Monthly Archives: September 2010

A.K. Ramanujan’s ‘A River’


image from: the telegraph

image from: the telegraph

R. Parthasarathy, in his introductory note on Ramanujan in Ten Twentieth Century Indian Poets, reads ‘A River’ as a poem that exposes the callousness of the old and the new poets to suffering. But the irony in the poem extends to the speaker also, mocking the irrelevances he indulges in.

There are people who hold AKR very highly as a poet primarily for the technical finesse of his poems. One of the legends about him is that he used to revise his poems umpteen times, some undergoing as many revisions as sixty. It shows in his poems. No flab in them, pared to the minimum, enriched in possibilities through irony, line division and word placement.

A.K. Ramanujan in his poetry is a modernist to the T. In his themes as well as poetic strategies, he displays the international modernist attitude. He is right there with other modernists in writing about the existential issues, about the tension between being and world, about duality in relation to past, about scrutinising the self. His poems deploy all the modernist poetic trappings: tension, irony, obscurity, fragmentation, montage-like structure, ambivalence, imagistic, concrete.

“A River” immediately invokes binary structures: “new poets” and “old poets”; city of “temples and poets”; songs of “cities and temples”; the flood in the poems and as “people” saw it; a “couple of cows”; pregnant woman with “identical twins” etc.

The poem also presents alternative perceptions of the river in Madurai. One of them is available in poetry – old and new – which “sang” of cities, temples and the river in flood. On the other hand, “people everywhere” saw something else, which the speaker also concurs with. The speaker of this poem as the persona “he” has seen Madurai and has heard reports of the flood. The river as seen by the speaker is different from this report, which in turn is different from the description available in poetry old and new.

Thus, the view available of the river is diverse. The old and new poets see only the richness of the river when in flood; they see none of its impoverishment during summer. How about the present poets? This speaker sees the impoverishment during summer and the damage it causes during flood. He sees no richness. Thus, a dual view is available from the poets.

People seem to have a different “kind” of view. People seem to see the river in a contingent manner – as the flood is rising. The speaker-persona has his own report, which is different from the view of the old and new poets or the views of the people. He seems to pick up the details from the oral reports “everywhere” and then adds his own “poetic details” that veer away from the pathos of what he is describing with the triviality of his additions. Thus, instead of a serious criticism what we get is an unsure comment on the situation ending in parody. The indeterminacy in the poem is the result of the multiple possibilities that memory presents.

A River

In Madurai,
city of temples and poets,
who sang of cities and temples,
every summer
a river dries to a trickle
in the sand,
baring the sand ribs,
straw and women’s hair
clogging the watergates
at the rusty bars
under the bridges with patches
of repair all over them
the wet stones glistening like sleepy
crocodiles, the dry ones
shaven water-buffaloes lounging in the sun
The poets only sang of the floods.

He was there for a day
when they had the floods.
People everywhere talked
of the inches rising,
of the precise number of cobbled steps
run over by the water, rising
on the bathing places,
and the way it carried off three village houses,
one pregnant woman
and a couple of cows
named Gopi and Brinda as usual.

The new poets still quoted
the old poets, but no one spoke
in verse
of the pregnant woman
drowned, with perhaps twins in her,
kicking at blank walls
even before birth.

He said:
the river has water enough
to be poetic
about only once a year
and then
it carries away
in the first half-hour
three village houses,
a couple of cows
named Gopi and Brinda
and one pregnant woman
expecting identical twins
with no moles on their bodies,
with different coloured diapers
to tell them apart.

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Call for Papers: Negotiating Cultural Memories in Canada and India


Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India

The Centre for Canadian Studies
Department of Comparative Literature
Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India

International Conference on Building Bridges: Negotiating Cultural Memories in Canada and India
February 16 – 18, 2011

Cultural memory as a form of knowledge system is seen as a pre-text for modern expression/s, negotiating with interdisciplinary approaches from the point of view of evolutionary psychology, politics, literature and philosophy and environmental studies. The objective of the conference is to focus on the construction, evolution, evaluation and representation of issues pertaining to various cultural memories and how these become important tools in negotiating “modernity” with its various ramifications in Canada and India.

