This presentation was made in Plenary of International Seminar on South Asian Literature & Culture organised by Higher Education & Research Society, Navi Mumbai - Pune (Maharashtra-India). 6-7 September, 2013.
South Asian Literature and Films:
An Endeavor to Create Bridges of the Friendship
across the Borders amidst the World Broken up into
Fragments by Narrow Domestic Walls
In memory of Sushmita Banerjee’s
Kabuliwala’s Bengali Wife
The Scaffold of Presentation
• The Nomenclature
• SAARC Moto
• E V Ramakrishnan – Relocating …
• Nation & Narration: Homi K. Bhabha
• Farrukh Dhondy – nation and novel
• Terry Eagleton: Political Criticism
• Narrative structure - Memory Novels
• Thematic Overview of select SA Fiction
• Films as Lingua Franca
• South Asia vs Indian Subcontinent
• Non acceptance of ‘India’ – inferiority complex
and India’s superiority complex - Fertile
ground for Subaltern discourse
• Countries in South Asia: India, Pakistan,
Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan et all.
• We are mad dreamers of the SAARC region.
Let government do their political and
diplomatic work. Let us, the writers and the
creative fraternity of the region endeavor to
create bridges of the friendship across the
• Role of literature in creating the cultural
coalescence among the said countries.
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.”
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 caste, 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’.
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’.
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’
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.
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
• 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.
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.
F.D.: Nation & Novel
• And South Asia?
• Of which necessity was South Asian writing in
• 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.
F.D. : Film as lingua franca
• 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 India's great past (Raja
Harishchandra), and following a Gandhian
agenda in attacking untouchability (Achhut
Kanya) and elevating the status of women
• The cinematic definitions created and were
bound by myth.
• Modernity, the urbanisation of India, new
institutions, industrialisation, global imports,
rampant capitalism and corruption were
changing India (read Indian subcontinent) and
though the myths persisted, were modified
and increasingly seen to be fantasy or
• 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.
Terry Eagleton: Political Criticism
• “There is no need to drag politics into literary
theory(text), it has been there from the
• 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
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
Issues: Thematic overview of
Contemporary Literatures of major
countries of South Asia
• Sri Lanka
• Headwind: Laxmi’s Story: By Alice Anna Verheij
– the struggle of a refugee child growing within the
constrained walls of a socially and culturally
conservative society – Nepal-Bhutan insurgency.
• Exiled agonies: A Poem by Devi Subedi
– Agony of Nepali living as refugee in Nepal, Bhutan
and India – and then escaped to the West. India did
not help or support their cause.
• Bhanubhakta Acharya & Lekhanath Paudyal: Sanskrit
and spiritual tradition
Siddhicharan Shrestha & Laxmi Prasad Devkota
– revolutionary poets
- nihilism replaced spiritual tradition
- There are many modern nepali authors who has
written groundbreaking innovative new Nepali
literature e.g. Indra Bahadur Rai, Parijat, Bhupi
Sherchan, Shailendra Sakar, Kavitaram
Shrestha, Yuyutsu Sharma, Bimal Nibha, Narayan
Wagle, Mahananda Poudyal etc.
- Diaspora writer on rise.
• Govinda Raj Bhattarai’s masterpiece Sukaratka
Paila – translated - Socrates’ Footsteps
– set against the time when the Maoist insurgency was
at its peak
• Contribution of Michael Hutt
• ‘Yogmaya’s life’ -in a text called Sarvartha Yogabani
and then analysed the attempts that have been made
by various activists and scholars to portray her as,
variously, a feminist rebel, a social reformer and a
• Source: K. Pradhan: A History of Nepali Literature, New Delhi: Sahitya Akad., 1984
– Nepalese literature, ed. by Madhav Lal Karmacharya, Kathmandu : Royal Nepal
• East Pakistan Era: Language, communal, rural &
• Syed Waliullah's Lalshalu(1948)
• Mahbub-ul Alam’s Mofijon(1948)
• Jibon Khuda (1955) by Abul Monsoor Ahmed
Ranga Probhat (1957) by Abul Fazal,
• Khuda O Asha (1964) by Alauddin Al-Azad,
• Neer Sandhani(1968) and Nishuti Rater
Gatha (1968) by Anwar Pasha
• Bangladesh era: Liberation war, its consequences,
hopeless human existence and analysis of human
mind and society
• Anwar Pasha's Rifle Roti Aurat (1973)
• Shaukat Osman'sJahannam Hoite Bidai (1971), Nekre
Aranyo (1973) Dui Soinik (1973),
• Rashid Haider's Khanchai (1975), and Andha Kathamala (1982),
• Shawkat Ali'sJatraa (1976), Selina Hossain's Hangor Nodi
• Mahmudul Huq's Jiban Aamar Bone (1976), Syed Shamsul Haq's Nil
Dangshon (1981) and Nishiddho Loban (1981), Harun Habib's Priyo
Joddha Priyotoma (1982)
• Amar Jato Glani (1973) byRashid Karim,
• Ferari Surya(1974) by Rabeya Khatun,
• Abelay Ashamoy (1975) by Amjad Hossain
• The Good Muslim: Tahmima Anam
– The family crises mirror the state of the
nation; criminals are on the loose. The
stories of women raped and abused during
the war for an independent Bangladesh
have been erased or marginalised in the
search for a clean, linear history. Frantic
forms of religiosity proliferate.
