Social Scientist. v 19, no. 223 (Dec 1991) p. 33.


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NOTE / AJANTA SIRCAR*

Individualising History: The 'Real' Self in The Shadow Lines

The so-called 'new1 writing in English, comprising Salman Rushdie and the Stephnains, has met with a shower of accolades from various quarters within the country. Running through the valorisation of these novelists by the dominant Indo-Anglican critical tradition is the insistence that they manifest new and liberating forms of engagement with contemporary India. It is in this context that I wish to re-read Amitav Ghosh's The Shadow Lines1 to analyse the extent to which his novel, working within the realist mode, engages with questions of domination/subordination, resistance/hegemony, in a context in which asymmetrical power relations continue between metropolis and former colony. To do so, I will examine Ghosh's representation of 'India' in the novel to evaluate the extent to which it accounts for the disruptive and contradictory socio-political pressures that mark the contemporary Indian metropolis.

The most important reading of The Shadow Lines from such a perspective has been by P.K. Dutta, 'Studies in Heterogeneity: A Reading of Two Recent Indo-Anglian Novels'.2 According to Dutta, by identifying cultural heterogeneity as an epistemological location, a novel such as The Shadow Lines 'realises the possibility that the experience of overlapping heterogeneities itself can be counterposed to the violent sub-continental insistence on cultural purity and communal division'.3 This paper takes as its starting point the larger theoretical implications of Dutta's argument—that to effectively negotiate the mechanisms of power and control within which post-colonial identities are constituted, the post-colonial needs a history which can account for the diffusion and heterogeneity of origins rather than the idea of monolothic, 'authentic' cultural past. Such a liberating concept of the post-colonial 'self, moreover, is not something which exists outside discourse and therefore needs to be recovered. Rather, this 'self has to be fashioned out of an understanding of the multiple socio-historical processes which shape contemporary Indian culture.

* Department of English, University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad.

Social Scientist, Vol. 19, No. 12, December 1991



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