mother cooking in the middle of the night for an alcoholic and abusive husband, their interpretations of the situation are diametrically opposed: “He saw strength in the woman sitting silently in front of the fire, but I saw despair. I saw despair so great that it would not voice itself. I saw a struggle so bitter that silence was the only weapon. Silence and surrender” (36). Silence is a persistent theme in many novels and is often encoded as punishment when men withdraw verbally; but it is contrarily seen as both strength and/or weakness (depending on the situation) when women use it.13 Jaya notes how silence “links the destinies of women,” even of mothers and daughters who may be very different from each other. In Deshpande’s novels womanly silence is often seen negatively as a silencing of women by patriarchy. In That Long Silence particularly, Jaya’s silence and her writing are linked. In the biography she has to submit to a newspaper, she pares herself down to the barebones of description. The contents of her diary are heavily self-censored. Jaya does not, will not, and cannot admit, even to herself, her real feelings. But the bland tone and style of her diary are a pertinent reminder of similar critiques of Indian English women’s writing. Meenakshi Mukherjee blames class and a westernized education for this particularly anodyne style of writing, whereas Malashri Lal attributes the sameness of tone to a deliberate strategy that masks subversive ideas. Jaya is self-reflexive enough to note with shock that the diaries reveal her to be a person who is so utterly absorbed by domesticity that she drowns in it.

128Geetanjali Singh Chanda The diaries parallel her Seeta newspaper column. The very pseudonym “Seeta” is a subtle reminder of the Sita of the Ramayana but the different spelling also distances the two. The columns evoke the image of the dutiful Sita, the paragon of wifehood so ably popularized by Ramanand Sagar’s television serial version.14 The Sita of certain folk traditions, women’s versions, and regional retellings is portrayed very differently and probably lies latent in the column, signaled by the different spelling.15 Unsurprisingly the people who love the Seeta column are stalwarts of conformity like Mohan, the newspaper editors, and mainstream readers. But for Jaya, the Seeta column had been the means through which I had shut the door, firmly, on all those other women who had invaded my being, screaming for attention; women I had known I could not write about, because they might—it was just possible—resemble Mohan’s mother, or aunt, or my mother or aunt. Seeta was safer. I didn’t have to come out of the safe hole I’d crawled into to write about Seeta. I could stay there, warm and snug. (149)

Jaya’s reflection on this kind of writing raises the broader issue of writing and especially of women’s writing as a subversive act or one that reinforces mainstream values.16 Jaya recognizes that in not telling the stories of “real” women, she closes the door on the potential of empowerment and womanly friendships. Coming back to the Dadar apartment, Jaya sees that every decision comes with a price tag. She could stay in this hole of conformity “warm and snug,” but it is not enough for her either as a writer or as a mother and wife. When she writes what for her is real, Mohan is devastated. He sees Jaya’s writing as self-revelatory, blurring the lines between private and public, of “washing one’s dirty linen in public.” The self-aware subject-hood of this post independence “new idea of womanhood” (133), to recall Chatterjee’s earlier phrase, would displace men from their pedestal. Unsurprisingly Mohan would prefer Jaya’s writing to be a kind of hobby, which would add some ornamentation to her and enhance his status by allowing him to boast “my wife is a writer” (119). But anything more might diminish his centrality in her life, and that power shift would be unacceptable to him. Jaya, though, is too honest to lay the blame for her being a failed writer entirely at Mohan’s door. She acknowledges that she is “scared of writing. Scared of failing” (148). But the real fear is the cruel vulnerability of self-­ exposure. The woman who questions the status quo risks being cast out of home and shorn of the supposedly protective mantle of husbands, fathers, and sons in a patriarchal society. At the end both Sera and Jaya face the same dilemma. Can they stand alone without the support of family?17 Jaya and Sera



recognize and accept their complicity in silencing themselves and crawling back into the comfort zone of a gendered domestic space. The nonconformity demanded of the protagonists may entail a price that may be too high. For Jaya, however, it is not too late to contemplate change. The seduction of conformity is often portrayed as “gender duty.” Jaya is “scared of hurting Mohan, scared of jeopardizing the only career I had, my marriage” (144). Marriage is articulated not just as a relationship but also a career. But in fact, Fredrick Engels conceived of women’s domestic duties not merely as unequal work but as bonded labor. Engels saw the oppression of women as primarily located in the domestic space of home and family.18 The social stigma of opting out of marriage and domesticity ensures that there are few second chances. Women and wives in these post independence novels are aware that even though education, property, and social status may give them more options than were available to their mothers’ generation, they may not be equipped to survive as single women in a male dominated social environment. Nonconformity in the novels is often equated with “being oneself.” In The Space Between Us, at a critical point Sera is aware that the choice of speaking out or not will set her in a certain direction in her married life. Although she sees the moment when she chooses to silence herself as a moment of self betrayal, she feels helpless as if she has no other choice: [S]he was aware of a feeling of let down, of having betrayed herself. She knew that she had taken the easy way out, that she had let the steam escape from the boiling pot of her emotions. … What she had wanted to say was “I love life,” a self-declaration as naked and real and authentic as an X-ray. And then, a door slammed shut somewhere in the inner recesses of Sera’s mind. (89)

Self-betrayal in her situation is tied into self preservation. Neither Sera nor Jaya can talk to their respective husbands because they are convinced that the men will not understand, and the lack of understanding can spell the end of the marriage. That is where women’s friendships become essential, because they do understand and sympathize. Class difference and diverse experiential contexts signal the way wealth and status shape the choices open to women. Women like Bhima and Jeeja almost serve as warnings that but for their wealth, education, and social status, Sera and Jaya could easily be in their place. Sera silences herself and banishes Bhima. Her class, age, education, upbringing, and gender have made all other choices impossible. But in that self erasure and banishment she is keenly aware of her loss—both of her selfhood and of her friend—the two are linked. Bhima on the other hand finds a kind of release and freedom when she quits Sera’s home. Her material future is bleak and her very survival is problematic, but the author glosses over that

130Geetanjali Singh Chanda and suggests that she can look forward to a fulfilling relationship with her granddaughter, and continuity and hope are provided in the strengthening of their bonds with each other. Jaya has a larger world view than Sera and is more self reflexive. She knows that systems, structures, and institutions tie women and men down. Fear had bound her, like it had Sera, and she understands, “I’m Mohan’s wife, I had thought, and cut off the bits of me that had refused to be Mohan’s wife” (191). The recognition of self and subjecthood as an individual is the first step to her finding voice and empowerment. It allows her to envisage change in a way that Sera cannot. Jaya feels that the system helps in wearing women down, because injustice and inequality are systemic and encoded in the state of wifehood and womanhood in general. Jaya learns the lessons of wifehood by example from the women in Mohan’s family: They had been a revelation to me, the women in his family, so definite about their roles. So well trained in their duties, so skilful in the right areas, so indifferent to everything else. I had never seen so clear, so precise a pattern before, and I had been entranced by it. (83)

Strict obedience to gender roles keeps the threat of anomie at bay. Conformity to a prescribed gender role may not spell happiness and self-expression, but Jaya hopes it will be enough: “That way lay—well, if not happiness, at least the consciousness of doing right, freedom from guilt” (84). On her wedding day, Jaya’s aunt reminds her that “a husband is like a sheltering tree.” Later as she recalls her aunt’s words Jaya thinks, “Without the tree, you’re dangerously unprotected and vulnerable. This followed logically. And so you have to keep the tree alive and flourishing, even if you have to water it with deceit and lies” (32). As single women, alone, can Jaya and Sera afford to be left unsheltered? Whereas in the havelis they could at least count on the support of the extended family, the apartment feels like solitary confinement. Sera’s conditioning of family as the primary and only safeguard against a lonely old age allows her to betray herself and Bhima. She can only look to her children for support, but Jaya is at a crossroads where she feels that a renegotiation is still possible. Jaya recalls that at the end of the Bhagavad-Gita sermon, after Krishna has explained the philosophy of life and given Arjuna knowledge, he also gives him the freedom to choose his path, “‘Yathecchasi tatha kuru’ Do as you desire” (192). In enlightenment revealed by her return to the Dadar apartment and to her past, Jaya too faces the option of doing as she desires. At this juncture, deciding between conformity and freedom, she feels she can



no longer provide the conformist, pleasing answers expected of her. She has to find her own voice. This is her moment of epiphany. Deshpande insists that only by breaking the silence of womanhood can women be freed. Bhima and Jaya are able to cut the strings that tie them down. But Sera, despite her self awareness, is unable to translate self-knowledge to a different action. She is a hostage to class, age, and family and retreats into silence and lies to protect all that she thinks she has left.

Notes 1. See Salman Rushdie’s Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism, 1981–1991. 2. See Audre Lorde’s essay “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” 3. Novels like Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column and Rama Mehta’s Inside the Haveli, for instance, have parallel narratives of family women and servants. For a more in depth discussion of this, see my book Indian Women in the House of Fiction. 4. In Space, Place and Gender, Doreen Massey describes feeling like a “space invader” as she consciously enters supposed male spaces. These spaces, she says, “were designed to, or had the effect of, firmly letting me know my conventional subordination” (185). 5. This notion of writing as creating a specifically “womenspace” is much more evident in women’s autobiographies. See, for example, my article “Writing Home: Indian Women’s Autobiographies.” 6. See, among others, “Sisterhood and Friendship as Feminist Models,” by Maria C. Lugones in collaboration with Pat Alake Rosezelle; “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference,” by Audre Lorde; Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism, edited by Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Ann Russo, and Torres Lourdes; and Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology, edited by Barbara Smith. 7. Meena Alexander’s Nampally Road (1991), Nayantara Sahgal’s Rich Like Us (1983), Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column, and Rama Mehta’s Inside the Haveli are some novels where the friendship among women is significant. 8. See Thrity Umrigar’s Bombay Time (2001). 9. See Sujeet Rajan’s interview at . 10. Suketu Mehta’s experiential narrative about Bombay gives us some idea of a Churchgate home. He notes, “Coming from New York, I am a pauper in Bombay. The going rate for a nice apartment in the part of south Bombay where I grew up in is $3,000 a month, plus $200,000 as a deposit, interest-free and returnable in rupees. This is after the real estate prices have fallen by forty per cent” (17). 11. See, for example, Shashi Deshpande’s A Matter of Time and The Binding Vine, Githa Hariharan’s The Thousand Faces of Night, Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column, and Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, among many others. 12. Elizabeth Robins, in a speech to the WWSL, 1907. Quoted as prologue to Shashi Deshpande’s That Long Silence. 13. See Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things and Shashi Deshpande’s A Matter of Time, where silence as punishment is central to the relationships of the two older couples.

132Geetanjali Singh Chanda 14. Ramanand Sagar wrote and directed the highly popular 78-part Ramayana television series that was aired weekly on the government channel Doordarshan in 1987–1988. 15. For a critical evaluation of women’s versions of the Ramayana, see Nabneeta Dev Sen, “Flowering of the Poison Tree: The Ramayana in the Words of Women.” 16. For excellent accounts of how women writers see their own writings, see Storylines: Conversations with Women Writers (2003) and Just Between Us: Women Speak about Their Writing (2004), both edited by Amu Joseph et al. 17. This question, “Can a woman live by herself?” (21), provides the impetus for a journey of self discovery and is at the heart of Anita Nair’s novel Ladies Coupe. 18. Fredrick Engels points to the dispersal and isolation of women as the first step in their subjugation and links gender and class oppression, noting the similarity and collusion between state and patriarchy. As Evelyn Reed explains in the introduction, “[T]he patriarchal family arose to control and to subjugate women in the very same process whereby the state arose to subjugate and control laboring men” (15).

Works Cited Alexander, Meena. Nampally Road. San Francisco: Mercury, 1991. Print. Ardener, Shirley, ed. Women and Space: Ground Rules and Social Maps. London: Croom Helm, 1981. Print. Bhabha, Homi K., ed. Nation and Narration. London: Routledge, 1990. Print. Chanda, Geetanjali Singh. Indian Women in the House of Fiction. New Delhi: Zubaan, 2008. Print. ———. “Writing Home: Indian Women’s Autobiographies.” Fiction and Drama 11 (1999): 77–94. Print. Chatterjee, Partha. The Partha Chatterjee Omnibus. Delhi: Oxford UP, 1999. Print. Deshpande, Shashi. The Binding Vine. Delhi: Penguin, 1993. Print. ———. A Matter of Time. New Delhi: Penguin, 1996. Print. ———. That Long Silence. New Delhi: Penguin, 1988. Print. Engels, Fredrick. The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State. 1884. Introduction by Evelyn Reed. New York: Pathfinder, 1972. Print. Fire. Dir. Deepa Mehta. 1997. Film. Gomathy, N.B., and Bina Fernandez. “Fire Sparks and Smouldering Ashes.” Because I Have a Voice: Queer Politics in India. Ed. Arvind Narain and Gautam Bhan. New Delhi: Yoda, 2005. 197–204. Print. Hariharan, Githa. The Thousand Faces of Night. Delhi: Viking-Penguin, 1992. Print. Hosain, Attia. Sunlight on a Broken Column. 1961. Delhi: Arnold-Heinemann, 1980. Print. Johnson-Reagon, Bernice. “Coalition Politics: Turning the Century.” Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology. Ed. Barbara Smith. New York: Kitchen Table: Women of Color, 1983. 356–68. Print. Joseph, Amu, et al. Just Between Us: Women Speak about Their Writing. India: Women’s World, Asmita Resource Centre for Women, 2004. Print.



———. Storylines: Conversations with Women Writers. India: Women’s World, Asmita Resource Centre for Women, 2003. Print. Lal, Malashri. The Law of the Threshold: Women Writers in Indian English. Shimla: Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 1995. Print. Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Trumansburg, NY: Crossing, 1984. Print. Lugones, Maria C., in collaboration with Pat Alake Rosezelle. “Sisterhood and Friendship as Feminist Models.” Feminism and Community. Ed. Penny A. Weiss and Marilyn Friedman. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1995.135–45. Print. Marcus, Sharon. Apartment Stories: City and Home in Nineteenth-Century Paris and London. Berkeley: U of California P, 1999. Print. Massey, Doreen. Space, Place and Gender. Cambridge: Polity, 1994. Print. Mehta, Rama. Inside the Haveli. Delhi: Arnold-Heinemann, 1977. Print. Mehta, Suketu. Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found. London: Review, 2004. Print. Mohanty, Chandra Talpade, Ann Russo, and Torres Lourdes, eds. Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1991. Print. Mukherjee, Meenakshi. The Perishable Empire: Essays on Indian Writing in English. New Delhi: Oxford UP, 2000. Print. ———. Realism and Reality: The Novel and Society in India. Bombay: Oxford India Paperbacks, Oxford UP, 1994. Print. Nair, Anita. Ladies Coupe. New Delhi: Penguin, 2001. Print. Prasad, Sunand. “The Havelis of North India, The Urban Courtyard House.” Vol. 1. Dissertation. London: The Royal College of Art, Visual Islamic Arts Unit, June 1988. Print. Rajan, Sujeet. “Interview with Thrity Umrigar. Indian Express. Web. 26 Jan. 2015. . Roy, Arundhati. The God of Small Things. New Delhi: IndiaInk, 1997. Print. Rudolph, Lloyd I., and Susanne Hoeber Rudolph. The Modernity of Tradition: Political Development in India. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1967. Print. Rushdie, Salman. Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism, 1981–1991. London: Granta, 1991. Print. Sahgal, Nayantara. Rich Like Us. 1983. Kent: Sceptre-Hodder, 1987. Print. Sen, Nabneeta Dev. “Flowering of the Poison Tree: The Ramayana in the Words of Women.” The Little Magazine 1.5 (Nov.-Dec. 2000): 14–25. Print. Smith, Barbara, ed. Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology. New York: Kitchen Table: Women of Color, 1983. Print. Turner, Victor. Dramas, Fields, and Metaphors: Symbolic Action in Human Society. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1974. Print. “Thrity Umrigar.” 2015. Web. 22 July 2008. . Umrigar, Thrity. Bombay Time. New York: Picador, 2001. Print. ———. The Space Between Us. New York: Morrow, 2005. Print.

8. Neelum Saran Gour: Novelist of Small Town India and Beyond Shyamala A. Narayan

“Many writers in English have produced one good book and faded away, but Neelum has stuck to her vocation despite little encouragement,” says Harish Trivedi (University of Delhi), “She is rooted in her environment, and yet cosmopolitan as well.” Neelum Saran Gour (b. 1955) is the author of four novels and two collections of short stories. Born and brought up in Allahabad, she obtained her M.A. from the University of Allahabad (the fourth oldest university in India, established in 1887) and began teaching English there (she is now Professor of English). She has a Ph.D. from the same university (her doctoral thesis was on another Indian English novelist, Raja Rao). Her writing career began in 1980, when, immediately after her marriage to insurance executive Sudhanshu Gour, she followed him to Kolkata1 where he was posted. “I was on long leave from the university and had little to do,” she says, “so I began writing short stories and sending them to magazines” (“Metropolitan-Mofussil”). It was one of these stories which caught the attention of Penguin India chief David Davidar, and he commissioned Gour to do a book of short stories. Grey Pigeon and Other Stories, Neelum Saran Gour’s first book, was published in 1993. The nineteen short stories reveal a variety of literary styles and topics, and range in length from seven to thirty pages. She avoids what have come to be stock themes of metropolitan writers like Salman Rushdie and Shashi Tharoor: Partition, the Emergency, etc. Each story is remarkable in its own way. Many are set in Calcutta, others in small towns like Kanpur and Allahabad. Much of her later fiction is set in Allahabad, the town she knows best. In her own words: I have been a mofussil2 person all my life—although I’ve lived for short periods in Kolkata. My writing draws upon the small towns I’ve lived in and the

136Shyamala A. Narayan cultures which underlie them. It isn’t exactly the physical city of Allahabad I write about but a geo-fabular construct which includes many things past and many things possible in what I would call the generic North Indian small town. (“Metropolitan-Mofussil”)

A story in Grey Pigeon and Other Stories, “The Taste of Almonds,” is set in Kanpur; the old Nawab has lost his memory, and is out of touch with reality. His once extensive property is now a slum, inhabited by poor people. One day, when he finds the door unbolted, he ventures out into the crowded streets in search of his favorite sweet dish. Gour presents the Nawab’s oldworld flowery Urdu thus: “So, into the entrails of a hectic teeming bazaar wandered Nawab Saab for an hour and more, asking: ‘May the offence be excused, noble sir, but be this the lane wherein Nadeem Khan, the sweetmeat-seller, holds residence?’” (15). It is only when he starts berating young Asad Mukhtar for selling substandard sweets, “I shall have your shop closed down,... Your place shall be taken by Nadeem Khan, when I can find him” (17–18) that the crowd realizes that he is in quest of Asad’s maternal grandfather who died thirty years ago. When the poor people gathered there realize that he is “the old Nawab of Sher Kothi, the senile one, the one who’s kept locked up” (18), they are filled with compassion. In a heart-warming gesture, they collect money to buy the milk and other expensive ingredients required to make the “malai gillories” the old man is yearning for. Gour never attempts to “explain” India to a foreign audience; there are no comments on Indian customs and there is no glossary. However, her descriptions are such that readers familiar with Indian towns would enjoy them the most: The blazing sun made Nawab Saab’s brow sweat and made his ragged kurta and checked lungi cling to the clammy skin. The dust and slush soiled his old nagras where the embroidered peacocks once reposed. … He paused before a stall and read with difficulty (the language of his own time being Persian or a civilized Urdu) the Hindi alphabets: “Hul-chul Chaat” and above it the pious sentiment: “This too shall pass”. To the best of his knowledge and belief, “Hul-chul” meant “hurly-burly”, confusion; and why the shop-owner should designate his shop “confusion” was beyond his comprehension, and what confusion should have in common with the observation that all is ephemeral challenged his powers beyond their scope. He shook his head, mystified, and went on. (15)

Neelum Saran Gour’s touch is right, her awareness of India, past and present, quite complete. As Sandhya Jain puts it, “What strikes one most is the atmosphere Gour has so successfully evoked in each tale, and the sympathy she shows for her characters. Gour neither ridicules nor rebukes human foibles and frailties, she understands them.”

