Writing India anew: Indian English fiction 2000-2010 9789048518852, 9048518857

This groundbreaking study assesses the genre of Indian-English fiction in the first decade of the twenty-first century.

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Writing India anew: Indian English fiction 2000-2010
 9789048518852, 9048518857

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Writing India Anew

Publications Series General Editor Paul van der Velde Publications Officer Mary Lynn van Dijk Editorial Board Wim Boot (Leiden University); Jennifer Holdaway (Social Science Research Coun cil); Christopher A. Reed (The Ohio State University); Anand A. Yang (Director of the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies and Chair of International Studies at the University of Washington); Guobin Yang (Barnard College, Colum bia University). The ICAS Publications Series consists of Monographs and Edited Volumes. The Series takes a multidisciplinary approach to issues of interregional and multilater al importance for Asia in a global context. The Series aims to stimulate dialogue amongst scholars and civil society groups at the local, regional and international levels. The International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS) was founded in 1997. Its main goals are to transcend the boundaries between disciplines, between nations studied, and between the geographic origins of the Asia scholars involved. ICAS has grown into the largest biennial Asia studies event covering all subjects of Asia studies. So far, seven editions of ICAS have been held respectively in Leiden (1998), Berlin (2001), Singapore (2003), Shanghai (2005), Kuala Lumpur (2007), Daejeon (2009), and Honolulu (2011). ICAS 8 will be held in Macao, P.R. China, from 24 27 June 2013. In 2001 the ICAS secretariat was founded which guarantees the continuity of the ICAS process. In 2004 the ICAS Book Prize (IBP) was established in order to cre ate by way of a global competition both an international focus for publications on Asia while at the same time increasing their visibility worldwide. Also in 2005 the ICAS Publications Series was established. For more information: www.icassecretariat.org

Writing India Anew Indian English Fiction 2000-2010 Edited by Krishna Sen and Rituparna Roy

Publications Series

Edited Volumes 17

Cover design: JB&A raster grafisch ontwerp, Westland Layout: The DocWorkers, Almere ISBN e-ISBN e-ISBN NUR

978 90 8964 533 3 978 90 4851 885 2 (pdf) 978 90 4851 886 9 (ePub) 635

© ICAS / Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam 2013 All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this book may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the written permission of both the copyright owners and the authors of the book. Every effort has been made to obtain permission to use all copyrighted illustrations reproduced in this book. Nonetheless, whosoever believes to have rights to this material is advised to contact the publisher.

Contents

Editors’ Preface

7

Introduction Krishna Sen and Rituparna Roy

9

I

RE-IMAGINING THE NATION

1

Re-writing India Bill Ashcroft

2

Roots and Routes On Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies Shirley Chew

47

3

Revisiting Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide The Islam/English Dynamic Nandini Bhattacharya

59

4

Nation, ‘No-Nation’ and ‘Desh’ Post-Orientalism and the National Allegory in Rushdie’s Shalimar the Clown and Vassanji’s The Assassin’s Song Krishna Sen

II

REVISITING THE PAST

5

Tributes or Travesties? Recent Reworkings of Classics Great and Small Paul Sharrad

6

Of Art and the Artist Kunal Basu’s The Miniaturist as a Mughal/Modern Novel Rituparna Roy

29

75

95

111

III

REVIEWING THE PRESENT

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Babu Fiction in Disguise Reading Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger Himansu S. Mohapatra

129

8

Indian English Women’s Fiction and the Fascination of the Everyday Nandana Dutta

145

9

Inspiring India The Fiction of Chetan Bhagat and the Discourse of Motivation Subir Dhar

161

10

Story-telling in the Age of Cybernetics Rana Dasgupta’s Tokyo Cancelled Sreemati Mukherjee

171

11

Childhood’s End Science Fiction in India Abhijit Gupta

189

12

Frame/Works How India Tells Stories in Comics and Graphic Novels Rimi B. Chatterjee

205

IV

REINSCRIBING HOME

13

A Diasporic Straitjacket or an Overcoat of Many Colours? A Reading of Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake Peter Liebregts

231

14

The Mythos of Return and Recent Indian English Diasporic Fiction Fakrul Alam

247

About the Editors and Contributors

259

References

265

Index

277

Editors’ Preface

This volume of critical essays is derived from a panel presentation entitled ‘Indian English Fiction: New Themes and Trends, 2000-2010’, organised by Dr. Rituparna Roy and presented on April 1 at the Joint AAS/ICAS Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii (March 31-April 3, 2011). The organiser’s intention had been to make the panel presentation the core of an edited volume. The enthusiastic response from the audience, marked by lively discussion after the presentations, consolidated this idea. It was decided that the volume would be co-edited by Dr. Rituparna Roy and Professor Krishna Sen, one of the participants in the panel. Apart from the original panelists, eminent scholars from across the globe were invited to contribute, and all of them readily agreed, since the proposed volume seeks to address issues that are both contemporary and relevant. The editors are honoured that this book will be included in the ICAS series, as this enables them to contribute to a global discourse on the literature, culture, history and politics of Asia. The editors would like to acknowledge and thank Dr. Paul van der Velde and Ms. Martina van den Haak of the International Institute for Asian Studies, Leiden, for their immense support and valuable guidance that greatly facilitated completion of this project. Krishna Sen and Rituparna Roy Calcutta and Amsterdam March 2012

Introduction Krishna Sen and Rituparna Roy

I

Surveying the Field

The first decade of the present millennium has been an exciting time for Indian English fiction. While the established authors went from strength to strength, fresh voices opened up a host of new possibilities in the articulation of the Indian consciousness, both home-based and diasporic. The range of themes extended from re-mapping mythology and history to reassessing the globalised India of today, and technical experiments transited from re-inventing the epics to forays into science fiction and the graphic novel. In its grounding in socio-cultural concerns specific to India and in its confident negotiation of language, form and content, twenty-first century Indian English fiction follows the dynamic trajectory of innovation and insight established in the 1980s by seminal novels such as Midnight’s Children, albeit along radically different lines. The present volume contends that the current body of Indian English fiction strikes out on so many new paths so confidently that it can no longer be dismissed as derivative or dispossessed, or mere postcolonial ‘writing back’ or compensatory ‘national allegory.’ The essays in this book debate all these theoretical categories afresh in the light of the new corpus of writing that has consolidated the claim of Indian English fiction to be a major component of contemporary Anglophone literature. A brief review of criticism on Indian English fiction (IEF) from 2000 to 2010 – a comprehensive survey is impossible given the number of titles appearing each year in India alone – will underscore the special contribution of this book. Three kinds of publications readily come to mind. First there are the broad overviews including diasporic writing. Second, there are monographs and anthologies on single authors and individual texts. Third, one has monographs and anthologies on specific themes pertaining to groups of novels. As regards readership, the target audience is usually the interested reader and students of literature, and occasionally specialist researchers and academics. The overviews follow a number of rubrics. Our contributors Bill Ashcroft and Paul Sharrad have located IEF within the postcolonial dis-

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course in innumerable publications; A Companion to Indian Fiction in English (2004) edited by Pier Paolo Piccioco ranges from R.K. Narayan to Arundhati Roy; IEF features prominently in South Asian Writing in English (2006) edited by another contributor in this collection, Fakrul Alam. A variant on this approach is the theoretical and aesthetic overview, as in Makarand Paranjape’s Towards a Poetics of the Indian English Novel (2000). Another group of readings re-contextualise Indian English fiction in terms of its own literary heritage, as in Jo¨rg-Dieter Riemenschneider’s The Indian Novel in English: Its Critical Discourse, 1934-2004 (2005), and Makarand Paranjape’s Another Canon: Indian Texts and Traditions in English (2009) that examines nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Anglophone Indian writing as a shaping matrix for current Indian English fiction. Anthologies and monographs on specific Indian English authors are now in the repertoires of both international and national publishers. The Cambridge Companion to Salman Rushdie edited by Abdulrazak Gurnah (2007) addresses, according to its blurb, ‘undergraduates studying Rushdie and … the general reader interested in his work’. Other notable collections for Rushdie are edited by Harold Bloom, and Mittapalli and Kuortti (both 2003), while Michael Reder has edited Conversations with Salman Rushdie (2000). Amitav Ghosh: A Critical Companion, edited by Tabish Khair and published from New Delhi (2003), is again, according to its blurb, concerned mainly with syllabus-oriented texts, though it does cover lesser-read works like The Circle of Reason and In an Antique Land. Other collections on Ghosh are edited by Brinda Bose (2003) and Bibhas Choudhury (2009). As for individual texts, among many for Rushdie are David Smale’s Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children/The Satanic Verses: A Reader’s Guide to Essential Criticism (2001), Neil ten Kortenaar on Midnight’s Children (2007) and Miller et al. on Midnight’s Children (2010) and The Moor’s Last Sigh (2011). For Ghosh, one can cite Arvind Chowdhary’s and Murari Prasad’s edited collections on The Shadow Lines (2002 and 2008). Monographs, too, there are aplenty. Rushdie’s work has been discussed by Sabrina Hassumani (2002) and Andrew Teverson (2007). John C. Hawley’s Amitav Ghosh (2005) is a basic but useful book, while Anshuman Mondal’s Amitav Ghosh (2007) is more nuanced. Other Indian English novelists are less well addressed in this decade. Alex Tickell has a perceptive monograph (2007) on Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, and Subir Dhar et al. have an edited collection of essays and interviews entitled Romancing the Strange: The Fiction of Kunal Basu (2003). Within the diaspora, Bharati Mukherjee and Jhumpa Lahiri rival Rushdie and Ghosh in the critical sphere. The most discussed theme in contemporary IEF studies still remains the Partition of India in 1947, its trauma and legacy. Though the his-

INTRODUCTION

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torical event occurred over sixty-five years ago, its human tragedies resonate to this day in the partitioned or disputed territories of Bengal, Punjab and Kashmir, while its repercussions (terrorism, the refugee problem) continue to affect present-day Indian politics. The enormous body of critical material on Partition literature in English appearing between 2000 and 2010 includes monographs such as D.R. More’s The Novels on the Indian Partition (2008) and Rituparna Roy’s South Asian Partition Fiction in English (2010), which examines the evolution of the trope of Partition from Khushwant Singh to Amitav Ghosh; and anthologies edited by Neb and Kaul (2006), and Dhawan and Arora (2 vols; 2010). A second major theme is that of the nation and the implicit disconnect between nation and language in IEF, with English being regarded as what Probal Dasgupta dubbed ‘India’s Auntie Tongue’ as opposed to its plethora of ‘mother tongues.’ A thought-provoking contribution to this discussion is Hans Harder’s own essay chronicling the contentious historiography of Indian English writing, ‘Indian Literature in English and the Problem of Naturalisation’’ (323-352) in his edited volume, Literature and Nationalist Ideology: Writing Histories of Modern Indian Languages (2010). The usual accusations were of being deracinated in using English, and hence shallow as compared to bhasha (i.e. vernacular) literature – either a bastard growth on the Indian ‘body literary’ as forcefully argued by G.N. Devy in After Amnesia (1992) and most of the essays in Nativism (1997; ed. Paranjape), or else the dilettantish preserve of English-speaking urban misfits. These charges are reiterated as late as the 2000s in Tabish Khair’s Babu Fictions: Alienation in Contemporary Indian English Novels (2001) and Hale and Khair’s 2001 edited volume, Unhinging Hinglish: The Language and Politics of Fiction in English from the Indian Subcontinent (which oddly includes Paul Scott, Ondaatje and Selvadurai among writers of subcontinental provenance). Another problematic discourse on the role of the nation in non-Eurocentric fiction is Fredric Jameson’s notion of the national allegory, though Jameson does not take any of his examples from IEF. Aijaz Ahmad’s sharp refutations of Jameson in his In Theory are well known. Nevertheless, the interface between postcolonial writing and the cultural politics of the nation remains an endlessly debated issue. The very first chapter of Meenakshi Mukherjee’s authoritative The Perishable Empire: Essays on Indian Writing in English (2000) is captioned ‘Nation, Novel, Language.’ A few other instances are Fawzia Afzal-Khan and Kalpana Seshadri-Crooks’ The Preoccupation of Postcolonial Studies (2000), Harish Trivedi et al.’s The Nation across the World: Postcolonial Literary Representations and C. Vijayashree et al.’s Nationalism, Subnationalism and Narration (both 2007). A third thematic category is gender and the emergence of gendered identities in fiction by women authors in a patriarchal society. This crit-

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ical arena witnessed prolific research in the 1980s and 1990s. The new millennium offers Miti Pandey’s Feminism in Contemporary British and Indian English Fiction (2003) and D. Murali Manohar’s Indian English Women’s Fiction (2007). The fourth and recently emerging theme in IEF studies is globalisation as portrayed, say, in Adiga’s The White Tiger and Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games. Domestic IEF is partly addressed in Narrating the Transnation: The Dialectics of Culture and Identity edited by Krishna Sen and Sudeshna Chakravarty (2008), and peripherally also in Suman Gupta’s Globalization and Literature (2009). The crowded area for transnational and transcultural research is the fiction of the Indian diaspora. There are too many books to name – Vijay Mishra’s Literature of the Indian Diaspora: Theorizing the Diasporic Imaginary (2007) is a salient contribution – but nearly all discuss novels portraying the privileged transmigrant: Krishna Sen both coins the term and analyses representations of the subaltern subcontinental ‘submigrant’ in ‘The (Re)Turn of the Native’ (2011).

II

Recasting India

With the decade 2000 to 2010 producing so much critical material on Indian English fiction, what could be the contribution of yet another volume? The foregoing survey demonstrates that although a great deal has been written on the entire span from Narayan, Anand and Rao to the present, only now is cognisance being taken of the fiction actually written and published in this decade. E. Dawson Varughese has just published Reading New India: Post-Millennial Indian Fiction in English (2013), which provides a survey for the general reader of the new authors and the new literary forms of IEF that have emerged in this decade. The present volume offers not an exhaustive survey, but fresh analytical and theoretical readings of contemporary IEF aimed at the serious reader and researcher, by contributors like Bill Ashcroft and Rimi B. Chatterjee who either initiated those critical approaches or is an actual practitioner of a new genre in Indian English fiction. Questions may well arise, such as: what is new about this approach? What makes this decade special? What do these novels have in common except for their contingent contiguity? Decade-based studies of IEF are not new – there are Vinay Kirpal’s The Postmodern Indian Novel in English: Interrogating the Nineties (1996), the decade-based chapters of Arvind Krishna Mehrotra’s voluminous An Illustrated History of Indian Literature in English (2003), and the chapter entitled ‘Journey to Ithaca: An Epistle on the Fiction of the 1980s and 1990s’ in Paranjape’s Another Canon. Nevertheless, the years 2000 to 2010 were seminal for India in several ways, presenting a very differently con-

INTRODUCTION

13

toured socio-political landscape as compared even to the 1990s and significantly impacting the fiction that projected those transformations. The liberalisation of the Indian economy in 1991 that heralded radical changes in day-to-day life did not take full effect till the late 1990s. From around 2000 onwards, the average Indian in an erstwhile Third World country suddenly encountered in rapid succession globalisation, the communications revolution and proliferation of electronic media, greater access to information and easier international contact, accelerated urbanisation, the rise of Indian multinational corporations, and new knowledge-based industries with enormous employment potential. There was a growing middle class with stronger purchasing power, a more aware citizenry demanding better governance, and a cacophony of voices in the political arena as each of India’s myriad regional, linguistic, religious, caste and tribal communities clamoured for their legitimate entitlements in the newly prosperous economy. Interestingly, English has lost much of the old ideological baggage of being a colonial import since the aspiring youth in urban India now regard it as a necessary tool for global opportunities. The first decade of the new millennium was thus a watershed in India’s history. Not all of this churning was for the better, perhaps, but living in India and being an Indian would never be the same again. Patently, India needed to be written anew.

III

The Empire Writes Anew: A Post-Postcolonial Paradigm?

It is noteworthy that Bill Ashcroft, a pioneer of postcolonial studies and initiator of the celebrated trope of ‘writing back’ (in Ashcroft et al.’s The Empire Writes Back, 1989), contends in his essay in this volume that IEF has left Eurocentric ventriloquism behind and can now ‘shape world Anglophone literature.’ This potential could only come from being rooted, not deracinated. Besides the fact that polyglot India has never had a monolingual literary culture, it might be maintained that India-oriented writing (in whatever language) is Indian. R.K. Narayan’s Malgudi, Ruskin Bond’s Dehra Dun and the village in Kamala Markandaya’s Nectar in a Sieve are as redolent of India as the Bengal landscapes of Tarasankar Bandyopadhyay and Bibhutibhusan Bandyopadhyay (the latter filmed by Satyajit Ray in his Apu trilogy). Coming to the decade 2000 to 2010 and speaking only of Bengal, given the bustling Calcutta cityscapes and middle-class scenarios of current Bengali novelists like Debesh Roy, Sangita Bandyopadhyay and Smarandeep Chakraborty, arguably the most sensitive and perceptive evocation of rural Bengal is in an Indian English novel, Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide (2004).

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The thread that runs through contemporary IEF is the India-centric exploration and critique of the mutating social networks, political cross-currents and experiential parameters of a country on the move, yet plagued by innumerable contradictions. The privileging of English/ Westernisation in novels like Adiga’s The White Tiger mirrors a contingent glocality where local empowerment flows from global access in a borderless world – even a premier academic body like the University Grants Commission of India (UGC) has, in a 2001 position paper, iterated the need for knowledge of English and the West to retain India’s competitive global edge. Much like present-day India, IEF has shed the trauma of colonial interpellation and freely appropriates and indigenises whatever it finds useful in the West. Its nuanced scrutiny of a society poised precariously between tradition and a host of clashing modernities problematises conventional censure of domestic English writing as de-centred, and of diasporic writing as exoticising and ‘packaging’ India when it is actually more concerned today with issues of transculturality, re-ethnicisation and (re)turn. The protean nature of this extensive body of work incurs its own theoretical challenges. The essays in this volume demonstrate the inadequacy of existing categories such as postcolonialism or postmodernism or derivative discourse: indeed, no fitting appellation has yet been coined to accommodate the diversity and difference. An alternative theoretical frame needs to be devised. In a talk on Asian adaptations of Ibsen at the Delhi Ibsen Festival (2009), Erika Fischer-Lichte had identified three interpretive modalities – the metaphorically ‘colonial’ or ‘colonized’ adaptation where Asian actors simply performed the Western play in Western costumes; the ‘post-colonial’ version where the Western text was ‘fought against’ and subverted; and finally, ‘a kind of … “after post-colonialism” [where the source text] was simply used in different contexts and for different purposes’, merely as a point of departure (Fischer-Lichte: 22). If the novel as a literary form as well as the English language had both been non-indigenous, Indian English fiction is possibly now in this post-postcolonial phase in negotiating them. It has jettisoned Orientalist constructions of India and is least concerned to be the native informant. It embodies the nation in its new avatars as they appear to insiders, ‘warts and all’. Twenty-first century Indian English fiction constitutes a metanarrative of reworlding – a reinscription in terms that, to paraphrase John Muthyala on America, ‘engender and authorize’ new meanings for India (Muthyala 2006: 14). Contemporary IEF’s re-mapping of the altered cartographies of change recalls Muthyala’s contention that literature and language are prime discursive sites for reworlding (ibid.: 9, 15). Hence the trope of ‘writing anew’ in place of ‘writing back’, to define the project of this volume. The Empire, at least in India, writes

INTRODUCTION

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anew – and if a small contingent of scholarly authors is still self-consciously ‘writing back,’ that is the exception rather than the rule.

IV

Multitudinous Voices

The project of reworlding India entails new authors, new audiences, new artistic experiments, new arenas for marketing books, and a new aesthetic. The Calcutta-based English daily, The Telegraph, gives a graphic vignette of the Great Indian Book Bazaar in its edition dated September 15, 2012 (14): – Titles published per year in India: 95,000; – Market size: Rs. 12,000 crores (approximately US$ 2.2 billion); – Year-on-year growth: Around 30%; – Reading population: 600 million. These figures include publications and readership in all major Indian vernaculars plus English. As regards English, the 2011 Census of India places English speakers at a little over 13% in a population of 1.21 billion, which in actual numbers is greater than the total populations of several countries. In terms of readership, again, there is now the striking demographic phenomenon of a critical mass of younger readers of English fiction, eager for new reading experiences. Small wonder, then, that with the onset of the new millennium nearly all major British and American publishers have beaten a path to India’s door. As a marker of this altered dynamic, some recent diasporic writers such as Anil Menon and Urmilla Deshpande (both based in the US) have been published and marketed from India rather than from abroad, as was the case earlier. As India became one of the largest English-language book markets in the world, Indian English fiction, both domestic and diasporic, gained new laurels. Kiran Desai and Aravind Adiga won the Booker Prize in 2006 and 2008 respectively, while Midnight’s Children (Booker Prize winner of 1981) was adjudged ‘The Best of the Booker’ in 2008. The established authors – Rushdie, Ghosh, Seth, Mistry, Vassanji, Deshpande, Anita Desai – continued to innovate with vigour. The postRushdie generation – Amit Chaudhuri, Shashi Tharoor, Upamanyu Chatterjee – produced good work, with Vikram Chandra and I. Allan Sealy emerging as the strongest voices; the following generation witnessed the likes of Tarun Tejpal, Raj Kamal Jha, Indra Sinha and Lavanya Sankaran among others. Regional IEF grew in importance, especially from India’s seven northeastern states rocked by separatism – Temsula Ao, Mamng Dai, Anjum Hasan, Siddhartha Deb and several others articulated their compelling tropes of identity and violence while

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recuperating their distinctive culture and myths. And the fresh diasporic talent that had taken the literary world by storm at the cusp of the new century – Jhumpa Lahiri, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Kunal Basu, Shauna Singh Baldwin – consolidated their reputations in this decade, while Bharati Mukherjee continued to reinvent herself, moving substantially away from the template of Jasmine. With Indian English publishing registering exponential growth, new writers emerged from all walks of life in numbers larger than ever before – journalists and academics expectedly, but also doctors, engineers, scientists, civil servants, businessmen and housewives. Like the established authors, the newcomers too are experimenting with genres. Rimi B. Chatterjee, one of our contributors, is a major exponent of Indian English science fiction, as is Sarnath Banerjee of the paralexical graphic novel. Fantasy and fantasy-cum-children’s literature feature in diasporic author Anil Menon’s The Beast with Nine Billion Feet (2009) and Payal Dhar’s popular ‘Eternity’ series (she has since begun the ‘Satin’ series from 2011) – A Shadow in Eternity (2005), The Key of Chaos (2007) and The Timeless Land (2009): fantasy turned bestseller with Giti Chandra’s award-winning The Book of Guardians: The Fang of Summoning (2010). Mythology is now extremely popular, given India’s vast storehouse of Hindu myths – Devdutt Pattanayak’s acclaimed novels and veteran Ashok Banker’s ‘Ramayana’ series (2003 to 2012). Crossgenre fiction is in vogue – Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence (2008) blends history, fantasy and fable. Bestselling cross-genre modes are the historical mystery and, perhaps unique to India, the mythological thriller. Astrophysicist Bimal Nath explores historical mysteries in Nothing is Blue (2010), set in seventh-century India, and The Tattooed Fakir (2012), while Ashwin Sanghvi’s Chanakya’s Chant (2010) is a bestselling mythological thriller. The multi-mode ‘anthropo-mythological’ thriller appears in Amish Tripathi’s well-received The Immortals of Meluha (2010), Ashok Banker’s ‘Krishna Coriolis’ series (from 2010), and the latest success, Ashwin Sanghvi’s The Krishna Key (2011). A striking aspect of the decade under consideration is the emergence of what is (sometimes euphemistically) called ‘commercial’ Indian English fiction. Not that this is an absolute novelty. India has long had Shobha (now Shobhaa) De’s racy chart-busters – her Bollywood Nights (2007) and Superstar India (2009) notched record sales and were translated into several languages, while four earlier novels are on the University of London’s ‘Popular Culture’ courses. But commercial IEF has witnessed a sudden efflorescence. The current doyen of this phenomenon is ‘opinion-shaper’ Chetan Bhagat, whose consciousness-raising motivational novels (translated into all major Indian vernaculars) have taken young India by storm. Surprising for an orthodox country like India, though, is the salacious slant (anticipated by De) in some kinds

INTRODUCTION

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of commercial fiction: Chick Lit highlighting the generation gap in Advaita Kala’s Almost Single (2009); Chick Lit-cum-BPO (‘business process outsourcing’ office) thriller in Shruti Saxena’s (nom de plume Saxena Shruti) Stiletto in the Boardroom (2009); full-blown Chick Lit in Jhoomur Bose’s Confessionally Yours (2012); and erotica from Indiabased Tranquebar Publishers – Electric Feather: The Tranquebar Book of Erotic Stories edited by Ruchir Joshi (2009), followed in quick succession by diasporic Urmilla Deshpande’s Slither: Carnal Prose (2011) and Close, Too Close: The Tranquebar Book of Queer Erotica edited by Meenu and Shruti (2012). This brings us to the role of publishing houses and the book trade in promoting new Indian English authors and non-conventional writing. Chains like Starmark and Crossword now dot urban India, as well as stand-alone stores like Oxford. With their well-stocked English sections, attractive children’s areas, coffee corners, browsing spaces, and frequent book-related events, they have revolutionised the ambience for buying books. Other contributing factors are the prestigious literary awards and festivals (including the now-famous Jaipur Literary Festival from 2008) that project Indian English writing and translation. (Of our contributors, Fakrul Alam is a jury member for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature in English, and Rimi B. Chatterjee was nominated for the Crossword Prize for both translation and original English fiction.) Publishers, too, are venturing beyond the safe havens of recognised authors and textbooks. Established houses like Penguin India, Zubaan and Random House are competing with recent entrants like Westland, Tranquebar and Pan Macmillan in both the cross-genre and lubricious ‘commercial’ segments. Finally, Indian English fiction received a boost from its interface with cinema – Shonali Bose’s Amu (2005, a film based on her own eponymous novel), Mira Nair’s The Namesake (2006, adapted from Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel), Rajkumar Hirani’s Bollywood blockbuster 3 Idiots (2009, from Chetan Bhagat’s 5 Point Someone), and Aparna Sen’s The Japanese Wife (2010, based on Kunal Basu’s short story). Today’s Indian English fiction, then, mirrors the socio-cultural dynamics of a country changing so swiftly that it inevitably inspires new forms and content, and new language registers from the subversive energy of Rushdie-esque chutnified English to the mercurial hybridity of urban India’s vernacular-cum-English patois. Commercial fiction is largely city and Gen-X oriented, but the serious Indian English novel has kept the entire nation and its multifarious identities in view – a post-2010 writer like Anuradha Roy continues to explore those cultural complexities. More importantly, authors no longer apologise for or attempt to justify their choice of English (though the matter remains contentious in vernacular circles). Raja Rao’s melancholy musings in

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the preface to Kanthapura on the impossibility of reproducing native cadences in the foreign tongue and R.K. Narayan’s spirited defence of ‘toasted English’ in his essay of that name are things of the past. Indian English fiction (and indeed Indian English literature as a whole) has come of age, with Rushdie and Ghosh among the greatest of contemporary novelists. The literary merit of some of the commercial writing may be problematic, and only the reputed authors stand the test of time, but the new-found confidence of Indian English fiction in the decade 2000 to 2010 can never be in doubt.

V

Writing India Anew: Indian English Fiction 2000 to 2010

The captions of the four sections comprising this volume articulate the new narratives for reworlding India. ‘Rethinking the Nation’ focuses on the ways in which contemporary India negotiates the contentious interface between its national and its sharply differentiated subnational identities, mediated as much by its globalised present as by its ancient past. ‘Revisiting the Past’ shows a newly confident nation recuperating its pre-colonial pasts – the mythic and the Mughal – while still acknowledging its colonial legacy. ‘Reviewing the Present’ assesses the gamut of today’s experiences from increased consumerism to the social implications of technology. Finally, ‘Reinscribing Home’ highlights the new dynamics of diaspora as fluid movements between homeland and hostland, with ‘home’ now a palimpsest of spaces and orientations rather than a lost originary location. 1

Rethinking the Nation

In ‘Re-Writing India’, Bill Ashcroft contends that the current literary mediations of the nation derive not from European but from native sources – the scepticism about nationalism triggered by Midnight’s Children ‘regenerates a hidden tradition of anti-nationalist utopianism in Indian literature most prominent in the writings of Rabindranath Tagore and Mohandas Gandhi.’ After a detailed discussion of Tagore’s and Gandhi’s reservation about Western nationalism that was ‘a deep prehistory’ for IEF’s engagement with the nation, Ashcroft concludes that the post-Midnight’s Children phase ‘is a period of rebellion and recovery, but it moves by the turn of this century into a period of global optimism’. Insightful analyses of novels by Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, Kiran Desai and Aravind Adiga reveal ‘the often exuberant iconoclasm of their approach to questions of nation and history.’ Ashcroft concludes that, far from being derivative, the fiction of the new millennium is paradoxically (and this is its strength) both rooted and radical.

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In ‘Roots and Routes: On Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies’, Shirley Chew traces how Ghosh evokes through the nineteenth-century Asian opium trade a series of geopolitical contact zones negotiated by diasporic merchants from colonial India. This substantially extends the notion of nationhood and national space. In his essay, Ashcroft had cited J.K. Motwani’s research on the colonial Indian diaspora to establish that, even in those days, Indian identity could not be circumscribed within its geographical boundaries. For Chew, the colonial Indian voyagers who frequented the Indian Ocean trading routes long before globalisation were transcultural in the modern sense. Theirs was a new template for Indian nationhood, not static and tradition-bound but fluidly transnational. In those multicultural contact zones, language took on a chameleon quality, unmoored from fixed national spaces and structured linguistic histories. These cultural and linguistic refractions are, according to Chew, Ghosh’s way of projecting ‘the multilayered history of the subcontinent.’ The ‘nation’ that emerges in the novel is far from monologic. It is, rather, a homologue for the world. The ‘deep and intricate currents of the opium trade linking Britain, India, and China in the nineteenth century,’ and the intercultural relationships that they engendered, transcended limited notions of the geographically bounded nation. Nandini Bhatacharya’s ‘Revisiting Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide: The Islam/English Dynamic’ projects a radical perspective on Indian English fiction’s engagement with the nation. In place of the usual reading of the text focusing the Kanai-Piya-Fokir triangle and/or the ecological/ecocritical depiction of the Sunderbans, Bhattacharya foregrounds the novel’s deployment of the Bonbibi cult. These rituals she takes to be symptomatic of the syncretic Hindu-Muslim culture of the marginalised tide country people. After a fascinating account of how Islamic culture and its practices penetrated subaltern Bengali culture through centuries of contiguity, Bhattacharya contends that both ‘the Western and the high Hindu positions’ rejected this indigenous PersoArabic cultural strain in rural south Bengal, an approach also taken by the modern State. She concludes that an Indian English writer’s problematising of the nation through these overlapping stories of oppression and rejection of a ‘Muslim-Dalit’ community is ‘an ultimate act of reparation.’ Krishna Sen’s ‘Nation, ‘No-Nation’, and ‘Desh’: Post-Orientalism and the National Allegory in Rushdie’s Shalimar the Clown and Vassanji’s The Assassin’s Song’ continues with the problematic of the ‘other Indias’ within India, and the consequent troubling of monadic notions of nationhood and national identity. She argues that erstwhile colonised countries now on the threshold of global power, such as India and China, are beginning to move beyond the Saidian paradigm of Orientalism

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as objects of the Eurocentric gaze. She defines these acts of (national) self-fashioning by a neologism, ‘post-Orientalism’. The post-Orientalist praxis in India privileges ‘desh,’ a pan-Indian term for multifaceted indigenous affiliations. Revisiting Tagore’s binary between the monologic polity of the Western ‘Nation’ and the dialogic comity of India which he dubbed the ‘No-Nation’ (whose vernacular equivalent is ‘desh’), Sen reads Shalimar the Clown and The Assassin’s Song as post-Orientalist explorations of the multivocal trope of ‘desh,’ which destabilises the Jamesonian dictum that all Third World novels are univocal national allegories. 2

Revisiting the Past

It could be argued that there are two trends within Indian fiction in English: the social realist approach dealing with topical issues, and the ‘magic realist’, where history is estranged. In recent years, there are signs of an upward swing in the fabular. Paul Sharrad, in ‘Tributes or Travesties?: Recent Reworkings of Classics Great and Small’, examines three novels – Kalyan Ray’s Eastwords (2004), Devdutt Pattanaik’s The Pregnant King (2008) and Tabish Khair’s The Thing about Thugs (2010). Pattanaik’s novel is based on a lesser-known tale from the Mahabharata in which Yuvanashva, a childless prince, accidentally drinks a magic potion meant to impregnate his queens and gives birth to a son. His confusion about his gender identity forms the core of this story in which Pattanaik uses myth to explore human psychology. In Ray’s Eastwords, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Tempest, and Shakespeare himself are re-imagined from the perspective of the colonised. Sharrad finds Eastwords more deft than The Pregnant King in its use of sources, but its very irreverence towards those sources unintentionally foregrounds them. Another complex interface with sources is The Thing about Thugs. Unlike the other two novels, it rewrites not a major canonical text, but a minor classic – Philip Meadows Taylor’s bestselling The Confessions of a Thug (1839). Khair’s Amir Ali, brought over from India by Captain Meadows, creates a web of ambivalence by convincing Meadows that he was a thug (thus playing on the Englishman’s fantasies about exotic India) while telling his sweetheart, Jenny, that he is only an ordinary man. The underlying intention of Khair’s novel is the unmasking of colonial discourse. Rituparna Roy’s ‘Of Art and the Artist: Kunal Basu’s The Miniaturist as a Mughal/Modern Novel’ explores a fascinating vignette from Mughal history. Mughal India has not been a privileged site of Indian English fiction, which is mostly preoccupied with contemporary events or the colonial past and its repercussions. Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence (2008), a fabular history of the Mughal Emperor Akbar, is a

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notable exception, and so is The Miniaturist (2003) which evokes Mughal times with rare imagination and beauty. Set in the sixteenth century, it tells the story of the miniature painter Kamal-al-Din Bihzad, son of Abdus Samad Shirazi, master artist in Akbar’s court. The historical Bihzad was exceptionally talented and was expected to succeed his father, but he rebelled and disappeared – lost to history. In Basu’s novel, Bihzad lives a tumultuous life of ecstasy and pain while following his stepmother Zuleikha’s admonition never to ‘become what you are not,’ a slave to the emperor’s whims. Roy argues that the tale of this forgotten artist is both Mughal and modern in weaving the intricate relationship between art, the artist, success and power, as part of a larger discourse on the significance and autonomy of art. 3

Reviewing the Present

Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger created great excitement when it won the Man Booker Prize in 2008, not least because it was the dark horse that edged out Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies. In this novel, which was hailed in the West but initially sidelined in India, Adiga relentlessly wields the scalpels of caste and class to dismantle the official slogan of ‘India Shining’ (to project a resurgent India) and expose the nation’s jaundiced underbelly. In ‘Babu Fiction in Disguise: Reading The White Tiger’, Himansu S. Mohapatra interrogates Adiga’s claims of being inspired by the nineteenth-century European realist tradition of Balzac, Dickens and Flaubert as well as by Baldwin, Ellison, Salinger and Rushdie. Mohapatra would rather invoke Mulk Raj Anand’s scathing social critiques which are articulated from below – Adiga’s protagonist Balram Halwai recalls Anand’s Bakha in Untouchable and Munnu in Coolie. But unlike Anand’s suffering heroes whose individual plights evoke a collective plight, this angry young man’s crime and corruptionridden rags-to-riches story is the unsavoury narrative of ‘shining’ India’s aggrieved and aspiring underclass. Sadly, nothing really changes – the ‘successful’ Balram becomes just as sexually and socially exploitative as the upper classes he had hated. In labelling the novel ‘Babu Fiction in Disguise’ (applying Tabish Khair’s sardonic appellation), Mohapatra holds that writing this sordid ‘India-bashing’ tale in English is a sort of reverse Orientalism catering to the Western market for Eastern murk, mayhem and melodrama. In ‘Indian English Women’s Fiction and the Fascination of the Everyday,’ Nandana Dutta finds such a profusion of regional voices in the decade 2000 to 2010 that it is ‘difficult to see groups and patterns.’ What they have in common are their ‘sharp, quirky, ingenuous, perceptive approaches to new realities in India’, and their way of engaging with ‘the varying uses of the everyday’. Invoking De Certeau and Lefeb-

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vre, Dutta explores the metafictive uses of the everyday as a mode of mapping personal and cultural space – the woman writers go, not for the ‘big picture’ but the minutiae that define lives in uncertain times. They also foreground the use, in De Certeau’s words, of ‘tactics’ and ‘strategies’ of coping that both mediate and subsume the sweeping currents of history – the kind of feminism articulated by Rajeswari Sunder Rajan and Lisa Lau. Dutta follows up her exposition of the aesthetic of the everyday as the key to contemporary Indian women’s writing with a close reading of Shashi Deshpande’s self-reflexive novel Small Remedies (2000) to illustrate how the two protagonists ultimately achieve anagnorisis through their ability to negotiate the ‘small things’. Subir Dhar investigates the ‘phenomenon’ of Chetan Bhagat and the foregrounding of popular culture in Indian English fiction in his ‘Inspiring India: The Fiction of Chetan Bhagat and the Discourse of Motivation.’ According to the New York Times, Bhagat is ‘the biggest selling English-language novelist in India’s history’ (March 26, 2008). Accounting for Bhagat’s success is easy – his immensely readable, if journalistic, prose style; the low price of his books (Rs. 95/$ 1.80, cheaper than a single cinema ticket at a multiplex); and a lively topicality that never actually addresses the serious (and potentially depressing) ramifications of the socio-economic conditions that constitute the backdrops for his novels. But, says Dhar, apart from these obvious factors, his success stems also from his deployment of the key elements of British, American and Indian motivational or inspirational literature. The ‘crisis narrative’ that shapes Bhagat’s novels – a protagonist confronting and surmounting a crisis situation – is several millennia old, with the Bhagavad Gita and St. Augustine’s Confessions being early classics of this genre. In the twentieth century, the genre took on a new avatar as ‘Inspi-Lit’, with the author as a secular guru holding the keys to wisdom and the reader as (implicitly) a confused acolyte in need of guidance. Well-known exponents of this mode are Stephen Covey and Robin Sharma. Bhagat exploits the typical features of ‘Inspi-Lit’ in titles such as The 3 Mistakes of My Life: A Story about Business, Cricket and Religion (2008). He dons the mantle of instructor, radiating reassurance through the persona of a frame narrator in his prologues and epilogues, and blurring the distinction between real-life author and fictional narrator. Bhagat’s ambition is to be, not ‘India’s most admired writer’ but ‘India’s most loved writer’ (see the Acknowledgements in his book, 3 Mistakes) – and to date, he is just that. In ‘Story-telling in the Age of Cybernetics: Rana Dasgupta’s Tokyo Cancelled’, Sreemati Mukherjee problematises the oft-mentioned comparison between The Canterbury Tales and this novel about thirteen passengers stranded at a Tokyo airport, telling stories to while away the time. While Chaucer conjures up a gallery of vibrant medieval personae

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and their social contexts, Dasgupta’s characters and their stories reflect the dystopia of present-day cyber culture. The narratives begin with gusto, often foregrounding the fabulous and the miraculous, and then spiral off into grisly violence. Mukherjee analyses four stories to illustrate how their portrayal of technology-driven modern life is antiecological, dehumanised and emotionally arid. Dasgupta’s novel, despite its ‘intelligent mimicry and formal adherence to structural parameters,’ demonstrates not a return to the great storytelling traditions of Chaucer and Boccaccio but the death of the story and the end of storytelling as a way of bonding communities and inculcating shared values – and this is the novel’s bleak assessment of contemporary life. One of the most important aspects of IEF in the new millennium is the emergence of new genres. In ‘Childhood’s End: Science Fiction in India’, Abhijit Gupta explores one such exciting development. Gupta analyses its nascent history and the reasons for its hesitant growth in India (especially in the English language), and then does close readings of some of the most engaging texts of the past decade – Rimi B. Chatterjee’s Signal Red (2005), Manjula Padmanabhan’s Escape (2008), Priya Sarukkai Chabria’s Generation 14 (2008) and Samit Basu’s Turbulence (2010). Signal Red, set in a near-future world where a totalitarian government is ruling India, focuses the moral dilemmas of scientists engaged in state-controlled science and raises uneasy questions about the politics and ethics of military research, a topic few SF novels have confronted seriously. Escape, which Gupta considers seminal in Indian English SF, is a gendered dystopia where women have been eliminated and cloned generals head a tough dictatorship. By contrast, Generation 14 is a zesty, action-packed tale of a clone, Clone 14/54/G, who begins to mutate by recollecting memories or ‘visitations’ of incidents in times past. Turbulence marked a watershed in Indian English SF by becoming a runaway bestseller. Set in contemporary India, it is a classic superhero novel with a psychological twist. Gupta concludes that the protocols of SF, defined by Darko Suvin as ‘cognitive estrangement’, can reinvigorate Indian English fiction by offering radically new ways of envisaging the past and the future. In ‘Frame/Works: How India Tells Stories in Comics and Graphic Novels’, Rimi B. Chatterjee holds that though India has had a long and commercially profitable history of publishing comics in the vernaculars and English since the 1950s – the immensely popular Amar Chitra Katha, Indrajaal and Diamond series, among others – comics have only recently become a major literary genre. Her essay addresses the lack of serious critical attention by identifying the foremost practitioners of the last decade and providing assessments of their work. A pioneer of the ‘serious’ comic was Orijit Sen, whose River of Stories (1994) had a profound impact on the Indian comics scene. The next landmarks were

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Sarnath Banerjee’s well-received graphic novel Corridor from mainstream publisher Penguin India (2004) and the launch in 2006 of Virgin Comics LLC (now Liquid Comics), co-sponsored by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, thus providing Indian comics with an international market. Virgin/Liquid’s hugely popular comics on Indian mythology and legend spawned competitors like Level 10, Pop Culture Publishing, and Campfire Books with their graphic versions of European classics. The major innovation, however, was the ‘social comic,’ best represented in Bhimayana, the biography of the great Dalit leader and nationalist Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, uniquely illustrated by tribal Pardhan Gond artists who adapted their art form to the needs of the comic book. Chatterjee also lauds Manta Ray Comics’ Hush and Gautam Bhatia’s Lie: A Traditional Tale of Modern India for their social concern, and Amruta Patil’s Kari (2008) and ‘Appupen’s’ Moonward (2009) for their sophistication. She nevertheless concludes, ‘we are still forging a canon and a space of possibility for Indian comics.’ 4

Reinscribing Home

Peter Liebregts’ ‘A Diasporic Straitjacket or An Overcoat of Many Colours?: A Reading of Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake’ is a close reading of one of the best-known and best-loved instances of Indian English diasporic fiction. The burgeoning corpora of Indian American diasporic fiction is now a mainstay of diaspora studies, especially as regards theoretical concerns relating to the identity politics of assimilation, hybridity, intercultural affiliation and now re-ethnicisation. Lahiri, daughter of Bengali Indian immigrants to the US, has received considerable attention. Taking Derek Attridge’s The Singularity of Literature (2004) as a point of departure to focus the ‘literariness’ of The Namesake (2003), Liebregts shows how the standard critical-theoretical paradigms cannot contain its rich ambivalence. The novel constantly slips out of these hermeneutical straitjackets, suggesting the possibilities of both openendedness and closure in its representation of the diasporic experience. Fakrul Alam’s ‘The Mythos of Return and Recent Indian English Diasporic Fiction’ surveys the field of Indian English diasporic writing from its earliest to its current phase. Early Indian diasporic fiction remained nostalgically embedded in India and Indian experiences. The second phase saw explorations of the diasporic condition itself – to quote Bharati Mukherjee, the fiction moved from ‘the aloofness of expatriation’ to ‘the exuberance of immigration’ (Darkness 2-3). A clutch of novels published in 2010 suggests the emergence of a third phase. Priya Basil’s The Obscure Logic of the Heart, Tishani Doshi’s The Pleasure Seekers and Shilpi Somaya Gowda’s Secret Daughter, much like Sri Lankan Roma Tearne’s The Swimmer, have certain things in common: they

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seek to overcome the loss of home by straddling cultures and borders, setting many episodes in the homeland rather than the hostland; and they all aim to square the circle, as it were, by bringing East and West together through a quasi-romance narrative mode. Perhaps there is something mythic here that responds to the genre of romance – the myth of return, a wish-fulfilling trajectory of communion and reunion, a vision of fulfilment at the end of a quest. Alam’s analyses reveal that this dream is difficult to achieve, coming up hard against emotional fault lines especially when the immigrant attempts to re-locate in what is paradoxically an alien homeland – yet the value lies in the dream itself. The project of Writing India Anew is to highlight, analyse and theorise an exciting and experimental decade of Indian English fiction. India is indeed being written anew in many ways. *

The editors would like to acknowledge their discussions with contributors Himansu S. Mohapatra, Subir Dhar and Nandana Dutta.

PART I Re-imagining the Nation

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Re-writing India Bill Ashcroft

For most critics, and possibly for most readers, contemporary Indian literature entered a decisive, cosmopolitan and globally popular phase with the publication of Midnight’s Children in 1981. The following decades have witnessed the growth of a literature that has been outwardlooking, confident and increasingly widely read. It is arguable that in that time the Indian literary diaspora has had a greater impact on English Literature than writing from any other nation. The revolution inaugurated by Rushdie hinged on the subversion of the nationalist euphoria of midnight, August 15, 1947. One version of this story is that the euphoria continued until the arrival of Indira Gandhi, when disappointment set in with a vengeance. The 1980s saw the flourishing of a literature – particularly the Bombay novel (Ashcroft 2011) – virtually obsessed with Gandhian corruption. But whatever the confluence of forces, it seems that Midnight’s Children triggered scepticism about nationalism that has characterised India’s increasingly vital and outwardmoving literature. My argument in this chapter is that the ‘Rushdie revolution’ represents a continuation rather than a break. It regenerates a hidden tradition of anti-nationalist utopianism in Indian literature most prominent in the writings of Rabindranath Tagore and Mohandas Gandhi. The irony of this is that both Tagore and Gandhi have become nationalist icons and, in Gandhi’s case, he is sanctified almost as a national deity. Yet it is their insurgent anti-national philosophy that best survives in the contemporary novel. Midnight’s Children won the Booker Prize in 1981 and we can follow the trajectory of subsequent Indian Booker Prize winners, the inheritors of Rushdie’s prize-winning revolution, to understand how India came to be ‘re-written’: Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things (winner in 1997), Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss (2006), Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger (2008) and a novel that perhaps more than any others demonstrates the direction of Indian writing: the expatriate Hari Kunzru’s Transmission (2004). To understand the manner in which India is being written anew today, we need to understand the history of the Indian relationship with the idea of nation, in particular the history of its literary imaginings, undergirded by a utopianism that goes hand in hand, ironically, with a

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deep anti-nationalist skepticism. For both Tagore and Gandhi, future thinking was inextricable from a sense of moral purpose in which Indian destiny existed beyond the confines of the Nation, and in many respects that utopian supra-nationalist vision of India came into full flower in the period inaugurated by Midnight’s Children. The imagined community of the Indian nation can be understood in three stages in India’s literary development. Of course they are not clearly demarcated periods – they overlap extensively – but each is dominated by a particular utopian vision. The first period, from the beginning of the century to independence, is the time of nationalist fervour, of the light on the hill, the promised utopia of the modern Indian nation. This is the period in which Tagore’s vision went against the grain of Swadeshi nationalism – two poles around which Indian writing continued to circulate. This is also the period in which Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj came out in English but the effect of Gandhi’s deep scepticism about nationalism was not to take effect until after independence. The second is the period after independence, a period of apparent modernisation but one that in reality consolidated the alternative modernity that had begun during colonial occupation. This is the period of national triumph in which Gandhi’s vision of Hind Swaraj, although co-opted by official nationalist politics, proved to be subversive in the purity of its philosophical anarchism. The third stems from the time of Indira Gandhi – a manifestation of the imagined community for which Midnight’s Children, if not its initiator, is its most evocative example. This is a period of rebellion and recovery, but it moves by the turn of this century into a period of global optimism. In each one of these periods, the figure of Mohandas Gandhi looms large but his presence underpins the imagining of the nation in quite different ways. The nation-state has been critiqued in postcolonial analysis largely because the post-independence, postcolonised nation – that wonderful utopian idea – proved to be a focus of exclusion and division rather than unity, perpetuating the class divisions of the colonial state rather than liberating national subjects. However, nationalism – and its vision of a liberated nation – has still been extremely important to anti-colonial literature because the idea of nation has so clearly focused the utopian ideals of independence, and perhaps nowhere more so than in the early decades of twentieth-century India. Nevertheless, in Tagore we find the trenchant position of the earliest and most widely known anti-nationalist. For Tagore, there can be no good nationalism; it can only be what he calls the ‘fierce self-idolatry of nation-worship’ (Tagore 2005: 39) – the exquisite irony being that his songs were used as Bangladeshi and Indian national anthems. Tagore’s warning against the model of European nationalism was unmistakable:

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This abstract being, the Nation, is ruling India. (46) The Nation, with all its paraphernalia of power and prosperity … cannot hide the fact that the Nation is the greatest evil for the Nation. (60) Nationalism is a great menace. It is a particular thing which for years has been at the bottom of India’s troubles. (87) Tagore’s scepticism about nationalism was a by-product of his utopian vision. He railed against the teaching that ‘idolatry of the Nation is almost better than reverence for God or humanity’ (83). Tagore’s utopianism is nowhere more evident than in his belief in the spiritual potential of human society for openness and acceptance: I have no hesitation in saying that those who are gifted with the moral power of love and vision of spiritual unity, who have the least feeling of enmity against aliens, and the sympathetic insight to place themselves in the position of others, will be the fittest to take their permanent place in the age that is lying before us. (78) It is certainly not the spiritual fervour of this passage that characterises contemporary Indian writing, but rather the sense of a future world beyond the restrictions of the nation. Indian society has always been exogenous and this has only become more pronounced. Tagore was ahead of his time in more ways than one. But the early years of the century were marked by an anti-colonial momentum that set very great store by the idea of the nation. Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s Anandamath coined the image that was to become the essence of Indian nationalism: ‘an enchanting image more beautiful or glorious than Lakshmi or Sarasvati’. ‘Who is she?’ ‘The Mother.’ ‘Who is this Mother?’ The monk answered: ‘She whose children we are.’ (Chatterjee 2006: 149) Mother India became a rallying point for Indian nationalism, and its most iconic representation in the film Mother India ensured that it would continue to haunt the Indian imagination. Such images offer a much more powerful focus than ‘visions of spiritual unity’, and the connection between the nation and Mother India was imprinted on the Indian psyche. But against the militancy of ‘Swadeshi’ nationalism, Ta-

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gore produced Ghare Baire (The Home and the World). Swadeshi advocated the boycott of foreign goods but ‘drew increasingly on the rhetoric and iconography of a revivalist Hindu nationalism that sought to define the nation in religious terms’ (Gopal 2009: 34). When HinduMuslim riots broke out, Tagore became one of the movement’s most trenchant critics, earning him the reputation of apologist for colonialism. The complexity of utopian thinking can be seen in the clash between Mother India and Tagore’s vision of a union of home and world. Both are visions of the future, one attaining tremendous power in the lead up to independence, but the other, looking beyond the boundaries of nation, rejecting its idolatry, is arguably the deeper and longer lasting in the Indian literary consciousness. In the decades before and after the turn of the century, Indian writing has taken a significant turn – one affected by globalisation, with its increasing mobility and diasporic movement of peoples – that might be cautiously given the term cosmopolitan (despite Tagore’s reference to the ‘colourless vagueness’ of the term 2005: 39). India has led the way in its literature, not only because of the proliferation of South Asian diasporic writing, but also because India itself has put the traditional idea of the nation as imagined community into question. Where did this questioning come from? When Gandhi wrote as early as 1909 that India’s freedom struggle had misunderstood the ‘real significance’ of Swaraj by equating it with independence, and that ‘my life henceforth is dedicated’ to realizing its true meaning (Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi [CWMG] 10: 64, Hind Swaraj, November 22 1909), he introduced a range of ideas centring on the concept of satygraha that had little to do with conventional nationalism. Whereas independence meant outward freedom, Gandhi’s goal was a deeper one that came, in time, to clash with conventional nationalist ideals: ‘The outward freedom therefore that we shall attain will only be in exact proportion to the inward freedom to which we may have grown at a given moment’ (CWMG 38: 1-2 November 1 1928). Although Salman Rushdie admits to learning ‘a trick or two’ from G.V. Desani’s All about H. Hatterr (1949), Midnight’s Children (1981) can be regarded as the founding text of a new generation. The style of Rushdie’s prodigious and excessive chronicle is continued in I. Alan Sealy’s The Trotter-Nama (1990). But in the main, this new generation was characterised by mobility and hybridity, gaining worldwide attention through writing from what might be called the ‘third-wave’ diaspora. It was characterised by a deep distrust of the boundaries of the nation, a distrust embodied in Saleem’s despair. But Rushdie’s novel had a different, more utopian vision, as he explains in Imaginary Homelands:

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What I tried to do was to set up a tension in [Midnight’s Children], a paradoxical opposition between the form and content of the narrative. The story of Saleem does indeed lead him to despair. But the story is told in a manner designed to echo, as closely as my abilities allowed, the Indian talent for non-stop self-regeneration. This is why the narrative constantly throws up new stories, why it ‘teems’. The form – multitudinous, hinting at the infinite possibilities of the country – is the optimistic counterweight to Saleem’s personal tragedy. (1991: 16) Saleem’s personal tragedy is, of course, the tragedy of the postcolonial nation. But it is also the tragedy of the idea of the bordered nation itself, the very concept of a bounded space within which a diverse people could come together as one. The saving grace, for Rushdie, is the capacity of a people to ‘teem’, its irrepressible and exorbitant capacity to transcend the nation that becomes its most hopeful gesture. The rich underpinning of mythic allegory allows him to conceive a multitudinous civilizational reality existing beyond the nation. This is precisely the function of the midnight’s children themselves: to reveal the improbability of the nation, ever encompassing their extravagant variety and potential. This potential is one we could call utopian in the very unbounded extent of its possibilities. The infinite possibilities of the country greatly exceed any notion of ‘unity in diversity’, which is a standard, if deceptive, national mantra. Rushdie is, in effect, describing a condition suggested by Jean Franco when she pointed out the inadequacy of Jameson’s notorious designation of Third World literature as ‘national allegories’ (1986: 69). Rather, we find ‘the dissolution of the idea of nation and the continuous persistence of national concerns’ (Franco 1989: 211). Writing in the decade ushered in by Midnight’s Children, Franco could say that the nation ‘is no longer the inevitable frame for political or cultural projects’ (204). The response of nation-states the world over to the increasing global flow of people has been to make these borders ever more impermeable, and their actual ephemerality is shown nowhere more powerfully than in Amitav Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines (1988). Although published in the 1980s, the book’s devastating denunciation of nationalism and national borders and its multi-layered narrative of memory and identity continues to resonate in a world in which borders articulate a world-wide territorial paranoia. It stands as a powerful prelude to the present century, in its view of the great deception of nationalism and the illusory nature of borders. In an interview, Ghosh remarked: Today nationalism, once conceived of as a form of freedom, is really destroying our world. It’s destroying the forms of ordinary

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life that many people know. The nation-state prevents the development of free exchange between peoples. (Cited in Wassef 1998: 75) This is the classic postcolonial critique. Postcolonial nationalism, which is born in the quest for freedom, comes to imprison rather than liberate people because it inherits its model of governance from the colonial state. However illusory and arbitrarily established the borders of the state may be, they come to function as rigid constructors of identity. Ghosh continues Rushdie’s satire of nationalism with a scathing dismantling of the concept of borders, not only geographical ones but also the borders of identity itself. The story of The Shadow Lines is woven around the ambivalent metaphors of maps, place, memory, nation and identity and the possibility of freedom from the borders they invoke. Every representation of space in the novel – rooms, houses, neighbourhoods, cities, countries – assumes a metonymic significance culminating in the importance of maps as metaphors of identity because they so clearly locate subjects (Mukherjee 2006: 260). But maps are also a metonym for the futile regulation of memory. As Robi says at the end of the book, ‘why don’t they draw thousands of little lines through the whole subcontinent and give every little place a new name? What would it change? It’s a mirage; the whole thing is a mirage. How can anyone divide a memory?’ (241). In the end: That word ‘freedom’ is the great gaoler, the illusion behind countless deaths in the name of the nation … behind all those pictures of people killed by terrorists and the army is the single word ‘free’. Whole villages killed so that the terrorists will be destroyed and the country made free. (1988: 232) This could be regarded as prophetic for our century.

Midnight’s Heirs There are, of course, many novels that have built on Rushdie’s and Ghosh’s scepticism, but Roy’s The God of Small Things (1997), Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss (2006), Adiga’s The White Tiger (2008) and Kunzru’s Transmission (2004) sketch the trajectory of the contemporary novel’s extension of Midnight Children’s subversion of the grand narrative of the nation. Stories of family and community continue, but in a very different form and orientation than the Gandhi-inspired vision of Rao and Narayan. The constant tension between the Gandhian sense of community in family or village and the large, increasingly global

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sense of History and Nation characterise these novels in different ways. They do not highlight the growing tensions of communal violence, of Shiv Sena and Hindu majoritarianism, which form much of the interest of the ‘Bombay novel’ of the 1990s. But they expose the extent to which both the idea and reality of Nation have betrayed those who so enthusiastically embraced it in 1947. Sixteen years after Midnight’s Children, Roy’s The God of Small Things refuses the grandeur and epic scale of Rushdie’s novel in favour of a story of small people whose lives are shattered by small things that take on an immense significance. After ‘the stylistic pyrotechnics of magical realism, Roy’s novel proffered a masterly command of realism and the pleasures of seemingly unmediated experience’ (Gopal 2009: 156). Indian history, argues Guha (1996: 3) is fixated on the nationstate, which determines how the past is to be read; this can be undone by listening to the myriad ‘small voices’ in Indian society. This is a classic postcolonial approach to History which is invariably the history of the state. Where the ‘Big God’ of Nation or Empire writes History, it gets in the way of memory – the grand narrative of the nation swallows up the smaller narratives of its people. So often it has been the task of literature to re-write History because the dominance of Imperial History so easily slides into the grand narrative of the Nation. Where ‘Big God’ controls the writing of official History, Small God ‘climbed into people’s eyes and became an exasperating expression’. If the nation is the dominant story, then individuals are subject to that story. It is the ‘small things’, according to Roy, wherein the life of the nation is contained, and it is by reading the silences in the interstices of the grand narrative of History that the stories that make up the nation can be recovered. Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss (2006) circulates around the pathos of those discarded by History, those out of time and place, whether the Anglophile remnants of a faded empire or those caught out of place by the desire to better their lives in the West. The ‘loss’ inherited is the loss of empire, of privilege, of home and also of the sense of place bestowed by the idea of nation. ‘Could fulfilment ever be felt as deeply as loss?’ (2) asks the novel as it questions the possibility of fulfilment in the constantly shifting realities of nation and history. Set in the Himalayan region of the India/Nepal border and illuminating the debilitating state of displacement experienced by wealthy anglophile Indians as the region is torn apart by a Gorkhaland nationalist movement, the novel touches on the inevitability, and the inevitable futility, of nationalism. It contrasts this with the desperate straits of Biju the cook’s son, in New York without a green card, who demonstrates a different state of loss, as he gradually loses his dream of wealth in the harsh reality of the exploited illegal immigrant. The novel hinges on

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the uncertainty of liminal spaces – the geographical liminality of those on the borders of the nation, the liminality of those who have been betrayed by history, the liminality of the immigrant worker. Aravind Adiga’s searingly iconoclastic novel The White Tiger (2008) raised considerable controversy when it was published for its unflattering view of Indian society. But the novel continues an approach to the corruption of politics and the ‘democratic state’ that lies deep in the Indian social consciousness. His mantra ‘to be a man’ is no great distance from Gandhi’s philosophy of Satyagraha, although the language he uses to attack the failed democratic nation is far more trenchant, a savage critique of the corruption of capitalist society. The putative address of the novel to Wen Jiabao places the novel in a global context from the first line. Though it enables an informal, insouciant style, its globalising trajectory also enables a considerable degree of dramatic irony in the voice of the ‘white tiger’ as he continually compares the Indian economic reconstruction to the Chinese. ‘And these entrepreneurs – we entrepreneurs – have set up all these outsourcing companies that virtually run America now’ (Adiga 2008: 4). The White Tiger is the novel of an India that has unquestionably taken its place in the world. But here the silences of the ‘small things’ overwritten by history find an ironic revenge as Balram enters the entrepreneurial future through murder, theft and bribery. A novel that did not receive a Booker Prize and yet reveals the global trajectory of Indian writing perhaps better than any other is Hari Kunzru’s Transmission. Including this novel within this company raises a significant question: What is an ‘Indian’ novel today? Hari Mohan Nath Kunzru was born in London of Kashmiri Pandit origin. Sometimes referred to as a ‘British Indian’ novelist, and deputy president of English PEN (‘Poets, Essayists and Novelists’), he, along with Ruchir Joshi, Jeet Thayil and Amitava Kumar, risked arrest by reading excerpts from Rushdie’s Satanic Verses (which is banned in India) at the 2012 Jaipur Literary Festival. So by orientation, commitment and, in Transmission, by subject matter, Kunzru is deeply implicated in the widening production of Indian writing. The question: ‘What is an Indian writer?’ may never be conclusively answered. So many Indian novels are now written in the diaspora that it seems that Tagore’s admonition about the world has been fulfilled with a vengeance, writers’ national identities becoming more and more a matter of representation. If Balram Halwai in The White Tiger moves out of his life of poverty into the Bangalore milieu of ‘the entrepreneur’, Transmission’s hero Arjun Mehta extends this movement into the Silicon Valley Nirvana of every middle class computer nerd. Arjun, a geeky, daydreaming Indian software engineer fares little better, at first, than the impoverished Biju in Inheritance of Loss. He is recruited by an exploitative staffing agency

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to work in Silicon Valley, ‘the daydream location, a hidden ravine lined with fibre optics and Radio Shacks’ (Kunzru 2004: 22). He is employed as a specialist in virus protection, but when he is unfairly laid off he creates the Leela virus (based on his film idol Leela Zahir), a virus so sinister that only he will be able to find the cure, thus making him an indispensable employee. When his company refuses to re-employ him, systems around the globe suddenly become infected and inoperable, with a mysterious rendering of Leela Zahir dancing across the screen. But Arjun’s plot is uncovered by the FBI and simple, day-dreamy Arjun becomes the world’s most-wanted terrorist. In a classic Bollywood conclusion, the film star Leela Zahir, herself unhappily exploited by her mother’s ambition, disappears after viewing a message Arjun has sent her. We are not told but can certainly assume that Leela has run off with Arjun, ‘like Arjun Mehta, Leela Zahir has never reappeared’ (271), thus emphasising the complex and confusing integration of the virtual and the ‘real’ in the modern world.

The Legacy: Class, Nation, World Gandhi’s vision of Hind Swaraj is one of the most potent forms of utopianism in modern times and was, as we have seen, a very different vision of ‘home rule’ than that perceived by most politicians. Hind Swaraj is interesting because it was able to achieve what Fanon thought nationalism could not do: mobilise the ‘innermost hopes of a whole people’ (Fanon 1963: 148). It is arguable that Nehru’s modern industrial socialist nation could not have been established without the utopia of Hind Swaraj. But, paradoxically, this vision, so critical in the birth of Indian nationalism, was anti-nationalist, anti-Enlightenment and anti-modern. Indeed, Gandhi’s vision of Hind Swaraj was as far from the modern capitalist state as could be imagined. ‘Home rule’ conceived an India outside any version of the modern nation-state – an India much closer to Ernst Bloch’s conception of Heimat than to the modern idea of nation (as indeed was Tagore’s). Heimat is Bloch’s word for the home that we have all sensed but have never experienced or known. ‘It is Heimat as utopia … that determines the truth content of a work of art’ (Zipes 1989: xxxiii). This paradox emerges in Partha Chatterjee’s foundational Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World (1986), which exposes the ambivalent relationship between utopian thinking and nation building and the actual process by which utopian thinking may evolve, or ‘degenerate’, into an organised nation-state machine. But when we examine the extent to which the post-Rushdie novel continues the resistance to the idea of the nation-state, three themes

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appear: first is the continuation in different ways of the condemnation of class and economic injustice. In Gandhi, this was most prominent in his condemnation of untouchability, but the philosophy of Khadi or self-sufficiency was at the same time a programme of economic equality and a critique of capitalism. Second is the critique of the bounded nation-state itself, a critique that blossoms in Indian writing in the metaphor of borders, and continues the spirit of both Tagore’s and Gandhi’s anti-state philosophies. The third characteristic of the contemporary novel is its movement outward from ‘Home’ into the ‘World’. Both the actual mobility of writers and the exogenous way Indian consciousness interpolates the economic, cultural and literary world in these novels suggest a trajectory that will continue through this century.