The conference will further focus on issues such as Globalisation, Ecocriticism, Ecofeminism in relation to the changing face of cultural expressions of diverse groups like immigrants, the First Peoples, sexual minorities in Canada and India. The Conference would invite a multidisciplinary approach to evaluate the changing face of disseminating knowledge which involves a process of negotiation and precisely this process of negotiation is what we have already defined as “modernity”.

Our objective is to capture the dynamics of how individual works of authors, ‘texts’, genres, cultural productions by various groups address this negotiation. We shall also look at literatures of various disciplines other than humanities such as science, technology, medical and technical terminologies, etc. We know that language as a broad category react and participate in this ‘process’. Addressing the problematics of language transmission (which has its own politics), would add further credibility to the contemporanaeity of such a conference. This would also help us contextualise pertinent issues that need to be taken cognizance of, both in Canada and in India.

The thrust areas of the conference would also address the various gaps in scholarship, especially, between mainstream pedagogic practices and grassroots activism. The conference would also emphasize upon emerging areas/trends of critical investigation, such as literature and cultural productions of the First Peoples of Canada and India, contribution of digital archives, and the socio-political and cultural concerns of fast-emerging groups in Canada and India which need to be dealt with outside the majority/minority discourse.

Papers are invited in all areas relating to the general theme of the conference. We have identified certain areas and some of them are listed below:

  • Citizenship, Identity and Nation
  • Community and the Individual
  • Justice
  • The poetics of fashion
  • Culinary activities
  • Societies, integration/disintegration, inclusion/exclusion
  • Politics of Marginalization
  • Globalisation
  • Ecofeminism
  • Language
  • Translation
  • Testimonials
  • Travel Narratives
  • Paintings
  • Performance Texts
  • The Verbal and the Visual
  • The New Media (Blog/Online journals/ Online networks)
  • Alternative sexualities
  • Dislocation
  • Metropolis, cities, towns and ruralis
  • Advertisements
  • Science and technology

    The title and a brief abstract (200-300 words) of the proposed paper may be sent as an email attachment by 1st October, 2010 to
    Conference Coordinators:

Sm. Debashree Dattaray (Lecturer)
Sm. Swagata Bhattacharya (Research Fellow)
Sri Dheeman Bhattacharyya (Research Fellow)
Department of Comparative Literature, Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India

A Kannada Story


Darkness, a translation of ‘Kattalu’ a short story by Ashok Hegde, published in Muse India, online journal maintained by CIIL, Mysore.  Read it here.

Original Kannada:

Ashok Hegde

Translated by

Kamalakar Bhat

A day should never begin like this, he always felt. But yet another day had started to unfold as always. A scurry of activities just before setting out. Milkman hadn’t delivered milk; he had to rush to the neighborhood shop to fetch a packet. Atop the toilet seat he finished reading the reports in the morning newspaper about the vilely corrupt and their cohorts. There was an ad exhorting one to win a prize by suggesting a name for a film star’s newborn. By the time he gave his son a bath in the middle of all the haste – he got some work done on the blackberry in between – and faced his breakfast, he was tired even to talk. His wife asked him to return his mother’s call. Mother had been enquiring whether they would be visiting the village during the holidays. He hardly had the patience to respond to her. Manohar bellowed at his wife – “must the answer be given only by me? Couldn’t you have managed something while on the phone?”

She was washing her hands at the sink. “What is wrong with you these days? Can’t talk to you without you bullying me. You and your mother … why should I get caught in between. Call if you like, or don’t. I am late for work.” She left him to his breakfast and left for office.

As he took to the road he felt nauseated. On the FM, Sunayana was hosting Route One and was prattling; a variety of ads, call-ins; play this song for my brother, that one for my beau … name today cho chweet Madhuri’s third offspring; win a chance to eat ice cream with Salman Khan at Forum Mall … His nausea worsened. Switching the radio off he looked out: traffic jam, smoke, dust; the traffic police blowing his whistle – pirrrr – being ignored by the vehicles cutting in, red signals every few yards, BTS busses running god-knows-from-where-to-where, scooter, rickshaw, cycle, lorry; and amid all these old bullocks pulling with Herculean effort the loaded cart, people barging in … he just couldn’t put up with all the irritations.