Neelum Saran Gour


Winter Companions and Other Stories appeared in 1997. Unlike stories by other women writers, Gour’s work is not woman-centered, though there are stories like “Two Women, Two Trees” here which express a woman’s sense of loss. The title story is about two old widowers, a Hindu and a Muslim, who meet in a park in Kanpur. It presents with great sensitivity the loneliness of old people, a theme which recurs in many other short stories and in the novel, Virtual Realities (2002). In the short story, “A Lane in Lucknow,” an old man Veeran Lucknavi reminisces about the pluralistic culture which produced the best Urdu poetry, a blend of Hindu and Muslim influences. Gour said that her father, a great influence in her life, was “Hindu in persuasion and Islamic in culture.” Veeran Lucknavi is visiting his hometown Lucknow after earning fame and money as a poet and lyricist in the Bombay film industry in the 1940s. He says: It was, of course, very different then. There were several old havelis with ornate studded doors, carved stone pillars. … Doors opened to allow glimpses of cool paved courtyards and shady, chick-hung verandas. I found, as I came today, a beauty parlour, a coaching centre, shops, a stockbroker’s, an STD/PCO booth. But looking down, I found that the flagstones which paved the ground were unchanged. (Winter Companions 311)

He tells us how it was the guidance of his mentor Siraj Hasnain which made it possible for him, Mohan Chand Khare, a young Hindu, to become the poet Veeran Lucknavi. The 29-page story presents mushairas (Urdu poetry recitation competitions), and Gour’s translations of the Urdu verses are quite effective. Siraj had sacrificed his own standing as a poet in a mushaira to launch the young man’s career. Neelum Saran Gour’s first novel Speaking of ‘62 (1995) presents the small town atmosphere of Allahabad in the late 1950s and early 1960s, as seen through the eyes of a child whose outlook was changed by the Indo-Chinese war of 1962. The narrator is a nine-year-old boy; the six children, their idealistic (if eccentric) parents, and their neighbors are sketched vividly. Their father is a schoolmaster, who always tries to explain things to his children. The novelist gives a vivid word picture of their old-fashioned house, where “the kitchen was our place of study”: Ours was a very kitchen-centred home. A big, thatched room with one end partitioned off as sacrosanct and out of bounds, the sanctum of the smoking hearth. Here, seated upon the clay-plastered floor, mother cooked. The gold-blue petals of flame cradled the sizzling cauldron, the dark breath of smoke snaked up and shed its skin upon the rear wall. Here Mother ladled out and uttered judgements on humankind. In the more profane side was our crumpled floor, all chipped and caved in … (2–3)

138Shyamala A. Narayan The father patiently explains all about the border dispute with China by mapping the kitchen floor. The narrator lives through the small joys and sorrows of his childhood. Tul-Tul, the eldest boy, tries to boss over the younger one, but the narrator and his brothers Arun, Bona, and Montu are not to be cowed down. Everyone indulges their little sister, Lichi. The continuing fights they have with the boy next door (they nickname him Habra because his gap teeth resemble the Howrah Bridge) over the jackfruit tree growing on the boundary between their houses end with the mothers sending delicacies to each other. There is a hilarious account of their neighbor Birju Debji “borrowing” the children for the “Colonelgunj Barwari Committee Independence Day function organized at the Satyabhama Memorial School” (47). The tiled roof is a favorite haunt of the children; sitting there, they can overhear the conversations of their elders. Gour reveals the informality of small town life, where everyone knows everyone else, in her description of their father’s “breakfast circle”: “Breakfast was usually a community affair and the semi-circle on the kitchen floor grew wider to include all our neighbours” (22). News of the Chinese aggression has the neighbors bringing along a variety of newspapers: Our family read the local Leader but Mr Shambhu Nath from across the road brought along the Hindustan Times of Delhi and Chandan Basu of the corner house brought the Calcutta Statesman. And we had a walking digest of international news too. Our aunt’s husband, whom we called ‘Hoo’ for short, was an authority on what every paper in the world was writing. (22)

Like Neelum Saran Gour herself, the children have a Bengali mother and a Hindi-speaking father. Small towns are more conscious of these regional differences than the anonymous metropolis; the chapter “Come October,” which describes the children’s enjoyment of the festival of Durga Puja, reveals that the Bengali community in Allahabad does not approve of this marriage: It was well that the goddess and her assembly of divinities held our complete and undistracted interest because a great many whispers and queries began about us whenever we entered that exclusive Bengali pocket. Great astonishment was expressed over the fact that we understood and spoke fluent Bengali. Cautious looks were cast upon our mother who dressed herself with great opulence for the sacred occasion and, along with her powder and cream, put on a special expression of hauteur that was truly splendid to behold. And once we heard the distinct words: “Married a Heendoostanee, yes, those kids are hers”. Our mother often returned home from the Puja pandal in a fret and, to our vexation, never permitted us to line up for prasad. It goes without saying that we weren’t exactly the life and soul of the party in those self-conscious and pedigreed circles but that scarcely inhibited us. (97)

Neelum Saran Gour


The section begins with a vivid description of the Puja pandals—Bengalis of the area (in every town in India, not just in Bengal) get together for a public worship of the goddess. For the children, it means “new clothes and visits to the beautiful, incense-misted pandal” (96). Events are presented from the child narrator’s point of view, who notes his mother’s defensive attitude (“who dressed herself with great opulence for the sacred occasion and, along with her powder and cream, put on a special expression of hauteur that was truly splendid to behold”). The little children miss the prasad (the sacred offering of sweets, etc., distributed to the devotees), but entertain themselves by raining flowers at the goddess: “If a hibiscus or a jasmine or a balsam landed pat on her feet or dashed her brocaded saree or touched any of her ten hands, we considered ourselves qualified for blessedness” (96). Speaking of ’62 presents a world of childhood innocence and childish pranks, but Gour’s second novel, Virtual Realities, is much grimmer. It is set entirely in Allabahad; the focus is not on the town but on the life of the writer, and how he/she creates virtual realities. The small town ambience is recreated faithfully; neighbors take a great deal of interest in each others’ lives, and even medical treatment has a very personal touch: Sravan remembered old Moinuddin, the ophthalmologist. As a short-sighted kid, he’d shrieked with fright seeing Moinuddin’s enlarged Paleolithic eye drawing towards him in the lens of the slit lamp in an eerie dark room. His first spectacles … then Moinuddin had patted his head, his trim, combed beard fragrantly close to his nose, and said—May these eyes always know how to see clearly. (92)

This is the essence of small town life, where everyone knows everyone else for generations. As Gour put it in her lecture on “Metropolitan-Mofussil Writerly Politics”: And, when out shopping or working or socializing I meet someone I haven’t met in a long time, he or she suddenly talks to me about my father, my mother and my old house that no longer exists. My old washerwoman calls me by my childhood name. My doctor’s late father was my late mother’s colleague. My caterer is my ex-landlord’s grandson. At the paan-shop,3 the old woman who minds the shop starts talking about the time her son was admitted to Government Inter College with my father’s help. The chemist speaks to me of my uncle who taught him botany. We stand at the counter, observing a one-minute silence in which our memories resonate together in an inexpressible connectivity. So now you know what a Mofussil town is all about.

Sravan Nishit, the central character of Virtual Realities, is a successful writer, with many bestselling and award-winning novels to his credit; as a person, he is not at all likeable. Selfish and unscrupulous, he has a dysfunctional marriage

140Shyamala A. Narayan and is unable to connect with his old father, his wife Pragya, and his ten-yearold son. An old college friend, Prabuddha, drops in; he is a lovable rascal who loves to spin yarns, but his emotional quotient is high. It is he who looks after Sravan’s father who is bedridden with a stroke. One would expect that Professor Gour’s language would tend to be pedantic and academic, especially in this novel which deals with the art and craft of writing and storytelling. But her language is fresh and dynamic, employing Hindi usages and phrases freely. This is how the lonely old man, Sravan’s father, confesses to Buddhoo that he too was persuaded to write a novel: Personally I wouldn’t ever have contemplated the idea. Saala waste of time! No pursuit for a man of sense. But you know how it goes—start a job and you’ve got to carry it through. I worked at it for three years. Fitfully. Tough work. Not the writing part—that’s fool’s stuff—but the making time for it. Each time I’d start, something’d crop up. Get me some green chillis from the bazaar, eh-ji, the wife’d call out. Work out this square root for me, Babuji, the son would whimper. Can you make time for a letter to the Pension Section of the AG’s Office, Madanlalji? A neighbor would descend. A bit of tax calculation for the Principal sahib, Madanlalji, a phone call for you—from the house next door. Sometimes I’d just taken off and was doing fine, spinning the sentences along like a Nobel Laureate with an oiled and battery-operated pen, when along comes the kid and pleads—Talk to me. Tell me a story. (89)

The names in this story have important connotations for Indian readers. Prabuddha (“enlightened, intelligent”) has the nickname of Buddhoo (“fool”), while Sravan’s estranged wife is called Pragya (“wisdom”). Sravan is quite ironical, because Sravan Kumar is the name of the young man in the Ramayana who devoted his entire life to looking after and listening to his blind parents. Buddhoo calls him “ravan” (the evil figure in the Ramayana), suggesting that it was Sravan himself who made his name into “ravan” when he tried to scratch off his name from the horrid graffiti written by Buddhoo, but succeeded only in removing the “S.” Sikandar Chowk Park is Gour’s best work. It captures the rhythms of Hindi and Urdu in English, and it is also significant for presenting the problems of contemporary India through the lives of people in a small town. The narrator of Sikandar Chowk Park is a journalist named Siddhanta (which means “principle”) who works for Mashal (meaning “Torch”). This implied bilingualism can sometimes be a problem for the reader who does not know Hindi. As Jyoti Singh writes in her review of the book: “The Hindi words in the novel ought to be in italics, like the Urdu words, and a glossary at the end would be an added advantage.” It has an interesting frame story: fifty-seven people are killed in a bomb blast in Sikandar Chowk Park, and a journalist

Neelum Saran Gour


attempts to recreate the lives and personalities of eleven of them. Siddhanta is “a journalist by chance and not by choice … This was in the early eighties. In those days you did not need a Mass Comm. Degree to land a job in a newspaper in a small town” (26–27). We get a clear picture of the changes in the newspaper office in twenty years: The Mashal outfit those days was housed in a single hall down an alley lined with lace and button shops. You get the scene? Shoddy office, stained tables, half a dozen rackety manual typewriters, a chai-boy doing the rounds with a metal carrier of glasses of sugary, scalding tea. Loud voices raised in noisy certitudes and the occasional hawk and spit of paan. … Over the last twenty years the Mashal establishment modernized itself a lot with tinted glass partitions, mica-ed plywood cabins, computers, whathave you, but during these recent riots I saw it burn down to a shell. (26–27)

Sikandar Chowk Park presents a comprehensive picture of Allahabad, one of the oldest cities of India, with a glorious past, where layers of history are represented by Allahabad’s numerous ghats, temples, monuments, forts, tombs, dargahs, parks, churches, colonial bungalows, High Court and University. It has also been a city of high learning in which the world of Urdu letters comfortably co-existed with a richly productive world of Hindi literature distinguished by personages like Akbar Allahabadi, Firaq Gorakhpuri, Harivanshrai Bachchan, Nirala, Sumitranandan Pant, Mahadevi Verma and Dharamvir Bharati. (“Metropolitan-Mofussil”)

Gour is equally conscious of the degeneration of Allahabad: “Allahabad lost its identity and became just another U.P. small town” (“MetropolitanMofussil”). The first of the “stories” is that of Mahendra Chandra, a petty lawyer (“Vakil Sahib”) and Nankoo, the boy who works for him. Nankoo is a lovably rogue who thinks that having a mock cremation of the Vakil is a good way to mark the end of the millennium. The Vakil has a sense of humor, and plans to have a thirteenth day feast (which marks the end of the rituals in a Hindu funeral), but his wife (her name is Nirmala, but everyone calls her “Vakilin,” the feminine form of Vakil, “lawyer”) is quite disapproving. For fifty years, they have been close friends with Osman Bhai and his family, their neighbors upstairs. Vakil Babu’s son Manik and Osman’s son Afzal are almost the same age, but trifles get blown out of proportion, and the sons start hating each other. The riots that break out after the bomb blast at the park bring this friendship to an end. Hindu-Muslim relations is a theme which runs through many of Gour’s works. One of the blast victims, Vani Kabir, a feminist social worker, has a Muslim mother and a Hindu father; she is disowned by both communities (105–06).

142Shyamala A. Narayan Another life ruined is that of Sakina Bibi, who enjoys a friendly relationship with tenants of her crumbling house. She has rented out a room to Suleman, believing his story that he is a poet with a book published in London (206–07); she never suspects that he is a terrorist, circulating counterfeit rupees. The rampaging mob “punishes” her by gang-raping her pretty fourteen-year-old niece Rubina, whom she has called to her house with plans of fixing up her marriage to Suleman. Siddhanta portrays Bibi as she was before the tragedy, “the imperious dowager queen of the lane, the one with the chilli-hot tongue” (54). Gour freely uses Hindi words to describe her in minute detail: “She sat on her chowki in her first-floor baradari draped with chiks. Peering at a brass dish of golden selha rice through thick, owlish post-cataract glasses” (54). Young boys play cricket on the cobbled area outside her house, and “there existed a sportive state of declared war” (54) between them. This is how Gour presents Sakina Bibi’s “chilli-hot tongue”: Arré, you nikamma slackers! Have you no work, nigoray? What do you imagine my doorstep is—the diwan-khana of a nautch house where your nawabships can while away your idle hours? Be off! Be off this minute! Shouting loudly-loudly at the top of your voices, enough to rouse the dead in their graves before kayamat-day and visit their wrath upon us all! Ulloo ke patthe! (55)

The novelist leaves some phrases untranslated: “kayamat” is the day of Judgment, and “Ulloo ke patthe” (“son of an owl”) is common abuse. Another national issue that Gour takes up is that of reservation of government jobs for the backward castes. Among the people who are killed in the bomb blast are Swati Maurya and young Kartik; Swati’s lover, Neelesh Trivedi, is one of the survivors whom the journalist interviews. Kartik is a neglected, hyperactive eight-year-old from a rich family. He does not get admission into any good school because the schools insist on interviewing the parents before selecting children. The novelist fabricates a peculiar language which faithfully presents Mrs Goswamy’s predicament: Ek toh I’ve studied only up till my Inter and that too quickly—quickly before my marriage and then Kartik’s papa is away and Kartik—you can see how he is. Now my Vijoo was admitted into Jesus Marry Convent the first time he appeared for the interview but his other one … always I am getting after him to study, study like his brother. I say to him, competition everywhere. Study is must. Yeh toh very must hai. But he doesn’t. He is like this only. (46)

Gour faithfully recreates Mrs Goswamy’s pronunciation (“Jesus Marry Convent”) and the way she refers to her husband, a businessman in Dubai, as “Kartik’s papa.” The satire of the educational system in contemporary India is enjoyable. There has been a mushroom growth of “convent schools”

Neelum Saran Gour


(English medium schools); parents don’t want to send their children to badly run government schools. Swati, an educated Dalit girl who walks out of a dysfunctional marriage, speculates, “Maybe they only want kids from educated families so they don’t have to work too hard educating them, na?” (49). Neelesh Trivedi, a Brahmin, has appeared a number of times in the civil service examination, but fifty percent of the seats are reserved for backward castes, so he is not selected. Swati and Neelesh meet through the good offices of Chunni Lal, who sets in the sentry-box at the gate of St. Dominic’s School; he shows them the leaflet, “For Admission Interview, Parents on Hire. Smart, Convented, LadiesGents. No risk. Super Successful Performance Assured” (47). This is the kind of Indian English we may find in real life—“convented” for convent-educated, that is, educated at an English medium expensive school. Swati and Neelesh meet when they attend the interview posing as Kartik’s parents. They become lovers, and Neelesh encourages her to sit for the civil service examinations; they plan to marry only after she is selected, or else she is in danger of losing the special quota. But caste prejudice intervenes even in their sexual encounters, with Neelesh playing the master, ill-treating the slavish, devoted Swati. Swati’s ex-husband (she refers to him as “the Monster”) cannot tolerate the idea of her taking a high-caste lover, and throws acid on her face. When she dies in the bomb blast, “the Monster” takes the ex-gratia payment given to the next of kin by the government. The eleven characters are carefully individualized. Sakina Bibi enjoys a special relationship with her tenant Professor K.B. Mathur, who loves to teach English; he reads and explains to her Hardy’s “The Darkling Thrush” as a fit poem for the end of the millennium, which, he insists, is not the millennium, “it’s just nineteen hundred and ninety-nine years” (6). We have a hilarious account of his experiences with Munna, to whom he is giving tuitions; the poem Munna writes, a parody of Wordsworth’s “Three Years She Grew,” is a good comment on English in India. Another person who dies in the bomb blast is “Masterji,” a classical music teacher who loves stray dogs. Other strands of narrative deal with Lynette Shepherd, an old Anglo-Indian widow grappling with the knowledge of her husband’s infidelity years ago; forty-two-year-old Shirin trying hard to cope with a husband who is suffering from alcoholic dementia; and Suruchi, a senior civil servant who cannot bring herself to tell her handicapped lover about her promotion and transfer out of Allahabad. Gour’s work is not confined to contemporary small town India. She has a talent for recreating other places and times. Messres Dickens, Doyle & Wodehouse Pvt. Ltd. (the misspelling Messres is deliberate) is an enjoyable

144Shyamala A. Narayan spoof, where Gour writes in various literary styles echoing Dickens, Doyle, and Wodehouse. Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson have Jeeves (P.G. Wodehouse’s immortal valet) working for them; the characters in the murder mystery are all drawn from the works of Charles Dickens. But it is for restricted readership—the humor of the novel can be appreciated only if you are well acquainted with these authors, especially Charles Dickens and his novels Great Expectations and David Copperfield. One of the stories in Grey Pigeon and Other Stories is set during the Raj. “Coming of Age” beautifully recreates the ambience of a memsahib’s party in Calcutta in the 1860s. It is not only young Edwin, son of a war hero, but also his guest, Michael Madhusudan Dutt (who later became modern Bengali’s first epic poet), who faces the truth. The stories set in twentieth-century Calcutta are equally rewarding. “A Gift for Prince Charles” has a touch of humor, as father and son fall out because the father wants to send a wedding gift to Charles, on his marriage to Diana. Prafulya Dutta is planning to send an engraved grain of rice all the way to Buckingham Palace; college-­ going Avinash, with Marxist sympathies, cannot tolerate this. “A New Year’s Party” has Geoffrey Fernandes, a lonely widower, celebrating the New Year by throwing a party for old Alphonse and teenager Sheena. The surprising twist at the end comes when he consoles himself that “To throw a successful party with nobody attending save an old granddad, dead and gone for forty years and more, and a flighty young fantasy of a granddaughter, unborn still and unlikely ever to be born, was, by God, no minor feat” (Grey Pigeon 13). “Notes and Chapters” ingeniously presents the past of a decaying princely state through the eyes of a young researcher writing a dissertation; here Gour makes excellent use of scholarly jargon, which the narrator slowly abandons when history and legend merge together. Neelum Saran Gour’s fiction, which frequently focuses on small town India, seems to be written with a purely Indian readership in mind. She portrays the customs, intimacy, and lack of anonymity of everyday life found in more rural locales. Her writing, however, also extends to some larger Indian cities and time periods. Her presentation of the Indian reality parallels what is found in literature in the Indian languages. Her work bridges the gap between Indian English literature and the fiction written originally in Indian languages. To echo the dramatist Mahesh Dattani, English happens to be the Indian language she writes in. Her works have all been published in India, and she enjoys none of the book promotion that an international publisher would provide. She explains, “I’ve never had a book launch, never received a large advance, never got media attention.” This could be the reason why her fiction has not received the attention it deserves.

Neelum Saran Gour


Notes 1. Current name for Calcutta. 2. The Raj term for the rural localities as distinct from New Delhi and the Presidency towns of Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras. 3. A small kiosk selling cigarettes, sweets, and roasted gram in addition to paan (betel leaves).

Works Cited Gour, Neelum Sour. Grey Pigeon and Other Stories. New Delhi: Penguin, 1993. Print. ———. Messres Dickens, Doyle & Wodehouse Pvt. Ltd. Allahabad: Halcyon, 2005. Print. ———. “Metropolitan-Mofussil Writerly Politics.” Lecture delivered at the Sixth UGC Refresher Course in English, the Academic Staff College, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, on 20 September 2006. ———. Sikandar Chowk Park. New Delhi: Penguin, 2005. Print. ———. Speaking of ’62. New Delhi: Penguin, 1995. Print. ———. Virtual Realities. New Delhi: Penguin, 2002. Print. ———. Winter Companions and Other Stories. New Delhi: Penguin, 1997. Print. Jain, Sandhya. Rev. of Grey Pigeon and Other Stories. Sunday Mail. Aug. 1993. Web. 9 Feb. 2015. Quoted in . Singh, Jyoti. “Crimebytes and Reality.” Rev. of Sikandar Chowk Park. The Tribune. 23 Oct. 2005. Print. Trivedi, Harish. The Week. 17 Aug. 2003. Web. Quoted in .

