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Rereading Indian Literature: The White Tiger and Narcopolis

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  • 1. Rereading Indian Writing in EnglishThe White Tiger – Arvind Adiga Narcopolis – Jeet ThayilNation, Narrative & Novel Tue, 6th Nov., 2012 ASC, Uni. Of Mumbai, Mumbai Dilip Barad Dept. of English M.K. Bhavnagar University Bhavnagar – Gujarat dilipbarad@gmail.com www.dilipbarad.com
  • 2. Let us discuss . . .• Creative writing vs/and criticism!• Tagore and Gandhi: The idea of Nation• Umashankar Joshi – The Idea of Indian Literature• E V Ramakrishnan – Relocating …• Nation & Narration: Homi K. Bhabha• Farrukh Dhondy – nation and novel• Terry Eagleton: Political Criticism• Cultural criticism – four goals• Narrative structure - Memory Novels• Rereading texts: Politics of awards/rewards/western audience
  • 3. Tagore & Gandhi• Both Rabindranath Tagore and Gandhi were against the nation-state – Swaraj vs Suraj• For Tagore, the concept of India was not territorial but ideational i.e. India for him was not a geographical expression but an idea.• His view of nationalism was more about spreading a homogenised universalism than seeking political freedom for India.• Gandhi – ‘our struggle for freedom is to bring peace in the world’.
  • 4. Umashankar Joshi – ‘The Idea of Indian Literature’• Umashankar Joshi – The Idea of Indian Literature – “Indianness is rather an ongoing search for, a vision of, a pattern of Indian literature and culture to which the literature and culture in every part of the country is more or less converging”.• “… We shall always be viewing the composite identity of Indian literature within the parameters of the composite culture of India.”• “…True Indianness transcends India and genuine Indianisation is a synonym for humanization.”• Indian ethos is one of synthesis rather than exclusiveness … plea for swaraj in ideas.• K. Satchidanandan – ‘Umashankar Joshi and the Idea of Indian Literature’ – Indian Literature 268)
  • 5. E. V. Ramakrishnan – relocate Indian literature• relocate literature in the context of caste, religion, region, gender etc… issues of everyday struggles… Literature is shaped by the material condition of society.”
  • 6. Homi K. Bhabha: ‘Introduction: Narrating the Nation’ (Nation and Narration)• Nation – the modern Janus: the uneven development of capitalism inscribes both progression and regression, political rationality and irrationality in the very genetic code of the nation – it is by nature, ambivalent.• Nation is narrated in ‘terror of the space or race of the Other; the comfort of social belonging, the hidden injuries of class, the customs of taste, the powers of political affiliation; the sense of social order, the sensibility of sexuality; the blindness of bureaucracy, the strait insight of institutions; the quality of justice, the commonsense of injustice; the langue of the law and the parole of the people’.
  • 7. Homi K. Bhabha: ‘Introduction: Narrating the Nation’ (Nation and Narration)• It is to explore the Janus-faced ambivalence of language itself in the construction of the Janus-faced discourse of the nation.• Nation is an agency of ambivalent narration that holds ‘culture’ at its most productive position, as a force for ‘subordination, fracturing, diffusing, reproducing as much as producing, creating, forcing and guiding’.
  • 8. Homi K. Bhabha: ‘Introduction: Narrating the Nation’ (Nation and Narration)• The ambivalent, antagonistic perspective of nation as narration will establish the cultural boundaries of the nation so that they may be acknowledged as ‘containing’ thresholds of meaning that must be crossed, erased and translated in the process of cultural production.• What kind of cultural space is the nation with its transgressive boundaries and its interruptive’ interiority?
  • 9. Farrukh Dhondy: The Nation and the Novel (3 Nov, 2012 – ToI)• How is South Asian writing in a universal human context to be evaluated? Perhaps as all literature has ever been? The European short story was born of the parable and the fable.• The novel in England, France, Russia and Germany was, in an important way, born of a crisis of religious faith.