Class The theme of class is summed up in The White Tiger when Balram says in his letter to Wen Jiabao: ‘I won’t be saying anything new if I say that the history of the world is a history of a ten thousand year war of brains between the rich and the poor (Adiga 2008: 254).’ The war being one of brains is significant but it is one in which the structure of the contest is heavily weighted against the poor. Despite Arundhati Roy’s very well-known activism and her radical interest in class struggle, the distinction between the ‘small God’ and the Big God’ is a subtle one in which class overlaps nation, as private and personal despair drops below the gaze of the public, citizenship, the nation: In some places, like the country that Rahel came from, various kinds of despair competed for primacy. And the personal despair could never be enough. That something happened when personal turmoil dropped by the wayside shrine of the vast, violent circling, driving, ridiculous, insane, unfeasible, public turmoil of a nation. That Big God howled like a hot wind and demanded obeisance. Then Small God (cozy and contained, private and limited) came away cauterized, laughing numbly at his own temerity. (Roy 1997: 19) The Small God is the god of the impoverished and disenfranchised, but it is also the god of the teeming ordinariness of the people living beneath the level of the grand narrative of nation. Where Big God controls the writing of official History, Small God ‘climbed into people’s eyes and became an exasperating expression’ (Roy 1997: 19). If the na-

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tion is the dominant story, then the ordinary individual stories are footnotes. Individual despair does not enter into the story. In each of these novels, the issues of class, of poverty, and of abandonment by corrupt officials is inextricable from the failure of nation. In Tagore’s words, ‘the Nation is the greatest evil for the Nation’ (2005: 60). But this failure is just as often a consequence of nationalism. In The Inheritance of Loss, the pathos is maintained by the confusion of those caught in a changing world in which their privilege is diminishing under the onslaught of a demand for justice and independence. The sisters Lola and Noni find themselves ‘with the rotten luck of being in the exact wrong place at the exact wrong time when it all caught up – and generations’ worth of trouble settled on them’ (241). The achievement of the novel is to reveal the extent to which issues of class, privilege and discrimination occur as a function of the structure of the postcolonial nation fuelled more by ignorance than active discrimination. Lola and Noni are the recipients of the privilege bestowed by empire. Now the Nepali inhabitants of this border region are demanding change. The obnoxious judge, whose Anglophilia is so rampant that he functions as a cultural metaphor in the book, is driven by hatred for everything – his wife, daughter, cook, India and probably subconsciously himself for his abjection to imperial power. As a Cambridge student he had undertaken with utter resolve to become as English as he could, only to be despised by both his countrymen and his colonial masters. It is not until the moment of independence that he realises this: He thought of how the English government and its civil servants had sailed away, throwing their topis overboard, leaving behind only those ridiculous Indians who couldn’t rid themselves of what they’d broken their souls to learn. (Desai 2006: 205) It is perhaps this more than anything: the feeling of being thrown on the dust-heap of history, of being betrayed by imperialism, that generates the judge’s rage. This is why he decides to live in the hills, at the very edge of the nation: ‘The judge could live here, in this shell [of a house], this skull, with the solace of being a foreigner in his own country, for this time he would not learn the language’ (Desai 2006: 29). His determined alienation from everything and everyone except his dog Mutt reveals the true absurdity of his position as the detritus of empire. When his dog is stolen, his entreaties seem laughable to people who are starving. The issue of class (and caste) is deeply bound in The White Tiger with social and political corruption. Gandhi waged a life-long war

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against untouchability, claiming that there was nothing in the Shastras justifying it (CWMG 62: 121-22 November 16, 1935). But class seems to have taken a greater hold on the contemporary literary imagination. Balram sees caste as meaningless rather than constricting. A member of the Halwai caste, or sweet makers, he knows nobody in his family who made sweets. His father was a rickshaw driver. Caste is overshadowed in the novel by the spectre of economic class and poverty, particularly the poverty of those at the very bottom of society. This is perhaps nowhere clearer than in the corruption of the health system. Balram’s father, dying of TB, waiting at a hospital to which no doctor will visit, is ‘permanently cured’ of his TB at 6pm that night ‘as the government ledger no doubt accurately reported’ – by dying (50). The doctors, by bribing the supervisor, were marked as present and released to earn money in private practice. The poor are not only subject to the corruption of the system. They dwell completely outside the political process. Balram is regarded with scorn by his employers, who see his ignorance as disqualifying him from political enfranchisement. When asked questions such as ‘Who was the first Prime Minister of India? What is the name of this continent?’, Balram’s apparently risible answers lead him to remark: ‘And we entrust our glorious parliamentary democracy – he pointed at me – to characters like these. That’s the whole tragedy of this country’ (10). Consequently, (in a poignant echo of Rohinton Mistry), everybody’s vote in Balram’s village is controlled by the landlord. When a ‘brave mad man’ turns up to the voting booth to demand to cast his vote, he is beaten to death by the local politician and the police. ‘After a while the body of the rickshaw puller stopped wriggling and fighting back, but they kept stamping on him, until he had been stamped back into the earth’ (102). Significantly, the poor are of the soil and are kept there by the system – ‘stamped back into the earth.’ This is something Gandhi himself sensed. His conception of the nation looked beyond the structure of the legislature. ‘What strange blindness it is that those who are elected as legislators to represent the people should seem, and in fact are, their rulers!’ (CWMG 38: 18 November 4 1928). The White Tiger puts horrifying flesh to the bones of that reality. As Balram says, ‘I am India’s most faithful voter, and I still have not seen the inside of a voting booth’ (102). It is not just in voting but in access to the amenities of society that the poor find themselves excluded. The drivers who wait outside the gleaming glass mall for their masters to shop are enthralled to see a rickshaw puller attempt to enter the mall, but he is stopped by the guard. ‘Instead of backing off and going away – as nine in ten in his place would have done, the man in the sandals exploded, ‘Am I not a human being too?’ (148). As one of the drivers remarks: ‘If all of us

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were like that we would rule India and they would be polishing our boots’ (148-9). The problem is, of course, that individuals like this are very rare and Adiga explains it with the metaphor of the rooster coop: Never before in human history have so few owed so much to so many, Mr. Jiabao. A handful of men in this country have trained the remaining 99.9 per cent – as strong, as talented, as intelligent in every way – to exist in perpetual servitude; a servitude so strong that you can put the key of his emancipation in a man’s hands and he will throw it back at you with a curse. (175-6) The rooster coop does its work when servants keep other servants ‘from becoming innovators, experimenters or entrepreneurs’ (194). However extreme and hyperbolic we regard The White Tiger, it is worth remembering that Gandhi regarded economic equality as the ‘masterkey to non-violent independence’: Working for economic equality means abolishing the eternal conflict between capital and labour. It means the levelling down of the few rich in whose hands is concentrated the bulk of the nation’s wealth on the one hand, and the levelling up of the semi-starved naked millions on the other. A non-violent system of government is clearly impossibile so long as the wide gulf between the rich and the hungry millions persists. (CWMG 81: 366 Dec. 13 1941) A subtle issue in the question of class is education, for economic equality relies not only on the levelling of wealth but on the education of the poor. As Balram discovers, the reading matter of choice for the drivers is Murder Weekly, which acts as a form of social control, because ‘the murderer in the magazine is so mentally disturbed and sexually deranged that not one reader would want to be like him … So if your driver is busy flicking through the pages of Murder Weekly, relax. No danger to you. Quite the contrary. It’s when your driver starts to read about Gandhi and the Buddha that it’s time to wet your pants Mr Jiabao’ (126).

The Nation and Its Borders Nation has been crucial to decolonising rhetoric. The pre-independence utopia of a liberated postcolonial nation provided a very clear focus for anti-colonial activism in India, but this ground to a halt once the goal of that activism was reached and the sombre realities of post-independ-

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ence political life began to be felt. Both Tagore and Gandhi saw the issues of class and economic disparity tied up with the problem of the nation-state and its promotion of profit. In one of his more resonant visions of unmet possibility, Tagore says: The conflict between the individual and the state, labour and capital, the man and the woman; the conflict between the greed of material gain and the spiritual life of man, the organized selfishness of nations and the higher ideals of humanity; the conflict between all the ugly complexities inseparable from giant organizations of commerce and state and the natural instincts of man crying for simplicity and beauty and fullness of leisure – all these have yet to be brought into harmony in a manner not yet dreamt of. (Tagore 2005: 7) The core of the problem was the inheritance of colonial boundaries, colonial administrative structures and colonial prejudices, so that the problem of the Nation was from the beginning a problem of borders. Part of the power of The God of Small Things comes from the vividness with which the children’s impressions and voice are relayed. Childhood is a time without divisions, whereas now ‘Edges, Borders, Boundaries, Brinks and Limits have appeared like a team of trolls on their separate horizons’ (Roy 1997: 3). The grand narratives of Nation and History are part of this team, and Roy’s apparent break from the exuberant excess of Rushdie’s sweeping novel nevertheless focuses on similar issues – the boundaries that hem us in on all sides. One of the most bounded dimensions, one in which the destiny of the nation is figured, is time. Time is the medium of the nation’s teleological move towards completion and fulfilment. But it is a movement that never resolves itself, that never is, and cannot ever be, realised. One of the ways in which The God of Small Things disrupts the boundary of time is by presenting the two central stories in more or less alternating chapters – an Indian family living in Ayemenem during a two-week period in 1969 and its murderous consequences; and the story of a day in 1993, when Estha and Rahel meet for the first time since the violent events twenty-three years before, a meeting that culminates in an incestuous sexual encounter. Each chapter weaves back and forth over other time periods, creating a complex series of references and allusions. Repeated flashbacks and images bring past events into the present, while future events appear to disrupt the past. ‘By presenting the novel’s temporal framework not as a continuous narrative but as a disordered mix of various times that can be pieced together only by the reader (if at all), Roy’s text echoes the way her characters are experiencing the present moment, one always already haunted by past

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and future events’ (Outka 25-6). This experience, like so much of the domain of the Small God, exists well below the level of Nation. However, the nation is not always subverted in so subtle a fashion. In many respects, despite the soaring aspirations of politicians, the Nation took over the function of the colonial masters. As Balram says in The White Tiger: ‘In 1947 the British left, but only a moron would think we became free then’ (Adiga 2008: 22). But perhaps worse than that, the new order was a jungle: And then, thanks to all those politicians in Delhi, on the fifteenth day of August 1947 – the day the British left – the cages had been left open; and the animals had attacked and ripped each other apart and jungle law replaced zoo law. Those that were most ferocious, the hungriest, had eaten everyone else up … (Adiga 2008: 63-4) The novel depends upon hyperbole, because this is the me´tier of Balram’s discourse in his letters to Wen Jiabao. But it is clear that the triumph of the nation has become the triumph of corruption. The ‘Great Socialist’ is the regional strong man who eventually wins the national elections, and his record is spectacular: The Great Socialist – a total of ninety-three criminal cases – for murder, rape, grand larceny, gun-smuggling, pimping and many other such minor offences – are pending against the Great Socialist and his ministers … and three of the ministers are currently in jail – but continue to be ministers. (97-8) In Inheritance of Loss, the nation is just as powerful in its invisibility as in its obvious control, partly because the region is in the grip of an insurgency in which the very concept of nation is at stake. Here at the geographical edges of nation, the porous border of the state, a new nationalism rises up to demonstrate the persistence of national feeling. ‘This state making,’ says Lola, ‘biggest mistake that fool Nehru made. Under his rules any group of idiots can stand up demanding a new state and get it too. How many new ones keep appearing?’ (Desai 2006: 128) There is an ironic moment when Gyan, coming to visit Sai, is ordered by the judge to recite poetry, to which he responds by reciting Tagore: ‘[Where the mind is without fear] Where the head is held high. Where knowledge is free, Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls … Into that heaven

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of freedom, my Father, let me and my country awake.’ Every schoolchild in India knew at least this. (Desai 2006: 109) This is a poignant reminder of Tagore’s view of nationalism, because Gyan is becoming enmeshed in ‘the narrow domestic walls’ of a Gorkhaland rebellion, a political passion that will destroy his love for Sai. Indeed, the pathos of the novel is played out in the conflict between the justice of the Gorkha’s cry for equality, their desire for ‘that heaven of freedom’, and the consequences of their actions. Here at the edge of the nation, in the liminal space of a porous border, a different kind of nationalism wreaks its havoc. As he floated through the market, Gyan had a feeling of history being wrought, its wheels churning under him, for the men were behaving as if they were being featured in a documentary of war, and Gyan could not help but look on the scene already from the angle of nostalgia, the position of a revolutionary (Desai 2006: 157): ‘In 1947, brothers and sisters, the British left granting India her freedom, granting the Muslims Pakistan, granting special provisions for the scheduled castes and tribes, leaving everything taken care of brothers and sisters – Except us. EXCEPT US.’ (158) Although the cry of freedom is strong in this liminal space of the Himalayan border, this passage reaffirms the continued dependence of postcolonial national formations on imperial structures. ‘The men sat unbedding their rage, learning, as everyone does in this country, at one time or another, that old hatreds are endlessly retrievable’ (161). Rage, enmity, passion, the feelings of class exclusion and economic injustice, of ethnic marginalisation resolve themselves inevitably in the utopia of nation. As Sai ponders: ‘What was a country but the idea of it? She thought of India as a concept, a hope, or a desire. How often could you attack it before it crumbled?’ (236) What Sai finds herself in the middle of is the endless cycle of history, the passion for decolonisation repeating itself.

The World It would be foolhardy to see the mobility and outward movement of Indian writing and, indeed, Indian society itself, as motivated by those high cosmopolitan ideals expressed by Tagore, the ‘moral power of love and vision of spiritual unity.’ But it is worth noting that the global sensibilities of the contemporary Indian novel have a deep prehistory. Certainly colonialism unleashed an unprecedented era of mobility as colo-

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nial peoples flowed to the centre and then circulated to other economic magnets. But India was already a migratory and even diasporic aggregation of flows and convergences, both within and without state boundaries. Motwani has made a compelling, if provocative, claim for the migratory adventures of Indian peoples since about 8000 BC, migrations as far as Mexico, Turkey, Bali as well as the obvious migrations to South East Asia (2004: 40). Motwani’s investigations challenge the very profound and resilient linking of Indian identity with the geographical Bharat (the ancient term for the Holy land of the Hindus), with ‘Mother India’. For him, the Indian people have always been migratory and exploratory, and it would seem that flow rather than stasis is a cultural characteristic. This flow, however, is not always enriching. The other side of the story of displacement and loss in The Inheritance of Loss is the failed aspirations of those like the son of the judge’s cook, Biju, whose journey to New York leads to poverty and exploitation by other Indians. Ejected from restaurant after restaurant as he looks for work, slipping ‘out and back on the street. It was horrible what happened to Indians abroad and nobody knew it but Indians abroad’ (138). One thing Biju discovers in New York is the extent to which a country is no more than an idea, an idea that grows more vague the further away you travel. ‘What was India to these people? How many lived in fake versions of their countries, in fake versions of other people’s countries? Did their lives feel as unreal to them as his did to him?’ (267). Biju exists in the dystopian version of diaspora inhabited by many: without visa or green card, exploited, underpaid, and sleeping on the floor of the restaurant kitchen. To him, home is loss and absence – America, exile and loneliness. He knows that he represents the magical possibility of freedom and wealth to many back home. But it is an illusion. This has become the stereotype of the diasporic condition – absence and loss. But there is another story demonstrated by Indian writers themselves, writers who have interpolated Anglophone literature. In this respect, these novels can be seen to outline a trajectory towards a more self-assured engagement with the global – from the dystopian exile of Biju’s life in New York, to Balram’s move to Bangalore with its industries and call centres plugged into the global economy, to Arjun’s move to Silicon Valley and his catastrophic revenge upon Virugenix and, subsequently, the world. This is not strictly chronological since Transmission was written before Desai’s and Adiga’s novels, but it indicates the outward movement of Indian society, a movement that is increasingly captured in the writing. Transmission stands for the direction of the contemporary Indian novel in many ways: the complications of its authorship; its generic border crossing; its representation of the ways in which Indian exper-

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tise and Indian culture – through Bollywood and computer savvy – have infiltrated the world; its confident satire of both US and global technological society even as it demonstrates an Indian familiarity with that society; its ability to balance an insider knowledge of Indian family dynamics with knowledge of the computer geek world. These qualities suggest a literature that is both deeply rooted in the Indian cultural consciousness and yet prolific in its engagement with the world. The Mother India trope may continue to hold its grip on the Indian imagination, but a deeper and perhaps more lasting tendency is that spirit of questioning that occurs most influentially in Tagore and Gandhi. While we may be tempted to view their anti-modernism as anachronistic, and their moral urgings as naı¨ve, these thinkers captured a sceptical view of the devil’s pact between nation and capitalism that remains even more relevant today. In these contemporary novels, that deep vein of scepticism continues: an awareness of the interrelation of ‘Home and World’; the often exuberant iconoclasm of their approach to questions of nation and history; and the alertness to the potential failures of democracy and of international capitalism suggest that the trajectory of the Indian novel has taken it a long way from the village. In their global reach, sophistication and social critique, Indian novels continue to shape world Anglophone literature.

2

Roots and Routes

On Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies Shirley Chew

Significant Writers of the Indian Diaspora In an early essay, ‘The Diaspora in Indian Culture’, Amitav Ghosh writes: The modern Indian diaspora – the huge migration from the subcontinent that began in the mid-nineteenth century – is not merely one of the most important demographic dislocations of modern times: it now represents an important force in world culture. The culture of the diaspora is also increasingly a factor within the culture of the Indian subcontinent. This is self-evidently true of its material culture, which now sets the standard for all that is desirable in the metropolitan cities. But the diaspora also counts among its members some of the finest writers: to my mind there are no finer writers writing in the English language today than V.S. Naipaul, Salman Rushdie and A.K. Ramanujan. In its own way the literary culture of the diaspora is also an important social and political – and, of course, literary – force within India.1 (Ghosh 1989: 73) The writers singled out in Ghosh’s statement have in their several oeuvres scrutinised and commented upon the diasporic condition in distinctive ways, whether it is the ancestral memory of rupture despairingly recalled by Naipaul: Even when at school I had got to know (as part of school learning) the historical facts of the region [the West Indies], they did not have any imaginative force for me. The squalor and pettiness and dinginess – the fowl-coops and back yards and servant rooms and the many little houses on one small plot and the cess-pits – seemed too new; everything in Port of Spain seemed to have been recently put together; nothing suggested antiquity, a past. To this there had to be added the child’s ignorance; and

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the special incompleteness of the Indian child, grandson of immigrants, whose past suddenly broke off, suddenly fell away into the chasm between the Antilles and India. (Naipaul 1988: 141) or the ambivalence of freedom adroitly registered by Rushdie: When individuals come unstuck from their native land, they are called migrants. When nations do the same thing (Bangladesh), the act is called secession. What is the best thing about migrant peoples and seceded nations? I think it is their hopefulness. […] And what’s the worst thing? It is the emptiness of one’s luggage. I’m speaking of invisible suitcases, not the physical, perhaps cardboard, variety containing few meaning-drained mementoes: we have come unstuck from more than land. We have floated upwards from history, from memory, from Time. (Rushdie 1981: 85-86) or the unerringly homeward-directed movements rendered in A.K. Ramanujan’s work: Sometimes I think that nothing that ever comes into this house goes out. Things come in every day to lose themselves among other things lost long ago among other things lost long ago … (Ramanujan 1971: 40) Furthermore, ‘anything that goes out will come back’, but in a different guise, whether it is ‘the hooped bales of cotton’ sent off to ‘invisible Manchesters’ (Ramanujan 1971: 41) or letters, or ideas, or family members. Twenty-odd years after the publication of the essay, Amitav Ghosh can himself be accounted one of the most significant among the writers of the Indian diaspora, one who, having acknowledged his antecedents, has gone on to track with skill and art that ‘interstitial space’ (Bhabha 1994: 3) in which are concentrated liberation’s ‘unhoused, decentred, and exilic energies, energies whose incarnation today is the migrant’ (Said 2007: 403). Beginning with The Circle of Reason, a key location in many of Ghosh’s works is the Indian Ocean and the semicircle of lands which impinge upon its liquid expanses, stretching from the shores and hinterlands of Eastern Africa and the Middle East to the South Asian peninsula to Southeast and East Asia. An ‘interregional

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arena’ (Bose 2010: 6), it is the scene of an intricate web of the movements of different peoples, the multifarious activities of commerce and trade, and the flows of cross-cultural exchange. The site of the vast enterprises of empire, war, capitalism, decolonisation, it is also where ordinary human beings with little or no power struggle to survive against the odds. Whether displaced villagers, or small traders, coolies, refugees, convicts, the ‘barely discernible traces’ they ‘leave upon the world’ (Ghosh 1992: 17) are the objects of Ghosh’s curiosity until, with knowledge garnered from research and the creativity of the imagination, they are bodied forth in the form of substantive and telling stories.

Sea of Poppies This chapter speaks of Sea of Poppies (Ghosh 2008a), the breathtakingly inventive, cleverly crafted and compelling first volume of the advertised ‘Ibis trilogy’, and its textual rendering of what Mary Louise Pratt has termed ‘contact zone’: ‘the spatial and temporal copresence of subjects previously separated by geographic and historical disjunctures, and whose trajectories now intersect’ (Pratt 1992: 7). It explores the formal strategies by means of which the energies of the migrant – the figure, to adapt Said’s phrase, ‘between domains, between forms, between homes, and between languages’ (Said 2007: 403) – are delineated in the narrative and produced as instrumental in making new lives broken by enforced poverty, dispossession, imprisonment and deportation. In engaging with the transformative power of these energies in the fiction, it pays particular attention to a number of interlinked structural motifs: the ship as chronotope; identity as ‘becoming’ as well as of ‘being’ (Hall 1993: 392); words in transit. Mikhail Bakhtin states in The Dialogic Imagination: ‘We will give the name chronotope [‘time space’] to the intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships that are artistically expressed in literature’ (Bakhtin 2004: 84).2 In Sea of Poppies, that ‘intrinsic connectedness’ is projected in the striking image of the Ibis as it arrives at Ganga-Sagar Island in mid-March 1838, en route to Calcutta to be refitted before being assigned new functions. Discontinued as a ‘blackbirder’ with the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, the two-masted schooner will now be used to transport girmitiyas or indentured coolies to Mauritius. For, to quote the self-made merchant-nabob, Benjamin Burnham, ‘when God closes one door he opens another’ (Ghosh 2008a: 74). After Mauritius, it will join the opium exporting fleet and, with Britain increasingly becoming the dominant imperial power in the Indian Ocean region,3 it will form part of the expedition London is putting together ‘to take on the Celestials’ (Ghosh 2008a: 75), that is, to prevent the Chi-

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nese authorities from blocking the opium trade at Canton and putting Britain’s drug-producing industry in India at risk. In short, as it waits ‘where the holy river debouches into the Bay of Bengal’ (Ghosh 2008a: 9), the Ibis is buoyed upon three temporal moments: the closing years of slavery; the beginnings of the coolie trade; and the forthcoming Opium War. Divided into the sections ‘Land’, ‘River’ and ‘Sea’, the novel recounts the movements of a number of its key characters who, for various reasons, have to leave their homes behind and get on board the Ibis as girmityas or convicts or one of the crew. In so doing, they become part of a larger history of enforced migration. For, despite Burnham’s cant, the past is not to be closed off so easily. Indeed, the original function of the schooner is everywhere palpable when, signed on as a ship’s boy, Jodu first encounters the dabusa, the ‘tween deck, with its compartments like cattle pens, the iron chains, the ineradicable ‘human odour, compounded of sweat, urine, excrement and vomit’, the ‘smooth depressions in the wood … so close to each other to suggest a press of people, packed close together, like merchandise on a vendor’s counter’ (Ghosh 2008a: 131-132). Even after the ship has been refurbished, conditions within the dabusa can scarcely be said to have improved. As the coolies are herded down, so, to borrow Bakhtin’s words again, ‘Time, as it were, thickens, takes on flesh … likewise, space becomes charged’ (Bakhtin 2004: 84); and in the terrifying combination of the dark, the stifling heat, the cramped quarters and the stench of hundreds of bodies in close proximity, there is conjured up a ghostly reminder of the unspeakable plight of the enslaved on the ‘blackbirder’. But space, along with time, Doreen Massey avers, is ‘always in the process of being made. It is never finished; never closed’ (Massey 2005: 9). As the Ibis makes its way out of Calcutta and downstream towards Ganga-Sagar – the island which, ‘joining, as it did, river and sea, clear and dark, known and hidden’ (Ghosh 2008a: 364), is the last place that connects the migrants to their homeland – the coolies are stirred, in fear of the Black Water ahead, to remember the homes and people and ways of life they once knew. And with the stories they tell to comfort themselves and the songs they sing, the dabusa is remade as the imaginary site of their many histories and becomes, to an extent, domesticated. When Deeti was living in a village in northern Bihar, she would finger-paint sketches of people she knew on the walls of her puja room. Included among them was the vision she had of the twomasted ship when she stood bathing in the Ganga, and which in due course turns out to be the vessel, the ‘great wooden mai-bap’ of ‘her new self, her new life’ (Ghosh 2008a: 328). It seems only natural that, having taken up her bit of room under a massive beam in the dabusa and noticing in the timber ‘little scratches that had been carved into its

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surface by the nails of others who had lain where she lay’ (Ghosh 2008a: 363), she should be prompted to add to the marks, indecipherable as they are, ‘a tiny face with two pigtails’ and ‘a winged vessel flying over the water’, two images that adumbrate her sorrow and her apprehension of all that lies before her. As in the course of the journey, the images begin to multiply so the histories of coolie and slave become linked in Deeti’s ‘seaborne shrine’ (Ghosh 2008a: 363). All persons on the Ibis have stories to tell, and all have secrets to hide. While Deeti may attempt a sketch of Kabutri, she cannot speak openly of the daughter she has left behind, nor can she, amid the girmityas’ nostalgic recall of ‘the colour of poppies, spilling across the fields like a´bı´r on a rain-drenched Holi’ (Ghosh 2008a: 365), recount the grim realities of a life, as she knew it, tied to the enforced cultivation of poppies – a contributive cause of want and famine among the peasantry – and to the large-scale production of opium for export. Commenting on how to proceed to write about the Indian Ocean region, Michael N. Pearson notes that one way is to be ‘amphibious, to move easily between land and sea’, and in that manner to ‘mirror coastal and inland influences, which keep coming back at each other just as do waves’ (Pearson 2007: 28-29). This is a dynamic that can be said to underlie the narrative movement in Sea of Poppies. Take for example the description of how opium is produced. Ghosh locates one of its sources ‘far inland’ in Bihar – the region which was the largest supplier of the drug in the early nineteenth century – skilfully interweaving concrete details of the labour involved with spectral scenes of helpless addicts at work. The episode serves several purposes. It is part of the plot which sees Deeti rescued from being burnt as sati by Kalua, making her escape across several hundred miles to the coast with the Chamar, and signing up with him as coolies on account of their hopeless situation. It is integral to the theme of the widespread corruption within the empire, the taint afflicting British and Indians alike. And it looks ahead to the early days of 1839 when the Ibis will have made the sea journey to Canton with a cargo of opium that, confiscated by the Chinese authorities, will have come from the poppies grown in the little villages near Ghazipur, such as the one Deeti knew as home, and manufactured in the Sudder Opium Factory where once Hukam Singh, her husband, had been employed.

Neel: The Emotional Centre of the Narrative Cut off from their roots, in transit, and sporting new names that they have adopted or that have been arbitrarily imposed upon them, some of the migrants are quick to take advantage of the opportunities for

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self-fashioning which come their way. Paulette Lambert is one example. Born of French parents, brought up by her adoptive Bengali mother, left as an orphan in the care of Burnham and his family, the different attires she resorts to and the several names she calls herself – Putleshwari, Pugli (‘mad’), Putli (‘doll’) – are in her view simply ‘layers of masking’ (Ghosh 2008a: 331) that bear witness to a human being’s natural desire ‘to manifest [herself ] in many different aspects’ (Ghosh 2008a: 455). For Zachary, the second mate, however, the truth is bleaker by far. The son of a freed slave and her white master, he passes readily for white with ‘skin the colour of old ivory’ and eyes the dark pupils of which are ‘flecked with sparks of hazel’ (Ghosh 2008a: 10). More importantly, Zachary has not only the skills but the discipline in him to make good in the career he has chosen, as ‘in the course of a single voyage, by virtue of desertions and dead-tickets, he vaulted from the merest novice sailor to senior seaman, from carpenter to second-incommand with a cabin of his own’ (Ghosh 2008a: 14).4 And yet, despite his ability and professionalism, he is marked down as ‘black’ in the ship’s register and will always be bound, it seems, to a degrading history and the stigma of colour. The impersonations dexterously assumed by Paulette and Zachary are an intrinsic part of Ghosh’s explorations into identity as ‘becoming’. I want to contend, however, that the emotional centre of the narrative lies in its delineation of the crisis and changes that overtake Raja Neel Rattan Halder, the zemindar of Raskhali. When Paulette first catches sight of the two prisoners in the chokey next to the dabusa, she is mystified by the pair, in particular by their care for one another when existence for all on board the ship is ‘ruled by the noose and the whip’ (Ghosh 2008a: 372): One had a shaven head, a skeletal face, and looked as if he might be Nepali; the other had a sinister tattoo on his forehead and appeared to have been dragged in from the Calcutta waterfront. Stranger still, the darker one was weeping while the other had an arm around his shoulder, as if in consolation: despite their chains and bindings, there was a tenderness in their attitudes that seemed scarcely conceivable in a couple of criminal transportees. (Ghosh 2008a: 334; my emphasis) The scene repeats and underpins an earlier occasion in Alipore jail. What is important here is that, even though the details glimpsed through a tiny air duct in the wall are hedged about with uncertainty (‘looked as if’, ‘appeared’, ‘as if’, ‘seemed’), Paulette does not doubt the ‘tenderness’ (Latin ‘tener’: ‘delicate’) that exists between Neel and Ah Fatt. Distinguishing in The Book of Skin between different kinds of

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touch, different ‘modes of manipulation … the grasp, the wrench, the twist, the buffet’, Steven Connor stresses that ‘[d]elicacy, by contrast, prescribes a touch that is not quite one, a touch that refrains from the vulgarity of grasping or handling’ (Connor 2004: 254). The route Neel has to travel to knowing that ‘delicacy’, that ‘tenderness’, is crushingly painful and ultimately regenerative. Taken to court by Burnham on a trumped-up charge of forgery, Neel is found guilty and sentenced. His property is seized and sold, and he is to be transported and imprisoned for seven years at the penal settlement in Mauritius. The intervening time spent in Alipore jail before being taken on board the Ibis has a tragic poignancy all its own. Here, through a remorseless process of divestment, everything which has gone before to shore up the person Neel has understood himself to be since birth is piece by piece stripped away. Firstly, the trappings of privilege and status, and the rituals and taboos of caste, are made irrelevant. Then, after being pushed, prodded, fingered, probed, struck in the face, he is subjugated to ‘the violent touch of the law, which demands to be written directly on the body’ (Connor 2004: 87), and ‘forgerer’ is tattooed on his forehead. Finally, rendered little more than ‘a poor, bare, fork’d animal’, such as Poor Tom in King Lear, and with only a piece of ‘unwashed dungaree cloth’ for a langot or loincloth (Ghosh 2008a: 267), he is alotted a cell with ‘an afeemkhor (opium addict) who has no opium’ (Ghosh 2008a: 290), and is in the throes of chronic incontinence on account of being deprived of the drug. Up to this point, Neel has been subject to the cruel manipulations of those in power. Now he is forced, through sheer necessity and against all his high caste upbringing and deepest feelings, to will and bend himself to the task of touching and cleaning the filth-encrusted person of Ah Fatt and the space they share. The initial act of laying his hands on the jharu (broom) and the scoop is nothing less than a moral and psychological abyss to be crossed: Closing his eyes, he thrust his hand blindly forward, and only when the handle was in his grasp did he allow himself to look again: it seemed miraculous then that his surroundings were unchanged, for within himself he could feel the intimations of an irreversible alteration. In a way, he was none other than the man he had ever been, Neel Rattan Halder, but he was different too, for his hands were affixed upon an object that was ringed with a bright penumbra of loathing; yet now that it was in his grip it seemed no more nor less than what it was, a tool to be used according to his wishes. Lowering himself to his heels, he squatted as he had often seen sweepers do, and began to scoop up his cell-mate’s shit. (Ghosh 2008a: 298)

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In the days which follow his being bathed and clothed and shaved, no response is to be had from Ah Fatt. Then, on the eve of their departure for Mauritius, Neel wakes from his tormented dreams to find there was an arm around his shoulder, holding him steady: in this embrace there was more intimacy than he had ever known before … and when a voice sounded in his ear, it was as if it were coming from within himself: ‘My name Lei Leong Fatt’, it said. ‘People call Ah Fatt. Ah Fatt your friend’. Those faltering, childlike words offered more comfort than was in all the poetry Neel had ever read, and more novelty too, because he had never before heard them said – and if he had, they would only have been wasted before, because he would not have been able to value them for their worth. (Ghosh 2008: 316) Ah Fatt’s encircling arm performs several actions at once – holding, steadying, embracing, comforting. ‘The touch’, Connor states, ‘is unlike the other senses in this, that it acts upon the world as well as registering the action of the world on you. When you touch something, your touch may result in the sensation of its touch on you’ (Connor 2004: 263). In other words, for Neel to have ‘touched’ Ah Fatt, that is, to have ministered to the addict and moved him with kindness, is to find himself made capable, in turn, of recognising in the fullest sense the other’s tact and tenderness.5 Not surprisingly, coming upon Neel on board the Ibis and recalling the effete aristocrat whose downfall he has helped to bring about, Baboo Nob Kissim, Burnham’s accountant, can hardly ‘imagine this to be the same man, so striking was the change, not just in his appearance but also in his demeanour, which was just as alert and watchful now as it had been bored and languid then’ (Ghosh 2008a: 356).

‘Contact Language’ and the Ibis Chrestomathy Neel, as the other migrants are aware, is ‘possessed of so much telling and so many tongues’. At the same time, he is an intelligent listener; and along with tenderness of touch, the bond between him and Ah Fatt is forged through ‘a shared imagining’ that comes from attending to the latter’s descriptions of Canton, in which ‘the genius lay in their elisions’: It was not because of Ah Fatt’s fluency that Neel’s vision of Canton became so vivid as to make it real: in fact, the opposite was true […] so that to listen to him was a venture of collaboration

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[…] So did Neel come to accept that Canton was to his own city as Calcutta was to the villages around it – a place of fearful splendour and unbearable squalor, as generous with its pleasures as it was unforgiving in the imposition of hardship. In listening and prompting, Neel began to feel that he could almost see with Ah Fatt’s eyes. (Ghosh 2008a: 345) Ah Fatt’s idiosyncratic expressions are only one instance of the lively spectrum of English to be heard on the Ibis and that includes Jodu’s mimicry of ‘the familiar shouts of sea officers’ (Ghosh 2008a: 58); the malapropisms and contorted idioms of Baboo Nob Kissim; Paulette’s neologisms, that are sprung from ‘the confusion of tongues that was to characterize her upbringing’ (Ghosh 2008a: 61); and, stranger than the rest, the ‘zubben’ or ‘flash lingo of the East’ (Ghosh 2008a: 45) flaunted by Mr. Doughty. All are part of the dazzling clash and commingling of different tongues that crisscross Ghosh’s narrative. Explaining her coinage of the term ‘contact zone’, Mary Louise Pratt states: I borrow the term ‘contact’ here from its use in linguistics, where the term contact language refers to improvised languages that develop among speakers of different native languages who need to communicate with each other consistently, usually in context of trade. Such languages begin as pidgins, and are called creoles when they come to have native speakers of their own. (Pratt 1992: 6) A question which intrigues Ghosh in his imaginative encounter with so many diverse peoples and cultures is the contact language they use to speak and do business with each other. What language did Ben Yiju adopt in his day-to-day dealings with people so different from each other as his business associates and, while residing those many years in Mangalore, with his wife and with Bama, his slave? How did the Muslim soldiers and the Jewish peoples of several areas of the Mediterranean make themselves understood by one another? How did lascars, that distinctive species of sailor among whom were ‘Chinese and East Africans, Arabs and Malays, Bengalis and Goans, Tamils and Arakanese’, and who ‘came from places that were far apart, and had nothing in common, except the Indian Ocean’ (Ghosh 2008a: 12-13), communicate on board ship with their officers (who were usually European) and among themselves? With his knowledge of several Indian languages, and the help of lexicons such as A Laskari Dictionary or Anglo-Indian Vocabulary of Nautical Terms and Phrases in English and Hindustani (Ghosh 2008b: 504)6 and Hobson-Jobson: A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-

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Indian Words and Phrases, and of Kindred Terms, Etymological, Historical, Geographical and Discursive (Ghosh 2008b: 503), one of Ghosh’s impressive achievements in Sea of Poppies is his conjuring up of the ‘motley tongue’ that is a vital aspect of the cultural scene both at the lower reaches of the Ganges and on board the schooner. A part of the multilayered history of the subcontinent as well as the collision of diverse peoples on one of the great rivers of the world, it creates a vivid sense of living voices as well as the linguistic resourcefulness of peoples in diaspora. In the American edition of Sea of Poppies (Ghosh 2008b), the reader is provided with further evidence of the migrants’ inventive ways with words in an appendix to the work – ‘THE Ibis CHRESTOMATHY’.7 This document which professes to be the fruit of Neel’s research while residing as a linkister in southern China and continued into his old age, is an archive of words garnered from his past and from memory, and recorded along with their etymologies. As it turns out, what is to be the Ibis Chrestomathy superseded the publication of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) in 1928. With his death, Neel’s task passes into the hands of his granddaughter and later descendants. An extraordinary story unfolds in the Chrestomathy, devoted as it is to ‘a select number among the many migrants who have sailed from eastern waters towards the chilly shores of the English language’ (Ghosh 2008b: 501). The ‘migrants’ referred to here are words, the majority of which, in the course of their travels, have found their way into the English language and into the OED. Once admitted into the dominant language, however, they lose ‘the names of their sponsors’, whether ‘Bengali, Arabic, Chinese, Hind, Laskari or anything else’ and each ‘in its English incarnation … is to be considered a new coinage, with a new persona and a renewed destiny’ (Ghosh 2008b: 502). Hence, one of Neel’s guiding purposes behind his lexicon is to ensure that ‘so long as the knowledge of his words was kept alive within the family, it would tie them to their past and thus to each other’ (Ghosh 2008b: 502) – just as Deeti’s images in her sea shrine do, and the names of botanical plants in the book Paulette’s father left unfinished, and the stories exchanged between Neel and Ah Fatt in their suffering. And in the broader context of postcolonial studies, it is knowledge that will keep alive the hybrid identity of English and its historical links with the languages of, in this case, India and other regions of the Indian Ocean. The novel closes with the Ibis in mid-ocean in the middle of a storm. The first mate as well as the subedar (native officer) are dead; Serang Ali, leader of the lascars, has abandoned ship, along with the convicts and the condemned; of the key figures in the original company only Deeti, Paulette, Nob Kissin and Zachary are left, watching from the deck the disappearance of the long boat and those close to them. To

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turn from that fleeting moment of stillness amid the tempest to the second volume of the trilogy, Rivers of Smoke, which was published in 2011, is to learn that those who escaped from the Ibis – Serang Ali, Jodu, Neel, Ah Fatt and Kalua – have not, as reported, perished at sea; and that some of the migrants bound for Mauritius have done well for themselves, among them Deeti, matriarch in her old age of a large extended family. It is to find that, the narrative focus being now on China and the build-up to the Opium Wars of 1839-1842 and 1856-1862, a central strand of the sequel concerns Neel and his experiences while working in Canton as the munshi (secretary) of Seth Bahramji Nauroji Modi, as well as the Seth himself – Parsee businessman, opium exporter from Bombay, owner of the Anahita, and father of Ah Fatt – who is uncomfortably enmeshed in the ethical problems of both his business life and personal life. It is to be drawn by the shifting shapes of Ghosh’s weighty narrative – at once epic, family saga, sensational novel, history, travel writing, epistolary novel, treatise on art and on botany – into the deep and intricate currents of the opium trade linking Britain, India and China in the nineteenth century. And lastly, it is to be enabled to see the history of the opium trade from a new angle here, and the wars to which it will lead, through Indian as well as Chinese and Western eyes – to understand, for example, with Neel’s unsurpassable clarity, the cost of that involvement in Fanqui-town for all Indians, diverse and different as they are, and which is nothing less than ‘a sense of shared shame’: It was because you knew that almost all the ‘black mud’ that came to Canton was shipped from your own shores; and you knew also that even though your share of the riches that grew upon that mud was minuscule, that did not prevent the stench of it from clinging more closely to you than to any other kind of Alien. (Ghosh 2011: 182)

Notes 1 2

3

By the year 1989, Ghosh’s publications included The Circle of Reason (1986) and The Shadow Lines (1988). In An Antique Land was published in 1992. Compare Paul Gilroy on the ‘cultural intermixture’ that is the experience of contem porary black Britons: ‘I have settled on the image of ships in motion across the spaces between Europe, America, Africa, and the Caribbean as a central organizing symbol for this enterprise’. Gilroy, Paul (1993) The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Dou ble Consciousness. London: Verso, p. 4. The British were in possession of Penang (1786), Ceylon (1815), Singapore (1819) and, after the first Anglo Burmese War (1824 1826), the regions once part of Burma Arakan, Manipur and Assam.

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I would suggest that, given his dedication to a seaman’s code of discipline as well as bearing within himself what may be described as a deadly secret, the character recalls Ransome in Conrad’s The Shadow Line (1917). Two other instances in the novel of the transformative power of touch are: first, Dee ti’s secret tendance of Kalua one evening by the river after the Chamar has been phy sically abused and left unconscious (Ghosh 2008a: 53 54); and second, her heartfelt response to Paulette’s exhortation when they first meet that, on the boat, ‘no one can lose caste … they can only be ship siblings jahazbhais and jahazbahens to each other. There’ll be no differences between us’ (Ghosh 2008a: 328). See also Amitav Ghosh, ‘Of Fanas and Forecastles: The Indian Ocean and Some Lost Languages of the Age of Sail’, Economic & Political Weekly, 43:25 (June 21 27, 2008), 56 62. See also Amitav Ghosh, ‘The Ibis Chrestomathy’ (2008), 1 43. [http://www.amitavghosh.com/chrestomathy.html] (Accessed 19 March 2012).

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Revisiting Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide The Islam/English Dynamic Nandini Bhattacharya

I revisit Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide, not because his latest book River of Smoke (the second in the Ibis trilogy) is out on the market and therefore Ghosh is newsworthy all over again, nor because he is a preeminent Indian writing consistently in English (and these would have been good enough reasons for me to reread one of his earlier novels), but because it allows me a suitably interventionist space to engage with the overarching theme of this volume. I begin with a fairly banal point that my choice of text is commensurate, as The Hungry Tide is written in English, as Ghosh belongs firmly to the tradition of contemporary Indian English writing (embodying its every singularity); and as the novel narrativises the travails of Muslim Dalits of the then-East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) trying to rehabilitate themselves in the Marichjhapi (also known as Morichjhapi) islands of the Sunderbans of West Bengal, India in the final phase of post-Partition migrations. The Hungry Tide is the story of a professional translator, Kanai, operating within the metropolitan centre of Delhi, on an unwilling and emotionally coerced visit to the margins of the nation (as well as the very state of West Bengal) – that is, the Sundarbans. Kanai is invited by his aunt Nilima Bose (who runs a nongovernmental organisation in the Lusibari island of the Sundarbans) to read, interpret and hopefully re-cast her deceased husband Nirmal Bose’s diaries. While Nilima suspects that the diaries contain some poetry or fiction that, if published (and publicised), could render Nirmal posthumously well-known, the diaries/notes turn out to be records of diverse tide-country histories, some human, others not quite, some recent, others not quite. The Hungry Tide is peculiarly self-referential in that it engages with language and its outsideness, with translation and its impossibilities, with the making of the text and its unmaking. The entire question of centre/margins needs to be rearticulated for the uninitiated. Any Bengali worth his/her salt would know that the Sundarbans – a marshy, tiger/crocodile-infested mangrove terrain – is Kolkata’s (Calcutta’s) backwaters and in common parlance known as ‘Kolkatar jhi’ (Kolkata’s housemaid), literally because it is a poverty-

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stricken hinterland that provides Kolkata babus (gentry) with their supply of housemaids; and metaphorically because it is an area that has been traditionally neglected by successive governments of West Bengal. Kanai is aware of such realities, even as a mere child when he had been rusticated to the Sunderbans as punishment for defiant behaviour in school. He knows instinctively that his neighbours in the city would look upon Kusum (his childhood mate in the Sundarbans) as the new jhi or housemaid if she chanced to accompany Kanai to Kolkata (Ghosh 2004: 101). 1 The diaries of Nirmal ‘saar’ (the rustic pronunciation of ‘sir’) foreground two untold histories of the Sundarbans area – one supposedly ancient and located as it were outside the realm of human history; and the other positioned in the recent past, that is in 1978-79, in post-independence India: – One is the Bonbibi lore, celebrating the prowess/glory of a local Islamic deity of the Sundarbans (and this phrase is loaded with contradictions which I hope to address at a later stage) who protects her devotees from the terrors of the demon Dokkhin Rai (as the maneating tiger of the mangrove forests is called by the locals); this exists simultaneously within the oral tradition and is also inscribed in a seemingly ancient text, Bonbibir Karamoti orthat Bonbibi Johuranama (The Miracles of Bonbibi or Narrative Celebrating Bonbibi’s Glory). – The other is the untold history of East Bengali refugees trying to relocate themselves on the island of Marichjhapi in West Bengal, in independent India, in the last phase of post-Partition migrations. It is about their brutal eviction by government forces in 1979 on the grounds that the islands were environmentally fragile and ecologically suitable for tiger habitation. The centrality that The Hungry Tide accords to both these narratives – appearing otherwise distinct, but ultimately informing each other – is very significant. Piya, a Bengali-American marine biologist who is also in the tide country to discover the untold history of riverine dolphins, describes the Bonbibi shrine in the Sundarbans, witnessed in the first decade of the twenty-first century, as thus: On approaching closer she saw it was not a shack at all, but a leaf-thatched altar or shrine: it reminded her distinctly of her mother’s puja table, except that the images inside didn’t represent any of the Hindu gods she was familiar with. There was a large-eyed female figure in a sari and beside it a slightly smaller figure of a man. Crouching between them was a tiger, recognizable because of its painted stripes. […] Fokir began to recite some kind of a chant, with his head bowed and hands joined in

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an attitude of prayer. […] Piya recognized a refrain that occurred over and over again – it contained a word that sounded like ‘Allah’. She had not thought to speculate about Fokir’s religion but it occurred to her now that he might be Muslim. But no sooner had she thought this, than it struck her that a Muslim was hardly likely to pray to an image like this one. What Fokir was performing looked very much like her mother’s Hindu pujas and yet the words suggested otherwise. (Ghosh 2004: 152) While Piyali’s perceptions can be dated to 2003 (The Hungry Tide was published in 2004), the same Bonbibi lore is played out in a local jatra (or folk theatre) format and witnessed by Kanai when he visits the Sundarbans as a child, that is to say, sometime in the early 1970s. Kanai records the powerful emotions aroused by the folk play The Glory of Bonbibi depicting the miraculous powers of the goddess of the forests. Bonbibi, along with her divine brother Shah Jangoli, rescues the destitute child Dukhey from the clutches of the predatory tiger demon Dokkhin Rai and his human agent-procurer, the rapacious sea captain Dhona. A timeless tale finds resonance in the heart of time-bound tidecountry inhabitants, destitute, defenseless and exposed as they are to tiger attacks in all ages, and expendable as they appear to be to every government and their callous agents. Nirmal Bose’s diaries, recording the actual worship of Bonbibi and the text of the punthi or pamphlet Bonbibi Johuranama, unpack some more contradictions associated with this cult. As an upper caste Hindu Bengali intellectual, Nirmal is struck by the curious linguistic hybridity of the Bonbibi text, replete as it is with Perso-Arabic loanwords and appearing almost like Bangla bhasha (the Bengali language) but reading like a different language altogether. Bismillah boliya mukhe dhorinu kalam/poida korilo jinni tamam alam/bado meherban tini bandar upore/tar chain keba ache duniyar upore (Ghosh 2004: 246) (In Allah’s name, I begin to pronounce the Word/Of the whole universe he is the begetter the Lord/To all his disciples, he is full of mercy/above the created world, who is there but he?) Nirmal is equally struck by the culturally syncretic nature of the narrative that is obviously a eulogy to an Islamic deity and reads like an Arabic text, that is, from right to left (instead of the standard Bangla left to right) – but embraces conventions of the Bengali-Hindu mangal-kavyas and panchalis (Hindu religious and ritual texts in Bengali) – framed as it is by a bhanita (invocation to a divine power); employing the dwipadi poyar chanda (decasyllabic rhymed couplets broken

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by a caesura); and complying as it does with the plot requirements of such eulogising and propitiatory poetic narratives.2

A Language of Their Own: [Con] Textualising the Islam/English Dynamic in Times of Colonial Modernity It is this seemingly strange text that enables one to explore the IslamEnglish dynamic in the lower Gangetic belt of Bengal in times of colonial modernity. While the material text (as well as its non-material rendering) appears strangely distinctive to the tide country, as far as the upper caste, upper-class Marxist Nirmal Bose is concerned, the pamphlet Bonbibi Johuranama by Abdur Rahim belongs to that particular subgenre in Bangla literature that has been variously described as dobhashi sahitya (two-language literature), Musalmani Bangla sahitya (Islamic-Bengali literature) or punthi sahitya (pamphlet, or chapbook literature). The Bonbibi text (in its orally recited, performative and printed forms) and, by association, dobhashi literature, is worth exploring as the site where contesting identitarian claims of community, class and caste at the turn of the century are played out. In his books The Bengali Muslims, 1871-1906 (1981) and Understanding Bengal Muslims: Interpretative Essays (2000), Rafiuddin Ahmed states that he believes that a specifically Bengali-Muslim consciousness was produced by the colonial encounter in the late nineteenth century. He also describes how, despite the historical presence of Islam as the faith in Bengal for centuries, the ashraf (upper-class) Muslims were so culturally oriented towards Northern India and beyond, and so different in habits and manners from the rural, lower-class Bengali-speaking atrap Muslims, that the former did not even recognise the latter as belonging to the Islamic faith, let alone consider that they shared a cultural identity. Colonial rule and specific governmental practices such as codification/classification of ethnic groups through census records went a long way in shaping a distinct Bengali-Muslim consciousness. Colonial rule also informed cultural revivalist and reformist movements (such as the Wahabi and Fairazi rebellion/uprisings) in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and lent a sharper edge to the Bengali Muslim’s sense of marginalisation in a world where the uccha shreni/uccha barga (upper class/upper caste) Hindus (in collusion with the European Christian rulers) appeared to reap the fruits of colonial modernity.3 Stepping out of the narrow limits defined by Arabic, which had always been the favoured medium for Islamic religious texts, the leaders of Muslim society from the mid-nineteenth century onwards took to popularising the canon of Islamic literature by throwing it open to the Bengali people in their own language.

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W.W. Hunter who, more than any other, was responsible for the codification/classification and thereby the production of the modern Bengali identity with all its ethnic variations in his monumental The Annals of Rural Bengal (1870), and who, in his capacity as the owner of the Hindustani Press after J.B. Gilchrist, could authoritatively comment on language/dialect variations in Bengali, Hindi and Urdu, recognises the influence of Islam, especially among the nimna barga (lower caste Hindu converts) and nimna shreni (lower class) Muslims of the lower Gangetic belt of Bengal, and their need to inhabit a culture-specific language/literature. In The Indian Mussalmans: Are They Bound in Conscience to Rebel against the Queen? (1871), Hunter observes: To this day the peasantry of the delta is Muhammedan. So firmly did Islam take hold of lower Bengal, that it developed a religious literature and popular dialect of its own. The patois known as Musalman Bengali is as distinct from the Urdu of Upper India, as the Urdu of North India is different from the Persian of Herat. (Hunter: 155) The Indian Musalmans is worth independent study for an early examination of deep-seated prejudices that European-Christian governments harboured against their Muslim subjects, in the post-Mutiny era, and for the sensitivity with which it approaches the vexed question of subjectivity and loyalty where Islamic religious injunctions and English governmental laws were at variance. While Hunter points towards the emergence of a distinct Islamic consciousness and its expression in language that is deliberately Islamised in the latter half of the nineteenth century, it is to Reverend James Long, that inveterate historian of print modernity in colonial Bengal, that one must turn to in order to understand the ways in which technological shifts in printing and publishing/dissemination of knowledge produced a lower-caste/class-specific Bengali-Muslim consciousness. Significantly, at the turn of the century, it was a consciousness articulated in specific opposition to Western cultural domination on the one hand, and upperclass/caste Hindu sanskritisation of Bangla on the other. Long observes that ‘the Musalmans have always been noted for the tenacity with which they have clung to their own ideas and language, and for the obstinacy with which they have resisted foreign influence’. In this case, the term ‘foreign’ obviously refers to English, (and by association, European) cultural influences. A sense of cultural marginalisation born of the realisation that ‘Persian, their great prop, has been shorn of its honours in India [after the advent of British rule]’ has produced a sense of hurt pride and rendered ‘Musalmans […] averse to learn the vernaculars’ (Long 1855b: 94-95). What Long does not record

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explicitly is that lower-class Muslims – the peasants, the boatmen, the servants, the petty traders, the soldiers of erstwhile Mughal cantonments along the banks of the river Hooghly – increasingly came to perceive the standard ‘vernacular’ Bangla as at once Sankritised at the behest of pandits (scholars) such as Iswarchandra Vidyasagar and Mrityunjay Tarkalankar, and ‘anglicised’ at the bidding of Fort William scholars such as Marshman, Carey and Gilchrist. What is worse, they tended to conflate the ‘sanskritic’ and ‘anglicist’ positions. Even as late as 1983, the scholarly tendency to conflate the culturally anglicised and the upper-class Hindu world, and see the emergence of dobhasi Bangla sahitya (Bengali literature in two languages/dialects) as a conscious protest against both is evident in the work of writers such as Syed Ali Ashraf. I quote Ashraf to make known the structure of emotions and cultural politics associated with the production of texts such as Bonbibi Johuranama: The use of Arabic and Persian words, phrases and images acquired a new significance and colour during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These were the days of Muslim downfall. Muslim kingdoms gradually passed away from their hands into the hands of foreigners. […] Muslims were becoming poorer by the day and their zemindaries were passing into the hands of their Hindu managers. English was gradually being introduced at the cost of Persian and Arabic and Hindu pundits were beginning to take revenge on Muslims by trying to eliminate all Arabic and Persian words from the Bengali language. Englishmen encouraged such ruthless practice in order to ensure the total eradication of any trace of Muslim domination over this land. (Ashraf: 37-39)4

A Book of Their Own: Print Modernity and the Islam/English Encounter The emerging technologies of printing, publishing, distribution and reading of books provide a crucial vector for exploration of the Islam/ English relation in the late nineteenth century. The very Islamic cultural revivalist impetus, be it in the production of dobhashi language (two language) texts or an alternative aesthetics, was paradoxically produced by print modernity, by the very English contraption of the printing press and the specifically Enlightenment/modern importance given to the production of the book. B.S. Kesavan testifies that the printing presses represented Englishness as well as modernity, and that villagers of Madanbati in Bengal

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were convinced that the wooden contraption that arrived by a boat and was greeted enthusiastically by the likes of William Carey was bound to be a deity that the Englishmen venerated (Kesavan: 190). A more contemporary book historian such as Ulrike Stark notes in the chapter entitled ‘The Coming of the Book in Hindi and Urdu’ in her Empire of Books that such a perception was true of India as a whole, as ‘up until the 1820s, press proprietorship remained largely confined to Europeans’. ‘Of course,’ she continues, ‘there were famous exceptions – such as the enterprising South Indian Raja of Tanjore, Serfozi II – who possessed both the means as well as intellectual curiosity to set up his own typographical press. […] Around 1810, the Nizam of Hyderabad acquired a press as a “curiosity of Western technology”, but apparently never used it. […] The first North Indian ruler to take an active interest in the new technology was Gaziuddin Haider of Avadh, who had a typographic press installed in Lucknow in 1817’ (Stark: 42). Bonbibi Johuranama, authored by Abdur Rahim and printed and published by the Osmania Library Press located at 30/3 Mechuabazar Street in central Calcutta, is typical of a battala punthi. These punthis or cheap pamphlets5 were called by the generic name of ‘battalar boi’ (books from Battala presses) because the first printing presses and publishers of popular, accessible chapbooks were located around the northern fringes of colonial Calcutta, in an area radiating out from under a spreading banyan or bat tree. Tapti Roy locates the area as follows: What is particularly striking about the list of 1853-54 is that out of the forty-nine presses, as many as twenty were located in the area later to be known as Battala and made synonymous with so-called low literature. Battala was a fairly large contiguous stretch, including the names of Garanhata, Shobhabazar, Ahiritola, Chitpur, Kumortola, Shakharitola, and Banstala. (Roy: 43)6 Such punthis were also published in the districts of Hooghly, Bardhaman, and Murshidabad (in what is now West Bengal, India) and Chakbazar of Dhaka (now the capital of Bangladesh). Battala books were indicative of the role such popular subaltern presses played in the forging of community-specific identities. Observing that ‘as Urdu has been formed by a mixture of Persian and Hindi, so the Musalmans have formed in Bengal a kind of lingua franca, a mixture of Bengali and Urdu called the boatman’s language’, Long appends ‘a list of the principal books in this dialect, printed at the Musalman presses in Calcutta, which have wide circulation and particularity among boatmen and the Musalman population of Dacca [Dhaka]. They are chiefly translations from Persian and Urdu’ (Long 1855b: 94-95).

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Of these ‘Musalman presses’ the most preeminent were: Osmania Library Press, Gousyia Press and Siddiquia Library Press in central Calcutta, and Hamidia Press of Chakbazar, Dhaka. A catalogue of battala books, prepared by Jatindramohan Bhattacharya, reveals that the publishing of such community-specific books experienced a boom between the years 1817 to 1852, increasing by 92 per cent. While a retelling of Persian dastans and quissas (stories and legends) such as Amir Hamza, Hatem-Tai, Yusuf-Jelekha, Laila-Majnu, Gul-e-bakavali, Chahar Darvesh and Bag-O-Bahar forms the principal quotient of such literature, a narrativisation of religious lore such as Iblichnama, Jangnama Moktal Hochen and Jaiguner Punthi constitutes an equally important component of such literature. Compelling again is the number of battala punthis, such as Nek Bibir Keccha, which engage with social problems such as the supposedly fluid and morphing male-female relationships in times of colonial modernity. A retelling of the lore celebrating the miraculous powers of local deities such as pirs (Muslim saints), gajis (Islamic warrior saints) and bibis (female Islamic saints/ deities), as in publications such as Manik Pirer Johuranama, Manik Pirer Keccha, Satyapirer Punthi, Sonabhaner Punthi, Dhona Moular Pala, Gaji Pirer Punthi and Bonbibi Johuranama, also constitutes a significant portion of ‘Musalmani battala sahitya’ (Muslim texts from battala presses). Print modernity produces the ‘ancientness’ of the Bonbibi, Manik Pir and Satya Pir lores and gives such timeless narratives a new timeinflected visibility. Bonbibi Johuranama, like most battala literature, is equally distinctive in that it exists as a material text as well as something that is sung, recited and remembered, and therefore in the ‘heads’ of non-literate devotees in the tide country such as Fokir. The cheap modes of printing/publishing in colonial Bengal and beyond; the making available of battala books to neo- and quasi-literate readers through itinerant chapmen, who often sang or read out compelling portions of the chapbook; and the reproduction of the oral structures of quissas/dastans, all at an incredibly low price, were some of the ways in which print modernity negotiated with older frames of knowledge dissemination, and created what Orsini describes as the ‘oral-literate dynamic’ (Orsini: 106).7 Indeed, these subaltern pamphlets were often the means for negotiating the dialectic of tradition and modernity. Researching Islamic medicine and its representation in battala pamphlets, Projit Mukharji notes that, while a distinctive Islamic (and culturally revivalist) framework is provided by chapbooks such as Jairuddin’s Manik Pirer Johuranama that celebrates the miraculous healing powers of a Muslim saint (pir) named Manik (who is divine and therefore situated outside temporal frameworks), there are simultaneous references to very contempo-

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rary healing panaceas for ailing cattle, such as ‘phenyl’ (that should be rubbed onto cattle hooves) and water washed off from old ‘torch’ batteries, to treat eczema in cattle. ‘The use of ingredients such as battery acid and phenyl clearly attests the fact that these medicines were not simply the remnants of an older body of folk knowledge. Instead, the Manik Pir cult merely provided a framework within which new knowledge could also be structured and organized.’ (Mukharji: 15) In The Hungry Tide, Nirmal is struck by the simultaneous materiality and immateriality of the Bonbibi text as Horen Noshkor, a principal devotee, claims that it is ancient, the very word of God, and therefore by implication apaurusheya, that is, beyond the authorial capacity of a human being. Textual evidence, however, tells Nirmal that it has a human author, Abdur Rahim, and that the pamphlet was inscribed as late as the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, referring as it does on the very first page to those ‘who travel with atlas in hand/while others use carriages to wander the land’ (Ghosh 2004: 247).

An Aesthetic of Their Own: Fantasy As Resistance Significantly, by the beginning of the twentieth century, accusations of a lack of aesthetic standards, obscene and erotic content, and the inability to espouse a realistic approach in literature came to be associated with the battala press, and specifically the dobhashi or Musalmani-Bangla texts. Again, Syed Ashraf provides an explanation, noting that the choice of fantasy as a mode of expression was predicated upon the need to protest. ‘Oppressed and repressed Muslims, especially ordinary Muslims, turned more and more to romantic tales of love and adventure depicted in everyday language, […] a language which was full of words, phrases and similes borrowed from Arabic and Persian literature’ (Ashraf: 42). A significant way in which contesting cultural claims were played out was the dobhashi punthis (dual-language pamphlets) prioritising the romantic/fantastic mode in conscious transgression of both the Western aesthetic principle of realism and the high Hindu aesthetic/ cultural standard of what in Bangla is called ‘suruchi’ (good taste). Several Muslim scholars as well as early historians of print culture such as James Long record the unabashed opprobrium with which such texts and narratives were treated by the English-educated Bengali Hindus. Such texts were considered not only culturally ‘low’, but also aesthetically offensive because they conformed neither to the Sanskritic norms of high Bengali as it was emerging under the cultural tutorship of Bankimchandra Chattopadhaya and Rabindranath Tagore, nor to the modern European literary standards internalised by the Bengali cultural elite. The Annual Report of 1879-80 for Bengal testifies that such

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works of fiction were ‘of a low and extravagant type, calculated to foster and strengthen credulity and superstition among the large body of lowclass Musalmans who read them’ (cited in Ghosh 2006: 136), and the Annual Report on Bengal of 1895-96 notes that such books ‘furnish amusement and edification to a large class of readers belonging to the lowest class of Bengali Muhamedans’ (cited in Ghosh 2006: 136). Though this observation is beyond the scope of the present essay, the fantastic as a literary mode comes into Bangla and Hindi sahitya (literature) through the cultural vector of Perso-Arabic narratives (and their revival in times of colonial modernity), but this is a fact that has been scantly recognised even by the practitioners of the art. Most Indian writers during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries such as Trailokyanath Mukkhopadhaya (Kankabati, Damarucharit), Govindnandan Khatri (Chandrakanta) and Sukumar Ray (Abol Tabol), who employed the fantastic, absurd/whimsical mode, turned to Victorian practitioners such as Lewis Carroll or Edward Lear, but they hardly acknowledged the contribution of the ‘Islamic tales’ as inflecting the ‘fantastic’ in Indian writing. Once more, the Western and the high Hindu positions collapse to form an indistinguishable one. Bankimchandra was following Reverend James Long when he launched his tirade against battala literature’s lack of aesthetic standards, and paved the way for the colonial government’s framing of obscenity laws to restrain such popular literature.8 Bankim’s narrator in his novel Durgeshnandini (The Fortress-Lord’s Daughter) invokes a muse supposedly dedicated to battala sahitya when he wishes to describe the coarse, sensual beauty of the Muslim servant girl Asmani (Chattopadhyay 1969a: 70-71). The cultural implications are obvious. Rabindranath Tagore celebrates the coming of Bankimchandra onto the Bengali literary scene as the arrival of ‘modernity’, ‘adulthood’ and culturally acceptable aesthetic standards; cleansing at a stroke, as it were, the ‘low’ or naı¨ve (childlike) culture of texts such as the ‘Bijaybasantas and Gulebakaolis’ of battala sahitya (Tagore ‘Bankimchandra’ 531-538). The cultural distance of Hindu Bengalis such as Nirmal Bose and Kanai in The Hungry Tide from such narratives can be understood when someone as contemporary as the filmmaker Satyajit Ray notes that his school library contained some strange and unknown books (though extremely popular and dog-eared through constant borrowing) called Hatem Tai when recounting his childhood days in his autobiography Jokhon Choto Chilam (When I Was a Child: 61). The obvious implication is that a cultured young Bramho such as Ray would do well not to ‘know’ such texts! Hatem Tai incidentally was one of the largestselling quissas (legends) of Persian origin and retold several times in dobhashi (dual) language in the battala presses.

