BOOK REVIEWS Review Article
Memories of a Mohajir
SALMAN RUSHDIE, SHAME, Pan Books Ltd (Paperback, Roopa and Co, 1983, p287, Rs30).
THE VARIOUS PHASES of imperialism and neo-imperialism have left in their wake a great deal of English fiction of a largely indifferent variety. In the earliest phase of Anglo-India, there were pleasant travelogues of the marvels and mysteries of the East, horror-stricken accounts of its barbaric customs such as suttee and thugee, colourful and perhaps coloured descriptions of recognisable John Bulls amidst native princes and other exoticae. A Forster or an Orwell, in the dying phases of colonialism, might leave behind a more thoughtful version of the emotions or atmosphere of this period, but none of these can even begin to compare, either in social analysis or irresistible reading pleasure, with the novels, say, of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyaya or Munshi Premchand.
A second phase, beginning somewhat before 1947 and continuing until the present day, consists of the fiction of Indo-Anglia, written by middle-class Indians in English and also, more often than not, catering for the same taste for the exotic and a trumped-up Eastern mysticism. From Raja Rao and R K Narayan to Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, it belongs with new-fangled credit courses on Commonwealth Literature and spectacular film scripts, but a host of Indian writers writing in their native tongues are far more credible and infinitely more absorbing.
Yet another phase is the one current in the British Isles and has correctly been dubbed the Raj-nostalgia syndrome. Paul Scott and M M Kaye in their separate ways belong with colour programmes on the T V Festivals of India, not to speak of Attenborough's lavish Gandhi. Paul Scott occasionally strays into a liberal seriousness, while Ms Kayc has, for all the exuberant sprinkling of Hindusthani terms (occasionally incorrectly glossed) and the breathtaking Frontier backdrop, written a love story of the Barbara Gartland 'historical' novel variety, with a suttee thrown in for good measure.
One therefore approaches Rushdie's Shame and the earlier Midnights Children with a justifiable degree of scepticism, because they