He hoped that he can be home in time at least today. He happened to have a glance at the mirror in the car and noticed a chit lying on the back seat. He remembered his son giving the chit to him with a laugh – “Pappa, teacher has sent this for you”. He had thrown it in with a promise that he would read it once at the office. But it had been lying there for three days now. He picked it up: it was the school’s last notice for paying up the fees. “If you fail to pay the fees within a day of receiving this notice, your child’s admission will be withdrawn”, said the notice bearing Principal Bolar’s lavish signature.

Oh! Two days already. Must pay the fees tomorrow. Meantime he entered the company office in the Electronic City with a pickled brain. Once there, he was instantly consumed by countless office matters. Meeting, project planning, walk-in-interviews, the never-ending induction of new recruits, consultation with a client, proposal … he got entangled in a chain of preoccupations. He got everything out of the way and was about to leave for home when his boss KK called. “Manohar, MD had called asking for a presentation for a new client, I am busy with another matter, please, can you take care of this?” It was not a question. So he sat at it and didn’t realize how the time passed. Finally, it was all over and he switched off the laptop. It was ten in the night by then. In the middle of all these, he had forgotten to call her. There was a missed call from her. He considered calling her now, but was afraid of what she might say, so he switched off the mobile and called out a ‘see you tomorrow’ to his colleagues. “Arre yaar, why go home so late at night, who would wait this long, come along with us, there is a new dhaba that has come up, let’s have dinner there, and may be a peg of Jack Daniel, and then you can go home”, his friends insisted. No, they just dragged him along. Hosur road was busy even at 11 in the night. They slipped into the squeezing traffic – lorry, bus, scooter, car. Sandip kept cursing a client who had rejected the project, the Karnataka government for not erecting a flyover, Lalu Prasad who delivered lectures at IIM: “What abject depth the country has plunged to”, Sandip spat hard. Shameer trained his gun on Salman Khan, “Bhenchod, that Salman Khan, driving in drunken stupor, mowed down a few people who were asleep on the pavements in front of our building in Mumbai, see what fun he is still having”. “Leave Salman, yaar, look at our Dharwad, murderers are roaming free… to tell the truth, they should build fifty new jails every year” said Mulimani. “Tell me, how do you like Mallika Sherawat… what would it be like to marry her” said Sandip. “Man, you will get your balls blasted” said Mulimani as he downed another peg.

Talking disconnectedly, they ate masala ground nuts, masala papad, and chicken biryani along with Jack Daniel. They talked disparagingly about their old beloveds. By the time Manohar reached home it was past one in the night.

Watchman was dozing and got up with a curse when Manohar tapped on his shoulder. He began a stream of apologies: Sorry sir, I had checked all the gates only a minute ago… Had just closed my eyes… I always wake up with the slightest of sounds. Manohar scolded him gently: Talk of slightest sounds when you didn’t wake up even to the sound of the car, come on now and open the gate.

He waited in irritation till the gate was opened, then parked the car and began climbing the stairs. His neighbour Vibha, who worked in a call center, met him at the stairs. He made way for her. Vibha looked as alert in the mid night as in the daytime. She stopped to say “Uncle, can I give you my biodata, can you tell me when a position for a support engineer comes up in your company”. “Sure, why not, pass on the biodata, there are always vacancies”, he started to get ready for a chat when the Tata Sumo that had come to fetch her gave a call. The girl whispered “will speak to you tomorrow, uncle” and was gone in a rush. The fragrance of lavender hit him. Manohar began his ascent counting the stairs … one, two, three. Half way up, he felt, though the lift could have taken him faster to his floor, it is better if it takes longer to reach home, considering the state he was in.

His efforts to avoid making any sound that would wake her up while turning the key and opening the door was in vain as the door opened with a bang. He took off the shoes and dumped it in the rack. In the faint light his wife stood before him. He retraced his step seeing her rubbing her eyes.

“Not asleep yet”?