9. Hybridity and the Politics of Identity in the Writings/Texts of Diasporic South Asian Women Umme Al-wazedi

In Tahira Naqvi’s short story “Brave We Are,” a Pakistani-American woman tries to define the word hybrid to her son. While defining the word, she continues cooking her own hybrid food arrangement of Pakistani spaghetti. She thinks nothing of her son associating different items together to arrive at the meaning of hybrid until he gives a reference to a human being: “Mom, Ammi,” he asks, the little boy Kasim who is my son, who has nearblack eyes and whose buck teeth give him a Bugs Bunny look when his mouth is open, as it is now, in query. “What does hybrid mean?” “Hybrid?” … “Yea, hybrid. Do you know what it means?” … “It’s a sort of mixture, a combination of different sorts of things,” I say wisely, with the absolute knowledge that “things” is susceptible to misinterpretation. I rack my brain for a good example. If I don’t hurry up with one he’s going to move away with the notion that his mother doesn’t know what hybrid means. “You mean if you mix orange juice with lemonade it’s going to become hybrid juice?” … “Well, that too.” … “The word is used when you breed two different kinds of plants or animals, it’s called cross-breeding.” An example, yes, “Now take an apple. A farmer can cross-breed a Macintosh apple with a Golden Yellow and get something which is a little bit like both. That will be a hybrid apple.” “You mean that the apple’s going to have a new name, like Macintosh Yellow? But what about animals? You said there’s crosswhatyoumaycallit in animals too. “Yes, there is. A cow from one family may breed with a steer from another family and they’ll end up with a calf that’s a bit like the two of them.” “But man’s an animal too, teacher says. Do people also cross … umn … breed? “Does that mean Mary is also hybrid?” Kasim’s voice crashes into my thoughts. (53–57)

148Umme Al-wazedi Kasim’s voice crashes into the mother’s thoughts, because she hadn’t anticipated that he would apply the meaning of hybridity to his friend, Mary. Kasim doesn’t repudiate the definition of hybridity but comes to a conclusion that Mary, the daughter of a Pakistani father and an English mother, is a hybrid. The mother is definitely shocked at the son’s attempt at linking the concept of hybridity to his friend’s racial identity. While the narrator seems to resist the use of the word hybridity, her food preparation tells a greater “truth” about hybridity than the mother’s perception of Mary’s hybrid genealogy. Continuing with the ambiguity that is created by a mixed race identity like Mary’s, now I wish to turn to two photographs taken by the artist Nisma Zaman. Referring to herself and her sister, Zaman says, “As children of a mixed heritage raised in the US (our mother is American with ancestry from Great Britain, and our father is from Bangladesh, with Middle Eastern ancestry), we can pass for a number of cultures” (260). In the following two photographs, we can see Zaman’s sister dressed in different identities. In the first photograph (see Figure 1) the wall hanging in the background is a Bangladeshi village, and Zaman’s sister is dressed in a sari, a katan to be specific, with her hair parted like traditional Bangladeshi women. This pose is unique to 1970s Bangladesh. In the second photograph, the background is Persian (or could be from any of the Middle Eastern countries). There is a small wall hanging with Islamic calligraphy as well as a belly chain and necklace hanging on a hookah. The sister is wearing a hijab with her face turned sideways to give an impression of a Middle Eastern Muslim woman. Zaman states that the purpose of the project was to “reflect upon our own cultural heritage and those cultures which people think we belong to” (260). With this project, Zaman is touching on the social dimension of cultural hybridity. Specifically, I want to suggest that Zaman goes beyond essentializing the Asian American identity by, as Lisa Lowe suggests, receiving, refiguring, and rewriting cultural traditions (63). I begin my analysis with these particular examples in order to observe that the idea of hybridity is complex, because the idea of hybrid identity is not simply “a transgression or just a matter of identity formation” (96) as Sara Ahmed argues. The burden of negotiating identities, which can be hybrid and multiple, is also complex. The complexity comes from the fact that hybridity is seen in both a positive and a negative way. However, in the New World, the world that immigrant women enter into from South Asia, both of these ideas are experienced bravely by South Asian women writers (and their characters), theorists, and artists alike. This essay seeks to offer insights on how South Asian women writers and artists react towards hybrid identities in a world that introduces the complex notions of race and ethnicity, homophobia, tense

Hybridity and the Politics of Identity149 geopolitics and interlinked economies, transnational connectivities, and the global. Understanding the complexities of defining one’s identity, be it hybrid or sexually other, Pratibha Parmar writes: What we have been seeing in recent years is the development of a new politics of difference which states that we are not interested in defining ourselves in relation to someone else or something else, nor are we simply articulating our cultural and sexual differences. This is not a unique position, but one that is shared by many cultural activists and critics on both sides of the Atlantic. We are creating a sense of ourselves and our place within different and sometimes contradictory communities, not simply in relation to … not in opposition to … nor in reversal to … nor as a corrective to … but in and for ourselves. Precisely because of our lived experiences of racism and homophobia, we locate ourselves not within any one community but in the spaces between these different communities. (5)

Figure 1. Nisma Zaman, Hanan as Bengali/Indian from the Ethnic Ambiguity series, 1992. C-print, 11 in. × 14 in. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

150Umme Al-wazedi

Figure 2.  Nisma Zaman, Hanan as Arab from the Ethnic Ambiguity series, 1992. C-print, 11 in. × 14 in. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Parmar’s words hold true to the examples that I have given here. Both the mother of the story and Zaman try to create links between race and identity by revealing the complexities of migration, displacement, and hybridity. As I will argue, in the diaspora, the hybrid identity creates an ambiguous subject position for some South Asian women in which they are constantly in a rootless condition, walking back and forth between two cultures and two countries, whereas for others the hybrid state is not a “rootless limbo” but rather allows the person, as Hugo Rios notes, to select her roots (56). Rios argues, in order to select her roots, the individual “must make peace with her origins and select what he or she wants to use as materials for his/her new being” (56). As my argument unfolds, I aim to show that the identities are not altered, but instead elements of cultures are incorporated to create a new hybrid identity. These hybrid identities challenge and undermine the master narrative that proclaims their identities. Thus more than ever, one needs to question how these different identities continue to be produced, embodied, and performed effectively, passionately, and with social and political consequence. While in Naqvi’s first example the word hybridity seems to be a term of denigration, Zaman is seen to celebrate a hybrid identity. Thus writers and artists like Naqvi and Zaman see hybrid identity as creating ethnic ambiguity as well as a canvas of representation for second and third generation South Asian women in the US. However, the first generation women also go through the process of understanding ethnic ambiguity and try to explain it

Hybridity and the Politics of Identity151 to their children, as is seen in my first example. Indeed, works by artists like these raise critical questions: If a hybrid identity creates ethnic ambiguity, do we reject or accept such identity? How do we explain that ambiguity? Does this kind of identity have anything to do with the idea of “passing,” as seen in African American narratives? Initially a term of derision, the meaning of hybridity is changing in the globalized world. According to Paul Gilroy, individuals occupying a hybrid space simultaneously experience a doubleness and cultural intermixture (20). Gilroy describes such a position as “between (at least) two great cultural assemblages” (30), while Keri E. Iyall Smith argues similarly that “[t]he individual occupying a hybrid space navigates between two cultural groups and occupies space within both cultural groups” (7). Smith sees hybridity as positive and thus contends, “With globalization and increasing modernization, being hybrid is now a benefit. The ability to negotiate across barriers—language, cultural, spiritual, and physical—is an asset” (4). W.E.B. Du Bois, similar to Gilroy, argues that hybridity results in double consciousness: “this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of the others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of the world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body” (38). Du Bois thus points out that there can be conflict within the two identities. Whether such doubleness and intermixture are seen as positive qualities or as negative, many postcolonial theorists feel that hybridity can create a unique complexity in terms of identity formation specifically when one interacts in the diaspora. For instance, Deborah A. Kapchan and Pauline Turner Strong contend that in the discourse of diaspora, “hybridity seems to promise a unique analytical vantage point on the politics of culture by acknowledging the intricate and complex weave of any heterodox and heteroglossic community” (240). Often the diasporic self, as Parmar notes, sees one’s self as an undesirable alien “[o]bjectified in the frame of ‘otherness’” (5). This objectification is problematic because, as Parmar argues using Edward Said’s words, “We can read ourselves against another people’s pattern, but since it is not ours … we emerge as its effects, its errata, its counternarratives. Whenever we try to narrate ourselves, we appear as dislocations in their discourse” (qtd. in Parmar 96). The hybrid being is seen as foreign and displaced. However, Ahmed, focusing on mixedrace female subjectivity in the diaspora, discusses how passing relates to the questions of hybridity as she believes that “any account of passing as a gendered and racial phenomena must take account of hybridity” (96). Similar to Du Bois and Gilroy, Robert Young insists that “we ought to consider the idea of hybridity as always double-voiced,” which is particularly

152Umme Al-wazedi true of diasporic identities (qtd. in Kawash 5). Kawash, while quoting Young, says, “hybridity continues to be haunted by an idea of fusion or mixture that implicitly assumes ‘the prior existence of pure, fixed, and separate antecedents’” (5). Moreover, Young distinguishes between two types of hybridity, as Peter Wade points out—a hybridization that is “organic,” which “merges different identities into a new form that may also be contestatory,” and “a more radical form of hybridization that is ‘intentional’ and that is diasporic, ‘intervening as a form of subversion, translation, transformation’” (qtd. in Wade 604). Based on this difference, I find Young’s argument compelling in understanding diasporic South Asian Women’s artistic works, especially when he suggests: We are faced with dualism in hybridity theory between potentially positive hybridity, which is dynamic, progressive, diasporic, [rhizomic], subversive, anti-­ essentialist, routes-oriented and based on collage, montage and cut-and-mix; and a potentially negative hybridity, which is biological, genealogical, kinship-based, essentialist, roots-oriented and based on simple ideas of combining two wholes to make a third whole. (qtd. in Wade 603)

If a hybrid identity is explained through a biological, essentialized explanation, then that hybridity becomes negative, such as the case of the mulatto. Yet if it is seen as positive, then two wholes do not combine into a simple third whole. Rather hybridity creates a dynamic being who is a part of a more heterogeneous group. For example, Naqvi points out through the scene in her story the challenge faced by a mother who tries to define a hybrid identity so that she will not create any stereotype “that can neither be waved nor be dismissed with flippant ambiguity” (59). The mother tries to evade her son’s question about Mary’s hybrid identity tactfully, yet through the mother’s utterances Naqvi seems to realize that the issue of hybridity cannot be ignored. In the end, the narrator confirms that Mary is a hybrid – “Technically speaking she is, I mean, wait, you can say she is.” – but she urges her son not to use the word hybrid in public, to which her son asks, “Why? Is it a swear?” “No!” I hasten with denial. “Of course not. It’s just a word we don’t use for people, that’s all. Understand?” “But what do you call them then?” He persists. “Mary’s like an apple, isn’t she? Isn’t she? Her name’s Mary Khan, isn’t it?” “Yes, Kas, it is. But there’s nothing wrong with that name, a name’s a name.” Kasim looks contemplative. I know he’s saying to himself, Mom doesn’t really know, but Mary is hybrid, she’s got blue eyes and black hair. “She’s a person Kasim, not an apple.” (59)

Hybridity and the Politics of Identity153 The mother is aware of the fact that the biological definition of hybridity may cause a problem. Kasim could compare Mary to an animal and that would hurt the child. Yet Kasim goes on asking questions which directly focus on identity politics—asking the narrator about the identity of a girl whose mother is English and father is Pakistani and who has blue eyes and black hair. Thus the mother gives up on her mission to make Kasim understand that one has to be politically correct and not use such terms. Moreover, by comparing Mary’s mother’s reception to the raising of mixed-race children, we can understand the narrator’s reluctance to let Kasim use the term hybrid. As readers, we are able to connect this hesitancy to the history of the mulatto and of mixed-race children being called halfies and half-breeds in the US Genealogy, and this becomes problematic in this scene, and the mother definitely sees such an identity as negative. We can see this through her recounting of a conversation she had with Mary’s mother about how her father behaved towards the children in terms of how they should lead their lives. Mary’s father, as his English wife Helen communicates to Kasim’s mother, is reluctant to let his children choose the mainstream lifestyle, such as having a girlfriend or a boyfriend, which is against the Islamic culture. Yet when Mary was born, Kasim’s mother remembers that Mary’s father named her Marium because “it’s a name everyone knows” (58). Kasim’s mother thinks that he chose it because it is familiar, convenient, and tri-religious (58), but perhaps it is also because people will not ask any questions about her looks. Mary’s father’s attitude indicates that there are difficulties in raising mixed-race children. What complicates the mother’s position on the idea of hybridity is her own hybrid creation of food. While she makes the spaghetti during her conversation with Kasim, she is using South Asian ingredients as well as ingredients that are particular to the dish in the US. She also constantly thinks about her mother’s cooking back home and how she cooks here: These [onions] chopped thinly, are for the ground beef which will be cooked with small green peas, cubed potatoes and cut-leaf spinach and will be spiced with coriander, garlic, cumin, a touch of turmeric and half-inch long bristly strands of fresh ginger root. I will throw the beef into the spaghetti when it’s done and my husband and I alone will eat what I make. My children like spaghetti the way it should be, the way it is, in America. (55)

In the end, she makes sure that “the spaghetti isn’t squelched. The strands must remain smooth, elusive, separate” (60). The main ingredient must be pure. This image reflects back to the idea that “hybridity continues to be haunted by an idea of fusion or mixture that implicitly assumes ‘the prior

154Umme Al-wazedi existence of pure, fixed, and separate antecedents’” (Kawash 5). The genealogical mode of hybridity is linked to the ideas about kinship roots and belonging. Thus Kasim questions the root of Mary’s genealogy because she has an English mother. Kasim’s approach to the definition of Mary’s identity is something closer to, as Wade argues, Homi Bhabha’s “restless, uneasy, interstitial hybridity” (604). There is newness in the identity but that newness can’t be named because it is something in-between, belonging to both (old histories and new histories) and neither; in the words of Bhabha, “neither One nor the Other but something else besides, in-between” (219). This in-between position, according to Bhabha, is the third space. Naqvi creates this third space more explicitly in her story “Thank God for the Jews” by portraying Zenab as a woman who relinquishes the American lifestyle as well as maintaining a certain kind of traditional view of life of the old country. Zenab’s story presents the complicated image of a Muslim woman who must negotiate her identity. Zenab’s aunt is to visit her who only eats halal meat,1 whereas Zenab and her husband, Ali, do not maintain such strict lifestyles. Occasionally she buys halal meat, but she doesn’t mind buying the non-halal meat from Grand Union down the road from her house. At home, whenever she remembered, she would recite, “‘There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet,’ while she rinsed the meat with cold water. Making the effort to undertake that little ritual made her feel pious and wise” (19). However, she maintains the Muslim tradition of providing halal meat for her aunt and tries to figure out where to buy it. She cannot communicate to her friend, Kaneez, that she doesn’t eat halal meat because then she will be ostracized in her community. So in secrecy Zenab desperately tries to find out how she can get some halal meat: Will she [Kaneez] offer some of hers? Perhaps if I ask. I wish she offers. A half pound would do. “What about Kosher?” Kaneez’s voice rang with authority. “Kosher?” Zenab queried inanely. The word had a familiar ring, like the name of an acquaintance whose face doesn’t register right away. Oh my God! Yes! I’ve seen it on hot dog labels at Grand Union. Jewish, surely. But what does Kaneez mean? (26)

Zenab is afraid of showing her ignorance to Kaneez so she lets her speak. Showing no suspicion or evidence of the perplexity in the voice of Zenab, Kaneez explains, “You see, all their meat is prepared just like ours. They recite God’s name before slaughtering the animal and bleed the animal afterwards” (26). Thus Zenab uses the Kosher meat to entertain her aunt.

Hybridity and the Politics of Identity155 What is revealed through this story is that Zenab is certainly hybridizing her life by making choices about food that is closely related to her identity. She is balancing between the two types of lifestyles that are presented in front of her. Thus, through Zenab’s story, we see a wishful vision of integration into a supposedly homogeneous West. Naqvi’s story introduces “the fission and fusion” of diaspora (Christiansen 907). On the other hand, Zaman, through her photography, argues how artists can go beyond ethnic ambiguity and use hybridity as a way to investigate multiple identities. Zaman is conscious about the hybrid situation, as she says that these photographs give her opportunity to reflect on her own cultural heritage. Through her interest in and questions about hybridity, identity, and through her use of visual language in her film Beyond Black and White, an autoethnography, Zaman interrogates mainstream ideas about mixed-raced heritages (Niu 850). Her work is substantial when considering what Parmar has to say about dismantling dominant discourses: “It is important to create and proclaim assertive and empowering images which question and unsettle the dominant discourse of representation of people who are not white, male and heterosexual, but it is equally important to move beyond the mere oppositional” (7). Zaman mixes film clips from Birth of a Nation and Show Boat, magazine advertisements of white models, and interviews with young college women and their mentors “to move beyond the mere oppositional” (Parmar 7). Her interviewees reflect on their mixed heritages by talking about mixed-race female subjectivity and the complexities of how to address such an issue. Indeed, as Helen Kim notes, “for members of the second generation, arriving at a hybrid identity involves maneuvering social hierarchies based on intersections of race, ethnicity, and gender in addition to shifting norms that signal difference” (246). Zaman even talks about her divided opinion about her own identity when she was young. In the film she tells us blatantly that she chose the mainstream white lifestyle, not necessarily because it provided a perfect image for her, but because she felt closer to her white relations (Niu 851). She didn’t want to pass or forget her history; she just chose what she felt best described her position. Passing, like hybridity, bears a negative connotation in the diaspora. For instance, Ahmed does the same thing as Zaman, but she chooses her identity in order to belong rather than for any other purposes. Ahmed believes that in most discourses, passing is addressed as either “a form of transgression or a generalized aspect of identity formation” (96). However, she feels it’s more than that; she examines “its implication in social encounters with others, that is, in relationships of social conflict and antagonism” (96). Ahmed problematizes passing and hybridity by recounting her own experience:

156Umme Al-wazedi As somebody from a mixed-race background (my mother is English and my father is Pakistani), I feel that my identification as either white or black involves inauthenticity—I do not feel like a real or proper white or black person. When I was young, passing for white was a matter of need, desire and strategy. Being identified as white was a way of belonging, a way of being included in a consensus. Now, whiteness has not become a matter of the desirable, or of an invisible norm that I repeat through the passage of my desires. Now, whiteness is something that I contest, both politically and personally. I identify myself as a black feminist. Now, but in a different way, I feel as if I am passing. (96)

While Ahmed passed as white when she was young, now she sees this issue as a contesting ground; she also accepts her marginalized position. However, she feels that as a Black feminist, she is also passing. It is because, as one of the characters in Zaman’s documentary says, “It’s hard to belong in a specific group.” Helen Kim, while arguing in her essay about the hybrid identity of Korean-American second generation women, sees this phenomenon as an effect of racialized images projected in the mainstream society. She notes that Asian Americans (or any Other-Americans) are always depicted as “forever foreigners” and thus are compelled to perform their identity—which she equates with “doing gender” (246). Kim, while drawing on Judith Butler, equates “doing” gender with “doing” Other identity. These women move in different social contexts that may be dictated by multiple norms and expectations, and thus they may choose their identity. Continuing with the discussion of passing, Zaman’s political science professor, Rachel Mohammad, recounts her childhood story in the documentary. Specifically, her eldest and youngest sisters passed as white and introduced her as their cousin from Africa as she was darker than they were. Mohammad’s father, whom she calls “the last of the Colonialists,” was British and her mother was an African from Ghana. Mohammad felt excluded when she was a child. Now as a grownup, she thinks that because she does not successfully pass as white, she can throw her lot with the causes of the oppressed rather than the oppressor. Mohammad chooses not to pass; she tells her father, “I am African” and the father’s answer is, “How can I forget.” Such a reply suggests her father preferred a white/light-skinned daughter. The crisis faced by a hybrid subject, in this case Mohammad, even though she does not pass, “is a particular and pressing demand to ‘choose’ between the ‘two identities’ that define the limits of racialized thinking” (Ahmed 97). Mohammad feels the demand, but refuses to let the dominant discourses attempt to contain her within the racialized paradigm of the “Other.” Mohammad’s statement points to Toni Morrison’s view, which is a revision of Du Bois’s double consciousness: “We are not, in fact, ‘other.’ We

Hybridity and the Politics of Identity157 are choices” (“Unspeakable Things” 9). Morrison argues that “we are the subjects of our narrative, witnesses to and participants in our own experience, and … in the experience of those with whom we have come in contact” (9). Thus, she also pushes Edward Said’s argument further by negating the fact that we are always the “Other” by privileging the multiple context. The multiple context is a position that is not limiting, but rather, as Christiansen argues, “enabling for black subjectivity, suggesting agency and multiple identity” (76). For instance, in her novels The Bluest Eye and Paradise, Morrison reverses the representation of the tragic mulatto. In her construction of the mulatto characters, “the color line becomes a space of creativity in which new identity is formed from cultural fragmentation” (Chritiansen 76). Both Naqvi and Zaman believe in this new identity. Multiple identities create diversity, and that diversity is inherently complex given the lack of homogeneity. Thus in the photographs as well as in the film, one can detect Zaman’s theme: “I’m driven by a desire to understand the complexities of diversity. For instance, when and how should it be celebrated? What differences trigger conflicts, and how can they be solved?” (qtd. in Hyess). The film opens up space to investigate such words as mulatto, halfbreed, halfie—words that point to the notion of hybridity as well as the creation of new identities. Yet the characters simply celebrate hybridity, and thus, Zaman’s position is not ambiguous as to what it means to be diverse. None of the interviewees proclaim a status like Hanif Kureishi’s hero in The Buddha of Suburbia: “My name is Karim Amir, and I am an Englishman born and bred, almost. I am often considered to be a funny kind of Englishman, a new breed as it were, having emerged from two old histories” (3). Zaman and her interviewees, although aware of two histories—whether it be French and Indian blood or African and British blood—select from a wide array of positions and performances, such as her sister looking either like a Bangladeshi or a Middle Eastern woman, and Rachel Mohammad calling herself “Afro-Saxon.” In addition, Naqvi, also aware of two histories, establishes the power of food as a marker of difference. Although the mother sees the hybrid identity as negative in “Brave We Are,” her hybrid food processing place her within the context of her own hybridity as a diasporic South Asian American. Her protagonists’ hybrid food processes reveal the fact that, as Julie Mehta argues, “Food can be harnessed through language both to produce and maintain the memories of past and to acculturate to the new cultural realities of the present” (166). Her stories act as inductions (for the older generations) into the new realities of diasporic life. To borrow the words of Salman Rushdie, Naqvi and Zaman celebrate “hybridity, impurity, intermingling, the transformations that come of new and

158Umme Al-wazedi unexpected combinations of human beings, cultures, ideas, politics, movies, songs” (qtd. in Wade 606). I see Zaman’s photographs and the film, as well as Naqvi’s short stories, as “creative processes of montage, collage, sampling and bricolage; processes that occur in the workshop and the studio and that involve the creative appropriation of elements and their reconceptualization and resignification” and as parallel to the diasporic hybridity that Young refers to (Wade 606). This process is more intentional than organic, more selective yet nevertheless involving a complex web of negotiations. The people who have some time or other been called “mestizo,” “half-blood,” “half-caste,” and “mixed race” to portray their in-betweenness situation now have privileges but not in the sense that they choose the privileged identity over the oppressed one (the white identity vs. the black identity). They choose the oppressed identity to dismantle a racist system. Zaman and Naqvi contest structures of authority that lay out rules of conduct of being mixed-race and hybrid. Through their works, the hybrid voices become visible, challenging the idea of being formed by the notion of Otherness.