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Nirmal’s and Kanai’s distance from the Bonbibi Johuranama text and ritual is culturally coded. It is only fitting that Kanai, an upper-class Hindu Bengali (the first South Asian ethnic group to be exposed to English language and culture on an extensive scale) who knows six languages and works as a professional translator in the metropolitan centre of New Delhi, should choose to retell the Bonbibi tale in acknowledgment of, and in a reparative attempt to bridge, the divide between Islam and English. It is equally befitting that he should address his tale to Piya, the culturally alienated, American-English speaking Bengali who resides in the US.

‘This Land Is Ours’: The Morichjhapi Tragedy and the Islam/ English Encounter Central to Nirmal’s diaries and Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide is the forgotten history of post-Partition migration to West Bengal, India, and the Marichjhapi massacre of 1979. I refer in the greatest of detail to Ross Mallick’s essay, ‘Refugee Resettlement in Forest Reserves: West Bengal Policy Reversal and the Marichjhapi Massacre’ because this is one research paper (along with Annu Jalais’ path-breaking anthropological work, Forest of Tigers: People, Politics, and Environment in the Sundarbans) that Ghosh has employed intertextually to create the narrative of The Hungry Tide. His inscripted acknowledgement of these scholars/researchers in the author’s note concluding the narrative creates a unique hybrid narrative structure where fictional characters/events and factual historical details intersect seamlessly.9 Mallick’s essay provides the historical background necessary for the understanding of the Morichjhapi tragedy: The events leading up to the refugee massacre revealed a trail of communal and class conflicts that had its roots many centuries earlier. The Muslims were largely untouchables and lower castes who had converted to the more emancipatory beliefs of Islam, while retaining their Bengali culture. The gap between the Muslims and untouchable tenants was therefore arguably not as great as that between the Untouchables and upper-caste landlords, and in the colonial period untouchables and Muslims were allies in opposition to the Hindu landlord-dominated Bengal Congress Party (Mallick: 305). While the first few waves of post-Partition migration comprised the upper-class landed elite who had the ‘wherewithal in education and assets to migrate to India’ or familial connections that helped them to

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make a ‘fairly rapid adjustment in India’ (Mallick: 305-6) the later refugee groups came from these marginal sections of Muslim Dalits, who were persecuted by fundamentalist groups in both East Pakistan and India. These last groups of Bengali refuges were literally the wretched of the earth and were packed off to the Dandakaranya camps of Madhya Pradesh in Central India, in a bid at resettlement. Both the state and the central government of India refused to acknowledge that these resettlement centres resembled concentration camps and that the rocky, inhospitable terrains of Dandakranya with its perennially hostile local population was environmentally and culturally unsuitable for Bengali refugees. After ten years of such resettlement, the refugees organised themselves, broke free and chose the Marichjhapi island of the Sundarbans as suitable for rehabilitation. It is at this point that they came in direct conflict with the then Left-dominated, state government of West Bengal. The government perceived this influx of destitute refugees with as much anxiety as one perceives the oncoming hordes of locusts. They considered the refugees as a harbinger of many such groups that would swamp the state and destroy its fragile economy. The precarious nature of such refugees’ existence and the very interstitial quality of their identity is apparent from Nilima’s words: ‘In 1978 it happened that a number of people suddenly appeared in M0richjhapi. […] But in time it came to be learnt that they were refugees, originally from Bangladesh. Some had come to India after Partition, while others had trickled over later. In Bangladesh they had been among the poorest of rural people, oppressed and exploited both by Muslim communalists and by Hindus of the upper castes’ (Ghosh 2004: 118). However, it is the reason that the then Chief Minister of West Bengal advanced in support of the government’s refusal to consider refugee rehabilitation on Marichjhapi islands that lends a critical dimension to the Islam/English debate. The Chief Minister declared that the occupation of Marichjhapi was illegal encroachment on Reserve Forest land and on the state and World Wildlife Fund-sponsored tiger protection project. Jyoti Basu stated that if the refugees did not stop cutting trees the government would take strong action. […] The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and other conservationist groups appear to have not taken any official position on the subject, which was expedient given the controversy that might have arisen from foreign interference. […] While not involved in the eviction, the environmentalist movement nevertheless achieved a victory from the result, though the massacre was not something the environmentalists publicised. It was widely known that indigenous peo-

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ple were being evicted by conservation projects, but as this population was estimated at 600,000 (of whom two-thirds were uncompensated), it was unrealistic to expect environmental NGOs to provide relief on this scale (Fernandes, Das and Rao 1989, 78, ctd Mallick, 323-25). What is equally telling is that schoolchildren in Britain, Belgium, Holland, and Germany were raising money for Project Tiger. […] A former Chief Conservator of Forests defended this practice of taking foreign aid for Project Tiger by downplaying its contribution in financial terms while arguing for its political importance. […] However, the chief Conservator noted that the greatest sacrifices were being made by the forest dwellers themselves. ‘It was laudable for European children to raise funds for saving tiger in another continent, but equally praiseworthy if not more, has been the silent and untrumpeted sacrifice of those who have shifted their century old villages lock-stock-and-barrel and of the thousands of tribals who forsook their sources of livelihood’. (Shahi, 1978, 9) […] Inevitably such organizational imperatives necessitated downplaying and ignoring of human costs paid by poor people for environmental preservation. […] There are costs from environmental preservation to people who are displaced as a result or who lose opportunities for life improvement through denial of land access. In the case of Marichjhapi, it was the poorest people who paid with their lives, while the benefits went to animals, tourists, and tour operators. Tourism, in requiring pristine environments, creates an incentive for big business and the state to set aside areas that might otherwise be used by poor people for subsistence. (Mallick: 328) Kusum’s heart-rending cry – humiliated, starving, besieged by governmental forces, and on the verge of death on the Marichjhapi island – compels us to reconsider the Islam/English dynamic from a radically different and disturbing perspective: … the worst part [says Kusum] is not the hunger or thirst. It was to sit here, helpless, and listen to the policemen making their announcements, hearing them say that our lives, our existence, was worth less than dirt or dust. ‘This island has to be saved for its trees, it has to be saved for its animals, it is a part of a reserve forest, it belongs to a project to save tigers, which is paid for by people from all around the world’. Every day, sitting

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here with hunger gnawing at our bellies, we would listen to these words, over and over again. Who are these people, I wondered, who love animals so much that they are willing to kill us for them? Do they know what is being done in their names? Where do they live, these people, do they have children, do they have mothers, fathers? As I thought of these things it seemed to me that this whole world has become a place of animals, and our fault, our crime, was that we were just human beings. […] (Ghosh 2004: 261-62) While to conflate environmental efforts emanating from various developed European countries into a homogeneous block called ‘the English people and their rapacious designs’ might appear critically naı¨ve, there is a core of truth embedded in such conflation. Such a popular response reduces the Islam/English dynamic in the late 1970s in West Bengal to an unequal and predatory relation between English/European/First World sahibs in collusion with their native procurers, and the lower-class, lower-caste migrants, even as the latter attempt to live as all human beings have ‘always lived – by fishing, by clearing land and by planting the soil’; by claiming defiantly against all odds that you belonged to the place you refused to leave (Ghosh 2004: 262). It is only fitting that Amitav Ghosh, an upper-class/caste Hindu Bengali who speaks many languages like his narrator Kanai, who has a Ph.D. in social anthropology from the University of Oxford, and is primarily located in the Anglophone centre of the universe (that is, the United States), should retell the story of Bonbibi, the forgotten goddess of the Sunderban jungles; it is fitting that he should recast the forgotten language and culture of our people and reinscribe the secret history of the Muslim Dalit massacre in our country in the English language for English-knowing readers like us, in an ultimate act of reparation.

Notes 1

2

It is worth quoting in detail the exchange shared by Kusum and Kanai as young ado lescents, to convey the extent of this social divide: Kusum asks ‘Do you think I can come to the city with you?’ and the question silences Kanai. ‘It amazed him that Ku sum should even ask such a question. Did she have no idea at all of how things worked? He tried to think of taking her home to Calcutta, and cringed to imagine the tone of voice in which his mother would speak to her and the questions neigh bours would ask. ‘Is that your new jhi? But don’t you already have other maid ser vants coming to do the washing and sweeping? Why do you need this one?’ The plot structure of Hindu panchalis and mangal kavyas such as Manasa Mangal ka vya is designed to celebrate a divine figure as s/he goes about rescuing/granting boons to the devotees and destroying antagonistic forces.

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Muhammad Enamul Haq, a Bangladeshi scholar, opines that dobhashi was the dialect of little educated or illiterate Muslims of lower Bengal, and their affiliation to the Wa habi movement also resulted in their veering towards Arabic and Persian words. (Muslim Bangla Sahitya, 1957; Mannan: 154). Taking into consideration the Islamic revivalist movements of Bengal in the first two decades of the twentieth century, Ab dur Gafar Siddiqqui opined that it is such dobhashi, Islamic Bangla texts which were now being forced to carry the dubious marker of battala sahitya along with the asso ciative burden of being identified as low class and catering to low/execrable taste. In other words, the categories of Islamic, low taste and battala are made to collapse and form a unitary whole. Refer to Bhadra’s ‘Nyada beltalaye jaye kobar?’, 230. Gautam Bhadra recognises that such perceptions existed so much so that the term battala books, which has such myriad dimensions, came to be conflated with Musal mani Bangla or dobhashi texts by the first two decades of the twentieth century. In other words, the terms battala, ‘low class’ and ‘execrable taste’ all came to be seen as one and the same. Sripantha records the incredibly low prices at which battala books were sold, ranging from six paise for an almanac to a quarto version of the entire Krittibasa’s Ramayana for one and a half rupees (Battala, 31). Bhadra contests Tapti Roy’s localisation of battala, showing that publishing hubs in northern India (such as Lucknow’s Urdu bazaar), in eastern India (such as Dacca’s Chak bazaar) and beyond were also identified in the same way. Bhadra notes that the term battala seems to be an ever shifting term, expanding to encompass popular pub lishing efforts in various parts of the Indian subcontinent (‘Nyada beltalaye jaye ko bar?’, 205). Refer to Anindita Ghosh’s ‘An Uncertain Coming of the Book’ for the complex nego tiations between print modernity and oral cultures such as reading printed texts out loud, and reading as listening in colonial Bengal. Long constructed a category called ‘erotic’ while codifying battala literature, and con demned several such books as pornographic, ‘beastly, equal to the worst of the French school’. On July 1, 1855, he appealed to the imperial government to legally proscribe the selling/publishing of such ‘obscene’ books. He had earlier complained to the then governor of Bengal, Lord Halliday, that sexually graphic books and pic tures were being openly bought and sold on Calcutta streets. The Obscenity Laws were passed by the English government on January 21, 1856, and prohibited not only the buying and selling of obscene books or pictures, but many popular forms of en tertainment such as dances, exchanges in verse between poets, and recitals of narra tives. Long’s efforts to eradicate obscenity from literature found support among the cul tured elite of Bengal, and ‘A Society for the Suppression of Obscenity in India’ was instituted in 1873. Bankimchandra Chattopadhaya and the puritan Bramho reformer, Keshub Chandra Sen, were foremost among the ‘native’ supporters of such book cen sorship laws. However, what such culture police were concerned about were the dip ping standards of literature rather than obscenity, per se. Refer to Sumanta Banner jee’s The Parlour and the Street (1989) and Anrab Saha’s Parnotopia (2006) for more on this. Refer to Hayden White’s Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth Century Europe (1973) for more on the postmodern theoretical collapsing of factual history/fic tional ‘story’.

4

Nation, ‘No-Nation’ and ‘Desh’

Post-Orientalism and the National Allegory in Rushdie’s Shalimar the Clown and Vassanji’s The Assassin’s Song Krishna Sen

It is the greatest of all countries, It is a land made of dreams, It is girdled with memories. Dwijendralal Roy, Dhana dhanya pushpa bhara (1892; my translation) If we want to participate in the productions of the most glorious minds [of the Orient], we must orientalise ourselves, the Orient will not come to us. Goethe, Notes and Papers for a Better Understanding of ‘The WestEastern Divan’ (1819; cited in Sarma 2010: 185)

The Discourse of ‘Desh’ When noted Bengali poet and litte´rateur Dwijendralal Roy (1863-1913) wrote his famous patriotic song Dhana dhanya pushpa bhara amader ei basundhara (‘Replete with wealth, grain and flowers is this earth of ours’, first published in 1892 in Aryagatha Part I) extolling India as ‘the queen of all the nations in the world’ (‘shokol desher rani shey je’), it was not the enslaved and exploited colony that he eulogised but a metacartographic and supranational entity more potent than reality – the land of his birth, his janmabhoomi, his ‘desh’. The referential range of ‘desh’ extends from region to province to country, as the context demands. In the colonial milieu, ‘desh’ as ‘mother’ (as in Dwijendralal’s Banga amar, janani amar, dhatri amar, amar desh / ‘My Bengal, my mother, my nurse, my “desh”’) mediated but also subsumed the nationalist icon of ‘Mother India’ – the ‘mother’ languishing in chains under foreign domination and calling to her children for deliverance. This is because the significance of ‘desh’ goes beyond the notions of political autonomy and sovereignty associated with the nation-state.

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As the land or place of one’s birth or familial origin, and therefore of one’s ancestral heritage and spiritual and cultural belonging, ‘desh’ is a grounding idea, multivalent and even sacred (as in Tagore’s song O amar desher mati tomar pore thekai matha / ‘I pay obeisance to thee, O soil of my “desh”’). It is quite different from rashtra or ‘state’, which is formal and legal. Indeed, unlike the geographically bounded nationstate, ‘desh’ is present even in absence. Bharati Mukherjee writes in The Tree Bride: We’ve been trained to think of Mishtigunj as home in ways that our adopted homes, Calcutta and California, must never be. Ancestors come and go, but one’s native village, one’s desh, is immutable. (Mukherjee 2004: 29) Mishtigunj in former East Bengal (later East Pakistan, and now Bangladesh) was inaccessible to Indian nationals for decades after Partition but still remained the originary ‘home’, as locations there are felt to be, even today, by millions of politically displaced persons who migrated to West Bengal in India in 1947. It is ‘desh’ in this sense, and not the actual Dhaka, that Tham’ma craves for in Amitav Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines. The term ultimately connotes a cultural ethos that defines the self and anchors it within a community. This community is marked by shared values and social ties unrelated to blood and kinship – the Bengali word is atmiyata, which means ‘bonds of the soul’. As opposed to Benedict Anderson’s thesis, this imagined community is transhistorical, pre-dating both print culture and the nation-state. It stretches back into antiquity, articulating itself through language, landscape, custom, myth, ritual, song and memory. It is important to recognise that the archetype of ‘desh’ is pan-Indian and not restricted to Hindu identity formation alone (a necessary caveat since the terms ‘Indian’ and ‘Hindu’ are often conflated outside India). It thus differs from other defining categories such as samaj (a specific social formation, whether Hindu or Brahmo or Muslim or Jain) and jati (variously denoting religious or regional affiliation, caste, ethnicity or tribe). India’s great Muslim litte´rateurs wrote memorable Urdu poetry celebrating Hindustan (India) as the beloved watan (‘desh’), at least from the time of Mir Taqi Mir (1722-1808) and Nazir Akbarabadi (17321830), if not earlier. The best-known poems are by Mirza Ghalib (17971869) Hindustan ki bhi ajab sar zameen hai Jis me wafa-o-mehr-o-mahabbat ka hai wafoor…

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How wonderfully fertile is the soil of Hindustan, Faith, kindness and love blossom everywhere … and by Sir Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938): Saare jahan se accha Hindustan hamara, Hum bulbulein hai iski, yeh gulistan hamara. Ghurbat mein ho agar hum, rahta hai dil watan mein, Samjho wohi hamein bhi dil ho jahan hamara … The best place in the world is our Hindustan, We [poets] are its nightingales, and this our land of flowers. Even when we wander, our hearts remain in our homeland [watan], Understand that our identity is where our hearts are … Sikh poets, too, such as Professor Puran Singh (1881-1931), Giani Hira Singh Dard (1889-1965) and Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir (18991976), composed invocations to their ‘des’ (‘desh’). ‘Desh’, with its valorising of the local, the oral and the indigenous, remains potent in India even today, despite independent statehood, globalisation and diaspora, with their privileging of the national and the transnational. The Indian psyche is thus rhizomic in owing allegiance to ‘desh’ and nation simultaneously – in Bengal to ‘Bengaliness’ and Indianness, or in Punjab to ‘Punjabiat’ and Indianness, with the ‘Bengaliness’ and the ‘Punjabiat’, in their turn, not homogeneous entities but heterogeneously inflected by subnational and even subregional histories, customs and creeds. While the importance accorded to indigeneity in Indian culture may seem primordialist, the play of differences and the many shades of indigeneity distinguish India from the primordialist principle of the nation as a ‘naturally occurring social grouping, often marked by cultural features such as a shared language, a single religion, shared customs and traditions and shared history’ (Ichijo and Uzelac 2005: 51). Speaking of the Indian diaspora, Amitav Ghosh perceptively describes the decentred but paradoxically enveloping nature of Indianness as it slides between the local, the national and the global: If there is any one pattern in Indian culture in the broadest sense it is simply this: that the culture seems to be constructed around the proliferation of differences (albeit within certain parameters). To be different in a world of difference is irrevocably to belong. Thus anybody anywhere who has even the most tenuous link with India is Indian, potentially a player within the

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culture. … Another of the interesting features of the cultural representation of space in India is that India has always been constituted as much by the notion of the periphery as it has by the notion of the centre. Thus, to take a Hindu example, the dhams [sites of pilgrimage] at the four points of India play no less important a part in the definition of Hindu sacred space than does Banaras. […] For Sikhs, too, the significance of Patna Sahib lies precisely in that it is not at the centre. (Ghosh 2002: 250). These many modulations may engender sharply divergent visions of the nation. In his survey of late colonial historiography, Partha Chatterjee enumerates these conflicting models of nationhood (Chatterjee 1999a: 109-113) – Bankimchandra’s Hindu majoritarianism, Gandhi’s secularism, Tagore’s folk- or ‘desh’-based vision that Frank Korom felicitously calls ‘Tagore’s vernacular nationalism’ (Korom 2006: 34). Hence the terms ‘nation’ and ‘nationalism’ cannot be applied without qualification in the Indian context. Calvino’s observation is apposite here: … words, like crystals, have facets and axes of rotation with different properties, and light is refracted differently according to how these word crystals are placed, and how the polarizing surfaces are cut and superimposed. (Calvino 1987: 40)

Nation, ‘No-Nation’ and ‘Desh’ It is a well-known and much-documented fact that neither Tagore nor Gandhi condoned the (imperialist) Western nation-state and its powercentric paradigm of nationalism. The monologic Western model of the nation was iconically articulated by Stalin in Marxism and the National Question (1913) – ‘A nation is a historically evolved stable community of language, territory, economic life and psychological make-up manifested in a community of culture’ (quoted in Davis 1967: 163). Conventional wisdom in the West echoes this monochromatic formula. The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines it in this way: ‘Nation: A large group of people united by common descent, culture or language’, while the Merriam-Webster Dictionary says, ‘A nation is a group of people who share culture, ethnic origin and language’. The reductive subtext is patent – exclusionary homogeneity with its assumption of exceptionalism that leads to imperialism. Hardt and Negri’s trope of an ever-evolving and ever-renewing (Western) ‘Empire’, manifesting itself in multiple ways but always remaining hegemonic, is relevant here.

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In actual practice, no nation can be completely homogeneous. Gellner demonstrates this in the subordination of ‘cultural and linguistic groups that are distant from the more advanced centre’ (Gellner 2006: 60), while Hobsbawm cites ‘the question-begging term ‘national minority’’ (Hobsbawm 1991: 17). Even Benedict Anderson allows a protocultural backdrop to the modern nation-state, even though ‘imperial imaginings’ had infiltrated Eurocentric ‘official nationalism’ in the nineteenth century (Anderson 1983: 80ff) – ‘What I am proposing is that nationalism has to be understood by aligning it, not with self-consciously held political ideologies, but with the larger cultural systems that preceded it, out of which – as well as against which – it came into being’ (ibid.: 19). The implication is of an inevitable inscription of heterogeneity on the body politic, whether accepted as such or not. Contemporary multicultural policies in the West aim to accommodate this fact, and yet heterogeneity remains socially suspect. Tagore’s 1917 English treatise, Nationalism, celebrates heterogeneity as the foundation of Indianness. He excoriates the univocal Stalinesque nation-state and its hegemonic nationalism as intrinsically maleficent. Dubbing this aggrandising entity the ‘Nation’ (always with a capital ‘N’), Tagore says – ‘The civilization of power therefore is exclusive … The Nation … is the greatest evil … The Nation has thriven long upon mutilated humanity’ (Tagore 1950: 26, 34, 48). The Nation prioritises not ‘the moral man’ but ‘the political and commercial man’ (ibid.: 20). Tagore has a more nuanced and less strident reading of the Western nation-state in his 1912 Bengali essay ‘Nation Ki? (‘What is a Nation?’). After discussing Renan’s ‘Qu’est-ce qu’une nation?’ he observes that national uniformity is challenged even in the West by multilingual Switzerland, and by multi-faith Christian and Jewish populations in every European country (Tagore 2010/I: 802-803). But polycultural India is something else again. To quote from Nationalism, in its acceptance of ‘various races’ (Tagore 1950: 106), India is a heteroglossial comity rather than a homogenised polity. Tagore terms this multi-hued comity ‘the No-Nation’ (Tagore 1950: 26). The key to a viable comity is ‘the understanding of races which are different from one’s own’ (Tagore 1950: 105). Likewise, Gandhi’s vision in Hind Swaraj – ‘Any two Indians are one’ (Gandhi 1997: 49) – is utopian no doubt, but it has deep cultural resonances. Swami Vivekananda, in his Bengali tract Purba o Paschim (The East and the West), describes the ‘national idea’ of India as ‘non-injury [to others]’ (Vivekananda 1992: 443, 448). Much later, Amartya Sen says that India’s ‘long history of heterodoxy’ in being home to nearly all the great religions of the world is based on the principle of swikriti (Sanskrit ‘acceptance’) and ‘the acknowledgement that the people involved are entitled to lead their own lives’ (Sen 2005: 16, 35).

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What might be a vernacular equivalent of ‘No-Nation’? Remarking in his essay ‘Desher Katha’ (‘Talking about ‘‘Desh’’’; 1915) that Bengali has no word for ‘nation’, Tagore rejects jati and samaj as being too restrictive and moots the term swadesh (that is, one’s ‘own desh’): … we must create a nation – but not by imitating England. The unique vitality and values of our race must be preserved – our spirit and genius must blossom; our society must be made free and strong. We must be completely committed and revere our swadesh – the energies that have been dissipated by … circumstances must now be re-focused on our home[land]. (Tagore 2010/III: 262; my translation) The ecumenical nature of swadesh is outlined in Gandhi’s interpretation of its adjectival form swadeshi with respect to his swadeshi andolan, the movement to boycott British goods and promote indigenous manufacture – ‘It is very necessary to understand thoroughly some fundamental principles of swadeshi. Will it advance the cause of swadeshi if Muslims take the vow of swadeshi in their hundreds of thousands? I think it will …’ (Gandhi 1999: 69). Swadesh and swadeshi thus implied a moral bonding, a privileging of indigeneity, an appreciation of difference, and an ideal of self-reliance in place of what is usually understood as nationalism. It must be remembered that neither Tagore nor Gandhi nor Vivekananda (nor Rammohan Roy and Iswarchandra Vidyasagar before them) ever repudiated Western modernity, but they preferred that it complement, rather than supplant, indigenous practices and knowledges. The trope of ‘desh’, which is not synonymous with ‘nation’, is a homologue for this entire constellation of affects and ways of life.

Post-Orientalism and the National Allegory Nevertheless, intellectual and cultural autonomy had eluded the colonised world and its immediate post-colonial aftermath because of unequal relations of political and economic power between the West and the ‘rest’ – Said’s Orientalism (1978) strikingly demonstrates how the image, no less than the self-image, of the ‘rest’ were discursively produced by the West. With the onset of globalisation, however, a few formerly colonised (and orientalised) countries such as India and China are poised on the threshold of global power and are perhaps ready to shed their colonial alterity and postcolonial angst. In India, a whole generation growing up in the relatively more affluent post-liberalisation era has no direct memory of British colonialism: indeed, the imperial

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legacy of Western modernity is in the process of being acculturated. Contemporary India is now more concerned with shaping its own destiny in a rapidly changing present than with its colonial past. It seems, then, that these emerging societies are slowly moving beyond the debilitating effects of Orientalism towards self-fashioning and what might be termed a post-Orientalist cultural praxis. They are negotiating the Western gaze and the dialectics of ‘desh’ and videsh (‘not desh’) with greater confidence. In India this applies not only to the social scenario but also to much contemporary Indian English and vernacular writing. The symbiotic relationship between the nation and its literary and cultural productions – what Homi Bhabha felicitously called ‘nation and narration’ (Bhabha 1990) – is now a foundational paradigm both for cultural studies and theories of the nation. Anderson’s linking of the modern nation with print culture, and Spivak’s contention in ‘Three Women’s Texts and a Critique of Imperialism’ that nineteenthcentury British fiction virtually underwrote the structures of British imperialism, are cases in point. Lately, though, the premise that nation encrypts narration has been contested by minority, sexually alternative, and even some women’s writing. The interface of nation and narration is problematic also in contexts so unfamiliar to the interpreter that nuances are missed. This is particularly acute in today’s globalised book market where all texts (in the original or in translation) are available to all putative interpreters. In ‘Global Literature and the Technologies of Recognition’, Shu-Mei Shih critiques the operations of ‘Empire’ in the literary sphere: ‘Technologies of recognition’ refer to the mechanisms in the discursive (un)conscious – with bearings on social and cultural (mis)understandings – that produce ‘the West’ as the agent of recognition and ‘the rest’ as the object of recognition, in representation. (Shih 2004: 17) These ‘technologies’ are intended to ‘make non-Western texts manageable, decipherable, and hence answerable to Western sensibilities and expectations …’ (ibid.: 21). Of the five interpretive strategies listed, the most invidious, according to Shih, is what she dubs ‘the time lag of allegory’: ‘Perhaps no other megastatement about non-Western literatures struck a nerve … as did Fredric Jameson’s remark that all Third World narratives are ‘necessarily … national allegories’ (ibid.: 20). After dismissing Jameson’s ‘allegorizing’ of Lu Xun’s A Madman’s Diary and citing Spivak’s analysis of Mahasweta Devi, Shih concludes ‘… there are spaces and practices that cannot be interpreted by the nexus of colonialism, nationalism, capitalism, and their interrelations or reversals’ (ibid.: 22).

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Jameson’s ‘Third-World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism’ (1986) attempted to theorise the relationship between postcolonial literature and identity formation in politically decolonised but economically and culturally neo-colonised ex-colonies caught in the clutches of First World globalisation (Jameson 1986: 68). In a replay of ‘Hegel’s Master-Slave relationship’ (ibid.: 85), Jameson’s own position in a year marked by American successes in the Cold War and the Soviet Union’s Chernobyl disaster is that of ‘we Americans, we masters of the world’ (ibid.: 85). He creates a binaristic model of cultural response, ‘Freud versus Marx’ (ibid.: 69), to signify the personal versus the political, the subjective versus the objective, the psychological versus the social, and finally, the aesthetic versus the discursive. Jameson privileges the Cartesian and Enlightenment paradigms of self-conscious and self-assertive individuality (for which his signifier is ‘Freud’) over shared social and historical consciousness (denoted by ‘Marx’). This reiterates an earlier essay, ‘Metacommentary’, that had valorised self-reflexivity as quintessentially ‘modern’: ‘Every individual interpretation must include an interpretation of its own existence … every commentary must be at the same time a metacommentary’ (Jameson 1971: 10). From this perspective, ‘a socially realistic third world novel’ (Jameson 1986: 66) preoccupied with ‘that old thing called nationalism’ (ibid.: 65) recalls ‘Dreiser or Sherwood Anderson’ rather than Joyce or Proust (ibid.: 65) – a sort of writing that ‘we [i.e. First World readers] do not know and prefer not to know’ (ibid.: 66; emphasis in the original). Insisting on the aesthetic superiority of the libidinal over the political, Jameson faults Third World writers for being obsessed with a typically nineteenth-century ‘condition of the nation’ syndrome, and for dissipating inward libidinal investment in external socio-political arenas. Citing Chinese, Latin American and African (but not Indian) novels, he tropes this projection of the private in terms of the public as ‘national allegory’: Third-world texts, even those which are seemingly private and invested with a properly libidinal dynamic – necessarily project a political dimension in the form of national allegory: the story of the private individual destiny is always an allegory of the embattled situation of the public third-world culture and society. (ibid.: 69; emphasis in the original) Jameson considers both allegory and ‘national allegory’ to be premodern. Jameson’s procrustean totalising of the literary Other has been repeatedly challenged – most famously by Aijaz Ahmad (Ahmad 1994: 95-122), but also by Shu-Mei Shih (as mentioned), Jean Franco, Imre

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Szeman and several others. But his contention still merits discussion because of its persistent reverberation in critical discussions of nonWestern texts. Even fairly recently, Jacqueline Bandolph, Kathleen Flanagan, Timothy Brennan and Neil ten Kortenaar have read Midnight’s Children as national allegory, while Elleke Boehmer and Shirley Chew view certain novels by Manju Kapur and Shashi Deshpande as gendered national allegories. In the case of Indian English novelists in the era of multinational capitalism, the areas of contestation are Jameson’s historicism, his ‘Freud versus Marx’ formula in delineating Other psyches, and his notion of allegory. Historicism, or the idea that modernity is solely defined by the linear Western model of scientific progress based on reason, is nowadays refuted by many non-European scholars. Dipesh Chakrabarty’s Provincializing Europe questions ‘[t]he assumption of a continuous, homogeneous, infinitely stretched-out time’ occluding other ‘subaltern pasts’ (Chakrabarty 2000: 111). Critiquing Benedict Anderson’s The Spectre of Comparisons, Partha Chatterjee says in ‘Anderson’s Utopia’ (and one recalls Jameson): The dominant strand of modern historical thinking imagines the social space of modernity as distributed in empty homogeneous time. … When it encounters an impediment, it thinks it has encountered another time … pre-capital … pre-modern. … I disagree. … The real space of modern life is a heterotopia … (Chatterjee 1999b: 131) Jinhua Dai’s translated Foreword to Xiaomei Chen’s Occidentalism states that post-Mao China is ‘difficult to delineate clearly within a single cultural logic such as modernization, alternative modernization, or the Cold War’ (Chen 2002: ix). This advocating of multiple modernities inflected by the local as well as the global clearly implies that nonWestern narratives must be read through non-Western lenses. This would apply also to Jameson’s view that the personal/political dialectic in non-Western narratives is pre-modern. As the discourse of ‘desh’ demonstrates, the inner self can be both autonomous and culturally situated. ‘Self’ and ‘nation’ are construed in India in ways different from Jameson’s view – their relationship is allotropic rather than antithetical. With respect to ‘self’, Dipesh Chakrabarty says: ‘The subject of Bengali modernity … is thus inherently a multiple subject, whose history produces significant points of resistance and intractability when approached with a secular analysis that has its origins in the self-understanding of the subject of European modernity’ (Chakrabarty 2000: 147; emphasis added). As regards ‘nation’, Partha Chatterjee notes the variable spectrum of the ‘imagining of nationhood’: ‘[we should not]

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deny the variability of human wants and values or cast them aside as unworthy or ephemeral …’ (Chatterjee 1999b: 129). Jameson’s main trope for his monologic ‘personal versus political’ thesis, ‘Freud versus Marx’, is also problematic. At least one strand of Marxist thought represented by Bakhtin and Voloshinov did not distinguish so sharply between interiority and exteriority. According to Morson, ‘Voloshinov (in the 1920s) and Bakhtin (in the 1920s and 1930s) describe a complex dialogue among the numerous, diverse, socially heteroglot voices present in inner speech’ (Morson 1990: 175). Similarly, the translators of Voloshinv’s Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, Matejka and Titunik, state with regard to his views on ‘internalization in inner speech and thought’: ‘… for Voloshinov the study of human language cannot be detached from social existence in time and space and from the impact of socioeconomic conditions’ (Voloshinov 1986: viii). The interweaving of the social and the psychological as a modality of response is therefore acceptable. It is here that the issue of allegory comes in. Romantic epistemology prioritised the private/individual figure of the symbol over the public/ socio-cultural figure of the allegory. But this ancient and apparently unfashionable figure has experienced a remarkable rebirth – the Cambridge Companion to Allegory and Jeremy Tambling’s Allegory in Routledge’s New Critical Idiom Series both appeared in 2010. Spivak makes a point that might explain this phenomenon: ‘Is an allegory … not precisely an at least a second-level semantic code that exists to be decoded?’ (Spivak 1999: 410). The meaning-inducing figure of allegory (‘second-level semantic code’) stands at the intersection of networks of signifiers that play off against each other and, as Brenda Machofsky puts it, ‘always demands that we think otherwise’ (Machofsky 2010: 7). As opposed to the pedantic and unsubtle seriality usually associated with allegory, the figure has now been resuscitated as a mode of multi-layered utterance that is also potentially contrapuntal. In this new avatar, allegory is similar to the Sanskrit artha alankar or figure of speech utpreksha. Often roughly translated as ‘fantasy’ or ‘poetic fancy’, utpreksha is actually the third in the series – upama (simile), rupak (metaphor) and utpreksha (analogue). At this level of comparison, the comparable neither overtly models (simile) nor gestures towards (metaphor) the compared, but evokes or suggests it and may even play with contrary significations. Jameson acknowledges the referential range of allegory but prefers the symbol: allegory resembles ‘the multiple polysemia of a dream rather than the homogeneous representation of a symbol’ (Jameson 1986: 73). But that which is not homogeneous can hardly be expressed homogeneously. Going back to the non-Western narrative, the personal and the political in these texts are simultaneously separate and related (as in utpreksha), rather than tied to each other in a literal one-to-one

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relationship. The personal/political dialectic there is neither the subsuming of the subjective in the objective, nor a celebration of community over individuality, but a multivalent (or allegorical, in the current sense) representation of the complex and interrelated ways in which self, community and nation are experienced in these societies.

Rushdie’s Shalimar the Clown (2005) At first glance, Shalimar the Clown is so patently programmatic that it seems to be no more than a national allegory in the reductive Jamesonian sense. Rushdie’s magic-realist penchant for Bunyanesque names, ominous origins, ill-fated moments, amazing coincidences, and omens and premonitions is given free play in this novel. The word ‘Shalimar’ immediately evokes Kashmir and Mughal splendour – the exquisite gardens of Shalimar Bagh at Srinagar were dedicated by Emperor Jehangir to his queen Nur Jahan in 1619. The etymology of ‘Shalimar’ is uncertain: the local interpretation is ‘the abode of love’. The title, then, is poignantly oxymoronic in suggesting the failure of the protagonist’s dreams and the decay of Kashmir, the place of which Emperor Shah Jahan was supposed to have said, ‘If there is a paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here.’ Shalimar the Clown’s real name is Noman Sher Noman (Rushdie 2005: 95), ‘no man the lion’ (Hindi sher), predicting his terrifying transformations from actor to militant to assassin. His special act is tightrope-walking, an obvious motif for both his life in troubled Kashmir and as an undercover terrorist – ‘He remembered his father teaching him to walk the tightrope, and realised that travelling the secret routes of the invisible world was exactly the same’ (ibid.: 273). Shalimar’s beloved Boonyi’s real name is Bhoomi Kaul – ‘Bhoomi’ (land or soil) is a Sanskrit homonym for janmabhoomi (the land of one’s birth or ‘desh’), while ‘Kaul’ is an upper caste Hindu Brahmin surname deriving from Sanskrit kula (prestigious family or clan). Her name is thus a figuration of ‘Bharatvarsha’ (the ancient land of Bharat), which is still the vernacular term for ‘India’. Shalimar the Kashmiri Muslim boy and Bhoomi/Boonyi the Kashmiri Hindu girl marry with the blessings of both their families in a ceremony featuring Muslim as well as Hindu rites – an ideal vision of a multi-faith society. But their love was foredoomed as their births were at an inauspicious time. Both Shalimar and Boonyi had been born at the precise moment in October 1947 that Pakistan-backed insurgents attacked the predominantly Muslim kingdom of Kashmir to annex it, forcing its Hindu ruler to ally with predominantly Hindu India, thus triggering off the terror scenario that persists to this day.

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Boonyi deserts Shalimar to become the concubine of the suave and worldly American ambassador to India, Maximilian Ophuls (offals?), a Jew of European origin, and begets a hybrid, rootless, illegitimate daughter whom she names Kashmira. But Max’s British wife kidnaps the child and renames her India – the name of the newborn hybrid postcolonial nation (as distinct from the sacred land of Bharat). The vengeful Shalimar the Clown (now Shalimar the Cuckold) morphs into an Islamic jihadi, or holy warrior, even as Kashmir burns, caught between the brutal General Kachwaha of the Indian army and the bellicose Maulana Bulbul Fakh, the ‘Iron Mullah’ of the mujahideen (militants). Shalimar slaughters Max in Los Angeles in retaliation for his/ America’s reprehensible meddling in Kashmir, and also kills Boonyi. The traumatised India now discovers that her father’s killer is her birth mother’s husband. She swears to avenge her father, even while attempting to connect with her dead mother’s homeland by visiting Kashmir in her newly assumed persona as Kashmira. Her confrontation with Shalimar, who has escaped from San Quentin prison and is stalking her, occurs on a dark California night. Western capitalist modernity (India/Kashmira’s night-vision goggles) triumphs over illequipped indigeneity. The political connotations of all these names and events are self-evident. Over and above its national ramifications (the plight of a postcolonial country in a neocolonial world), Shalimar the Clown is also a fable about global politics and transnational terror. The novel has been described as Rushdie’s long-overdue return to Kashmir after Midnight’s Children, but as a post-9/11 work its issues are different. It articulates the concerns Rushdie voiced in Step Across This Line: ‘Like every writer in the world I am trying to find a way of writing after September 11, 2001 … we all crossed a frontier that day, an imaginary boundary between the imaginable and the unimaginable’ (Rushdie 2002: 100). The point of Shalimar being a performer emerges from Rushdie’s observation that terrorists are ‘brilliantly transgressive performance artists: hideously innovative’ (ibid.: 99). The borderless globalised world is the perfect unstriated space for the free flow both of neocolonialist capital and unbounded terror: ‘Everywhere was now a part of everywhere else. Russia, America, London, Kashmir. Our lives, our stories flowed into one another’s. … The world was no longer calm’ (Rushdie 2005: 37). The fates of nations are as messily intertwined as the dark destinies of the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish-American and British Christian families of the main plot, living in Kashmir, Los Angeles and London, with Max’s cosmopolitan background touching nearly every place in Europe – the family drama as an analogue for global turmoil. The local seer Nazare´baddoor surely spoke of more than just the destruction of their village of Pachigam in Kashmir’s internecine warfare when she prophesied

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that ‘… what’s coming is so terrible that no prophet will have the words to foretell it’ (ibid.: 247). Intersecting national and global narratives taking Kashmir as the point of departure for a third-world nation’s encounter with neocolonialism and terror in the era of multinational capitalism – this is how Shalimar the Clown is usually read. It is a reading that appears to vindicate Jameson’s dictum about the national allegory. What is overlooked is the way in which these situations are embedded in a culturally specific habitation that makes them more than mere socio-political allegories. The Kashmir setting has a density that is missing from the European and American locales of this novel. Like Boonyi’s daughter torn between her identities as Kashmira and India, the novel explores the dialectic of ‘desh’ and nation in an embattled space and interrogates the viability of both. The tragedy of the Kashmiri people as it emerges here is that, because of various circumstances, ‘desh’ and nation refuse to coalesce. ‘Desh’ is portrayed through a centuries-old cultural imaginary that is unaffected by multinational capitalism. Its alternative epistemologies may seem arcane or magic-realistic to Western sensibilities, but in India they are very real. There is, for instance, the universe of astrology. It is significant that the section on Boonyi, a dancer in a remote Kashmiri village whose ambition sparks a diplomatic fracas between India and America and an international terror attack, should begin with a grim collocation of inauspicious planets: There was the earth and there were the planets. The planets were the grabbers. They were called this because they could seize hold of the earth and bend its destiny to their will. … There were nine grabbers in the cosmos … [including] Rahu and Ketu, the two shadow planets. The shadow planets actually existed without actually existing. They were heavenly bodies without bodies. … They were also the dragon planets, two halves of a bisected dragon. Rahu was the dragon’s head and Ketu was the dragon’s tail. A dragon too was a creature that actually existed without actually existing. It was, because our thinking made it be. (Rushdie 2005: 45) Lest one thinks that this is ‘spiritual fakery and mumbo-jumbo charlatanism’ (ibid.: 49), Rushdie quickly gives astrology a (tongue in cheek?) Western ‘authorisation’: ‘Einstein had proved the existence of unseen heavenly bodies by the power of their gravitational fields to bend light …’ (ibid..). In contemporary India, auspicious moments for such typical activities of multinational capitalism as investing in stocks or inaugurating industrial units are oftentimes governed by the stars. In Shali-

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mar, the ‘phantom world’ (ibid.: 321) of terror is the empirical counterpart of the baleful shadow planets. For Kashmir, caught in the grip of surreal cosmic malevolence and shadowy cross-border insurgency, ‘the time of demons had begun’ (ibid.: 89): ‘The age of reason was over … as was the age of love. The irrational was coming into its own. Strategies of survival might be required’ (ibid.: 226). The poignantly inadequate strategy of survival adopted by the villagers of Pachigam and Shirmal is the preservation at all costs of ‘Kashmiriyat’, the culture and ethos of their ‘desh’, Kashmir. ‘Kashmiriyat’ is the bhand pather, or clown plays, of Pachigam, the unique cuisine of the chefs of Shirmal, the traditional songs and poetry (ibid.: 360), the exquisite crafts and shawls and carpets (ibid.; 359). But the essence of this belonging is ‘its tolerance, its merging of faiths … To be a Kashmiri, to have received so incomparable a divine gift, was to value what was shared far more highly than what divided’ (ibid.: 83). Hence Hindu Kashmiri Brahmins ‘happily ate meat’ while Kashmiri Muslims ‘blurred their faith’s austere monotheisim by worshipping at the shrines of the valley’s many saints’ (ibid..). When Shalimar and Boonyi fall in love, the groom’s father Abdullah Noman declares – ‘Two Kashmiri – two Pachigami youngsters – wish to marry … and so a marriage there will be, both Hindu and Muslim customs will be observed’ (ibid.: 110). In time, however, Boonyi’s father, schoolmaster Pandit Pyarelal Kaul, wonders ‘Maybe Kashmiriyat was an illusion. Maybe all those children learning one another’s stories … all those children becoming a single family, were an illusion’ (ibid.: 239). The tragedy that they all lived to see was – ‘It’s dog eat dog up there in the Himalayas … the Indian army against the Pakistani-sponsored fanatics …’ (ibid.: 385). Shalimar’s brother Anees, like so many young Kashmiris, becomes a ruthless militant to save his ‘desh’ from what he considers to be the cannibal nation to which it belongs (India), and in the process destroys ‘Kashmiriyat’. This is the core of the novel, underlying the national/ global allegories on the surface. This core comes hauntingly alive in the trauma of ordinary people caught in the crossfire of cross-border politics – ‘Who smashed that house? Who smashed that house? … Who clubbed the grandmother? Who knifed the aunt? … Who burned the library? Who burned the saffron fields? … Who burned the beehives?’ (ibid.: 308). In a terrifying collision between ‘desh’ and nation, Pachigam is razed by the Indian army in retribution for harbouring militants, a crime incomprehensible to the villagers because they were only sheltering their own sons. A novel often criticised for its lush and mannered prose makes amends in describing the sacking of Pachigam:

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The village of Pachigam still exists on the official map of Kashmir … This official existence, this paper self, is its only memorial, for where Pachigam once stood by the blithe Muskadoon … nothing resembling human habitation remains. … There are things that must be looked at indirectly because they would blind you if you looked them full in the face. … Pachigam was destroyed. Imagine it for yourself. Second attempt: The village of Pachigam still existed on official maps of Kashmir, but that day it ceased to exist anywhere else, except in memory. Third and final attempt: The beautiful village of Pachigam still exists. (ibid.: 308-309) This could surely only be the work of the malevolent shadow planets, as much as of shadowy terrorism and baneful international politics – ‘Pachigam was the earth, the grabbed, helpless’ (ibid.: 308). This complex interface between ‘desh’, nation and world that constitutes the substratum of Shalimar can hardly be dismissed as undifferentiated ‘national allegory’.

M.G. Vassanji’s The Assassin’s Song (2007) If Shalimar is about an unstable part of India, The Assassin’s Song is set in Gujarat, one of the most stable and prosperous states in the nation. Gujaratis have always been intrepid voyagers – a story goes that Vasco da Gama was guided from Africa to India in 1497 by an Africa-based Gujarati navigator named Kanji Malam. Gujarat’s transoceanic commerce and entrepreneurial diasporic settlements in East Africa and the Arab countries are said to pre-date the tenth century C.E. – a pre-colonial ‘globalisation’ little known in the West. Cosmopolitan Gujarat was famous in history for its enlightened rulers and ecumenical society. Zoroastrians from Persia took refuge from Islamic persecution in a Hindu kingdom in Gujarat in the tenth century to become India’s ‘Parsi’ community. Gujarat also has many centres of Sufi worship such as the famous Balapeer shrine at Baroda. The Assassin’s Song revolves around a darga or Sufi shrine at Pirbaag established by a wandering Persian Sh’ia mystic named Nur Fazal (affectionately called Pir Bawa or ‘holy father’), who was welcomed by the Hindu king Vishal Dev in the thirteenth century. The Assassins were a feared eleventh-century radical Persian Shi’a sect founded by the Ismaili Nizari Hassan-i Sabbah to oust the Seljuk Turks from Persia. Thus

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the title, The Assassin’s Song, is as much of an oxymoron as Shalimar the Clown, pointing towards multivalence and paradox. There is no known connection between the Assassins and Nur Fazal – indeed, the details of Nur Fazal’s life are uncertain, although King Vishaldev Vaghela did indeed rule a part of Gujarat from c. 1243-1262 C.E. But the novel’s portrayal of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs worshipping together for centuries at a Sufi shrine is true of all such Sufi sites in India. That is the polysemous ambience of ‘desh’. But it often comes up hard against monosemous national politics – Hindu fundamentalism in the case of Gujarat’s 2002 anti-Muslim Godhra riots that form the other backdrop of this book. A Gujarati, a multiple diasporan (Kenya, Tanzania and Canada) and an Ismaili Muslim, Vassanji writes an epical novel swinging fluidly between centuries from the thirteenth to the twenty-first, yet remaining firmly focused on the rich subnational heritage of Gujarati Sufism. Though on one level this novel is about the fortunes of a nation as refracted through a single family (the Jamesonian national allegory), it is as much concerned with the multilayered traditions that construe the ethos of ‘desh’ as with the colonial and postcolonial histories that constructed the modern nation. As with Pandit Pyarelal’s Kashmir, ‘desh’ is fractured here by national and international conflicts and the lure of global (intellectual) capital. For though the British Raj appeared to pass Pirbaag by, post-independence events leave their unsightly mark. The two wars with Pakistan in 1965 and 1971 cast a patina of mistrust over daily interactions between Hindu and Muslim neighbours: the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992 and attempts by Hindu fundamentalist cadres to indoctrinate local youths sharpen the animosity: Godhra is the final blow shattering the interwoven harmony of ‘desh’ in the Purbaag community. Nur Fazal’s all-embracing mysticism confronts its assassins in the sectarian violence that follows. Yet, as the novel’s epigraph from Rilke suggests, his legacy survives despite all odds in his reluctant contemporary alter ego, Karsan. Karsan Dargawala, the elder son of the venerable Pir Saheb, the hereditary Guardian of the Shrine of the Wanderer, is heir to its secret wisdom, its library of ancient manuscripts, and the ginans (sacred songs) of Nur Fazal – but he would rather abjure this esoteric inheritance for the attractions of the modern world. Leaving his parents distraught, he goes to Harvard on a scholarship, enters into a relationship with the bohemian Marge, and becomes an academic in suburban British Columbia. Meanwhile, his younger brother Mansoor (like Shalimar’s brother Anees) has turned homegrown Islamic militant, inspired by discourses from across the border to destroy predominantly Hindu India. Pirbaag lies unprotected, but at least at first, Karsan feels liberated. Yet his legacy haunts him. After a personal tragedy in Canada and the massacre following Godhra, he returns to a ravaged Pirbaag:

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But now the shrine lies in ruins, a victim of the violence that so gripped our state recently, an orgy of murder and destruction of the kind we euphemistically call ‘riots’. Only the rats visit the Sufi now, to root among the ruins. My father is dead and so is my mother. And my brother militantly calls himself a Muslim and is wanted for questioning regarding a horrific crime. (Vassanji 2007: 357) Unlike Pachigam, though, Pirbaag survives, and the mysterious spirit, as it were, of the Wanderer Nur Fazal, the emblem of ‘desh’, holds Karsan back for good. ‘Desh’, however, has been infiltrated not just by the nation, but also by the world. So unlike Pir Saheb who, through his unquestioning faith, had singlehandedly sought to stem the rising tide of ‘Kali Yuga, the Dark Age’ (ibid.: 8), the self-reflexive Karsan is left with a postmodern ambivalence towards his strange destiny as the Harvard-educated, yet divinely appointed, representative of an early medieval Persian miracle-worker and saint: I am the caretaker of Pirbaag. … There are those who touch my feet or my sleeves, ask for blessings. But as I attend to these people, unable to disappoint, to pull my hand or sleeve away, as I listen in sympathy or utter a blessing, a part of me detaches and stands away, observing, asking, are you real? (ibid.: 367) Like the ‘grabbers’ in Shalimar, this too might seem like magic realism. But it is an accepted reality even today in India, a land that reveres its gurus, yogis and pirs, even as it engages very competitively with the West. Like Pandit Pyarelal in Shalimar, Karsan both interrogates and submits to his polyvalent cultural inheritance (unlike Shalimar, Anees and Mansoor, who court disaster by choosing a monologic worldview). The private, in the case of Pyarelal and Karsan, is not subsumed by the public, but parallels it. This layered perception is impossible to reduce to a single formula such as ‘national allegory’ (Jameson 1986: 86).

Fashioning the Post-Orientalist Ethos Shalimar the Clown and The Assassin’s Song probe, critique and negotiate a polyphonal cultural praxis that attempts to accommodate (with varying degrees of success) both tradition and modernity, and plays across the registers of ‘desh’ (the multivalent local), rashtra (the state or nation) and vishwa (the world). Said wrote: ‘Orientalist notions influenced the people who were called Orientals … in short, Orientalism is better grasped as a set of constraints upon and limitations of thought

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…’ (Said 1995: 42). Contemporary Indian writing in both English and the vernaculars, however, is no longer shaped by Western formulations or even by the imperative to ‘write back’. Its main concern now is to scrutinise today’s India – the interior and exterior worlds of a rapidly changing multidimensional society and its myriad faiths, customs and cultures that are not recent phenomena, but have been integral to India’s civilisation for centuries. It is this attempt to fashion what might be called a post-Orientalist ethos not reducible to Occidental categories and binaries that accounts for the distinctive worldview of these novels and others written in the same decade.

PART II Revisiting the Past

5 Tributes or Travesties? Recent Reworkings of Classics Great and Small Paul Sharrad

What Is a ‘Classic’? The classic is memorably defined by Matthew Arnold when he refuses to define it (Arnold: 1446). For him it is the timeless universal against which all else may be measured. But as T.S. Eliot goes on to point out in ‘What is a Classic?’, a classic assumes its value as it rises in some combination of historical and cultural moments that leave it perched ark-like on a summit of achievement from which the waters of that literary tradition have receded: Virgil at the close of the Roman Empire. However, if such a work is not to moulder away, admired but untouchable in the museum of Great Works, it must be part of an ongoing culture and must be revisited, emulated, reshaped, changed, challenged. Whether we think of Harold Bloom’s ‘influence’ or Edward Said’s ‘iteration’, the universal timeless classic or the great literary career is only good in so far as it is also made local and part of cultural practice in history (Said: 256-257).

Constant Rehearsal of Hindu Classics in the Indian Tradition Indian tradition shows this in its constant rehearsal of the Hindu classics in the literary retranslations across millennia, in folk dramas, song, painting, sculpture, film and television serials. Indian writing in English sought to authenticate itself within the post-colonial nation by reworking the traditional archive, from Toru Dutt’s poems to Raja Rao’s fictionalising of Puranic style and content. As it grew in self-confidence, it became less subservient to this material, putting it to use in order to make points about modern society and even showing some irreverence towards it. Thus we find Arundhati Roy in The God of Small Things both critiquing the masculinist vengeance of Mahabharata stories in contemporary Kathakali and lamenting their reduction to touristic entertainments (Roy 1997: 228-236), and Shashi Tharoor satirising the political history of modern India by parodying a wide swathe of the

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Mahabharata in The Great Indian Novel. Salman Rushdie likewise pays tribute to Persian Sufism in Grimus and to the Kathasaritsagara in Haroun and the Sea of Stories, the latter an allegorical critique of dictatorships in the contemporary world.

Two Traditions within IEF: Social Realist and Magic Realist It could be argued that there are two traditions within Indian fiction in English: the ‘social realist’ one dealing with the everyday or topical issues, such as we find in Kamala Markandaya and Manju Kapur or Rupa Bajwa, and the ‘magic realist’ in which history is estranged and distorted (Mukul Kesavan or Vikram Chandra, for instance). The former tends to take cultural tradition as a given (even when a social critique is being mounted), whereas the latter calls that tradition and its literary icons into question. We can even see the two modes at work within the one oeuvre, as is the case with Amitav Ghosh, whose books have swung between ‘fabular’ history (The Circle of Reason, The Shadow Lines, The Calcutta Chromosome) and ‘straight’, if remarkable, history (The Glass Palace, The Hungry Tide, Sea of Poppies). A contemporary literary history of Indian English writing might do worse than chart the waves and troughs of these two intertwined strands. After the initial flourish of Rushdie and his epigones, realism seemed to make a comeback. In recent years (if we put aside the huge turn to popular formula thrillers and ‘chick lit’), there are signs of another slight upwards swing in the fabular, though with a broader scope in the classical texts it deploys to parade its cleverness. As examples, I would like to examine three novels, Devdutt Pattanaik’s The Pregnant King (2008), Kalyan Ray’s Eastwords (2004) and Tabish Khair’s The Thing about Thugs (2010).

Devdutt Pattanaik’s The Pregnant King: A Modern Tribute to an Ancient Classic Pattanaik is representative of a new – or at least newly visible – group of Indian writers: people from other professions (doctors, lawyers, soldiers, engineers, investment bankers), usually diasporic, who turn their hand to fiction as a hobby or from personal interest in some particular topic. To quote the biographical note at the front of The Pregnant King, Pattanaik is ‘a medical doctor by training, a marketing consultant by profession, and a mythologist by passion’. He is ‘based in’ Mumbai, but his guides to Hindu deities and myths include several US publications. Here, he takes one of the many small digressive tales from the Mahab-

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harata and places it centre stage. It is an interesting tactic, providing often lyrical depictions of personal dramas in the court of a small kingdom, against which the great battle between the Pandava and the Kaurava dynasties is merely a backdrop. While much of the text assumes general knowledge of its source material, at times it adopts an ethnographic voice in which basic terms such as ‘Devas’, ‘Brahmanas’ and ‘puja’, ‘Rishi’ and ‘dhoti’ are glossed as though for foreign readers (Pattanaik 2008: 9, 20-21). The novel emulates the style of its original material very well: nested tales, dialogues that circle and are picked up again by the narrating voice, catalogues of family relationships and the paraphernalia of court, and so on. The language avoids a fake antiquarian tone, dipping into modern usage (such as when Prince Yuvanashva asks his Regent mother, Shilavati, for permission to join the great battle: ‘This is no longer a family feud; it is a fight for civilization as we know it’ [ibid.: 3]). and rolls along at a lively pace. At bottom it depicts the classic problem of humans trying to do the right thing, going about it the wrong way, by mistaken desire or confusion of fate, and having to undergo readjustment. In the prosperous and perfectly ordered kingdom of Vallabhi, the prince of the Turuvasu kings, Yuvanashva, seeks to fulfil his duty to his family and his kingdom by fathering a child, but in doing so he has to stay at home and forsake his duty as a prince and warrior to fight. In properly asserting his own male power over his mother, who rules astutely in his place, he also disturbs the stability of the state. The epic narrative appropriately weaves around these elements, many strands of back story and spin-off events to complicate the central drama and show how in the end the workings of the cosmos (of karma) affirm the order of the world (dharma) through and despite all our failings, best intentions, and the wiles of the gods. In the catchphrase of the book, ‘From Prajapati has come the problem. From Prajapati will come the solution’ (ibid.: 20, 275). Here, of course, there is a problem for the modern novelist: if everything is determined by the gods/fate/providence/cosmic law, irrespective of what we do, then human action is merely a flurry of inconsequentiality and all there is to learn is the same old lesson. Myth and archetype, myth and archetype; no drama, no individual torment of passion we can empathise with, no catharsis. The point of story is for us to renounce story, throw a handful of soil over our shoulder, strip off and wander into the forest. Pattanaik, however, has a different agenda. He wants us to sympathise with his characters so we can learn that ‘queer’ identities are an acceptable part of creation’s diversity: that girls can be raised as boys, that women can sit on the throne, that men can give birth, that we can change sex. There is a this-worldly humanist caring and social reform implied here that is at odds with the tenor of

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the medium employed to preach it. An ideal for all rulers in the book is to become the Chakravarti: the supremely wise king who is no longer an individual but a figurehead shorn of personal investments. However, the interest of the story lies with people who exceed, bend and transgress their given roles in the social order. Each of Yuvanashva’s wives is given a different personality and allowed human emotions; the court advisor Mandavya indulges in erotic fancies about the dominating widow-queen he serves; that queen is subject to both pride and disappointment, so that we feel for her, even though we may agree with her son’s advisor Vipula that she is hanging on to power too long. These novelistic traits draw us in to the drama being enacted across the whole sweep of the book. They are validated in the traditional world of the epic by Vallabhi’s governing deity, Ileshwara, who mutates from male to female according to the phases of the moon, containing all diversity. On the one hand, the book works with a clear idea of dharma as communal responsibility overriding personal interests; on the other, the sympathies for individual difference and desire that the stories work to create require a sort of situational ethics that renders the idea of dharma meaningless except in the sense of realising one’s own talents/following one’s dream. The complications of individual diversity either admit of no tidy romance resolution – ‘You and I are not Prajapati’ (145) – or have to rely on fairy-tale devices such as Yakshas handing out and demanding back phalluses (127) or on the traditional solution of renouncing the world to find wisdom on a transcendental plane. Early in the tale, the old king Pruthalashva leaves Vallabhi and becomes an ascetic (67); towards the end Yuvanasvha his grandson in turn goes away in search of Rishis to enlighten him (306-307). The narrative circles back via the wandering bards, who recount an untold story that turns out to be of the founder of Vallabhi, Ila, whose gender ambiguity starts the quarrels that lead everything to Kurukshetra (314). In an ironic moment of modern metafiction, Pattanaik has Yuvanashva ask why no one tells this story and what will happen to his own. The bards reply that things seeming to be poetic fancy are not recorded in history and his tale will be forgotten (317). But it is only at the level of poetic logic where magical rites have efficacy and in the forest where ‘the rules of man do not apply’ (328) that all the loose ends can be tied up. Yuvanashva realises the coexistence of opposites through the experience of Shiva-Shakti as symbols of an idea of higher truth (334-335). There he moves beyond story. If the feud leading up to Kurukshetra is mentioned in the prologue only to be pushed into the background of this story, it is not done away with altogether. The beginnings of Yuvanashva’s story lie with Drupada, who had insulted Drona, lost half of his kingdom to him and his

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sons as a result, and had come to Vallabhi to ask the shape-changing god for a child who would grow up to destroy the Kuru clan (13-19). Arjuna visits Vallabhi and his warrior aspect is humbled by having to tell how he once lived as a woman and how Krishna made himself a woman to enable the sacrifice of Iravan that would win the war for the outnumbered Pandava (242-253). A sense of inevitable destiny runs beneath the surface narrative through this play between prolepsis and analepsis centred on the relentless epic drive towards a fated ending. Near the end, a Yaksha recounts the entire sequence of karmic cause and effect from Prajapati’s creation of life through to the present moment (325-326). Each chapter is marked with an image of a crow, and crows begin to gather in the course of the narrative as Pitrs, spirits demanding restitution of order, marriage, children, and as motifs foreshadowing the flocks of scavengers that will gather to pick over the slaughter of the battlefield (51-52). Crows pester the ageing queen, just as the spirits of the executed gender-bending Brahman boys sentenced by Yuvanashva haunt him (184-185), until the vagaries of life align according to a grander narrative destiny. Vallabhi’s story precedes and outlasts the slaughter of Kurukshetra, but it is framed by the same implacable process of endless vicissitudes ultimately falling into a single pattern. Ultimately, the book comes up against the discursive limits of the traditional material it tries to use to new purpose. The dharma of a collectivist feudal society in which caste is well determined and gender roles are clear cannot easily be made over into a more flexible value system accommodating individual desires and idiosyncracies – accommodating the coexistence of public truth, private truth and fundamental eternal truth (ibid.: 269-270, 282-283, 293). The difference is rehearsed for us in the early days of Indian English fiction by Mulk Raj Anand, when he contrasts the idealised types and stylised story forms of epic mode and bardic recital with the ‘loose baggy monster’ that is the modern novel (Anand 1969). (There is no doubt that the Mahabharata is ‘baggy’ enough to encompass a whole world of stories, but its compendious nature is not of the same kind of looseness as the novel’s.) Pattanaik’s faithfulness to his original material binds him into a dualist world of hero/villain, king/queen, warrior/sage, noble/commoner and thus good and evil. He really tries hard to push a message of tolerance for those who fall between or beyond such binaries (the core of dharma is ‘to help the weakest thrive, and to provide an opportunity for everyone to validate their existence’ (147), but it is the binaries that rule his fictive world. We can detect the strain when the writer has to jump to contemporary business management self-help rhetoric to push his point. Within his story, his heroic queen can be admired for her statecraft, but only because she has ‘a man’s head on her

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shoulders’ and she is, in the end, condemned for usurping proper male power; the transsexual can be sympathised with, but finally has to be converted into the heterosexual order of society; cross-caste marriage is condoned (91). Shiva and Shakti may be realised as ‘mutually interdependent’, but one (female) still represents matter and the other (male) still represents soul (335-336). Varna-ashrama-dharma is the set order and cannot be bent willy-nilly to suit circumstance (26). The difficulty of the author’s well-meaning struggle is reflected in the number of times he has to repeat his central theme. In part, this is because the theme itself is an unresolvable paradox: culture cannot go against nature, but nature cannot be allowed to trump the rules of civilised society (25); we do not choose our bodies or our parents, but we have the freedom to alter our relationships to both (145-147). In the end, such iteration has the effect of confession rather than conviction. Societies and their cultural values may well change, because they contain so many competing and conflicting discourses, and the traditional ideals enshrined in the ancient epics are part of these, but the formalised structures of the epics are not capable of dealing with the mutable modern: it needs either a rambling realism or a more radical reworking of mythic form such as we find in Salman Rushdie and catch a brief hint of in the moment of metafiction and the humanistic Rushdie-like ending, where a young prince weeps ‘for the imperfection of the human condition, and for our stubborn refusal to make room for all those in between’ (349).