“So the lord comes home now? Why couldn’t you come earlier? Called you on the mobile several times since six. Couldn’t you at least call once when you were free! How much should we wait for you… why do you have a mobile… why should you have a wife, a child, a home? You should have stayed in a hostel… partying with friends. It is my plight that I have to put up with you. Yes, yes, I know all about you… your cold male chauvinistic pigheadedness. I tolerate everything and keep quiet, that’s why you are like this. Four days ago I asked you to get fruits and vegetables on the way home from office, did you bring? Three days ago I told you my car’s battery is not ok… now it has gone dead and the car is in the office. You can go and get it if you want. I had to take two autos and walk a mile before reaching home. Do you know how tiring it can be? Forget me, don’t do anything for me. But for the paapu, did you pay his fees? Today..” She started sobbing.

She stood there leaning on the wall, scratching her head with one hand, looking out through the window at the nothingness. “Why this irresponsibility Manohar? Poor paapu was sent away from the school because his fees aren’t paid. They have sent a chit with him saying ‘don’t come to school from tomorrow’. Why did we have to send him to such a costly school if it had to come to this? We could have sent him to some government school. I didn’t ask you to send him to this school. If you can’t handle, why should you get into this… when you take up something, do it the way it has to be… or else one shouldn’t take it up. What must have paapu felt when he was made to stand outside the classroom in front of all his mates? Have you ever thought about it?…” Overcome with hurt, she cried. Manohar felt a piercing pain in his innards.

Actually, with all the office-bother it had slipped his mind. Or the school may have forgotten that I had paid. He couldn’t be sure. Just to avoid the present confrontation, he said “but I had paid”. Lie flowed out unhesitatingly.

“What? You had paid? Where is the receipt, or have they kept it with them? Why do you lie Manohar, who are you trying to fool? Manu, look, I can’t manage this any longer. Paapu has fever. I took an auto from the office till the childcare, went to a doc with paapu, came home, fed him, gave him the medicines, put him to sleep. Now I feel dead. And here you are, home at one in the night, drunk, and picking a fight. There is a limit I say, there is a limit. You should at least believe me. When I say you haven’t paid the fees, you turn around and tell me a lie that you have paid. Why? You can admit that you made a mistake. But no, how can a man make a mistake, isn’t it? It is an insult to your male ego to admit that you made a mistake. Then you shouldn’t make a mistake in the first place. You keep saying you have project meeting in the office. Did I ever ask you where you find time in the middle of your office work to go with a gang of friends to get sozzled? Did I ever ask you why you go gallivanting instead of coming home directly from office? Is this how a family supposed to be? Better live alone”. She went into the room and shut the door with a bang.

On the dining table his food had gone cold. A bowl of rice, chapatti, and a beans dish. When does she get time to make food, Manohar wondered, zipping like a whirlwind as she does between office, work and childcare. He started to keep everything in the fridge. When he bent to place them inside the fridge a couple of plates crashed to the floor making a lot of noise. At the same time a Tata Sumo, on its way to fetch people for the night shift or bringing back people from the first shift, blew the horn loudly, sounding like a drum in the quiet of the night.

Bedroom door opened again. She came out in a huff and stood facing him. “You don’t seem to understand… It is a 500 mg antibiotic that poor paapu has taken. And now he is sleeping like an angel. I am dog tired now, working for you since morning. Don’t you think you should have been more careful and be noiseless while putting away the dishes? Do you have no feeling for us? You don’t bother about others… you have no concern for the others… look at the way you stand here and say nothing now… I know if I say a word more you will brandish threats of leaving the house… how would it be if I do the same? Tell me what the doctor said the last time we went to him.”

Manohar asked, “What did he say?” He didn’t mean to but there was a sign of anger as he spoke.

“Oh, yes, how can I expect you to remember! Paapu lacks resistance, give him Nirosil tonic, is what the doctor had said. Did you ever bring the tonic? When I brought it finally, did you ever make it a point to give it to paapu? Today the doctor asked me if we have been giving the tonic to paapu and I had to tell a lie. Because of you. Why should I lie? I am not going to lie for you any longer, do you get it”? She finished with a gasp and stood there.

