Identity, Homelessness and Isolation in “The Room on the Roof”


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Identity, Homelessness and Isolation in “The Room on the Roof”

  1. 1. Asian Literary Supplement (ISSN 2278-5051) July-August | 1Identity, Homelessness and Isolation in “The Room on the Roof”Gulnaz FatimaPhD Research ScholarAligarh Muslim UniversityThe Room on the Roof is an adolescent novel, written by Ruskin Bond, an Anglo Indian writer. Novelwas first published in 1956. The Room on the Roof was written in Post-war period it explores the concerns ofidentity formation, alienation, and rebellion against restrictions, personal autonomy, and self dependence.Room on the Roof is a semi-autobiographical novel in which Rusty, the protagonist of the novel, like RuskinBond, seems to have assimilated the Indian culture and made it his own. The Room on the Roof, in contrast,explores the themes of home, of isolation from both England and India being charged between the twocultures.The Room on the Roof can be analyzed critically in Postcolonial Diaspora because Post colonialism, inacademic studies can be called an interdisciplinary movement that attempts to reshape the past, the presentand the future of colonized countries. Its primary aim is to analyze the lost identities, labors, languages andcultures. The concept of nationalism, race, identity, and language, marginality are all being included in it.Ambivalent, was the name given by Homi Bhabha to the colonized’s state, which means a bedlam or uncertain.Homi Bhabha with his theory hybridity talks about the improbability of the direct mental synthesis of theselves and dictated identities. The model presented by the colonizer does not meet the colonizedimmediately, the colonized employ the model, as he perceives it, and namely the constructio n of the self in thetrue sense of the word is not possible for him. As identities are dynamic and subject to change, even if theelements that constitute the given identity are stable, this time they yield to the time. The identity issue ismostly handled within the sphere of the colonized. However, the colonial identity goes beyond the colonized.It is, as Homi Bhabha puts, between colonized and colonizer. The issue is aligned with the colonized as thecolonized in the colonial system is the victim, yet, when we make an analytical reading we shall bear witnessthat the colonizer is victim too, in that he also faces with the same problem.The colonialist identity for the colonizers erupts with their arrival to the colonial lands. On arrivingthey go into a prompt change of identity. Being an average man in his own country, the colonizer suddenlyturns into a dominate state, or superior but they also face with the same problem of identity. The youngergeneration of the colonizers, born into the colonial state, identified as a colonizer and destined to be superior,Just as the colonized is identified as inferior, timid, and others at their own land. In the colonial systemcolonizer and colonized both have to struggle for their identity. The colonizers, although living amongcolonized, actually do not know them and don’t bother to know about their own morals tradition culture andlife style.As a writer, Ruskin Bond does not have a sense of superiority over Indians nor does he apologize forEuropeans in his stories. He seems comfortable with both of the cultures. There is no sense of tensionbetween the two cultures of East and West. He lived in India in both colonial and postcolonial period and as aresult of post-colonialism and globalization, his contacts with different cultures increased with the passage oftime which he portrays in his stories. He is not one of the peoples who react in one of two ways, assimilationor syncretism. Assimilation is the full acceptance of the other culture while syncretism or union is acombination of the two cultures which a person chooses which seems him best from each culture. All thisconcepts he portrays in his postcolonial stories.Novel Portrays the historical period of the late 20th century as the European empire of the nineteenthand early twentieth century broke up and former colonies achieved their political independence. Criticalanalysis of the novel throws light on the debates concerning multiculturalism, Diasporas, racism, andethnicity as the mass migrations in the post-war period by formerly colonized peoples have radicallytransformed the cultures and societies of their former masters. The critical analysis undertaken in The Roomon the Roof also centers on the nature of colonial discourse that how the incidents forced to think about theself-other relationship, and how this binary construction of identity affects the post-war life of people whowere forced to migrate from their own countries by a social hierarchy or hegemonic power.The Room on the Roof is a combination of determination, success, aloofness, expatriation,abandonment, nationality, traditions, and modernity. Added to these struggles, there is issue of self-identity