Kalyan Ray’s Eastwords: A Postcolonial ‘Writing Back’ of Shakespeare Kalyan Ray takes a much cheerier approach to his material, perhaps inspired by his own felicitous career. According to the blurb of Eastwords, he somehow worked his way from taxi driving in Kolkata to becoming a literature professor in New Jersey and a teacher of comparative theology in the Philippines. As one might expect, his novel is also full of twists and exudes a worldly wit and polyglot skill reminiscent of G.V. Desani. Eastwords works a now-old joke about Shakespeare being really an Indian, his name variously twisted into Muslim and Hindu guises. It also continues an established Indian literary tradition of incorporating the Bard’s work into local writing, and writing not just in English. For example, Gunabhiram Barua published a play in Assamese in 1870 preaching the right for young widows to remarry. Ramnabami-Natak draws heavily on Romeo and Juliet for many of its lines and its tragic denouement. Ray sets up a monologue on the part of an ageing Bengali hermit, Sheikh Piru, a poor gap-toothed ‘teller of tales’, ad-

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dressing his ‘esteemed colleague’ in the West, ‘William the Conqueror … Swan of Avon’, ‘plumchum, dear yaar’ (Ray 2004: 1-2), ‘Bardic Bill … shakejavelin … silly Willy’ (9), ‘William the wagstaff … Bardshah’ (13) as a shape-shifting trickster. In a tribute to Salman Rushdie, Ray/Piru mentions some Indian children ‘with noses that lead them into other people’s lives’ (1) and invents another child, born with the power of flight. ‘A Midsummer Night’s Tempest’ ensues, centred on a small island in the tropical delta of the Ganges. The book is a narrative wrestling match between the folios and their retelling. In full postcolonial mode, the old Sheikh declaims: I stand on the margin of your story. Aha! But that puts you on the margin of my discourse. Marginality is in the eye of the beholder, the holder of the book, plumchum, sweet Swan. All the world’s a reflection. Reflect on that Willybaba! This is my turn. (Ray 15) The novel is replete with parodic literary allusions: to most of Shakespeare’s key plays, his sonnets (2, 16, 73), Keats (15), Shelley and Hopkins (24), Baudelaire (20), Eliot (35), Kipling (60), along with the Mahabharata (37) and the Bible (40) – the list goes on. Perhaps without this relentless Rushdie-like playfulness the somewhat formulaic postcolonial ‘writing back’ elements would seem too heavily didactic; with them, there is the risk of appearing flippant and showy, overly reliant on the European archive. Ray claims the inevitability of intertextual play, Sheikh Piru pointing to Shakespeare’s own ‘borrowings’: ‘you burgled shamelessly, Elizabethan storystealer, and scampered, pockets dripping with stories’ (25), but the latter also claims prior ownership of the Bard’s two supposedly original tales as ‘My Indian Stories’, which he claims back in retelling them (26). The author makes his conceptual foundations clear with epigraphs from Chinua Achebe, Olaudah Equiano and Phyllis Wheatley. He also interpolates historical material (57) into his fictional narrative: Ibn Majid’s voyage westwards brings Vasco da Gama to the East, like some malevolent Oberon, carrying in his wake a flotilla of European ships (72). Sukumari, Sheikh Piru’s neighbour, is widowed during pregnancy and gives birth during the monsoon to a flying child, Pakhee. She is later visited by Oberon as a lustful, egocentric and malign power. Oberon steals Sukumari’s son by offering to show him the world, burns out his capacity for speech and subjects him to a Middle Passage torment until he is subdued as a servile Puck. Just as Sukumari is about to give birth to Oberon’s child, Titania shows up, a sybaritic red-haired, foxyodoured lump of flesh. She seizes upon the baby, who turns out to have water as his element. He is named Kalyan. Sukumari knows that

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she cannot reveal his father’s identity to the jealous Queen, and has to let him go back West with her. Kalyan’s brother, Puck, meanwhile is beginning to realise he has lost something and when sent to find the flower ‘Love in Idleness’ with which to enchant Titania and the young lovers in the woods, memory floods in via a virtuoso unravelling of anagrams (including ‘Dine less on evil’, ‘Send on evil lies’, ‘Dive Loneliness’) (94-95). Despite his dissimulation, Puck’s new awareness becomes evident to his master, and when Puck saves his brother from Oberon’s attempts to make him fly, he is reduced to an iota and trapped in the foliage of an illuminated capital P of a book of incantations: the language/long wedge of power (114-115). The dark lord then takes Kalyan back to his mother to get him to fly but meets a fiery end, and the boy grows up wild on his Sundarban island (its crocodiles and tigers and invocations to goddess Bonbibi bearing echoes of one section of Midnight’s Children and anticipations of Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide). Meanwhile, the book of incantations ends up in Milan where Prospero is being sent off into exile by his usurping brother. Adrift in a leaky boat, he opens his book of spells and the rain releases Puck from his ‘knotted pine’ and the boy flies them to his home island. The rest you can guess: Kalyan becomes Caliban; Puck, Ariel. Sheikh Piru has occasion to wonder, ‘How much of Europe does a European carry with him when he is carried away from Europe? … How much Europe can a brown man take in?’ (Ray 143). Some knockabout comedy ensues (there’s a leitmotif of men being buffeted around the testicles) in which Kalyan renames his visitors Pandey and Meera, and Pandey/Prospero becomes addicted to betel nut. The author via Sheikh Piru gives us a play on colonialism as a history of consumption, starting with historical Magellan and his subaltern historical native informant, Molucca Henry: ‘To devour, to digest, to colonize’ – colon/-isation: ‘the riddle of the sphincter!’ (167-170). The punning is typical of the book as a whole. Kalyan Ray seems to support Sheikh Piru’s claim that all stories are a tangled web of usurpations (219) that successively suppress some information and expose other aspects of a tale. Prospero weaves a pious romance out of his years of exile, with Antonio muttering dissenting factual details. The old man declares he has read only the Bible: ‘‘Tis a Bonnie Book. People live and die by it. Some without even reading it. ‘Tis that holy.’’ (223). The violence underlying such power is shown in Prospero’s cruel treatment of Stefano and Trinculo, and he is violently dispatched by his Machiavellian brother before the ship sets sail for Europe. Caliban/Kalyan is reunited with his mother after torching the remains of his servitude. Puck/Ariel flies away and inadvertently assists Robert Clive to victory over Siraj-ud-Daulah (241-242). (There is an

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echo here of Red Earth and Pouring Rain.) Ariel becomes Harilal and ends up a ghost of history, encountered by the equally long-lived Sheikh Piru at the Delhi Durbar and the midnight moment of Independence. The Sheikh, however, seeks company with Sukumari and Kalyan, offering to tell them a story, but the woman refuses: ‘‘‘We must tell our own tales,’’ she said’ (252). If this is the message of the book, then it is surely compromised by its mechanics. To some extent, it is true that Kalyan Ray tells his own Indian tale as a corrective to the tale the Western archive has told about Shakespeare and colonialism, and as a revision of the fantasies created by the Bard. But it is also not his own tale: it is a pastiche of English literature, in particular of the Bard’s words and plots, interpolated, punned and distorted, but always recognisable. Eastwords is more successful in escaping the formal restraints of its original material than The Pregnant King is, but its very irreverence towards its sources carries those sources with it, and its style is also more Rushdie’s than Ray’s. It teeters between being a witty light entertainment for global literati and a formulaic exemplum of assorted postcolonial abstractions, crying out to be taught in undergraduate classes. If the South Asian diaspora and the globalisation of postcolonial theory has led to a boom in magic-realist reworkings of Indian settings and the classics that cater to a cosmopolitan literary industry, so the new wave of global corporate publishing in India has produced homegrown versions of international popular genres, including the detective story. This, of course, has had a presence in Indian writing since at least Satyajit Ray’s creation of Feluda, but now, even within India, there can be a globally aware archness about many titles, as exemplified in Partha Basu’s make-over of Sherlock Holmes stories. The Curious Case of 221B retells selected key tales from Watson’s point of view and ‘corrects the facts’, picking up on the Indian connection in ‘The Sign of Four’. Although the book has been well reviewed (Cooper 2010: 2627), its major effect is to show how well the author knows the originals and little drama is gained from the ‘twists’ at the end of each episode.

Tabish Khair’s The Thing about Thugs: Storytelling as a Window on the Past Another rewrite of a British bestseller, with a link to detective stories but a more complex take on sources, is Tabish Khair’s The Thing about Thugs. Khair, of course, is another diasporic teacher of literature, resident in Denmark, but his book, like the other two, is published in New Delhi. Unlike the other two, however, it does not seek to rewrite a major canonical text, but rather a minor classic, a bestseller from the colo-

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nial nineteenth century: Philip Meadows Taylor’s Confessions of a Thug (1839). The underlying intent is nonetheless similar – a counter-discursive unmasking of colonial discourse (here mainly that of the West as the owner of Reason) – as is the aesthetic (broadly inspired by postBarthes theories of literary text and ideas drawn from the subaltern history group). One thread linking Eastwords and The Thing about Thugs is Shakespeare. In typical nineteenth-century fashion, Meadows Taylor scatters epigraphs from the Bard across his chapters as a random signal of literary aspiration. Khair, like Ray, is less reverent, and puts The Complete Works into the hands of a beggar-master or slumlord. The tome functions as a token of his high office on the mean streets of the London docks, and continues to exert the kind of ‘holy power’ Ray’s Prospero acknowledges in the Bible; it assumes the status of scripture for its owner, who dips into it at random for advice and demands his followers swear by it (Khair 2010: 179-181). Ironically this undoes the official cultural standing of Shakespeare, as his high culture plays are turned to subaltern purpose, becoming auguries of cultic significance for the illiterate. The Thing about Thugs distances itself from specifically historical reconstruction by its anachronisms. It clearly sets its tale as Victorian, beginning in 1837 along with the Queen’s reign. But the material it uses as its referents post-date that time. Philip Meadows Taylor returned to England on furlough from years in India in the service of the Nizam of Hyderabad, and wrote Confessions of a Thug through 1839 (Poovey 2004). Khair’s novel makes clear reference to Conan Doyle, who began writing his Sherlock Holmes stories in 1889, his Indian story, ‘The Sign of Four’ not appearing until 1890 (Roberts in Doyle 1980: viii). There is mention of a London urban myth of ‘mole people’ inhabiting the sewers, an echo of the Morlocks in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine (1895). Other allusions are made to Dickens, Wilkie Collins (his ‘Indian’ novel, The Moonstone coming out in 1868 and The Woman in White eight years earlier), Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1901), Jack the Ripper and the press frenzy arising from his killings (1888), and the illustration at the beginning suggests reference to Fergus Hume’s The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (1886). Only Dickens is a fictional contemporary of Captain Meadows’ recording of Amir Ali’s story. This is quite deliberate, for Khair’s book is about the endless circling of stories within genres and about stories as the basis of human meaning generally. Meadows Taylor’s original work owes much of its appeal to its reproduction of the romance of chivalry format: an episodic serial of damsels in distress, jousts and swordfights. (Ameer Ali is described as ‘courtly’ at one point [Taylor 1839 Vol. 2: 184]). Obviously the rest of the appeal lies in picturesque scenery (Muharram festivities in Hydera-

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bad [Vol. 2, 7], ancient ruins [126], curiosity about exotic parts, and the frisson of inverting the romance with tales of ruthless murder and unprincipled thievery). Tabish Khair distances himself from his original source of inspiration by making the historical Meadows Taylor over into a character, Captain William Meadows, beset by the matchmaking wife of a senior police officer and by the rivalries and prejudices of English servants. Khair takes Meadows’ material (once used to suppress banditry in India by figuring it as a superstitious cult of heathen bloodlust) and adds to it a postcolonial critique of hegemonic Western reason. (Reason is figured as a god superior but equivalent to Indian deities by the slyly civil Amir Ali, Meadows’ informant). On its own ground, Western science is mocked by the depiction of rational Englishmen promoting grave robbery and murder to collect skulls in order to prove the truth of phrenology. Major Grayper of the London police has a sidekick named Watson and applies logical analysis of evidence to produce quite the wrong conclusion due to his patriarchal views on women (Khair 2010: 219). In Khair’s reworking of Confessions to include the point of view of the supposed confessor, it transpires that Captain Meadows has been duped by Amir Ali in order to extricate himself from a village feud. The author adds a metafictional narrative in which he, as narrator, sets forth the processes and problems of creating historical fiction. This last element seems to owe something to Amitav Ghosh’s essay ‘The Testimony of my Grandfather’s Bookcase’ (Ghosh 1997). This self-reflexiveness is both an improvement on Eastwords, because it tones down the slapstick parodies of that book, and a limitation, in that it lends a cooler tone of bookishness, highlighting the ‘story as postcolonial essay’ aspect. However, if postcolonial correction of a colonial original is the primary purpose of The Thing about Thugs, then the book cannot be said to be a complete success, for it fails to capitalise fully on available ironies. As Mary Poovey notes, thugs spoke of themselves as ‘free traders’, just as East India Company agents did (Poovey 2004: 12), and Volume 2 of Meadows Taylor’s Victorian ‘triple decker’ clearly shows how Ami Ali regards his activities as a profession requiring dedicated practice of one’s skills (Taylor 1839 Vol. 2: 24, 116). He is also a free thinker, rejecting some of the superstitious ritual of his fellow thugs (Vol. 2, 61-3) and jokes with his Sahib interviewer that the only reason thugs do not attack Englishmen is not because Indians are in awe of English superiority, but because either they are too well armed or never carry much money on their person (Vol. 2: 137-8). But in the end, we are carried away by the Dickensian characters and the dark thriller plot, and it turns out that Khair is more interested really in the nature and power of storytelling as a window on the past. Captain Taylor’s transcript of his interviews with Amir Ali recording the latter’s initiation into the cult of thuggee and their conversations in

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Meadows’ London house operate out of the same blind dramatic monologue as Browning’s self-absorbed narrator in ‘My Last Duchess’ (Browning 1983: 335). This thread of text is intercut with Amir Ali’s diary in Persian addressed to his English inamorata (diary fragments of which the author/narrator has found in his grandfather’s mouldering library). In the diaries (translated by a narrator who confesses only passing knowledge of Urdu or Persian [Khair 2]) we get the ‘true’ account of his family’s persecution by a country landowner and his escape and revenge through the unwitting agency of Captain Meadows. Meadows is also exhibiting Ali as an example of colonial rehabilitation and as evidence that phrenology does not have a rigorous predictive ability. His doctrinal rival, Lord Batterstone, is collecting a global museum of skulls to show the truth of his pet ‘science’, and spurs a number of murders on the part of his suppliers, for which the ‘thug’ becomes suspect. He is thrown into jail and eventually released by Meadows who more or less admits the possibility that Amir Ali has been playing a role, but gives this no importance: we all do, he says, ‘But just as one cannot condemn a man, or so I believe, because of a bump or two on his head, surely we cannot write off life because of its imperfections’ (Khair 158). This is something he has learned in the process of compiling his book. Ali, on the other hand, is thrown into more radical doubt: in those hours of imprisonment, a frightening thought crossed my mind. I felt that I had become my own story; my life had turned into the lie I had narrated to Captain Meadows. Suddenly I was the thug I had claimed to be. It felt strange to become something else. Is that all it requires? A few words? A few stories? … Is that all we are: stories, words, breath? … Are we then nothing but the playthings of language? When do we tell stories and when do stories tell us? (Khair 177-178, original italics) In a situation akin to Ghosh’s The Calcutta Chromosome, Khair marshals a motley collection of what today would be ‘illegals’ – a multicultural assortment of beggars, opium addicts, piece-workers, prostitutes and out-of work lascars – to lead the police without their knowing to the British perpetrators of the crimes for which Amir Ali is accused. They know that they cannot reveal themselves as agents or they will be ‘policed’ by all kinds of institutions of social order, but that unless they do something, the mob (spurred by the sensationalist press) will eventually attack them as the embodiment of London’s fears of pagan cults and foreign diseases polluting ‘fair’ England’s shores (Khair 200-201). Only Amir Ali works out that Lord Batterstone sits behind the mayhem on the streets, and the book ends with him confronting the uncompre-

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hending force of evil in a boat bound for Africa where Batterstone hopes to complete his collection of skulls. The Lord looks at the lascar ‘and sees no story worth reading’ (244). We (in true ‘death of the author’ mode) are left to guess how the encounter will turn out, but in the meantime we know we have read an extraordinary tale that touches on an entire archive of British literature, including perhaps a silent ghost of J.M. Coetzee’s Foe, and definitely a warning from Conrad’s that ‘This too has been one of the dark places of the earth’ (Khair 167). A little further on, when the Farsi notebook ‘peters out’ and the narrator recalls power cuts in his grandfather’s house, he reflects (indirectly on the problem of producing subaltern histories) that, regardless, ‘the stories never stopped … the darkness is never absolute’ (185).

Conclusion Gayatri Spivak, talking about the ‘shuttling … through which identity is negotiated, inscribed and contested’ (Nikos Papastergiadis’s words from his interview with her) in the different context of the Indian scholar’s engagement with women and subaltern subjects, speaks of a ‘pre-fixed staging’ that determines an oscillation between ‘self-righteous continuous narcissism’ of essentialised identities (‘Third World Woman’, ‘tribal’, nationalist origins, etcetera) or ‘the despair of nothing but Echo’. She also posits in and around this shuttling ‘a moment of slippage’ that inserts a ‘robust aporetic position’, enabling the ongoing process of decolonisation (Spivak 1991: 65-66). In a perhaps loose sense, works that rewrite the classics shuttle between narcissistic gazing at reflected cultural origins as ‘universal’, ‘pre-fixed’ templates (here either of colonial or national cultural traditions) and imitative echoes. Each work studied here, however, to different degrees, deploys a parodic mimicry through which aporetic gaps and contradictions can be seen. The Pregnant King, not so much a counter-discursive ‘writing back’ against tradition as it is an echoing tribute seeking to find modern potential within the old epics, ultimately fails to slip convincingly out from under the hold of its originary material, even though its message for modernity is commendable. Eastwords messes irreverently with its Shakespearean origins, but in echoing so much of them (and so much of postcolonial literary ‘writing back’ scholarship) runs the danger of being trapped in mimicry – of being in the end merely an amusing pastiche. Perhaps it succeeds in putting the Bard (and magic realism? and postcolonial theory?) at a benign cosmopolitan distance, but in doing so avoids grappling with the aporetic possibilities of ongoing cultural politics (such as the author’s own cosmopolitan positionality). The Thing about Thugs takes its source material more seriously, and moves to

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question/expose the author’s own position. It also makes clear what the more playful texts perhaps do not (though I think all of them illustrate the point): that ‘all stories are not equivalent’ (Khair 244). Perhaps it is the most successful in making its hegemonic classic into something that is its own thing, but in doing so, it also leaves itself enclosed within the echoing walls of endless textuality, not unlike Borges’s world. In her essay ‘How to read a ‘culturally different’ book’, Gayatri Spivak attacks the depoliticising effects of globalising Commonwealth and postcolonial literary studies by tracking the history and social conditions of devadasi as a context for reading R.K. Narayan’s otherwise ‘innocently’ entertaining novel, The Guide. She also takes a swipe at how Indian English writing effaces its connections to other Indian literatures, but when a book like Shashi Tharoor’s The Great Indian Novel rewrites the Mahabharata as a satirical political history of independent India, claims that ‘the spoof is inaccessible to the international readership of Commonwealth Literature’. The ‘Indo-Anglian novel’ cannot be read by more than a local coterie in India and is turned out by Narayan’s generation of ‘novelists of local colour, the nostalgic’ and later by emigrant cosmopolitans ‘exuberantly mocking … the native language’ in a ‘public declaration of ethnic identity in metropolitan space’ (Spivak 1994: 128). Admittedly her focus is on how cultural studies is being practised in the US, but there is a familiar tone of nationalistic one-upmanship in her dismissal of Indian English writing (as the generic joke would formulate it: ‘I am an authoritative voice because I am an Indian scholar who happens to be abroad and still speak my mother tongue/s; you are a moderately authentic diasporic; they are rootless cosmopolitans’). Elsewhere she would critique this as her being positioned as the ‘native informant’. In any case, we might respond that things have changed: that now there is a post-diasporic shuttling between home and abroad that complicates the figure of the cosmopolitan and the location and function of books written by such a figure. Increased literacy in English amongst the burgeoning Indian middle class and the opening of India to globalised publishing also changes the sites of production and reception of Indian English writing. Indian English literary fiction, for example, now competes not so much with other language publication in India as with all the popular culture print production, including an Indian boom in global genres such as ‘chick lit’ and thrillers. It may be that consumption overseas, either by cosmopolitan NRIs (Non-Resident Indians) or students of postcolonial literatures, continues to exoticise and dehistoricise, but that is not the fault of the writer, except in so far as he or she caters to such a denaturing of literary power and dissimulation of the society and culture being represented. And in the context of

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a globalised literary market (in all its manifestations), it is no more true to say that an Indian parody is inaccessible to an international readership than it is to claim that Hard Times or Catch 22 is inaccessible to twenty-year-old readers in Nunavut. If we enjoy the story, we will perhaps read the source texts and historical context; if we are in a classroom, we will almost certainly be directed to them; and in this age of global media, we may well have some passing acquaintance with the background material already and can google it if we have not. In the case of the three novels examined here, all are published in India, and only one would be working with a text not everyone has heard of. Only one adopts a playful attitude to Indian vernacular (and that is more to do with emulating Rushdie’s style than any attempt to reference Sanskrit or Hindi). One book is clearly directed more at an Indian readership – whether within or beyond the subcontinent – but all three are concerned with undoing the hold of the past (Spivak’s ‘pre-text’ of colonial or national discourse) over our thinking today. It is certainly possible to read these books as putting Indian social reality at a safe distance, visible only through a screen of texts, and to read this as an effect (as Graham Huggan argues) of the globalising of postcolonial writing (Huggan 2001). Nonetheless, there is a serious intent behind the parody, and it is not (not only) to make a dollar out of retailing the ‘mystic East’. Indeed, to differing extents, all books question the very production and perpetuation of orientalist fixations. In the end, all works serve to illustrate the truth of Chinua Achebe’s dictum, taken as the epigraph to Eastwords: ‘Man is a storymaking animal’ (Ray 2004 original italics). But the choice is significant – not a playful postmodern writer; another engaged postcolonial refigurer of the classics of colonial literary authority. By repeating originals, they are taken out of time and into the realm of myth (‘Is the mythical more real for it withstands time? Because a myth stands with, and beside, Time itself’ [ibid.: 84]), and so they are given power for conveying truth but escape exclusive ownership. And by setting their mythic reach against their historical specificity, they are reduced to time and place and become merely contingent, but also connected to the power of truth and the truth of power.

6 Of Art and the Artist Kunal Basu’s The Miniaturist as a Mughal/Modern Novel Rituparna Roy

A New Trend in Indian English Fiction You must see what He sees. Not the view of the mortal, but a glorious world washed clean in magical light and dazzling with colour. You must copy in miniature the world He has drawn. One where everything is carefully chosen, the profusion of nature simplified, men and women incomparably beautiful, everything as precious and perfect as He willed them to be … Remember, Bihzad, the artist is closest of all to the Creator.1 This articulation of the exalted vocation of artists are the parting words of advice given by an eminent miniaturist to his ace pupil – Bihzad of the quote – in Kunal Basu’s novel The Miniaturist. Set in the 16th century, The Miniaturist (2003) tells the story of the painter Kamal-al-Din Bihzad, son of Abdus Samad Shirazi, chief artist in the court of the Mughal emperor Akbar. The historical Bihzad showed exceptional artistic talent as a boy and was expected to succeed his father, but he rebelled and then dropped out of sight – lost to history. In this novel, Basu thus weaves a tale from what was essentially a footnote in history. But the novel is a contemporary one, because (as this chapter will argue) what it primarily explores has deep relevance even today – namely, the relationship between art and the artist, and the extent to which it is defined by love, success and power. The Miniaturist is Basu’s second novel. His first, The Opium Clerk (2001), is about a clerk at Calcutta’s Auction House, Hiran, who gets embroiled in the shady opium trade of the British and finds himself being caught up in events beyond his control. The action of the story takes us as far as Canton and Kuching in China, but the novel is most memorable for its evocation of late-nineteenth-century Calcutta. Coming at the early part of the decade, these two novels (The Opium Clerk and The Miniaturist) announced the arrival of a new and rare talent in Indian English fiction – one who, unlike many others of his gen-

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eration, was not taken up with contemporary India or parables of the nation.2 The historical past has not been a privileged subject in Indian English fiction. For the last 80 years, it has been preoccupied with contemporary events, or at best the recent past – the Nationalist Movement;3 the Partition and its aftermath;4 terrorism;5 recent communal violence and separatist movements.6 This changed somewhat since the end of the 1990s (with Kiran Nagarkar’s Cuckold); and in the first decade of this century, four exceptional novels harked back to the colonial and distant past of India. Interestingly, the two most well-known among them – both published in 2008 – Salman Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence7 and Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies, are about epochs and characters that Basu had already dealt with. Akbar is one of the protagonists of Rushdie’s novel, who as a fictional character had first made his appearance in the Indian English novel in The Miniaturist. Again, Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies, set against the backdrop of the first Opium War, deals partly with a subject that Basu had covered in his very first novel, The Opium Clerk. Obviously, the narratives of these four novels have very different emphases – but the point here is that they constitute a new trend of the decade 2000-2010.

The Mughal Context It may be important to note here that in 2002, just a year before the publication of The Miniaturist, William Dalrymple’s hugely influential White Mughals was published to both popular response and critical acclaim. Though it was an instant international bestseller, with accolades pouring in from not only literary reviewers but also historians, in India, its popularity had a rather different significance than elsewhere in the world. For not since the 1960 Bollywood classic Mughal-e-Azam (starring Prithviraj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Madhubala)8 did the Mughals rule the popular imagination or become part of the popular discourse in India. But White Mughals was a different class of Mughal history, in keeping with and continuing the trend of Indian historiography of the 1980s and 1990s, where previously marginalised groups/regions/ideas gained in prominence,9 and when historical significance was seemingly teased out of footnotes in history. Partha Chatterjee’s A Princely Impostor? The Kumar of Bhawal and the Secret History of Indian Nationalism gave a new fillip to this genre in 2000 and may be said to be the immediate precedent of White Mughals – though this was a book of ‘narrative history’ written by a recognised historian and not an established ‘non-fiction’/’travel’ writer.

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Set in Hyderabad at the beginning of the nineteenth century, White Mughals tells the story of the romantic affair and later marriage between James Achilles Kirkpatrick, a British resident of Hyderabad and a rising star in the East India Company, and Khair-un-Nisa, a Hyderabadi princess. But it is not just an exotic love story; rather, through it, Dalrymple demonstrates the complex legacy of the British Empire in India, which he defines more in terms of exchange and negotiation than dominance and subjugation. The book however triumphs not because of Dalrymple’s alternative version of a colonial period, but for being a persuasive piece of narrative history. As Pankaj Mishra succinctly puts it in his Guardian review, ‘This capacious book is never more engaging than when, spurning polemic and theory, Dalrymple describes, with a novelist’s compassion, the tragic costs of his [Kirkpatrick’s] rebellion’. Dalrymple continued his foray into the untold stories of the Mughal Empire with The Last Mughal in 2006, where he tells the story of the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, and the destruction of the great Mughal capital of Delhi in the catastrophe of 1857. This book was based on groundbreaking material: previously untranslated Urdu and Persian manuscripts that included Indian eyewitness accounts, and the records of the Delhi courts, police and administration during the siege – making the book an extraordinary revisionist work by presenting the Indian perspective on the siege and telling the stories of its forgotten heroes.10 Between the publication of Dalrymple’s White Mughals and The Last Mughal, quite a few books on Mughal history were published – most notably by Harvard historian Annemarie Schimmel and Eraly Abraham, both in 2004. But these were academic books, and though they were written in an accessible manner, they did not have the kind of mass appeal that Dalrymple’s books commanded. The focus on the Mughals – as seen through the huge popular reception of Dalrymple’s narrative history – was just one aspect of a new intellectual trend in India. In history writing, the first decade of the twenty-first century saw a major focus on Muslims and Islam in India. The best index of this trend is perhaps the work of one of India’s preeminent historians – Mushirul Hasan. In the late 1990s, Hasan had investigated – in Legacy of A Divided Nation: India’s Muslims Since Independence – the origins of Muslim separatism under colonial rule and the legacy of Partition for India’s Muslims right up to the period before and after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Hasan continued his explorations in this area in a series of books throughout the decade – from Islam in the Subcontinent: Muslims in a Plural Society (2002) to Moderate or Militant? Images of India’s Muslims (2008).11

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The period from 2000 to 2010 was thus a period of intense intellectual enquiry into India’s Mughal/Muslim past as also the fate of Muslims in contemporary India. Basu’s novel can be seen as a part of this broader discourse.

The Miniaturist as a Historical Novel In The Miniaturist, Basu evokes Mughal India with rare imaginative conviction and beauty. The novel seems to fit the model descriptions of the genre of historical fiction as enunciated by major theorists of the novel like Sir Herbert Grierson and Georg Lukacs.12 About his own manifesto of writing, Basu has been on record saying: Authors shouldn’t pontificate. It’d be ideal if they only wrote. Never having attended writing school, I have little to say about writing, very few rants to air. The only point that I occasionally make, is about imagination and how it stands to be devalued by the rising tide of information. Information as in social history, anthropology, area studies, even memoirs. An author, of course, needs all the facts (and views) necessary to create a believable context for the plot to unfurl. The story is figure while the rest is ground. Increasingly, figure and ground are being exchanged … It gives the impression that readers read novels primarily to learn about a context, perhaps a new and uncharted context – that they are really thirsting after social science, not story. Perhaps some do, perhaps there are others who don’t mind the lies – i.e., the fictional part of fiction. (Dhar, Roy, Nanda & Bandopadhyay 2004: 12) It is this ‘fictional part of fiction’ that Basu excels in. The historical context in The Miniaturist is both ‘believable’ and credible; and there is no exchange of ‘figure’ and ‘ground’ here. However, the historical representation in the novel is not uniform. Subir Dhar has argued that there are ‘two radically divergent representation of events’ in the novel – one, like the opening passage, with the Khwaja and little Bihzad watching a sunrise from Agra’s fort (3-4), where ‘an event located beyond history’ is evoked; and another kind, running parallel to it, like Akbar’s army’s assault on a neighbouring rebel Hindu rajah’s kingdom (100), in the rendering of which ‘a more positivistic and dispassionate historicity manifests itself’ (Dhar et al. 2004: 149). This double representation, as it were, however, only lends an added dimension to The Miniaturist – making it an interesting narrative, with-

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out detracting from its credibility in any way. At the heart of the novel is the story of Bihzad, and it is this that animates the text from beginning to end. Geographically, the novel traverses a wide swathe – starting from Agra and then Fatehpur Sikri, it travels through Afghanistan, Samarkhand, Hindu Kush and finally terminates in the caves of Capadochia in eastern Turkey. It is interesting that The Miniaturist was published in the very same year that saw the publication of the English translation of Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red – another novel dealing with miniature art – though located in a different geographical area (sixteenthcentury Istanbul) and more ambitious in its scope. For Pamuk’s novel explores, among other things, the history of art, cultural tensions between East and West, the nature of love, and the nature of death – from twenty interchanging points of view. One common feature, however, is the extent to which both novels are about art. My Name Is Red is full of stories about the great miniaturists and their history, going back to Bihzad and the Chinese influences brought by the Mongols; it is riddled with discussions and debates about form and style, the relationship of art to morality and society and religion; as well as the effects of Western ideas on Ottoman illumination. The Miniaturist, too, is a deep introspection on art and the artist. However, it is more taken up with the artist and his predicament. The most striking feature of the novel is its visual quality. Reading it is akin to going through an album of paintings. Not only are dozens of Bihzad’s paintings described to us in the novel – right from the time Bihzad is a child wonder, composing scenes from Arabian fables for his teacher until the time he paints Akbar on his death-bed – but we are also given the story of his life in pictures. Not just that. When Bihzad himself ruminates on his life, looks back upon it in reminiscence or nostalgia, it is in the form of paintings. At the end of the novel, as he looks back upon his Sikri days, the narrator says: The whole of Sikri seemed like a brilliant album full of exquisite paintings, full of faces he knew and had learned to draw exactly. The Darogha. Naubat Khan. The philosopher Murtaza Beg. Even the chameleon Adili. Turning the pages in his mind, he could see the vivid court scenes, the musical soirees, the elephant fights, the executions. He could even see his stepmother, although she had never visited Sikri, among the ladies of the harem surrounded by her garlands. (140) Even Bihzad’s dreams and nightmares come to him as paintings. And he often imagines himself as part of a miniature:

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He started to imagine himself as a figure in a classical miniature – a chess-player, a prince, a visiting emissary. He felt the harmony of lines surrounding him, the subtle intoxication of colours, the comfort of a story within a story. (73) This preoccupation with visuals is in keeping with the main thrust of the novel which, though set during the reign of Akbar, actually foregrounds the role of art and artists during that time. The emperor’s life and conquests are only incidental to that tale. The novel is divided in three parts – Naqsh, Tarkh, Tasveer (or Patterns, Shape, Portrait) – imitating the process that Mughal artists were supposed to follow in creating a painting.

Three Artists: Abdus Samad Shirazi, Mir Sayyid Ali and Zuleikha It is, however, the first part that is the most emblematic in the novel. At the centre of the narrative of Naqsh is the kitabkhana (or the royal workshop) of Agra. And most of the people who are important in Bihzad’s life are directly or indirectly connected with it. My focus in this chapter will be on three of these figures – his father, his teacher and his stepmother – and their relationships with Bihzad, as they are not only vital to his growth as an artist but are also emblematic of the artist’s negotiations with the world. The foremost of these figures is Bihzad’s father – Abdus Samad Shirazi, the Khwaja (or chief artist of the royal workshop). He is the true representative of the age – combining in his person both the success and failures typical of the times. He had come to Agra from Persia a few years before Bihzad was born, summoned to the court in Hindustan by its emperor. The Mughals, immigrants themselves, welcomed men of talent and knew how to reward them. The Khwaja had earned eminence as a painter very soon and was rewarded with the title of ‘Shirin Qalam’ (or ‘Sweet Pen’) by the emperor. His stature increased – he was given a haveli close to the royal palace, and most importantly, raised to the position of chief artist of the royal workshop. But, ironically, it was his very success that became the bane of his life. For he was forever drowned in work. The illiterate emperor, who loved stories, made incessant demands upon him to turn fable after fable into pictures: First, it was The Tales of the Parrot. Fifty-two stories, fifty-two paintings. Now, the Hamzanama – even more sizeable, requiring fourteen hundred paintings in fourteen volumes to illustrate

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it fully … Running the workshop required not simply an artist’s but a general’s skill – leading a whole army, or a governor’s, minding a whole province. (20) The predicament of the Khwaja is that he cannot refuse the emperor, but is equally unable to continue as just a manager of men. He is thus very successful but deeply unhappy. He does complete the massive Hamzanama fables in a very short time; and it is rumoured that the emperor would grant him a ‘higher honour’ for being able to do so – ‘Master of the mint, perhaps. Chief of the armoury. The Royal Paymaster’ (24). Disconsolate, for being rewarded for getting farther and farther away from painting, the Khwaja confesses to his friend Salim Amiri: ‘Do you know what my teachers in Persia would say if they could see me now? … A pimp … Worse than a whore’ (24). It is strange that though he rails against his condition, the Khwaja grooms his son to do just the thing he hates – run the royal workshop. Succeed him as the Khwaja. The Khwaja’s first wife had died in childbirth, gifting him Bihzad – and from the very beginning, there is a tremendous emotional investment in his son. Not only does he name him after the great Persian painter, Kamal-al-Din Bihzad, ‘the jewel of Herat and Tabriz’ (26), but he also brings up his son in a very unconventional manner – going to great lengths to ensure that his natural talent for painting was unsullied by any external influence. The height of that precaution was keeping Bihzad illiterate, so that he ‘would discover his own secrets before he discovered the secrets in books, before words and numbers spoilt his love for glowing images’ (26). He is a loving father, in his own way. At the beginning of the novel, we find him with his son at the fort’s edge at dawn – waiting to show little Bihzad ‘the true mischief of the sun’ (3); and through that experience, to point out to him, ‘The finest artist in all Agra’ (4) – God. He also gives his growing son glimpses of the colourful life of Agra in his own company, but does not allow him to mix with the rabble. Bihzad thus lives a lonely life in his father’s haveli – drawing pictures and flying kites. And, it is only on the entreaty of his stepmother, Zuleikha, that ‘the kiteplayer [should be allowed to] become a proper artist’ (12), that he finally sends Bihzad to be a pupil of Mir Sayyid Ali, his peer and rival. The Khwaja and Mir Sayyid Ali – one the father, and the other, a father-figure to Bihzad – are a study in contrast. While the Khwaja becomes, in effect, a courtier, Mir Sayyid Ali staunchly remains an artist. And though both rail against the reduced status of artists to Salim Amiri, the friendly paintseller who was the gossip of all Agra, Mir Sayyid Ali takes a stand against it at a crucial juncture in the narrative, but the Khwaja does not/cannot.

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While the Khwaja loses sleep over who would become master of the kitabkhana when Akbar shifts his capital from Agra to Sikri, Mir Sayyid Ali voluntarily bows out of the rat race, though he is one of the strongest contenders for the post (and according to many, the emperor’s favourite). He, in fact, does not go to Sikri at all, but leaves Agra and returns to his native Persia – unable to accept the crass commercialisation of his art. He is nostalgic for the old days, when art was valued. As he tells Salim Amiri: Art was respected in the olden days … The rulers of Herat and Tabriz would invite poets to recite while they posed – to tinge their faces with the fragrance of verse. And that’s not all. There were kings who took to art themselves – to forget war, to heal the wounds, ask forgiveness for their sins … There were just a few of us then. Not hundreds. Not like stonecutters and masons. Or labourers. (17) He leaves – though not before grooming Bihzad to be a true artist. He is a great teacher. He nurtures Bihzad’s talent in a very different way than that of his father. While the Khwaja is all precaution and anxiety, Mir Sayyid Ali – for all his strictness as a teacher – gives Bihzad freedom of expression, the scope to experiment, and allows him to develop his own distinct style. At this phase in his life, as a teenager, Bihzad is all defiance. He had always had a mischievous streak in him – even as a small boy, he drew unflattering portraits of people he knew; made fun of his neighbours by drawing their faces on kites for all to see, much to his father’s dismay. But as a budding miniaturist, he rebelled against norms – wanting to paint the emperor in his presence, knowing full well it was forbidden; refusing to draw the shamsa, the mandatory ornamental sunburst at the beginning of a manuscript; changing the perspective in his miniatures, with looming human figures in the foreground, against all convention. His father is worried at his son’s strange ways, and begins to have a sneaking suspicion that his teacher was not training him properly, not correcting his mistakes – perhaps intentionally – because he ‘didn’t wish to part with all his secrets’ (28). Such a thought befitted a courtier – as indeed by then the Khwaja had become, and so he could understand little else other than intrigue, jealousy, rivalry and anxiety about position and power. Mir Sayyid Ali was, however, only being a good teacher – just allowing his pupil to bloom. When Bihzad gave new interpretations to legendary stories, like that of Shirin and Khosru from The Shahnama, he is impressed with his pupil’s individuality. When Bihzad refused to illustrate

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the memoirs of the emperor’s grandfather, Babur, the first Great Mughal himself, he argued with the young rebel, ‘If the great Kamal-al-Din Bihzad, your namesake, could illustrate the warrior Timur’s life, why should you refuse to do Babur’s?’ (29). When Bihzad railed against having to draw only about razm and bazm, love and war, the aged artist sympathised: ‘For once Mir Sayyid Ali looked at him kindly. The artist was awakening. It was time perhaps, for the child to become a man’ (29). Not long after, Bihzad is inducted into the kitabkhana at Agra. His first commission is to depict the emperor in the Qamargah – the imperial hunt. Right from that time, he is full of questions. Why does the emperor want the Qamargah to be depicted? he asks Salim Amiri. Other questions follow – Why does he only have to record the glory of Akbar’s conquests? Why cannot he draw what he himself wants to? The answers he gets are predictable, and he is dissatisfied. As a painter he tastes early success, feˆted by the emperor himself, who now commissions the Akbarnama – the story of his own life. This project is supposed to seal Bihzad’s worthiness for the post of the Khwaja and keeps him busy. Heading such an important project at such a young age should have made him happy and proud. Instead, he feels restless. He rebels at being reduced to just a commissioned artist – living at someone else’s bidding. He is also restless because – unknown to everyone – he leads a double life, working simultaneously on two projects, the official Akbarnama by day and his own personal Akbarnama by night; where he gives expression to his wildest fantasies – depicting Akbar and himself as lovers. Working in Agra’s kitabkhana, Bihzad had developed an adolescent infatuation for Akbar – the distant, unseen emperor, who ironically was a perpetual presence in his art. But that he dares to paint his fantasies is due to the indirect influence of his stepmother, Zuleikha – the one close person in his life who was not directly related to the kitabkhana. Zuleikha is the unseen shaping influence in Bihzad’s life. She plays a cameo role in the novel, but her role in Bihzad’s life is very significant. While the Khwaja and the Darogha labour to train Bihzad as the future master of the kitabkhana, and Mir Sayyid Ali is desirous that he does not forget the spiritual side of art, it is Zuleikha who moulds his personality – by example.13 Zuleikha was much younger than the Khwaja and Bihzad’s constant companion since his childhood. It is she who read out stories to the illiterate boy so that he could paint his lessons. She is a lonely wife – the Khwaja being forever away and aloof and drowned either in his work or sorrow. But she is a fiercely independent woman, very unlike other courtiers’ wives, and wields great power in the emperor’s harem by selling her own perfumes. She was known there as ‘the merchant of beauty’ (19) and loved and respected for her work.

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Being very familiar with the emperor’s harem and getting to know all the inside stories, Zuleikha develops an irreverent attitude towards the emperor and instills a little of that in her stepson too. She has the temerity to club the emperor and Bihzad together in a conversation with her husband, saying that they are both illiterate and love stories. But most trenchantly of all, she once tells Bihzad that the emperor has two harems – one of concubines, and the other of artists, and that his father was chief of this other harem (the kitabkhana). Many of these earlier strains – acts of Zuleikha’s silent defiance – are taken up later by Bihzad, in peculiar ways, without him even realising it. Zuleikha’s is, in a sense, the shaping influence on Bihzad’s life, but the whole thing happens very unobtrusively. Away from her in Sikri, Bihzad never forgets how she had lived ‘much like an artist herself, surrounded by her perfumes’ (18). Even within the four walls of the Khwaja’s haveli, she had created a world of her own, unfettered by any external control. She lived for herself and she created for pleasure, just because she loved doing it. Her creation had no function outside its own being. She was truly independent, and enjoyed and appropriated artistic freedom for herself – something that the Khwaja, with all his (supposed) power and position, could not do. This has a profound impact on Bihzad. Here was one person who lived life on her own terms. He never forgot her veiled warning before he left for Sikri: ‘Now it is your turn. To follow your father, to please the emperor, become what you are not’. The entreaty implicit in such a statement was never lost upon him. In fact, as we have seen, all the time that he was in Sikri and was being earnestly groomed to become the next Khwaja, he tried to avoid being what he was not, tried hard to find himself, his own voice. The epitome of that was painting his own Akbarnama – freeing himself from the limitation of being a court artist, which leads to his exile. It is important to note here that Bihzad and Zuleikha had become involved in an incestuous relationship; and at the tender age of fifteen, Bihzad was dealing with two forbidden loves – for the emperor and for his stepmother. And in trying to be true to one love and following her advice, he ends up giving expression to his desire for another. Success and the hunger for power that was the driving force behind his father’s life mattered little to him compared to the yearning for love and its consummation. He pays a heavy price for it with his exile. Thereafter, he lives a tumultuous life full of suffering and hardship. But it is through this depiction of Bihzad’s struggle to find himself and his own artistic vision that Basu celebrates the autonomy of art – suggesting that this is the path that all true artists must traverse.

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Modern Resonances The artists we encountered in this novel – the Khwaja, Mir Sayyid Ali and Zuleikha – though they are all contemporaries, represent different attitudes to art. Using art as a handmaiden to power; celebrating through it, the divine; making it the vehicle of individual expression. These are some of the perennial ways in which art has been defined and practiced through the ages, and they are as true today as they were in Mughal India. The artist of today has to negotiate the same challenges that the Khwaja and Bihzad did almost five centuries ago; and he is faced with the same choices – to be either driven by success and power or remain committed to the integrity of his art; conform blindly to norms or strike out on his own to find his true voice.14 Colonial and modern India is replete with examples of artists who bypassed the beaten track and suffered for it. A ready example that comes to mind, especially in the context of censorship of art, is the Malayalee painter Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906) who ‘dared to paint the gods’ and faced prosecution for doing this.15 While his artistic legacy has endured, especially in the form of calendar art in India, his unique style of adapting Western techniques to Indian mythological themes had created a furore in his own time.16 Maqbool Fida Hussain (1915-2011) is another example. In fact, he offers a striking comparison with Bihzad – though from a later part of the novel, in Tarkh. During his exile, Bihzad, in spite of having decided never to paint again, is drawn back to his brush while living in a serai in Hazari, Samarkand. The variety of people he meets there daily and the colourful life of the bazaar inspires him; and in the course of his exploration of his new surroundings, he chances upon a picture of Mother Mary and infant Jesus in Father Alvarez’ (a Jesuit priest) room. This inspires him to paint Mary and soon, the picture casts a strange spell over the serai population. Eventually, it comes to be known as the ‘Lady’, and is venerated as an idol which hundreds of people come to see. Word spreads about its supposed miraculous power. Thereafter, the portrait is stolen, and the village which is suspected of stealing it is destroyed. The serai becomes a dangerous place to stay and Bihzad is forced to leave it, aided by his friend and the owner of the serai, Hilal Khan, who risks his own life to save him.17 Religion and art have always been a potent combination – and have been the target of fundamentalist anger in the recent past, most famously in the ‘Rushdie affair’, when Iran’s Ayotollah Khoemeini declared a fatwa on novelist Salman Rushdie in 1989 for his alleged blasphemy in his novel The Satanic Verses. Rushdie has spoken of how hurt he was when India became one of the first countries to ban his book.

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But that was nothing compared to what M.F. Husain faced – being hounded out of the country he loved and being forced to take citizenship in another at almost the end of his life18 because of the fear of danger to his person, owing to the backlash of his controversial paintings of Hindu goddesses in the nude. The amusing part of this very painful story is that the paintings that so enraged the Hindu right in India were created in the 1970s. Back then, nothing happened – but three decades later, some vested interests decided to take offence.19 The instances of artists striking out on their own and suffering for it are not only limited to those who made religion the subject matter of their art. Even with secular themes, not all artists have received the recognition they deserve. To continue with examples from Indian visual arts, one great example is the Bengali filmmaker, Ritwik Ghatak (19251976). In a cinematic career that spanned over 25 years until his death in 1976 at the age of 50, Ritwik Ghatak left behind eight feature films, ten documentaries and a handful of unfinished fragments. He is remembered mostly for his feature films, especially his Partition trilogy,20 but true recognition came his way only after his death. He had the misfortune of being largely ignored by the Bengali film public in his own lifetime. This was particularly unfortunate, as Ghatak, to quote his most eminent peer, Satyajit Ray, was ‘one of the few truly original talents in the cinema this country has produced’.21 Unrecognised talents dot the history of art – and not just in India. Scores of examples can be added from Western art. One of the most poignant examples of an artist who suffered for his originality is that of the nineteenth-century Dutch painter, Vincent van Gogh (18531890). Van Gogh had a short but prolific career of just ten years, during which he showed amazing development as an artist. But he was a failed artist in his own lifetime, and became a huge success only after his death. The inspiring legacy of his work (Expressionism could not have happened without him) and his phenomenal posthumous recognition and success, when in his own lifetime he could sell only two paintings, is one of the enduring ironies of Western art.22 But an artist’s lonely search for his own voice is the story not only in the case of visual arts, but also in writing, where the nexus between power, money and success increasingly determines the fate of books and authors. Individual and original voices are lost amidst the clamour of ‘bestsellers’ of every description. The success of an author is now often measured solely in terms of literary prizes and publishing advances. There is many a Khwaja among modern writers who are victims of their own success – drowned in work they are condemned to repeat; just as there are still a handful of Mir Sayyid Alis who refuse to bow to crass commercialisation and prefer withdrawing rather than selling

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themselves to the market; and there are Zuleikhas who are solely motivated by the urge for individual expression, but who nevertheless bring joy in others’ lives by doing just that. The Miniaturist, thus, not only uncovers for us a past era, but also helps us to understand an aspect of India’s heritage. Indian English fiction, for self-evident reasons – the emerging of practically a new nation after independence in 1947 – has been almost exclusively concerned with the social canvas and its many and varied problems and transitions. This novel is part of a new trend in the decade 2000-2010, where the writer is no longer centred on the recent predicament of India and can explore more aspects of its multivalent culture. In his ‘Postcoloniality and the Artifice of History: Who Speaks for ‘‘Indian’’ Pasts?’, Dipesh Chakarabarty had observed how postcolonial theory in a sense artificially delimits the history of an erstwhile colonised space by obliterating all other ‘pasts’ except the colonial moment, or at best identifying those other pasts as premodern or primitive. In focusing on the Mughal period and its miniature art, Basu highlights, in a novel that traverses locations from Agra to Samarkand, the fact that the Indian Mughal miniature tradition that originated in Persia and flourished in India is a striking emblem or objective correlative of a rich pre-colonial yet cosmopolitan globality of ‘an other past’ in the history of India. This powerfully contests the Western notion that cosmopolitanism and globalisation were the legacies of colonialism in Asia and Africa – a notion contested by Dipesh Chakarabarty in his Provincializing Europe. As such, The Miniaturist represents a double departure – in terms both of literary perspective and historical focus in foregrounding the cultural thematics of a pre-colonial past – from the general preoccupations of postcolonial Indian English fiction.

Notes 1

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Basu, Kunal (2003), The Miniaturist, pg.30. New Delhi: Penguin India. All quotations from the text are from this edition, and henceforth cited in parenthesis by page number. Basu’s other books include Racists (New Delhi: Penguin India, 2006); The Japanese Wife [A Collection of Shorts] (New Delhi: Harper Collins India, 2008); and the just published The Yellow Emperor’s Cure (London/NY: Picador, 2011). The title story of The Japanese Wife was made into a film by the renowned Indian filmmaker, Aparna Sen. Produced by Saregama Films, it was released in 2010. Among the numerous novels that are taken up with the Indian Nationalist/Gandhian movement of the early decades of the twentieth century, mention may be made of Raja Rao’s Kanthapura (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1938); R.K. Narayan’s Wait ing for the Mahatma (Mysore: Indian Thought Publications, 1955/1997); Khwaja Ahmed Abbas’ Inquilab (New Delhi: Jaico Publishing House, 1958); Kamala Markan

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daya’s Some Inner Fury (London: Putnam, 1955); and Nayantara Sehgal’s A Time to be Happy (New York: Knopf, 1958). 4 The best known novels dealing with the Partition of India (where events lead up to the Partition and/or its aftermath either immediate or long term) are the following: Attia Hossain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1961/ 1992); Chaman Nahal’s Azadi (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1975/2001); Khushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan (New Delhi: Ravi Dayal, 1956); Manohar Malgonkar’s A Bend in the Ganges (London: Pan Books Ltd., 1964); Anita Desai’s Clear Light of Day (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1980); Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children (London: Jonathan Cape, 1980); Amitav Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines (New Delhi: Ravi Dayal, 1988); and Mukul Kesavan’s Looking Through Glass (New Delhi: Ravi Dayal, 1995). A comprehensive analysis of the development of this sub genre of Partition fiction over a period of more than three decades can be found in Rituparna Roy’s South Asian Partition Fiction in English: From Khushwant Singh to Amitav Ghosh (Amsterdam: Am sterdam University Press, 2010). 5 The best known novel on terrorism in India in the last decade is Salman Rushdie’s Shalimar the Clown (2005). 6 Indian English novels on recent communal violence and separatist movements in In dia that made their mark during the decade 2000 2010 are: Shashi Tharoor’s Riot (New Delhi: Penguin Viking, 2001); Shonali Bose’s Amu (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2004); Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss (London: Penguin Books, 2006); and Raj Kamal Jha’s Fireproof (London: Macmillan, 2007). 7 Rushdie, Salman (2008), The Enchantress of Florence. London: Jonathan Cape. It is in teresting to note that just months prior to the publication of The Enchantress of Flor ence, Ashutosh Gowariker’s Hindi film Jodhaa Akbar was released in February 2008. For a comparative study of the film and the book, see Rituparna Roy’s Review Article, ‘Enchanting Tales of Jodha Akbar’, IIAS Newsletter, Issue 48, Leiden, pp. 34 35. (http://213.206.241.179/article/enchanting tales jodha akbar) 8 Mughal e Azam (1960). Produced and directed by K. Asif. It held the record of being the highest grossing film of Bollywood until the release of Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay in 1975. In 2004, Sterling Investment Corp. Pvt. Ltd. released a restored colour version of the film, which was again a huge success. 9 For the general trends in Indian historiography since the Partition, see the ‘Introduc tion’ in Gyanesh Kudaisya & Tai Yong Tan (eds.) The Aftermath of Partition in South Asia (London: Routledge, 2000). 10 A very moving romantic story (between an Indian man and an English woman) set against the backdrop of 1857 can be found in Ruskin Bond’s A Flight of Pigeons, which was adapted for the screen by Shyam Benegal as Junoon (1978). 11 Hasan’s other books during this decade include From Pluralism to Separatism: Qasbas in Colonial Awadh, Oxford University Press, 2004; A Moral Reckoning: Muslim Intel lectuals in Nineteenth Century Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2005; and Partners in Freedom: Jamia Millia Islamia (co authored with Rakhshanda Jalil), New Delhi: Niyogi Books, 2006. 12 ‘There is all the difference in the world between a man who has a story to tell and wishes to set it in a past age and to adjust it to the demands of history and the man who has the past in his head and allows it to come forth in story … What is most im portant is the “historical imagination” ’. Sir Herbert Grierson, ‘History and the Novel’, in Sir Walter Scott Lectures, 1940 1948, p. 45. Quoted in Chatterjee, Shobha’s article (2004), ‘The Historical Novel’, in Amitava Roy, Subir Dhar, Aparajita Nanda & Deb Narayan Bandyopadhyay (eds.), Romancing the Strange: The Fiction of Kunal Basu, 23. Calcutta: SSEI/TGI. Georg Lukacs has a similar point to make when he insists that while reading a historical novel, we should ‘re experience the social and human mo

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tives which led men to think, feel and act as they did in historical reality’. Lukacs, George (1962), The Historical Novel, 42, (Tr. by H. and S. Mitchell), London. For a portrait of Zuleikha, see Rituparna Roy’s article (2004), ‘Tasveer: A Study of Zuleikha in Kunal Basu’s The Miniaturist’, in Amitava Roy, Subir Dhar, Aparajita Nanda & Deb Narayan Bandyopadhyay (eds.), Romancing the Strange: The Fiction of Kunal Basu, 169 180. Calcutta: SSEI/TGI. In an interview that Roy did with Kunal Basu in 2008, she had asked him whether he went back to his own novels and read them for pleasure. The novelist’s answer testifies well to the significance that Bihzad’s story has for him. KB: ‘Very rarely would I do that. Once in a while, if I … when I feel depressed, I go back to parts of The Miniaturist because it reminds me of what Bihzad went through. Because, in many ways, that is the challenge of all creative people. Creative people want recogni tion. “See me. Read me. Love me” that’s what people want. And that’s what he wanted. And never got it. But it took a long time for him to realise why he was en gaged in painting, anyway. I haven’t reached that stage yet.’ Rituparna Roy, (2008), ‘In Conversation with Kunal Basu’, IIAS Newsletter, Issue 49, Leiden, 16 (http://old. iias.asia/article/conversation kunal basu). This was the caption of the biopic of the artist by Ketan Mehta, Rang Rasiya (2009); co produced by Maya Movies Pvt. Ltd. & Infinity Filmed Entertainment Production, this bilingual film (in Hindi and English, titled Colours of Passion) was based on the biographical novel Raja Ravi Varma by Marathi writer Ranjit Desai. For the most recent biography of the painter, see Rupika Chawla’s Raja Ravi Varma: Painter of Colonial India (Ahmedabad: Mapin Publishing, 2010). For an interesting portrait of the artist, seen through the prism of his brother’s diary, see Erwin Neu mayer & Christine Schelberger (eds.), Raja Ravi Varma: Portrait of an Artist, The Diary of C. Raja Raja Varma (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2005). This particular episode has resonances in instances from Indian art. In one of the ex hibitions of Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings of gods and goddesses, devout Hindus pro strated themselves before the paintings and worshipped them as idols. M.F. Husain’s case was just the opposite instead of his paintings inspiring devotion, his goddesses provoked anger. M.F. Husain was a Qatari national for the last two years of his life (2010 11) and died in London on 9 June 2011. For an eloquent and balanced obituary on Husain, see Shuddhabrata Sengupta’s arti cle, ‘Alvida, Maqbool Fida: M.F. Husain, Free at Last’, June 2011, at http://kafila.org Or alternatively, at http://thisishowitshouldbe.blogspot.com. Ritwik Ghatak’s Partition trilogy includes Meghe Dhaka Tara (‘The Cloud capped Star’), 1960, produced by Chitrakalpa; Komal Gandhar (‘E Flat’), 1961, produced by Chitrakalpa; and Subarnarekha (‘The Golden Thread’), 1962/1965, produced by J.J. Films Corporation. Ray, Satyajit (2000), ‘Foreword’, Rows and Rows of Fences: Ritwik Ghatak on Cinema (Tr. by Samik Bandyopadhyay). Calcutta: Seagull Books. For the unique epic dimen sion of Ghatak’s work, see Ashish Rajadhyaksha’s authoritative Ritwik Ghatak: A Re turn to the Epic (Screen Unit, 1982). It may be significant to note here that Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak two of the greatest filmmakers that India has produced are a striking study in contrast. Ray, unlike Ghatak, offers a rare example of an artist who stuck to his own vision and convictions right from the beginning and received recognition for the same. Though he had a difficult start and his first film, Pather Panchali (1955), almost never got off the ground, the early international recognition that came his way after the film was completed paved the way for his acceptance in his own country. He was the most celebrated and feted filmmaker of his time, win

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ning numerous international and national awards, culminating in the Oscar for Life time Achievement and the Bharat Ratna just before his death in 1992. 22 For a celebrated fictional account of Vincent van Gogh’s life, see Irving Stone’s bio graphical novel, Lust for Life (1934). The novel was adapted for the screen in the 1956 MGM film of the same name, with Kirk Douglas playing the artist. It was directed by Vincente Minnelli and produced by John Houseman. Some recent important pub lications on Van Gogh’s art include: Van Tilborgh, Louis & Ella Hendriks (2011), Vin cent van Gogh Paintings 2: Antwerp and Paris, 1885 1888, Groningen: Waanders Pub lishers; Thomson, Belinda (2010), Van Gogh’s Painting: The Masterpieces, Amsterdam: Van Gogh Museum/Fonds Mercator; Jansen, Leo, Hans Luijten & Nienke Bakker (2009), Vincent van Gogh The Letters (6 Vols), Amsterdam/The Hague/Brussels: Van Gogh Museum/Huygens Institute/Fonds Mercator.

PART III Reviewing the Present

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Babu Fiction in Disguise

Reading Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger Himansu S. Mohapatra

In a significant collusion between culture and economy, the new India that the Indian English writing of recent years has set out to portray and celebrate is the radiant and sanguine face of a post-liberalisation nation and polity. One novel is usually singled out as the instigator of this changed writing scenario in the subcontinent. This is, of course, Midnight’s Children, published in the United Kingdom in 1981 by the Indian-born writer Salman Rushdie. Although the book preceded the onset of economic reforms in the country, it could inspire a revolution in Indian writing in English precisely because, inspired by the postmodernist muse – incidentally another muse in thrall to Mammon (Eagleton 1996) – it dared to be experimental and innovative with language and style and with the presentation of the narrative. The decade of writing about India that followed became fittingly known as the postmodern phase of the Indian English novel (Kirpal 1996). Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things which won the Booker Prize in 1997, becoming in the process the first Booker to be won by a bona fide Indian, fitted into the postmodernist ethos despite its exposure of the patriarchal and hierarchical Indian society. The tragic tale of love and loss (by caste-sponsored and state-enforced ‘love laws’) notwithstanding, the novel was hailed more for its technical virtuosity and for its being a stylistic tour de force. The triumphalist way of portraying a new India continued in the fiction that came in the decade following the new millennium. The Indian diaspora took centre stage this time around. Without taking anything away from The Inheritance of Loss, the other big book by a bona fide Indian – Kiran Desai – to have won the Booker Prize in 2006, it has to be said that this is a novel caught between a nostalgia for the Raj and a yearning for the American dream which is a modern-day version of the Raj. This leaves only one novel of the decade, on the face of it at least, to call a halt to this fictional desire to look away from a contemporary India and its discontents and to write India anew in a different way. This is Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger (2008). Also a Booker winner by a native-born Indian, this novel disrupts the nexus between culture and

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economy that Indian English writing of the post-liberalisation period has openly displayed. A comment in The Guardian that it is a ‘fiercely anti-capitalist book’ (Sam Jordison 2008) sums it all up. The London Review of Books echoes it too: ‘The novel has its share of anger at the injustices of the new, globalised India, and it’s good to hear this among the growing chorus of celebratory voices’ (Subramanyam 2008). With his pitiless gaze trained on the torments and travails of the emerging new India – a goal he has pursued in his two subsequent books, Between the Assassinations (2009), a short story collection, and the novel Last Man in Tower (2011) – Adiga can be said to have turned the tables on the celebratory, cultist tradition of writing India. In a much-cited interview that Adiga gave to Stuart Jefferies in The Guardian, he traced the reverse or counter-discourse that he has wished to fashion based on the great realist tradition in the nineteenth-century European novel. To quote him, At a time when India is going through great changes and, with China, is likely to inherit the world from the west, it is important that writers like me try to highlight the brutal injustices of society. That’s what writers like Flaubert, Balzac and Dickens did in the nineteenth century and, as a result, England and France are better societies. That’s what I’m trying to do – it’s not an attack on the country, it’s about the greater process of self-examination. (2008) A novel is thus born which is marked by, to quote Jefferies again, ‘its defiantly unglamorous portrait of India’s economic miracle’.

In a Different Vein It is hardly surprising that a novel which sets out to do such a bold and unconventional thing is direct and hard hitting and not subtle and sophisticated. The White Tiger is anything but a style statement. But it is a break, a welcome break indeed, with the dominant trend of writing in which we have the well-worn postcolonial theme of self-censure, cobbled together with the equally familiar diasporic paradigm of a trishanku state of existence, of being neither here nor there. The freshness and appeal of Adiga’a writing makes the heavily self-conscious and sculpted style of much contemporary Indian English fiction look formulaic and jaded. That this came to be perceived as a refreshing exception amidst the plethora of familiar and predictable styles of the other contenders for the Booker in 2008 is a known fact already. The reason for it, as has been just pointed out, is the directness of the Adigan attack on a hyped-up image of Shining India.

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Part of that directness comes from the fact that the critique is not disembodied and generalised, but bodied forth in the figure of an Indian marginal, a low-caste, school drop-out son of a rickshaw puller from an utterly backward village in Bihar. The critique is voiced by that character, named Balram Halwai. It is a case of the subaltern speaking rather than being spoken about. Balram’s account of his miserable life in what he terms the ‘Darkness’ and how he emerges out of the shadows into the ‘Light’ by spilling the blood of his master is told in the novel in the course of seven letters that he writes to the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on the eve of his visit to India. The letters are never delivered. The composition of the letters serves as a device of disclosure to lay bare the real story of India or the story of real India. It is a story of a society where corruption is endemic and systemic, with the rich and the powerful preying on the poor and weak. The important thing is that Balram does not let it out as a tear-jerker. On the contrary, he belts it out as a wry, sardonic and mordant tale whose chief ingredients are irony and black humour. Never had the Eliotian prescription that the man who suffers (in this case the character) be separate from the man who creates (here the narrator) been followed to such perfection in contemporary literature which is heavily biased towards memorialising. The outcome is a novel which is ironic from the first sentence to the last.