Note 1. In Arabic halal means permitted or lawful. In this sense the word can be applied to people and as well as food. A Muslim can eat only what is lawful for him or her. Meat is made halal by taking Allah’s name during the time the animal is slaughtered. It is the most controversial aspect in the lives of Muslim in the West.

Works Cited Ahmed, Sara. “‘She’ll Wake Up One of These Days and Find She’s Turned into a Nigger’: Passing through Hybridity.” Performativity and Belonging. Ed. Vicki Bell. London: Sage, 1999. 87–106. Print. Bhabha, Homi. The Location of Culture. New York: Routledge, 1994. Print. Christiansen, Annemarie. “Passing as the ‘Tragic’ Mulatto: Construction of Hybridity in Toni Morrison’s Novels.” Complicating Constructions: Race, Ethnicity, and Hybridity in American Texts. Ed. David S. Goldstein and Audrey B. Thacker. Seattle: U of Washington P: 2007. 74–98. Print. Du Bois, W.E.B. The Souls of Black Folk. Boston: Bedford, 1997. Print. Gilroy, Paul. The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1993. Print. Hyess, Mbeti. “Incongruities Investigator.” Ithaca College Quarterly 4 (2006): n. pag. Web. 20 Dec. 2012. Kapchan, Deborah A., and Pauline Turner Strong. “Theorizing the Hybrid.” The Journal of American Folklore 122.445 (1999): 239–53. Print.

Hybridity and the Politics of Identity159 Kawash, Samira. Dislocating the Color Line: Identity, Hybridity, and Singularity in AfricanAmerican Narrative. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford UP, 1997. Print. Kureishi, Hanif. The Buddha of Suburbia. New York: Penguin, 1991. Print. Kim, Helen. “Women Occupying the Hybrid Space: Second-Generation Korean-American Women Negotiating Choices Regarding Work and Family.” Hybrid Identities: Theoretical and Empirical Examinations. Ed. Keri E. Iyall Smith and Patricia Leavy. Boston: Brill, 2008. 245–63. Print. Lowe, Lisa. “Heterogeneity, Hybridity, Multiplicity: Asian American Differences.” Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics. Durham: Duke UP, 1996. 60–83. Print. Mehta, Julie. “Toronto’s Multicultured Tongues: Stories of South Asian Cuisines.” Edible Histories, Cultural Politics: Towards a Canadian Food History. Ed. Franca Lacovetta, Valerie J. Korinek, and Marlene Epp. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2012. 156–69. Print. Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. New York: Vintage, 2007. Print. ———. Paradise. New York: Random, 1997. Print. ———. “Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature.” Michigan Quarterly Review (1998): 1–34. Print. Naqvi, Tahira. Dying in a Strange Country. Toronto: TSAR, 2001. Print. Niu, Greta Ai-Yu. “Film Reviews.” Signs 23.3 (1998): 849–56. Print. Parmar, Pratibha. “The Moment of Emergence.” Queer Looks: Perspectives on Lesbian and Gay Film and Video. Ed. Martha Gever, John Greyson, and Pratibha Parmar. New York: Routledge, 1993. 3–11. Print. Rios, Hugo. “Hybrid Moments in Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses.” Atenea 24.2 (2004): 51–58. Print. Smith, Keri E. Iyall. “Hybrid Identities: Theoretical Examinations.” Hybrid Identities: Theoretical and Empirical Examinations. Ed. Keri E. Iyall Smith and Patricia Leavy. Boston: Brill, 2008. 3–11. Print. Wade, Peter. “Hybridity Theory and Kinship Thinking.” Cultural Studies 19.5 (2005): 602–21. Print. Zaman, Nisma. Beyond Black and White. New York: Women Make Movies, 1994. Film. ———. Photographs. Contours of the Heart: South Asians Map North America. Ed. Sunaina Maira and Rajini Shrikanth. New York: The Asian American Writers’ Workshop, 1996. 260–61. Print.


10. Language, Diaspora, and Identity: An Interview with Yasmine Gooneratne Deborah Fillerup Weagel

Yasmine Gooneratne, author of numerous books, including poetry, fiction, and literary criticism, was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka. She graduated from the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya, with a First Class Honours degree in English, spent three years in doctoral study at Cambridge University, and then returned to Sri Lanka to marry and to teach at Peradeniya. In 1972 she moved to Macquarie University, New South Wales, where she taught, researched, and published in the fields of English and postcolonial literature. Her published books include studies of Jane Austen, Alexander Pope, Leonard Woolf, and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. In recognition of her contribution to international scholarship, she has been awarded Macquarie University’s first higher doctoral degree (D.Litt.), the Order of Australia, and the Samvad India Foundation’s Raja Rao Award which acknowledges authors who deal with the South Asian Diaspora in their literary work. In 1990 she was invited to become the Patron of the Jane Austen Society of Australia. In September 2008 her homeland Sri Lanka honored her with the Sahityaratna (“Jewel of Literature”) Award for Lifetime Achievement in Literature. She is currently a Trustee of the Pemberley International Study Centre, the research institution established in 1999 by her husband, Dr. Brendon Gooneratne, in Haputale, Sri Lanka. Yasmine Gooneratne also directs The Guardian Angels, a literary editing service she has established in Sri Lanka and Australia to assist new writers. Gooneratne won the 1992 Marjorie Barnard Award for Literary Fiction for her first novel, A Change of Skies (1991), and all three of her novels have been shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize. Another novel, The

164Deborah Fillerup Weagel Sweet and Simple Kind (2006), has been additionally shortlisted for the 2008 Dublin IMPAC International Award.

Figure 3.  Yasmine Gooneratne. Photo by Effy Alexakis.

Deborah Fillerup Weagel: I appreciate the opportunity to interview you via email. I have provided a brief biography for readers so they can become better acquainted with your accomplishments. Is there anything you would like to add about your background and history?

Language, Diaspora, and Identity


Yasmine Gooneratne: Yes. I have affection for two beloved places, Sri Lanka and Australia, in each of which I have spent approximately half my life. I now move regularly between the two countries, and, though they are very different from each other, I feel equally at home in them both. Since I’m not attracted to the hyphenated term Sri Lankan-Australian (or, indeed, the other alternative, Australian-Sri Lankan), I think of myself as an author or a writer, preferring that to being categorized by country or gender. I feel sure there must be many writers today who are in a situation very similar to mine. DFW: At what point in your life did you decide you wanted to be a writer? YG: I cannot remember ever making such a decision deliberately. I come from a family of readers and book-lovers. Writing–and writing in English– came naturally to me. DFW: Considering the fact that young girls in Sri Lanka were sometimes encouraged to prepare for marriage rather than focus on academic skills, what was the attitude of your parents towards your education? YG: You are perfectly right in thinking that young girls in Sri Lanka were sometimes encouraged to prepare for marriage rather than focus on academic skills. They still are, and that is one of the themes I have explored in my novel, The Sweet and Simple Kind. My own family, I’m happy to say, was very different. I am the youngest of three girls. Our parents put books in their daughters’ hands not so much in order to “educate” us as to share their own pleasure in reading. As regards actual schooling, however, my parents took opposite points of view. My father didn’t think a formal education was necessary for girls. My mother, on the other hand, was absolutely determined that all three of her daughters should go to secondary school, and, if they had the aptitude for it, to university. Her determination, fortunately for us, carried the day. DFW: There is often an influential teacher in the life of a successful writer. Did you have an important mentor or mentors in various stages of your development as an author? YG: I did. My first mentors were my two older sisters, who were both book-lovers, and took time to talk books with a younger sister. The next two literally changed the direction of my life: Mrs Pauline Hensman, who taught English to the senior classes at Bishop’s College in Colombo, and her husband C.R. Hensman. They pointed me in the direction of university studies and prepared me for the life of a writer. I had the pleasure of saying a personal “thank you” by recreating them as characters (Paula and Rajan Phillips) in The Sweet and Simple Kind. Some mentors, of course, come to one through literature: though long dead, they are still influential, often in very practical

166Deborah Fillerup Weagel ways. For me, the example and practice of Alexander Pope (a true writer’s writer) were crucial in my writing of poetry. Whatever values I have that I brought to the act of living were shaped, not by religion, but by the novels of Jane Austen. DFW: In “The Writing Life,” the introduction to Masterpiece and Other Stories, you praise your English literary education. Could you describe your academic training in more detail and explain why you consider it a “good fortune” (11) to have received it. YG: I’ve mentioned that I did not set out deliberately to be “a writer.” But having been brought up at home to respond positively to good writing, literature classes at school and university became joyous experiences for me, not chores. Every teacher, of course, was not equally inspired or skilled: some were downright tedious. But not even a boring teacher can dim the brightness of great literature. Both at school and at university, I was fortunate in my teachers, but even more fortunate in the books I encountered. The best English writing from Chaucer to the present day—in my time “the present day” meant the poetry of Eliot, Yeats, and Hopkins, and the novels of Conrad and Lawrence—was opened to me at Peradeniya, very much like a landscape in which I could wander where I pleased. Our teachers sought primarily, I think, to advance our understanding and appreciation of literature, and at that time students were permitted to make direct contact with texts, rather than to view them through the fog of “theory” which bedevils poor souls these days in literature classes. No wonder I consider myself to have been fortunate! And then—since we are discussing writing, rather than academic studies—I found, when I began writing poems (which I did around 1969), that the actual tools of versification lay ready to my hand. I had never been formally taught what is now called “Creative Writing,” but my university training had been so good and so thorough in the “nuts and bolts” of English versification, that meter and rhyme—when I needed them—came without forcing. I believe most sincerely that the truest and best way to becoming a writer is through the pleasure of reading good books. DFW: You are aware, of course, of writers such as Ngugi wa Thiong’o who have criticized the centrality of the English language and literature in postcolonial studies. Considering your positive experience, how would you address such critics? YG: We have our own James Ngugis in Sri Lanka, you know–good writers in languages other than English, who simply cannot come to terms with the fact that English is essentially a language, a craftsman’s tool, and not a bludgeon. A good writer must make use of the best tools that are in his

Language, Diaspora, and Identity


possession, and who can deny that the English language offers rich resources to the writer who trains himself to use it? As for “the centrality of the English language and literature in postcolonial studies,” would anyone with a proper knowledge of the modern literatures of India, Africa, Ireland, and the West Indies see anything to regret in that? I have long considered Derek Walcott’s poem “A Far Cry From Africa” to be the absolutely quintessential “postcolonial” poem, in that it expresses in the most moving, passionate way—and in English, too!—what it means to be a citizen of the post-imperial, post-colonial world in which “the gorilla wrestles with the superman.” He writes, “how choose/Between this Africa and the English tongue I love?” The answer to such biased commentators as Ngugi wa Thiong’o in Africa, or a writer of Sinhala novels in Sri Lanka who—quite recently—unburdened himself of remarks similar to Ngugi’s but shall remain nameless here, must lie in the superb English poetry that has emerged from the postcolonial world. DFW: You were young when Sri Lanka achieved independence in 1948, and you witnessed a subsequent surge in national pride. How did this focus on one’s own history, culture, and language affect your writing and your outlook in general? YG: Yes, I belong to the “post-Independence” generation that gloried in the belief that independence had changed our world for the better, and that we would be the ones to shape the thoughts and actions of the future. The writing of poetry lay ten years into the future as far as I was concerned, but the exhilaration we felt at being part of a free and independent nation was a very real thing. I shall never forget it. DFW: Growing up in Sri Lanka, were you taught a language other than English, and have you ever considered writing in this language? YG: Yes, as the child of a Sinhalese father, I was taught to read, write, and recite my “mother-tongue” at school: Sinhala. Since the really interesting reading available to me as a schoolgirl was all in English, there was never any doubt in my mind that English was the language in which I felt most at home. DFW: Ngugi writes that “the choice of language and the use to which language is put is central to a people’s definition of themselves in relation to their natural and social environment, indeed in relation to the entire universe” (4). How has the English language helped to define who you are in relation to your environment, whether it be in Sri Lanka, England, or Australia, and the world in general? YG: With all due respect to a fellow-writer, I am afraid that I consider Ngugi to be talking pure and unadulterated nonsense here. Very few people in the real world have the luxury of a “choice of language”; their choices are dictated by governments. And governments, alas, at least in my experience,

168Deborah Fillerup Weagel have little understanding of education, although they are all-powerful in making decisions that affect generations of students. My knowledge of the English language made living in Sri Lanka bearable even after Sinhala was installed (by the stroke of a politician’s pen) as the national language. It enabled me to live comfortably and productively in Australia at a time when it seemed that English had no place in my own homeland. DFW: You attended Cambridge University for three years. What were some of the greatest benefits and challenges of living and studying abroad in Great Britain? YG: Collegiate life at Cambridge held no surprises for me—other than that it was somewhat more permissive than Peradeniya had been. Cambridge is a most beautiful city, and I responded to its aesthetic appeal, but then again, I came to it from what was then one of the world’s most beautiful campuses. One of my great enjoyments while I was a postgraduate student at Cambridge was attending lectures given by world-famous scholars whose books I had read, and going to concerts, plays, art galleries, and bookshops. I enjoyed the daily contrast—overlooked, I suppose, and taken for granted by those who live there permanently—between the old and the new, medieval churches on cobbled streets and squares, and undergraduates on bicycles … It was a lovely, carefree experience. DFW: You moved to Australia in 1972 to teach eighteenth-century English literature at Macquarie University in New South Wales. Why did you choose to live in Australia? YG: My husband, a physician and research scientist who was, like me, on the Peradeniya academic staff, literally talked me into moving to Australia. We had two young children by 1972 and were very much aware that educational standards were slipping in the local schools. Of the English-speaking countries that would provide our children with a good English education, Australia appealed to us most. We were offered very attractive teaching positions in Sydney universities, and after much debate we accepted them. DFW: How did this change of location affect your writing? YG: To my great surprise—for I had not expected that any change would occur—I simply stopped writing. I had grown up in a very different landscape, and my imagination seemed to have ceased to function as a result of our move to Sydney. DFW: In their seminal book, The Empire Writes Back, Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin write: “Diaspora does not simply refer to geographical dispersal but also to the vexed questions of identity, memory, and home which such displacement produces” (217–18). How have your experiences in Great Britain and Australia affected your sense of identity?

Language, Diaspora, and Identity


YG: Not at all, I’m glad to say. However, I was very aware that many other immigrants felt themselves psychologically challenged by the host society. My awareness of their dilemma surfaced in the first story I wrote with an Australian setting: “How Barry Changed His Image.” But I wrote and published it twenty years after arriving in Sydney—which says something, I suppose, about the ease with which we had settled into Australian life ourselves. DFW: You mention in “The Writing Life” that “every writer who was born in Sri Lanka … has a mind well-stored with visual images,” including “landscapes of wooded river-valleys and mist-blue mountains, … quiet beaches and lovely, lonely perspectives” (11). How have these memories influenced you when you lived elsewhere? Were they a source of inspiration, comfort, strength, and/or identity? How have they influenced your writing? YG: I am not temperamentally inclined to nostalgia. Memories of Sri Lanka, beautiful as they are, are matched by landscapes in Australia that are equally inspiring. The limestone caves at Jenolan in New South Wales, for instance, provided me unexpectedly with poetic images, and eventually opened a return path to the writing of poetry. DFW: In his Nobel lecture, Derek Walcott stated: “Break a vase, and the love that reassembles the fragments is stronger than that love which took its symmetry for granted when it was whole. The glue that fits the pieces is the sealing of its original shape. It is such a love that reassembles our African and Asiatic fragments, the cracked heirlooms whose restoration shows white scars” (n. pag.). Have you felt a sense of fragmentation in your life? If so, what is the “glue” that holds the fragments together? YG: It may interest you to know that I used those very lines from Walcott’s Nobel lecture as an epigraph for my second novel, The Pleasures of Conquest. They referred more to the characters and incidents in that novel than to any sense of fragmentation in my own life. I was interested in the way imperialism—and later, colonialism—had broken up societies, communities, and individual lives throughout Asia, and in the way Asia was “striking back.” Walcott’s lines seemed very appropriate to the issues raised in my novel. DFW: You used a masculine pseudonym for some of your early work published in Sri Lanka. What was your pseudonym, why did you use it, and why did you prefer to use a masculine name? YG: Although I have no personal interest or involvement in politics, I am a member of a family that is very well-known for political reasons in Sri Lanka. After a relative of mine took office as the world’s first woman Prime Minister, the family name became well-known worldwide. Sri Lankan society is highly politicized, and I considered it quite likely that anything I published under my own name was likely to earn me publicity for the wrong reasons: I

170Deborah Fillerup Weagel didn’t want my poems to be loved or loathed, and I wanted them to be read thoughtfully and judged on their own merits. From the time of my marriage (1962), I have published as Yasmine Gooneratne, using my husband’s surname in preference to my own. In publishing short stories, I chose a masculine pseudonym because I am aware that the writing of women is not taken seriously in Sri Lanka. I hope you won’t mind that I don’t tell you what that pseudonym was—some of those early stories are still credited to this non-existent gentleman by editors who should know better. I’m quite happy to let “him” take the credit for them, if any. DFW: You were born in Sri Lanka but have lived in various countries around the world. How would you define home? YG: “Home” for me is wherever I have a circle of people—friends, relatives, colleagues—who are sympathetic to the arts, work to advance them, and talk intelligently about them. I have discovered, or created, such circles wherever I have made my home. DFW: In his book Abiding by Sri Lanka, Qadri Ismail writes about the conflict between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamils, from southern India who seek to create their own independent state (34). Civil war has plagued Sri Lanka for over twenty years. How does this turmoil in your native country affect your writing and the development of Sri Lankan literature in general? YG: I work very hard to counteract the alienating effects of this terrible situation which, for want of a better word, you call a “civil” war. I try to maintain friendships and associations across the divides created by politicians— sometimes this is a very difficult thing to do in the face of resentment and suspicion. In my first novel, A Change of Skies, I tried to show how the inner lives of expatriate Sri Lankans are affected by the ongoing turmoil. As a critic and commentator on Sri Lankan literature for many years, I am aware how the war has begun to dominate our writing, so that writers feel it is hard, or even perhaps unfeeling, to explore other areas of experience. It seems a long time since a Sri Lankan novel has actually made me laugh out loud. DFW: You have dealt with literature from a variety of perspectives, as a student, teacher, critic, poet, memoirist, fiction writer, bibliographer, and editor. Has viewing literature through these different lenses influenced your writing? YG: I suppose it has. Certainly, when I recently re-read my latest novel, The Sweet and Simple Kind, I was struck by the way I had been able to deal fairly effortlessly with a range of quite different experiences. I concluded that I must have learned a thing or two along the way from my school days. DFW: How do you think Sri Lankan women writers can inform or contribute to the general body of postcolonial literature?

Language, Diaspora, and Identity


YG: Sri Lanka’s women writers have a great deal to give, in the way of intelligence and imagination. They lack two things: support from society and the family, and time in which to write. The act of composition, for many women, is a struggle, and I fear that many of them abandon their “scribbling” halfway because they are being constantly told that there are more important matters in the household that merit their attention. I am glad to be a member of a literary group that works in the interests of writers—not only of women, but of all writers—aiming to build up support systems for writers who lack them. DFW: Which younger women writers in Sri Lanka show promise and why? YG: There are several young women in Sri Lanka, many of them connected with the universities, who have begun to publish fiction and poetry, enter literary competitions, and make their voices heard. They have the encouragement of the few reading clubs that exist. It seems to me, too, that they have outgrown the conventions that shackled Sri Lankan writing in the past, and are willing to write frankly and openly about life as they are living it today. DFW: You have established a literary editing service, The Guardian Angels, in Sri Lanka and Australia to assist new writers. Is this service available to any writer in the world who would like help with a manuscript, or is it restricted to Sri Lankan and Australian authors? YG: It is not restricted at all. The “Angels” have worked on submissions from Australia, India, Britain, and the US, as well as from Sri Lanka. The idea behind it is to raise the standards of publishing in Sri Lanka and elsewhere, by showing writers how to create well-written, well-presented manuscripts that would be welcomed by publishing houses anywhere in the world. DFW: What are your dreams and hopes for the future in regard to your own writing and Sri Lankan literature in general? YG: My hopes for the future concern Australia as much as they concern Sri Lanka. Having been published in both countries, I am very much aware that writers in both have great difficulty in getting their work into bookshops beyond their own shores. Part of the problem is that Australian and Sri Lankan expatriates who have made their reputations overseas as writers exoticize their homeland in their writing, to the exclusion of the home-grown product. Another is, that very big multinational companies exert a kind of stranglehold on small publishing industries such as ours. I believe that local writers need to demand and get high standards from local publishers, to defend each other’s work from copyright infringement, and to participate actively in initiatives such as the Galle Literary Festival where their writing can be seen and their voices heard by a local and international audience.

