On the occasion of the independence of India-Pakistan, our reading
group went through some works of Indian novelists who conveyed
some of the historical realities which could not be conveyed in
One session started with Edward Said’s “Orientalism” in
which the concept of the West speaking for the silenced subalterns
of the Orient is exposed. The relevance in today’s world and psyche
of Indian subcontinent can be gauged by the inner life of the legendary runner Milkha Singh which is portrayed in the movie -“Bhaag Milkha Bhaag”
Partition which came with independence is still a very emotive topic
in the subcontinent. The summer of 1947 was unlike any other in
Indian history, seeing the migration of around 15 million people and
murdering of around 1 million. Nehru’s “Tryst with Destiny” speech
does not address these aspects which were dealt with by writers
such as Khushwant Singh in “Train to Pakistan”, Bapsi Sidhwa in
“Ice-Candy Man” or Salman Rushdie -“Midnight’s children” in different
The village of Mano Majra in Khushwant Singh’s -Train to Pakistan
and the inner life and voice of the character -Juggat Singh -is unraveled in many layers through the narrative.
The narrative voice of the silenced subaltern acts as textual force
The second session was tailored and the theoretical background
of Edward Said’s “Orientalism” was watered down as some participants
in first session said that it was sounding like a -Classroom lecture- and reminded them of their post-lunch Histopathology classes…
However one has to know some basic definitions to be able to give
a framework to analyze the multiple texts
Two words were -Orientalism and Episteme
Episteme- “A world committed to the ideal of episteme is a world of clear and fixed truth, absolute certainty, and stable knowledge.
The only possibility for rhetoric in such a world would be to ‘make truth effective’. . ..
A radical gulf is presumed to exist between discovering truth (the province of philosophy or science)
and the lesser task of disseminating it (the province of rhetoric).”
(James Jasinski, Sourcebook on Rhetoric. Sage, 2001)
According to Foucalt
Episteme refers to the orderly ‘unconscious’ structures underlying the production of scientific knowledge in a particular time and place.
It is the ‘epistemological field’ which forms the conditions of possibility for knowledge in a given time and place.
It has often been compared to T.S Kuhn’s notion of paradigm.
“Orientalism” is a way of seeing that imagines, emphasizes, exaggerates and distorts differences of Arab peoples and cultures as compared to that of Europe and the U.S.
It often involves seeing Arab culture as exotic, backward, uncivilized, and at times dangerous.
Edward W. Said, in his groundbreaking book, Orientalism, defined it as the acceptance in the West of “the basic distinction between East and West as the starting point for elaborate theories, epics, novels, social descriptions, and political accounts concerning the Orient, its people, customs, ‘mind,’ destiny and so on.”
G.Lukacs said- “The novelist is a poor imitation of the Creator God.”
In discussing some major Indian novels, we will be seeing some of the
worlds portrayed in the life of the nation.
– Novels relating to Partition and Independence
– Novels relating to Emergency
– Voice of Magic Realism to convey aspirations
– Voices of Indian diaspora..the concept of “(Dis)assimilation.
The historical novelists of Libya such as Hisham Matar
have portrayed with sensitivity what life was in Libya
under Gaddafi. While many Western powers helped in
“rehabilitating” the former regime, Matar shows us a
world which was not part of the official history.
Suggested reading http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hisham_Matar
At the same time, while studying major Indian works
and the voice of the silenced subaltern on occasion
of creation of three countries of the region which
was once India, one can draw many interesting lessons
for the present day North Africa which is seen with the
same bias of “Orientalism” which Edward Said exposed
and made us more aware of.
– – –
In next entry we will examine some of the works
mentioned, and expand further on concepts whose
definitions are given above.