The White Tiger: Storyline Balram’s story, to the extent that it can be filtered out from the heavily chatty and ironised narration, is as follows. He is the son of a rickshaw puller and lives with his extended family – like a ‘millipede’ (21) – in the village of Laxmangarh in Bihar. The village is shown as being in the grip of a rapacious feudal economy which has made it into a living hell for those at the bottom. The novel portrays the village, using the pervasive animal imagery of predator and prey. The four landlords are the Buffalo, the Stork, the Wild Boar and the Raven, the names reflecting their ‘peculiarities of appetite’ (24). Balram had attended school and had shown promise as an intelligent boy, earning from the school inspector the sobriquet of ‘white tiger’, ‘the creature that comes along only once in a generation’ (35). His studies are, however, cut short by his father’s untimely death from tuberculosis. This provokes from Balram the narrator one of the sharpest comments on the fate of the poor in India: ‘The story of a poor man’s life is written on his body, in a sharp pen’ (27). He starts working in a roadside tea shop with his brother Kisan, breaking coals for the burner, cleaning benches and tables and serving tea to the customers. This is where he learns to be

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street smart. On hearing that there is a future in driving a car, he takes driving lessons from an older driver. This stands him in good stead as he finds a job – after a considerable amount of grovelling, of course – as a second driver in the house of the landlord of the village who is nicknamed the Stork. He drives the small Maruti car and spends his days envying the senior driver Ram Persad who drives the sleek Honda City. Balram’s fortunes turn one day when he chances upon Ram Persad’s well-guarded secret, namely that he is a Muslim who for economic reasons – another comment on the fate of the poor in India – has disguised himself as a Hindu. He reports this to the landlord and the poor man is fired, leaving him the lone driver in the house. A second stroke of good fortune occurs when the landlord’s America-returned second son Ashok moves to Delhi with his wife Pinky, taking the Honda City car and the driver with him. So Balaram makes it to Delhi as the driver of Ashok’s Honda City car. It is in Delhi that he encounters the hallucinogenic cocktail of power, politics and sexual perversion. It is here that he becomes aware of the unbridgeable gulf between an ‘India of Light’ and an ‘India of Darkness’ (14). He moves in the illuminated zones of Delhi as the car’s driver, but is consigned to the murky depths of the city’s underbelly, a dichotomy aptly mirrored in his master’s apartment in a multi-storied building with its cavernous basement. He is witness in Delhi to the carefree, opulent and selfish lives lived by the rich on whom he wants to be avenged. But his real reason for murdering his master is the Hegelian one of wanting to be the master. Accordingly, he kills Ashok in Delhi one rainy evening on a lonely stretch of road and decamps with his big red bag loaded with cash. After many detours to dodge the police and to put them off his trail he turns up finally in Bangalore, the hub of India’s IT industry. There he sets up his ‘White Tiger Drivers’ and becomes a part of the booming Indian economy. He supplies vehicles for the call centre employees, eyeing the real estate business next. He becomes an owner and a master. In his own words, he is ‘in the Light now’ (14).

Twist of the Adigan Knife: Irrealising the Poor Interestingly, it is Balram’s ironical recounting of his rags-to-riches story that enacts a sharp indictment of what Alfred A. Lopez and Ashok Mohapatra have helpfully termed the ‘neoliberal epiphany’ (2008: 1) that India is said to be experiencing under globalisation. His dark tale blasts the myth that the ‘world is flat’, a myth that Thomas L. Friedman has supposedly gleaned from the heart of Bangalore. It is

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the dark hinterland of Bangalore that Balram’s telling unravels. Friedman’s engineer is thus offset by Adiga’s bricoleur. One only wishes he were not a cold-blooded murderer and deserter of his family. The fact that Balram is a marginal of a certain kind to whom is imputed group or communal affiliations makes reconciling with this last twist of the Adigan knife difficult. In other words, Balram is a Dalit protagonist and cannot behave like a free-floating individualist entrepreneur without making one feel uneasy or even suspicious about Adiga’a anti-capitalist, anti-elitist stance. To the extent that he does so, he can be said to ‘irrealise’ the poor. For Adiga is clearly positioning his novel as a statement on the caste divide, but then he goes on to attribute to his Dalit protagonist opportunistic and self-aggrandising tendencies which tend to jeopardise the view from below. This raises the question whether the novel is genuinely ‘anti-capitalist’, as has been presumed, or whether, as has been suspected in some quarters, Adiga is a ‘literary tourist ventriloquising others’ suffering and stealing their miserable stories to fulfill his literary ambitions’ (Jefferies 2008). Adiga’s answer is the standard one that novelists have given, which is that writers worth their salt must write about people unlike themselves. This is the basis of literature’s claim ‘to imagine the other’, as Carlos Fuentes has put it, although Adiga’s analogy with the nineteenth-century realist writing somewhat dilutes the emphasis on this imaginative apprehension of the marginalised other. After all, the tradition of nineteenth-century British realism has not gone beyond a humanitarian concern for the poor. The weaknesses of this bourgeois realism were rightly exposed by the socialist realism that came at the beginning of the twentieth century by the devastation of the European economy and society as a result of the fight for the division of spoils among the imperialist nations, which goes by the name of the First World War. This latter project of realism showed a more progressive ideological engagement with the social bases of poverty and contained a more trenchant analysis of the class system. The difference in the treatment of the poor between a bourgeois realist work, say, Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist (1837) and a socialist realist work, say, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists (1912) by Robert Tressell, is a case in point. In the former the poor boy Oliver is never really poor, but is a temporary sojourner in a bad way of life, watched over constantly by a benign providence which steps in at the right moment like a deus ex machina to save him from disaster. In the latter the characters are aware of the exploitative nature of the capitalist system in breeding poverty and of the conspiracy of the ideologues to pull the wool over their eyes. Poverty is shown from the inside out, notably in Tressell’s novel.

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A Missed Link: Anand Adiga seems to have bypassed this important development of realism in India that grew out of an encounter with the progressive ideology. This is evident from the way he passes over in silence the significant intervention in this important area by another illustrious predecessor, namely Mulk Raj Anand. Adiga mentions Rushdie as an influence on him. In the same breath he also mentions his indebtedness to J.D. Salinger (for the tone of irreverence), and to James Baldwin and Ralph Ellison (for reaching out to the underdog). It is of course Anand that the literary historian would name as an exponent of the realistic, socially committed writing that Adiga seems to have wanted to revive. The prototype of Balram lies in the two characters that Anand has bequeathed to Indian fiction in the 1930s. They are Bakha (from Untouchable) and Munnu (from Coolie). Both etymologically and sociologically, Bakha and Munnu are subsumed in Balram, Bakha being something of a short form of Balram, and Munna, the home name of Balram being a variant on Munnu. Yet it has to be said that Balram is miles away from either Bakha or Munnu. The third name of Balram, the white tiger, is a measure of the different trajectory he is destined to travel. This is to say that The White Tiger is not really a return to the progressive mode of Anand’s novels about the underclass. It is a movement in a different direction, in the direction of what, borrowing the words of Christopher Rollason, can be aptly termed ‘global protagonism’ (2008). Although Rollason made this observation in relation to the works of Vikram Seth, particularly his Two Lives (2005), this could certainly apply to Adiga’s work insofar as it belongs to the new wave of Indian and Asian globalised literature, perceiving itself ‘no longer as third-world, subaltern or even postcolonial writing, but as a literature of global protagonism’ (Rollason 2008: 72). In other words, this literature carries forward the ideological project of a new entrepreneurial India and attempts at imprinting India on the global consciousness. Under the market-driven conditions of the international publishing industry, this translates into the Indian exotica. The first sign of change as we move from Anand’s subalternism to Adiga’s ‘global protagonism’ then is a change of stance from a sympathetic involvement with the underdog to an ironic detachment and sarcasm towards that figure and towards society as a whole. Anand wrote in the third person but gave a view of the mental state of the victim from the inside, as it were. In the portrayal of both Bakha and Munnu there is an unremitting sense of realism that comes from a precise delineation of their life circumstances that encompasses both their objective conditions and inner life. Bakha’s story highlights caste oppression in Indian society whereas Munnu’s story foregrounds oppression in

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terms of class. Anand presents the complex cluster of victimhood and agency in their mental and psychological makeup convincingly. Where there is fanciful thinking on the part of the victim, he is quick to interpose with his narrator’s remarks about the ideological mystification or indoctrination that prevails in a caste-class divided society. Here is, for example, how the narrator in Coolie accounts for those odd but significant moments when the servant wishes to behave like the master. His ego, conditioned by the laws and customs of the society in which he had been born, the society whose castes and classes and forms had been determined by the self-seeking of the few, of the powerful, sought all the prizes of wealth, power and possession exactly as his superiors sought them. (35) The narrator shows the victim’s delusions even when the victim is unaware of them and sketches an alternative model of behaviour which is more likely to negotiate with the victimhood. Thus he goes on to say that Munnu would have ‘discovered the fatuity of his desires to be like his superiors’ (35). It is this space between the character’s subjective feelings and fantasies and the objective facts that is allowed to collapse in Adiga’s novel, giving the subjective consciousness free play. In philosophical terms, the conative state dominates over the cognitive state with the world seen as a place of opportunities, as a place for the actualisation of personal desires. The first-person narration of the novel is an index of this domination of the subjective reality over the objective reality. In this context, the carefully cultivated irony of the novel is part compensation and part legitimisation. It is compensation in its self-directedness, in its attempt at naming the complicity of the self in a covetous and acquisitive society. The way Balram disposes of the first driver Ram Persad furnishes an example of this somewhat muted self-irony. This episode occurs early on and is symptomatic of the self-seeking path he travels. He shadows the number one driver one evening, finds about his Muslim identity and, armed with this secret knowledge, confronts him. The outcome is inevitable: ‘… he knew that the game was up’ (110). There is a momentary prick of the conscience: I thought, what a miserable life he’s had, having to hide his religion, his name, just to get a job as a driver – and he is a good driver, no question of it, a far better one than I will ever be. Part of me wanted to get up and apologize to him right there … (110) The relenting part is allowed to be taken over by the hard-boiled, instrumental part: ‘I turned to the other side, farted, and went back to

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sleep’ (110). This little episode of manipulative behaviour contains the germ of the murder that darkens the last part of the novel, a few ironic jabs at himself notwithstanding. Balram makes the murder of Ashok sound like the cutting of the umbilical cord which sets him on the course towards his new life of sweetness and light. But it is hardly the glorified thing he makes it out to be. Ashok may be effete and inept and in that respect may exemplify the idle rich. He is not a bad person and he certainly has not been mean or nasty to Balram. True, he and his brother tried to make him take the blame for his wife who killed a child while driving in Delhi. But it did not come through and in any case a smart alec like Balram had no reason to succumb to pressure. Adiga’s sense of realism goes completely awry when he makes a street-smart Balram, made even smarter by living in Delhi, behave as if he had no option. The long and short of the argument is that Ashok did not deserve to die an ignominious death at the hands of Balram. This killing, senseless and brutal, actually flings the novel from the camp of the left to that of the right. Interesting as it may seem, the debate in Balram’s mind on the eve of the murder is cast in a tabular form with views on the left-hand side and counter-views on the right-hand side. The lefthand seems to preach restraint and discretion, whereas the right-hand preaches revenge and anger. Balram goes along with the right-hand, rightly so, for he will precisely morph into a man on the right who then will tell a self-justifying tale of his rise from rags to riches. A heavy dose of irony hangs over the book’s description as an ‘anti-capitalist book’. This is where the politics of the Western reception of Indian English literature needs to be factored in, a politics that is tied to the figure of a Bollywood-style picaresque adventurer and peddler of exotica.

Picaro a` la Bollywood It is a version of the Orientalist politics which once worked in the interest of imperialism, but which now works to further Western neocolonialist interests under globalisation. The institution of the Booker Prize sometimes becomes an unwitting agency in helping to bring about the secret pact between Indian English writing and Western neocolonial interests. The Booker award for The White Tiger can be said precisely to have done that. This point has been made by scores of Indian critics in many different contexts and with respect to other novels which have gone on to win the Booker or been shortlisted for it. In a recent article published in The New York Times newspaper, Indian fiction writer Manu Joseph has reiterated these observations. His citing of The White

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Tiger to demonstrate the false canonisation that Western publication of literary works by Indian writers brings about is interesting. His observations are worth citing. The interest of British and American publishers in India, and the success of a handful of Indian writers abroad, has had the most corrupting influence on Indian writing in English. There is a surge of Indian writers who are trying to sell the great Indian exotica to white people, and they guess that what the foreigners love is tradition, poverty, wedding scenes, burning widows, rebirths and talking monkeys, among other things. And when an Indian novel is picked by a foreign publisher, there are immediate suspicions that the book is probably dishonest. (18 January 2012) The fluctuating career of Adiga’s novel illustrates the false canonisation process. Joseph goes on to write, When Aravind Adiga’s ‘The White Tiger’ was released in India, it mostly received very poor reviews. Its characterization and portrayal of Indian realities were considered naı¨ve and inaccurate. The sales were modest. But there was something about it that foreigners loved, something that Indians could not see. The book went on to win the Man Booker Prize. The award reintroduced the novel to Indians, and it became one of the most successful Indian books ever. That poverty, exploitation, filth and backwardness can be a part of the ‘great Indian exotica’ need not come as a surprise, as the controversy over the Oscar-winning Danny Boyle film Slumdog Millionaire has demonstrated. The unadorned can be the most adorned under postmodernist conditions, as is shown by the art of Andy Warhol. So when Andrew Holgate in his Sunday Times review compliments Adiga on the ‘unadorned portrait of India as seen from the bottom of the heap’, one has reasons to feel uneasy. The absence in the novel of the usual pieces or items of exotica, namely the ‘sniff of saffron’ or ‘swirl of sari’, does not mean that it is out to portray the hard reality of India. The realistic portrayal of the dog’s life of the people of the ‘Darkness’ is meant to shock by its grim recounting. The portrayal exhibits what is called the shocking realism fallacy. Caste is admittedly the bane of Indian society, but to portray caste as a curio is to trivialise it. In fact, that is what Balram’s narration about caste does; it trivialises it. Balram is bent on narrating his way out of his lowly existence from the start. His narrative has a greater affinity with that of a picaro than with an outcast’s search for his identity.

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The picaresque novel of the West has shown this ambivalence towards the status quo from the start. It has featured a character from the bottom of the heap making his way out of it and the narrative has been the record of his journey from being nothing to becoming something. It has been a most unsentimental journey given the picaro character’s contempt for the high society whose values he finds pretentious and snobbish. The contempt, of course, does not lead to a rejection of the high society or a refusal to join it. He wants to find himself at its centre and perfects his social climbing skills to that end. It is true that by doing this the picaro exposes the shams and hypocrisies of a classbound society in which he is himself caught up, but this does not conceal his complicity in those values. His cynicism, ambivalence and scepticism are, on the other hand, a perfect cover for his complicity. It makes more sense to see Balram as a picaro figure than as a member of an oppressed caste keen on finding a cure for the castebased forms of oppression. Balram wants to achieve his ends by manipulating the system, not by confronting it. No wonder he sees himself as an entrepreneur. The definition he gives of an entrepreneur makes it clear: ‘To break the law of his land – to turn bad news into good news’ (58). This flies in the face of the radical solution that seems called for by the caste-class diagnosis that the novel offers. But then this is not meant to be diagnostic in the social sense; it merely uses the social critique as a pretext for the telling of an individualist tale like it was in the Bollywood movies of the ‘Angry Young Man’ genre in the 1970s. As anyone with a nodding acquaintance with Bollywood movies would know, the term ‘angry young man’ is epitomised in the screen image of the superstar Amitabh Bacchan. He brought a breath of fresh air to Hindi cinema, until then dominated by romance and fantasy and featuring, to use Sudhir Kakar’s categories, the ‘Krishna’ or the ‘introvert lover’ prototype, with his action movies like Zanjeer (1973) and Deewar (1975) in which, in a subliminal allusion to the ‘Karna’ prototype (cited in Shafique 1995), he played the wronged man seeking revenge and raging against an unjust social order. As the dust settled on these hugely popular movies of the 1970s and the 1980s, it became clear that this ‘Karna’ prototype was also the cynical picaro figure seeking integration into a moneyed class through opportunistic and devious ways. Balram does not quite fit the bill as an underclass hero. He hates everything about his surroundings. He sees filth as filth, pure and simple. The one thing he thinks of doing when he looks at Laxmangarh from the top of the fort is to spit in its direction. The idea is to strip low life of every iota of romance. But this can cut another way also. If the low lifer is seen as hating his conditions and circumstances, then it can be a way of proving that the good life is what everyone desires. It is like Fanny Price not feeling at home in her modest home in her

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county after her encounter with the stately mansion of Mansfield Park of the Bertrams. The coldness of human relations in the latter does contrast with the warmth of human contact in the former, but what wins the day at the end is comfort which is preferable to squalor. So this self-flagellation on the part of the poor can be an ideological ploy, a way of showing that they (the poor) desire the life of the rich and will want to secure it by hook or by crook. It is made to seem as natural as the desire to move from darkness to light. It is self-disgust that is suggested in the recounting by Balram of his childhood impressions of his family members: ‘Once you walk into the house, you will see – if any of them are still living, after what I did – the women. … At night they sleep together, their legs falling one over the other, like one creature, a millipede’ (21). And here is the early morning waking up ritual in his wretched home: ‘Early morning. The roosters are going mad throughout the village. A hand stirs me awake … I shake my brother Kishan’s legs off my tummy, move my cousin Pappu’s palm out of my hair, and extricate myself from the sleepers’ (21). This is by no means the solidarity of the poor who are ‘irrealised’ again. The millipede image sees to that. Later on Balram will use another striking image, that of the ‘Rooster Coop’ (175), in order to put paid to the myth of working class unity for good. The field is now left open for a purely individualist gesture of self-fulfillment. The realism of the novel is left to founder, the novel edging more towards a cynical postmodernism with, as this author pointed out in his review of the novel, cult rewritten as kitsch, as in the example of the parodying – ‘all the sweet perfumes of Arabia’ degraded to ‘all the skin-whitening creams sold in the markets of India’ (318) – of Lady Macbeth’s anguished utterance (2008: 79).

After Mammon Justifying the act of his premeditated, cold-blooded murder of his master Ashok in Delhi, Balram says at the end that, for a servant, no price which will give him his freedom is too high: ‘I’ll never say I made a mistake that night in Delhi when I slit my master’s throat. I’ll say it was all worthwhile to know just for a day, just for an hour, just for a minute, what it means not to be a servant’ (321). This is the infamous ‘ends justify the means’ approach, but one that is used in the service of a purely selfish end. It is another matter that Balram has clean forgotten another approach to freedom from slavery that he claimed to have discerned in a poem by Iqbal whose lines (in translation) run like this: ‘They remain slaves because they can’t see what is beautiful in this world.’ He had declared that ‘even as a boy I could see what was beauti-

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ful in the world: I was destined not to stay a slave’ (44). It is true that violence can be the means of realisation of beauty as in the case of the violent overthrow of a repressive or totalitarian regime. For Che Guavera, violence, especially regenerative violence, is beauty. This is not Balram’s notion. For him, beauty is good life in the Light. It is money. It is the fantasy life of the rich. More important, beauty for him is the male style of aggressive, penetrative functioning. It is sex or lust divorced from love and performed in a perfunctory way. This instrumental view of the female of the species is seen to characterise Balram all the way from his dung heap days right through to his White Tiger and Driver days. His one invariable expression for lovemaking is beak dipping. His older brother Nisan marries in order to dip his beak into his wife. He himself goes to the whores to do the same. In Delhi where he works as a driver he continues the practice. When he is in Light in Bangalore he indulges in it whenever he fancies. The act is functional and seems designed for personal pleasure only. It is a typical male or masculine mode of orientation to the other in which the other, especially the female of the species, exists, as Raymond Williams has shown in his perceptive study on the fast-declining ecology of human relationships under late capitalism, as an object of titillation and sensationalism, as a ‘sex object’ (1983/1985: 263). It could be that the commodified view of human relationships is a function of the warped and reduced humanity of the people of the Darkness that the narrative portrays. In a dog-eat-dog world, any talk of the Arnoldian high cultural ideals is just so much nonsense. But then Balram does not retain this clear-cut division in his thinking for long. When it comes to sexuality he seems to act as if there is no division between Light and Darkness. At least this is what his discourse about the Nepali prostitutes in Delhi betrays: ‘The Nepalis up there, behind the barred window, were really good-looking: very lightskinned and with those Chinese eyes that just drives us Indian men mad’ (250). The thread is taken up again later when he spices up the hard talk about being an entrepreneur with a soft talk on sex: ‘I tell you, Mr. Jiabao, it’s one of the most thrilling sights in Bangalore, to see the eyes of a pair of Nepali girls flashing out at you from the dark hood of an autorickshaw’ (305). The representation, it will be recalled, had caused outrage in the media for its demeaning portrayal of the Nepalis as sex objects for Indian men. Another problem with this representation is that it seems to speak of the sameness of male sexuality, its obeying of the same penetrative logic irrespective of its social location. Men of Light are as prone to it as men of Darkness. Sexuality, in other words, cuts across the division between the two Indias discernible in the social and economic sphere. The fact that it is expressed as an unconscious or subliminal leaning serves to underscore the ideolog-

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ical contradiction at the heart of the narrative. The novel is on the side of the underdog in an effort to be politically correct, but is emotionally pulled towards the centre.

Babu (Fiction) in Disguise In his trenchant critique of the contemporary Indian English novel, Tabish Khair has held forth on the question of privilege and elitism, saying that the entire corpus is the creation of the ‘babu’ section of the Indian society, the section that has garnered all the privileges like English education, wealth and elitist upbringing as the direct beneficiaries of the colonial rule. He has said that it is a genre produced by ‘babus’ and consumed by ‘babus’. It ignores the vast mass of the coolie nonbabu population in the country. This, he says, is at the root of the alienation in the contemporary Indian novel in English. To quote him: What passes for Indian English fiction (especially in its most successful versions) is written by the most privileged sections of the Babus. Indian English fiction is Babu fiction, while India itself – and aspects of Indian experience abroad (in England or in the Carribean) presents a huge and heterogeneous Coolie and non-Babu population. (2001: x) To characterise The White Tiger as ‘babu fiction’ may appear paradoxical at first sight, given its non-babu protagonist. But then the analysis attempted in the above sections has precisely torn through the non-babu veneer of Balram, showing him up for the cynical manipulator, the opportunistic adventurer he really is. The remaining portion of the essay will attempt a similar demystification of the non-English veneer that this English novel has tried to put on. Adiga’s novel, as is well known, opens with the startling declaration: ‘Neither you nor I speak English, but there are some things that can be said only in English’ (3). The contradiction seems flagrant enough to constrain the very act of telling. If Balram Halwai does not ‘speak English’, why should he want ‘to say it in English’ (4)? Something approaching an answer comes a page or two later when, faced with the hypocrisy of the Indian political elite and their deceitful ways of passing off lies and half-truths as truths about Indian society and culture, Balram reiterates, in his characteristically chatty way, his resolve to say it in English. But then it hit me that in keeping with international protocol, the prime minister and foreign minister of my country will meet

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you at the airport with garlands, small take-home sandalwood statues of Gandhi, and a booklet full of information about India’s past, present, and future. That’s when I had to say that thing in English, sir. (5) The implication is that the form jells with the content, that a snobbish and elitist language like English is the perfect medium in which to describe and damn a society of false appearances. Balram means it as an indictment of a hypocritical society which induces this desire to be dressed in borrowed feathers in the first place. This for him is a fitting description of the Anglophile India and, with China going the globalisation way, of China too. English makes possible a glamourous telling of an unglamourous tale. Thus the declaration of Balram probably has to be seen as a flambouyant rhetorical gesture and not as a literal statement. The truth of the matter, of course, is that he does know a little English, a bit more, as he says, ‘than he has let on so far’ (47), but he underplays the skill so as to heighten the suspense and drama of his story. Everything about India, as he says, can be known by using the inversion technique: ‘One thing about India is that you can take almost anything you hear about the country from the prime minister and turn it upside down and then you will have the truth about that thing’ (15). This applies as much to the hypocritical culture as to himself inasmuch as he is a product of that environment. Just as there is darkness underneath the surface glitter of India, just as there is the cavernous basement in the wel-lit highrise in a city, there is the vernacular beneath the English. Far from revealing or translating it, this English actually whitewashes the vernacular. In that sense, the novel captures well the paradox of an English-obsessed neocolonial culture which needs English for its dissection as well as salvation. A precedent for this exists in the sociological study and critique of the Indian middle class that Pavan K. Varma wrote in the 1990s, timing it to coincide with the much hyped-up beginning of the economic miracle of India. As a sensible review of the book pointed out at the time, the book probably would not have been half so interesting if it had not been done in English, the preferred medium of the ‘great Indian middle class’. It is like setting a thief to catch a thief, or, as the Indian proverbial wisdom puts it, using iron to cut iron or using a nail to scoop out a nail. So is the case with The White Tiger. The story of a rickshaw puller’s son breaking out of the ‘great Rooster Coop’ of Indian society and rising to the top of the pyramid, even though it affords in the process a view of the dark Indian abyss, makes for a salacious English rendering even when the core reality or content militates against the form. Given the nature of the breakout, however, the disjunction

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between content and form in this story is likely to seem more glaring than it does in the case of, say, Anand’s English rendering of the underdog tales. Despite claiming not to speak English, Balram somehow sounds more English than his predecessors Munnu and Bakha. A perceptive comment in the London Review of Books puts the finger on the anomalous situation. On page after page, one is brought up short by the jangling dissonance of the language and the falsity of the expressions. This is a posh English-educated voice trying to talk dirty, without being able to pull it off. This is not Salinger speaking as Holden Caulfield, or Joyce speaking as Molly Bloom. It is certainly not Ralph Ellison or James Baldwin, whom Adiga has claimed as his models in speaking for the underdog. What we are dealing with is someone with no sense of the texture of Indian vernaculars, yet claiming to have produced a realistic text. (Subramanyam 2008) It goes without saying that Balram seems and feels more at home in an Anglicised environment. This is a consequence of English having penetrated more deeply into the textures of everyday life in India than ever before thanks to the English language-driven globalisation which was underway with the economic liberalisation of the 1990s. The preposterousness of Balram’s claim that he can pull it off in English despite his cavalierly confessed inadequacies in the medium stems from a newly Englished world.

Conclusion In these times of the currency of the ‘little narratives’, Adiga’s choice of the grand recit of corruption of Indian society for his very first book has both possibilities and problems. First the possibilities: Adiga’s book with its graphic portrayal of the exploitation prevalent in Indian society goes into the roots of India’s sorry failure to evolve a healthy model of social engineering whose symptoms in the form of graft and scam preoccupy the recently launched India Against Corruption (IAC) crusade of Anna Hazare and his team. In that sense, The White Tiger is vital fictional evidence of the rot that Team Anna is out to stem through its popular protest movement that has captured the world imagination in the last two years. It is a mordant vision of the rot which has inspired the two projects, Adiga’s novel and Team Anna’s Jan Lokpal Bill (Citizens’ Ombudsman Bill) meant to check and punish corruption by giving power to the people, by strengthening the civil society. There is a

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deep mistrust of the governmental machinery that underlies both. To see the connection between the two is to be hopeful that the novel can be harnessed to the cause of social justice once again with the postmodernist clock rolled back. The point of course is that – here we shift to the problem – Adiga’s novel is not the kind of book which will lend itself smoothly and seamlessly to the task of social engineering. The pull and pressure of generic modes and tendencies at its roots, namely the picaresque, the Bollywood masala movie, postmodernist hedonism, makes that kind of use difficult. It is a book that is at the end of the day sceptical of a social revolution in India, even in the face of the one that is raging in the jungles of central and eastern India. Thus there is a fundamental tension between its emphasis on exploitation as the Ur-narrative of contemporary India and its wry, sardonic and kitschy recognition of the futility of all collective programmes for the eradication of the social evil of inequality and poverty. Mercifully Adiga has gone on to write two more books after his spectacular Booker win in his debut appearance as a writer. He has by so doing laid to rest the fear that he will be a one-book wonder, especially after writing a master narrative. But he has also shifted his attention – as well as his mode of attending, which is now focused on the positives in addition to the pervasive negativity – in these two works, Between the Assassinations and Last Man in Tower, to locales, milieus and issues of the Indian middle class, small and great, to which he can lay a greater claim to being an insider, and a critical one at that.

8

Indian English Women’s Fiction and the Fascination of the Everyday Nandana Dutta

If it is true that the grid of ‘discipline’ is everywhere becoming clearer and more extensive, it is all the more urgent to discover … what popular procedures (also ‘miniscule’ and quotidian) manipulate the mechanisms of discipline and conform to them only in order to evade them, and finally, what ‘ways of operating’ form the counterpart, on the consumer’s (or ‘dominee’s’?) side … (De Certeau 1988: xiv) Probably the creators of the first human realities at the dawn of history – agriculture, the village, the house and its basic equipment, the hearth, cooking utensils, furniture, fabrics … everything involving the house, the ‘home’ and domesticity, and thus everyday life. … women symbolize everyday life in its entirety. They embody its situation, its conflicts and its possibilities. (Lefebvre 2008: 221-22; original emphasis)

Engaging with the ‘Everyday’ My initial reaction to Indian English fiction by women when I first encountered this corpus of work had been guarded – even the muchlauded Shashi Deshpande and Anita Desai had left me somewhat disenchanted. It was only later that I realised that what was happening innocuously in this body of writing had gone unnoticed by me because I had been looking for grand narrative designs and resonant themes and styles that this fiction had never set out to achieve. That is when I discovered ‘the fascination of the everyday’. The Indian English woman’s novel in the first decade of the twentyfirst century shows a thematic variety that makes it difficult to see groups and patterns. Its examples come from all over the country from regions that have had different histories of English education, are culturally different and have completely different perceptions of what it means to live in modern India. Except that it still continues to be largely a middle-class phenomenon, today this novel is written from

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multiple locations and perspectives, making it a fertile new area for the study of modern India. What Aijaz Ahmad had insisted on in speaking of a notion of ‘Indian literatures’ is evident even in the novels written in this single language, English, because India’s many regions and cultures come into play here. So the novel that uses the backdrop of an autonomy movement, the Gorkhaland movement, to reread diasporic experience and the imagination of living in multiple places (Kiran Desai), comes in the same time as the small town tale of elections and love (Chauhan) or the novels from India’s northeast that tell variously of life in the hill station of Shillong as it moves out of a cosmopolitan past into the insularities of the present and leaves for its many erstwhile inhabitants memories of idyllic childhoods (Hasan); or of the boy or girl from one of the states of this region who tastes life in cities like Delhi, ghettoised and marginalised in food, language and lifestyle but unable to return to the small towns they came from (Mamang Dai); or of life in the backdrop of insurgent movements (Kumar). At the same time, Anita Nair writes of women’s desire in novels that describe modern India’s new freedoms – the woman travelling alone and forming a community with other women and speaking of the body (Ladies Coupe) in ways that, after the first experiments of a Kamala Markandeya, became a relatively minor strain until this revival in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries (one might indeed remember Githa Hariharan’s When Dreams Travel as an earlier example of this strain, experimenting with both form and theme and writing of women’s desire and empowerment in strong bonds formed with one another as she rewrote the frame story of the Arabian Nights). The kinds of engagements that these novels show suggest an entirely new response to the postcolonial situation and to postcolonialism’s classic themes. These are sharp, quirky, ingenuous, perceptive approaches to new realities in India and are therefore thematically adventurous if not especially so in form. They are a preview of the kind of writing that a post-postcolonial phase can have when neither the language nor the legacies of colonialism are exclusively the sources of angst. At the same time it is interesting to see how the staid fictions of Anita Desai and Shashi Deshpande shift gears in the new century and demonstrate the strength that a body of work finally bestows on writers. Both of them have written novels in this decade that are extensions of old and often-used themes but, in their re-use, they appear to have a quality that suggests the development of an aesthetic, an aesthetic of the everyday. In the face of this diversity, it is in their basis in the family, that familiar theme in the Indian fiction of many languages, that one might see some kind of a consistent design. It is the family that acts as backdrop or provides occasions for resistances, animosities, support and es-

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cape in a variety of ways. But to merely see the Indian family as a theme does not say anything about the way in which it has been repeated in fictions of such different kinds. It is in its many small details, the daily life that it calls forth, what has been called the ‘everyday’ (Lefebvre 2008, De Certeau 1988) that it is possible to see the source of an aesthetic that has both a historical rationale and a contemporary relevance. In order to demonstrate what I believe has been and continues to be an important aspect of the Indian English woman’s novel, I read Shashi Deshpande’s Small Remedies as an example of the way the everyday, from being merely background for a narrative, becomes the structural framework holding the narrative together. And it is in varying uses of the everyday that identities are shaped or women achieve recovery and empowerment. While demonstrating its use in Deshpande’s novel, I would like to suggest that the spatial perspective might be a way of looking at and understanding the minutiae that holds these novels together and has become so characteristically the style of the woman writer in India. Deshpande’s novel is significant because it has this metafictional dimension – because it contains a consciousness about form in the situation of the writer researching the life of her subject and mulling over ways to represent her appropriately. The biography that she is planning to write has to be fashioned both with and against her subject, and it is while doing this that she increasingly falls back on the details of Savitribai’s life that the singer tries to suppress under the story of her success. But beyond pointing to the way in which the everyday works as a narrative method and is not merely the milieu, this chapter is also a slightly rambling series of reflections on the everyday and its implications for Indian English women’s fiction. So I speak of the historical evolution of the family as a bulwark against Western influence, of feminist valuation of the domestic and women’s work, and of the study of space that has given a theoretical underpinning to the everyday as a way of reading this fiction, and if I concentrate on Small Remedies it is to suggest that similar and other tactical uses mark much of this fiction.

The Little Narrative as Grand Narrative The everyday as a mode of mapping space has interesting implications for the study of the novel. In the two epigraphs to this essay, Michel de Certeau and Henri Lefebvre use the terms ‘manipulate’ and ‘symbolise’ to indicate what happens to the everyday, but if this is set alongside the critique of the novel it becomes apparent that there is a micro activity, a micro politics at work in the engagement with the everyday. It is the bricks and mortar of the genre; when we speak of the fleshing out of a

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plot, it is the busy, crowded/crowding character of the everyday that fills out the milieu or backdrop and also gives a sturdy anchorage to the lives of characters that would otherwise flit about trying to live in the abstract, missing out that necessary binding to what Eliot calls the ‘objective correlative’. But the details that constitute the day-to-day lives of character and function as setting are not merely in the realm of description; they are also techniques or ‘ways of operating’ (De Certeau: 30), with characters using these daily elements as therapy, in resistance and for empowerment. They appear as ‘moments’ that are both in the nature of pauses and propellants forward. For instance, in Small Remedies, which I will use to speak about this unique aesthetic of the novel, there are many such moments when characters are concerned with big existential issues while they perform some little daily activity: ‘He gets the vegetables out at the same time and we sit at the dining table working together. As we string and peel and chop, he tells me who he is and why I am here. And in a moment everything changes’ (SR 43). Here, the activity that the narrator Madhu and her host Hari engage in apparently functions merely as a backdrop – as the reality of daily life against which people perform larger ‘life’ gestures – connection, remembrance, revelation. But the acts of stringing, peeling and chopping vegetables create the moment of engagement and momentarily take Madhu out of the heavy grief for her son that she has surrounded herself with to connect with another, to listen to another’s story and discover that it is also her own. And as they talk and remember, ‘… he switches on the mixer to grind the spices and my stumbling attempts to speak are, fortunately, smothered by its demonic sound. He’s standing by it, hand on lid, waiting for me to go on as soon as he switches it off’ (SR 46-47). The merging of background activity with the revelation of familial connection is the mode that becomes clearer in the next use of it when Hari’s wife Lata ‘walks into this silence, sniffs, takes a deep breath and ‘Hari!’ she exclaims. ‘Something smells good – you’re cooking!’ Then she looks at our faces and says to me, ‘He’s told you.’ (SR 47). The preparations for cooking are not the only point of this threeway exchange; they are necessary as occasion but also enable the progress of the narrative which requires these revelations about family and the circumstances that have resulted in Madhu becoming a guest in Lata and Hari’s household. The participation in this domestic activity is for Madhu an important stage in getting out of herself and is therefore the scene that binds the long shadow of family history with the small moment of cooking. However, instances of this kind that integrate the quotidian with the momentous are still not the kind of formal use that the novel eventually demonstrates in the writing of the biography by Madhu and the tussle that results between author and subject and the design and the everyday.

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Michel de Certeau writes of ‘tactics’, ‘strategies’ and ‘ways of operating’ in the face of a ‘grid of discipline’ apparent everywhere – seeing in these how a society ‘resists being reduced to it’, ‘what popular procedures (also “miniscule” and quotidian) manipulate the mechanisms of discipline and conform to them only in order to evade them’ (1988: xiv). In this scheme, ‘familial practices’ recompose a space but the tactic of the ‘art of cooking’ is especially significant as it ‘simultaneously organizes a network of relations, poetic ways of “making do” (bricolage), and a re-use of marketing structures’ (xv). The emphasis on cooking as tactic to resist discipline is an element in De Certeau’s reading of consumer practices against a market that offers the ingredients for the act in the first place but also imposes thereby a discipline that the user resists. (This can be seen in the delicious use made of it in Mamang Dai’s Stupid Cupid with the northeasterner bringing her individual cooking and food habits to the metropolis and evolving tactics that engage with the discipline sought to be imposed by the market but also by housing colonies, neighbours and friends who variously respond to the resistance offered by the ‘exotic’ and the ‘unfamiliar’). In the above example from the novel, the act of cooking becomes another kind of tactic – one where Madhu participates voluntarily in something that the domestic space imposes on the woman, to resist that structure itself, using it to come out of herself, establish relations and ward off the situation that threatens to engulf her. However, it is in a larger use that Madhu intends to make of the everyday and that is positioned structurally over its themes that it is possible to see how discipline and resistance are at work and the everyday as a mode of resistance comes into its own. This happens with what is the determining narrative of Madhu writing the biography of the classical singer Savitribai Indorekar that I elaborate below. While critical attention has been paid to issues like identity, the woman’s self, marriage and family as important themes in Indian English fiction, it is the ubiquitous and therefore invisible everyday that has a significant place in the way narrative progresses or is held together. Women’s fiction and its special interest in this realm of the domestic has its rationale in the domain of women’s lives in middle class India in two sources, the historical and the feminist. The everyday as a method employed to explore different aspects of life in modern India is significantly tangential to the themes and interests of postcolonial writing. The turn to this ordinary reality is an important gesture of the post-postcolonial novel that is no longer tied to the colonial past but is busy with life, absorbed in itself, with carrying on and even when it refers to colonial history sees it now as a reciprocal influence (and one can see this in Plans for Departure, Baumgartner’s Bombay, Lesser Breeds).

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Indian English women’s fiction with its intense focus on the everyday has what I would like to call a parallel trajectory to that of fiction by men. This unfashionable binary aids understanding of and reflection on a fiction that does not lend itself to the thematic frames expected of the mainstream postcolonial novel in India with its concerns clustered around the nation, marginality, hybridity and migrancy, but seems to inhabit a realm that is private or alternative, examining areas that are untouched not because they are invisible or hidden but because they are insignificant, spaces that can only be characterised as the ‘everyday’. The binary is in fact useful in reading the diverse nature of fiction in the first decade of the twenty-first century against the backdrop of a tradition of women’s writing over several decades of the twentieth – a literature of their own – that sustains and supports the new work, providing the foundations for the many departures from the norms of postcolonial fiction. These are not authors who write back to the centre, demonstrate concern about the nation and its making, look back nostalgically at a pre-colonial past or express angst about hybridity and marginality in classic postcolonial terms (though Nayantara Sahgal’s late work, Lesser Breeds [2003] or the somewhat earlier Plans for Departure [1986] represent the multiple ways in which colonialism affects both coloniser and colonised: Sahgal’s work moreover has considerable possibilities for study within the schema of the everyday). They do not look at the fractured identities under colonialism or seek utopian worlds in the future. These are authors who have invented their response through a focus on the everyday and seem to meet the circumstances of modern India head on, often with the modern Indian woman caught between a traditional constricting past and a potentially free future, exemplified in the body of work that has been produced by the trinity of this fiction – Nayantara Sahgal, Anita Desai and Shashi Deshpande – but carrying this tradition into the new century. The result is a narrative of the small and the material, the insignificant processes that underpin great historical movements, the lives of individuals in their minute details (and I am consciously not using the notion of subalternism which I believe has been made his own in unique and comprehensive fashion by Amitav Ghosh). As this narrative of ordinariness and insignificance takes shape, the fiction shows it becoming the vehicle of empowerment for a new generation of men and women. This chapter sees this process not merely in individual novelists but as a thematic sweep that engages with the life of the small person caught in the midst of a political movement, the daily life of a metropolis, mundane details beneath grand historical and political processes, offering critiques of constricting narratives that still bind lives in modern India and giving shape to an alternative life of the everyday.

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While every little narrative in the works of Indian English male authors becomes the occasion for a gesture – and usually a grand, sweeping and all-embracing gesture – at the nation’s history or its shadow in the contemporary (in Amitav Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines, the little narrative is the grand and not merely something in the foreground: Thamma’s story is itself the story of the Partition), for the women, the nation is an invisible other to the lives they write about (and Small Remedies is again a good example of the way it keeps the violent incident that took the lives of loved ones so much in the background and looks instead at ‘effects’ – the little narrative is itself the focus, not the occasion to refer to the background or something that explains it). So small remedies, small things, lesser breeds are the central objects of this alternative story of living in modern India. The attention to the everyday also links this fiction to a feminist understanding of women’s space as necessarily limited and focused on women’s work, women’s lives and women’s space. This binary has two very obvious historical foundations – the status of women against the conditions of the Indian Independence movement and feminist valorisation of women’s work.

Contentious Fictions and Metafictional Counterpoints Indian English women’s fiction emerged in the backdrop and the private in the Indian struggle against British imperialism. This has of the Independence struggle in the early years of the twentieth century and in a setting dictated by its demands and its cultural politics, by the views on women’s education of the early intellectuals of an incipient modernity and their corresponding views about women’s place in the home. As we note how women’s fiction becomes a space of the everyday, a geography of women’s hidden lives in modern India, it is possible to trace this thematic interest in the relegation of women to the domestic as much in the ghare-baire or home-world motif as in the limited nature of women’s education and their emancipation under the compulsions of the struggle. The relegation to a limited and secure space – tracked by Partha Chatterjee to the beginnings of modernity in India and Bengal in the partial acceptance of modern education for women with their space of operations clearly demarcated as the ‘home’ and the private, as guardians of the domestic sphere from the incursions of Western modernity, and therefore as contributing in a very specific and limited way to the building of the nation – had significant influence in the position of women in modern India, the perception of women as objects of veneration and oppression in equal measure resulting from their confinement to this invisible and disadvantaged

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space at the heart of the Indian home. Indeed it is useful to look at Partha Chatterjee’s reading of this situation in the nineteenth century that continues its legacy into the modern Indian home despite the many discursive forays into this space by feminism. Chatterjee, evaluating the nationalist assertion about the failure of the colonial power ‘to colonize the inner essential identity of the East which lay in its distinctive and superior spiritual culture’ as a need ‘to protect, preserve and strengthen the inner core of the national culture, its spiritual essence’ interprets this as the new meaning of the home/world dichotomy with the identification of social roles by gender’ (1989: 624-625). He goes on to point to the conviction of the nationalists that ‘it was possible for a woman to acquire the cultural refinements afforded by modern education without jeopardizing her place at home, that is, without becoming a memsa¯heb’ (1989: 628). Indian English women’s fiction written by and about middle-class women who have, more than any other class, experienced this historical disadvantage – and I use this word in preference to the more fashionable ‘marginal’ because women have been disadvantaged precisely by being set in the heart and the centre of the Indian middle class home – have recognised and been frustrated by it. As many of these writers have shown it is more difficult to get away or declare independence when everything essentially devolves upon the woman, when all relationships are built around her and she is the centre of all activity in the home – and I can think of all those women in the novels of Desai or Deshpande who are trapped by love and attention and responsibility, and have sought ways to build little individual spaces in resistance to these huge traditional structures and apparatuses. Acts of rebellion have been against this backdrop (and it is salutary to recall Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things here), as has been the detailed exploration of the day-to-day nature of these frustrations, and their recovery has come out of this attention to the everyday. As the nineteenth-century autobiography by the Indian middle-class housewife and sundry writings about their lives in periodicals by women showed (many of these archival sources are now available either online or as published books), the woman’s everyday was the site of recovery and empowerment in ways that are natural to its limitations. Rajeswari Sundar Rajan writes of the thematic focus on the family as a contradiction for Indian English feminist fiction, defining women’s identity and constituting ‘the primary site of women’s oppression’: Bourgeois feminist fiction written in English today by Indian women, ambivalently divides representations of women’s resistance to the family between their negotiations of power within it, and their (attempts at) escape/freedom from its restrictions, and

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sometimes, indeed, both. These options, and vacillations, between ‘home’ and ‘world’ – the metaphorical terms in which Tagore posed the problem in his Ghare Bhaire (1913) – for the most part structure the ‘plot’ of contemporary feminist fiction in India. The ‘world,’ or more explicitly the ‘public’ space outside the ‘private sphere’ of the home, offers possibilities through and within which women seek liberation from family: education; sexual freedom; work; a certain ‘feminism,’ whether understood as the organized women’s movement, women’s women’s community (‘sisterhood’), or simply a feminist ‘consciousness’. (Sundar Rajan 1996: 223-224) This is a summary of the plot of most Indian English women’s fiction in the twentieth century – the swinging between home and world. In this reading of the scene of fiction in India, Sundar Rajan identifies the two salient points that are necessary for an appreciation of this body of work – the focus on the family (which also has the historical rationale traced by Chatterjee) and feminist consciousness rising from its conditions. However, the family is not only the space of oppression that women seek to escape. The family’s place in this fiction also includes the details of daily life – small practices that work as both tactic and strategy to deal with perceived and actual oppression. The family or the domestic and its practices which also constitute women’s work has been the testing ground for the later fiction as it has developed from a mere thematic focus to becoming an aesthetics of the everyday, carrying traces of both the oppression and the challenge in representations of the family and resistance to its call for passive acceptance. I see this aesthetic in the later fiction of Desai and Deshpande which, building on a body of work that focused extensively on the family, went on to find in its details a kind of ‘practice’ that offered opportunities for recovery of a sense of self after this is shown to have been eroded by conditions connected to the family. And my selection of a twenty-first-century novel by one of these older writers in preference to one of the newer writers has to do with the way this particular mode of using the everyday has been honed in this earlier fiction. I am also therefore speaking of a body of work because an aesthetic is the result of conscious and long use of a mode, and here it is possible to see how a fairly ordinary mode of writing fiction that did not especially show formal awareness beyond the telling of a good story gradually begins to reveal in its very ordinariness a grasp of the everyday as an aesthetic technique. It is also for this reason that in a decade that has shown many women beginning to take on the conditions of life in modern India and producing a fiction that has been racy, sharp and po-

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litically savvy and has explored a range of themes and locations, I still turn to the work that has stood the test of time and is built on the experience of long years of writing. The second foundation also used by Sundar Rajan, the feminist, provides another entry point into the conditions of this interest in the everyday. Feminist valuation of women’s work ties in with the historical re-situation of women in the domestic space – the education of women providing them with a degree of empowerment but limiting their sphere of action by offering a powerful nationalist rationale for this ideological circumscription. So even as women were educated, forged careers for themselves and ostensibly announced their freedom, the middle-class woman discovered herself to be doubly trapped within the confines of the home, her very abilities making her the target and centre point of more than her fair share in the domestic. It is precisely this focus that is at the heart of the English fiction produced by the Indian woman and that provides a strong rationale for the small daily activity. In her argument for reading these women’s novels as feminist fiction, Sundar Rajan cites Manjula Padmanabhan’s ‘Calligrapher’s Tale’ for its depiction of ‘small things’: ‘These small things are entirely randomly chosen: keys that won’t open, a crying baby, a minute blood stain, two copper-tailed skinks, an ill-treated bastard servant boy, an old calligrapher. The reflections that wrap up the moral of the story of that name express a certain philosophy: “… small things are … so steadfast, so incorruptible, so pure in their purpose … and in their smallness, in their modesty, in their lack of ambition, they have strength. … The strength of small things” (187)’ (Sundar Rajan 235). Lisa Lau, taking a close look at South Asian woman’s writing, claims of these works that they ‘frequently include detailed descriptions of the interior spaces of home, the negotiation of roles and hierarchies, and the emotional lives played out against a background of the bedroom and the kitchen’ (2006: 1098). In these essays, Sundar Rajan, who shows this use of the everyday as the source of a moral position, or Lau, who looks at the ‘connections between domestic space and identity’ (2006: 1100), still keep the everyday at the level of a thematic engagement by the authors. I suggest instead that the details of the domestic in the wider sense of the everyday work not only as therapy in those instances where women experience oppression intensely, that is, as theme, but is also a ‘tactic’ or ‘strategy’ in a kind of detailing that identifies and distinguishes the woman’s novel from that of the man. In engaging with these details as aesthetic, one is actually looking at the way these small, ordinary things, so habitual and mundane that they go unnoticed, are often a novel’s formal foundation. For women, the domestic is the source and site of the

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everyday and in that sense it is distinctive. While reading Deshpande’s novel through this lens I would therefore suggest that the social, familial and individual everyday is the unapologetic basis for this new fiction. Moreover, what is seen in the earlier fiction as an obsessive focus on little details of day-to-day life – the puri alu episode at the end of Anita Desai’s Fasting Feasting is an excellent example: it is a recovery situated in the act of making and sharing food by mother and daughter that is not just part of the story but is also the formal structuring incident bringing together different strands of the novel – develops in the later work into a distinct writing strategy that is evident in the nuanced use made of it by Shashi Deshpande in Small Remedies, a novel that appears as innocuous as its precursors but has at its heart the writing of the biography and the relationship between the singer and the writer that is a source of resistance, empowerment and recovery for the woman and a metafictional counterpoint for the novel with specific attention to the everyday.

Shashi Deshpande’s Small Remedies When Madhu, having recently lost her son, is assigned the task of writing the biography of the classical singer Savitribai Indorekar, she is immediately faced with the dilemma of selection between the grand public narrative of the singer’s life, which Bai herself would like to project, and the daily, private life invisible to the public that Madhu thinks is necessary to flesh out the biography. Madhu imagines that she will be able to establish an occasion for the book by recalling her past association as the friend of Bai’s daughter. Instead, at their first meeting, Savitribai is ‘very businesslike’, does not mention her daughter or the past at all, and barrages her with questions: Have I read any articles about her? The interviews? She’s got cuttings of most of them, she’ll give me the lot. There’s a book on her, have I read that? I shouldn’t. The man who wrote it is an ignorant fool, he knows nothing about music … She wants me to ignore that book. (SR 15) This other unsatisfactory book is the one that has not written well of her music and it is of her music that she expects Madhu to write. Bai’s expectations serve as the constricting, overarching ‘discipline’ that Madhu must discover ways to resist. Madhu finds her plans for the interviews and for the way she would write the book quickly set aside:

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She didn’t really need my questions. They were just a formality, a duty I had to perform, the cue to set her off on her almost rehearsed speech. All these things have been related by her so often that the matter has jelled into a definite shape. There can be no alteration. (SR 27) Savitribai’s resistance to Madhu’s authorial wishes are evident in small, almost unnoticed details: when she speaks of her mother and of being taught by her she recalls that her mother had just had a baby. She does not speak of the baby as a sibling; the story of her life as a musician is so clear in her mind that everything else (and that includes people) is secondary. She seems to have divested her imagination of all elements that connect her to anything that is ‘not music’ and not the interpretation she would like made of her life. So she has apparently set aside memories of her daughter, Meenakshi, her earlier married life and home, and even her lover, Ghulam Saab, considering these unnecessary to the story of her life in music. It is interesting to see how these little and grand elements jostle and struggle in the fabric of the novel as they do in Madhu’s attempts to get a purchase on her subject’s life. The story of her writing of the biography becomes the mirror of the way a novel, this novel, is not only the grand central thematic line but requires the small, mundane daily stages and actions. The ordinariness of details is sought by Madhu not just as necessary to fill out her writing but in her own life as the material through which she recovers from her grief. De Certeau, who distinguishes ‘strategies’ from ‘tactics’, calls a strategy ‘the calculation (or manipulation) of power relations that becomes possible as soon as a subject with will and power (a business, an army, a city, a scientific institution) can be isolated’, and that involves ‘a mastery of time through the foundation of an autonomous space’; ‘a mastery of places through sight’; and a ‘transfor[mation] [of ] the uncertainties of history into readable spaces’ (36). By contrast, a tactic, which is a much smaller and weaker move, is ‘determined by the absence of a proper locus’: The space of a tactic is the space of the other. Thus it must play on and with a terrain imposed on it and organized by the law of a foreign power … It must vigilantly make use of the cracks that particular conjunctions open in the surveillance of the proprietary powers … a tactic is an art of the weak … (37) Therefore, De Certeau identifies a tactic as that which does not work with a big, general plan but takes advantage of opportunities. Staying with this rhetoric of warfare and drawing on Clausewitz’s notion of ‘de-

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ception’ in his treatise On War – ‘The weaker the forces at the disposition of the strategist, the more the strategist will be able to use deception’ (in De Certeau 37) – De Certeau observes that strategies in such cases are ‘transformed into tactics’ (37). In making the connection between the everyday and empowerment, I also therefore have in mind those situations in which the everyday is a mode of intervention by the weak – in De Certeau’s terms, the way a housewife deploys the ‘tactics of the art of cooking’ (xv) to resist the market when she as consumer makes choices on the basis of what she requires for cooking, or the North African living in Paris who ‘insinuates into the system imposed on him by the construction of a low-income housing development or of the French language the ways of “dwelling” (in a house or a language) peculiar to his native Kabylia’ (30); and in the case of Small Remedies the tactics through which Madhu resists or intends to resist the straight line of the story that Savitribai tells is through the deployment of the insignificant but teeming details. This aspect of her tactics comes into play only when she finally begins to see her way through the information conveyed by Bai. It is necessary to note that in the mutual relations of author and subject, Madhu, at this point in the novel, is clearly the weak one, held in thrall by the singer’s strong personality and unable to manoeuvre until she begins to discover and retrieve the elements that Bai considers unworthy of the life she would like to be known to have lived. From that point onward the book that she wants to write begins to take shape and her own recovery from grief and traumatic memories of the loss of her son ensues. This section in the novel shows the author assuming her power which becomes a power over small things. And the recognition is achieved at the point in Chapter 8 when she wonders if she can actually write the book: I’ve realized that there are three books here. Firstly, there’s Bai’s book, the book Bai wants to be written, in which she is the heroine, the spotlight shining on her and her alone. No dark corners anywhere in this book, all the shadows kept out of sight, backstage. Then there’s Maya and Yogi’s book. A controversial one. Trendy. Politically correct, with a feminist slant. A book that will sell. And there’s my book, the one I’m still looking for. Its evading me, not giving me a hold anywhere. (SR 125) Her book she feels must be somewhere behind the public life, in ‘Bai and her routine’ (125). On being questioned by Bai whose suspicion is an aspect of the assertion of her design for the book, she comes back with: ‘Nothing really. I was asking her about your daily routine … I

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wanted a general idea of your day’ (126). The flashes, the glimpses, the unwitting revelations are the elements that she seeks in order to flesh out the story and not simply give in to her subject’s desire for a story ‘without flesh’ – a thin straight line that is her musical journey. Madhu classes Bai’s revelations about how she finally came to be accepted as a pupil by her Guruji as the exciting point, the point that might spark off her own book. But if the discovery of the everyday against the looming design is what Madhu’s book otherwise seems to want to focus on, this is a weak phase in both her tactic and in Deshpande’s presentation in the novel itself because these continue to be ‘the much-told, much-dramatized incidents of her life’ made special only because it is told ‘in her own voice’ (127). But both the novel and Madhu recover from this slip by returning to the mode through which she as author finds Bai’s life in spite of her subject when Bai’s narration is placed within the everyday perspective of the book: ‘When she tells me all this, I am aware of the gaps in her story, I know that she is following the one straight line of her pursuit of her Guruji, bypassing everything else. I have to fill in these blanks myself’ (129). And then she offers her book: I presume that when she first heard Guruji sing, she was a married woman, that the first time she went to Bombay and met him, she was still living in her married home. I also guess that when she says she went to live in Bombay, that was the time she’d burnt her boats, she had left her husband and home and was living with Ghulam Saab. But these things are not mentioned. To Bai, these things have no place in the story of her life as a musician. (SR 12; italics mine). This integration of two kinds of information – the central line of the singer’s life and the details that as author Madhu must retrieve from Bai’s repressed memories – preview both the successfully written biography and the recovery of Madhu from her grief and isolation. The evolution of the Indian English novel with its distinct preference for the everyday, and therefore its shaping of itself through a proliferation of daily details, is seen in the way these novels develop not as grand tangible plot which is authoritatively in control of the details, but in a continuous presentation of small things – mostly thin plots that are visible only hazily behind the details. The link between tactics and weakness is something that can be transported into the arena where a narrative plot engages with the details of the everyday, strategically placing narrative components as they struggle against the design, using whatever tactics they can deploy. In other words, the Indian English woman’s novel by and large is dominated by this characteristic of the

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weak, the details that resist being made significantly visible only against the overarching plot. When De Certeau says that ‘a tactic is determined by the absence of power just as strategy is organized by the postulation of power’ (38), the relevance of this for the relationship between a narrative plot and its component elements particularly in the use of clever, deceptive, witty devices by these weak components against the narrative plot – something that is available as the tussle for ascendancy that is at the heart of the narrative plot and its desire for the end – is evident. This is not to claim that the woman’s novel finally is a victory of the component elements over the plot, but the thinner plot does depend more comprehensively on the everyday and gives it a life and space that grander plots do not. The grand narrative of nation for example (and such an appropriate postcolonial choice) in novels that use this as theme and determining form wins out in the end, with constituent elements subsumed under its narrative energies. In the Indian English woman’s novel, the everyday is what finally remains in the mind.

9 Inspiring India The Fiction of Chetan Bhagat and the Discourse of Motivation Subir Dhar

The Chetan Bhagat ‘Phenomenon’ As an Indian writer of fiction in English without any publicly proclaimed claims to genius or even to high literary merit, the redoubtable success of Chetan Bhagat in attracting extremely large numbers of Indian readers is something of an enigma. The voluminous sales figures of his novels and the loyalty of his readers who not only buy but also read his books repeatedly indicate that he is no ordinary writer but one whose accomplishment needs to be regarded as a cultural phenomenon, some aspects of which may lay legitimate claims to being investigated. Certainly his status as a bestselling author has something to do with the present day condition of India which is at this moment poised on the cusp of a great economic leap forward, and with the emergence of radically new cultural values particularly among the country’s educated youth. However, the popularity of Chetan Bhagat seems to have links with recent trends of development in the terrain of popular writing all across the English-reading world, as in and around the last decade the publication industry has globally witnessed, and often consciously contributed, to the emergence and establishment of a number of new sub-genres of writing identified by (and sold under) such classificatory brand names as ‘chick lit’, ‘mummy lit’ and ‘inspi-lit’. According to Brenda O’Neill on the BBC network, the first of these types of fiction refers to ‘comedic novels about singletons looking for Mr Right’, the second are ‘tales of new mums making a hash of juggling child and career’, and the third are texts which narrate stories about ‘triumph[s] over personal trauma’. Few samples of this kind of writing lay any serious claim to status as ‘literature’, but the modesty of the authors themselves about the quality of the work they produce in no way affects the popularity of their writing, for many of the individual titles in these literary sub-genres have been known to have gone into scores of reprints and sold in the hundreds of thousands.

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The oeuvre of Chetan Bhagat, which at this point in time consists of five novels, may not of course be unproblematically described as belonging to any of the three categories above, but it will be the argument of this chapter that both the success of this writer and some of the typical features of his practice as a novelist seem to draw upon key energies of motivational or inspirational literature, British/American as well as Indian. This quality is most obvious in his second novel, One Night @ the Call Centre, which opens with an authorial exhortation to the reader that reads: Before you begin this book, I have a small request. Right here, note down three things. Write down something that i) you fear, ii) makes you angry and iii) you don’t like about yourself. Be honest, and write down something that is meaningful to you. Do not think too much about why I am asking you to do this. Just do it. One thing I fear: ____________________________________________ One thing that makes me angry: ____________________________________________ One thing that I do not like about myself: ____________________________________________ Okay, now forget about this exercise and enjoy the story. (Bhagat 2005: ix) Somewhat similarly, towards the end of the same novel there occurs a scene in which God talks to the different characters in it, and, quite in the fashion of a true motivational guide, tells them to close their ‘eyes for three minutes. Think about what you really want and what you need to change in your life to get it. Then, once you get out of here, act on those changes’ (Bhagat 2005: 204). Such scenes are typical of Bhagat. In the first novel, Five Point Someone, for instance, the first-person narrator oversleeps and misses the prestigious IIT convocation to collect his engineering degree. Instead, he has a dream about an awards distribution ceremony at which the head of his academic department delivers to the assembly the inspirational three-fold ‘message’ that college GPA scores and promotions and performance reviews in later life are less important than family, friends and ‘internal desires’, that it is wrong to ‘judge others too quickly’, and finally that life is short and should be enjoyed and that no one should ever take oneself ‘too seriously’ (Bhagat 2004: 261-62). In the third novel, The 3 Mistakes of My

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Life, which is set against the backdrop of one of India’s worst communal flare-ups in recent history, this episode is set in a hospital room where the young protagonist who is recovering from a suicide attempt is told: ‘Life will have many setbacks. People close to you will hurt you. But don’t break it off. You don’t hurt them more. You try to heal it. It is a lesson not only you, but our country needs to learn’ (Bhagat 2008: 255-56). In his fourth novel, 2 States, there are no less than two such scenes, one at a psychiatrist’s chamber and another at a Guruji’s house in the Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, where the protagonist is told to meditate and is instructed to forgive (Bhagat 2009: 169, 240). Finally, the last novel Revolution 2020 has yet another hospital bedside scene during the course of which the author himself plays out the role of motivator and is asked by the worldly-wise director of a large engineering college whether he (the latter) is ‘a good man’ (Bhagat 2011: 295).

The Five Novels Of course there is a certain formulaic quality about all of Chetan Bhagat’s novels, in theme and setting equally as in characterisation and plotting. Five Point Someone is a campus novel set in one of the country’s topmost engineering institutes (the IIT) which many hundreds of thousands of young people in India dream about entering each year but fail to. There can be little doubt that the setting itself as well as the fact that the author is an IIT alumnus (hence by implication some kind of an authority about the reality of student life in IIT) proved to be a major selling point for this novel. One Night @ the Call Centre, which was published in 2005 at the height of the employment boom in India that rode on the wave of the country becoming an international hub for the outsourcing business, attracted readers who were curious to know more about the lifestyles of young people, men as well as women, who routinely worked night shifts making and answering telephone calls to unseen and unknown Americans located on the other side of the globe. The very topical (at that time) incident of the riots in Ahmedabad, when a communal clash between Hindus and Muslims followed the burning of a train compartment full of passengers, forms the setting of The 3 Mistakes of My Life. The next novel, 2 States, which carries the subtitle The Story of My Marriage, has much less a topical economic or political focus, but it evidently made capital out of a fairly widespread curiosity about the author’s own life and personality, a curiosity which itself had already been fuelled by Bhagat’s renown as a bestselling author, as a motivational speaker especially on the college circuit, and by his cyber presence on social networking sites. His most

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recent novel to date, Revolution 2020, draws not only on the resonances of India’s most inspirational president in recent history, Dr. Abdul Kalam, and his vision of India becoming a world class power by the year 2020, but also the anti-corruption crusade launched by Anna Hazare in 2011 which brought millions of young Indians out on the streets protesting against the corrupt practices indulged in by India’s politicians in particular.