  • 10. F.D.: Nation & Novel• when a culture ceases to live and assess itself by the laws of Moses or Jesus, when Dorothea of Middlemarch or Anna Karenina or Emma Bovary feel what they feel and do what they do, they can call upon no strictly biblical justification.• It takes George Eliot, Tolstoy and Gustave Flaubert to construct a form which captures those nuances of feeling and brings an inclusive sympathy to the possibilities of human and social behaviour.
  • 11. F.D.: Nation & Novel• The novel in the European context was called upon to supply in narrative the definition of love, faith, loyalty, generosity, compassion, priggishness, snobbery, war, peace and every other abstract noun in the dictionary.• It took up where faith left off and did the opposite of what heroic myths used to do. Some European writing, the novels of Dostoevsky and the philosophical works of Nietzsche took this crisis of faith and the death of myth head on, asking and explicitly answering questions.
  • 12. F.D.: Nation & Novel• And South Asia?• Of which necessity was South Asian writing in English born?• The obvious answer is nationalism and the struggle for Independence.• The influence of the writing, though widely translated, suffered from the limitation of being in English.
  • 13. F.D.• At the same time as this contribution to nationalism was formulated, a far more influential media was coming into its own.• Film became the lingua franca of India and it exclusively dedicated itself to the various purposes and themes of nationalism, asserting Indias great past (Raja Harishchandra), and following a Gandhian agenda in attacking untouchability (Achhut Kanya) and elevating the status of women (Razia Begum).
  • 14. F.D.• The cinematic definitions created and were bound by myth. Modernity, the urbanisation of India, new institutions, industrialisation, global imports, rampant capitalism and corruption (whew!) were changing India and though the myths persisted, were modified and increasingly seen to be fantasy or escapism.
  • 15. F.D.• The task then of the new cinema and of South Asian writing was to distance oneself from the myth and describe and dissect the personalities and possibilities of existence that emerge.
  • 16. Terry Eagleton: Political Criticism• “There is no need to drag politics into literary theory(text), it has been there from the beginning.”• This should not surprise – for any body of theory (text) concerned with human meaning, value, language, feeling and experience will inevitably engage with broader, deeper beliefs about the nature of human individuals and societies, problems of power and sexuality, interpretations of past history, versions of the present and hopes for the future.• Literary Theory: An Introduction
  • 17. Cultural Studies• Four Goals:• First, Cultural Studies transcends the confines of particular discipline such as literary criticism or history.• Second, Cultural Studies is politically engaged.• Thirdly, Cultural Studies denies the separation of “high’ and “low” or elite and popular culture.• Finally, Cultural Studies analyzes not only the cultural work, but also the means of production.• A Hand book of Critical Approaches to Literature – Wilfred Guerin, Labor et all.
  • 18. Narrative – Memory Novel: Dipesh Chakrabarty• One needs to understand the relation between memory and identity”, the “shared structure of a sentiment”, “the sense of trauma and its contradictory relation to the question of the past”.• Trauma is memory.• One of principal arguments seems to be that “the narrative structure of the memory of trauma works on a principle opposite to that of any historical narrative”.• According to him, “a historical narrative leads up to the event in question, explaining why it happened, and why it happened when it did, and this is possible only when the event is open to explanation. What cannot be explained belongs to the marginalia of history.”• ‘Memories of Displacement: The Poetry and Prejudice of Dwelling’ in Habitation of Modernity, pp 116-17.
  • 19. The White Tiger• Title: Symbol of White tiger in Chinese myth• Reading text:• Blurb• Pg. 6, 8, 10,12.• You see, I am in light now, but I was born and raised in Darkness . . . Please understand, Your Excellency, that India is two countries in one: an India of Light, and an India of Darkness. The Ocean brings light to my country. .. But the river brings darkness to India – the black river. (read pg. 15)• Pg. 19: Inside, you will find an image of a saffron- coloured creature, half man half monkey…
  • 20. • Stories of rottenness and corruption are always the best stories, aren’t they?• Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.• “But this is your fate if you do your job well – with honesty, dedication, and sincerity, the way Gandhi would have done it…. I did my job with near total dishonesty, lack of dedication, and insincerity…:• Read pg. 63, 64. about caste• ‘The villages are so religious in the Darkness”• Democracy! Pg. 96-102 “I am India’s most faithful voter, and I still have not seen the inside of a voting booth’.• Pg. 318:all the skin-whitening creams sold in the markets of India won’t clean my hands again.• Conclusion: pg. 319-320 – I will never say I made a mistake that night in Delhi when I slit my master’s throat.