172Deborah Fillerup Weagel As regards my own writing, I really don’t know what’s beyond the next bend in the road. It usually takes me about five years to complete a novel. Perhaps there’s another novel waiting for me to find it.

Books by Yasmine Gooneratne Jane Austen. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1970. Print. Alexander Pope. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1976. Reprinted 1980. Print. Ed. Poems from India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Singapore. Hong Kong: Heinemann, 1979. Print. Ed. Stories From Sri Lanka. Hong Kong: Heinemann, 1979. Print. Diverse Inheritance: A Personal Perspective on Commonwealth Literature. Adelaide: The Centre for Research in the New Literatures in English, Flinders University, 1980. Print. Jane Austen: Sense and Sensibility. London: Longman York, 1980. Print. Silence, Exile and Cunning: The Fiction of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. New Delhi: Orient Longman, 1983. 2nd ed., London: Sangam, 1991. Print. Relative Merits: A Personal Memoir of the Bandaranaike Family of Sri Lanka. London: Hurst, 1986. New York: St Martin’s, 1986. Extracts published in Swedish translation, 1988. Print. A Change of Skies. Sydney: Pan Macmillan/Picador, 1991. Reprinted 1991, 1992. New Delhi: Penguin Books India, 1992. Awarded the 1992 Marjorie Barnard Literary Prize for Fiction. Shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the 3M 1992 Talking Book Award of the Royal Blind Society. Print. Celebrations and Departures: Selected Poems, 1951–1991. Sydney: Wild & Woolley, 1991. Print. The Pleasures of Conquest. New Delhi: Penguin Books India, 1995. Sydney: Vintage-Random House Australia, 1996. Shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize. Print. Co-authored with Brendon Gooneratne. This Inscrutable Englishman: Sir John D’Oyly, Baronet 1774–1824. London: Cassell-Continuum, 1999. Print. Masterpiece and Other Stories. New Delhi: Indialog, 2002. Print. Celebrating Sri Lankan Women’s English Writing, 1948–2000. Colombo: Women’s Education and Research Centre, 2002. Print. Ed. Leonard Woolf, The Village in the Jungle (1913). Ceredigion, UK: Mellen, 2004. Print. The Sweet and Simple Kind. Colombo: Perera Hussein, 2006. Shortlisted for the 2007 Commonwealth Writers Prize and the 2008 Dublin International IMPAC Literary Award. Print.

Works Cited Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin. The Empire Writes Back. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 1989. Print.

Language, Diaspora, and Identity


Gooneratne, Yasmine. A Change of Skies. Sydney: Pan Macmillan/Picador, 1991. New Delhi: Penguin Books India, 1992. Print. ———. Masterpiece and Other Stories. New Delhi: Indialog, 2002. Print. ———. The Pleasures of Conquest. New Delhi: Penguin Books India, 1995. Sydney: VintageRandom House Australia, 1996. Print ———. The Sweet and Simple Kind. Colombo: Perera Hussein, 2006. London: Little, 2011. Print. Ismail, Qadri. Abiding by Sri Lanka: On Peace, Place, and Postcoloniality. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2005. Print. Ngugi wa Thiong’o. Decolonizing the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature. Oxford: Currey, 1986. Print. Walcott, Derek. The Antilles: Fragments of Epic Memory. The Nobel Lecture. New York: Farrar, 1992. Print. ———. Derek Walcott: Collected Poems, 1948–1984. New York: Noonday, 1986. Print.

11. A Journey from Sri Lanka to Australia: A Conversation with Chandani Lokugé Sissy Helff

Sissy Helff interviewed Chandani Lokugé in the mountains near Frankfurt, Germany on 14 October 2008.

After a forty-minute hike through the deep forests of the Taunus, Chandani Lokugé and I have reached our destination called “where the foxes dance.” This is a place where wanderers stop over for a hot tea or a marinated German hand cheese and a cider. The mountain hut is built on the crossroads of two secluded forest card roads. These roads have connected a number of remotely located villages for some hundred years or so, and it is in this romantic scenery that I have the pleasure to talk to the acclaimed postcolonial scholar and creative writer Chandani Lokugé about new developments in South Asian Australian writing. Chandani Lokugé was born in Colombo, the capital city of the island of Sri Lanka. In 1987 she moved with her husband and her two daughters to Australia to complete her PhD on Indian women’s literature and to teach at Flinders University in South Australia. In 2001 she became the Director of the Centre for Postcolonial Writing and an Associate Professor in English at Monash University, Australia. Currently, Lokugé is the editor for Oxford University Press of the Classic Reissue series of Indian women’s autobiography and fiction. This series includes such works as India Calling: The Memories of Cornelia Sorabji, India’s First Woman Barrister (2001) and The Prose and Poetry of Toru Dutt (2006). Furthermore, she researches South Asian diasporic literatures written in English. Lokugé is the author of a variety of books including two novels, If the Moon Smiled (2000, Penguin)

176Sissy Helff and Turtle Nest (2003, Penguin) and the short story collection Moth and Other Stories (1994, Aarhus). If the Moon Smiled was short listed for the New South Wales Premier’s Prize and translated into Greek (Konidaris). Extracts of Turtle Nest are translated into French in Century 21 (France). Her short fiction is widely anthologized including in Gas and Air (Bloomsbury) and Meanjin (Melbourne), and has been broadcast on national radio. Recently she completed a novel, and so it is in this secluded mountain hut where we are able talk about her previous work and her most recent novel Softly, As I Leave You.1 Sissy Helff: The title of your novel Softly, As I Leave You reminds me of a beautiful old song. Is there a connection? Chandani Lokugé: Yes, indeed, I was in Sri Lanka writing my novel and I had taken my brother a present, Matt Monro’s collection of songs, because he and I used to listen to them when we were young. And it had this song, “Softly, As I Leave You.” As I was writing, I seemed to get into the mood of that song. I thought of it as a working title, but both my parents and brother liked it a lot and so I let it be. I finished the novel, and in the meantime the Italian section had developed very strongly, because of my visit to Venice. Eventually, I discovered that the song is a ‘60s Italian original sung by Mina; the words are in Italian and it is titled “softly” which translates as “piano.” Then I realized that this very much echoes the husband figure of my novel, because Chris is an Australian-Italian, second generation migrant, and a very quiet and soft person. In the novel he makes a visit to Italy which changes him quite strongly, but he returns, of course. That is the bit about the Italian. But why I really thought that the title would fit my novel is because it is about people leaving, but not wanting to leave. It’s more about departures than arrivals. The characters in the novel love each other, but that love does not seem sufficient to see them through crises, or life. So, I thought that Softly, As I Leave You is really a fitting title. SH: Is it important that you visit the places you write about? Is there a difference for an author between visiting a place and letting your mind travel to a particular location? CL: For me it is essential to go and visit the place I am writing about. I would not have dared to send Chris to Venice had I not been there. I know you can google “Venice” and get the most minute details about the glassblowing business, or the boats, but I would never write a serious book about a place without having gone there. I have to feel a location, not only feel it, but smell it and taste it as well, connect to it with all my senses, and then I feel I can write about it. Otherwise my own writing would be very wooden; it would be like writing an academic essay, where you research a topic and get

A Journey from Sri Lanka to Australia


all the material, and then sit down and write. In fact, I was Chris in Venice. While this part was first written from a female point of view, I changed it later into Chris’s perspective—it is a firsthand experience. Murano, the glass island, certainly is a firsthand experience too. I believe that there is nothing like getting something under your skin; only then can I write about it. Once you know the location, you then let your imagination take it over—color it, flavor it, and translate it into mood. SH: We have talked so far a lot about the Italian and European-Australian influence on your work which comes in through the husband character. Yet, is there also a South Asian or a particular Sri Lankan influence materializing in Softly, As I Leave You? CL: There is certainly a Sri Lankan influence running through the entire book. It’s an almost negative influence. It is not nostalgia. It is not the migrant, but the diasporic reclaim of the country which shows in the mother protagonist Uma, who came to Australia in order to complete her PhD. This is where she meets her husband Chris. They marry and start a family. But Uma never lets go of her home country Sri Lanka, and she continues to claim it is through her son by getting him more and more involved in the ethnic crisis. Although she is a very committed mother and a warm person, she unwittingly sacrifices her son in order to be able to reconnect to the land of her parents. The son in a way is her sacrifice of her love for her country. While mother and son go along the tide of destruction, the father Chris is not strong enough to interfere. He watches it happen till it’s too late. This in a way is already very subversive. SH: How much has your own experience of having left Sri Lanka been necessary to imagine stories dealing with diaspora? Already in your earlier novels If the Moon Smiles and Turtle Nest a certain diasporic longing was strongly featured. How is this theme reflected in most recent work? CL: In my earlier novel, especially the first one, it was total nostalgia. It was not anything more than that; it was nostalgia. I was in a nostalgic mood when I wrote it. A German composer once said something like: “All our writing, all our work (in his case music), is autobiographical; we may wear different masks but we tell our own story every time.” Nothing in the story is mine, but of course the perception of things is mine. But, in my new novel, I seem to have moved in another direction. In this recent work you can see the truth as I know it today; I think I managed to present a picture of someone who can’t let go of a country and how it might be very negative. In this respect, the novel is more mature perhaps than my earlier work. SH: The texture of Australian literature is changing a lot, especially with regard to South Asian Australian writing. How do you see the development

178Sissy Helff of Australian literature in general and the recent emergence of South Asian writers in the Australian cultural landscape in particular? CL: Well yes. South Asian literature in Australia is developing hugely because of the acceleration of migration and globalization, as well. Traveling has become so easy today. In the case of Australia, for a long time, there were mainly two authors with a South Asian background, Chitra Fernando and Yasmine Gooneratne, but with the change of governmental policies South Asian migration has increased greatly and Sri Lankan migrancy is very strong. This might explain why from more recently a number of new authors have emerged. In a way I think it is about the time period, how authors reflect about their departures and the countries they have left behind. Settling into a new country is made doubly difficult not only by the sense of sadness that a migrant might experience, but also by a sense of guilt for having left the motherland. Guilt and conflict can be real creative inspirations: the guilt of not wanting to return, the guilt that you are happy in migration. One way of avoiding this feeling of guilt is to romanticize or criticize the home country, so that you can justify why you stay away from it. SH: How has the publishing market changed in Australia? Is it easier for South Asian Australian authors to get their work published today? CL: South Asian Australian writing is certainly a niche market. Publishers often look for an “exotic” novel which deals with another culture, not least because of the saleability. So I see this kind of a trend. SH: Do you think that people today are more open to different forms of aesthetics such as Bollywood cinema or Banghra music? CL: Yes, I see this kind of trend. The “exotic” is not as exotic as it was before. Recently, I read somewhere that British literature is now mainly Indian writing, because every prize seems to go to an Indian author. When this happens, such literature has become mainstream writing and can no longer be classified as minority or “exotic” literature. Whatever the “exotic” is, publishers will not publish a book unless they can sell it. The literary quality of a work is still the most important criterion, I think, because that is the lasting quality of a book. In Australia, probably even more than in other countries, our literature appeals even more, because Australia is so multicultural, because everyone is in a way a migrant. You introduce your book in a room and people in the audience will be nodding to every sentence you read, because they can really identify with what you are saying. They are all migrants either with British, Chinese, Greek, Italian, Indian, or Sri Lankan background. In one Australian family you can have Greek, Indian, and Italian roots, so what I am trying to say is that in Australia there is no way that you can have one pristine, pure identity. In a way, I always speak and

A Journey from Sri Lanka to Australia


write to a migrant culture and I hope that all Australians can identify with this condition of migrancy. SH: How did your writing develop? CL: It was a child’s death which brought the theme to me. I was shocked by a story about a young man, a son, who was very much loved by his family as he grew up. He left one night to celebrate his birthday, but during this night he got bashed and was murdered. He may have been drunk, and he may have been careless, but how does a child deserve such a death, and even more than the child—how do parents ever come to terms with such an ill-fate? An illness, for example, would be more easily accepted, but to see your son going away for the evening and then never to see him again—this was the germ of the story; it had nothing to do with Sri Lanka, or Italy, or Australia. It was the very human situation, the loss which got me started. First, I wrote a little bit around it; I needed to write the story out of my system. And then, strangely enough I had a dream. I was dreaming of a woman, obviously myself, and I saw her hair dropping in clumps and that is a very bad sign, an inauspicious sign in Sri Lanka. Then I began to write another story, and the woman eventually became the mother of this son. All eventually was connected. I did not set out to write a multicultural novel, or a postcolonial novel. It was just a human angle and then everything else grew out of it: in this case the universal feeling of parental loss, the grieving process and, finally the healing process. SH: How long did it take you to write Softly, As I leave You? CL: I don’t write my novels from beginning to end—it is more like a kaleidoscope; bits and pieces become connected over a period of time. It has taken me some years to get this novel ready. The last one was published five years ago, but that is because I have been very busy with my work as a lecturer and scholar. In total, if I just consider the writing process, the actual writing would have taken me about eight months. Probably, I waited a little too long; my first two were much quicker, 2000 and 2003. SH: But you mentioned that your writing has matured. This probably explains why you needed some more time to write a new book. CL: Well, human interaction is the core theme of my work. I mean if you reduce my writing to its very substance, it is always about how families interact. Back in 2004, I published the short story “Caves of Infinite Buddhas,” and that is about a young man who recollects a childhood memory of a moment of revelation of the relationship of his parents, and I actually even quoted a bit from it in the novel. The short story was about how this young man idealizes and admires his mother and blames the father for her unhappiness. The son thinks that the mother can’t love him enough because of the father, but actually it is the other way around. That story has continued

180Sissy Helff into this novel. So it is difficult to say that you start a novel today and finish it in another three months or so; it just sits in you and waits to come out. It has its own development, like life—it has its own pace. SH: Your current research is on the aesthetic tradition of rasa. Do you see this tradition also reflected in works of diasporic Indian or Sri Lankan authors? CL: Occasionally, an author like Michael Ondaatje may consciously draw inspiration from rasa2 (the nine sentiments or moods that comprise the South Asian theory of aesthetics) in his or her writing. But mostly an author would not refer to it directly. What I am trying to say is that as a critic you can use rasa to interpret a book. Rasa is in the book, because many of us write from within this tradition. When I write it is always the mood which is more important than any kind of disciplined way of thinking. You can’t define rasa as a discipline; you have to define it as a mood, a taste, and as a philosophy. I love the Sinhalese language as much as I love English. I am really bilingual. I studied Sinhalese literature as much as I studied English writing, so the connection comes quite naturally to me. But this might be different for another writer. As a critic I understand rasa as an alternative way of looking at things. SH: On our way to this mountain hut you mentioned to me that also in Sri Lanka a similar saying exists. Tell me, please, what “Where the foxes dance” means to a Sri Lankan? CL: Yes, I think it connects with an old saying we learned growing up. It can be rather badly translated as “sun and rain and the foxes’ marriage.” A sprinkling of rain in the sunshine is supposed to be a very auspicious sign when a bride steps out on her journey of marriage! So, you see Sissy, we are back to the crux of it all—the universality that binds us—like a thread connecting one to the other.

Note 1. See Chandani Lokugé’s Softly, As I Leave You (Melbourne: Arcadia, 2011). 2. See Feroza Jussawalla’s Family Quarrels: Towards a Criticism of Indian Writing in English (New York: Lang, 1985). See also her “Indian Theory and Criticism,” in The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism, edited by Groden and Kreisworth (Baltimore: JHU Press, 2005).

12. Gender without Borders: An Interview with C.S. Lakshmi/Ambai Antonia Navarro-Tejero

C.S. Lakshmi (Ambai) was born in 1944 in Tamil Nadu. She is a distinguished fiction writer in Tamil, and her works are characterized by her passionate espousal of the cause of women, a lucid and profound style, humor, and a touch of realism. Most of her stories are about relationships, and they contain brilliant observations about contemporary life. Exploration of space, silence, coming to terms with one’s body or sexuality, and the importance of communication are some of the recurring themes in her works. She holds a Ph.D. from Jawaharlal Nehru University, and she is presently the Director of Sound and Picture Archives for Research on Women (SPARROW), a trust set up in Mumbai to build a national archives for women with print, oral history, and pictorial material. She is the author of Sirakukal muriyum, Vittin mulaiyil oru camaiyalarai and Kaattil oru maan and two translated collections: A Purple Sea and In a Forest, A Deer. She has also published the research works The Face Behind the Mask: Women in Tamil Literature, Singer and the Song: Conversations with Musicians, and Mirrors and Gestures: Conversations with Dancers. She writes non-fiction and has edited a book on the city of Chennai, The Unhurried City: Writings on Chennai. As a young girl she won some popular literary awards instituted by the magazines Kannan and Kalaimagal. Later in her career she won the Ilakkiya Chinthanai award for the short story “Amma oru kolai seithaal” and the Katha Award for the short story “Kaattil oru maan.” Recently her book In a Forest, A Deer won the Hutch-Crossword Award and she has also won the Vilakku Award for the year 2006, instituted by a group of Tamil literary enthusiasts in the US for her contribution to Tamil literature. Antonia Navarro-Tejero: Why do you use Ambai when writing in Tamil and Lakshmi when writing in English?

182Antonia Navarro-Tejero C.S. Lakshmi: I write fiction in Tamil and non-fiction in English. As a creative writer I like to use the pen name Ambai. For non-creative writing I prefer to do it in my real name.  ANT: What does Ambai mean? CSL: Ambai actually means Devi, which is goddess Parvathi. When I was in my early teens there was a popular writer called “Devan” who wrote a novelette Parvathiyin Sangalpam (Parvathi’s Vow), where a woman spurned and insulted by her husband, takes a vow to become somebody and starts writing with the pen name Ambai. She becomes very famous, and not realizing that she is the wife he spurned, her husband comes to meet her and she rejects him. As a young girl I liked her guts and began writing with the pen name Ambai. But later I retained the pen name because of its Mahabharatha connections. Ambai is the woman who becomes a man called Sikandi in Mahabharatha and takes revenge on Bhishma, who she feels ruined her life. I liked the androgynous quality of Ambai and the idea of a borderless gender. ANT: Much literature has been discussed around the topic of English Indian fiction. What is your position towards the English language, and do you also have an ambivalent feeling of love and hate? CSL: It is not a question of love and hate. It is just that I don’t think in English. I do love the language, but I love so many other Indian languages, and where languages abroad are concerned, I really love the sound of Spanish. I have a diploma in Spanish and Portuguese. And I like these languages too.  ANT: Does your Tamil reader differ from your English one in any way? CSL: I certainly think so. The Tamil readers pay attention to my language nuances also. The English readers miss that entire part. ANT: Sexuality seems to be a taboo topic in India. However, you, along with some other Indian women writers, explore this topic. Did censorship affect you at all? CSL: Sexuality is strangely a taboo topic only in the modern period. Our ancient Tamil literature has a special place for love and desire. It is also a part of our oral history. Colonial education brought in some Victorian values with regard to sexuality. But this taboo is there only in terms of literary expression. In conversations and discussions among women, sexuality is easily talked about. When I began to explore this topic I did not realize I was defying anything, for I was doing it for my own sake as much for the sake of writing about it. The censorship happened not in terms of open discussion of what I wrote but more in terms of a total rejection of what I wrote. My first short story collection did not get reviewed for about ten years! Also no recognition in terms of awards came my way. There was also harrassment at a personal level by some male writers, and for several years what they imagined to be my

Gender without Borders


lifestyle and my personality got lampooned. I was left quite alone to face it. I responded by stonewalling all their comments. ANT: How did literary recognition finally happen? CSL: It came many years later for a story. And that is about the only award I have received in Tamil Nadu itself. The other awards have been for my translations. The recent Vilakku award is from a Tamil group in the US. Since I write in Tamil literary journals, there are many who have not even heard of me in Tamil Nadu. And many of the senior male writers publicly say that they have not read me. So literary recognition in that sense has not really happened. ANT: How did the idea of founding SPARROW come to you? Is it a deserved tribute to other women artists who suffered the same censorship as you did? CSL: The idea of founding SPARROW rose from my work as a researcher on women and culture. Women artists form only one part of it. SPARROW is much more than an archive of women artists. It is an archive to document women’s lives and history and this includes women from various walks of life, not just artists. SPARROW was founded to document the lives and works of women who have not found their way into history text books and who are not part of the public memory of past history or of contemporary history. ANT: The rewriting of history from a feminist perspective made an enormous impact on Women’s Studies. How did SPARROW contribute to that project in the 1990s? CSL: From 1997 onwards, SPARROW has been doing various projects and programs to raise awareness regarding the history of women. This includes workshops for students, publications, summer workshops for students from abroad, film workshops, film festivals, and the production of its own documentaries. Whether these have immediately impacted Women’s Studies one can’t say. But those in Women’s Studies do know about SPARROW’s work, and SPARROW is a member of the Indian Association of Women’s Studies. ANT: How is SPARROW working now? CSL: It is working fine except that we need a permanent space and an endowment grant that will allow us to be less anxious about the future. ANT: Where does the organization get the funds from? CSL: From 1997 to 2007 we were funded by HIVOS, a humanistic group from Holland. Then our infrastructural expenses were funded by the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, a trust in Mumbai. We are still struggling to be rooted as an institution, and funding is a major challenge for organizations like ours.