– is an exceptional and searching look at the
hidden horrors of war and the appeal of
religion in the aftermath of the 1971
Bangladesh war of liberation
– The division is a result of Sohail's fanatical
devotion to and Maya's alienation from
– Trilogy – The Golden Age
• Chinaman : The Legend of Pradeep
Mathew: Shehan Karunatilaka
• Pradeep S. Mathew, a spin bowler who
has mysteriously disappeared
• On his quest to find this unsung genius,
WG uncovers a coach with six fingers, a
secret bunker below a famous stadium, a
Tamil Tiger warlord, and startling truths
about Sri Lanka, cricket and himself.
• That world has long needed a
suitable metaphor and he has
discovered it: Cricket
• Island of a Thousand Mirrors:
• explores how women in Sri Lanka,
on opposite sides of the civil war,
negotiate the realities of life
• attempts to transcend a little more
than 60 years of history—the
violent and strife-torn decades of
post-colonial Sri Lanka—through
three generations of two families.
• Home Boy: H.M. Naqvi
• City where origins matter less than the talent -
three Metrostanis have the guts to claim the place
as their own. But after 9/11, things go horribly
wrong. Suddenly, they find themselves in a
changed, charged America.
• Making the logical leap from dualities to
multiplicities, ponders New York’s reputation as
that proverbial melting pot of peoples and
• a bloated sense of self-importance, it should be
pointed out that, for the most part, it sidesteps
the pitfalls of over-earnestness and sentimentality
that are the hallmarks of a lot of new South Asian
literature (Mira Hashmi)
• 2011 SAL DSC Award winner
• How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia:
• ‘Self-help book’ as literary device
• shows what it means to get rich in a
rising Asia in a new novel at a time when
the developing economies in the region
are straining to push up
their GDP figures.
• a nameless city in South Asia that sizzles
with energy, opportunity and inequality.
• touches upon new South Asian realities -
broken hearts, failed marriages, culture
of corruption, politics, lifestyle pressures
on fast street and the perennial near-war
edge thatPakistan balances on.
• The Wandering Falcon: Jamil Ahmad
• Pak-Afghan Border – tribes
• a blistering critique of the ruthless
ways of nation states, as they seek to
impose artificially constructed
borders on older, more fluid worlds.
• The Death of Camels – Gul Jana –
• A Point of Honour – Tor Baz’s parents
murdered – Baluch rebel dismayed to
• Our Lady of Alice Bhatti: Mohammed
• Alice, criminal and savior, the victim
and heroine of a deft, evil little novel
of comic genius.
• And will this story — and grisly Sacred
Heart — be taken as a parable for
• every turn of the novel reader is
confronted with the corruption and
perversion that is indicative of
Pakistani life today.
• The Lowland: Jhumpa Lahiri
• Two Brothers: Udayan and Subhash Mitra
• Ud drawn to the Naxalite movement, a
rebellion waged to eradicate inequity and
poverty; he will give everything, risk all, for
what he believes
• Subhash, the dutiful son, does not share
his brother’s political passion; he leaves
home to pursue a life of scientific research
in a quiet, coastal corner of America.
• The Immigrant: Manju Kapoor
• Nina & Anand: Arranged Marriage: Canada
• a chronicler of middle-class Indian manners
• Husband suffers from sexual problem
• Her meat eating was the result of
fragmentation and distress, not a desire for
• Her body was her own - and that included
her digestive system and her vagina.
• Mother’s death- What will she make of her
western, feminist independence?
• scope is narrower and its mode more
• From the Ruins of Empire: Pankaj Mishra
• Mishra tells this story through the
biographies of three public intellectuals: the
itinerant Persian-born agitator Jamal al-Din
al-Afghani (1838-97); the Chinese reformer
Liang Qichao (1873-1929); and
Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941).
• Through many setbacks and wrong turns, a
powerful, contradictory and ultimately
unstoppable series of ideas were created
that now lie behind everything from the
Chinese Communist Party to Al Qaeda, from
Indian nationalism to the Muslim
• The Monkey-Man: Usha K.R.