  • 21. Narcopolis• Bombay: I found Bombay andopium, the drug and the city, thecity of opium and the drug Bombay.”• Drug literature – Opium: symbolically represented as the idea of religion, films, sex, freedom, memory and dreams.• The narrative is true to its subject matter – opiated, hazy, viewed through foggy smoke, dream like sequences, stream of consciousness at another level.• . . .Soporo’s book, within Lee’s father’s book (Zheng He), within the story of Lee’s life, as told to Dimple, within the pipe’s narration, as told to narrator Dom, within the book Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil. (Interview_2)
  • 22. Dimple/Zeenat• The story of eunuch Dimple / Zeenat: Pg. 11 & 289• Like Bombay’s, Dimple’s name does not remain fixed. She was originally (re)named after the beautiful Dimple Kapadia, of the film Bobby (the plot of which rings with familiar themes). She is (re)renamed, again after a film star— this time Zeenat Aman—by Rashid, who takes her to a movie (Hare Rama Hare Krishna), in which “Zeenie” plays a character who has renamed herself Janice and run away from home.• Again, we have this undercurrent of exile and separation. In fact, the word hijra is etymologically related to the Arabic hjr, which refers to leaving one’s tribe.• Sarah Van Bonn: SouthAsianJournal:Literary Review
  • 23. Dimple/Zeenat• Rashid gives Dimple a new name and a new identity when he asks her to begin wearing a burka.• For a while she enjoys slipping between her two identities.• Dimple has always found some power in deciding what to wear—be it burka, sari, or “trousers because it allowed her . . . to act like a man when she wanted to.” She recognizes that “clothes are costumes, or disguises.• The image has nothing to do with the truth. “And what is truth? Whatever you want it to be. Men are women and women are men. Everybody is everything.”• Sarah Van Bonn: SouthAsianJournal:Literary Review
  • 24. • Dimple moves between religions, genders, states of reality, time, clothes, names, roles.• She dreams she is rich; she identifies with Jesus because he is poor.• She learns to use new languages: teaching herself English, learning to swear in Cantonese from Mr. Lee.• Sarah Van Bonn: SouthAsianJournal:Literary Review
  • 25. • Dimple is not even entirely a woman, and still she is defined by men, a victim of their violence, forced into prostitution, name changed, named (twice!) after an object of beauty, at times required to wear a hijab.• Narcopolis tells the stories of, as Thayil puts it, “the degraded, the crushed, whose voices were unheard or forgotten, but whose lives were as deserving of honor as anyone else’s.”
  • 26. No strong female characters…• … excepting Dimple, who though in many ways female, is biologically male and doesn’t see herself as solely a woman.• The only other female characters we see are wives, girlfriends, prostitutes, many of whom are literally in cages, wives who are compared to whores, whores who are secretly wives, and a few poor souls taken out by the pathaar maar.• Even the few women who assert some autonomy or sense of control (Mr. Lee’s love, or Jamal’s Fahreen) are defined by their relationships to the male characters— are in one way or another under the thumb of men.• That’s how it realistically was, and is, in a male dominated society like the one the novel depicts.
  • 27. Reading novel . . .listening writer . . .• Dimple’s traumatic memory pg.66• Mughals – pg. 274• Suicide bomber – pg. 275• Trauma of memory: pg. 275-276• Yusuf khan pg. 282• Gandhi: pg. 286.• Soporo – freewill in action (pg. 249) – Patthar-maar• The chinese digression – Story of Mr. Lee – postcolonial masterstroke (pg. 118)• Jeet Thayil’s Interview (10 mins)• Interview_2
  • 28. Thank You!www.dilipbarad.com

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