184Antonia Navarro-Tejero It is like a sword hanging above our heads, because girls we train become insecure every time a funding period ends and very often we lose senior staff in the process. It is an uphill task to say the least. ANT: Do you consider your organization and writings feminist? CSL: My writings can be considered feminist but my organization is trying to archive material on women, one can say, with a feminist perspective. But we collect all kinds of material and some of them need not necessarily be feminist but can be material which can be used for research on women with a feminist perspective. ANT: Can you name anyone who helped to challenge the canonical history of India? CSL: In our oral history project, when we interview women who have participated in the freedom movement or even ordinary women, we have found that many women are making history all the time. This completely changes the way we see women in the family and in the history of the nation. Some rosy images of the Indian family also crumble at times, and we find that rules and norms get broken in a family by women in a determined manner. Our approach to women’s expression, scholarship, and action can undergo a radical change when we look at them in the context from which they have arisen. ANT: As a Tamil author, does feminism make any sense in your community? CSL: Do you think feminism is a western prerogative? We have women’s journals in Tamil which are feminist, and feminism is a topic we have been discussing for a long time now. I think you have no idea what the Tamils are. We have women’s organizations which have been having theoretical discussions about feminism for many years.  ANT: Could you then tell us more about the history of Tamil feminism? CSL: I will not call it Tamil feminism exactly, because many women would not use that term. I don’t think we would like to restrict feminism into certain cultural or community specificities. I think feminists have existed in the Tamil land even before the term feminism was in use. For example, one of our ancient poets, Avvaiyar, was a single woman and a bard who wandered around singing poems. What a very modern image that is. But such a person was not unusual even in earlier times, although she may not have specified that she would like to opt out of marriage and motherhood and so on for certain theoretical reasons. But such choices seem to have existed. Coming to modern times, in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century there have been women in education and professionals who have struck a different path. Many women spoke about women’s rights, and women’s equality

Gender without Borders


participated in the Self-Respect Movement whose leader was E.V. Ramasamy Naiker or Thanthai Periyar, as he was known. In the thirties and forties when women came into national politics, a woman’s right to education and equal rights for women were commonly voiced concerns. Poet Bharathi, called the revolutionary poet, wrote about women and men being equal. It is true that the term feminist was suspect during the national movement, for it had connotations which threatened even some well-known women leaders. But even when in the late seventies Penn Urimai Iyakkam, an organization, was started in Chennai, and they began by blackening obscene posters, demanding rights and running a tabloid, the term “penniyavathi” (feminist) was respected but also sneered at some times. “Penniyavatham” (feminism) is a commonly used term in many NGOs run for women and is also part of the popular vocabulary. It is viewed in many different ways but it has become a part of the every day language of the people.

13. Speech-Act: An Interview with Susan Visvanathan Geetha Ganapathy-Doré

Susan Visvanathan is Professor of Sociology in Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She is the author of Something Barely Remembered (2000, interlinked short stories about the Syrian Christian way of life), The Visiting Moon (2002, a novella essentially about the city of Delhi, where a middle aged writer feels a great surge of desire for Rakesh, a much younger and married man), Phosphorus and Stone (2007, a novella on the fisherpeople of Kerala with a strikingly feminist message), The Seine at Noon (2007, a novel on some diasporic Keralites interacting with the French and the Americans), and Nelycinda and Other Stories (2012). Her scholarly publications include The Christians of Kerala (1993), An Ethnography of Mysticism (1998), Friendship, Interiority and Mysticism (2007), The Children of Nature (2010), and Reading Marx, Weber, and Durkhein Today (2012). She has also edited a collection of essays, Structure and Transformation: Theory and Society in India (2001). Besides, Susan Visvanathan is a regular contributor to The Hindu and The Book Review. Visvanathan started her teaching career at the prestigious Hindu College in Delhi University before joining the Centre for the Study of Social Systems at Jawaharlal Nehru University. She has been a fellow of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library; honorary fellow of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla; Charles Wallace Fellow to Queen’s University, Belfast; and visiting professor to Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, Paris and the University of Paris 13. She lives in Delhi and has three daughters from her marriage to the sociologist Shiv Visvanathan.

188Geetha Ganapathy-Doré

Figure 4.  Susan Visvanathan.

Geetha Ganapathy-Doré: I would like to first of all thank you for granting this email interview despite your tight schedule. Let me start with your memoirs, parts of which I was privileged to read. Your childhood in Delhi seems to have been carefree and joyous in spite of having to shuttle from one part of the city to the other in buses because you had two highly independent people as parents. Susan Visvanathan: Thank you for speaking with me. I always think of you as someone drawn to my writing because as a translator, you understand that bridge building is what many of us are preoccupied with. Your friendship



has allowed me to understand that writing connects many of us who were once strangers, but we now enter intimate spaces of the heart and mind that allow us access to one another’s personal emotions. Fiction actually transcends this barrier of “otherness” and “secrets.” For fiction writers, nothing is hidden. It is as Nadine Gordimer once said, “To write is to be fearless.” Delhi was always at the heart of my being. As children our parents reared my sister Esther and me to survive in the city. They had both worked in partition camps with refugees, and to the years after partition they brought that sense of love and hope which their generation certainly had. Because they were professionals who took great pride in their work, we inherited from them the love for detail and passion for everyday things. If I speak of callousness in my work, it is only to safeguard that which is most precious, the concern for one another that makes human life what it is. GGD: Your mother has been a role model and a pillar of support throughout. SV: Mariam Paul, who is over ninety years old and still very much an icon for many people, combines wisdom and detachment. She is someone who is rational and generous at the same time. As a child, she rescued me from the wrath of my father, who was a brilliant and gifted teacher, but impatient with me. I think he saw in me someone who was very gifted and he was ambitious for me. But the excessive preoccupation that he had with my success blunted me. I was very dreamy, absent-minded, forgetful, and careless. It was in Miranda House, Delhi University, as a student of sociology, that I finally came into my own. My mother is a very voracious reader of books, and so I wanted very early to be a writer. Almost as soon as I could think in a straight sentence, which is perhaps at the age of four, the desire to be a novelist rose! My mother was always happy with what I did, and she had neither hopes nor disappointments through the years I was growing up. She just loved me for what I was, and the fact is till I was twenty, I was unruly, rude, uncouth, and clumsy. GGD: You seem to be very close to your sister who now lives in Bangalore. Nevertheless you carved out an identity for yourself by being the writer. SV: My sister, like my mother, felt she had to protect me from the start. While she dominates my memories in childhood by her strength and ebullience, she always remembers me for my patience and my calm. I think the serenity that my friends always comment on, and draw from me is because my mother had a certain peacefulness about her, which I imitated. I was also drawn to music and prayer. The two have been my constant companions. For the last decade I have been moving to a different sort of meditation which is from time spent at Ramanashramam in Tiruvannamalai … It draws from

190Geetha Ganapathy-Doré Ramana Maharshi’s texts on silence and acceptance of destiny. My sister is a noisy, boisterous, singularly honest, and fragile person. Since she is someone who has charisma and an unselfconscious love for the good things of life, she gets a little baffled by my desire to disappear, to hide, to evade, to camouflage. I think I am a writer because I can never ever reveal what I truly am. The motif of all my work has been, “Now you see me, now you don’t.” I identify myself with Echo, who loved Narcissus and was doomed to loneliness and repetition. GGD: Your first work of fiction was published in 2000. Was there any event or person, if I may dare to ask, that determined this definitive step towards fiction? SV: I wrote my first story in 1989: “Lukose’s Church.” It was published in 1990 by Ashok Srinivasan, who is a brilliant short story writer himself, and at that time he was an editor of the ICSSR’s journal New Horizons.1 It was a great beginning. I wrote one story every year for many years. In 1994, Rukun Advani, who was my editor and friend, published three stories, one of which was a short story called “River and Sea,” the others being “Something Barely Remembered” and “Summer and Then the Rain.” He introduced me to Sanjeev Saith, who was willing to take the risk in 2000 as a small craft-publisher to launch me into the fiction writer’s world. I always wanted to be a writer of stories … I did not know when. In 1989, when I was thirty two years old, I took the plunge. GGD: You wrote your Ph.D. thesis on the Christians of Kerala. It was published as a book in 1993. Your own transgression of the endogamic tradition of the Syrian Christian community2 was instrumental in your studying it as an object of inquiry. While doing field work for this research in Puthenangadi, you put together these delicately woven short stories about Puthenkavu, which is its fictional shadow. You have continued this pattern of parallel engagement in reflection and fiction. SV: There was so much that could not be told in technical language! Peyton Place has a sentence which begins, “It was an Indian summer …” I’d read the book when I was thirteen or fourteen years old along with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, A Catcher in the Rye, and To Kill a Mockingbird. I suppose the thesis was this mammoth thing which was my privilege to write when I was twenty-five years old, and since I had total support for my academic work from Shiv Visvanathan, I was free in some odd way to follow my dream once it was finished and submitted to Delhi University, in 1987. Technical sociological work continues to be my first love, although Shiv and I no longer live together. The fiction is what comes easily to me, it is instinctual, and somewhere I know even if I never write a story again, it is what it means to be really me.



GGD: When talking about Syrian Christians in Indian writing in English, it is difficult not to mention Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. Both of you share the secular and hybrid postcolonial Indian identity that overrides religious identity. But the fact is some of your short stories that portray the tension between patriarchy and women’s freewill had appeared in reviews like Indian Horizons and Civil Lines much earlier. SV: As I said, I was gifted with friends who understood my work much better than I did. I’ve always survived as a human being and as a writer through the kindness and clarity of my friends, who did believe that, yes, I might always be a “niche” writer, but that the work was lucid and fragile, yet resilient. I’ve had many editors since then, since I worked as a novelist and sociologist with Oxford University Press, Indiaink, Flamingo, Roli, Orient Longman, Penguin, and Zubaan, and each has shown me great affection and respect, regardless of whether they were men or women. I value the friendships I have, and the seamless quality of compassion and love which makes editors such great friends to febrile writers. The designers of book jackets have shown the same unerring abstract sense for my texts, which in their work is tactile. Free will is based on rationality and justice for me. I never confuse idiosyncrasy with talent. I think there has been a very careful partnership of writers with publishers. They nurture my work; I’m grateful. You speak of secularism, hybridity, and modernism. I was always fascinated by Jung’s theme of modernism and the search for a soul, as much as Mircea Eliade’s preoccupation of the siblinghood of good and evil. Out of this has risen my work on Hannah Arendt, Simone Weil, and Henri Le Saux. A lot of the questions of human rights and the tussle between freedom and existential contexts of the sacred in modern life are discussed in Friendship, Interiority and Mysticism, which Orient Longman published in 2007. Rolibooks has published my work, The Children of Nature: The Life and Legacy of Ramana Maharishi. This is a book I had been writing for ten years, which is a sequel to the theoretical essays. It looks at fieldwork and the subjectivity of narrative, where new ways of thinking about social structure are prefigured by cultural anthropology and feminism. It combines theological exegesis typical of studies in comparative religion, along with narrative analyses and fieldwork diaries born out of annual encounters with those who live in Ramana Maharshi’s ashramam. It presumes that much of the data we work with is a consequence of the friendships we forge in the field. I return twice a year to Tiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu, and am enriched by my meetings with friends who live there, or are visitors like me to a holy sanctuary. GGD: In Something Barely Remembered, we come across a constellation of female friends who seem to have their still center in Kerala while wandering to places as far off as Italy, Morocco, England, Ireland, and the US.

192Geetha Ganapathy-Doré SV: Kerala is on the sea coast. From ancient times we have always known the lure of the West, which for us was Arabia and Egypt and Rome, and of the East, which for us was China. Malayalis are comfortable about traveling, even if it’s a genetic memory, and they are sure of their rights. I think that’s what makes Malayalis so confident about the future, to know your rights, and to know the world means you can fight for others’ rights as well. GGD: The one thing that can be said about them is that they are not afraid of their desire. SV: Fear and laughter go together for my characters. The Visiting Moon was about nomads and Shakespeare, and everything else was a cover up. I use the idea of lightness and frivolity to cover up the central text, which is usually sociological. In all my fictional work, I use the idea of gravity and the fool as combined spaces of everyday life. Desire in these novels is inconsequential; it is felt and gone, the “moment.” But the memory … that’s important for me, the interlacing of strategy and desire. GGD: Your models were Virginia Woolf, Iris Murdoch, Carson McCuller … SV: You got that exactly. Chekov and Shakespeare fill the sequence!!! GGD: Mariam, from Something Barely Remembered, draws gentle strength from the female lineage and waterscape of Kerala, instead of killing herself by drowning after the end of love. The characters’ ecological bond with the Keralan “terroir,” its unpolished rice, bananas, and coconuts, is very special. SV: For me, the survival instinct is the most important legacy of my work. The writer does not kill the angel in herself, the angel of the house. (Or does she? In The Visiting Moon, one delicate woman does die of duty and lethe.) Tenacity and life, and the strategies of survival, that’s the leitmotif of all my work. Mysticism rather than self annihilation, boredom and flowers rather than death! GGD: The Visiting Moon is written in a different register. You have mentioned interiority as a key to understanding this novella about hope and survival. In contrast, Something Barely Remembered grapples with the pain of a broken relationship, but the distraught woman writer in her forties (the protagonist of The Visiting Moon) elicits less sympathy from the reader. SV: Characters have to be real, plausible, not merely likeable. Negativism is central to the art. Fiction is about moral planes. We may take sides, we may like or dislike, but the reader must remember them, must tussle with them and forget them, when more vivid characters turn up on the narrative plane. I’m not competitive. I don’t rank my work. I like the free floating nature of the imagination and what it draws.



GGD: Elsewhere you talk about the love of the moon for the sea. Is the moon a metaphor for illusion in the novel which bears testimony to changing urban mores. Could we say it was particularly inspired by Françoise Sagan’s writings? SV: I love the moon. I look out for it and the morning star everyday. Of Françoise Sagan, one can only remember illicit kisses, and like Simenon and Maigret, the love for Paris, which I share completely. GGD: You return to Kerala and its fisherman community in Phosphorus and Stone. It naturally brings to mind Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai’s Chemmeen, a Malayali novel published in 1956. SV: My generation, which saw the film version of the novel, loved the romance and the songs … I can still hear “Varu” and it plaintive call, and see the whirlpool of the sea, which makes no promises. My new novella is drawn from my field work with the fisherpeople on the Alleppey coast in the mid90s. It is a work of fiction; the romance is an embellishment, to tell the story of poverty and consumption which go hand in hand … and the caste, class, and gender battles which are everyday narratives of life anywhere in India. GGD: At the same time, the Bible is its intertext and you focus particularly on the figure of Mary Magdalene. The shift of focus allows you to push matters further and propose a revolutionary idea—Christ reincarnated as a woman!3 You trace it back to a painting you had seen in the National Art Gallery in London,4 The Conversion of Saint Hubert, by the Master of the Life of the Virgin, 1480–85. SV: I generally ignore the possibility that the narrator and the author are one and the same person. The female Christ is always present as an idea, and, Christians of Kerala (OUP 1993) suggests it too, as the apocryphal reading of “born of the body of Mary.” It has to do with literal readings, not historical ones. Christians of Kerala was written as a doctoral dissertation from Delhi University, between 1980 and 1987. Phosphorus and Stone was written in 2001, but Sanjeev Saith rejected it in 2002. The Zubaan Penguin version is an extended version, with my editor Preeti Gill asking for more chapters, and my agreeing to her advice. Yes, my travels have helped me immensely in reading and rereading my Christological materials. GGD: The novel is a meditation on death and prepares the reader for coping with that ultimate reality. SV: True, but it plays a trick on the reader … thank you for not giving it away. I love Shakespearian masks, the tragic and the comic. My father took me to Shakespeare plays in 1962, at the Fine Arts and Crafts Council, when I was five. I didn’t understand a word, but I got the gist … He would read the original Shakespeare to us. We read Charles and Mary Lamb when we were

194Geetha Ganapathy-Doré much older. He was a great lover of theatre, and I had read Shaw’s Collected Plays when I was 12. GGD: You were invited to Paris as Visiting Professor by the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, Paris in 2004. But in more ways than one, you have been connected to France. French thinkers like Durkheim, Weber, Barthes, Bourdieu, and Derrida were always there in the background, not to mention the monk Henri le Saux, who was a friend of Ramana Maharishi and writer Simone Weil. SV: I never understood the French connection myself, but it was always there … probably from Durkheim, Marcel Mauss, and the Annales School in History; it’s a preference and I teach it. My courses in JNU were designed to establish French Sociology as an essential ingredient along with American and British Sociology in university curriculum. Indian Sociology has an aura of its own, which comes with empirical work. We love proving the problems of Western theory as unique to their culture! Our sociology draws from the vitality of field work and everyday life. We are not great theoreticians, and for us practice is all. GGD: The Seine at Noon depicts a Paris very different from the one Radhika Jha did in Smell.5 SV: Radhika’s book is very earthy and physical, and deals with a reality that she knew. Mine is about that old feminist preoccupation, which is the life of the mind. I was a month in Paris, and I knew I needed a metaphor to deal with the problem of assimilation and identity. The Seine at Noon is the aphorism for the existential quality of everyday struggles. GGD: This novel illustrates crosscultural friendship, between a French man and an Indian. SV: Fictitious, but it must be true, don’t you think? GGD: I came across this particular phrase about Indian migrants, Cochin Jews actually, in the novel: There were so many of them, all in the spice trade, speaking French only to policemen and passport officers. They were so entrenched in their sense of superiority of their own people that he had always hated them. For him [Stefan, sole surviving child of Indian Jews killed by the Nazis in France during the Second World War], being Parisian came first, French second. For them being Jews came first and Malayalam-speaking next. Of course, they were at home in Paris, but they saw no need to grovel over the fact. (60)

Frankly, this observation could be transposed in other migratory contexts. But the question I wish to ask is, “Is the diasporic Indian the more arrogant of the species?”



SV: Indians born yesterday talk of their five thousand year civilization. Diaspora communities are always ready to go back 45 million years … they have to, to survive!! The great thing about being human is that our bones crumble much in the same way, regardless of our color. I don’t think Stefan was a collaborator; I think he camouflaged. A lot of assimilation is about identity blurring rather than actually participating. GGD: You don’t shy away from picturing aging, especially Indians aging in the US. The reproach of the old Indian mother-in-law to her American daughters-in-law, “You brought no dowry,” is both shocking and hilarious. SV: I like age, and the fact that custom doesn’t wither … I find dowry shocking, and the whole story is set in such a way that the survival of men and women is predisposed by their intelligence, their education, and their wit. But fate has no questions to ask of those who are in the clutch of the narrator. GGD: In this novel there is a quick sketch of the Queen of Sheba as a true artist. SV: I dreamed of her once, and Solomon. They drank red wine together, but then she refused to succumb to his authority, and he coated her in a clay house, like a wasp, and sent her off to a desert which had no boundary. When at last they reached a fenced area, she was toppled off to the other side of the desert. It was a dreadful dream. There they were laughing together one moment, and the next, she was sealed and sent away. In the Louvre, walking with my daughters and Nicolas Porret-Blanc, your colleague at Paris 13, I saw a painting of Solomon, and he looked exactly like the king in my dream. I have always wondered how these things happen: that dream of 2001 and the sighting of exactly the same dark morose and kingly face in 2004 at the Louvre. GGD: The characters of some of your short stories and novellas die all too quickly (for instance, Raul in The Seine at Noon). Is there a Shakespearean message about destiny? Or is it because the artist is simply bored and is using her power to wipe off the canvas? SV: People must die, where or when in the narrative, only the writer knows. That destiny can be changed with a twist of the paragraph, as happens to Esther midstream in The Seine at Noon, but alas not to Mareek in Phosphorus and Stone. There too, there is narrative sleight of hand, for these are not real people, they just pretend to be. GGD: I was always struck by the fact that while others commute from home to work and vice versa, you seem to commute from spirituality to the “frivolity” of postmodern urban space and back. SV: I love that. It comes from my childhood memories, where my sister and I would die laughing. We still do. All my friends share the same sense of the comic, the wonderful sense of craziness. Without that you can’t survive

196Geetha Ganapathy-Doré the world and its stratagems. I find that in the life of the poor too, that tremendous sense of comedy and sternness, which go side by side. GGD: Today there are many Indian writers, Indian women authors especially, who have made their mark in the world literary scene. Some of them have openly proclaimed that they do not have the time to read what their fellow countrymen are producing. Which Indian writers do you care for? Do you read Malayali or Tamil or Hindi writers in their language? SV: I don’t read for the sake of being well read or keeping up. I read only English, which includes translations, but my daughters do read Hindi novelists. I have to read for next semester’s lectures. That’s my bread and butter. Fiction is bed time or holiday reading. GGD: How do you manage to preserve the work life balance, the secret recipe which women professionals, wherever they are, will want to know? SV: I sleep a lot, and when I fear crack up, I ring up my friends who listen. I like my salaried job and have to put a lot of work into teaching and supervising research. I write fiction as a kind of distilled activity. It comes easily to me, but I’m neither compulsive nor detached about it. As I said, it’s life’s blood, and I write when I have time or if I have something to say … but there’s no pressure to stay on the plateau of productivity. GGD: “Delhi is always very funny if you can handle the anxiety,” you had once told me. The heat and dust in Delhi appear as filigree in Something Barely Remembered and The Visiting Moon. You found a snake resting in your office when you got back to Delhi after your stay in Paris! Similarly, when you returned to India after a brief sojourn in Massachusetts in 1992, you saw a monkey sitting near the driver’s seat as a regular passenger. These days the monkey menace in Delhi is more seriously talked about than even its pollution. How do you keep your sense of humor in these near hallucinatory situations? SV: Laughter? It’s a gift.