Manohar looked at her eyes. They seemed to be full of pain, anger and disgust. He was beginning to feel queasy about her rejection. He wanted to ease the tension and save the situation. There was a hint of the trivial when he said, “You know… Valmiki’s story… the hunter went home and as directed by a muni, asked his wife and children… would you share the blame for my sins… His wife and children instantly refused to take any responsibility for his sins. The hunter realized the truth of life and went on a penance and became Valmiki… the Ramayana…” Afraid suddenly of what he saw in her eyes he stopped.

“What? Forget Valmiki’s Ramayana. First get your Ramayana into some shape”. Again she was gone and the bedroom door shut with a bang.

An impossible depression sent him crashing down on the sofa. He looked up and down. He waited for the door to open. A couple of vehicles drove past noisily on the road outside. Someone took the car out of the garage… the music of the reverse horn filled up the place. A Doberman began to howl in the neighbouring flat. Sound of flush from the toilet of the flat upstairs. He heard water flowing through the pipe clearly. Out of boredom, he put on CNBC. There was a debate on the crash in the market. They generally were of the opinion that the crash was a reaction to the interest rate in US of A and the price rise. One of the discussant said in utmost seriousness that the market may improve tomorrow… or go down further… or remain where it is today. Manohar wondered who would be foolish enough to pay him to say such dumb stuff. The fellow is wonderful, Manohar thought, to arrive at that opinion with the assistance of so many charts, diagrams and statistics. It occurred to him that people basically watch television and do not listen to it. That novel idea some how lifted his spirits. He thought of telling his wife about his new insight but then was a little anxious about receiving a scolding from her. Suddenly he realized that the crash meant that he had lost at least two lakhs. That made him rush to get the laptop out and calculate his entire investments portfolio. It couldn’t be two lakhs, he thought and felt consoled. He changed the channel and started watching NDTV. There was a heated debate on the issue of premarital sexual relationship. Such debates are fun only at midnight, thought Manohar. Bastards, better have sex before the marriage because after the marriage there would be no time for it. Manohar laughed naughtily. He changed the channel again. Here there was a debate about Mica Sing kissing Rakhi Savant. He kissed, she got kissed, why are these fellows jumping about. He switched off the tv. Would she pay the school fees tomorrow? The question returned.

He changed his clothes and brushed his teeth and spat hard. Because he was mad at her, he urinated in the washbasin and poured water into it. Then he entered the bedroom carefully, not making any noise, and got into the mosquito net to sleep when he saw her changing the wet cloth on paapu’s forehead. Paapu muttered ‘pappa’ in half sleep and turned to the other side. He did not have the guts to speak to her, yet could not do without saying something. So he touched her shoulders. She pushed his hands aside. “Listen, I need at least an hour’s sleep. You have been so very busy since morning… now your work is over, your drinking is over, your chatter with friends is over, your share market and all the rest are over… Have you ever wondered what happens with me? Stop flirting now… sit and look after paapu for sometime…” She faced away from him and slept.

Power supply must have stopped. The fan ceased. Inside the net it was terribly warm. Manohar scratched his back vigorously and turned in.

It was dawn once again.

He said “It is a new day”. She got up without a reply, brushed her teeth and poured some water on her face and got ready for the morning grind. He touched paapu’s forehead. Fever had come down. Paapu opened his eyes and said “Pappa, I was made to stand outside the classroom in the school”.

Manohar was enraged. He barged into the kitchen. He had something to start a conversation with her. “If we don’t pay the fees they can send us notice or levy penalty, why should they send the child out of the classroom.” “Why ask me about it, go and ask the school”, she said as she worked on the chapatti impatiently.

Manohar returned to the bedroom. He picked up paapu and and took him to the bathroom and poured some water on him. Paapu began to laugh as he felt tickled every time Manohar touched him. “Pappa, let’s play Pokeman, you are Charijaard and I am Pikachu”. Was it this little fellow who struggled all night in high fever? Manohar felt good. Paapu refused to have breakfast and began creating a din about it. Manohar was irritated and shouted at paapu. “Hey, are you crazy to say no to breakfast. I will spank you if you don’t eat.” Paapu made a face as if he was frightened and was about to cry.

She came out of the kitchen and confronted him. “What did you say? You are the one who is crazy. Can’t you play around and make him eat? Do I have to teach you even that”?