  2. 2. Asian Literary Supplement (ISSN 2278-5051) July-August | 2that stem from the elaboration of cultural adaptation. Tension of Rusty in The Room on the Roof is home,identification of the self and other. The novel is written in first person narration and presents the incidentswhich the young author was experiencing while writing the novel. In the novel, all incidents and experiencesare presented through the story of Rusty, an Anglo-Indian young boy. The Room on the Roof attacks thepersisting racial and colonial attitudes of the Europe through seventeen-year-old Rusty and his search for hisown “identity”, "home", and “belonging” in the new India, The same problem through which Ruskin Bondsuffered in his early age when he was struggling for his career.Rusty as a young boy, is deprived of parental love, Rusty is brought up by one of his guardians, Mr.Harrison. He studies in a reputed English medium public school in India. Rusty lives in the detached areawhich was under British Empire in Dehra, because his guardian Mr. Harrison never liked Indian and theirneighborhood. This area was isolated away from noisy markets of the city. Mr. Harrison’s dominating colonialattitude did not allowed Rusty to mix-up with Indians. Mr. John Harrison never considered Indian as his ownpeople, although he lived in India but he always had dual attitude toward identity and culture, one was hisown and another was of others or of Indians. Mr. John Harrisons house was built in an English manner,having a pleasant garden at the front of the house following the tradition of Europe.In the story although India is free now, yet Mr. Harrison never left his domineering nature of racialsuperiority. He was a strict and unaffected man, who always tries to instill a sense of racial superiority inRusty also so that he also began to see Indians as “others” or backward people. Mr. Harrison does not leaveIndia, even though India is no more a colony of the United Kingdom now in 1956. Many British have goneback to make their career, as the author narrates:“The community consisted mostly of elderly people; the others had left soo n afterIndependence. These few stayed because they were too old to start life again in anothercountry…” (13)Like so many elder European, Mr. Harrison stays on after Independence either because of business sake orbecause he is used to the comforts that India can provide. Mr. Harrison represents the domineering nature ofcolonizers, who always think about their own culture race and society to be superior to others. Colonizersnever considered inhabitants as the owners and never care about their culture, language, and traditions; eventhey did not bother to call the land with their names, they called the colonies as “New World” for them. In thenovel the character of Mr. Harrison shows this type of domineering nature of colonizers.Rusty was center of attraction in the community because he was the only young boy among hisneighbors. His guardian, Mr. John Harrison is one among those rigid British, who dislikes Indians and theirway of living .There is a separate market for the Anglo-Indians and Rusty is not permitted by Mr. Harrison togo to Indian bazaar. A sweeper boy, an untouchable, is the only young Indian whom Rusty met and smiled inhis life so long.Rusty is keen on exploring the Indian bazaar and the other famous side of Dehra, To fulfill his desireRusty makes frequent visits to the bazaar secretly and finds some new good Indian friends, but this secretvisits are discovered by his guardian. As a result his Anglo Indian guardian throws him out of the house andhe becomes a homeless and goes to reside with his newly friend Somi for a few days. When Rusty wants tobecome financially independent, Somi finds him a job teaching English to Kishan Kapoor, a spoiled child ofKapoor’s family, in exchange for room and meal. For the first time in his life, Rusty gets what he desiresmost—a room of his own, his freedom, privacy, a man of his own and his dream of becoming a writer. Heaccepts the job and becomes Kishans tutor.Novel throws light on the postcolonial era when no one was feeling secure, colonies were announcedindependent and people were forced to migrate to search their own identity. It was the problem not only ofIndian but many other countries were also struggling for regaining their lost identity. Colonizer and colonizedboth were suffering at this time in different ways as newly dependent people were searching for their owncultures of past and colonizers were suffering from homelessness as they have been living in colonies for longtime or by their birth and they started to assume these colonies as their own home. And Rusty was one ofthem.Rusty who is also an Anglo Indian, is a diffident and isolated boy who lived an unsocial withdrawnlife. He feels disjointed from his environment: he has no friend, neither British nor Indian, and his onlyacquaint was an Indian who was an untouchable sweeper boy. Rusty although has a British origin yet hesuffer as others not only because he was an orphan but also for his Interest in Indians, in Indian festivals andIndian tradition. He passes his life in his guardian’s house as a subaltern he does not have freedom to speak or