Notes 1. ICSSR is the Indian Council for Social Science Research, New Delhi. 2. Legend has it that St. Thomas, the apostle, arrived in Maliankara near Cranganore in A.D. 54 and preached the gospel. He had converted many local inhabitants, belonging especially to the literate upper-caste Nambudiri Brahmans, to Christianity. 3. Susan Visvanathan’s novel was written in 2003. It took her four years to publish it. Dan Brown’s best seller was published in 2004, and proposes an apocryphal blood line for Jesus Christ. 4. See . 5. See Radhika Jha, Smell (New Delhi: Viking, 1999).



Bibliography Fiction Visvanathan, Susan. Something Barely Remembered. New Delhi: IndiaInk, 2000. Print. ———. The Visiting Moon. New Delhi: IndiaInk, 2002. Print. ———. Phosphorus and Stone. New Delhi: IndiaInk, 2007. Print. ———. The Seine at Noon. New Delhi: IndiaInk/Rolibooks, 2007. Print. ———. Nelycinda and Other Stories. New Delhi: Rolibooks, 2012. Print.

Nonfiction ———. The Christians of Kerala: History, Belief and Ritual Among the Yakoba. Madras: Oxford UP, 1993, reprinted and published in Delhi 1998, 2000, 2002. Print. ———. An Ethnography of Mysticism; The Journeys of a French Monk in India. Shimla: Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 1998. Print. ———. Friendship, Interiority and Mysticism. New Delhi: Orient Longman, 2007. Print. ———. The Children of Nature: The Life and Legacy Ramana Maharshi. New Delhi: Rolibooks, 2010. Print. ———. Reading Marx, Weber, and Durkheim Today. New Delhi: Palm Leaf, 2012. Print.

Editor ———. Structure and Transformation: Theory and Society in India. Delhi: Oxford UP, 2000. Print.

Co-Editor with Geeti Sen India International Centre Quarterly issue on “Kerala, Progress and Paradox” in 1995 and the issue on “Women and Family” in 1996. Print.

Critical References to Susan Visvanathan Gandhi, Leela. Affective Communities: Anticolonial Thought, Fin-De-Siecle Radicalism, and the Politics of Friendship. Durham: Duke UP, 2006. Print. Ganapathy-Doré, Geetha. “Novels in Parts: Susan Visvanathan’s Something Barely Remembered and Anita Nair’s Ladies Coupé.” The Atlantic Literary Review 4.3 (2003): 129–42. Print. Leavis, F.R. “Current Literature 2000.” English Studies 83.5 (2002): 431–41. Print. Padamanabhan, Mukund. “Interiority … is about survival, hope.” The Hindu. Hindu, 5 May 2002. Web. . Philipose, Pamela. “Exploring Creative Spaces.” Review of Phosphorus and Stone and The Seine at Noon in The Book Review 32.3 (2008): 9. Print.

14. Afterword Feroza Jussawalla Dehnert


Deborah Fillerup Weagel



In summing up this volume we requested our colleague Jill Dehnert, an editor and interviewer of contemporary writers, to conduct an interview with us. This “Afterword,” crafted in the spirit of this volume, aims to capture the tenor of the interviews and personal explications reflected in its contents as well as to point to new directions in the study of contemporary literatures. JD: Could you talk a little bit about the project in general, so the readers have an idea of how it started. DFW: We were asked to co-edit a collection of essays and interviews as guest editors for a Special Topic Issue of the South Asian Review, entitled “Perspectives on South Asian Women’s Writing.” We then decided to co-edit a book as well on the same topic, except that our focus was on the lesser known or mostly unknown writers. We used some of the essays and interviews from the South Asian Review, but we also included new essays and interviews. In addition, we wrote an updated “Introduction” and inserted this “Afterword,” which we feel coordinates well with the interview style presented in the latter part of the book. FJ: Deborah and I have now edited this collection as one volume in a special series, “From Antiquity to Modernity: Studies on Middle Eastern and Asian Societies,” and our book deals with emerging South Asian women writers. These are not the South Asian women writers that everybody knows, but the lesser known or emerging ones. We have included one very established Parsi woman writer, Bapsi Sidhwa. Deepa Mehta’s film adaptation Earth was based on her Partition novel Cracking India. Her work is fairly well known, but she said to us that she still considers herself to be an “emerging” writer, even though she is of an older generation than the younger writers who are coming out now.







JD: So you are most concerned with helping these authors become better known in the West? FJ: Yes. It is an opportunity to give them some exposure and acknow­ ledgment, or in some cases to repeat exposure, as with Yasmine Gooneratne, so that people will read their works and include them in academic curricula and conferences, particularly so in the US. Then in the Introduction we tried to say that we also need to be listening to the indigenous or the Indianpublished critics, as opposed to those who are dominant in Western academia. So there is that other perspective. DFW: We are interested in the authors as well as the critics. In the case of Chandani Lokugé, who is both an author and an academic, we have included an article and an interview. Yasmine Gooneratne has also published literary criticism. JD: The book is focused mostly on South Asian women writers writing in English? DFW: For the most part, we have focused on writing in English. However, among the playwrights discussed by Seema Malik are those who have written in other languages. The texts she deals with include translations. We also have an interview with a Tamil writer. JD: You write in the Introduction about giving these writers legitimacy. What do you mean by that? What makes a writer legitimate? FJ: I think giving writers legitimacy is when they are accepted into the academic canon, when they are read and are taught, and/or written about. But more importantly, in the West, for emerging writers to get legitimacy, they need the rubber stamp of a major media outlet like the New Yorker or The New York Times Book Review. If they don’t have this, they have to have some scholarly consideration or recognition. Certain writers get written about over and over again, or certain writers have been accepted into the publishing world over and over again, and others haven’t been. I’m very interested in what causes that to happen. JD: Yes, someone like Arundhati Roy becomes the example or token of all Indian writing. There is the idea that all we need to read is that one novel, when we read the Indian novel. The same is true of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She has become the token now for younger Nigerian writing. DFW: That used to be true of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, a novel that has been taught in many American high schools and universities. In reading this text, some people thought they had read the African novel. FJ: Some of the younger African writers have said that there are other important authors besides Achebe and Adichie. The Ugandan author Jennifer

Afterword201 Nansubuga Makumbi is a best seller in Kampala, but we never hear of her here. JD: So that’s a problem, and I think it’s one that is interesting to talk about. But let’s discuss Feroza’s book Chiffon Saris. And you also, Deborah, maybe it would be good to get a little bit about your background and your journey here. FJ: I was born in Hyderabad, India and I very strongly feel my connection to my roots. But I was born a Parsi (a Zoroastrian community stemming from immigrants from Iran several hundred years ago). I also feel my roots to being a Parsi. I have written poems in my collection Chiffon Saris about being Parsi and about Parsi rituals, like casting coconuts in the water or wearing Parsi saris like garas. So that connection is very much there for me. I was born in Muslim Hyderabad. I grew up very much inter-religious. I went to a Christian school. I grew up in a Muslim town, in more of a Hindu neighborhood. I came to the University of Utah to get a master’s degree. I went on to earn a Ph.D. Then I got a job at the University of Texas El Paso, where I taught for twenty years. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I moved to Albuquerque to receive treatment at the University of New Mexico. This is where I’ve been since 2001, but then I also had a second cancer in 2009. I have written some poems about surviving cancer and taking the chemo. JD: And now you’re in remission? FJ: Yes, thank God. JD: Do you travel back to India? FJ: I do travel back. I’m very religious, and I like to go to the religious sites and the Hindu pilgrimages and so forth. That’s a big deal for me. Though I haven’t written about it in my collection of poems, but I’m thinking of various other places where I could write about it. JD: Could you talk a little bit about that, because I think that sense of blended, hybrid identity comes through in these poems. There’s this idea of the Southwest, the landscape, and of being blended with Hyderabad. It seems like your religious background is also very blended in this way. So can you talk about how you view yourself and where you place yourself in that landscape? FJ: I really do place myself in the US Southwest, because it looks like the salty desert has given me a place to grow my roots, and also to be myself in a way. This US Southwest area I would say, pretty much from Salt Lake City all the way to Chihuahua, has been kind to me. There is a good, substantial Indian population, and it has very similar weather and landscape, so it’s possible to feel at home. Hispanics also have the various rituals that we do. There’s a very strong Hindu temple society here in Albuquerque even though there’s not a very big Parsi community.







But as we stay in these places, we can’t isolate ourselves. We have to absorb what’s going on around us. I learned a little bit of Spanish. I tried to work with students who came from Mexico, and so some of that Spanish comes to me quite naturally. We found that this is true of the authors in Australia who expressed both their ambivalence and comfort with being in a foreign landscape. JD: Okay, so you’ve found that you’ve really been able to absorb. I like that you say you feel yourself in this place despite it being assumed to be foreign to you. And, Deborah, what is your history? DFW: I come from a Northern European background. My maiden name, Fillerup, is the name of the village where some of my ancestors lived in Denmark. I also have a religious heritage in that I am a descendant of Mormon pioneers, and continue in this faith in my personal life. I served a mission for my church in Sweden (where some of my ancestors also lived) for eighteen months when I was in my early twenties. I am interested in world cultures and literatures. I have published articles and the book Women and Contemporary World Literature: Power, Fragmentation, and Metaphor, all which focus on women in particular. My specific emphasis has been the metaphor of quilts and quiltmaking in contemporary Asian Indian and American Indian literature, and this was the topic of my Ph.D. dissertation.1 I went to India to conduct research for my dissertation and had a fruitful visit there. My general research in postcolonial studies has also helped me make sense of my own background and life. Some of my Mormon ancestors were persecuted and driven from their homes in Nauvoo, Illinois, and they walked across the plains to the Salt Lake Valley in what is now Utah to find refuge. Ideas about oppression have been important to me here. As a woman, I relate to theories associated with the colonizer and the colonized in seeking to understand relationships of power and authority, particularly involving males and females. And I now have a new grandson who has my Northern European heritage, but his beautiful mother is Peruvian and part Chinese. I consider writings of hybridity and language in his case. His father, my son, is English speaking, but his mother is a native Spanish speaker (who also speaks English fluently). FJ: Regarding multiple languages, the thing that I miss the most is the ability to speak in my own language, and as long as my mother was alive, that was okay, because I could keep talking to her in my own language. I feel very comfortable when I can slip into any of the languages I grew up with, either Telugu, Hindi, or Gujerati. That’s where my real connection is, and I would like to be able to write some poetry that mixes all the languages and calls upon all the language traditions.

Afterword203 JD: You do mix languages here, though. FJ: I mix only Spanish and a very little Gujerati. I’ve talked a lot about mixing languages with the major writers in my book of interviews.2 I think writers find it difficult to get published and find legitimacy for their work if they’re switching back and forth between different languages. So the code switching, code mixing doesn’t seem to be received very well in the publishing world. JD: How interesting, because you mentioned Nina McConigley in your Introduction, and she’s an example of someone who has a blended identity. Her father’s Irish, her mother’s Indian, and she grew up in Wyoming. But I don’t think she goes back and forth in language. It seems like language should be a part of that sense, of being hybrid. FJ: The current readership I think still demands straight English, though in the early forties it was easier for someone like Raja Rao to use a lot of Indian words. Bapsi Sidhwa also uses Indian words, but there is often a little glossary in the back of her books. If the glossary interferes too much, you lose the readership. I think it’s a younger publishing world, and those in the publishing world in New York expect to be able to understand a work straight off. JD: I think you’re right; it does seem like the United States is more insular. FJ: But it’s also true I think in Britain, even though the British themselves use so many Indian words. I mean, E.M. Forster did, Paul Scott did; they felt completely comfortable going back and forth between Hindi and English in their writing. Kipling did too. JD: And there’s such a large Indian population in Britain. FJ: And that accounted for the huge success of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. When it first came out, everyone was reading it, on the Tube, on the buses. There was an element of nostalgia for the lost empire there, I think. It seems that as the South Asian population gets hybridized in England, they are losing their languages. This is very interesting to me because one of the people in the US who is a major public figure now, an author and a TV personality, is Mindy Kaling. It’s interesting to look at her autobiography Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? to see how she talks about her parents, and then where she uses the Indian words and not. But she’s perfectly comfortable with her Indian accent. JD: She’s very comfortable about everything about her Indian heritage, and actually she loves Jhumpa Lahiri. I’ve read some of her essays about loving to read Lahiri. Lahiri too comes to represent all Bengalis in America or everyone who has immigrated to the United States from India. FJ: That’s very true, though there is something to be learned from Jhumpa Lahiri and maybe I’m stereotyping her here. She does work in a







very interesting Bengali tradition of writing about characters with immense compassion. JD: That really does come through in her writing. FJ: She has a particular knack, which she somehow inherited or learned by reading; she must have the DNA of Rabindranath Tagore. She can really make you weep, like Tagore or Satyajit Ray. It is even there in the cross cultural novella at the end of Unaccustomed Earth, where she’s in Italy. JD: Oh, yes, I love that. FJ: There’s just some delicacy of the writing, and that’s very Bengali in a sense, and it’s interesting that with another Bengali writer, Monica Ali, we don’t get that sense. She is much harder, though she is the one who quotes, “Amar shonaar Bangla,” or “forever golden Bengal” (126). JD: Right, that’s true, she seems to have more of a hard edge when it comes to writing her characters. FJ: Yes. JD: That’s interesting. I have never known there was a Bengali story-telling tradition. So now that we’re talking about all these other writers, who do you see yourself in conversation with in terms of South Asian poets or prose writers? FJ: I really don’t see myself in conversation with other South Asian poets because I write for myself, and there hasn’t been that much productivity in poetry that I know of. The only person I had a poetry connection with was Agha Shahid Ali, because though Kashmiri, he wrote in a Muslim tradition like other writers from my Hyderabad. He was also at the University of Utah. I have a short story called “AIDSwallah” in Nurjehan Aziz’s first volume of Her Mother’s Ashes which talks about the difficulty of being gay and having AIDS in an Indian context, which was of course Shahid’s experience. There was one Indian woman poet that I would have identified greatly with, who was of an older generation, Kamala Das. She wrote poems and a memoir called My Story, and in that she talks about her own experiences, and I think I learned a lot from that book. I may have been influenced by that. JD: But you do seem to have some of this passion for emerging South Asian women writers. Would you place your work in that realm? FJ: Yes, right from the time of my dissertation, I’ve identified with literature from India, primarily as literature and less as theory. I would love to place myself in that work, but I don’t think I’m really that much of a writer. I’m more of an academic and less of a writer. I am working on some fiction and a memoir; it is very difficult to be in American academia as a creative writer and scholar at the same time. I think the emphasis is that if you’re hired as a scholar, it’s important that you produce as a scholar. And that has held me back.

Afterword205 JD: It seems, though, that you work critically but perhaps your passion lies also in creating. FJ: Yes. And I learn a lot from trying to do the kind of critical work I’m doing. For instance, in this particular volume, I learned so much by reading the other writers and seeing what direction they’re taking and where their experiences are leading them. One of the people who is like that and is a model for several of us is Sarah Suleri, because she is a well-known critic at Yale, but she also has some very interesting memoirs that she has published with the University of Chicago. JD: Interesting. So when we talk about audience, do you see your book of poems for a Western audience? A blended audience? FJ: I’d hope it would reach out to a blended audience. I’d hope that Indians as well as American readers in the US Southwest would find it comfortable to read, and also cancer survivors. JD: The perspective of the speaker in these poems does feel global in the sense that she’s not only drawing, like we talked about, from a Southwestern landscape or from an Indian landscape, but from (often in the same poem) blending things, and also blending experiences, like you were saying. There are a lot of Christian references throughout and there are references to surviving cancer, so was that something, or is it still something for you as a writer and as a poet to be able to fit all of the elements of yourself, of your identity into what you’re writing? FJ: I think we all become global in some shape or form. Today it’s impossible not to be global. I think through social media, through the openness to Internet and through other kinds of technological advances we are so connected. I would say that I am more connected to my Indian roots now through technology than I was when I first came to Utah, because Utah was so homogenous in certain kinds of ways. JD: You must have felt very isolated. FJ: Not really. Everyone was very hospitable. But now suddenly the conversations are all global across, say, Facebook, across Internet readings and websites. It’s becoming more and more imperative on us to be looking at us as embodying all the experiences that are fairly universal. And it’s one thing I’ve argued about through my literary criticism. I’ve said let’s not just do postcolonial theory or let’s not just do Indian or Commonwealth literary criticism, but let’s try to have a universal standard to hold literature up to, some kind of universal belles lettristic values to see whether something holds up to the standard, say, of “sweetness and light,” or something that Matthew Arnold may have talked about. Because I think it’s important to start seeing ourselves out of the ghetto. Otherwise we’ll always be in the ghetto of Indian







writing in English, or Pakistani writing in English, or South Asian women’s writing. DFW: With our global community, we can certainly aspire to some type of universal standard in literature. In world literature, I am personally fascinated by what is culturally distinct and different in a particular work of transnational literature and yet by what is universal. The way characters dress, the homes in which they live, the language they speak, their specific customs may be different than mine, but we often have certain human traits in common: we love our children and grandchildren, we have familial tensions and difficulties, we work to survive and make a living, we experience both successes and failures, we wrestle with moral issues, etc. JD: Right. So, that’s a good transition point into this project. Do you find it problematic at all then that the book is specifically about South Asian women writers? Could you be categorizing them or do you see it more as shedding light on these emerging voices? FJ: I see it more as shedding light on unheard voices. I wanted to title the book Unheard Voices, but there are other books by that same title, so we couldn’t do that. It is giving exposure to these voices that most people would not use in a Western academic class in say, the UK, or France or Italy. In fact, one of the interviews that’s very interesting is by Antonia Navarro-Tejero, because she is in Cordoba and she has done an interview with a Tamil woman writer. She is also active in the Asociación Española de Etudios Interdisciplinarios sobre India which is bringing such literatures into the classrooms in Spain. DFW: Her interview was very insightful. FJ: And so if she can bring that information into a Spanish classroom, it opens up the world more. JD: Do you believe then that the way academia is set up now, that you have to be filtered through a Western canon before you can make your way into the South American classrooms? Or perhaps they’re teaching The God of Small Things in South America, but they’re only teaching that because it’s filtered through this sort of Western canon? FJ: Yes, of course. That’s very much true, that you have to get that legitimacy or acceptance in the Western academic world, which is also why we brought the academic critical essays to this particular collection. Hopefully, somebody putting together a postcolonial class or a class in Asian writing or a class in Middle Eastern writing can have a list of people to think about to include in their course work. JD: And then you see it working outward from there, so once a variety of people are being taught, then it can work its way, or permeate the greater