There was no more conversation. As he went to the sink to place his dish after having his breakfast, he gently asked her, “Will you drop Paapu to school”? She grinned ironically. “Do what you like… I don’t even have my car today”. She went into the bedroom, got ready for the office, put her sandals on, called out to the security man to get an auto, and in no time took the lift and left. Now, that left only Paapu and him in the house.

Sound of the school bus. Paapu started to race down. Manohar remembered he has to pay the fees and told the bus driver, “I will take him to school today, but please bring him back”. The driver whined, “Should have told me earlier, sir, been waiting here for ten minutes, it is better if you inform me in advance”. Manohar wanted to shout at him, but was afraid the driver may not bring Paapu back from the school.

Manohar hadn’t come even halfway to school when a biker started to blow his horn repeatedly. He went to the right and horned, then he went to the left and horned. In a while he overtook Manohar and went ahead. Then he got stuck at the red light. Once again the biker trailed behind Manohar and the blowing of the horn began. Got to teach him a lesson, thought Manohar, and braked suddenly. The bike hit the back of the car and smashed the sidelight. The biker who had fallen face down got up wiping himself. “Are you nuts? You braked suddenly, so I fell. Look at the front wheel of my bike, it is bent. Who will repair it now? Shell out thousand rupees before you leave”. People gathered around them anticipating some fun.

“What? Son of a gun, you ram into my car, smash the car’s lights, and then you dare ask me for a cool thousand bucks”.

The pent up irritation of the night drove him to slap the biker on his face. There was blood from the biker’s lips, a drop of it fell on Manohar’s shirt too. The biker broke into a shower of curses and started beating up Manohar. Both rolled on the road fighting each other. Inside the car, paapu was frightened and was crying. Seeing him, Manohar stopped the fight and stood up. The biker also got up with a curse.

“Bastard, I will fuck your mother. When I see you the next time if I don’t finish you off my name is not Govinda.”

He started his bike, raised the accelerator and was off. There was a traffic jam behind Manohar, from which a policeman emerged, chiding Manohar gently.

“You look educated. If people like you also get into street fight like this, what is to happen, sir? One has to make adjustments and go ahead. Come on now, move that car of yours.”

In the mirror Manohar noticed his torn shirt and mud smeared face. Paapu had stopped crying.

“Let us play Pokeman, I am Pikachu and you are Golam… Pikachu under attack.” Paapu said keenly.

It was very late when they reached the school. One look at Manohar’s condition and the security guard refused to let him in.

“What do you mean? I am Paapu’s father, you know, call your Principal, let me speak to her.” Manohar pushed aside the guard and barged in.

“OK, go in now, but come back soon. If I let in people like you, I get a scolding”, the guard said to Manohar’s back. “I am Paapu’s father, you understand”, Manohar said. The guard shrugged with a sign of irrelevance.

The moment he saw paapu’s class teacher, Manohar rattled on. “I was abroad, you see, I will pay the fees right away”. “You shouldn’t tell lies, papa, you were in Bangalore all along” chided paapu. The teacher gave a sardonic smile. Manohar rubbed his chin and went away to the school office. He was told that including the fine, he had to pay twenty three thousand nine hundred and thirty rupees, without the receipt.

“Why can’t you give me a receipt when I am paying the fine” argued Manohar. The clerk snapped. “No means no. You can speak to the manager who is on leave today and will be here tomorrow. You can also pay the fees tomorrow.”

“Bloody cheats” muttered Manohar under his breath. The clerk heard it and pushed an account book in front of Manohar and said “Mind what you say, we sent two notices, you had no time to pay up. Look at the fees card… it says so in capital letters, doesn’t it? If you are so hot tempered, you should have paid up in time. There would have been no issue. What is the time now… we don’t accept fees after 10 am… it is already ten fifteen… yet I took pity on you thinking that you have come all the way. Now you are abusing me in English” The clerk said and added, “come tomorrow”.

Manohar started to feel dizzy. He stared at the clerk. Without uttering a word further he counted the money and paid. Now he had only thirty five rupees left in his pocket.