Hero-in-crisis Each novel, too, is an abbreviated Bildungsroman of sorts, featuring not a whole life but a brief segment of the life experiences of a postadolescence girl and a boy. The girls in the novels are shown to suffer from their own pre- or post-nuptial insecurities, especially with regard to issues of career, family (usually mother-father-relations centric), husband or boyfriend. In Five Point Someone, for instance, Neha, who is in love with the narrator Hari Kumar, has a dysfunctional relationship with her overbearing father Prof. Cherian. In One Night @ the Call Centre, each of the three woman characters – Priyanka, who is in love with the narrator Shyam, Radhika, who is married to an unfaithful husband and has a demanding mother-in-law, and Esha, who has aspirations to be a model – is unhappy with the course and quality of her own life. Vidya in The 3 Mistakes of My Life has to temporarily break off from her lover Govind who is her brother’s best friend turned foe, and the Tamilian Ananya in 2 States faces almost insurmountable difficulties in getting her parents to agree to her marriage to Krish, the Punjabi young man she loves. Only Revolution 2020 has a heroine who, having drifted away from her first boyfriend (the protagonist), is happy in her marriage, apart from feeling occasionally that she is not being given enough time by the man she loves. Nevertheless, the major crises in the novels are unfailingly centered in the lives of the male characters, and it is their lives and problems that constitute the point of the narrations. Suicides, attempted or successful, figure in at least four of the five novels, with the IIT professor’s son in the first novel having thrown himself in front of a speeding train and Alok in the same novel and Govind in the third actually trying to end their lives by respectively jumping off the fourth floor roof of the IIT administrative building and swallowing nineteen sleeping pills in quick succession. Krish in the fourth story refuses to sleep and literally starves himself into psychological and physiological collapse, and Gopal tries to drink himself to death in the last. These crises at the individual level provide the plot mechanics of the novels and serve to both arouse and hold the interest of the reader in the same way that an agonised cry for help arrests at-

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tention, but it is important to note that they are not really the point at stake which is rather the solutions to the various crises that are provided by the novelist. As a matter of fact, Chetan Bhagat’s novels are cast in the mould of motivational literature, most of which depict a hero-in-crisis before narrativising his coming out of crisis. This genre is, of course, several millennia old and it was originally religious in spirit and content, the Bhagavad Gita and St. Augustine’s fourth-century A.D. text Confessions being classic early examples. In the context of the present study, it is interesting to note that the Gita actually features in two of Bhagat’s fictions – in One Night and 2 States.

‘Inspi-lit’ In the twentieth century, the crisis-narrative form took on a new avatar as ‘inspi-lit’ which came to be much in demand due to rising levels of human dissatisfaction with the acquisition of material possessions, individuals’ self-directed questions about personal worth and purpose of existence, fears and feelings of inadequacy, loneliness and friendlessness, radical disquietitudes, all aggravated by the tensions of a highly technologised and urban-centred existence in a contemporary postindustrial world scenario. In the West (the US specifically), the emergent economic climate of recession, unemployment or underemployment and the constant fear among those in employment of losing work gave birth to the development of a new mantra of efficiency and productivity as a strategy that was touted as something that could be learnt. One of the most prominent figures in this field is Stephen Covey who, apart from publishing his bestselling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1989), also founded the Covey Leadership Center to which international companies send their employees for week-long management training seminars. Others like the India-born writer Robin Sharma have scored by writing self-help books like The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari (2003). What is common to all these texts is the inherent textual image of the author projected as a figure of authority, a fount of knowledge, or at least a kind of secular priest holding the keys to wisdom. Obversely, there is another important construct embedded in inspi-lit, and this is of the figure of the reader as a basically dependent psychological type, as a man or a woman who often finds himself/herself in situations of stress or distress which he/she cannot deal with and overcome by himself/herself and so has to turn to the ‘expert’ for help. The writers of inspi-lit assume quite logically that a sizable portion of the human population is afflicted with negative feelings of incomprehension, inadequacy and weakness, and that they are thus susceptible to the reception of advice provided by inspirational gurus such as the writ-

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ers themselves. Many self-help books are indeed written with a specific agenda tailored to cater to the demands of dependent readers, and the authors of such works even anticipate and accommodate the contingency of a reader’s need for ego flattery, a psychological compensatory device for an existent lack of self-esteem, by branding hesitancy, timidity, weakness or even failure as both normal and necessary pre-conditions for the achievement of success and emotional contentment. It is striking to note the extent to which Chetan Bhagat follows, either deliberately or unconsciously, the norms of this genre of writing. In One Night @ the Call Centre, for example, the novelist has the voice of God tell all the trapped, distraught characters in the novel: ‘… to be really successful, you must face failure. You have to experience it, feel it, taste it, suffer it. Only then can you shine. … Never be afraid of failure. If it has come your way, it means I want you to give it a real shot at being successful later’ (Bhagat 2005: 298). Equally, in Five Point Someone, Prof. Chrerian in the dream episode discounts academic merit and dismisses material success as a mirage and bolsters the ego of all underachievers, and in Revolution 2020 Raghav the engineer-turnedlow-income-investigative-journalist-turned-politician wins both the girl and happiness over his friend, the Mercedes-riding wealthy college director Gopal Mishra.

The Role of the Frame Narrator in Bhagat’s Novels But the most distinct evidence of the link between Bhagat’s novels and motivational literature may be noticed in the novelist’s donning of the mantle of illuminator, instructor and guide to the seeker in all but his first (an apprentice text) and fourth novels (one that is admittedly autobiographical). In the other three of his novels, Bhagat makes repeated use of a frame narrator who blurs the border lines between the real-life identity of the author as a motivational speaker and his persona as the teller of a story. In these novels, there is the iterated employment of the device of a prologue and an epilogue (and even a double epilogue in The 3 Mistakes) which enables Bhagat to straddle two separate identities as real-life author and fictional narrator. In One Night @ the Call Centre, the novelist introduces himself in the prologue by his real name, makes fun of himself by showing himself to be a little disheartened when his name is not instantly recognised by his auditor (another character), and then goes on to tell the reader that the story the reader will be reading is the story he has been told by the auditor sitting in front of him. This is, of course, a quite conventional narrative strategy, reminiscent of eighteenth-century artifices of realism in the genre of fiction in

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which novelists claimed to have found manuscripts in bottles washed ashore and in old boxes and trunks discovered in cupboards and attics. However, in the fiction of Chetan Bhagat the point is not realism of representation but its effective function in strategically positioning Bhagat as a counsellor figure. In The 3 Mistakes, Bhagat even goes beyond serving as an advisor and transforms himself into a (literal) saviour as he actively intervenes to save the life of a young man who has emailed him a suicide note. So too in Revolution 2020, Bhagat takes steps to hospitalise a young man who is drinking himself to death, and as a kind of therapeutic measure spends the whole night lending him a sympathetic ear – and apparently incidentally transforming the story of crisis and trauma he hears into the text of his novel. One Night @ the Call Centre is however the furthest that Chetan Bhagat has gone in this direction, for it is revealed at the end of this novel that the beautiful young woman who one night on a train journey told the novelist the story of the six young call centre employees was actually a divine avatar. This by logical extension obviously makes her narrative a gospel, and it also transforms the novelist, its transmitter, into a prophet of sorts.

Accounting for Bhagat’s Success as a Writer ‘I am very ambitious in my writing goals’, wrote Chetan Bhagat in the ‘Acknowledgements’ before The 3 Mistakes of My Life, but then went on to explain this statement by clarifying: ‘However, I don’t want to be India’s most admired writer. I just want to be India’s most loved writer. Admiration passes, love endures’ (Bhagat 2008: ix). If ‘love’ can be translated as faithfulness, devotion or maybe as brand loyalty, there can hardly be any doubt that Bhagat has his fans. One reason for his popularity as a writer can be found in the individual style and texture of his prose. In one of his rare moments of self-reflexivity as a writer, Bhagat in 2 States talks about the smell of Indian spices being cooked in a Tamilian kitchen and adds: ‘If this was one of those prize-winning Indian novels, I’d spend two pages on how wonderful those smells were. However, the only reaction I had was a coughing fit and teary eyes’ (Bhagat 2009: 121). These sentences clearly proclaim Bhagat’s wry acknowledgement that he is not a ‘literary’ author but merely a popular one, equally as they suggest one reason for his popularity – an immensely readable, if journalistic, prose style. Long descriptions are markedly absent in Chetan Bhagat’s novels, with locations functionally sketched in with minimal attention paid to detail. An appropriate analogy for his kind of prose would be a newspaper cartoon, the art of which manifests similar traits of a telling humour and a marked pro-

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clivity to caricature. For instance, this is Bhagat describing his future father-in-law’s reaction to his daughter asking her boyfriend (Bhagat) to hug her in his presence: ‘“Sit here, Ananya”, he said and carefully folded the newspaper like he would read it again every day for the rest of his life’ (Bhagat 2009: 92). Indeed, the typical Bhagat line reads like a one-liner in a joke book or on a mobile screen, sharp and insightful, but with little substance or mass: ‘Your humour has a tumour’; ‘Sorry, but calling is not my calling’ (Bhagat 2005: 158; 205). Other reasons for the popularity of such mass-market fiction texts as these include their low price, which is lesser than the cost of a single cinema ticket in a multiplex, and a topicality that never descends to any really serious – and potentially boring – analyses of the socio-political and economic issues that are used as settings, backgrounds or narratival frames. The root causes of corruption are not really discussed in Revolution 2020, just as the social and economic compulsions that lead countless Indian parents to force their children into attempting to succeed in the IIT entrance examination are not really addressed beyond a quite superficial account. Bhagat also bows to accommodate the relatively new cultural values evident in contemporary India’s middle-class generation next, unproblematically depicting premarital sex, visits to cafes, nightclubs and lounges, and the conspicuous consumption of alcohol by young men and women in his novels. The older generation is consistently represented as staid, rigid, orthodox, demanding, dominating and domineering and incapable of understanding or appreciating the need of young people to carve out their own careers, master their own destinies, fall in love by themselves, and have some personal space of their own. Such depictions obviously strike the right chords in the minds and hearts of his young readers who are interpellated by the ideological assumptions and beliefs presented to them and are convinced that these are actual representations of their own thoughts, desires and compulsions. Nevertheless, Bhagat is no iconoclast, and one of his taboos is drugs, and he evidently respects the institution of marriage as both an individual release and a necessary social formation.

An Effect of Reassurance The end result of Chetan Bhagat’s output as a novelist is an effect of reassurance. Like motivational literature the world over, the five novels to date have become popular as consumables because they satisfy several wants in their readers. These wants and desires are aspects of ego psychology, emotional cravings for support, reassurance and comforting in the face of anxieties, fears and neuroses bred out of experiences, or perhaps even only fears, of failure, loss, crises and trauma. This, of

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course, is fairly unexceptional given the type to which Bhagat’s novels owe allegiance. But what is more remarkable is the way in which the writings of this novelist conform to the ideological imperatives of much guidance literature, which is to propose that ‘all problems due to objective circumstances … can be solved in terms of private behaviour or by psychological insight, particularly into oneself, but also into others’ (Adorno & Horkheimer 57). Certainly there is in the fiction of Chetan Bhagat the consistent implication that all the disturbances created within the individual’s mind by such external circumstances such as societal-familial and workplace demands for material accomplishment can be resolved on the level of the individual through his or her recognition of ‘true’ values, rightful desires and legitimate motivations. This is an extremely conservative position since it largely absolves society of any responsibility for the shaping of individual destiny even as it apparently posits a romantic and Manichean opposition between the truth of the individual’s perception and the error of conventional worldly wisdom. This built-in ambiguity of stance in fact enables Bhagat to take on a quite authoritative role as advisor, mentor and inspirer of the young Indians who are his readers, and to assure them that he is worthy of their love, he being a comrade, their semblement, one of them himself, and not a superior guru preaching down to them from a wise man’s ivory tower.

10 Story-telling in the Age of Cybernetics Rana Dasgupta’s Tokyo Cancelled Sreemati Mukherjee

Rana Dasgupta’s Tokyo Cancelled is perhaps the latest attempt at creating the logic of storytelling as a way of sustaining and preserving a community. In Trinh T. Minh-Ha’s Woman Native Other, Minh-Ha talks about how in more than one tradition, people sat around fires listening to stories. Since Minh-Ha is promoting the idea of the woman storyteller in this book, she calls it ‘Grandma’s story’.1 In her article ‘Rootedness: The Ancestor as Foundation’, Toni Morrison mentions oral storytelling traditions as one way through which the black community preserved some sense of self-definition or integration: We don’t live in places where we can hear those stories anymore; parents don’t sit around and tell their children those classical, mythological, archetypal stories that we heard years ago. But new information has got to get out, and there are several ways to do it. One is the novel. I regard it as a way to accomplish certain very strong functions.2 One such function is ‘healing.’ I don’t know if Rana Dasgupta’s stories in Tokyo Cancelled have any ‘healing’ functions. They seem like incredibly clever finger exercises, which illuminate certain chilling, atrophying, bizarre and grotesque dimensions of a globally impacted world, where cyber space with all the virtual realities it generates determines and controls not only the world of business, commerce, Science and Technology, but also people’s lives and emotions. Is Dasgupta in fact sounding a warning bell that cyber space is potentially and actually destructive and demeaning of life and simultaneously of Art as well? Through the stilted and frozen narrative aesthetics of this collection of tales that seems to be following the same structural pattern of The Canterbury Tales, The Decameron and The Arabian Nights, storytelling, although still possible, does not seem like an answer to the crises of emotion and relationship that these stories are nonetheless pointing to. At the most we can say that the story still exists, seemingly as narrative

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resonant as the fourteenth-century Chaucerian world, but each storyteller seems like a clone of the other one, almost faceless and emotionally dead, with storytelling simply reflecting congealed and deadened life currents. They seem to lack the vital class and sensibility specificities of the characters and narrators in The Canterbury Tales, where human beings seemed much more in contact with their emotions and desires and responded to the pulsations of life in a far more celebratory and organic manner. I would also like to make a point about the positive connotations of journeying in The Canterbury Tales and the almost dark implications of a cancelled trip in Tokyo Cancelled. It is not only that the journey in The Canterbury Tales stands for the force, vitality and dynamism of life as opposed to the almost deathlike stillness and stasis of the marooned passengers forced into telling stories. The question that irrevocably hovers in the air in this context is whether storytelling can deal with the material and psychological negativity that seems to condition the story telling in an airport where passengers huddle together to tell stories so that they can stave off the psychological death of waiting indefinitely in a space that is neither home nor destination. Once again, as in The Arabian Nights, the storytellers, Scheherazade-like, are up against a death sentence. The contiguity of death and storytelling seems unavoidable in Dasgupta’s collection of tales too.

Magic Realism While discussing Dasgupta, it is important to use the term ‘Magical Realism’ which first originated in post-expressionist painter Franz Roh’s 1925 essay Nach Expressionismus, Magischer Realismus: Probleme der neuesten Europa¨ischen Malerei.3 In this essay Roh makes the following statement: ‘with the word “magic”, as opposed to “mystic”, I wished to indicate that the mystery does not descend to the represented world but rather hides and palpitates behind it’.4 Roh’s essay of 1925 was translated into Spanish and published by Jose Ortega y Gasset in the influential essay Revista de Occidente in 1927.5 In Ortega y Gasset’s translation of Roh, we read: The phases of all art can be distinguished quite simply by means of the particular objects that artists perceive, among all the objects in the world, thanks to an act of selection that is already an act of creation.6 As Irene Guenther explains in the essay ‘Magic Realism in the Weimar Republic’, the Austrian artist Alfred Kubin ‘spent a lifetime wrestling

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with the uncanny, the unheimlich in the real’.7 Kubin published a book called Die andere Seite (The Other Side), a novel illustrated by 52 drawings in which Kubin ‘set out to explore the ‘‘other side’’ of the visible world – the corruption, the evil, the rot, as well as the power and the mystery’.8 In this context one must immediately however point out Freud’s earlier use of this term in his essay ‘The Uncanny’ where he himself translates unheimlich as ‘uncanny’ in English saying that ‘the nearest semantic equivalents in English are ‘‘uncanny’’ and ‘‘eerie’’’.9 Freud further goes on to say that ‘the uncanny is that species of the frightening that goes back to what was once well known and had long been familiar’. But he also says, ‘Unheimlich is clearly the opposite of Heimlich, heimisch, vertraut (because literally Heimlich means “homely” and unheimlich means “unhomely” [parentheses mine]) and it seems obvious that something should be frightening precisely because it is unknown and unfamiliar’,10 but at the end of his chapter of semantic explorations in different languages of the meaning of the word unheimlich, Freud concludes that ‘Heimlich in the end thus becomes increasingly ambivalent, until it finally merges with its antonym unheimlich. The uncanny (das Unheimliche, “the unhomely”) is in some way a species of the familiar (das Heimliche, “the homely”)’.11 Tracing the development of magic realism in literature in his essay ‘Magical Realism in Spanish America’, Angel Flores says that, although in Europe instances of mixing the bizarre or the fantastic with the real first make an appearance in the writings of artists such as Kafka and Proust and the paintings of Giorgio de Chirico during the First World War period, theirs was essentially a ‘rediscovery’ because many elements of this art or perspective were found in nineteenth-century artists such as the German Romantics Hoffmann, Arnim, Kleist and the Grimm brothers, in Strindberg, Stifter, Poe, Melville, Gogol and Dostoyevsky.12 Referring to the art of Kafka, Gide notes in his Journal, I could not say what I admire the more: the ‘naturalistic’ notation of a fantastic universe, but which the detailed exactitude of the depiction makes real in our eyes, or the unerring audacity of the lurches into the strange. There is much to be learned from it.13 Another theorist that I would like to refer to at this juncture is Tzvetan Todorov in his essay ‘The Uncanny and the Marvelous’, which is the second chapter of his book The Fantastic, where Todorov speaks of three categories in narrative that seem to have permeable and crossover boundaries, namely, the ‘uncanny’, the ‘marvelous’ and the ‘fantastic’.14 Todorov tries to explain these terms showing the interrelationship of the three, of how in fact the ‘uncanny’ may be embedded in the ‘fantastic’, which may also contain the ‘marvelous’:

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The fantastic, we have seen, lasts only as long as a certain hesitation: a hesitation common to reader and character, who must decide whether or not what they perceive derives from ‘reality’ as it exists in the common opinion. At the story’s end the reader makes a decision even if the character does not; he opts for one solution or the other, and thereby emerges from the fantastic. If he decides that the laws of reality remain intact and permit an explanation of the phenomena described, we say that the work belongs to another genre: the uncanny. If, on the contrary, he decides that new laws of nature must be entertained to account for the phenomena, we enter the genre of the marvelous.15 The uncanny realizes, as we see, only one of the conditions of the fantastic: the description of certain reactions, especially fear. It is uniquely linked to the sentiments of the characters and not to a material event defying reason … Poe’s tale ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ is an instance of the uncanny bordering on the fantastic.16 Todorov provides a diagram to explain how the fantastic, the uncanny and the marvelous may present subgenres in literature: Uncanny/fantastic – uncanny/fantastic-marvelous/marvelous17 The fantastic in its pure state is represented here by the median line separating the fantastic-uncanny from the fantastic-marvelous. This line corresponds perfectly to the nature of the fantastic, a frontier between two adjacent realms.18 Thus what are the links between Freud’s notion of the ‘uncanny,’ Kubin’s use of unheimlich, the magic realist reproductions and variations of a Kafkaesque sensibility and Todorov’s notions of the ‘uncanny’, ‘fantastic’ and ‘marvelous’? The only common seam that seems to run through them all is the assumption that there is more to what meets the eye than seems evident, that life or what we perceive as reality may have multiple layers, and reason and logic may not be adequate tools to comprehend or verify or accept all the zones or kinds of experience that life enfolds, the suggestion that perception itself is problematic and the principles of representational art necessarily standing for a certain kind of limitation and confinement. As notions of the ‘uncanny’ the ‘marvelous’ and the ‘fantastic’ suggest, reality may be beyond the imaginable, art too must extend the limits of what may be imagined, through both the visual link and the frontiers of language.

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The Stories in Tokyo Cancelled The Fourth Story – ‘The House of the Frankfurt Mapmaker’ The first story that I would like to consider is The House of the Frankfurt Mapmaker. I would like to draw attention to all facets of this title. First of all, ‘house’. Is this indeed a ‘house’ where love is supposed to provide the foundational stone, where a hearth symbolises togetherness and community, where meal-taking is a symbol once again of community, integration and some kind of harmony? The story easily counterpoints the pastoral with the sophisticated to reach deadly conclusions. Instead of pastoral values replenishing and recharging the effete and corrupt emotions and ideologies of the courtly (read: sophisticated, urban, technological) in a play like As You Like It, we witness the violent destruction of the naı¨ve and unsophisticated, also linked with the earthy and the sensuous, by the coldly technological, where a life of constant cerebration and drive for power has replaced common humanity, the capacity to love and connect, with a stoniness of heart and a disregard, dismissal and contempt of simplicity, the heart and emotions. ‘We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon,’ the Romantic lament reaches terrifying dimensions in this story.19 The hero, Klaus, is a cartographer, a type of work that requires technical skill and knowledge, intense concentration and focusing, and a single-mindedness that is significantly linked to the whole knowledge enterprise that began with the Renaissance: … [Klaus] spent his life collecting every kind of map imaginable, and compiling them all into a complete electronic plan of the planet – It was designed to answer every possible cartographic question and to replace every other map that had ever existed. (93-94) We all know about the contiguity of cartography or mapmaking with colonialism and the European or Western domination of the world. And, in fact, during the Renaissance, mapmaking was a very important activity, linked to geography, navigation, trade and commerce – in short, the business of empire and the expansion of Europe. Klaus Kaufman has all the ruthlessness that is required of a successful coloniser, demonstrating complete indifference or inability in the sphere of emotions, standing for a kind of cold calculation that is able to treat people as commodities, epitomising mathematical regularity in the organisation of his emotions, destroying any quotient of emotion, his life’s equations neatly resolved, leading to a perfect geometrical abstraction of self, a mathematical regularity that is terrifying because it represents an ossification or congealing that is regress instead of progress. Das-

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gupta’s stories do seem to pose the question as to whether the world is progressing at all and what the price of greater technologisation and global commercialisation is. The single-mindedness that Klaus’s vocation demanded left no time for lingering in the places he visited … (95) Trying to make Klaus an embodiment of the ruthless forces that rule the marketplace, leads to an over-simplification of Klaus’s character, which aligns the story to the practice of fairy tales where we have psychological absolutes of Good and Evil, except that in this case it is increasing commercialisation or a single-minded commitment to control of the world that is seen as evil. Deniz, the pastoral figure from the desert regions of Anatolia, is as dramatically counterpointed to Klaus as can be imagined. She has no technical know-how, little intellectual sophistication and is completely naı¨ve. In such cases and within fairy-tale-like parameters, the man from a strange and developed country and gifted with unique knowledge and power is often the best romantic counterpoint to a young and beautiful girl from the village. But Deniz meets with a violent and bizarre end when she comes to the house of Klaus Kaufmann in Frankfurt. The gendered dimensions of the story are pretty clear. Femininity or womanhood is under siege. The woman as body, sexuality, tenderness and love does not count anymore. They seem to be a hindrance to the cold self-centeredness and self-focusing that enables the progression of knowledge that brings power to control or maneuver or manipulate the world. Power is shown to be essentially masculine, a dimension in other stories by Dasgupta too as in The Doll. But before we come to that, we have to account for how Klaus, so far from any kind of pastoral setting, met Deniz at all. This happened through the miraculous meeting between Klaus and Deniz’s mother, who rescued Klaus as he lay almost dying in the scorching plains of Anatolia. Completely confident about the powers of an industrialised, technologised world, Klaus sets out for Ceyhan in Turkey, leaving Istanbul in his car with only a flask of water. It is to Dasgupta’s credit that he shows such dependence on the assumptions of technological culture to be false. Klaus’s car breaks down and he almost dies of thirst. In the rescue story of Klaus by Deniz’s mother who has strange powers of healing and regeneration, we have instances of what Todorov would call both the ‘fantastic’ and ‘marvelous’, but some instinct warns us that the intervention of the ‘marvelous’ or ‘fantastic’, in the shape of Deniz’s mother’s life-giving powers, is futile in a world ruled by logic, reason and cold self-interest. In fact, there seems to be a counterpoint-

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ing of life and death in the story, with Klaus standing for the powers of Death, whose life-giving supply of water runs out in the desert and who ultimately proves himself incapable of the gratitude that he should have owed the woman who not only gave him life but added another gift to the gift of life, the gift of a woman to love him. The woman gives Klaus his life but makes him promise that he will make the woman’s daughter Deniz his wife: ‘She is young and beautiful and dreams of other places. … I would like you to take my daughter back with you and give her a home with you’ (101). Klaus is horrified but has no choice. Deniz arrives in what is a spectacular magic realist or fantastic or marvelous element in the story, through the sewers connecting Turkey to Germany. This, again, is an example of the fantastic or the marvelous, and loathsome as it is, it also suggests a counterpoint to supersonic forms of modern transport and travel. This example of the ‘fantastic’ or ‘marvelous’ seems also to threaten the premises of cleanliness and hygiene that mark modern forms of civic organisation. Her bizarre uncleanliness at the moment of entry into Klaus’s house provides Klaus some justification to be repulsed by her. One could read here if one wanted the tropes of uncleanliness and strangeness that characterise woman’s state in this world according to Cixous in Three Steps in the Ladder of Writing.20 One could also see in Deniz’s radical uncleanliness a valorisation of the unclean as organic and real as opposed to the equally bizarre and suffocating cleanliness of Frankfurt city and Klaus’s house. It is also noteworthy that in ‘The Laugh of the Medusa’, Cixous talks about the woman’s body as the ‘uncanny stranger on display …’21 Deniz faces complete loneliness in Klaus’ house. Even meals are dead affairs. Lovemaking is futile. Klaus is indifferent to all demonstrations of affection. Deniz eventually goes to work as a maid in a motel. She becomes friends with another woman called Claudia who is put to death because of some intransigence. When Klaus finds out about Deniz’s friendship with her he is furious. Feminine friendship or any kind of female/feminine continuum is also seen to be under siege, as for instance the friendship of Deniz and Claudia. Men’s friendships or business liaisons prevail, and women seem to share a continuum of pain and suffering. Eventually, while Klaus and a man who looks like his clone sit together in his cartography room, Deniz flings herself out of the window. Klaus remains untouched. In spite of all the fairy-talelike elements in the story – the journey, the lost way, the return from death as in Snow White, the handsome man and the beautiful woman – a shadow of doom and fatality hangs heavy on the story from the very beginning, suggesting the death of innocence, love and beauty. Although written in a style that reflects little honest empathy with the characters or the ability to portray them from within to give them

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individual quirks that make them memorable so that they do not simply function as pawns in Dasgupta’s narrative design, the writer’s chilling vision shows us that romance is no longer a valid quest. If a nuclear holocaust is feared, this is no other. If the environment is in a state of crisis, so are emotions. In Dasgupta’s The Fourth Story, the rallying cry of the Romantics, ‘getting and spending, we lay waste our powers/Little we see in Nature that is ours’22 has now taken on a far more dangerous and terrifying colour. The Eighth Story – ‘The Doll’ The Eighth Story, The Doll is even more chilling and thought-provoking. In this story a young entrepreneur, Yukio, has an actual, physical romance with a doll that he had created. This is of course, one variation of the Frankenstein motif. At another level, it exploits the implications of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the theme of transformation. In the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, we have a wonderful story where a young man is transformed into a beast because of his bestial qualities and eventually has to learn to love before he is restored once more to his human appearance. Once more we are in the global world of trade and international commerce. Yukio, the central character, who worked for Novartis in Tokyo ‘changed business cards almost as he did his shirts’ (175) and when Novartis hired McKinsey (note all these international business houses), to ‘review its sales and marketing strategy’, Yukio was asked to meet the consultant who turned out to be an extremely competent young Japanese woman named Minako. Once again, we should note the contiguity of the fairy-tale-like young, capable adventurer and beautiful, young, rich princess and the possibilities of love or romance between them, where the natural, moral, psychological and material in their relationship would reach a consummate ending. Funnily enough, Minako’s father is indeed, a modern-day king who was ‘none other than Yoshiharu Yonekawa, Japan’s leading property developer. ‘… He owned shopping malls and office towers and upscale apartment blocks and cultural centers’ (176). Minako’s father stands for unquestionable power and prosperity in a society where private enterprise can reach dizzying material heights. Again, the narrative tone or manner of presentation is exactly similar to the tone in the fourth story: crisp, businesslike, matter of fact, and almost clinical. Nowhere do we get a sense of the narrator’s personality, like we do in Chaucer’s The Nun’s Priest’s Tale,23 where the objective humour of the narrator seeps in through the quizzical presentation of human character types through the personalities of animals, or the crafty predilections of the Pardoner in the Pardoner’s Tale.24 We feel ex-

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hilarated by the rich and infinite variety not only of the tales in Chaucer, but by the wide and interesting range of narrative tones and postures. In Dasgupta, each tale has the kind of deadpan clinical quality that anthropological or sociological reports have. Yukio’s fairy-tale-like situation leads him into marriage with Minako. Any fairy-tale-like context in this modern world, however, has no significance without reference to business and money. Thus Yukio buys into what we call the ‘American Dream’. He finds access to the most sensitive and significant business information: Yukio began to conceive of a Business Plan. He did not tell Minako about it at first, but made sure that he had thought it through carefully and researched all possible angles. … His position in the company gave him access to valuable market intelligence that he pored over in great detail. He stayed in the office till ten and eleven in the evening building spreadsheets of future revenues and calculating his requirements for capital and human resources. (178) No longer do heroes go on Grail quests like Parsifal – the only quests that the world understands today is financial and business quests.25 The story is told under numerical headings and sub-headings that heighten the clinical nature of the presentation, making it not only offputting and alienating, but also taking away from art/storytelling any semblance of beauty or imagination. The technique of the numerical organisation of the story points suggests the death of narrative material that merits aesthetic or beautiful presentation. It suggests the compromising of structural or formal beauty by the economics of the marketplace which aims at the greatest functionality possible and does not have the time to devote to the attainment of structural perfection. Functionality as just suggested is the key to any kind of performance, in this case, narrative performance. Since narrative is thus a humdrum, matter-of-fact and cursory event, this story marks among other deaths the death of narrative form. The narrative has many interesting seams that create a kind of thematic richness in the story. One such seam is the failure of natural medicine or herbal medicine or cure to make any kind of entry point into the world of business and commerce. Yukio had tried to connect his interest in basic chemistry and ‘the vast reservoir of untapped folk knowledge – of plants, of mixtures of processes – that could be used in the market place’. (180) He goes on to reflect: This fact was becoming increasingly compelling because, in his analysis, the pharmaceutical industry was finding it more and

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more difficult to generate its own new knowledge in a way that remained profitable. (180) Yukio tries to convince Minako’s father from whom he needed $ 1.2 billion about the viability of his project through charts and graphs. Mr. Yonekawa is convinced and Yukio’s projected enterprise is sanctioned. It is a moment of undisguised triumph, not only for Yukio but for Minako as well, because she had befriended and supported her husband entirely on this. The project eventually absorbs Yukio to an extent that he forgets to eat, sleep and even dress in a regular manner. After months of this kind of abnormal routine, Minako takes Yukio out for dinner one night and requests him to return to a more healthy routine where she talks of ‘rest’, ‘social life’ and ‘marriage’ (182). Yukio is outraged and dismisses Minako’s recommendations outright, and logically enough, this moment leads to a mutual estrangement between husband and wife. Yukio does try to repair some damage by cooking a meal for Minako one day, but she comes home late, telling Yukio that she could not be expected to know when Yukio would have time for her. Minako’s words turn out to be prophetic. Yukio does eventually get tired of his oppressive lifestyle and goes out for a walk and some food in a restaurant instead of going to his regular take-out. He notices that it is a ‘beautiful afternoon’ and ‘enormous butterflies’ glide along in the breeze (184). He noticed young mothers and babies. One day Yukio goes to a neighborhood where he sees fake limbs being sold in a shop. He buys parts and eventually puts together a girl. This is his ‘doll’ whom he calls Yukiko. In the most bizarre turn to this Frankenstein motif story, Yukio starts making love to the doll, and again, through a miraculous turn, she gains life. She then starts demanding the best clothes and the best brand names, including Prada. The allusion to the film The Devil Wears Prada, starring Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway, is unmistakable. 26 As the plot develops with more and more twists to the transformation of the ‘doll’ into an impossible-to-please mistress, Yukio commits a crime by stealing an expensive dress for her and has to be shamefully bailed out by his father-in-law, who by this time holds him in utter contempt. At the end of the story, Yukio is casually invited to one of his father-inlaw’s parties on the sixty-fourth floor of a building that Mr. Yonekawa had built, a building that even has a helipad. Yukio walks to the railing of this floor and muses about suicide. As he looks over the railing: Yukio imagined his toes on the very edge, imagined himself falling ever so slowly forward. Wondered what he would think about as sixty-four floors rushed by. He would land on some cafe´

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table and people would be horrified. They would tell everyone about it in the office and at dinner parties … None of them would have had any idea what kind of person he had been. (221) Thus once again, death comes very close to life. This story too seems veering towards death, but relationship intervenes and Yukio goes home with Minako who still seems to care and be concerned for him. In a way this story seems to have a medieval cast in positing the contiguity of death, violence and suffering with ambition. In fact, the earlier story did point in the same direction where an excessive preoccupation with work tended to deaden and atrophy the ability to love and connect, forcing death in. The more chilling implications of the fourth story are that death does not even affect or change or cause any kind of reaction in those who are closely linked to it, and watch while another person dies. Thus, one can say that the two narrators whose stories we have heard so far, while displaying a remarkable similarity of tone, are both concerned about the pervasiveness of death in society. The Ninth Story – ‘The Rendezvous in Istanbul’ In the story The Rendezvous in Istanbul, realist elements jostle with extraordinary, fantastic elements to spin a story that affirms love even in the midst of cynicism and despair and the predominance of the marketplace in human affairs. Love is shown as both natural and as an extraordinary fruition, and the fantastic and magically real become ways of bringing this love to a point of consummation. The setting, though romantic, is not pastoral. Istanbul is a great hub of business and commerce and Natalia, the central protagonist and organising intelligence of narrative events, is herself a businesswoman who is involved in ‘constant negotiation of the marketplace’ (226). Natalia married once, but was eventually thrown out by her husband as his attention turned to other women. A craving for love and romance, however, remains in Natalia. One day she accidentally meets a man named Riad who seems ill at ease in Istanbul. They talk and she takes him back to her room where they make love. One event in this very natural consequence of events strikes the reader as a little bizarre: Riad suddenly and inexplicably chokes and has to struggle to get back his breath. The event is a little unusual because it does not seem related to any direct biological causes. Eventually Riad, who is a sailor, has to leave, and he promises to come back for her a year later on January 13th. It is from this point in the text that the extraordinary or fantastic truly holds sway. Riad is detained at Marseilles with many of his sailor mates aboard the ship he sails on. He languishes in his cabin because

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he feels that he cannot meet his prospective date with Natalia. Suddenly one day, he once again has his coughing fit, and gives birth to a bird. This is an example of the ‘fantastic-marvelous’ a` la Todorov. The bird is a miraculous agent, a facilitating factor in human affairs, with miraculous, magical powers reminiscent of mythical birds like Jatayu in the Ramayana. It also raises associations of the ancient courtly custom of using birds as messengers. Finally, we also remember the glorification of the bird as symbol, metaphor and poet par excellence in Romantic literature. Not only do we remember Shelley’s skylark, but also the albatross in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which functioned as a symbol of benediction and purity. The bird in The Rendezvous in Istanbul makes its way to Natalia and she comes from Istanbul to Marseilles to rescue him. Thus journey, quest, challenge, difficulty, hurdle and human determination come together in a complex weave in this story to reach a natural consummation in love. Shakespeare’s romantic comedies establish love as natural fruition; Dasgupta’s story does too, except the forces of darkness and corruption in the background are constantly threatening the fulfillment of love. In romantic comedy one does not take the forces of darkness or negation seriously, but in the Dasgupta story, love is shown as somewhat fugitive, chancy and random. The story also reveals the personal predilections of the narrator who is a woman and who perhaps looks for fulfillment in love. The Tenth Story – ‘The Changeling’ Let us next come to The Tenth Story known as The Changeling. As Wikipedia informs us, a changeling is a figure associated with Western European folklore, meaning the offspring of a troll or a fairy, left in place of a human child. Sometimes the child that is taken away may also be called a changeling. It is possible that this notion of the changeling developed in popular folklore as a way of dealing with infant mortality, incurable disease and mental retardation in children. The Jacobean dramatists Middleton and Rowley wrote a play called The Changeling, which was licensed for performance in 1622 and published in 1653. It was enormously popular at that time and dealt with the notion of drastically changing character. As Dasgupta introduces the extremely contradictory notion of the changeling: Changelings are eternal creatures who only adopt human form for short periods of time; it is therefore understandable that human beings should feel jealous and mistrustful of them … (258)

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The truth, of course, is somewhat more complex than this … changelings, while they are in human form, are as mortal as any human being. … And should they die while in human form, it is the end of them (258). Here we already have a magical realist element. The changeling character in this story, Bernard, gets married and is then discovered by his wife to be a changeling character and is asked to leave. What follows after this belongs to the realms of the fabulous and fantastic. The story becomes an exploration of disease, death, nature and language. After leaving his wife’s apartment, Bernard takes rooms with a man named Fareed whose body has turned monstrously repellent with disease, and who gives the following reason for his impending death: Look at my body. I am dying, Bernard. I have only a few weeks to live. Some rare plant is growing inside my body; its flowers are bunching under my skin, compressing my brain and nerves, growing into my organs. Soon they will burst from inside, and I will die. There is nothing more that can be done. I can dull the pain, nothing more. (265) What makes this strange constellation of factors even more intriguing is that Fareed is looking for a word that will explain the blankness that one feels when faced with death. As he tells Bernard: But there are not so many of these words that can be drawn out to cover over your fundamental silence. At a certain point you have to try and peer into that silence. (266) I feel that the word that his text is gesturing towards, a word that most people have lost the use for is the word God, one word that can explain the inscrutable, the mysterious and the inexplicable. Fareed, who asks Bernard to look for the word, insists that it will be ‘… a word of the future not the past’. Once again, we have a repetition of the quest motif. Bernard goes in search of the Word. Let us not forget the Biblical phrase in John (1.1), ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God’.27 One of the crises of modern civilisation is that the Word is no longer with God, a word that can account for the innumerable mysteries of the world, the mystery of Life and the mystery of Death. Fareed seems like a modern-day saint who can countenance suffering with great patience and calm, remaining fixed on his goal of searching for the ultimate.

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Ideas concerning death proliferate. There is the idea of Bernard as changeling, who might die of physical illness. Reminiscent of the plague in The Decameron, a smallpox epidemic breaks out in Paris and there are descriptions of how the government tries to deal with it. There is a ‘festival of violence and destruction as if defiant egos were competing with Death itself’ (274). A changeling friend of Bernard warns him of how the plague could kill them and that Bernard should try to flee Paris. However, Bernard remains steadfast in his commitment to Fareed that he would try and bring him the Word. There is something extremely poignant about this entire waiting and expectation. As Fareed says, I lie here all day while you are out, feeling the roots spreading in my lungs, finding less and less space for breath, and it is the loneliest thing in the world. (276) The story emphasises commitment to a stranger, and if there is love it is impersonal and not romantic. It also seems to suggest that death should not be faced alone, and there should be some succor for the dying person. In a way the text is posing some of the most existential questions of all time. What is the role of the human being in this world; what is his/her relationship to death; is community the final word, or is it alienation or isolation? Towards the end of the story, Bernard comes back one day from his quest for the Word and finds Fareed singing, utterly wrapped up in his song, becoming the song as it were, and drawing more and more people into its web. Fareed sang: There is nothing that is mine / And nothing that is not / Nothing is now but nothing is not / And so in this now when you see me die / In this death you think is mine / I bid you my Friend, my companion in life: / Come and die my death with me! / And I will die yours with you. (283) Towards the very end in this strange tale of transformation, Fareed is almost completely transformed into a tree: By this time Fareed was firmly rooted to the ground and surrounded by thick growth; his chest and back had burst completely open with branches growing through him that were thicker than his upper-arm, and he could hardly breathe. He was in great pain. (289)

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It is possible to read Fareed’s transformation, suffering and resignation in various ways. Right away, he seems to suggest to me the Christ-like figure who suffers inexplicable agony and torture and faces it with patience and fortitude. No retribution for sin can be attributed to him. A similar case in point is Sri Ramakrishna. who suffered from cancer in his last days but faced it with patient resignation, never withdrawing in those hours of agony his capacity for impersonal love. When Bernard finds Fareed in the last moments of his life, he is in the throes of monstrous suffering, but his engagement with life has not ceased, he still remains philosophically agile and in a state of quest for the Word. Somewhere in the transformation of Fareed into the tree, the very obvious discourse of the revenge of nature, for all the desecration practiced on her, is implied and Fareed takes on the sin of the community and pays the price like the tragic hero within the epistemology of Greek tragedy and that of martyr within the Christian tradition. Through the force of the abnormal and outrageous growth within him, the inevitability of fate and in this case, the irrevocability of nature’s reprisal is implied. However, somewhere along this trajectory, Bernard is drawn into Fareed’s expiation of sin. And once again, the bonds are those of impersonal love. When death is very near, Fareed one day appeals to Bernard: Will you sleep next to me tonight? I feel I have little time left. (289) Bernard agrees: He put more wood on the fire, and nestled in among roots and branches to hold Fareed’s wizened body in his arms. (289) The discourse is certainly that of love, but what kind of love? It is not erotic or romantic love, although, all love inevitably veers in that direction. But with death so near, it is ultimately the love that comes through ‘empathy’, the Keatsian negative capability,28 that allows us to feel intensely the experiences of the Other. It is also ‘Daya’ or all-encompassing impersonal love which Sri Ramakrisha posited as infinitely superior to ‘Maya’ which was simply love of one’s own.29 When Bernard awakes the next morning, he feels ‘strangled’ (289), ‘new shoots’ ‘enfolded’ him ‘pinning his arms to his sides’. The moment to die has come for Bernard – the changeling, who had fought so hard to remain alive, who belonged to a class of beings who fought hard to stay out of the way of disease and death. As Bernard eventually embraces death, it is shown to be epiphanic and liberating:

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A flood of things, terrible and wonderful, was rushing into Bernard, things that astonished him with their plenitude, as if everything in experience was laid out before him. This, then, was to die. He could not express it. There were no words. (291) The story closes with Bernard’s vision of ‘fishes’ (291) ‘swimming in the sky’ (291). This image is immediately reminiscent of the dream of the twins in The God of Small Things where at night, sleep replenishes the drawbacks and disappointments and drabness of the day: They dreamed of their river. Of the coconut trees that bent into it and watched, with coconut eyes, the boats slide by. Upstream in the mornings. Down stream in the evenings. And the dull, sullen sound of the boatmen’s bamboo poles as they thudded against the dark, oiled boatwood. It was warm, the water. Graygreen. Like rippled silk. With fish in it. With the sky and trees in it. And at night, the broken yellow moon in it.30

Conclusion Rana Dasgupta’s Tokyo Cancelled thus has a grand narrative design as does Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, with which it has been compared, but as stated at the beginning of this essay, the characters lack an infusion of life and vitality that make them memorable in their own right. Dasgupta seems to lack that ‘negative capability’31 just alluded to above, which would allow as it did Shakespeare to create an Imogen and an Iago with equal facility, because the poet, according to Keats, is the most ‘unpoetical’ creature.32 He participates in the being of others, able to dissolve himself into their personalities without effort. He achieves that ‘extinction of personality’33 that makes the other person’s experience (character’s experience) interesting and participatory for the reader. Dasgupta needs to work on these fronts if he wishes to write a novel that remains memorable to the reader, because the writer, almost invisible herself or himself, could reach the inner recesses of the reader’s being and arouse both a visceral and an intellectual response. Also, the use of the ‘fantastic’, the ‘marvelous’ and the supernatural in the stories that I have analysed in this chapter – which do not have much factoring in of the ‘uncanny’, although this is perhaps present in The Eleventh Story, The Bargain in the Dungeon – is intelligent and thought provoking and provides at least an imaginative counterpoint to

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the irrevocable transformation of human life along the lines of technology and self-interest.

Notes 1 2 3

4

5

6 7

8 9 10 11 12

13 14 15 16 17 18 19

20 21

Trinh T. Minh Ha. Woman, Native, Other. Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana Uni versity Press, 1989, 148 150. Toni Morrison. ‘Rootedness: The Ancestor as Foundation’. In Literature in the Modern World, Dennis Walder (ed.). Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 1990, 328. Irene Guenther. ‘Magic Realism, New Objectivity, and the Arts during the Weimar Republic’. In Magic Realism: Theory, History, Community, Lois Parkinson Zamora and Wendy Faris (eds.). Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1995, 34. Franz Roh. Preface to Expressionismus, Magischer Realismus: Probleme der neuesten Europa¨aischen Malerei (Leipzing, Klinkhardt and Biermann, 1925). Translated by Wen dy Faris from the Spanish translation by Ortega Y Gasset in 1927. In Magic Realism: Theory, History, Community. Lois Parkinson Zamora and Wendy Faris (eds.). Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1995, 16. Ortega Y Gasset. Revisita de Occidente (1927). Translation of Franz Roh’s Expressionis mus, Magischer Realismus: Probleme der neuesten Europa¨aischen Malerei (Leipzing, Klin khardt and Biermann, 1925). Translated by Wendy Faris from the Spanish translation by Ortega Y Gasset in 1927. In Magic Realism: Theory, History, Community, Lois Par kinson Zamora and Wendy Faris (eds.). Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1995, 16. Ibid. 17. Irene Guenther. ‘Magic Realism, New Objectivity, and the Arts during the Weimar Republic.’ In Magic Realism: Theory, History, Community, Lois Parkinson Zamora and Wendy Faris (eds.). Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1995, 57. Ibid. 57. Sigmund Freud. ‘The Uncanny’. In The Uncanny, tr. David Mclintock, introduction by Hugh Haughton. Hammondsworth: Penguin Classics, 2003, 124. Ibid. 124 125. Ibid. 134. Angel Flores. ‘Magic Realism in Spanish American Fiction (1955)’. In Magic Realism: Theory, History, Community, Lois Parkinson Zamora and Wendy Faris (eds.). Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1995, 109 118. This reference is on page 111. Ibid. 112. Tzvetan Todorov. ‘The Fantastic and the Marvelous’. In Contemporary Literary Criti cism, Ronald Schleifer and Robert Con Davis (eds.). New York: Longman, 1989, 175. Ibid. 175 176. Ibid. 179. Ibid. 177. Ibid. 177. William Wordsworth. The World Is Too Much with Us. William Wordsworth. Selected Poems. Penguin Classics. John O. Hayden (ed.). Hammondsworth: Penguin Books, 1994, 166. Helene Cixous. Three Steps in the Ladder of Writing. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993, 116. Helene Cixous. ‘The Laugh of the Medusa.’ New French Feminisms. Elaine Marks and Isabelle de Courtivron (eds.). London: Harvester, 1981, 250.

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22 William Wordsworth. The World Is Too Much with Us. William Wordsworth. Selected Poems. John O. Hayden (ed.). Hammondsworth: Penguin Classics, 1994, 166. 23 Geoffrey Chaucer. The Canterbury Tales. Harmondsworth: Penguin Classics, 1951. Re vised. 1958, 232 249. 24 Ibid. 259 276. 25 Wolfram Von Eschenbach. Parzival. New York: Vintage Books, 1961. 26 The Devil Wears Prada. 2006. Directed by David Frankel. 27 See http://www.bibletopics.com/BIBLESTUDY/16.htm. 28 John Keats. Letter to Benjamin Bailey. Critical Theory Since Plato. Hazard Adams (ed.). San Diego and New York: HBJ Publishers, 1971, 473. 29 Sri Ramakrishna: ‘Remember daya, compassion, and maya, attachment, are two dif ferent things. Attachment means the feeling of ‘my ness’ toward one’s relatives. It is the love one feels for one’s parents, one’s brother, one’s sister, one’s wife and chil dren. Compassion is the love one feels for all beings of the world. It is an attitude of same sightedness … If you see anywhere an instance of compassion, as in Vidyasa gar, know that it is due to God’s grace. Through compassion one serves all beings. … Maya keeps us in ignorance and entangles us in the world, whereas daya make our hearts pure and gradually unties our bonds’ in The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. Tr. by Swami Nikhilananda (1940) from the Bengali original Sri Sri Ramkrishna Kathamri ta. Abridged edition. Chennai, India: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 2002, 144 145. 30 Arundhati Roy. The God of Small Things. Delhi: India Ink, 1997, 117. 31 John Keats. Letter to Benjamin Bailey. Critical Theory Since Plato. Hazard Adams (ed.). San Diego and New York: HBJ Publishers, 1971, 473. 32 John Keats. Letter to Richard Woodhouse, 27th October, 1818. English Critical Texts. D.J. Enright and Ernest de Chickera (eds.). Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1962, 258. 33 T.S. Eliot. ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent.’ Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ro nald Schleifer and Robert Con Davis (eds.). New York: Longman, 1989, 28.

11 Childhood’s End Science Fiction in India Abhijit Gupta

There are usually two stages in the evolution of science fiction in any language. First, there is the stage in which stray examples of the form first manifest themselves, like a new planetoid swimming into the ken of an older firmament. Second, we have the reiterations and standardisations of the form which result in the proposition of a self-sufficient genre in itself. While the first stage is usually sustained by books alone, the second phase requires widespread mobilisation of popular media such as periodicals, fanzines, webzines, films, games and the like. The second phase also requires a sufficiently broad base of readers to sustain itself over a period of time. This two-step formula has been in evidence in most countries where SF has taken firm roots, but with varying lengths of lead-up time between the first and second stages. In England, for instance, it took a long time for SF to evolve from a purely literary to a generic form, with Michael Moorcock’s inspired editorship of the New Worlds in the 1960s proving to be the point of transition. In the US, on the other hand, examples of literary SF were relatively few in the early years, but the creation of a popular genre happened almost overnight with the appearance of Hugo Gernsback’s periodical Amazing Stories in the mid-1920s. Indian languages in general and Indian English in particular have yet to proceed from the first stage in the life cycle of SF. In other words, the form is still largely literary and sustained by books, with little or no take-up by ancillary media such as periodicals. One of the tasks of this chapter will be to examine why this is so. While the chief focus of this chapter will be the Indian SF in English which has appeared in the new millennium, it will also try to establish linkages between such works and their predecessors in the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries. Given the relative sparseness of material, it becomes unavoidable to consider Indian SF over the longue duree´, and not just over the previous decade. At the same time, the chapter will also examine the influences, if any, of SF in other languages on Indian SF in English.

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Utopian Longings: The Early Phase Early sightings of Indian SF date back as far as 1835, less than two decades after the appearance of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. In that year, the June issue of the English-language periodical Calcutta Literary Review published a novella titled ‘A Journal of Forty-Eight Hours in the Year 1945’1 by Kylash Chunder Dutt, one of the early English-educated alumni of Calcutta’s Hindu College. The work describes an imaginary armed uprising against the British in 1945. According to A.K. Mehrotra: ‘In the first round the patriots are victorious, but perhaps the compulsions of his own colonised circumstances made the author desist from pushing this euphoric projection too far’.2 Another member of the Dutt family, Shoshee Chunder Dutt, wrote a similarly futuristic work titled ‘The Republic of Orissa; a Page from the Annals of the Twentieth Century’, which came out in the Saturday Evening Harakuru of 25 October 1845. When the work was later anthologised in an 1870 collection of Dutt’s other works, the author felt it necessary to enter the following disclaimer: ‘That the object of this paper may not be misunderstood, it is perhaps necessary to state that it was written … long before the days of mutiny and disloyalty. It has been included in the present collection because the author believes the harmlessness of the squib to be too apparent to give rise to any misconception’.3 Despite this, Mehrotra sees it as a text more radical than Kylash Chunder’s: ‘the resistance against the British here is led not by an English educated urban youth but by a tribal from Orissa’.4 While this premise is somewhat belied by Shoshee Chunder’s own caveat, Mehrotra is on surer ground when he observes that these novels ‘do not show any dependence on canonical literary texts from England … nor do they seem weighed down by the abject servility that the English language conferred on several later writers’.5 With the exception of Mary Shelley’s The Last Man (1826), one cannot think of any contemporary English work set in the future which the two Dutts may have been influenced by. Unfortunately, the two novellas constituted a false dawn as far as Indian speculative fiction was concerned, and sightings continued to be few and far between during the colonial era. There were, however, the beginnings of a new scientific discourse after the establishment of the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science in 1876 in Calcutta. From the last quarter of the century, there were fruitful interfaces between science and society, and writings on popular science began to appear in periodicals for both adults and children. One of the results of this new engagement was SF in regional languages, such as Jagadananda Roy’s Bengali short story of 1879, ‘Shukra bhraman’, (‘A Journey to Venus’) which had in fact been written twenty-two years earlier, and

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Ambika Datt’s Ashcharya vrittanta (A Strange Tale), a Verne-inspired subterranean journey which was serialised in Piyush pravah, a Hindi literary magazine during 1884-1888. Debjani Sengupta sees early Bengali SF as a response to the cultivation of a Western scientific discourse in colonial Bengal, and points out that the ‘rapid mechanisation of English businesses by the 1880s … led to a growing desire amongst the colonised Bengalis to master these alien technologies and sciences, perceived as a remedy against superstitions and ignorance’.6 In this context, reference may be made of Hemlal Dutta’s ‘Rahasya’ (‘The Mystery’), published in two instalments in the Bengali periodical Bigyan darpan in 1882, and the scientist Jagadish Chandra Bose’s Bengali short story ‘Palatak tufan’ (‘The Runaway Storm’) published in 1886. But the most intriguing work from this period is an English short story, ‘The Sultana’s Dream’, written by Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain, feminist, novelist, social worker and teacher. Published in the Indian Ladies’ Magazine in 1905, it depicted ‘a female Utopia where the principal of the ladies’ college is largely instrumental in taking over the reins of government from a militaristic, patriarchal regime’.7

Science and the Nation The decades before the independence of India in 1947 registered little or nothing in the way of SF. In the West, mainstream SF had arisen in the US in the years before and after the Great Depression of 1929, riding on the crest of an unprecedented boom in the periodicals market, and the rise of general interest in rocket science on both sides of the Atlantic. Though India had dabbled in rocket science – notably in the person of the rocket-mail pioneer Stephen Hector Taylor-Smith – there was little interest in using the protocols of scientific discourse in fiction. The reasons for this lay, at least partially, in the close relationship of early SF with the tropes of imperialism. Much of early SF, with its themes of galactic empire-building and extermination of non-human races, seemed to replicate the colonial project as an imaginary and could not have held any great appeal for colonial and postcolonial societies. Nevertheless, significant SF writing started emerging from the years of the Second World War, chiefly in Bengali and Marathi. In 1945, a short story called ‘Mosha’ (‘The Mosquito’) appeared in the pages of a Bengali annual called Alpana. The author was Premendra Mitra, an upcoming poet, novelist and filmmaker in Calcutta. This was to be the first of over a hundred short stories and a handful of novels featuring Ghanashyam Das or Ghana-da, the first true SF hero in any Indian language, whose unpaid-for attic room in a boarding house became the launch pad for the most extraordinary terrestrial and extrater-

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restrial voyages. In Mitra’s wake came a fair number of SF practitioners in regional Indian languages, such as Adrish Bardhan, Satyajit Ray and Leela Majumdar in Bengali, Narayan Dharap in Marathi, and Jayant Narlikar with his ‘Vaman’ stories in Marathi and English. There were also attempts to initiate a magazine culture, notably with Bismoy and Ashcharya in Bengal in the 1970s. Perhaps the most significant Indian SF enterprise of this period was one that never was. During the late 1960s, Satyajit Ray became interested in making an SF film at Hollywood. His script, provisionally titled ‘The Alien’, was about an extraterrestrial landing in a village in Bengal. Though the film was never made, mimeographed copies of the script circulated in Hollywood and may have functioned as an ur-text for many later ‘contact’ movies (a thesis circulated by Arthur C. Clarke and indignantly contested by Steven Spielberg). But these are stray examples. India did not take to SF, least of all in the English language. Some commentators, such as Uppinder Mehan, have noted that since ‘one of the defining characteristics of science fiction is the centrality of “science” or “technology”, it is usually characterised as a “Western” form’. While India has embraced many other ‘Western’ forms and ideas, the discourse of science has still remained confined to school textbooks. Producing a good SF work requires at least a nodding acquaintance with modern science, something which the rigidly bifurcated education system in India – with its separate ‘streams’ of arts and science studies – does not allow. This point was famously taken up by C.P. Snow in his Rede Lecture of 1959 where he argued that the intellectual life of Western society was increasingly being split into two polar groups: ‘Literary intellectuals at one pole – at the other, scientists, and as the most representative, the physical scientists. Between the two, a gulf of mutual incomprehension – sometimes … hostility and dislike’.8 The same argument could be extended to post-Independence India. Also, Indian English SF did not immediately strike one as saleable commodity in the West, where most such writers’ markets lie and where competition in the genre is heavy. Finally, there was little variety in the SF that got into the Indian market from overseas; in most bookshops till the mid-1990s, one would find little other than the ‘ABC’ of Western SF – Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke. Then in 1995, The Calcutta Chromosome happened. Amitav Ghosh’s novel of ‘fever, delirium and discovery’ won the prestigious Arthur C. Clarke award in SF for 1997. Was this to be the dawn of a brave new world for Indian SF? In the short run, the novel did not have any appreciable effect on Indian SF, and Ghosh himself did not stay in the field. But what The Calcutta Chromosome achieved was to create an idiom for postcolonial SF

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which was simultaneously located within and outside the conventions of the genre. It was deliberately situated at a certain distance from both the postcolonial and the SF novels, embodying features of both but studiously avoiding being classifiable as one or the other. One of the many protagonists in the novel is real-life Victorian scientist-cum-colonial officer Ronald Ross, whose investigation of the plasmodium, aided by a nameless and sinister Indian secret society, is the main business of the novel. Ghosh’s account of the discovery, related by the somewhat demented Murugan, is energetic and subversive, and demolishes its own premise almost as soon as it constructs it. In the process, Ghosh turns the vacuum of an Indian SF tradition to masterful account by first positing a familiar model of scientific method and praxis, and then turning it on its head by introducing a counter-praxis, which, to borrow Paul Feyerabend, is manifestly ‘against method’. Following Feyerabend’s contention that ‘science is essentially an anarchic enterprise’, it is possible to read The Calcutta Chromosome as a novel which problematises method, disciplinary protocols and the historiography of modern science. It would be nearly a decade, though, before a critical mass of Indian SF writers in English would emerge. This was partly owing to the growing number of English-language publishers in the Indian market, following the economic liberalisation of the 1990s and the consequent loosening of foreign equity regulations. Transnational publishers began to test the Indian market, and the graph of Indian novels in English began to show a steady rise. The other reason was the wider availability of SF in the Indian bookstores – the ‘ABC’ of SF was now being rapidly replaced by more recent practitioners of the genre, such as Theodore Sturgeon, Philip K. Dick, J.G. Ballard, Ursula Le Guin, Stanislaw Lem, and William Gibson, to name just a few. This also signalled a shift in taste: while the earlier group was more affiliated to what Carl Freedman has called the ‘inflationary’ mode – in which science was tasked to find cures and solutions, act as a force for material progress, and in its most triumphant form, achieve a kind of High Romantic transcendence – the latter group was more interested in exploring what Darko Suvin has called ‘cognitive estrangement’, in which the reason for SF’s existence is ‘a radically different, strange and estranging, newness’.9 Elsewhere in his seminal essay, Suvin states: ‘The mythological tale sees fixed, supernaturally determined relations under the flux of human fortunes. This mythical static constancy is to SF an illusion, usually a fraud, at best only an arrested realisation of the dynamic possibilities of life. Myth asks ahistorically about The Man and The World. SF asks, What kind of man? In what kind of world?, and Why such a man (or indeed non-man) in such a world?’10

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In the next section of this chapter, I will examine four Indian English novels of the new century that embody the values of the new mode of SF writing in varying degrees. They are Signal Red by Rimi B. Chatterjee, Escape by Manjula Padmanabhan, Generation 14 by Priya Sarukkai Chabria, and Turbulence by Samit Basu.11 Signal Red Rimi B. Chatterjee’s first novel Signal Red has a curious publishing history. It was published in 2005 by Penguin India but has recently been issued in an electronic format with substantial changes.12 In the introduction to the revised edition, the author writes: In 2003, the book had a topical relevance: it’s about totalitarian control of defence science, and the early 2000s were a time when science seemed to be under threat from forces of obscurantism both within government and among its own ranks. Shortly after the book went to print, the National Democratic Alliance government fell, along with the so-called sangh parivar or family of Hindu parties, and much of the militancy which seemed so ubiquitous in academia at that time seemed to melt away.13 Written during the high noon of the Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party-led NDA regime in India, Signal Red imagines a parallel history set in the 2020s where the BJP has continued to stay in power, India has had a successful moon shot and much of the country’s science research programme is geared towards producing new-generation weapons. The chief protagonist is a scientist called Gopal Chandran, who is increasingly disturbed at the loss of freedom at the research centre he works. Added to this are a series of articles he discovers written by his wife Vidura’s friend Anu – who is a sociologist – on the ethics of defence research, and the ways in which scientists reconcile themselves to working for projects intended to kill people. Anu is also visiting Vidura at this time, and Gopal is at first angered by her quizzing of his colleagues about their work and the resultant disquiet it causes in the highly conservative community of defence scientists. But doubt creeps into his mind as he and Anu argue long and hard about the ethics of a new weapons pathogen his lab is working on: ‘Are you sure?’ She had to talk now, it was her only chance to get through to him. ‘Those children, Gopal, the ones you talked about at dinner yesterday. The ones with the magic eyes …’

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‘There are no children with magic eyes. That technology is still at the conceptual level’. ‘But there will be, Gopal. And don’t hide behind phrases like ‘parental consent’. You know that if that technology is used those kids will have their minds and bodies seriously messed with …’ ‘This isn’t the Olympics!’ he exploded. ‘This is war. Any advantage I can give our soldiers will count’.14 The project which Gopal is working on is called ‘Signal Red’ and aimed to replicate a medieval red glass only found in the storeroom of an old villa in one village in India. There is also a Sanskrit scholar working at the centre who argues that the glass is mentioned in an ancient Sanskrit manuscript, albeit in highly symbolic terms: ‘Do you know that the compound which colours the glass is something called cadmium sulpho-selenide? A strange entity. Cadmium the destroyer, toxic to life; selenium the preserver, essential to life; sulphur the creator, spewed from the earth in its moments of creative upheaval. Two metals, one non-metal, married in a complex structure. Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma. Therein lies the essence of the mystic vision’.15 Anu is able to persuade Vidura, Gopal’s wife, that there is a ghastly secret at the heart of her husband’s research project. The secretiveness at the research lab – and Gopal’s accidental discovery of another group’s work on a weapon of mass destruction – begins to plant the seeds of doubt in his mind as well. In the meantime, Vidura’s heightening interest in the red glass takes her to the doomed village of Songarh, where the ‘Signal Red’ experiments are taking place. Some of Chatterjee’s finest passages are her descriptions of the glass itself: See? This is a picture of a really thin wafer of Signal Red glass, a few atoms thick, made by passing electrons through it. These round things are the tiny grains of cadmium sulpho-selenide. They’re twenty times smaller than the wavelength of visible light. See how regular they are? They’re suspended in the glass as a colloid; like milk. The grain pattern scatters everything shorter than red, just like a sunset. It’s a very delicate arrangement; you know how milk goes curdled if you drop acid in it? This is even more unstable than that. In the village of the glass, Vidura encounters Putlibai, a sickly woman who seems to hold the key to the secret of the experiments being carried out by the defence establishment. As the novel heads towards its denouement, Chatterjee raises a host of uneasy questions about the politics and ethics of military research, a topic which few SF novels have tackled seriously in the history of the genre. Though set in the

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near future, the familiarity of its setting ensures that a frisson of probability runs through the novel. It is a salutary cautionary tale, and the more disturbing as some of its fundamental premises may not be far from the truth. Escape Manjula Padmanabhan’s Escape (2008) was not her first excursion into SF: in 1997 Harvest, her futuristic play about organ-trafficking, had won that year’s Onassis award for theatre. The datum of this novel is similarly dystopian, but on a much more ambitious scale. Meiji is a little girl in a country which has successfully managed to rid itself of almost all women, and is completely cut off from any contact with the rest of the civilised world. It is ruled by a cabal of clones all known as ‘Generals’, all sharing the same thoughts and emotions on account of their jaw implants. Classified as ‘vermin’, the women have been sought out and ruthlessly exterminated, and Meiji’s three uncles – known merely as Eldest, Middle and Youngest – are forced to keep her hidden as she approaches puberty. In the feudal world of Escape, the three uncles are owners of estates which are staffed by a retinue of ‘drones’ – deaf-mute, emotionless sub-humans gestated in animals. It is decided that Meiji will be sent away with her youngest uncle, in the hope that some kind of safe haven may be found somewhere on the outer edges of this rogue nation. The theme of a womanless world, or a world where women are held in complete subjugation, is not new in SF: one thinks of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1995) and P.D. James’s The Children of Men (1992). But perhaps the work which comes closest to the spirit of Escape is Manish Jha’s film Matrubhoomi: A Nation without Women (2005), in which a woman married into a village populated exclusively by men is subjected to the most horrific sexual abuse. No such hurt comes to Meiji but the world of Escape is no less violent, with its roving biker gangs of the general’s ‘Boyz’, predatory estate owners and the servitude of drones. The novel starts sluggishly, but hits its stride once Meiji and the ‘Youngest’ hit the road. Their journey across plains of radioactive waste is in some places reminiscent of Estraven and Genly Ai’s epic journey across Gethen/Winter in Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. As Meiji painfully confronts the reality of her total and isolating difference with the rest of the world, the howling desolation of the Waste all around her seems to glow with a harsh and forbidding beauty:

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The world had become a flat disk with her alone at the centre. Even as she caught sight of the camel, the cart and her uncle, directly east of her position with her shadow pointing like a finger towards them, fear bit down upon her with steel fangs. It was not possible, she realised, to own this kind of formless space, with no walls or ceiling to define it. It could never be befriended or tamed. In every direction, the alien endlessness engulfed and annihilated her. … Even her shadow, that kindly, familiar companion that had danced with her upon the walls of her room, allowing her to fashion it into antlered deer and knob-nosed swans, had here become a monstrous giant.16 As Meiji and her uncle inch ever closer to the relative safety of The City, the shards of the broken world around them are described with a brutal matter-of-factness. Consider this following catalogue of objects found in the residence of Swan, an estate owner in whose establishment Meiji and Youngest stop briefly: Many different models of vacuum cleaners. A hatstand covered with dead incandescent lamps. Two fully chromium-plated air-conditioners stacked one on top of the other. A cat sliced neatly in half along its length, submerged in water inside a glass case, with live bio-luminescent eels winking and blinking around it.17 Interspersed with the duo’s adventures are brief interviews of the general or generals, conducted through a remote link from the world beyond. These fleeting exchanges provide the barest of accounts of the events which had led up to the apocalypse, and the rationale behind the social engineering that followed it. But the readers are not offered even the smallest of crumbs about the outside world: it’s as if they too are locked into the completely closed world of the generals, without any certainty of a saner world elsewhere. This feeling of being locked in is reinforced by the language, which is alternately haunting and suffocating. From time to time, one gets the impression that Padmanabhan is too dependent on her rhetorical devices at the expense of the plot, but such moments are little more than minor lapses in what might well be one of the key texts in Indian English SF writing. Towards the end, there is a glimmer of hope for Meiji, but like Chatterjee’s, it is the dystopic premise of Padmanabhan’s novel which abides.