  3. 3. Asian Literary Supplement (ISSN 2278-5051) July-August | 3to defined himself before his guardian. He was living a life in which real enjoy of life was forbidden to him.Because for Rusty the real world was beyond the Clock Tower as author narrates:“Clock Tower lay the bazaar and in the bazaar lay India. On the other side of the Clock Tower began life itself.And all three-the bazaar, and India and life itself-were forbidden”. (18) At the starting of the story, Rusty runswithin the constricted domain of the European inhibited community, a world of perquisite and conveniencethat is not rooted in the soil of India. It was like another part of India which was still dependent. Rusty wasliving like a slave everything was forbidden to him. He finds relief and escape from his confined Anglo- Indianworld through the dreams.Rusty takes help of defenses of psychoanalysis theory, as Sigmund Freud concluded that ourunfulfilled desires comes true in dreams in the same way Rusty was dreaming to get rid of his bitter present.He loves to live in dreams as author narrates: "He walked aimlessly along the road, over the hillside, broodingon the future, or dreaming of sudden and perfect companionship, romance and heroics;" (14)Novel brings down the conventions of the colonial novel as colonial literature was set on suchperception that educated and cultured colonized must be ignored in the most of the colonial novel written byEuropeans, as they are inferior in everything. Instead, Indian characters were stamped as simple, irrational,duffer, and lacking in self-discipline; they are portrayed as they can be loyal and faithful servants only notmasters at all, to emphasize that natives are inferior to colonizers and they only fit to serve the superior. Butby lampooning Mr. John Harrison, a British character in the novel, Ruskin Bond revokes this tradition ofcolonial novels and presents a variety of interesting Indian characters like Somi, Ranveer, Kishan, and Meena,and Mr. Kapoor. Rustys friends are genuinely caring, and their interracial friendship is based on equality andmutual respect. Far from depicting Indians as subservient or dependent, Rustys only hope of survival awayfrom his Anglo-Indian world lies in the help he receives from his Indian friends and their families. Somi offershim all the things he possesses when he was alone in the world and ignored by his own people. The gentlefriendship of Somi and his friends not only encourages him to break the barriers between Indian andEuropean section but also the illogical statement of colonials of not to mix with natives. As his guardian, Mr.Harrison always told teach him: "You belong here, to this house, this road, and these people. Dont go whereyou dont belong" (24).Rusty loves India and its people and wants to assimilate in this culture so he is attracted to theaffectionate hospitality of Somi, his mother and his friends in Dehra, and the first time he acknowledges hisAnglo-Indian atmosphere from which he was always kept away. Rusty is also a victim of post-independenceera, he was struggling between two languages between two countries and between two cultures, he wasgetting younger and the big question striking in his mind was the question of his own Identity. During the ruleof United Kingdom, British had asserted their distinct identity by maintaining their distance from everythingIndian, so one of the concepts that Post-colonialism dares to delve into is identity, novel highlights throughRusty how the identity is died down, not vanished but put into position that neither dead nor alive. WhenRusty decides to leave India for England he finds himself confused. He is neither Indian because of his color,and language, and nor a British as his guardian has declared in the very starting of the novel. When Somiasked Rusty about his native land he gave rather ambiguous answers:“You are a British subject”.“I don’t know”.“Have you a birth certificate”“On, no” (135)He suffers from the postcolonial trauma of displacement when he realizes his tentative position in India—lossof country, sense of exile, yearning for the security of family and friends, and the loneliness of an outsider.Somi tries to convince him to stay in Dehra, arguing that without a birth certificate and passport he has nolegal status or nationality:"You are neither Indian subject nor British subject, and how you to get a passport are" (135) However, Rustydoes not believe that an official document can resolve his dilemma: "But I dont belong here, Somi. I dontbelong anywhere. Even if I have papers, I dont belong. Im a half-caste, I know it, and that is as good as notbelonging anywhere" (136). Rusty is aware of the fact that he is different because of his white skin, yet hebelongs to his friends, to India, and to the entire universe. When a woman in a ferry boat asks him in the endof the novel:"What are you my son, are you one of us? I have never, on this river, seen blue eyes and golden hair."(171)Rusty replies with confidence. "I am nothing...I am everything" (172). Because he was sure that he was inexile, a refugee from the universe. Where nothing is sure and nothing is his own not even The Room on the