Afterword207 Western culture. Once authors get academic recognition, people start writing about them, then that can work its way into … FJ: Some acceptance by the reading public. JD: Being on one’s bedside table. FJ: But, almost everyone from the British colonized world is growing up with the English language and an English literature education, in some shape or form. Just like we require it here in the B.A., in an Indian University, for instance, you have to read Shakespeare, Milton, and Yeats. JD: So it’s still the Norton Anthology? FJ: Well, let’s say the Oxford Anthology, The Oxford Book of Poetry, etc. That’s what people read; that poetry is in our mind, and some of the literary lines are in our minds, as you probably saw in my Easter poem, where I’m referring to the Yeats’ “Easter 1916.” Vikram Seth, interestingly talks about this at the beginning of A Suitable Boy, when the character is in a Delhi university and there is a discussion going on among the Delhi academics about whether, of all people, T.S. Eliot is okay to put into their curriculum or not. It’s that British education that instills in us the senses of freedom, of resistance, of speaking out, that was also in Gandhi. It does shape a lot of our writing; all of us who are writing, whether in English or in any of the indigenous languages, are influenced by English literatures. DFW: English has become an international language, and it can be useful in various forms of communication, including literature. Yet there is also the issue of dying languages and young people growing up without learning their indigenous tongue. My brother, Michael Fillerup, is currently a Fulbright expert in preserving languages that are slowly becoming extinct. He helped found a trilingual magnet school in Flagstaff, Arizona, called Puente de Hózhó (“Puente de” means “bridge of ” in Spanish, and “Hózhó” means “beauty, peace, harmony” in Navajo, so the name of the school means “Bridge of Beauty.”) Students choose one of two tracks: Spanish and English or Navajo and English. This immersion school has been highly successful in helping children, who might not otherwise learn their traditional language, to study their heritage language and culture. This enables the new generation to actually have the choice of writing in English and/or in an indigenous tongue. JD: Can you talk about why people write in English as opposed to their native language? You’ve obviously chosen to write in English, but it’s not necessarily just a choice based solely on publishing or solely on selling books, it’s a choice that goes more into how you were educated. FJ: It has become natural to most of us from the “postcolonial” world. It is how we were educated and how we think and how the lines of poetry just







seem to come in English. For many writers English is the first language. Bapsi Sidhwa has said that. Raja Rao in his “Forward” to his novel Kanthapura says English is as much an Indian language as any other. DFW: As connected as the writers are to their indigenous languages, English is still the dominant language for their writing. FJ: And for me the poems just drop in English. I’m not educated in shaping sonnets. I couldn’t survive a creative writing class if we had to do certain kinds of rhyming. JD: I see what you mean. What about creative writing classes then? Do you have any opinion about MFAs? I know, for example, Vikram Chandra went to the University of Houston. And then Nina McConigley was also at Houston. FJ: They are very useful in launching writers. Would Jhumpa Lahiri have been Jhumpa Lahiri and would she have had the mentorship to get that first Pulitzer for Interpreter of Maladies without support from a creative writing program? JD: Boston University. FJ: And I believe she was very much mentored by Derek Walcott. JD: I think you’re right. FJ: So that’s a question we can definitely ask. Now that’s very different for the American Diaspora South Asian writers, than for those emanating either from India or from Britain. Hanif Kureishi has said to me that he would never consider sharing a story with anyone before it was published, that he just sits down and writes a story. He does not believe in workshops. He thinks that a writer’s task is a solitary task. And so there is that tradition of the English writer who just writes and publishes and writes and publishes. And I think that is very much true in India. There are no creative writing classes in India. In India people just write. It is a storytelling culture. They find whatever outlet they can to publish. JD: So it’s more like those who immigrated to the United States or are born here who have gotten into creative writing. FJ: But now there are the writers like Rasana Atreya, who has just self-published with Amazon. JD: And done it all on her own. Right? Which is so … FJ: Interesting. And she was short listed for the Tibor Jones prize for her manuscript. JD: So, self-publishing is a viable way of getting these unheard voices out into the world? FJ: Yes, currently there is a “self-published Indian writers Read-a-thon,” going on in India, via the internet, providing a readership and popular acclaim to a lot of writers we never hear of. A lot of US academia seems to be turning to Dalit or “Untouchable,” writers as making up contemporary Indian

Afterword209 writing, mostly in indigenous languages, while most of the reading public in India is reading writers writing in English and bringing out their own work. It seems to have been very liberating for those who have gone the route of small publishing houses, where, you know, a small subsidy or something like that helps people get their work out. And in a way it’s self-publishing, but most of these places have very staunch editors overseeing the work. JD: So there is sort of a vetting process? FJ: P. Lal at the Writers Workshop in Calcutta was very important in shaping Indian literature in terms of what he took in and then put out from his publishing house. He discovered Anita Desai, Aga Shahid Ali, and several others. But these trends have been liberating for women. Sri Lankan women have had to choose to do things in a self-publishing way. JD: Do you see that as just an access problem? They don’t have access to agents or New York publishing? FJ: It’s an access problem as well as probably a reception problem. There’s a certain kind of material I think that catches the eye of the New York editor. But also to some extent it is saying “we can do it ourselves.” As a reader, an editor, and a reviewer, do you think, Jill, that there is a greater interest in the States at looking at “exotic” India? JD: I know that it is somewhat of a common theme in postcolonial theory right now to criticize that representation, right? DFW: Edward Said, in his seminal book Orientalism, has helped some of us in the West analyze and reconsider the way we view the Orient and exotica. Yet as we become a more global society, there tends to be a natural desire to learn more about one another’s culture and experience. Literature can provide a means by which we, almost in a voyeuristic sense, become more familiar with other countries and peoples. I am currently teaching a course on world literature, and we read a short story by a Vietnamese author. Literature from Vietnam was completely new to the students in the classroom, and it helped them understand and experience, in a small way, life for one fictional family in that country. Some students even asked, “Why haven’t we read Vietnamese literature before?” In other words, why hasn’t this literature been more accessible to them. They considered political reasons, and perhaps that is the answer. A similar question can be asked of lesser known South Asian women writers: Why isn’t their work more available to university students and the general audience? Feroza and I would like to bring more attention to these emerging South Asian women writers, so that publishers are more willing to print their work and make it more accessible to a global audience. We would like to see some of their stories included in anthologies taught in the classroom. Certainly if publishers can make the sales, they will publish the writing.







JD: I think it all comes down to sales, right? I think it’s interesting that you put this book together because it seems to be blending yet again, as we see in Feroza’s book of poems, both a passion for literature and criticism. It seems to be putting them on a similar plane and putting the focus on the cyclical relationship that they have. And I’ve written about that before, too, the idea that the critic makes the writer, and the writer can make a critic, and it is a very cyclical relationship in that sense, where, if no one’s writing about you, no one’s hearing about you.3 DFW: Yes, there is much truth to that. JD: You might as well not exist. FJ: That’s one of the reasons why we wanted to give these writers a place or a space where somebody would read about them and say, okay, there are South Asian women writers and there are these Muslim women writers. I think that’s particularly true of Muslim women writers. They have not seen their work come out very much. People even doubt that somebody from a Muslim background has enough voice to have published, and then we know from the very early writers, like Rokeya Hossain, that they were writing about creating a female Utopia, behind the veil! JD: I was trying to think if I know of any Muslim women writers. FJ: Most people don’t, especially of the earliest of them. When I offered a course, it was packed and many students came to me and said, “We didn’t even know there were Muslim women writers.” In my creative writing, I want to give voice more and more to being a Persian with an Iranian background, having that Parsi culture behind me, and showing how the Iranian culture, is slightly different from the Iranian Muslim culture as we know it. I’ve done this in a chapter for a collection of stories called The Race, edited by Patrick Nagatani which accompanies a set of his lithographs. We as Zoroastrians had our own way of worship or of dress or of rituals, like the one poem in the book which is about casting coconuts in the ocean. So those kinds of cultural practices go away with different levels of colonization or hybridization. We talk about European colonizations, but there have been Muslim colonizations as well. In the various palimpsests of colonization, cultural traditions get lost. DFW: This is why we must make conscious effort to keep traditions alive through the writing of all voices, not just a select few. FJ: But it is true that we don’t give very much voice to the Muslim women writers. That is also true of Parsi women. I was just reading about a woman called Ratanbai “Ruttie” Petit, who had a Parsi background but was married to Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. Because she married a Muslim, her parents disowned her, and then the Muslims wouldn’t accept her, and so she sort of remained a little …

Afterword211 JD: Isolated? FJ: And she died of it at 29. Then her child by Jinnah, Dina, married a Wadia and was disowned by Jinnah. There was also an adopted child in Rangoon, Bella Captain, whose parents sued to have her accepted into the Parsi religious places, but lost and she isolated herself. Mitra Sharafi writes about this on her website, “South Asian Legal History Resources.” And of course there was Cornelia Sorabji, an early Parsi woman writer. DFW: Unfortunately, both Ruttie and Bella, and even Dina, experienced similar types of rejection. FJ: Anyway, in this volume, we also wanted to do something different from the usual theory-heavy critical essays, because a lot of this material gets lost in the theoretical explications. It doesn’t advance our cause of trying to get readers globally to pay attention to South Asian or even lesser known South Asian writers if we bury them under a mound of postcolonial theory. It seems more and more, that the more we write about any literature by peoples of difference with theoretical interventions and constructions, we obfuscate the literature. This drives the students and the readers away. Thus we chose to present this “Afterword” as an interview to point to a newer direction of approaching and presenting at least these literatures as literature, as stories and poems that people can gain pleasure and cultural understanding from. We’ve attempted to give voice to lesser known critics and to different critical methodologies like the interview. DFW: Yes, as we have explained in the Introduction, there are talented and capable South Asian women writers who deserve more attention. They often have difficulties getting published and are frequently eclipsed by the writers who are better known. We have made the effort here to put the spotlight on them, and we encourage them in their efforts. We would like to see publishers more open to accepting their stories and putting them in print, in giving them a chance to participate more easily in the global community. FJ: If I were to point towards new directions as a result of this work it would be towards more of a research methodology that searches out materials not widely written about, and methods like the interview, archival work, and more contextual explication so that readers are not scared away from this work because of the label “Postcolonial,” where they only think of a particular theoretical approach that may seem intimidating.


1. See Deborah Weagel, The Metaphor of the Quilt in Contemporary Asian Indian and American Indian Literature.







2. See Feroza Jussawalla and Reed Way Dasenbrock’s Interviews with Writers of the PostColonial World. 3. See Jill Dehnert, “The Long Way Around.”

Works Cited Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: Anchor, 1959. Print. Ali, Agha Shahid. The Country without a Post Office: Poems. New York: Norton, 1998. Print. Ali, Monica. Brick Lane. New York: Scribner, 2003. Print. Das, Kamala. My Story: The Most Compelling Autobiography of the Most Controversial Indian Writer. New Delhi: Sterling, 1996. Print. Dehnert, Jill. “The Long Way Around.” The Brooklyn Rail: Critical Perspectives on Arts, Politics, and Culture. 5 Feb. 2015. Web. 2 May 2015. Jussawalla, Feroza. “AIDSwallah.” Her Mother’s Ashes: and Other Stories by South Asian Women in Canada and the United States. Ed. Nurjehan Aziz. Toronto: TSAR, 1994. 75–84. Print. ———. Chiffon Saris. Kolkata: Writers Workshop, 2003. Toronto: TSAR, 2003. Print. Jussawalla, Feroza, and Deborah Weagel, eds. “Perspectives on South Asian Women’s Writing.” South Asian Review 29.1 (2008). Print. Jussawalla, Feroza, and Reed Way Dasenbrock, eds. Interviews with Writers of the PostColonial World. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1992. Print. Kaling, Mindy. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns). New York: Three Rivers, 2011. Print. Lahiri, Jhumpa. Interpreter of Maladies. New York: Mariner, 1999. Print. ———. Unaccustomed Earth. London: Bloomsbury, 2008. Print. Mehta, Deepa, dir. 1947 Earth. Perf. Aamir Khan, Nandita Das, and Rahul Khanna. 1998. Eros, 2014. DVD. Rao, Raja. Kanthapura. 1963. New York: New Directions, 1967. Print. Roy, Arundhati. The God of Small Things. New York: HarperPerennial, 1997. Print. Rushdie, Salman. Midnight’s Children. New York: Penguin, 1980. Print. Said, Edward W. Orientalism. New York: Vintage, 1978. Print. Seth, Vikram. A Suitable Boy. 1993. New York: HarperPerennial, 2005. Print. Sharafi, Mitra. “Ruttie and Bella.” South Asian Legal History Resources. 22 April 2015. Web. 2 May 2015. Sidhwa, Bapsi. Cracking India. 1991. Minneapolis: Milkweed, 2006. Print. Weagel, Deborah. The Metaphor of the Quilt in Contemporary Asian Indian and American Indian Literature. Diss. U of New Mexico, 2006. Ann Arbor: UMI, 2006. Print. ———. Women and Contemporary World Literature: Power, Fragmentation, and Metaphor. New York: Lang, 2009. Print.


Umme Al-wazedi is Assistant Professor of Postcolonial Literature in the Department of English and Co-Program Director of Women’s and Gender Studies at Augustana College. Her research interest encompasses (Muslim) women writers of South Asia and South Asian Diaspora, Africa and the Middle East, Partition Novels, Trauma Theory, Standpoint Feminist Theory, and Muslim and Third World Feminism. She has published in South Asian Review, South Asian History and Culture, Sycamore Review, and The Clearing House and Research Journal (Bangladesh). Geetanjali Singh Chanda is Senior Lecturer in the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Yale University, where she has taught since 2001. Her research interests include world literatures, popular culture, feminist and transcultural pedagogy, masculinities, and religion. Professsor Chanda received her Ph.D. in English Literature from Hong Kong University, where she also taught courses in the Programme in American Studies and the English Department. She received her master’s degree from George Washington University and taught at Gettysburg College. Chanda has been widely published and her book Indian Women in the House of Fiction (Zubaan Books, Delhi, 2008) is in its second edition. Jill Dehnert holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of New Mexico. She has served as editor to the Blue Mesa Review and assistant to the Taos Writers’ Conference, in addition to having worked for literary agencies. This shapes her interest in contemporary women’s writing from India. Her critical interests include writing about underrepresented groups in the contemporary American literary landscape. Geetha Ganapathy-Doré is a Research Accredited Associate Professor of English in the Faculty of Law, Social and Political Sciences of the University of Paris 13. She is the author of The Postcolonial Indian Novel in English. She



is the editor of a volume of essays on Anita Desai’s In Custody and co-editor of Images changeantes de l’Inde et de l’Afrique, Projections of Paradise in Migrant Literature, and On the Move: The Journey of Refugees in New Literatures in English. She has translated a few Tamil poems and short stories into French. Her other areas of interest include EU India relations and Postcolonial Cinema.  Sissy Helff teaches postcolonial and transcultural literature, culture and film at the Goethe-University of Frankfurt. She is the author of Unreliable Truths: Transcultural Homeworlds in Indian Diasporic Writing (2013) and co-editor of Films, Graphic Novels & Visuals: Developing Multiliteracies in Foreign Language Education: An Interdisciplinary Approach (2013), Die Kunst der Migration (2011), Facing the East in the West (2010), Transcultural Modernities: Narrating Africa in Europe (2009), and Transcultural English Studies: Theories, Fictions, Realities (2008). Currently, she is preparing her second Ph.D. for publication, which addresses the representation of the refugee in British literature, and she is working on two collections of essays. The first deals with Global Photographies: Memory, History, Archives, and the second analyzes Alice in Wonderland adaptations.​ Dolores Herrero is Senior Lecturer in English and Postcolonial Literatures at the Department of English and German Philology, University of Zaragoza, Spain. Her main research interests are Cultural, Film and Postcolonial Studies, and Australian and Indian Literature and Film in particular. She has published a number of essays focusing on different literary and cultural issues in those fields and has co-edited, with Marita Nadal, Margins in English and American Literature, Film and Culture (1997); and with Sonia Baelo-Allué, Between the Urge to Know and the Need to Deny: Trauma and Ethics in Contemporary British and American Literature (2011), and The Splintered Glass: Facets of Trauma in the Post-Colony and Beyond (2011). She was the Editor of Miscelanea: A Journal of English and American Studies from 1998 till 2006. Feroza Jussawalla is Professor of English at the University of New Mexico. She is the author of Family Quarrels: Towards a Criticism of Indian Writing in English (Peter Lang, 1985), and of the collection of poems, Chiffon Saris (Kolkata: Writers Workshop, and TSAR Press 2003), editor of Conversations with V.S. Naipaul and co-editor with Reed Way Dasenbrock of Interviews with Writers of the Post-Colonial World, both published by the University Press of Mississippi. She was also the guest editor of the 2012 special issue of The Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature, entitled “Border Crossing.” She is the author of numerous articles in Indian, US, and European literary critical journals.



Sobia Khan is English Faculty at Richland College, Dallas. She earned her Ph.D. in 2014 from University of Texas at Dallas. Her dissertation is titled “Transnational Identity in Crisis: Self-Writings of Edward Said, Jacques Derrida, and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha.” Her research focuses on questions of identity in transnational literature, Muslim literature, and women’s literature. Her book chapter, “Re-reading Edward Said as a Transnational Identity,” is published in a volume titled GeoCriticism and Edward Said: A Comparative Cultural Studies Series. Her article, “Face of the Muslim Woman: A Postcolonial Reading of Saving Face” is published in the Journal of Contemporary Literature: Shaping Indian Diaspora. She has published translations of Urdu poetry and many short stories. Her short story is published in an anthology of Texas women writers, Her Texas, published by Wings Press. She has also presented and chaired sessions at conferences including the MLA, ACLA, SCMLA, SAMLA, and SALA. Seema Malik is Professor and Head, Department of English, and Dean, Postgraduate Studies, Mohanlal Sukhadia University, Udaipur, Rajasthan. Interested in women’s studies, she has presented a number of research papers, both in India and abroad. She has published in national and international journals, exploring different areas of women’s experiences in Indian English Fiction, Partition Fiction, Women’s Autobiographies and Women Playwrights. She has authored two books and completed two U.G.C. research projects. Her book on Partition entitled Partition and Indian Women Novelists foregrounds the gendered perspective of Partition across borders and explores the interstices of history. She has edited a book entitled Ethics and Aesthetics: Essays in Indian Literature. She has successfully supervised a number of scholars in diverse areas for the M.Phil and Doctoral thesis. She has delivered a number of invited talks on topics like Fiji Diaspora, Partition, Autobiographies by Indian Women Writers, Indian Women Playwrights, etc. Manoj Kumar Mishra is Professor of English with National Council of Educational Research and Training, New Delhi. Presently, he is working at North East Regional Institute of Education, Shillong, Meghalaya, India. His papers have been published in national and international journals. He has two critical books on Indian English literature to his credit, including Young Aurobindo’s Vision: The Viziers of Bassora and The Misunderstood Khushwant. Shyamala A. Narayan was formerly head of the Department of English at Jamia Millia Islamia (A Central University) in New Delhi. She is the co-author (with M.K. Naik) of Indian English Fiction: A Critical Study (2009) and Indian English Literature 1980–2000: A Critical Survey (Pencraft International, New Delhi, 2001), a sequel to Naik’s A History of Indian English Literature (1982). Other books include Raja Rao: The Man and



His Work (1988), Sudhin N. Ghose (1973) and an anthology edited for the Sahitya Akademi, Non-Fictional Indian Prose in English 1960–1990 (1998). Since 1972, she has been compiling the Indian section of the “Annual Bibliography of Commonwealth Literature,” a comprehensive listing of primary and secondary sources with a critical introduction, for The Journal of Commonwealth Literature (Sage, UK). Antonia Navarro-Tejero, Ph.D. in English, teaches South-Asian Literature and Cultural Studies at the Universidad de Córdoba (Spain), where she also coordinates the Permanent Seminar on India Studies. She was a 2004–2005 Fulbright post-doctoral scholar at the University of CaliforniaBerkeley, and she has been recipient of other awards and grants that made her live and lecture in different regions of the US and India. She is the author of the books Globalizing Dissent: Essays on Arundhati Roy (Routledge, 2009), Talks on Feminism: Indian Women Activists Speak for Themselves (Sarup, 2008), Gender and Caste in the Anglophone-Indian Novels of Arundhati Roy and Githa Hariharan: Feminist Issues in Cross-Cultural Perspectives (Mellen, 2005), among other publications. She has presented papers at conferences around the world on issues of subalternity, and is currently the President of the Spanish Association for Interdisciplinary India Studies. Laurel Ryan teaches English at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Her research interests include transatlantic and transnational literary relationships, with a particular focus on Canadian literary history and historiography. She is also interested in the ways in which national narratives can be linked not to the land but to cultural memory: her doctoral dissertation at the University of Toronto analyzed how early Canadian authors created a medieval history for Canada by adapting medieval European myth and legend to contemporary political circumstances.​ Deborah Fillerup Weagel holds a Ph.D. in English with an emphasis in postcolonial literature and is term teaching faculty at the University of New Mexico. She is the author of Words and Music: Camus, Beckett, Cage, Gould (2010), Women and Contemporary World Literature: Power, Fragmentation, and Metaphor (2009) and Interconnections: Essays on Music, Art, Literature, and Gender (2004). Her articles have appeared in the South Asian Review, the Journal of Comparative Literature and Aesthetics, an anthology on Rohinton Mistry, and a variety of other scholarly journals. She has presented her work at academic conferences worldwide.


Jamsheed K. Choksy General Editor

From Antiquity to Modernity: Studies on Middle Eastern and Asian Societies is a series focusing on aspects central to Middle Eastern, Central Asian, and South Asian societies in the past and the present. It is designed to contribute toward better understandings of those important regions’ peoples. Original research within the disciplines of anthropology, archeology, art history, cultural studies, economics, history, history of science, international relations, languages, literatures, politics, religions, and sociology will be published. Interdisciplinary, crossdisciplinary, and multidisciplinary studies are welcome as well. So are ones that advance methodologies relating to complexities of the Middle East, Central Asia, and South Asia. Manuscripts can be single-authored or co-authored; edited volumes that form a cohesive body of knowledge will be considered, too. Each book-length manuscript will undergo editorial and peer review prior to acceptance for publication. Individual volumes in From Antiquity to Modernity are of particular value to individuals studying and investigating the Middle East and Asia at universities, think tanks, and governmental and nongovernmental agencies while also being of interest to the general educated reader. For additional information about this series or for the submission of manuscripts, please contact: Peter Lang Publishing Acquisitions Department 29 Broadway, 18th floor New York, NY 10006 To order other books in this series, please contact our Customer Service Department: 800-770-LANG (within the U.S.) 212-647-7706 (outside the U.S.) 212-647-7707 FAX Or browse online by series at: www.peterlang.com