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Generation 14 Priya Sarukkai Chabria’s Generation 14 (2008) is a novel set in the twenty-fourth century, and revolves around a clone. The very first lines of the novel provide a conspectus of what the novel is about: I am a fourteenth generation Clone and something has gone wrong with me. Not that my DNA is altered, not that I am a mutant. Not that any function need be eliminated. It’s nothing obvious. It’s terminal, and secret. Let me put it this way: I remember.18 Unlike Padmanabhan’s world where clones are demonised, Chabria’s clones enjoy a fair degree of prestige, though they are socially classed below the ‘Originals’ whose genetic blueprints are preserved for ‘social betterment’. The narrator of the story is the clone 14/54/G who is a fourteenth-generation clone of a writer called Aa-aa (names do not seem to matter very much in the twenty-fourth century). The predicament of this particular clone is that she has ‘visitations’ – randomised memories of a dodo, fish, parrot and human. This leads her to investigate her ‘Original, to check out if these visitations have something to do with transmutations in her neurological circuitry’.19 Much of the first half of the book is spent in detailing the twentyfourth century, and Sarukkai does a splendid job in creating a rich tapestry out of the four categories of citizens in the ‘Global Community’ – Originals, Zombies, Firehearts and Clones. Unlike the world of Escape, where the generals have erased history completely, Sarukkai’s is an open society where everyone has equal access to information. The clone’s visits to the museum and the memory banks bring her in contact with the Firehearts who ‘are bred for the purposes of interrogating the living … [they] are the poets of our society, and as poets, cannot speak lies’.20 At the museum, for example, the clone meets two Firehearts called Blank Verse and Couplet, who are investigating grief for the purpose of composing an epic poem. 14/54/G’s initial researches tell her that her original was a writer living in the twenty-first century. At the same time, she has to undergo therapy and treatment at the ‘Recovery Pad’. From this point, her memories of the past insinuate themselves more and more insistently into the narrative. Many readers have found these nested stories to be somewhat long-winded and excessive to requirement. In themselves, the stories work quite well, particularly the one about the parrot in a woman’s boudoir in Lucknow whose chief task is to shout out warnings to her owner whenever the jealous Khan-Sahib is about to enter the

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bedchamber. Then there is the marvellously detailed memory of a fish which swims in the waters of the holy city of Kashi. But often, these stories distract from uncovering the mystery at the heart of the novel: why was the clone’s original killed during her speech at the great celebration? The Global Community also seems to be interested in clearing up this mystery, and provides 14/54/G with all the facilities to enable total recall. There is a love interest in the form of an Original who befriends the clone and then becomes her lover. Despite the nested stories, the action of the novel rarely flags and the novel hurtles towards a good old-fashioned action-packed SF ending. On the way, there are some exciting set pieces, such as the gladiatorial combat which is commentated on by a robot watchdog. Here is a sample: The screams intensified. Bullet lunged at the air, twisted and bit its hindquarters. Its fur tore. ‘Two against one,’ it said, ‘this round is over. They are fighting each other for the head.’ It bit its leg, exposing circuitry. ‘Done. Next round. Five against one’. Bullet somersaulted in the air, clawed itself, crouched.21 Much of the language that describes the events of the twenty-fourth century are in a similar register – clipped, fast-paced, with short and snappy exchanges. In contrast, the sections describing the visitations are more stylised, often deploying the elevated registers of myth- and history-telling: Again I remember the old texts. When the Ganga rises and churns around itself, eating Kashi, the land remaining above the water is fish-shaped. A fish like Kashi is alone elevated and saved. This is a good omen. I need not fear. My time of illumination is at hand. All maya, all illusions, will clear; and dualism vanish.22 Generation 14 is an ambitious novel, and tries to create an amalgam between the ‘static constancy’ of myth, and the ‘estranging newness’ of SF, to invoke Suvin’s categories. While it sometimes struggles with structural problems, the twin engines of its narrative rarely falter. Chabria’s novel, with its energy and narrative zest, is a worthy addition to the genre. Turbulence The publication of Samit Basu’s Turbulence in 2010 marked a crucial moment in the history of Indian SF in English: for the first time, a

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work from the genre became a national bestseller. There is also talk about the novel being auctioned for a Bollywood film at the time of writing this chapter. Of all the works discussed in this chapter, Turbulence is the one closest in form and style to mainstream American SF of the Astounding and Amazing era. It is a classic superhero story, but with a radical makeover and located in contemporary India. The idea of Indian superheroes had been doing the rounds for quite some time, with an anthology of superhero stories published by Scholastic in 2007.23 There had also been a long tradition in superheroes in Indian comic books as well as in Indian cinema. Turbulence may be regarded as a coming together of all these impulses. As is well known, the American comic book provided the most congenial home for the figure of the superhero or the caped crusader. Though the comic book initially borrowed the figure of the superhero from SF, (Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel’s Superman, for instance, was inspired by Philip Wylie’s 1930 novel Gladiator), the years immediately before and after the Second World War saw the full flowering of the cult of the superhero. For most of the time, superheroes were solitary operators and restricted themselves to a fairly narrow compass, such as Batman’s Gotham City. But with the permafrost of the Cold War setting in, the superhero found himself (and sometimes, herself) being increasingly co-opted as an instrument of American foreign policy, and morphed from being a local vigilante into a global superhero, with a beat that extended from Metropolis to Moscow. By 1960, they had federated themselves into a group called the Justice League of America. Basu’s novel swirls together all these elements of the superhero genre. The novel has not one, but a whole planeload of superheroes: all the passengers who were on a British Airways flight from London to Delhi have had their most ardent desire come true. One can link to anything on a network – computers, phone systems, satellites; another is able to multiply her bodies at will and multi-task; a third can control proximate weather, while Vir, the central protagonist, is able to fly: See, the thing is, no one got asked what powers they wanted. They got given powers that whoever – or whatever – gave them these powers thought they wanted. If we’d had to fill in a form, we’d all have been all-powerful, all-knowing, magic-using immortals. We’d have taken cool superpowers, not the kind of B-level powers we have.24 A small group of the passengers recognise their superpowers for what they are and join forces to find out the mystery behind the killing or disappearance of all British and non-Indian passengers on the flight. Is

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there a group of supervillains which is eliminating powers one by one? Then the group encounters Jai, an army veteran, whose powers have made him the perfect soldier, and who wants to dominate the world. Put thus, Turbulence would seem to be a parody of the somewhat earnest conventions of the superhero genre. But Basu’s novel is not just about dismantling the protocols of the genre, but also to reinvent them in a sub-continental setting. In this task, he succeeds admirably, as he is able to make full use of such plot elements as Bollywood, terrorism, Indian politics, Mumbai traffic and Desi London. As in his previous GameWorld fantasy trilogy, Basu is constantly allusive, referencing the world of pulp fiction and comic books on almost every page. This, in fact, constitutes the key difference between Basu’s and the other three novels discussed in this chapter: while the first three novels inhabit self-contained spaces, with little or no concession made to the contemporary world, Basu’s novel self-consciously footnotes the entire history of the genre itself. In doing so, Basu returns to the worlds of the fan and fandom which were almost simultaneous with the rise of SF in America in the Twenties and the Thirties. Historically, fans have been male, adolescent and united by a shared freemasonry of taste, and it is this interpretive community which has proved to be the most durable consumers of the superhero genre. Basu’s novel is a tribute to this long-standing tradition.

Childhood’s End? As I have indicated earlier in the chapter, a popular genre cannot be sustained by the form of the book alone: it needs to diversify into other literary forms as well as new media. This is where Indian SF still falls short of the critical mass that is needed to sustain the genre. To begin with, there is no periodical – either print or digital – in India which is devoted wholly or even in part to SF. In fact, the number of websites on Indian SF are very few. The short story, which is such an essential part of any SF culture, has also received short shrift from Indian SF writers, other than exceptions such as Vandana Singh. Singh’s short stories, collected in The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet25 and published by Zubaan, have won her praise. Zubaan was also instrumental in publishing Anil Menon’s The Beast with Nine Billion Feet, the first professedly Indian SF in English for young adults.26 But Menon’s forte, like Singh’s, is the short story and a number of them have appeared in some of the leading SF magazines in the West. Though it is beyond the scope of this chapter to discuss individual short stories, mention must be made of Singh’s ‘Delhi’, ‘Tetrahedron’, and ‘Oblivion: A Journey’, and Menon’s ‘Archipelago’, ‘The Poincare

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Sutra’ and the wonderfully titled ‘Harris on the Pig: Practical Hints for the Pig-Farmer’.27 Finally, this preliminary survey of new SF in India will not be complete without at least mentioning the recent rise of fantasy fiction in Indian writing in English. There are many who prefer to conflate SF and fantasy, at least as a publishing category. But while there are many overlaps between the two genres, there is one crucial and irreconcilable difference: SF can have no truck with magic. Even in advanced technologies which may be indistinguishable from magic – to paraphrase Arthur C. Clarke’s famous ‘third law of prediction’28 – it is the task of SF to ask questions of the technology/magic and not take it as a given. The future of Indian SF rests on the willingness of writers to ask such questions and to sustain their commitment to a ‘cognitive and critical approach’.29

Notes 1 2 3

4 5 6 7 8 9

10 11

12 13 14 15 16 17 18

Kylash Chunder Dutt, ‘A Journal of Forty Eight Hours in the Year 1945’, Calcutta Lit erary Review, June 1835. A.K. Mehrotra, An Illustrated History of Indian Literature in English (New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2005), 94. Shoshee Chunder Dutt, ‘The Republic of Orissa; a Page from the Annals of the Twentieth Century’, Stray Leaves; or essays, poems and tales, Vol. 1 (Calcutta: published by the author, 1864), 377. Merhotra, History of Indian Literature, 94. Ibid. 95. Debjani Sengupta, ‘Sadhanbabu’s Friends: Science Fiction in Bengal from 1882 1961’, Sarai Reader 2003: Shaping Technologies (New Delhi: Sarai, 2003), 76 82, 77. Barnita Bagchi, ‘Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain’, CounterCurrents, 1 October 2003, http:// www.countercurrents.org/gender bagchi011003.htm; accessed 18 February 2012. C.P. Snow, ‘The Two Cultures’, in The Two Cultures and Scientific Revolution (Cam bridge: Cambridge University Press, 1961), 4. Darko Suvin, ‘Radical Rhapsody and Romantic Recoil in the Age of Anticipation: A Chapter in the History of SF’, Science Fiction Studies 1.4 (Fall, 1974); http://www.de pauw.edu/sfs/backissues/4/suvin4art.htm; accessed 25 Feburary 2012. Ibid. Rimi B. Chatterjee, Signal Red (New Delhi: Penguin, 2005); Manjula Padmanabhan, Escape (New Delhi: Picador India, 2008); Priya Sarukkai Chabria, Generation 14 (New Delhi: Penguin, 2008); Anil Menon, The Beast with Nine Billion Feet (New Delhi: Young Zubaan, 2009); Samit Basu, Turbulence (New Delhi: Hachette India, 2010). Rimi B. Chatterjee, Signal Red (revised electronic edition: 2011), http://rimibchatter jee.net/Files/signal red.pdf. Ibid. ii. Ibid. 57. Ibid. 22. Padmanabhan, Escape, 112 13. Ibid. 235 36. Sarukkai, Generation 14, 11.

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19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26

27 28 29

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Ibid. Ibid. 14. Ibid. 47. Ibid. 187. Superhero: The Fabulous Adventures of Rocker Kumar and Other Indian Superheroes (New Delhi: Scholastic, 2007). Basu, Turbulence, 56. Vandana Singh, The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet (New Delhi: Zubaan, 2009). Anil Menon, The Beast with Nine Billion Feet (New Delhi: Young Zubaan, 2009). For another recent instance of SF for young adults, see Shockwave! And other Cyber Stories (New Delhi: Penguin, 2007). For samples of Menon’s short fiction, see http://anilmenon.com/samples.html. ‘Clarke’s three laws’, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clarke’s three laws; accessed 28 February 2012. Suvin, ‘Radical Rhapdsody’.

12

Frame/Works

How India Tells Stories in Comics and Graphic Novels Rimi B. Chatterjee

Introduction: First Contact Comics came to India rather late and can still not be called a fully established artform. However, there was an appreciable ‘sunrise’ period in the history of the form, and recently the diversity and ambition of new comics works has been on the rise. Comics, a form that tells stories through pictures and words combined in complex symbolic relationships, is one of the most complete artforms ever invented. It can truly be called one of the twentieth century’s biggest literary innovations, right up there with stream-of-consciousness, science fiction and cyberpunk. At its best, it can involve the written word, the sound effect, the picture and the frame in a brilliant orchestration of meaning. At its best, it is a form most likely to stretch its creator(s) to within an inch of their life. At its worst, it can plumb depths of sulphurous badness unavailable to less powerful forms. Yet even its name is a subject of contention. Is ‘comics’ singular or plural, editors ask authors with furrowed brows. When is a picture-story a ‘comic’, and when is it a ‘graphic novel’?1 These are important questions, not just because their answers matter, but because the motives behind the asking of the questions tell us a lot about how the form is viewed and how it has developed. Across the globe, every culture has used pictures, with or without text, to make stories. The frescoes on the pyramids, the carvings on Indian temples, the Mayan books, the Bayeaux tapestry, all are early versions of picture-stories. They are not, however, comics, and for that development we must thank the American pulps of the early twentieth century. They invented the system of panels or frames laid out on a page, with speech bubbles and boxes, that we recognise as the signature technique of comics. From America, this innovation made its way across the globe, to Europe, Japan and finally to India. As the name suggests, the ‘comic’ was originally meant to be funny, satirical, per-

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haps a political or social lampoon. The American and European newspaper cartoons of the nineteenth century were its nearest ancestor, and in their tradition of mordant commentary the cartoonists set themselves up as the court jesters of this new realm of print. Political cartooning remains a distant cousin to comics; and the difference between a strip and a comic is essentially one of scale, not of intent or technique. A three-panel cartoon can be seen as a very short comic.

The Cartoonists In India, as in most cultures, the ‘cartoon’ predated the comic. I use the word in quotes because the Indian cartoon was not just confined to the newspapers. The information regime under the Raj was simply too restrictive. Even though there was no official censorship, there was a culture of surveillance, and the picture creator, not relying greatly on literacy to get through to his or her audience, was also more exposed to the eyes of the state. Indeed, newspapers were closely watched, so cartooning, or lampooning, became the job of semi-legal printers, pornographers and publishers of smut in the nineteenth century, particularly in the tiny Calcutta locality known as Bat tala. Kalighat potuas, urban folk artists making a living in the bylanes around the famous Kali temple, also portrayed satirical or salacious themes in their pots (paintings), though their art has almost died out now. After Independence, regular cartoonists continued to create. Perhaps the greatest is R.K. Laxman, who never tried his hand at a comic. Laxman’s drawings, featuring the Common Man who looks on while the good and great of the country decide his fate, served as ironic commentary on the New India, with its command economy, vote bank politics, licence-permit-quota raj and state-managed information networks. Other cartoonists pursued similar agendas, such as Mario Miranda whose gentle mockery made him a well-loved commentator on urban India, especially the middle class of Goa and Mumbai. A rare cartoonist who branched out into comics was Abid Surti, whose Inspector Azad series was immensely popular. Even the Hindutva supremo Bal Thackeray began his career as a cartoonist.2 And this is only taking into account the English language press; in the Indian languages, cartoon heroes arose all over the country, particularly in Kerala where E.P. Unny and O.V. Vijayan took cartooning to the level of satiric art. Unny continues to comment (trenchantly) on the Indian political scene.3 Manjula Padmanabhan, with her quirky and quizzical Suki strips that ran for six years in Target magazine, commented on the ironies and challenges facing young urban women. The Suki strips were collected and released in book form by Duckfoot Press in

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2000 (now out of print), then reissued by Penguin, thus making her work available to a new generation of readers.4

‘Amar Chitra Katha’ and the Birthing of the Middle Class While some early Indian comics were creator-driven such as Chacha Chaudhary, created by Pran, and Bantul the Great and Nonte-Phonte created by Narayan Debnath, the mass market was dominated by a few mega publishers, of which Amar Chitra Katha (henceforth ACK) was by far the biggest. The name, meaning ‘immortal picture stories’ became synonymous with comics for at least two generations of Indian children. However, Amar Chitra Katha differed from the American biggies such as Marvel or DC in that it invested very little in original storytelling, satisfying itself with ‘retellings’ in visual form of Indian myths, history and legend. The possibly apocryphal explanation for this was that Anant Pai, the founder of ACK, saw a quiz contest aired on Doordarshan (Indian state television) in 1967 in which participants could answer questions relationg to Greek mythology but were floored by ‘Who was Rama’s mother?’ Appalled at Indian schoolkids’ lack of exposure to their own culture, he set out to remedy this using a form that would speak easily to children: comics. Visual storytelling is an important aspect of folk culture throughout India. Pai, therefore, saw himself as a man merely polishing up the form of a well-established and venerable tradition. And hence he did not seek out new stories; he saw himself as a custodian of the past, and his creators as modernisers and popularisers. However, things were not that simple. India’s mythic traditions are renowned (if not notorious) for fissiparousness. There are many Ramayanas, there are many Puranas and differing versions of myths. Some are radically contradictory of each other. Different religious traditions showcase different aspects of a particular myth. Since we have never had a monolithic religious culture, there is no body of ‘scripture’ in the Western sense. Even in the case of the Judaeo-Christo-Islamic faiths, schisms are visible between Syrian Christian and Catholic, between Sufi and orthodox believer. Anant Pai was, however, having none of it. He chose the most ‘mainstream’ (read orthodox uppercaste Hindu) version of the story he could find, and presented it as the only story. An analysis of Pai’s choices in storytelling are beyond the scope of this chapter, but suffice it to say that ACK quietly excised out the more bizarre or disturbing aspects of the myths, left out women who were behaving badly and heroes who fudged the truth, unless these instances were so well established in the popular mind that the story would fall apart without them. In doing so, they created a canon. They fixed in their young audience’s mind the template for each story,

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so that adult encounters with different versions of these stories were experienced later as ‘variations’. So the choice of stories was oriented towards the majority: the ‘Hindu’ (which was taken to include certain aspects of Sikh-Jain-Buddhist), the ‘upper caste’, and the patriarchal.5 Diamond Comics produced Pran’s Chacha Chaudhary stories. Chacha Chaudhary was the unlikeliest superhero ever invented. Accompanied by an alien from Jupiter and the world’s only vegetarian dog, ‘Uncle’ Chaudhary solved crimes and outwitted villains with his mind, which, the comic repeatedly told its readers, was ‘faster than a supercomputer’. His only weapon was a wooden stick, with which he fought off corrupt politicians, goons, thieves and interplanetary invaders. He was everybody’s favourite grandfather, dressed in the clothes that suburban people of the Nehruvian era wore. Indeed, the 1970s and 1980s were a sandwich time, wedged between the stunning feats of the generation that fought for freedom and an unknowable future that was taking forever to show up with its supercomputers and rocketships. Raj Comics published Super Commando Dhruva by Anupam Sinha about an ex-circus performer who could talk to animals and fought crime in a city called Rajnagar.6 There is clearly a nod to Western comics in these storylines, but more of the Mandrake and Phantom variety than Superman and Batman. After 1991, ACK, which had been languishing for a while, showed a sudden burst of life and brought out twenty new titles. However, ACK’s market had shifted somewhat: they were now in demand among NonResident Indians who wanted to dose their children with ‘Indian culture’. In the new polarised world of Indian politics, ACK’s agenda as the upholder of middle class Hindu values has lost some of its veils. As Deepa Srinivas puts it in her book Sculpting a Middle Class: History, Masculinity and the Amar Chitra Katha in India: ACK shows that popular culture is the crucial site where the contest for hegemony takes place. It draws our attention to the pedagogic effectiveness of history as popular culture. Pai held data-driven history in contempt and designed ACK as chitrakatha – borrowing the colour and allure of that genre. History, in ACK, emerges as an actor in the politics of the present. It hegemonises dominant ideas of the modern and the pre-modern, the secular Self and the bigoted Other.7

Liberalisation, Virgin Comics and the Boom In 1994, Orijit Sen created an original comic, River of Stories, on the subject of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, the decade-long protest against

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the Sardar Sarovar Dam Project. This had a very small print run and was distributed by an non-governmental organisation from Delhi. It was monochrome, done in pen and ink for easy reproduction.8 A study of Sen’s pages shows that he has a sophisticated understanding of visual storytelling, page layout and scripting, although he had not previously worked in comics. With the influx of foreign firms into India, the scene was set for commercial publishing to start taking an interest in Indian comics. The year 2004 is an important one for two reasons: Virgin Comics was set up in Bangalore, and the first Indian comic to call itself a ‘graphic novel’, Sarnath Banerjee’s Corridor, was published by Penguin in 2005. Liberalisation had brought with it a global awareness for the middle class: Animax, a Sony channel dedicated to Japanese anime, brought Japanese artwork styles and storytelling (albeit in colour and animation) to Indian audiences. Animax sparked curiosity about the manga behind the anime, and hardcore fans sought out the original greyscale manga stories. Bharath Murthy, editor of Comix India, an online and print-on-demand web magazine, sees the black-and-white culture of Japanese manga as an inspiration for Indian comics, because capital is scarce and colour costs money.9 The Japanese proved that black-and-white artwork could be as moving if not more so than colour; Osamu Tezuka’s eight-volume Buddha proved that conclusively.10 I will come back to the issue of Virgin in a moment; for now let us look at Banerjee’s Corridor. Corridor contains three interwoven stories following three characters who are connected through Jehangir Rangoonwala, a bookseller who sits in one of Connaught Circus’s colonnades. The most droll of these stories is the tale of Shintu, a Bengali mama’s boy anxious to sexually satisfy his new wife. Desperate for the secrets of masculinity, he visits a shady sex doctor who lectures him and gives him a phial of oil with instructions to rub it on the relevant part. He camouflages the oil in a bottle with a hair oil label and keeps it in his bathroom. However, the maid happens to put the oil on her head, thus turning into a mohawked, headbanging rock chick (see Fig. 1: Corridor, p. 221). This story is interwoven with two others: the story of Digital Dutta, a flaneur and goodfor-nothing caught up in a vivid imaginative world, and the narrator Bhrigu’s doomed (but rather shallow) love affair with a girl called Kali. Digital Dutta’s story seems extraneous to the action until you realise that he pops up again in Banerjee’s next graphic book, The Barn Owl’s Wondrous Capers. This is a much more ambitious book, weaving together aspects of the Bengali classic Hutom Pyanchar Noksha with the travels of Ibn Batuta and elements that are Banerjee’s own. However, in Barn Owl, the whimsy that made Corridor so entertaining fails to carry the much longer and more complex storyline, which tends to drag and meander. Banerjee has been hugely influential in introducing the new mid-

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dle class to the possibilities of comics. His largely black-and-white pendriven style is as far from the ACK paradigm as possible, and in its deceptively simple contours open up an arena of creator-driven, more ‘handmade’ and definitely more quirky storytelling. Where he fails is in delivering a suitable punchline, of making his stories really count. That is, perhaps, not part of his remit, but it does leave one feeling curiously dissatisfied. So far, his work has had an exploratory feel to it, as if a technique was being carefully beta-tested for some project in the future. Whether that project eventually materialises is yet to be seen. Banerjee and his partner Anindya Roy then set up Phantomville Comics. The name is presumably a gesture to Lee Falk, but turned out to be weirdly prophetic, as the firm now leads a curiously undead existence. Two titles were published: Kashmir Pending by Naseer Ahmed and The Believers, written by Abdul Sultan PP and illustrated by Partha Sengupta. Both these titles are now quite difficult to get hold of, but I managed to secure a copy of The Believers. This is well plotted and told, and evocatively yet simply illustrated. It is the story of two brothers – Hamid, who lives abroad, and Rashid, who stayed home with the family in Kerala. A death in the family reunites them, and then Hamid discovers the path his brother is walking, a path towards fundamentalism. But the situation is not so simple: Sultan and Sengupta show the complexities of their situation with great finesse and delicacy (see Fig. 2: The Believers, p. 222). It is a pity that Phantomville has not been able to bring more stories like this to the Indian public.11 This is a common problem in comics publishing: small comics startups begin in idealism but get bogged down in funding problems, publishing difficulties and lack of time and resources. Those who have the money, that is, big mainstream publishers, often lack the skills and network to get and keep good comics creators and to make and publish good comic books. The higher quantum of effort and funding required to make comics as compared to straight prose, and the frustrations of working within an industry primarily set up to make and distribute prose, is probably why creators feel tempted to set up their own companies and go it alone. Once these titles are created, often at great cost to all concerned, they then hit a brick wall with regard to distribution, the beˆte noire of all small publishers. Dedicated comics bookstores on the lines of Forbidden Planet or Comic Showcase are probably still far into the future in India, and mainstream bookstores are often at a loss as to how to showcase comics, often relegating them to the children’s section.

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Virgin of (or on) the Rocks The advent of Virgin Comics was a gamechanger even though in its first avatar the company folded after a scant two years in operation. Virgin’s titles are now all but absent from the market, yet it continues to cast a long shadow over the comics universe and to spawn imitators to a greater or lesser degree. Virgin’s approach was novel in some ways, and hopelessly outdated in others. They pledged to involve directors, artists or musicians such as John Woo in the making of comics, reasoning that since filmmakers were already familiar with storyboarding (a process of laying out a film narrative before shooting in the form of artwork not unlike the frames of a comic), these skills should translate into awesome comics productions. Borrowing a technique or two from the big American publishers, Virgin assembled a stable of young, dedicated, energetic artists in a house in Bangalore and began scouting for stories. So far so good. However, unable to shake a superhero hangover, Virgin started to promote the idea of ‘Indian superheroes’ whose stories were to be told in serial issues like Marvel or DC. This was in spite of the fact that the cult of the ‘superhero’ was clearly declining in the West; the most successful ‘superhero’ comic in the 1990s was Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, which set out to break all the rules ever laid down for superhero stories, and to appeal to an older and more diverse audience than the teenagers who bought cheap monthly issues of The Incredible Hulk or Spiderman back in the 1970s. Perhaps the intention was to ‘outsource’ superhero production to India, with its stagnant pools of underpaid and underappreciated young talent, and thus revive the genre by creating it at a fraction of the cost and reselling it several price points below its original market. It did not work, not least because there was nowhere to go that was cheaper than the serial comics number. Three of Virgin’s series, Devi, Sadhu and Snakewoman, are all traditional superhero stories with Indian connections and/or in lavish Indian costume (except for Devi, who dresses in black leather and looks like an S&M Tomb Raider). While the comics were crammed with stunningly executed artwork, the stories were convoluted, confusing or just plain pointless. Once the wow factor of the artwork wore off, there was not much to offer the prospective readers. Virgin attempted to reboot Devi by getting Samit Basu, a well-known Indian fantasy writer, to write issues 3 through 10. The storytelling improved, but the series was overtaken by the company’s folding, thus losing an opportunity to salvage something from the wreckage.

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Classics Retold for Children One of the most lucrative segments of the market, and the category that often funds all the rest, is that of classics retold in comics form for children. The driving force here is the desire of parents to get their children acquainted with classic, often Western, canonical texts, without the daunting labour of reading them in the original, a tough job for a pre-teen whose second language is English. This desire is further reinforced by the syllabi of school boards, which usually have at least one or two such Western classic texts on their prescribed lists, and kids turn to comics for a sort of crash course in the story (sometimes with unexpected results if the creators have taken liberties with the story). One such endeavour is Campfire Books. This house produces a series of ‘reimagined’ classic novels of mostly Western literature in comics form, such as various novels by Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jules Verne, and so on, with a bias towards action and adventure. There are a few original titles but they are vastly outweighed by out-ofcopyright classics. Campfire’s titles are very cheaply priced at Rs 195 and are good value for money. Since they are funded by a conglomerate in the UK they can draw on considerable resources and also on occasion foreign talent. Campfire has largely unseated ACK from this segment. In the eastern zone, the large format bookseller Starmark has ventured into publishing with English transcreations of classic Bengali texts for children. The Bengali publishing house Ananda has also brought out a series of ‘Feluda’ comics drawing on Satyajit Ray’s popular Feluda stories. These enterprises represent nodes where the rich traditions of vernacular comics find their way into the English market and thus travel far from their home territories.

Many Ramayanas Reimagined Before I discuss the fourth Virgin series, Ramayana 3392 A.D., it might be appropriate here to comment on the ‘Ramayana Reimagined’ theme (and the related Mahabharata Reimagined one). ACK, of course, started it all. The two folk epics of Indian literature are so rich in myth and legend that it would be incredible if Indian storytellers did not pillage them for material. This genre is the most diverse so far, with probably the most uneven quality. Let us begin with Virgin’s Ramayana 3392 A.D. Stunning visuals were created for the work, and the scene was shifted to an indeterminate fantasy/far-future world in which the last of the humans are fighting demons. There the world is at war, and Rama is exiled not because of his father’s jealous co-wife, but because he surrenders a fort to save its inhabitants. Sita is also not his wife at first: she is

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rescued and joins his party of soldiers. During the rescue he kills three of Ravana’s demon children, thus earning Ravana’s enmity. Hence the causes of the crucial plot twists of the original story are taken out of the realm of the sexual (Dasharath’s obsession with his young queen, Ravana’s infatuation with Sita) and made to be the fallout of war. Ashok Banker’s Ramayana series in eight volumes is also being reimagined in comics format. Written by the author and illustrated by an Argentinian artist, Enrique Alcatena, this series begins with Prince of Ayodhya, currently (as of 2012) the only one published so far.12 In the Foreword, Banker describes how, at the age of 15, he set up a comics publishing house called Titan Comix which, of course, failed miserably. This youthful enterprise seemed promising, but (perhaps chastened by that early disappointment) Banker elects not to take too many risks with the story of his comic book, following the canonical version very closely. The characters come across as stereotypes, and the artist clearly has a few confusions about Indian drapery. This is the problem with retellings; one either tells the story ‘straight’ and falls into the ACK trap of smoothing out the ‘wrinkles’ in the storyline, or one ‘reimagines’ and runs the risk of spoiling the core virtues of the story. To retell while staying true to the spirit of the story is the holy grail, but possibly only someone like Tezuka telling the story of Buddha can do it. The prolific ‘reimagined’ market also throws up Forgotten Tales by Umesh Shukla, illustrated by Billy Jay Tayao and Rowell Salcon, both artists based in the Philippines. This book tells the story of four marginal characters, all poor children on the edges of society, from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, and how their lives are touched for the better by Rama and Krishna. The storytelling is fairly confident (with a few typos) and the manga-influenced artwork is beautiful and evocative. This book is published by Euro Books India, which seems to be investing heavily in comics. It will be interesting to see what else Umesh Shukla chooses to do in future.13 A rather more outre´ retelling has to be The Sixth, published by the Mumbai-based Vimanika, which implausibly intercuts a retelling of the Karna myth with the story of Karan Vir, a detective in contemporary Mumbai. The story takes itself very seriously, with Karan Vir taking time off from his busy schedule to lecture taxi drivers in traffic jams on the duties of a good citizen. This is intercut with pages of mythic battles between heroes covered with glowing tattoos and spectacularly evil demons. Eventually Karan Vir realises that he is a reincarnation of the original Karna and the two worlds mesh. Unfortunately he does not become any less of a prig as a result. Vimanika also produce three other series, Dashaavatar, I Am Kalki and Moksha. These all centre around the battle of good and evil, but like fairy tales, they do not question, or allow the reader to question, the nature of these concepts. The

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stories insist that one must take the characters at face value, like the fairy tale prince and ogre, but they fail to plug the characters into true psychological archetypes, and thus risk appearing empty and purposeless. The often stunning artwork only lifts this flying machine a few inches off the ground. Another Karna takeoff is Deva Shard, produced by Fluid Friction, a team based in Singapore. This retells the story of Karna’s birth transposed to Bhumi, a world of demons and magicians that draws loosely and somewhat chaotically on Indian mythology. Only one volume, At First Light, has been produced so far, and it is difficult to tell where the story is headed. The main characters are the charioteer who rescues the baby Karna; his real parents in this world are apparently ‘demons’. Amruta Patil is also at work on a reimagining of the Adi Parva of the Mahabharata. Called simply ‘Parva’, sample pages are visible on her blog http://www.amrutapatil.blogspot.in. However, one very successful mythological-type comic is Kinnari, at present only available as a webcomic at http://www.kinnaricomic.com. It updates every Thursday and is at present (15 February 2012) 166 pages long. The entire work is written and drawn by Meenakshi Krishnamoorthy, and it is beautifully visualised and told. The notes that she appends to each page show the depth of the research and background work she has done to develop the story and its rich and deeply symbolic mythos. The main characters are Manu, a feisty girl who hides a secret, and her protector Neel, a young Brahmin whose fate is strangely intertwined with Manu’s. They are journeying in search of safety. After being ambushed by bandits, a strange flying ship rescues them, crashing in the process, and its inventor and ‘captain’, a rather geeky young noble, takes them to the cursed city of Vidya Vihara. All the land around it is a barren desert, but this kingdom, thanks to the devotions of its queen, is presently exempt from the curse. In the marketplace a crazed bull attacks the two protagonists, and a mysterious man saves them. The story is currently unfolding the nature of the curse and the queen’s method of protecting the kingdom. Themes include lower castes versus higher, and greed versus good. At moments of crisis, Manu causes people around her to see a luminous phoenixlike bird, which diffuses calm and peace and disables attackers. This is apparently because she is a kinnari, or bird person, although she is unaware of it, and Neel knows that he must protect her and that her secret is of paramount importance. The web format of the comic allows Krishnamoorthy to use rich colour, which she is becoming ever more accomplished at handling. Hopefully someday a publisher will be brave enough to issue this beautiful comic in print.

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‘Social’ Comics: Bhimayana, Lie, Hush Bhimayana is the first of Navayana’s comics endeavours; the second, only just out, is A Gardener in the Wasteland on Jyotiba Phule’s life. Bhimayana is a life of Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar, beautifully illustrated by the Pardhan Gond artists Durgabai Vyam and Subhash Vyam. The story is by Srividya Natarajan and S. Anand. Bhimayana is visually stunning, and it is very much more than a simple biography: it traces the journey of a whole people. Perhaps for that reason, the motifs of trains, buses and cars recur, and of fish (see Fig. 3: Bhimayana 1, p. 223), because a major theme of Bhimayana is access to water and what happens when that access is prevented for the lower castes by the upper castes (with the Muslims playing a walk-on part). The book traces Ambedkar’s daily life more or less as he recounts it in the essay titled ‘Waiting for a Visa’, but it contains also the Vyams’s own flavour of experience. They are tribal people, whereas Ambedkar was a Mahar, a Dalit, yet the incidents of his life resonated with theirs and gave them a platform on which to interpret and present their art. They also developed a unique adaptation of their artform to the needs of comics, thus pioneering a radical new style. Anand describes the process, frustrating yet illuminating for both storytellers and artists, of coming to this synthesis in the essay at the back of the book titled ‘A Digna for Bhim’.14 The creative team also created a new font, new kinds of speech bubbles and two characters who comment on and annotate Ambedkar’s story (see Fig. 4: Bhimayana 2, p. 224). The complexity of bringing such different philosophies together and making them sing must have been enormous. There is a charming coda to the book where the artists tell their own story, in the same style as they have created the book. Not quite so inspiring is Manta Ray Comics’ Hush.15 Having heard that this was about child abuse, I picked it up with high expectations. Written by Prateek Thomas and illustrated by Rajiv Eipe, the book has no copy, that is, there are no words. It starts with a shooting. A girl shoots the teacher, then walks to the principal’s office. Flashback to a moment before, when she was standing in that same spot. In the past, we see her in the principal’s office, crying, then he gets up, disbelief on his face, and throws her out. Back to the present: she walks on to the boy’s loo, motioning them outside with her gun. As she stands in front of the mirror a shadow of a man seems to stand beside her. She shoots the mirror. A SWAT team storms the school and the toilet, and she puts the gun to her head. As she fires, a second flashback shows her at home, at dinner, in bed, haunted by the thought of what happened to her. Then, she is gone. Given the apparent serious purpose of this comic, I would question their choice to leave out the words, and also of wrapping the story up

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in less than 18 pages. This is shorter than a comic serial number, let alone a book. This slim volume is bumped up with ‘bonus’ artwork and priced at Rs 195. Without the words, the story remains a lyric poem, and lacks the punch that it could have had if we had been allowed to see the incident in more detail, the viewpoints of the characters, the repercussions of the girl’s murder-suicide. Hush therefore remains a missed opportunity. The last comic to be discussed in this section is architect and satirist Gautam Bhatia’s Lie: A Traditional Tale of Modern India, illustrated by a trio of miniature artists, Shankar Lal Bhopa, Birju Lal and Ghanshyam.16 Orijit Sen is credited along with Bhatia as a ‘coordinator’. This is satire, but its vitriol rises in a sour tide and sweeps everything before it. At the heart of the story is a character called ‘Rekha’, who, like Vishwajyoti Ghosh’s ‘Moon’, is clearly based on Indira Gandhi, the woman everyone loves to hate. A recurring character is Reena, who pushes out baby girls like a toaster produces toast, and her mother-inlaw, who cleans up afterwards and finds ever new ways to get rid of the babies. It is not an easy read, not least because the font is rather small and the book appears to have been designed for a larger page than it ultimately got to occupy. This is a book to be read in small doses, to prevent eyestrain and hopeless fatalism in the face of this country’s mountainous problems. Its technique is unique and interesting.

Gotham Comics, Level 10 and Pop Culture Publishing Gotham Comics has been around for a while. It was established in 1997 by Sharad Devarajan, Suresh Seetharaman and other publishers in the US with the purpose of exporting Marvel and DC titles to India. In 2004, around the same time that Virgin launched, Gotham also launched an ‘Indian Spiderman’. In this series the main character’s name was changed to Pavitr Prabhakar, and his costume, while remaining the same above the waist, turned into an Alibaba ripoff below, complete with curly shoes. In between romancing Meera Jain (Mary Jane) and fighting Nalin Oberoi (Harry Osborn) he webslung around Mumbai with his dhoti blowing in the wind. It was not a successful transcreation. Sharad Devarajan went on to become part of Virgin Comics and later to buy it out and relaunch it as Liquid Comics. By then he had competition in the form of Level 10, publishers of the comics magazine Comic Jump, a clear nod to the popular Japanese manga journal Shonen Jump. Piloted by Shreyas Sreenivas and Suhas Sundar, both former corporate employees who quit to pursue their dreams, the company presents itself as ‘by comics fans for comics fans’ and situates itself

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squarely in the same metaphysical plane as the Marvel DC universe.17 It is one of the few companies producing a journal rather than standalone titles. The biggest advantage of the magazine format is that advertising revenue can be gathered by carrying ads. Previously the Kolkata-based Kriyetic attempted to do this, but their magazine closed after five issues. Deepak Sharma, originally with Kriyetic, is now associated with Level 10. The first issue of Comic Jump contained the first instalments of three stories: Northern Song, Shaurya (an X-Men ripoff) and The Rabhas Incident (a zombie tale). The artist of The Rabhas Incident, Harsho Mohan Chattoraj, has also produced a solo title published by Pop Culture Publishing, Munkeeman. Chattoraj’s style recalls most strongly the old Mad magazine issues, and all of his characters, including the women, look like they have Alfred E. Neuman in their ancestry somewhere. They also all look dead, as in zombie dead. The story of Munkeeman begins satirically enough with the abduction of filmmaker Abhishek Sharma (who has also written the Foreword) from a ‘Golden Kela’ award ceremony by a strange creature. Yes, it is the Munkeeman. The rest of the story has trouble deciding whether it is a satire and if so of what, rather like our identity-conflicted hero himself, who is human unless he pulls a cork out of his belly and ‘uncorks the munkee’. He also has a habit of stuffing his victim’s mouths with lollipops and telling them to ‘suck it’. It is too gory for children and too silly for adults, so the intended audience must be underdeveloped teenagers. Tejas Modak’s Private Eye Anonymous: The Art Gallery Case is more clearly a juvenile title. A light-hearted spoof of gumshoe detective stories, it has our eponymous (and therefore nameless) hero out investigating the yet-to-be-performed theft of an artwork. The story pokes lighthearted fun at modern art and has our hero throwing off casual one-liners like ‘I thirsted for revenge and a decent cup of tea. As usual, one of those I would have to wait for’.18

Kari, Moonward, Kinnari and the Aesthetic of Dreams Kari is a deeply felt story of a young lesbian recovering from a broken relationship. She works at an ad agency but has a rich dream life that feeds her in strange ways.19 It is beautifully visualised and executed, and is a strong contender for the position of most moving comic yet produced by an Indian creator. From its opening pages it draws the reader into a world where myth and reality hold hands. In its development of memorable characters, particularly the dying Angel who stands on the boundary between myth and reality, Kari is a gutsy piece of work. On the best pages, the plangent beauty of the visualisation and the clever layering of the images make you stop and stare (see Fig.

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5: Kari p. 225). If dipped into randomly, the abundance of words that frame and constrain the graphics can be disconcerting, even off-putting, but read sequentially it all makes sense. Patil suceeds in giving Kari a unique and valuable voice, she takes us right into her head, and for this purpose the words are essential. However, purists will take issue with her use of prose alongside more traditional comics panels, and will claim that every so often her technique teeters on the edge of ‘illustrated text’ as opposed to ‘comic’. Personally I feel that Patil could perhaps have trusted the pictures more to tell her story. It is a mistake that writers tend to make more than artists, and given Patil’s background in the fine arts, perhaps it was not so much a fault of technique as a feature of the conceptualisation of this particular story. This question, of whether Kari is a true comic or a hybrid work, continues to be contentious. Published by Blaft, Moonward is the other contender for the most accomplished and most ambitious Indian comic to date.20 The story is nothing short of a history of everything, starting with the Big Bang and then following the process of evolution from bacteria to late capitalism, visiting the birth of deities, of agriculture, of art and of government along the way. That sounds pretentious and highbrow, but Appupen’s surreal, dark, unsettling artwork, his almost copyless storytelling, and his cast of grotesque characters elevate his story into the metaphysical (see Figs. 6 and 7: Moonward 1 and 2, pp. 226 and 227). There is a strong thread of anger at the way greed has raped the earth, at how art is bought and sold, and ultimately how dreams are betrayed in the constant nightmare that so much of the world has become without fuss. Appupen’s method of showing this is highly indirect; this may explain why the mainstream press did not know quite what to make of his book. Parismita Singh’s The Hotel at the End of the World is charming and engrossing, with an unusual setting and characters and interestingly rough black-and-white artwork.21 It is the story of two travellers who arrive at the eponymous hotel during a storm, and tell their story to entertain the crowd before the morning. It begins strongly, succeeding in establishing atmosphere and character, but rambles a bit thenceforth. Eventually the two characters find their goal, but then the story ends just as you think it is really beginning. Perhaps Singh was taken by surprise by the frame-hungriness of the medium: sometimes a simple sequence of events that would take you about a paragraph in a novel can eat up four pages in a comic, because of the necessity of keeping the visual narrative thread unbroken. This can cause stories to expand unexpectedly in the telling. Vishwajyoti Ghosh’s Delhi Calm, a story set in the Emergency, has a strong premise and begins well but quickly gets bogged down in a

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maelstrom of words. Ghosh, like nature, abhors a vacuum, and he clutters his pages with too much information, making it hard to follow the story. Unfortunately, Patil’s Kari has provided a precedent for wordy, cluttered comics, but Ghosh has none of her light touch. He bogs his story down with details, and he is too concerned with the larger story arcs to give his characters enough weight and interest for the reader. They end up being mouthpieces for a history of Leftism under the Emergency or face value counters in a roman-a`-clef about power struggles in the 1970s. For instance the dark-glasses-wearing supremo called ‘The Prophet’ is probably based on Bal Thackeray, but untangling fact from fiction in this book is only feasible for someone with an in-depth knowledge of Indian political history. This technique may be of interest to a historian of ideas in India, but it does not make for good storytelling, which is a pity because the idea behind Ghosh’s book is intriguing, and the visual language he uses to portray censorship is rich with meaning.

Conclusion Perhaps the very ambiguity and slipperiness of the term ‘comics’ is its strength. It allows every culture and every creator to answer the question ‘what is comics?’ in a different way. In fact, all we can really determine is ‘what is comics to me?’ The few who have struck out on their own leave me very hopeful. Their visual language, their narrative concerns, their storytelling philosophies are all unique and have the potential to found a new genre in this country. However, it will take some more time. There are many wonderful works out there which are still under development. Since most comics creators must work for a living, they can only give what time and effort they can spare to their stories. Comics is a labour-intensive form; there is a reason why the comics of the West are so often made by corporations. We will probably never see that kind of investment here (it is dying out in the West); hence we must wait patiently for these works to be completed and for publishers to step forward and print them. Gokul Gopalakrishnan, one of the first Indian academics to write seriously about comics, writes in his article ‘Waiting for the Dark Knight’ that India has yet to produce its first big comics title.22 As the diversity (and, one has to admit, unevenness) of the books I have discussed here will show, we are still forging a canon and a space of possibility for Indian comics. Every book that comes out changes the nature of the game and opens new branching possibilities to the creator and the reader. As far as Indian comics are concerned, truly we live in interesting times.

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Notes 1

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3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

The term ‘graphic novel’ was invented by Will Eisner in 1978 when he was pitching his collection A Contract with God and Other Tenement Stories to a trade publisher: he feared the word ‘comic’ would prejudice the mainstream publishing industry against the work. Amruta Byatnal, ‘Cartoonist Thackeray Calls on Common Man’, The Hindu, http:// www.thehindu.com/news/states/other states/article2657194.ece, accessed 24 January 2012. E.P. Unny, ‘Anna Hazare: The Long Drawn Out Story’, http://centreforcomicart. wordpress.com/2012/01/23/e p unny cartoon exhibition/, accessed 24 January 2012. Manjula Padmanabhan, This is Suki! New Delhi: Penguin India, 2002. See Aryak Guha, unpublished PhD dissertation, Jadavpur Unviersity, 2012. http://indiancomics.wordpress.com/publishers/raj comics/super commando dhruva/, accessed 24 January 2012. Deepa Srinivas, Sculpting a Middle Class; History, Masculinity and the Amar Chitra Katha in India, (New Delhi and Abingdon: Routledge, 2010), p. 192. See http://www.scribd.com/doc/19966450/River of Stories a comic by Orijit Sen/, ac cessed 13 December 2011. See Comix India: http://www.comixindia.com/, accessed 27 January 2012. Bharath Murthy, ‘How to Build a Comics Culture in India, http://www.scribd.com/ doc/23523984/How to Build a Comics Culture in India, accessed 27 January 2012. Abdul Sultan PP and Partha Sengupta, The Believers (New Delhi: Phantomville, 2008). Ashok Banker and Enrique Alcatena, Prince of Ayodhya (New Delhi: Penguin India, 2010). Umesh Shukla, Forgotten Tales (New Delhi: Euro Books India, 2011). Durgabai Vyam, Subhash Vyam, Srividya Natarajan and S. Anand, Bhimayana: Ex periences of Untouchability (New Delhi: Navayana, 2011), pp. 100 3. Prateek Thomas and Rajiv Eipe, Hush (Bangalore: Manta Ray Comics, 2010). Gautam Bhatia, Shankar Lal Bhopa, Birju Lal, Ghansham, Lie: A Traditional Tale of Modern India (Chennai: Tranquebar, 2010) http://www.level10comics.com/about us/ accessed 15 February 2012. Tejas Modak, Private Eye Anonymous: The Art Gallery Case (Chennai: Westland, 2008), p. 23. Amruta Patil, Kari (New Delhi: Harper Collins India, 2008). Appupen, Moonward (Chennai: Blaft, 2009). Parismita Singh, The Hotel at the End of the World, (New Delhi: Penguin India, 2009). Gokul Gopalakrishnan, ‘Waiting for the Dark Knight’, Fountain Ink, http://fountai nink.in/?p=649, 12 December 2011, accessed 24 January 2012.

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Figure 2 The Believers

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Figure 4 Bhimayana 2

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Figure 6 Moonward 1

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PART IV Reinscribing Home

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A Diasporic Straitjacket or an Overcoat of Many Colours? A Reading of Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake Peter Liebregts

Jhumpa Lahiri as a ‘Global’ Author One of the most well-known and popular representatives of contemporary Indian English fiction is Jhumpa Lahiri (1967-), who was born in London as the daughter of Bengali Indian immigrants and moved to the US when she was three. As an academic who received several degrees in literature, including a PhD in Renaissance Studies, she is also a successful author who won the American Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2000 for her debut short story collection Interpreter of Maladies (1999). Her first (and until now only) novel The Namesake (2003) was adapted for the screen, and another short story collection, Unaccustomed Earth (2008), immediately reached the number one spot on The New York Times bestseller list on publication. Many of Lahiri’s feelings about growing up in the US are reflected in The Namesake, and in this context it is significant to note that Lahiri, seeing herself as an outsider but not as a foreigner, has stated that she feels more comfortable in America than in India (Minzesheimer). Given the fact that in her work she focuses on aspects of Indian immigration in America, including the ‘idea of India’ for second- and third-generation immigrants born in the US, Lahiri can be seen as a ‘global’ author whose output challenges any assigning of her work to a too-specific national, monocultural or transnational canon. Although globalisation or diaspora studies or intercultural studies may suffer less from a too-strict adherence to national or cultural boundaries, in their approaches there is often the danger that any text is turned into a sort of sociological or political or anthropological document at the expense of its literariness. In this I agree with Ruediger Heinze who has argued that the use of diaspora as an exclusive framework to read texts labelled as diasporic fails to take into account some key aspects. Most importantly, as ‘the sole overcoat’ or ‘ontological and/or epistemologically

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privileged site of analysis’, it ‘cannot possibly do justice to literary texts’ (Heinze 2007: 199).

The Namesake: A Return to a More Modernist (Neo-)Realism This is not to deny that much valuable work has been done by critics approaching Lahiri’s The Namesake from various theoretical angles, especially in terms of diaspora1, but in this chapter I want to look at the adopted literary techniques in the novel, thus treating it in terms of its literariness. When Lahiri’s text is set alongside such novels as J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace (1999), Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections (2001), and Ian McEwan’s Atonement (2001) and Saturday (2005), to name but a few, The Namesake can be seen as part of a general trend in English fiction of returning to a more modernist (neo-)realism, without the naivete´ of nineteenth-century realism because of the poststructuralist/ postmodernist revolution. Lahiri in her novel works very much in the tradition of literary realism, which offers a wealth of detailed, metonymic descriptions enabling the reader to imaginatively (re)create the settings and characters. The Namesake thus seems at first a lisible text (to use Roland Barthes’ term) in its depiction of the particulars of Ashima’s and Ashoke’s looks (8-9), of their apartment and neighbours (29-32), and of giving specific names of products, both American and Bengali, such as Rice Krispies and Planters peanuts (1), Jell-O (5), Ashima’s Murshidabad silk sari (2), and a list of Gogol’s toys bought at yard sales, ‘Tinkertoys, Lincoln Logs, a View-Master, an Etch-A-Sketch’ (52). Such details serve not only to create a sense of authenticity, but through the careful balance between narrative perspective and focalisation, the use of names also become a means through which the characters show their wonder at the new world and come to terms with it by familiarising it. This applies both to the first-generation Gangulis in America, for whom much in the US is alien, as to Gogol when he is still growing up, and for whom any world would still be new. Thus the text suggests also on this level to what degree naming is a source of empowerment as well as a source of stability and comforting certainty. We may also see this in the way we get specific details of Ashima’s stay in hospital, where she evokes for herself her parents’ flat in Calcutta, ‘on Amherst Street’, with a servant pouring tea and serving ‘Marie biscuits’, and her father listening to the ‘Voice of America’ (4-5). In the same vein, Lahiri creates historical contexts through period details, such as ‘the riots that took place during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago’ and the fact that Dr Benjamin Spock was sentenced to two years in jail ‘for threatening to counsel draft evaders’,

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details read by Ashoke in a Boston Globe from July 1968. Lahiri later refers to the sound of the television of the upstairs neighbours, informing the Gangulis about the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy (31). These details also serve to underscore how much the United States was going through a period of great changes in 1968, the year of Gogol’s birth, and that the future would be unpredictable and quite different from the past. Such a symbolic date is representative of the text’s use of (not too difficult to decode) symbols and symbolic gestures (of which naming, as we will see, is the most significant). Thus we may see, for example, that before Ashima actually meets Ashoke, who is visiting with his parents, she sees his pair of shoes, with the initials U.S.A., which she then steps into, as if not only experiencing a closer physical contact with a possible prospective husband, but also trying on a new continent for size. Apart from adapting the conventions of literary realism, The Namesake also emphasises the act of reading, with many references to classic realist texts, as if the text were self-consciously inscribing itself into the tradition. Generally, the Gangulis are a family of readers. Thus Ashima is said to have been working toward a college degree in English before her marriage, and been teaching neighbourhood schoolchildren about Western culture, ‘helping them to memorise Tennyson and Wordsworth’ and ‘to understand the difference between Aristotelian and Shakespearean tragedy’ (7). Ashoke is depicted as a voracious reader when a teenager, going through all of Dickens and also the works of Graham Greene and Somerset Maugham, although his favourites are the Russians, a love he inherited from his paternal grandfather, a professor of European literature at Calcutta University. In fact, it is a Russian author who becomes a saving grace in his life. In 1961, at the age of twenty-two, while taking the train to spend time with his grandparents and read to his grandfather who had recently gone blind, and who actually will give his collection of books to his grandson, Ashoke survives a train crash only because he is noticed waving a page from ‘The Overcoat’, from an edition of short stories by Nikolai Gogol which he had been reading on the train.

The Inspiration Behind The Namesake: Nikolai Gogol’s ‘The Overcoat’ (1842) In honour of the writer who literally saved his life, Ashoke decides to name his first-born Gogol. For him the name becomes a locus of all of his feelings of survival, trauma, belonging and nostalgia. ‘The Overcoat’ is Ashoke’s favourite story, and in The Namesake it becomes a selfreflexive, even allegorical tool for the compositional process and possi-

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bilities of interpretation of the novel itself. ‘The Overcoat’ is one of the most important texts in Russian literature as it may be said to have heralded the beginnings of literary realism in Russia, a fact acknowledged by a famous statement often attributed to Dostoevsky (Gogol 1995: 346), quoted by Ashoke in The Namesake: ‘We all came out of Gogol’s overcoat.’ (78) This statement, of course, gains in meaning in view of the plot of the novel. In an interview about her novel, Lahiri gave the following response as to the influence of Gogol on her writing: I’m not sure influence is the right word. I don’t turn to Gogol as consistently as I do to certain other writers when I’m struggling with character or language. His writing is more overtly comic, more antic and absurd than mine tends to be. But I admire his work enormously and reread a lot of it as I was working on the novel, in addition to reading biographical material. ‘The Overcoat’ is such a superb story. It really does haunt me the way it haunts the character of Ashoke in the novel. I like to think that every writer I admire influences me in some way, by teaching me something about writing. Of course, without the inspiration of Nikolai Gogol, without his name and without his writing, my novel would never have been conceived. In that respect, this book came out of Gogol’s overcoat, quite literally.2 In ‘The Overcoat’, published in 1842, Gogol depicts the life of one Akaky Akakievitch Bashmatchkin, a poor government clerk and copyist of documents in St. Petersburg. Akaky is not held in high esteem by his colleagues, although he is a hard worker with a passionate zeal for copying. As his threadbare coat is the object of many jokes, he decides to save up money to buy a new one when his tailor Petrovich tells him the old coat is irreparable. Akaky’s enthusiasm for a new coat even overcomes his devotion to copying, and when he finally is able to have Petrovich make one of the finest materials, the new coat suddenly makes him more respectable and liked by his colleagues. Unfortunately, after a party in honour of his new coat, Akaky is robbed of it by two ruffians in the street. He unsuccessfully seeks the help of the authorities to recover the coat, and is treated with great disdain by a highranking general to whom Akaky also turned for help. Falling ill with fever, Akaky curses the general just before he dies, after which his ghost is seen haunting the streets of St. Petersburg and robbing overcoats from people, including the cloak of the general, after which Akaky’s ghost is seen no more. Ashoke in The Namesake likes ‘The Overcoat’ for various reasons. ‘Each time he was captivated by the absurd, tragic, yet oddly inspiring

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story of Akaky Akakyevich, the impoverished main character who spends his life meekly copying documents written by others and suffering the ridicule of absolutely everyone. His heart went out to poor Akaky, a humble clerk just as Ashoke’s father had been at the start of his career’. (14) The Russian tale thus shows Ashoke the possibility of rising above one’s station in life and carving out a new life. It is therefore no coincidence that Ashoke is reading this story on the train where he enters into a conversation with a Bengali businessman named Ghosh who urges Ashoke to go out and see more of the world. After the train accident and a long period of convalescence, Ashoke decides to take Ghosh’s advice and to go away ‘as far as he could from the place in which he was born and in which he had nearly died’ (20), that is, he decides not to continue imitating his father’s life and defy conventions and expectations. In other words, Ashoke, unlike Akaky, wants to become more than a mere copier, but like him, he also wants to don a new overcoat. The ambiguity of taking on a new identity in The Namesake is much greater than in ‘The Overcoat’. After Akaky has bought the new overcoat and gains the admiration and respect of his colleagues, he is offered a party by one of his superiors, who lives in one of the best parts of the city. The narrator gives in detail a picture of the luxuriousness of the area and of the chief’s house, where Akaky’s cloak is the object of much praise. Given the costs of Akaky’s new coat, it may be said to represent false vanity, as it was really beyond his means. In the case of Ashoke, the donning of a new coat is actually the beginning of a happy new life, whereas it will take Ashima much time to find a balance between two identities. Gogol Ganguli’s coat seems to be rather one of many colours before he, at the end of the novel, takes on one which seems the most fitting. The narrator of ‘The Overcoat’ excuses himself for the oddness of the protagonist’s name, with Bashmatchkin evidently derived from the word ‘bashmak’ (shoe). He does not explain the name Akaky Akakievitch, but comments that it ‘may strike the reader as somewhat strange and contrived, but I can assure him that there was no contrivance in its selection, and that the very circumstances of his naming were such that no other name was possible’. (Gogol 1995: 115-16) This apology is used by Lahiri to serve as an epigraph to The Namesake. Akaky Akakievitch is a Russian equivalent for ‘John Johnson’ and the name thus may be seen as turning him into a sort of Everyman, while the Greek origin of the name as ‘a-kakos’ emphasises that this is a man ‘without evil’, ‘innocuous’.3 At the beginning of ‘The Overcoat’, the narrator makes much of the circumstances which gave rise to the strange name of his protagonist, and it is hard not to immediately link his opening scene to that of La-

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hiri’s novel. (Indeed, when reading ‘The Overcoat’, Ashoke has to laugh aloud each time while reading ‘the account of Akaky’s christening, and the series of queer names his mother had rejected’ (14).) We are told that Akaky’s mother after his birth made all due arrangements to have him baptised. She is offered the choice of three names by the child’s godparents, but the mother rejects them as ‘poor’, after which they offer a list of alternatives, none of which pleases the mother, who sees in this the hand of fate and decides to name her son Akaky after his father – which may offer another etymological explanation for his name, as ‘tak kak’ means ‘just as’, thus emphasising the lack of originality and neatly tying the name to his profession of being a copier of documents, almost as if nomen est omen.