  4. 4. Asian Literary Supplement (ISSN 2278-5051) July-August | 4Roof. Yet Rusty, responds to the clash of cultures by moving out of his confined British space to connect withthe land of his birth—with the people, places, and culture of India—not in terms of racial superiority but byidentifying with the Indian experience; the outsider becomes an insider. Rusty accepts the hybrid nature ofhis identity. He is "ready to do as his guardian wished: he had always obeyed him" (8),Rustys initiation into the Indian world is marked by his participation in Holi, the Hindu springfestival, which signifies the regeneration of the earth, awakening of love among people, and wiping away ofsocial distinctions. People abandon social decorum by recklessly throwing colored powder on each other andsinging and dancing to forget their problems and enmities. All of creation seems to rejoice in this promise of anew life: "The infection of spring spread simultaneously through the world of man and the world of nature,and made them one" (29). Rusty is happy for the first time in his life and he releases his pent-up emotions byresponding to the excitement of Holi; it was "something wild and emotional, something that belonged to hisdream-world" (28).Rusty participates in the rituals of an Indian festival, and crosses into that forbidden realm of India.Rusty, like the author, has not had any contact with Indian religions but he believes in the religion ofhumanism. Worried about his future, Rusty decides to leave India to make his career in his own land inEngland. He decides to go to the British High Commission in New Delhi to ask a help for an assisted passage toEngland. During his journey he stops at Hardwar to see Kishan to say him good-by, where he comes to knowthat Kishan has run away from home and has become a thief after his mother’s death, because he wasdisenchanted when his father remarried within a month of his mothers death. Rustys brotherly love forKishan and Meena’s faith in him that he would take care for her son when she would be away doest let him goaway. He lives his rest life to follow a promise which he made with an Indian.Finally Rusty finds a “Home” and a reason to live a life for others who are not his people. Hesuccessfully completes his process of having his own identity, home, and a life of his own. He resolves hisidentity crisis; and becomes a mature and self-assured young man, and faces all the difficulties of his life withhope and courage and assimilates in Indian culture in the full acceptance and accepts his status in India fromexclusivity to cultural hybridity.WORKS CITED.1. Bond, Ruskin. The Room on the Roof. 1956. Rpt. New Delhi: Puffin by Penguin, 2008.2. Bond, Ruskin Scenes from a Writers Life: A Memoir. New Delhi: Penguin, 1997.3. Bhabha, Homi. “Representation and the Colonial Text: A critical Exploration of Some form ofMimeticism”. The Theory of Reading. Ed Flank Glover smith. New Jersey: Barnes and Nobles Books,1984. Print.4. Bhabha, Homi. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994.Print.5. Eagleton, Terry. “Gayatri Spivak.” In Figures of Dissent: Critical Essays on Fish, Spivak, Zizek, andOthers. London and New York: Verso, 2003.6. Featherstone, Simon. Postcolonial Cultures. University Press of Mississippi, 2005.Print7. Guha, Ranjit. Dominance without Hegemony: History and power in Colonial India, Cambridge, MA:Harward UP, 1997. Print.8. Griffiths, Gareth. “The Postcolonial Project: Critical Approach and Problems.”New National andPostcolonial Literatures: An Introduction. Ed. Bruce King. Oxford: Clarendon, 1996.Print.9. Greenberger, Allen J. The British Image of India: A Study in the Literature of Imperialism 1880-1960.London: Oxford UP, 1969.10. Islam, Shamsul. Chronicles of the Raj: A Study of Literary Reaction to the Imperial Idea towards the Endof the Raj. Totowa, NJ: Rowman, 1979.11. Said, Edward. Culture and Imperialism. New York: Pantheon, 1978.12. Said, Edward. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books, 1978.
  5. 5. Asian Literary Supplement (ISSN 2278-5051) July-August | 513. Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. “Can the Subaltern Speak?” In The Post-Colonial Studies Reader, editedby Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin. London and New York: Routledge, 1995.