• What was it that they saw? A bat? A malevolent
avatar? A sign of the displeasure of the gods? The
grotesque mascot of a city that is growing too fast
and crumbling too soon? Or merely a monkey that
has lost its way?
• Using evocative prose that reflects her profound
understanding of human nature, Usha K.R. delves
into the lives of her characters and their
unexpectedly linked destinies in a city that has grown
from a ‘Pensioner’s Paradise’ to the frenetic hub of
the country’s IT industry.
• Fictional device - a metaphor for the dramatic,
overwhelming and grotesque transformation of the
• Is Bangalore, India? South Asia?
• The Walls of Delhi: Uday Prakash. Tr. Jason
• Three stinging, darkly comic tales capture in
telling detail life and survival in todays India.
In the title story a sweeper discovers a cache
of black money and escapes to see the Taj
Mahal with his underage mistress; in
Mohandas a Dalit races to reclaim his life
stolen by an upper-caste identity thief-gun-
maoist; and in Mangosil a babys head gets
bigger and bigger as he gets smarter and
smarter, while his family tries to find a cure.
• A Life Apart: Neel Mukherjee
• Ritwik – a gay protagonist
* familiar territory in the postcolonial novel of
displacement, more original idea - writes
wonderfully and wryly about the young man's
exploration of everyday gay life
Ritwik is writing his own novel, a novel within
the novel. This parallel narrative, which
reimagines a female character from a
Rabindranath Tagore text, reflects suggestively
on history, literary, timr and culture.
It blends the poignancy of a coming-of-age
story with the rawer excitements of an urban
thriller laced with sex and violence
• Narcopolis: Jeet Thayil
• Dimple – Eunuch protagonist
• Poverty, sex, violence, opium
• Chinese revolution – digression
• Myth of stone-man
• India has been reincarnating behind
the blue smoke of the last pipes
• Bombay: I found Bombay and
opium, the drug and the city, the
city of opium and the drug Bombay.”
• Drug literature – Opium: symbolically represented as
the idea of religion, films, sex, freedom, memory and
• 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)
• 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
• Sarah Van Bonn: SouthAsianJournal:Literary Review
• The White Tiger: Arvind Adiga
• 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.
• Inside, you will find an image of a
saffron-coloured creature, half man
• “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
• about caste
• ‘The villages are so religious in the Darkness”
• Democracy! “I am India’s most faithful voter,
and I still have not seen the inside of a voting
• 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
• River of Smoke: Amitav Ghosh
• 2nd of Ibis Triology
• Bahram Modi, a Parsi opium trader
• Canton – China
• story of the opium trade is an ugly one,
but the spirit of the novel is enthusiastic
tragicomedy, not moralising. . .
Symbolically, of our times
• Bahram – Barrack
• ‘O’ – Other, Opium, Oil
• The truth about Dharma, the man,
illigimate son, bastard, Justice is . . .
• Eklavya: you don’t need left thumb to
pull a trigger or hurl a bomb
• They killed you, the naked you, sadist
fool, Bapu, you big fraud, we hate you
• indra indra narindra, perfected science
of slaughter, the genocidal god of
Popular Films & South Asian Relations
• Zeitgeist – is well captured in popular culture
• Films - one of the best mirrors to see
representation of new myths, sweetly coated
bitter truths, perspectivism
• Popular Indian sentiments:
– Presence of Pakistan in collective consciousness
– Absence of all other south Asian countries . . .
– West – still the best panacea of Eastern woes,
worries, anguish and anxiety – forgetting the fact
that the wounder cannot heal!
Popular Films and South Asian Relations
• Ek Tha Tiger
• Madras Café
• Khuda Ke Liye
• Ramchand Pakistani
• Escape from Taliban
• The present seems to be dark so far as polito-socio-
cultural relations are concerned, but the hope shines
out . . .
• Literature is yet not representing – what ‘ought’ to be?
• Well, but the question is: Will literature do what we
want it to be done – or rather it will be faithful to the
truth / reality of human condition in South Asia?
• Or perhaps is it not performing its role in rather
metaphorical way – the journey across the borders
that of Bahram in River of Smoke or a boy in
Ramchand Pakistani or that of Veer in search of
Zaara or Agents of Indian RAW – Vinod, Vikram or
Tiger – symbolically expressed a desire to bridge the
borders – ???
Let us end with a hope. . .
• 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
• What gives us reason to be hopeful is ‘freshness in
narratice, newness of metaphor & confidence,
boldness & fearlessness of new breed of writers’
Dept. of English, M.K. Bhavnagar University