Names and Naming in The Namesake: The Bengali Custom/s of Nomenclature Names and naming are equally crucial elements in The Namesake. Lahiri uses the Bengali custom of nomenclature to great effect, in which each person has two names, a daknam or pet name, that is, the name used by family members and friends at home or in private circumstances, and a bhalonam or official name, used for documents and in public places. Thus Ashima and Ashoke are more familiarly known as Monu and Mithy respectively. Their ‘good’ names ‘tend to represent dignified and enlightened qualities. Ashima means “she who is limitless, without borders”. Ashoke, the name of an emperor, means “he who transcends grief”’ (26). Both names indeed turn out to be ominous in the sense of determining their bearers lives. Where Ashima during her first years in America tends to cling to her Bengali past when feeling not at home in the American present, thus acknowledging a borderline, she gradually learns to cope. After Ashoke’s death and her children having left the family home, Ashima at the end of the novel decides to spend six months in the US and the other six in India. Here the novel becomes rather over-explicit: ‘True to the meaning of her name, she will be without borders, without a home of her own, a resident everywhere and nowhere’. (276) Ashoke’s name is equally fitting. Unlike Ashima, Ashoke tries to forget about his past as much as possible, as it is so much taken up by the traumatic memory of his train accident, which still influences some of his behaviour and habits. Ashoke very much looks forward, emphasised by the fact that the ‘Favre Leuba strapped to his wrist is running six minutes ahead of the large gray-faced clock on the wall’ of the hospital where Ashima is about to give birth to Gogol (11). Given the importance placed on names, it is striking that in the Ganguli marriage they are not

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explicitly used as terms of endearment. Thus Ashima never calls Ashoke by his name, as this is ‘not the type of thing Bengali wives do’, as it is something intimate, better left unspoken. In fact, she ‘never thinks of her husband’s name when she thinks of her husband’ (2). In contrast to good names, pet names are usually meaningless, ‘deliberately silly, ironic’ (16). Moreover, each individual receives his or her own specific name and is not named after family members, as ‘individual names are sacred, inviolable’ (28) – here the link between a name and an individual rather than communal identity is stressed. When the letter from Ashima’s grandmother, containing the name to be given to the baby, fails to arrive, Ashima and Ashoke are not concerned, whereas in India parents sometimes would take years before deciding upon the best possible name. However, the hospital requires a name to be put on the birth certificate. Thus by naming his son ‘Gogol’ out of reverence for the man who had saved his life, Ashoke gives more weight to a pet name than customary, in contrast to Ashima who, despite understanding his reasons, still regards it as ‘only a pet name, not to be taken seriously’ (29). Yet the name will determine in a serious manner a great deal of Gogol Ganguli’s life. It is therefore highly significant that the letter containing his name is, as Heinze calls it, ‘lost in transit’ (194), as it neatly symbolises the loss of Gogol’s link to his Indian homeland (just as, as we will see, significant events in his father’s and his life also take place on board trains, that is, in transit). At the end of 1969, ‘Gogol’ becomes his official name when his parents have to fill out a form for a passport when they go to Calcutta for a family visit. However, when Gogol first enters kindergarten at the age of five, his parents inform him that he will now be called by his good name, Nikhil, which is ‘artfully connected to the old. Not only is it a perfectly respectable Bengali good name, meaning “he who is entire, encompassing all”, but it also bears a satisfying resemblance to Nikolai, the first name of the Russian Gogol’ (56). Yet Gogol does not like the idea that he will now have two names, especially since ‘Nikhil’ is ‘someone he doesn’t know. Who doesn’t know him’ (57). The principal of the school is equally confused by the use of two names, and seeing that Gogol does not really respond to his formal name, she registers him as ‘Gogol’. To avoid the same sort of difficulties they had with Gogol, his parents decide to have the same name serving both as daknam and bhalonam when his sister is born in May 1974, and given the name Sonali, ‘she who is golden’ (62). Still, at home she is called Sonu, then Sona, and finally Sonia, which ‘makes her a citizen of the world. It’s a Russian link to her brother, it’s European, South American. Eventually it will be the name of the Indian Prime Minister’s Italian wife’ (62). The

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difference between the two children and their meaningful names is made clear through the parallel description of rice ceremony or annaprasan, during which a Bengali bab is offered several objects in a ritual to predict the direction their life will take. Where most babies would grab one or more objects, Gogol does not touch anything but simply cries (40), a scene which seems to emphasise the whole uncertainty of his identity or even his unconscious rejection of Bengali customs. To stress how Sonia will be facing fewer difficulties, the narrator describes how she refuses all food at her annaprasan, but plays with the dirt and the dollar bill, eliciting a comment by one of the guests that she ‘is the true American’ (63). This is why we do not see that much of her in the course of the text, and at the end she seems to have attained a problem-free American existence in a straightforwardly happy relationship with Ben, who is half-Jewish, half-Chinese, and raised close to where the Ganguli children grew up. In view of the fact that the majority of diasporic novels are written by women and feature women as suffering the most in the migration process, this is rather striking, to say the least.

Gogol’s Wrestling with His Name/Identity – As a Boy, an Adolescent and a Young Adult It also seems as if Gogol is, in many ways, simply an all-American boy, who as a youth is not very conscious of the possible difference between himself and others. For him, India is indeed an unknown country, and Indian culture something of a minor factor in his life. Ashoke and Ashima try to get their children acquainted with the Bengali language and culture, but they raise them more and more as American children, celebrating Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. And a telling detail lies in the description of the food they buy at the supermarket for their children: ‘individually wrapped slices of cheese, mayonnaise, tuna fish, hot dogs’ (65). This recurrent motif of belonging and rootedness through metonymic listing of American products (with metonymy being a hallmark of the conventions of literary realism) also concludes a section describing the longest period of time spent in India by the Ganguli family in 1985. In tune with the choice for literary realism in combination with not so covert symbolism in The Namesake, the description of a trip to Delhi and then Agra to see the Taj Mahal evokes the narrative atmosphere of E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View, as Friedman has rightly noted (117), where Lucy Honeychurch and her aunt have a look at Italy with a Baedecker and are confronted with (in their eyes) the frightening but alluring dangers of being in an alien environment. In The Namesake we may read:

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They depart from Howrah, that immense, soaring, echoing station, where barefoot coolies in red cotton shirts pile the Gangulis’ Samsonite luggage on their heads, where entire families sleep, covered, in rows on the floor. Gogol is aware of the dangers involved: his cousins have told him about the bandits that lurk in Bihar, so that his father wears a special garment under his shirt, with hidden pockets to carry cash, and his mother and Sonia remove their gold jewels. (84) The visit to Agra awakens Gogol’s interest in Mughal architecture, but on the way back to Calcutta, ‘bad luck trails them’. At Benares, Sonia has an allergic reaction to some jackfruit, and somewhere in Bihar, a businessman in the train is stabbed in his sleep and robbed. On their return to Calcutta, both Gogol and Sonia get ill, and do not recover until it is time to return to the United States. There, they soon feel at home again, once the refrigerator and cupboards are filled ‘with familiar labels: Skippy, Hood, Bumble Bee, Land O’Lakes’ (87). This was not Gogol’s first visit to India. By the age of ten, Gogol has already visited India four times, and although he does not feel at home in Calcutta, his stays there make him aware of how common his last name ‘Ganguli’ actually is (67), thereby emphasising a sort of rootedness and familiarity he cannot internalise. The feeling of belonging and not belonging at the same time also permeate an ‘American’ journey, a school field trip at the age of eleven, which includes a visit to a graveyard, where the children rub the gravestones with pieces of paper and crayons when they discover someone buried there carrying their own names. I agree with Himadri Lahiri that this passage may be seen as ‘a metaphor, suggesting Gogol’s lack of roots in the country’. Yet I disagree with his observation that Gogol’s discovery is ‘a source of anxiety for [those] who passionately seek acculturation and integration’ (Lahiri 2008: 6). Not only do I doubt whether Gogol himself at this point does not simply consider himself as an American, but this scene at the cemetery also offers a sign of hope about the link between names and identity, as it reveals that the names of several of the dead are no longer in use and, in a manner of speaking, have died out. Thus Gogol sees the graves of Abijah Craven (making him wonder whether it is a man’s or a woman’s name), Anguish Mather, Peregrine Wotton, Ezekiel and Uriah Lockwood, all of them Puritan names belonging to the ‘very first immigrants to America’ (71), thus making him see the value and permanence of names in a new relativist perspective. This scene shows how Gogol realises that he has no roots in America, but also that one almost literally can and has to make a name for oneself. Immediately following is a depiction of Gogol’s fourteenth birthday in 1982 at the opening of chapter 4, which is almost fully devoted to

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Gogol’s wrestling with his name, and ending with him adopting his formal name Nikhil. At his birthday he is given a copy of the short stories of Gogol by his father, who at that point still has not told him about his accident. By this time Gogol has begun to dislike his name, which ‘has nothing to do with who he is’, as it is neither Indian nor American (76). Gogol also realises that his first name was the author’s last name, so that there will be no one in the world who will share his name, not ‘even the source of his namesake’ (78). As such, the text stresses how much Gogol, at this point, wants to stress each person’s unique individuality and identity, apart from any cultural or diasporic context. In this sense, the choice for ‘Nikhil’ with its overtone of ‘nothing’ seems to be a double-edged sword in view of subsequent developments. In his junior year at high school, Gogol’s class has to read ‘The Overcoat’, with the teacher giving them a detailed overview of the author’s life on the basis of a full biography on his desk, significantly titled Divided Soul.4 The portrait painted by the English teacher is not an attractive one, as it presents Gogol as an eccentric and frustrated, melancholy hypochondriac who slowly declined into madness, leaving no wife or children (90-93). Young Gogol Ganguli becomes very much self-aware, and although he refuses to read the story as it ‘would mean paying tribute to his namesake’ (92), he does feel as if his own work were being criticised when the students complain about the reading assignment. Yet Mr Lawson’s description of the Russian’s life and character may well be the impetus for Gogol to adopt the name Nikhil when he introduces himself to a girl at a party, and on hearing that it is ‘a lovely name’, has enough courage to dispense his first kiss, ‘protected as if by an invisible shield’ (my italics). Afterwards he more or less feels that it was not his ‘real’ self that was able to kiss the girl, as ‘Gogol had nothing to do with it’ (96). Here the text plays with the possibility of the ‘zero’ meaning of the name ‘Nikhil’, and seems used here mainly to present Gogol’s self-conscious awkwardness as an American teenager. This is already an indication that too much has been made of the link between a name, loss of cultural identity due to migration and diasporic resettling. This one-sided approach is also undermined in the novel itself at the opening of chapter 5, which offers all sorts of reasons as to why people would change their names, to account for Gogol’s decision to officially change his first name in 1986: ‘Though Gogol does not know it, even Nikolai Gogol renamed himself, simplifying his surname at the age of twenty-two from Gogol-Yanovsky to Gogol upon publication in the Literary Gazette. (He had also published under the name Yanov, and once signed his work ‘OOOO’ in honor of the four o’s in his full name.)’ (97). The latter statement again emphasises how little there actually is

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in a name, almost literally represented by four vowels that look rather similar to four zeros, which in turn provide a connection to the name ‘Nikhil’ and its possible connotation of ‘nothing’. Still, although he literally starts a new life as a freshman at Yale under the name Nikhil, he does not feel like himself, especially since he seems unable to integrate his past (as Gogol) with his present.

Ruth, Maxine, Moushumi: The Learning Curve of Gogol’s Successive Relationships Given the fact that Ashoke had a sort of life-altering experience on board a train, it is no surprise that throughout the text some of Gogol’s major steps in life are also connected to trains and railway stations (in themselves overt symbols of ‘being in transit’). During his sophomore year, he meets his first real girlfriend on a train. Ruth was raised on a hippie commune in Vermont, and it is rather ironic that Gogol feels that his own upbringing is bland and less exotic by comparison with hers. The narrator, using Gogol as focaliser, makes us see how he does see himself less as an American outsider than Ruth and her hippie background (120). In this context, her name may be said to rather ironically evoke the word ‘roots’. They start a relationship that lasts for two years, and when they are close to a break-up, the narrative has Gogol again on board a train on his way to meet his father for Thanksgiving. Underway the train has to stop because of a suicide, and when Gogol eventually arrives, his anxious father finally tells him the true reason for his name, and that it represented ‘everything that followed’ (124). Thus at the symbolic age of 21, Gogol becomes aware that his name actually embodies his father’s ‘second baptism’. There is a gap of five years between chapter 5 and chapter 6, which is set in 1994, with Gogol living in New York, having graduated in architecture. At a party he meets Maxine, a graduate of art history and coming from a wealthy family. She lives with her parents in a luxurious house, and Gogol very soon feels at home there and part of the Ratliff family. They seem to have everything his own family never had, not only in a material sense, but also in terms of intellectual conversation and physical contact. Here perhaps the link between the donning of the new overcoat by Akaky in ‘The Overcoat’ and becoming invited to the world of the rich and the position of Gogol is the most apparent, as it seems at this point he denies his own cultural background and heritage the most. The end of chapter 6 harks back to the end of chapter 3, where Gogol visited the graveyard containing the Puritan names. Here he visits the private graveyard of the Ratliffs where ‘Maxine will be buried one

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day’ (153), underlining their rootedness and sense of belonging (also evoked a few pages later when Gogol imagines her growing old in the summer residence). There is a great emphasis on the absence of social obligations, as well as on the solitude of the place, very much unlike the vacations to Calcutta with their obligatory family visits, dutiful sightseeing trips, and spending most of the time in the large company of family members. In this way, the presentation of Gogol’s own sense of Americanness is rather over-emphasised, and there is a bit of overkill in this regard when at the end of the chapter a guest of the Ratliff’s is surprised to hear that Gogol still gets ill during his visits to Asia: ‘But you’re Indian’, Pamela says, frowning. ‘I’d think the climate wouldn’t affect you, given your heritage’. ‘Pamela, Nick’s American’, Lydia says, leaning across the table, rescuing Gogol from the conversation. ‘He was born here.’ She turns to him, and he sees from Lydia’s expression that after all these months, she herself isn’t sure. ‘Weren’t you?’ (157) It is not until after his father’s death that Gogol becomes more aware of his Indian heritage, and consequently, more closely involved with his family. Their plan to visit Calcutta in the summer without Maxine has led to a break-up between the two of them. The restoration of the Indian connection is deepened by his meeting up with Moushumi Mazoomdar, daughter of friends of his parents, whom he vaguely remembers as a bookish girl with a British accent. (She attended Gogol’s fourteenth birthday, but spent most of the time reading Pride and Prejudice (73), another realist classic.) Having been raised in England before her family moved to the US, Moushumi has lived in Paris after her graduation from Brown, and ‘spent the past summer temping, working for two months in the business office of an expensive midtown hotel. Her job was to review and file all the exit surveys left by the guests, make copies, distribute them to the appropriate people’ (195). It is hard not to miss again the possible link to the copying existence of the protagonist of ‘The Overcoat’. All her life Moushumi had avoided getting involved with Bengali men; her choice for a double major in French had been a means of escape from obligations and expectations: ‘Immersing herself in a third language, a third culture, had been her refuge – she approached French, unlike things American or Indian, without guilt, or misgiving, or expectation of any kind. It was easier to turn her back on the two countries that could claim her in favour of one that had no claim whatsoever’. (214) Having lived in Paris for a while, Moushumi currently lives in New York as a graduate student of French literature, whose intended marriage to an American fell through. This linking up of information suggests that both she and Gogol have had their experi-

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ence with prospective American (exogamous) partners, and now have returned to their Indian roots. Both Gogol and Moushumi feel attracted to one another, an attraction reinforced by their familiarity as children coming from the same background, and very soon they practically live together. Chapter 9 deals with Gogol and Moushumi being married, having done so in Bengali fashion. Friedman has argued that this is ‘the first real sign in the novel that Lahiri is not entirely ready to submit that her characters are fully entitled Americans; Lahiri seems to retract her initial endorsement of the idea than an Indian American has every right to feel wholly American only because he has ascended to the upper-middle class. It is ethnic identity, not class, that brings them together’ (122). Yet where Moushumi perhaps may not feel truly American, Gogol in many ways still does. This is why their relationship will fail; it is not ‘ethnic identity that drives them apart’, as Friedman suggests. Moushumi is not able to shed her sense of cosmopolitanism and freedom and to assimilate to an American existence. Significantly, she has not adopted Gogol’s family name, not even with a hyphen after her own. When they go to Paris together, Gogol observes how his wife had been able to reinvent herself there and ‘realises that this is what their parents had done in America. What he, in all likelihood, will never do’ (233). Moushumi’s choice for a sort of European performative identity is emphasised by her unwillingness to seek roots under Gogol’s name. In fact it is the very importance of names again that crops up symbolically in a scene set a few months after their return, when Moushumi and Gogol attend a party of her friends. At one point the conversation focuses on naming children, with all the consequences of parental decisions involved. When Moushumi informs her friends that her name means ‘a damp southwesterly breeze’ (and any reader will know that any wind will blow where it will), Gogol is surprised about this, not only because he did not know this, but also because she seemed to want to reveal something about herself to her friends that she had kept hidden from him. When the conversation turns to a possible change of names, Moushumi reveals that Gogol, who is known to them as Nikhil, had changed his, although he had assumed she would never tell anyone. Suddenly he is forced to reveal his daknam in public, and feels betrayed by Moushumi, as she knows why he had changed his name. His statement that perfect names for babies do not exist, and that ‘human beings should be allowed to name themselves when they turn eighteen’ (245), is met with dismissal and silence. On that note the chapter ends. In the following chapter, set in 1999, one year into their marriage, Moushumi begins to realise that in many ways Gogol had served as a rebound after the break-up with Graham. The sudden death of an ad-

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ministrative assistant at university as well makes her see that she needs to take her life into her own hands again; this is reinforced by coming across a letter of a former lover, Dimitri. Unable to pronounce her name, he had called her ‘Mouse’, which had ‘made her feel foolish, but she was aware that in renaming her he had claimed her somehow, already made her his own’ (258). Significantly, Gogol never had a name of endearment for Moushumi. She and Dimitri renew their relationship, and in tune with the rest of the novel, it is only appropriate that Gogol should find this out on board the train they take to visit his family for Christmas in 1999. Gogol becomes just as emotionally upset as on the night when his father had told him the reason for his name (282) (thus establishing various links with other incidents involving trains). After Christmas, Moushumi leaves for France. In the last chapter, set in December 2000, so on the cusp of a symbolic new threshold, Gogol realises how the departure of his mother means that he, in a sense, will lose a home, and despite his years spent away while studying, he never had to take that big leap of turning a wholly different environment into something familiar as his parents had done, who had left everything behind and always experienced a degree of loss in doing so. At their last collective Christmas family gathering, Gogol meditates on how in so many ways, his family’s life feels like a string of accidents, unforeseen, unintended, one incident begetting another. It had started with his father’s train wreck, paralyzing him at first, later inspiring him to move as far as possible, to make a new life on the other side of the world. There was the disappearance of the name Gogol’s great-grandmother had chosen for him, lost in the mail somewhere between Calcutta and Cambridge. This has led, in turn, to the accident of his being named Gogol, defining and distressing him for so many years. He had tried to correct that randomness, that error. And yet it had not been possible to reinvent himself fully, to break from that mismatched name. His marriage had been something of a misstep as well. And the way his father had slipped away from them, that had been the worst accident of all, as if the prepatory work of death had been done long ago, the night he was nearly killed, and all that was left for him was one day, quietly, to go. And yet these events have formed Gogol, shaped him, determined who he is. They were things for which it was impossible to prepare but which one spent a lifetime looking back at, trying to accept, interpret, comprehend. Things that should never have happened, that seemed out of place and wrong, these were what prevailed, what endured, in the end. (286-87)

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I have quoted this long passage as an example of how in such neo-realistic texts as Lahiri’s, there is still the possibility of a (post-)modern textual self-reference, where Gogol’s attempt to find a pattern and meaning in his life is inextricably bound up with a summary of the plot line of the text of which he is the protagonist. In fact, such self-reflective meditations, mirroring textual developments, is what The Namesake has in common with the novels by Coetzee, Smith and McEwan I referred to earlier. It is no coincidence, then, that at this point the protagonist of The Namesake finds the edition of Gogol given to him by his father in 1982, bearing the inscription ‘For Gogol Ganguli … The man who gave you his name, from the man who gave you your name’ (288). He turns to the first story in the book, ‘The Overcoat’, having ‘salvaged it by chance, as his father was pulled from a crushed train forty years ago’ (291). The very last scene suggests that Gogol has finally accepted his heritage when he begins to read, thus offering us both closure (as in a nineteenth-century realist novel) and an indeterminate open ending (to mark the text as a neo-realist one).

Notes 1

2 3

4

See, for example, Sen 2009, who reads The Namesake in the context of the ‘Bengal connection’ the history of Bengal’s commercial and intellectual contacts with New England from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries as a diasporic novel by which the Bengal heritage is inscribed on to the cultural topography of America. The result is a questioning of the transatlantic connection as the sole marker of multieth nic ‘Americanness’ and a restoration of the awareness of the importance of the Amer ican Bengal contact in the production of what Sen calls ‘intrinsic otherness’ (62); Al fonso Forero 2007 focuses on Ashima as exemplifying motherhood as a site for agency for negotiating a transnational identity for the postcolonial female subject in diaspora. See http://hinduism.about.com/library/weekly/extra/bl jhumpainterview.htm. Indeed, as Schillinger 1972 has suggested, Akaky’s name may evoke St Acacius, one of the many saints of the Orthodox Church, and Gogol in ‘The Overcoat’ may be creating a parody of the hagiographic tradition. This is most likely the 1973 translation by Nancy Amphoux, Divided Soul: The Life of Gogol, first published in French in 1971 by the Russian born French author Henri Troyat (1911 2007), known as a novelist but perhaps even more for his biographies of, among others, Chekkov and Tolstoy.

14 The Mythos of Return and Recent Indian English Diasporic Fiction Fakrul Alam

Introduction: From Aloofness to Cross-Connections In the first phase of Indian English fiction, its writers were nearly all rooted in the Indian subcontinent and wrote almost entirely about the region and its people based on their vision of the quotidian experience of Indians. Writers like R.K. Narayan, Mulk Raj Anand and Raja Rao focused mostly on life on the sub-continent in their fiction; although Anand and Rao spent considerable periods of their lives abroad, they concentrate in their fiction on depicting India and Indians at home. In the second phase of Indian English writing, however, quite a few writers began to make the life of diasporic Indians their main subjects. Kamala Markandaya’s Nowhere Man (1972), for example, depicts the plight of an Indian who tries futilely to settle down in London. In many ways, Markandaya’s novel inaugurates a trend in Indian writing in English in that it takes up the themes of alienation and acculturation. It is clear from this novel that diasporic Indians such as the protagonist live as outsiders in their adopted lands, unable or unwilling to adapt in the country that they have moved to, but doggedly staying on there instead of returning to their homelands. The preoccupation of writers of this period of Indian English fiction, to borrow a phrase coined by one of them, Bharati Mukherjee, in her preface to her collection of short stories, Darkness, was with ‘the aloofness of expatriation’ (XV). However, and to borrow another phrase that she used for her work of a later stage in the same Preface, at least a few of them were soon caught up with the notion of the ‘exuberance of immigration’ (ibid.). That is to say, while many first-generation Indian immigrants depicted in fiction were quite pathetic and seemingly lost souls, some immigrants and their children were seen to embrace life in the West positively in at least a few fictional works. In no time, a new generation of writers emerged, typified by Jhumpa Lahiri who more often than not wanted to depict first-generation Indians or their children in their everyday lives in their adopted homelands. In particular, the members of the second generation are shown questing for fulfilling lives in the country to which they had been brought or where they were born because of the westward move taken by their parents. There were splen-

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did exceptions, of course, such as Salman Rushdie’s epochal Midnight’s Children, a novel completely rooted in Indian politics and written by a diasporic Indian who was obsessed with recent subcontinental history, and Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy (1993), a panoramic evocation of post-independence India by someone who seemed to have adopted cosmopolitanism completely. It could be said of the second phase of Indian writing in English, then, that the fiction produced by its writers in the latter part of the twentieth century either depicted Indians immersed in the quotidian in their homelands or showed immigrants and their children coping with acculturation and alienation or moving towards assimilation in the West. In other words, some Indian writers in English of this period were located in the Indian sub-continent while others were based in the West and preferred writing about recently expatriated Indians or their children. Here again, Rushdie’s Satanic Verses (1988) must be cited as an exception, for though the work unfortunately got mired in controversy because of its jokey takes on Islam, it had in the main tried to juxtapose immigrant South Asian lives in London with the theme of the quest for identity which takes the book’s expatriate protagonist Saladin Chamcha ultimately to Bombay, the city of his birth, and to a death-bed reconciliation with his father. A clutch of new novels published in 2010 by writers of Indian origin suggests that a new phase of sub-continental fiction in English is coming into view as we enter into the second decade of the new millennium. Tishani Doshi’s The Pleasure Seekers, Shilpi Somaya Gowda’s Secret Daughter, Roma Tearne’s The Swimmer and Priya Basil’s The Obscure Logic of the Heart have a few things in common: they are all by writers of Indian origin who either moved to the West in their childhood or are descendants of Indian families who have settled overseas for some time now or are children of mixed marriages who long to root themselves in a homespace that is no longer a location where ambivalence about identity exist; they are all novels written from an intense desire to overcome feelings of aloofness, trauma and loss incurred in diasporas and by a longing for reconciliation of what was left behind with what is possible in the present; they all straddle countries and cultures and long to unite families and people across space, time and political and racial borders. Perhaps there is something of a myth being dispersed here by these writers in their own distinctive ways – the myth of return, the fictionalisation of a vision that sees the end of a phase of alienation and the beginning of another one that attempts a reconciliation of the east and west or at least a resolution of sorts pointing to the end of aloofness, rendered in the quasi-romance mode. It is almost as if these writers are enacting a collective wish-fulfillment of reunion, of communion, friendship and love, made possible by trans-

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cultural and transnational crisscrossings, although Basil’s work, unlike the novels by Doshi, Gowda and Tearne, concludes in the tragic mode.

Tishani Doshi’s The Pleasure Seekers: Returning Homewards through Generations Doshi’s novel, The Pleasure Seekers, tells the story of two generations of the Patel family, beginning with Babo Patel’s arrival in London in the 1960s for higher education and his love-at-first-sight relationship there with a Welsh woman named Sian Jones. Even before he had met her, Babo was entirely happy to be in England; when he meets Sian, though he quite literally burns ‘all evidence of his past love so he could begin this phase of his life untainted’ (26). However, his parents connive to bring him back to Madras, afraid of losing their son forever to another world. Their perspective is aptly summed up by Babo’s father, Prem Kumar, who declares his view on the matter in a manner that sums up the wariness of people perennially suspicious of transculturation, ‘Nothing in the world means a thing if a man has no roots’ (36). In fact, they were warned about their son’s dalliance with a British woman by their expatriate nephew Nat who foretells the end of the affair to his wife in a manner typical of inward-looking first-generation expatriates, ‘They are from different worlds. East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet’ (40). But Doshi’s novel is based on the assumption that they can meet and can do so fruitfully and is written out of a conviction that all rough patches in the path of cross-cultural lovers can be overcome. As a consequence, Prem Kumar’s attempt to separate Babo from Sian and trap him in Madras fails and he is forced to agree to let him marry the Welsh girl, though she has to come to India to stay there permanently in order to satisfy the prodigal’s parents on his return. Defying all cautionary stories of mixed marriages that never worked, Babo and Sian lead a life of bliss in Madras, with Sian adapting to her Gujrati husband and his family and the rhythms of Indian life with relative ease. There is something mythical as well as immensely fulfilling in the coming together of these lovers in their inter-racial marriage. In this relationship depicted in the romance mode, we are told that every night Babo and Sian, ‘holding hands in the darkness of night, disappeared to a different place – to a city with no name, a city where they knew no one and no one knew them’ (87). The marriage defies the kind of assumption that is traditional; Sian’s life in Madras shows that home can be a ‘place you’ve never been to’ (91). This is what Ms Douglas, an expatriate English woman in the city, tells her, noting how life could disprove the Anglo-Indian assumption that ‘England was always

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the better place, the place to return to’ (91). Indeed, it is Sian who decides for the couple that their future was in India, that it made ‘practical sense’ for them to stay there, and also that she could build her ‘home’ there, though this would happen only when they moved out of the joint family situation. And in no time Babo is able to see that his wife had been ‘right after all. Their destiny was in India. And it was lying patiently across the horizon, waiting to be made’ (106). In the latter parts of The Pleasure Seekers, Doshi depicts the lives of the daughters of this interracial marriage, Mayuri and Bean. Doshi’s narrative ultimately takes up the story of the youngest daughter. Bean leaves for London, questing for the kind of love she felt her father had found there in Sian. Unfortunately for her, she wanders from affair to affair; happiness proves as elusive for her as her older sister, Mayuri, who had stayed back in Madras to marry her first and only love, Cyrus. But it is in response to Mayuri’s letter asking her to return that Bean begins to think of the complexity of the idea of home for anyone who gave the matter any thought: ‘As though home were something so solid and fixed into the ground there could be no denying it. As though you could just say the word and know exactly what it meant’ (277). The novel climaxes with a pregnant Bean heading for the sanctuary provided by her wise grandmother in Gujarat, only to experience the traumas of an earthquake that makes her lose her unborn child. But the words uttered by the grandmother at the end of the novel underscore its final take on the world of her children and grandchildren, ‘They’re coming home’ (313). In other words, identities are formed in motion across time and space and not in stasis. The message to be found in Doshi’s narrative is the one Susan Stanford Friedman spells out in her wise reflection, ‘Bodies on the Move: A Poetics of Home and Diaspora’: ‘Home is created in the act of writing about what has been lost in leaving and what has been gained from moving from place to place’ (Friedman: 206).

Shilpi Somaya Gowda’s Secret Daughter: Returning and Reconciliation Gowda’s novel has two overlapping plots. One of them deals with the story of Kavita, a poor and illiterate woman of rural India who saves the life of her firstborn daughter by depositing her with an orphanage, knowing that her husband Jasu would rather sacrifice the child than have a daughter. The other plot deals with the story of Somer, a California pediatrician married to her Stanford medical school sweetheart, the Indian-born neurosurgeon Krishnan, who takes recourse to an adoption agency with the help of her Bombay-based in-laws when faced

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with the news that she would never be able to bear children. The link between the two plots, of course, is Asha (Sanskrit for ‘hope’), Kavita’s daughter. She is raised as Somer’s child, though she ‘looks nothing like her daughter’ (100). Somer and Krishnan are intent ‘on preserving Asha in the little cocoon they have woven around her’ (117). Somer, in particular, does her best to preserve her in an environment where she would be protected from her Indianness, no doubt because of the precarious hold she believes she would otherwise have over her adopted daughter. But despite all the attention and love she gets from Somer and Krishnan, Asha grows up wanting to meet her biological parents and with an insistent urge to locate them in India. This leads her to a confrontation with Somer where she tells her adopted mother, ‘I just don’t feel like I really belong, in this family or anywhere. It’s like a piece of me is always missing’ (138). Her desire to seek out her roots leads her eventually to Mumbai, where she finds work as an apprentice journalist while searching for her biological parents. In the Indian city, she is amazed at the way its ‘warm, bubbling pool of people’ drew her in ‘with its centripetal force, not seeming to care that she shares neither their history nor their blood’ (182). Asha, for her part, surprises herself by finding out, despite the many differences she keeps noticing between Mumbai and California, how quickly ‘this place is starting to feel like home’, and how easily members of Krishnan’s family, with whom she is staying, have made her one of them (203). Asha eventually discovers the orphanage in which Kavita had left her years ago and this leads her to trace her birth parents’ present home in a Mumbai slum from the adoption agency. But in the end, her realisation that they had preferred trying for a son to keeping her, that, in effect, they had discarded her and may not accept her this time around dissuades her from meeting them, even though she concludes that her mother had done her bit to ensure that she would survive by braving a journey from her village to the orphanage for her. She also learns to appreciate in Mumbai the extent of Somer’s love for her and the novel ends in her decision to go back to America. Secret Daughter thus ends on a positive note, for though Asha is never going to be united with her biological parents she is going to return to her adopted ones with a much more positive sense of belonging, having reconciled her Indian origins with her American upbringing. Ironically, she has re-discovered her ‘real’ home in the circular journey that had led her to India and back to America and the realisation that what was ultimately important for her was the love with which Somer and Krishnan had reared her in California. Homecoming, if it means going back to the home of her biological parents, will never be possible for her, but she will come back to her adopted home

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knowing that it has a resonance that makes it much more desirable than any other home she could think about. Unlike in The Pleasure Seekers, where Bean returns to Gujarat after looking for love futilely in London, at the end of this novel Asha is ready to return to California after having aborted her pursuit of her birth mother. But the two girls have in common the desire to return home; the movement across continents has made it obvious to them that the construction of home is a complex process involving reconciliation and ultimately return to the original home at journey’s end. Gowda’s novel, like Doshi’s, seems to imply that homes for some have to be validated through transnational and transcultural journeys that connect lost homes with acquired ones. Both novelists’ works quietly celebrate the renewal of ties with the original homeland of mobile Indians, although in Bean’s case ‘home’ is in India and in Asha’s the US. In their different journeys they affirm a point made by Simone Weill in her work, The Need for Roots, ‘To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognised need of the human soul’ (Weil: 43), although rooting for them involves returning because of the complexity introduced into their lives in the process of travel across continents and cultures. In other words, both Bean and Asha learn to negotiate through space and time in consolidating their identities. There is no certainty that comes from a sense of tradition for them, since for them it has to be re-invented, and because hybridity is their lot.

Roma Tearne’s The Swimmer: Migrancy and Provisional HomeMaking Roma Tearne, a diasporic of Sri Lankan origin, demonstrates the same concerns as the other diasporic writers with roots in India. Tearne’s novel begins in an East Anglian village with Ria’s story. She is an English poet leading a moribund life when the novel begins. Ria’s poetry had reflected till then not only the stillness of the fairly remote countryside that is the setting of the novel but also the emptiness of her life, estranged as she is from her husband and her only sibling, Jack. It is in this state that she meets the illegal Sri Lankan Tamil physician Ben Chinniah, who is spending his time working on a neighbouring farm while awaiting the results of his application for political asylum in Britain after having been illegally smuggled into the country by people specialising in moving people across continents for money. Ria glimpses Ben breaking into her house every now and then to steal food and even playing on her piano on the assumption that the house was empty. But instead of being put off by his actions, she is intrigued by his fleeting presence. Soon she plunges into a passionate affair with the young asy-

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lum seeker that stirs her from stupor and even brings new life to her poetry. Unfortunately for them, Ben is soon murdered by policemen who mistake him for a terrorist who had been slaughtering farm animals in the village to show the uselessness of the state’s immigration policies by attributing such acts to illegal immigrants. The second part of The Swimmer is the story of Ben’s mother, Anula, who comes to England after being informed of her son’s death in the East Anglian village. Seeing her son’s dead body traumatises her but in the midst of her bewilderment she meets Eric, a local eel fisherman who is not only friendly with Ria but also knew Ben and was sympathetic to his bid to survive in England. Eric provides the novel with its central symbol of eels, for they represent migrancy/swimming as a phenomenon of the natural world and a means through which species survive. As Eric puts it in explaining the annual migration of the eels that end up on his coast after surviving the long journey from Sargasso Sea every year: ‘There have always been migrants in the world … It’s one of the wonders of nature. But there’s a risk attached to the journey’ (168). As far as Eric is concerned, Ben, Ria and even he himself – who has lost a son in Afghanistan – are ‘only trying to survive’ (120) in a world full of ‘waiting rooms and stations and airports’, where there are no longer ‘fixed places that can be called home’ (171). To him the thing to do is ‘find home wherever we travel’ like the eels do, and he advises the grieving Anula to make her home ‘wherever those you love have walked’ (171). The message Anula takes from Eric, who, more than any other character of the novel, seems to represent the novelist’s perspective, is that migrancy is natural, home is provisional and to be built again and again, and return is an option for some and not all, but no less to be sought for, despite such knowledge. Like her son Ben, Anula enters what would seem to be a totally improbable love affair with Eric that heals her somewhat; unlike Ben, though, she returns to Sri Lanka. The message she takes back from her trip to England is that ‘it was a far better thing to travel, however briefly, amongst the shooting stars than never to see one’ (96). Even in a world full of borders and internecine conflicts, migrancy and returns were better options than stasis and suspicion of the other. The final part of The Swimmer is the story of Lydia, the daughter Ben had fathered from his brief affair with Ria. Orphaned at thirteen, Lydia is fascinated by the geese that wander across the coast annually. She wonders at ‘a group of birds [that had] returned … were they the same ones?’ (235). She finds herself in an increasingly fractious world, fraught with terrorism and full of people suspicious of ‘foreigners, illegal immigrants, asylum seekers’ (270), but the trajectory of her life makes her uniquely receptive to swimmers. Though she lives in a

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world full of terrorist attacks and rootless people, she realises at the end that love could carry someone like her through generations and a home could be built by the desire to break through barriers and build anew. The novel thus ends on a positive note, and in its last scene, Lydia glimpses her grandmother, Anula, coming out of the security barriers of the airport after no doubt having crossed immigration and customs checks put up for travellers. Now, and for the first time in her life, the orphaned Lydia feels she is ready to call England ‘home’, for knowing about her parentage and connecting with her roots has ‘at last’ made her ‘feel whole’ and enabled her to overcome alienation in the country of her birth’ (271). The Swimmer, then, is a thoughtful fictional meditation on making a home in a world where migrancy is inevitable and, indeed, a part of nature and where political conflicts disturb individual lives regularly. The novel assumes global circulation and flow as enabling homes, though it sees them as inevitably provisional. Like The Pleasure Seekers and Secret Daughter, this novel depicts fluidity as the modern condition and advocates a heterogeneous perception of home. All these three novels by writers of South Asian origin appear to be premised on the assumption that homes are to be constructed through continuous journeys across space and time, especially in a world of unceasing movement across borders and cultures.

Priya Basil’s The Obscure Logic of the Heart: Diaspora Indians in Search of Home Unlike Doshi’s The Pleasure Seekers, Gowda’s Secret Daughter, or Tearne’s The Swimmer, Priya Basil’s The Obscure Logic of the Heart is not a work that ends in reconciliation or a heart-warming return. It certainly does not conclude in the comic romantic mode, for its central characters, the Kenyan-born Sikh architect Anil Mayur and The English-born Indian Muslim human rights activist Lina Merali, fail to come together in a permanent bond at the end. The breakdown in their relationship is caused mainly by Lina’s chronic ambivalence about her identity and her failure to deconstruct ‘the obscure logic of the heart’. She fails to take a side when torn between Anil and her parents and is unable to force herself as well as her parents to break out of the mould imposed by their religious convictions. Nevertheless, the novel is worth considering in this chapter because of the way it demonstrates a widening of the parameters of fiction emanating from the subcontinent and because of the sophistication with which it portrays the transnational and transethnic desires of Anil and Lina (their names nicely mirror

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their elective affinities) to connect and build homes for themselves as diasporic Indians despite the odds stacked against them. The Obscure Logic of the Heart is, in essence, the ultimate Indian diaspora novel. Anil’s father, Pravar, is a very successful businessman who has become a key player in Kenyan affairs despite his Indian origins, while his mother Minnie is a prominent socialite. Both parents are very liberal in their orientation and have given their son all the space (as well as the money) he needs to develop himself creatively as he prepares to be an architect. Lina, on the other hand, comes from a conservative Indian Muslim family based in Birmingham. Her father, Shareef, is a lawyer and her mother Iman a housewife. Husband and wife hold on to their faith and insist that their daughters do so as well, despite their English upbringing. In Lina’s case, this and her education take her on a trajectory that propels her out of the orbit of her parents’ control for quite a while. As a consequence, Lina meets Anil in London and then is attracted by him to Kenya. Later, she takes up work in the country and in neighbouring Somalia so that she can be near him. She even does a stint at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. But despite the obvious cosmopolitanism that fuels their affair, Lina ultimately gives in to her parents’ insistence that she should not marry outside the faith. For the greater part of the novel, Anil’s devotion to Lina, his parents’ willingness to compromise for his sake, and Shareef’s soft spot for his daughter make the reader believe that the lovers would be able to overcome the barrier of religion. But Shareef and his wife hold on to the past as many first-generation diasporics tend to do, and Lina and Anil end up marrying different people. When they meet in a kind of coda in the final chapter of the novel, it is clear to readers that their marriages have not really worked, though it is equally clear to them that they will never be reunited again. In other words, Basil’s novel is a romance, albeit in the tragic mode. What makes reading it fascinating, however, is the way Lina and Anil keep gravitating towards a relationship for quite a while and continue to move close to each other across continents until her parents force her to terminate the relationship. In the coda of the novel they realise that though they will never come together again, they had changed decisively because of their relationship. Anil reveals to her how his architectural designs have changed and become more human because of her influence, and she declares to him: ‘You’ve influenced every single aspect of me – from my work to my interests, to the way I dress. Of course I can never be free of you, you’re part of me forever. You’re always there, even if you’re not’ (403). The Obscure Logic of the Heart reveals the multiple locations and global flow of the Indian diaspora. It shows the emotional complexity of re-

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lationships and difficult choices faced by Indians living abroad who want to transcend tradition and forge connections across cultures. It suggests that contradictions caused in the psyche of those who want to return even as it posits unexpected linkages and endorses intense interconnections between members of the Indian diasporic community. In its ending it makes readers wonder about the wisdom of adopting narrow perspectives of home in a world that is on the move and makes readers think about the cost of adopting the kind of overly rigid perspective on transethnic relationships held by Shareef and Iman. Basil seems to endorse heterogeneity even as she underscores the problems that lie in the way of those who dare to try to break free of shackles imposed by tradition and conventions. Ultimately, her work must be seen as valuable because of the way it depicts the complications that have to be negotiated by those Indians of diverse backgrounds who attempt to build homes on foreign soil and connect with each other and even their own kind in multiple locations overseas.

Conclusion: Home and Returning in Recent Indian English Diasporic Fiction Four novels, no doubt, constitute inadequate samples for anyone trying to spot new directions in the Indian/South Asian diasporic novel in English. But the books under discussion and others that could be named – for example, the DSC South Asian Literature Prize-winning novel by Shehan Karunatilaka, Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew (2010), a work based mostly in Sri Lanka but one in which the son of the protagonist ends up in New Zealand – indicate that the constitution of home is now increasingly involved with multiple locationalities and the idea of returning is becoming quite intriguingly central in the genre. What is apparent is that gone are the days of novels that were primarily unidirectional in that they either dealt with the estranged migrant in a distant land or the return of the prodigal to his home, chastened by the experience of expatriation. Home in not a few Indian novels now is constituted by global circulation, and the act of moving back and forth across borders and cultures appears with considerable frequency in them. In other words, home is no longer something left behind or built after abandoning one in the Indian subcontinent but constituted out of crisscrossing and transnational journeys. The central characters of these novels are quite peripatetic but their meanderings paradoxically lead to a stronger – albeit heterogeneous – perception of home. In other words, the idea of home has become increasingly complex in recent diasporic fiction and the movement of the protagonists of this

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genre has become circular. This is the case even when a novel is not – as are the ones discussed above – in the romance mode in that they have happy endings. Thus Priya Basil’s impressive recent novel, The Obscure Logic of the Heart (2010) ends in a near-tragic mode as its protagonists fail to come together to build a home despite moving across cultures and borders mainly because the heroine and her family are unable to negotiate the issue of identity and prefer continuous ambivalence to even provisional rootedness. But their failure here is instructive – the landscape of the Indian diaspora has become extremely fluid and provisional and the idea of return and home complex, and so failures as well as successes can be expected. But it is the very complexity of the situation that is perhaps attracting so many new novelists of Indian origin to deal with the mythos of return and the difficulties of building homes in a fluid world.

About the Editors and Contributors

The Editors Krishna Sen was educated at the University of Calcutta, India and the University of Kent. She is professor and former head of the Department of English, University of Calcutta, a founding member of the University’s Women’s Studies Research Centre and coordinator of her department’s UGC-sponsored Special Assistance Programme (Phase I). She was visiting professor at the University of Vermont in 2002, visiting fellow at the University of Korea at Seoul in 2005, and Leverhulme visiting professor at the University of Leeds in 2008. She has been invited to lecture at several British universities including SOAS, and at Stanford, Berkeley and the University of Oslo. She has been awarded the National Merit Scholarship, a Commonwealth Educational Fellowship to the University of Kent, a Fulbright-NEH fellowship at UCLA, and a Nippon Fellowship to the Salzburg Seminar. Her publications include Negotiating Modernity: Myth in the Theatre of Eliot, O’Neill and Sartre (Minerva); the entries on Amitav Ghosh and Amit Chaudhury in the Dictionary of Literary Biography (Thomson Gale); chapters in several books including A Companion to James Joyce (Blackwell), Defining and Re-Defining Diaspora (IDP, Oxford) and American Fiction of the 1990s (Routledge); critical editions of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House (Penguin India) and Amitav Ghosh’s The Calcutta Chromosome (Orient Longman), and scholarly articles in national and international journals. She is currently associated with the ‘Ibsen Between Cultures’ project of the University of Oslo, and is on the International Board of Editors of Feminist Studies in English Literature and Journal of Transnational American Studies. Rituparna Roy studied English Honours at Presidency College, Kolkata, and secured her Master’s and PhD degrees in English literature from Calcutta University. During her doctoral research in India, she was awarded fellowships under the UGC JRF (Junior Research Fellow) and later FIP (Faculty Improvement Programme). She was a lecturer for several years at Basantidevi College, affiliated with the University of Calcutta. She now resides in the Netherlands and was recently a post-

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doctoral fellow at the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS), Amsterdam. Her independent project there dealt with the representation of the Indian Partition of 1947 on the Bengal border in Indian English and Bangla literature, with a special focus on the refugee issue. She has published several papers in academic books and journals, and has been a regular contributor for the IIAS Newsletter. In 2010, Roy’s first book – South Asian Partition Fiction in English: From Khushwant Singh to Amitav Ghosh – was published by Amsterdam University Press. The present volume – Writing India Anew – is her second book.

The Contributors (in order of their chapters) Bill Ashcroft is an Australian Professorial Fellow at the University of New South Wales. He is founding exponent of post-colonial theory, coauthor of The Empire Writes Back, the first text to examine systematically the field of post-colonial studies. He is author and co-author of sixteen books, variously translated into five languages, including Postcolonial Transformation (London: Routledge 2001); On Post-colonial Futures (London: Continuum 2001); Caliban’s Voice (London: Routledge 2008), and over 150 chapters and papers. Shirley Chew is Professor Emerita of Commonwealth and Postcolonial Literatures at the University of Leeds, and currently visiting professor at the Division of English, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. She has published widely in the field of literature from Commonwealth countries with recent articles on Rudyard Kipling (2010), Michael Ondaatje (2010), Olive Senior (2011) and Wole Soyinka (2011). She has co-edited Unbecoming Daughters of the Empire (1993), Translating Life: Studies in Transpositional Aesthetics (1999), Re-constructing the Book: Literary Texts in Transmission (2001) and the Blackwell Concise Companion to Postcolonial Literature (2010). She is the founding editor of Moving Worlds: A Journal of Transcultural Writings (2001-…). Works in progress include a history of postcolonial literature to be published by Blackwell, and a work on literature of the Indian Ocean region. Nandini Bhattacharya is currently professor of English at Burdwan University, India. Her areas of interest are critical theory, genre studies, translation studies; nineteenth-century colonial Bengal studies, Indian writing in English, religion as culture studies, and Gandhian studies. She has published widely in the field of postcolonial literature. Some of her publications are R.K. Narayan’s The Guide: New Critical Perspectives (2004); ‘A Lovesong to our Mongrel Selves’: Problematics of Identity in the Novels of Salman Rushdie (2005); Critical Introduction to Mulk Raj

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Anand’s ‘Untouchable’ (2007) and Narratives of Frailty: Saratchandra Chattopadhaya and the Colonial Encounter (co-author, 2008). Paul Sharrad is associate professor of English Literature at the University of Wollongong, Australia, where he teaches postcolonial writing with a special interest in Indian English fiction and Pacific literature. He has monographs on Raja Rao, Albert Wendt and postcolonial literary history, has published widely in postcolonial journals, and is currently associate editor of the ‘New Literatures’ section of The Year’s Work in English Studies. Himansu S. Mohapatra obtained his PhD from the University of East Anglia, UK in 1990 for his thesis on British critic Raymond Williams. He is now professor of English at Utkal University, Bhubaneswar, Orissa, India. His recent work has been in the areas of comparative literature and cross-cultural criticism. He has been published in International Fiction Review, Toronto Review of Contemporary Writing Abroad, META, Wasafiri, Journal of Contemporary Thought and Economic and Political Weekly. He has had chapters in The Postcolonial Jane Austen, published by Routledge and in Colonialism, Modernity and Literature: A View from India, published by Palgrave Macmillan, New York and reprinted this July by Orient BlackSwan. His reviews of works of criticism and Indian literature in English translation have appeared in the literary pages of the leading national newspaper, The Hindu and in the Katmandu-based magazine Himal. Nandana Dutta is professor of English at Gauhati University, India. Her specialisation has been in American studies and her current research interests are in English studies and its development in Assam and India, colonial modernity, women’s writing and postcolonial literature. Her publications have been in areas like travel writing, American and postcolonial literature and culture, narrative, and identity issues in journals like Interventions, Global South, Journeys and Journal of Contemporary Theory. She is the author of Questions of Identity in Assam: Location, Migration and Hybridity (2012) and has edited with an introduction a collection of translations from folk tales in Assam titled Mothers, Daughters and Others: Representation of Women in the Folk Narratives of Assam (2012). Subir Dhar is professor of English, director of the School of Languages and Culture, and honorary director of the Tagore-Gandhi Centre at Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata, India. His publications include Burning Bright: William Blake and the Poetry of Imagination (2001), Romancing the Strange: The Fiction of Kunal Basu (edited volume, 2004),

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De-Scribings: Semiotics, Literature, Cultural Studies (2005), Renaissance and Modern Shakespeares (edited volume, 2008) and Rabindranath Tagore: New Translations in Ten Languages (compiled and edited, 2009). He is the editor of the Journal of the School of Languages and Culture, and has worked as the editor of the RBU Journal of the Department of English (Volumes X and XI) from 2008-10. Additionally, he has published around forty papers on literature and theory in academic books and journals. His current research interests are in the fields of postcolonial literatures, Tagore studies, popular culture and locational hermeneutics. Professor Dhar is also Honorary General Secretary of the Shakespeare Society of Eastern India, an external member of boards of studies in several Indian universities, and an executive committee member of the Indian Association for the Study of Australia (Eastern Region). Sreemati Mukherjee, Associate Professor, Department of English, Basanti Devi College, Kolkata, India, was recently a Fulbright Visiting Lecturer Fellow at San Diego State University, US. She is the author of Questions of Identity and Community (Saarbrucken: Lambert Academic Publishing, 2012), dealing with the interfaces of writing, historical context and gendered agencies within African and African-American postcolonial contexts. Her international publication on oral maneuvers in Maxine Hong Kingston, Simone Schwarz-Bart and Toni Morrison was published by Charles University and Litteraria Pragensia, Prague. She has also reviewed for Contemporary Women’s Writing. She has recently published an article on Virginia Woolf, Ashapurna Devi and Simone de Beauvoir in a University of Calcutta publication, published by Dasgupta and Company. Her other publications include writing on Bessie Head, Mariama Ba, Jean Rhys, Toni Morrison and Mahasweta Devi. Abhijit Gupta is associate professor of English at Jadavpur University, India. His chief area of research is the history of printing and publishing, and bibliography. He is the co-editor of the Book History in India series, of which two volumes have been published: Print Areas in 2004 and Moveable Types in 2008 (both by Permanent Black). A stand-alone volume on transnational book histories, New Word Order (Worldview, 2011), has recently come out. He was associate editor for South Asia for the two-volume Oxford Companion to the Book (2010). He has completed an electronic database and location register of all books printed in Bengali from 1801-1867 and is currently at work on the period 1868-1914. He has translated two volumes of Bengali children’s literature, Funny and Funnier (Scholastic, 2010) and Mad and Madder (Scholastic, 2011). He has translated into Bengali as well, including Tim Supple’s world production of A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. His other re-

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search areas include science fiction, graphic novels, crime fiction and the nineteenth century. He is currently working on two book-length studies, one on the Baptist Mission Press of Serampore, and the other a biography of the Indian wrestler Gobar Guha. Rimi B. Chatterjee is a novelist and an academic. Her third novel Black Light (Harper Collins India 2010) is a mystery story about the death of an artist. Her second, The City of Love (Penguin India, 2007) – a tale set against the backdrop of piracy and the spice trade in sixteenth-century Bengal – was shortlisted for the Vodafone Crossword Book Award. Her first, Signal Red (Penguin, 2005), was a near-future science fiction story about a defence scientist caught up in a state conspiracy. Empires of the Mind (OUP India, 2006), her academic history of Oxford University Press’s relations with India before 1947, won the SHARP de Long Book Prize for that year. She has also published short stories and poems. At present she teaches English at Jadavpur University, India and is working on her next novel, titled Antisense, and a graphic novel titled Kalpa: Shadowfalls. She writes a blog at http://rimibchatterjee.net/. Peter Liebregts graduated in Classics at the University of Utrecht and took his doctorate at Leiden University, The Netherlands, where he is currently working as a full professor of modern literature in English. His research interests focus on the Nachleben of the classical tradition and on modern literature, especially Modernist literature. Besides numerous articles on literature in English, including essays on Derek Walcott and J.M. Coetzee, he published Centaurs in the Twilight: W.B. Yeats’s Use of the Classical Tradition (1993) and Ezra Pound and Neoplatonism (2004), for which he received the Ezra Pound Society Prize. He was also the co-editor of ten books, including one on postcolonial literature, Tussen twee werelden [Between Two Worlds]. During the year 2008-2009, he was co-leader of the international theme group ‘The (Post) Modern Augustine’ at NIAS, the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences (Wassenaar), and he is the co-editor of The Oxford Guide to the Historical Reception of Augustine (Oxford University Press forthcoming). He is currently involved in the project The Oxford History of Classical Reception in English Literature. Fakrul Alam is professor of English at the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. He has been a Fulbright Scholar and a visiting associate professor at Clemson University, US; he has also been visiting professor at India’s Jadavpur University and Visva-Bharati. He was a member of the jury of the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for 2003 (Eurasia region) and recently an adjudicator for the DSC South Asian Prize for Litera-

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ture, 2011. He is also the author of Imperial Entanglements and Literature in English (Dhaka: writer’s ink, 2007); South Asian Writers in English (Detroit: Thomson Gale, 2006); Jibananada Das: Selected Poems (Dhaka: University Press Limited, 1999); Bharati Mukherjee (Boston: Twayne’s Contemporary United States Authors, 1996) and Daniel Defoe: Colonial Propagandist (Dhaka: University of Dhaka Publications, 1989). He has been editor of Dhaka University Studies, Part A (Humanities) and the Asiatic Society Journal. His most recent work, which he has co-authored with Radha Chakravarty, is The Essential Tagore (Boston: Harvard University Press, April 2011 and Kolkata, Visva-Bharati, August 2011). His translation of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s Unfinished Memoirs will be published shortly by University Press Ltd. in Bangladesh and Penguin Books elsewhere.

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Index

Adiga, Aravaind 15, 18, 130, 133 134, 144 The White Tiger 21, 29, 36, 129 144 Ahmed, Aijaz 11, 82, 146 allegory 84 85 Amar Chitra Katha 207 208 Anand, Mulk Raj 21 22, 99, 134 135, 143, 247 Anderson, Benedict 81 Arabian Nights, The 171 172 Asimov, Isaac 192 Basil, Priya 24, 254 256 Basu, Kunal 17, 20, 125 The Miniaturist 21, 111 123 Basu, Partha 103 Basu, Samit (Turbulence) 199 201 ‘Battala/ Bat tala’ books 65 67, 73, 206 Bhabha, Homi K. 48, 81 Bhagat, Chetan 22, 161 169 2 States 163 The 3 Mistakes of My Life 162 163 164, 166 167 Five Point Someone 17, 162 164, 166 One Night @ the Call Centre 162 163, 166 167 Revolution 2020 163 164, 167 168 Bhagavad Gita 165 Bonbibi Johuranama 19, 59 62, 65 66 Bose, Sugata 49

Canterbury Tales, The 171 172 Chabria, Priya Sarukkai (Generation 14) 198 199 Chakrabarty, Dipesh 83, 123 Chatterjee/Chattopadhyay, Bankimchandra 31, 68 Chatterjee, Partha 37, 83 84, 151 153 Chatterjee, Rimi B. (Signal Red) 194 196 Clarke, Arthur C. 192, 202 class 38 41 ‘contact language’ 54 57 Covey, Stephen 165 Dasgupta, Rana 22 23, 171, 186 Tokyo Cancelled 22, 171, 175 186 Decameron, The 171 De, Shobhaa 16 de Certeau, Michel 145, 147, 149, 156 157 Desai, Anita 146, 149, 152, 155 Desai, Kiran 15, 18 The Inheritance of Loss 29, 35 36, 124, 129 Desani, G.V. 100 Deshpande, Shashi 146, 150, 152 Small Remedies 147 148, 151, 155 159 Dickens, Charles 133 discourse of ‘desh’, the 75 78, 87 dobhashi (two language) Bengali literature 64, 67 68, 73 Doshi, Tishani 24, 249 250 Dutt, Kylash Chunder 190 Dutt, Shoshee Chunder 190’

278 erotica, Indian English (2000 2010) 16 17 fiction from India’s North East 15, 146, 149 Fischer Lichte, Erika 14 Flores, Angel 173 Freud, Sigmund 82, 84, 173 Friedman, Thomas L. 132

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Holmes, Sherlock 103 104 Huggan, Graham 109 Hussain, Maqbool Fida 121 Indian English diasporic fiction 12, 14, 24, 47, 108, 247 249, 256 257 ‘Inspi Lit’ 22, 161, 165 169 Jameson, Fredric 11, 82 85 Joseph, Manu 136 137

Gandhi, M.K. 18, 46 Hind Swaraj 30, 32, 37, 79 Gernsback, Hugo (Amazing Stories) 189 Ghosh, Amitav 10, 15, 48 49, 96, 105 106 The Calcutta Chromosome 192 193 The Hungry Tide 13, 19, 59 72, 102 The Sea of Poppies 19, 49 57 The Shadow Lines 10, 33 34, 76, 151 Gide, Andre´ 173 global sensibility of contemporary Indian English fiction, the 44 46 Gogol, Nikolai 233 236, 240 241 Gowda, Shilpi Somaya 24, 250 252 graphic novel, Indian English (2000 2010) 24, 209 219 The Believers (A.Sultan PP/Partha Sengupta) 210, 222 Corridor (Sarnath Banerjee) 209 210, 221 Kari (Amruta Patil) 217 218, 225 on B.R. Ambedkar (Bhimayana) 215, 223 224 on Mahabharata, Ramayana and Hindu myths 212 214 on outer space (Appupen’s Mooonward) 218, 226 227 Guenther, Irene 172, 187

Mahabharata 20, 95 96, 99, 108 Marichjhapi 58 59, 69 72 Marx, Karl 82, 84 Meadows Taylor, Philip 103 106 Minh ha, Trinh T. 171 Miranda, Mario 206 Moorcock, Michael (New Worlds) 189 Morrison, Toni 171 ‘Mother India’ trope 46, 75 Motwani, J.K. 19, 45 Mukherjee, Bharati 16, 24, 76, 247 Muslim Dalit culture of South Bengal 62 64, 68 Muthyala, John 14

Hariharan, Githa 146

Naipaul, V.S. 47 48

Kakar, Sudhir 138 Khair, Tabish 11, 20 Babu Fictions 11, 141 The Thing about Thugs 103 108 Kubin, Alfred 172 173 Kunzru, Hari (Transmission) 29, 36 37 Lahiri, Jhumpa 24, 231 234, 245 The Namesake 17, 24, 232 245 Lau, Lisa 154 Laxman, R.K. 206 Lefebvre, Henri 145, 147 little narratives as grand narrative, the 147 151

279

INDEX

nation, the 11, 18 19, 30, 33 34, 37 38, 41 43, 78 80, 191 neoliberal epiphany 132 Ortega y Gasset, Jose´ 172, 187 Padmanabhan, Manjula 154 Escape 196 197 Partition of India, the 11, 124 125 Pattanaik, Devdutt 20 The Pregnant King 96 100, 102 postcolonialism 9 11, 13, 100, 108, 123, 130 Post Orientalism 81, 91 92 Post postcolonialism 13 14 Ramakrishna, Sri 188 Ramanujan, A.K. 48 Ray, Kalyan 20 Eastwords 100 103, 109 Ray, Satyajit 68, 103, 125 126, 192 Roh, Franz 172, 187 Roy, Arundhati 18 The God of Small Things 29, 34 35, 42, 95, 129, 152 Roy, Dwijendralal 75 Rushdie, Salman 10, 15, 18, 20, 48, 121 Midnight’s Children 9 10, 15, 18, 29 30, 32 33, 86, 102, 129 Shalimar the Clown 20, 85 89, 124 Step Across This Lone 86 Sahgal, Nayantara 149 150 Said, Edward 48, 91 92, 95 Saint Augustine 165 science fiction, Indian English 23

in the nineteenth century 190 191 in the nineteen nineties 193 194 in the twenty first century 16, 194 202 postcolonial science fiction 192 193, 201 post Independence 191 192 Sen, Amartya 79 Sen, Orijit (River of Stories) 208 209 Seth, Vikram 134 Sharma, Robin 165 Shih, Shu mei 81 Snow, C.P. 192 Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty 81, 107 108 Sundar Rajan, Rajeshwari 152 154 Surti, Abid 206 Suvin, Darko 193, 202 Tagore, Rabindranath 18, 46, 79 80 Nationalism 30 31, 79 Tearne, Roma 24, 252 254 thriller, Indian English (2000 2010) 16 Todorov, Tzvetan 173 174, 187 Tressell, Robert 133 Unny, E.P. 206 Varughese, E. Dawson 12 Vassanji, M.G. 15 The Assassin’s Song 20, 89 91 Vijayan, O.V. 206 Virgin Comics 211 Voloshinov, V.N. 84 ‘writing anew’ 13 15

Publications Series

Monographs Hu Ping: The Thought Remolding Campaign of the Chinese Communist Party-state Monographs 7, 2012 (ISBN 978 90 8964 410 7) Deborah E. Tooker: Space and the Production of Cultural Difference Among the Akha Prior to Globalization. Channeling the Flow of Life Monographs 6, 2012 (ISBN 978 90 8964 325 4) Khun Eng Kuah-Pearce: Rebuilding the Ancestral Village. Singaporeans in China Monographs 5, 2011 (ISBN 978 90 8964 332 2) Euis Nurlaelawati: Modernization, Tradition and Identity. The Kompilasi Hukum Islam and Legal Practice in the Indonesian Religious Courts Monographs 4, 2010 (ISBN 978 90 8964 088 8) Diah Ariani Arimbi: Reading Contemporary Indonesian Muslim Women Writers. Representation, Identity and Religion of Muslim Women in Indonesian Fiction Monographs 3, 2009 (ISBN 978 90 8964 089 5) Sam Wong: Exploring ‘Unseen’ Social Capital in Community Participation. Everyday Lives of Poor Mainland Chinese Migrants in Hong Kong Monographs 2, 2007 (ISBN 978 90 5356 034 1) Marleen Dieleman: The Rhythm of Strategy. A Corporate Biography of the Salim Group of Indonesia Monographs 1, 2007 (ISBN 978 90 5356 033 4)

Edited Volumes Jajat Burhanudin and Kees van Dijk (eds.): Islam in Indonesia. Contrasting Images and Interpretations Edited Volumes 16, 2013 (ISBN 978 90 8964 423 7) Sebastian Bersick and Paul van der Velde (eds.): The Asia-Europe Meeting: Contributing to a New Global Governance Architecture. The Eighth ASEM Summit in Brussels (2010) Edited Volumes 15, 2011 (ISBN 978 90 8964 343 8) Derek Heng and Syed Muhd Khairudin Aljunied (eds.): Singapore in Global History Edited Volumes 14, 2011 (ISBN 978 90 8964 324 7) Philip Hirsch and Nicholas Tapp (eds.): Tracks and Traces. Thailand and the Work of Andrew Turton Edited Volumes 13, 2010 (ISBN 978 90 8964 249 3) Philip F. Williams (ed.): Asian Literary Voices. From Marginal to Mainstream Edited Volumes 12, 2010 (ISBN 978 90 8964 092 5) M. Parvizi Amineh (ed.): State, Society and International Relations in Asia. Reality and Challenges Edited Volumes 11, 2010 (ISBN 978 90 5356 794 4) Huhua Cao (ed.): Ethnic Minorities and Regional Development in Asia. Reality and Challenges Edited Volumes 10, 2009 (ISBN 978 90 8964 091 8) Khun Eng Kuah-Pearce and Gilles Guiheux (eds.): Social Movements in China and Hong Kong. The Expansion of Protest Space Edited Volumes 9, 2009 (ISBN 978 90 8964 131 1) Erich Kolig, Vivienne SM. Angeles and Sam Wong (eds.): Identity in Crossroad Civilisations. Ethnicity, Nationalism and Globalism in Asia Edited Volumes 8, 2009 (ISBN 978 90 8964 127 4) Friederike Assandri and Dora Martins (eds.): From Early Tang Court Debates to China’s Peaceful Rise Edited Volumes 7, 2009 (ISBN 978 90 5356 795 1)

Derek Heng and Syed Muhd Khairudin Aljunied (eds.): Reframing Singapore. Memory – Identity – Trans-Regionalism Edited Volumes 6, 2009 (ISBN 978 90 8964 094 9) Hans Ha¨gerdal (ed.): Responding to the West. Essays on Colonial Domination and Asian Agency Edited Volumes 5, 2009 (ISBN 978 90 8964 093 2) Marianne Hulsbosch, Elizabeth Bedford and Martha Chaiklin (eds.): Asian Material Culture Edited Volumes 4, 2009 (ISBN 978 90 8964 090 1) Milan J. Titus and Paul P.M. Burgers (eds.): Rural Livelihoods, Resources and Coping with Crisis in Indonesia. A Comparative Study Edited Volumes 3, 2008 (ISBN 978 90 8964 055 0) Khun Eng Kuah-Pearce (ed.): Chinese Women and the Cyberspace Edited Volumes 2, 2008 (ISBN 978 90 5356 751 7) Sebastian Bersick, Wim Stokhof and Paul van der Velde (eds.): Multiregionalism and Multilateralism. Asian-European Relations in a Global Context Edited Volumes 1, 2006 (ISBN 978 90 5356 929 0)