He saw Principal Bolar as he came out of the office. Manohar approached her. “It is inhuman to make a child stand outside the classroom because there is a delay in paying the fees”, he said. Principal Bolar pushed up her specks and looked at Manohar. She tucked the billowing end of the sari into her waist and checked what time it was. Then she spoke: “May I know who you are?”

Manohar thought about the plus and minus of giving out his identity. Somehow he wanted to avoid taking paapu’s name now, so he said he is related to a child whose name he was familiar with as paapu often took the name. The Principal again adjusted her specks. “But they all have already paid the fees… the only one who has not paid is that child … you must be his father” she laughed cruelly.

Manohar wiped his face. He wanted to get out of the place. Principal Bolar continued. “What is inhuman about it? You should have responded to the two notices sent. If you think so badly of the school, you are welcome to withdraw your child from our school.”

Manohar didn’t want to start on the school admission affair all over again. Should bomb this place with a ton of RDX, he thought. The thought of paapu saddened him. His mobile started to ring. It was Preeti on the other side. “Where are you, boss? KK is looking for you since morning. A client presentation I think. Wherever you are, come to the meeting room or to the lunch room directly.” A traffic policeman tapped the glass of the car indicating Manohar to stop. “Preeti, tell KK I will be late, stuck in a traffic jam, have a flat tyre also” Manohar fibbed and disconnected the mobile. He lowered the glass and looked at the policeman.

“You can’t use mobile while driving. Two hundred fine”.

Manohar laughed aloud. “You can book me if you want to… the phone was from the hospital. My wife has just delivered. I have exactly 35 rupees. If you can adjust with the amount, fine, or I can give you my credit card.”

The policeman looked around and took the thirty five rupees. “If it is a son, name him Upendra, a good name” he advised and went away to catch another person. Mobile rang again. Manohar took the call. There was music flowing in. “Calling from ICICI sir… we have a personal offer for you… lifetime free credit card… minimum documentation… can I have your name please…”

“Shut up and cut the call… is it a public toilet or what… for anyone to come and urinate”, the phone went dead.

It was twelve by the time he reached office. An hour to go before the lunch. Makes no difference whether I go for the meeting or not. Manohar sat in his cabin. Shankar entered soon after. “Can I have a word with you, MM?”

Suppressing his impatience Manohar said “ok.”

Shankar looked up, looked down. “There was an American client today, no?” He said and added “Didn’t you go for the meeting”.

Manohar answered indifferently. Shankar dawdled. Manohar became restless. “Come out with it Shankar. No time for foreplay… if you want to fuck please do so.”

Shankar turned a page lying on the table. Looking at the photo on the table, asked if it is Manohar’s son. Then he continued. “MM, I have an offer from IBM. They offer 30% more than here. Will be located in London. I was wondering… been working here for the last five years, there has been no growth, you know that.”

“I know” Manohar said.

“No point in beating around the bush. I will ask you directly. Can you give me a 25% rise? Also a promotion… all my MBA classmates are up in the ladder… I think I made a mistake by getting into this industry.”

Manohar stared at him. Then he spoke decisively. “Shankar, you are welcome to resign today. Your progress this year has not been good. It makes no difference, you see. If it is a software engineer, it would be difficult to find replacement. An MBA position takes no more than three days. Your achievements in the past five years show you up. You have two options. Resign or get kicked out. It comes to the same in the end.”

It looked as if Shankar had no offer and was only trying to leverage his demand with a threat. He went black in the face. “Don’t talk like that MM, I have given five years of my life to the company. Let it be, I am not keen on the multinational offer, I just wanted to see the salary in the market, though I got it, I haven’t yet thought about it seriously…”

Manohar cut him short “Shankar, whether you have an offer from IBM or White House, you have no place here. I will release you next week. Now you can go.” Shankar got up slowly. He looked as if he would break down. Manohar felt a vicious pleasure. Bastard was using threats. Now see how he goes there with a peg in his arse.

He was about to start work when the mobile rang. It was his boss KK on the line. “KK, sorry,traffic problem” he said into the phone. KK was in a good mood. Must have defrauded a client. KK was saying “OK, come here for lunch… Edward wants to speak to you. He likes you… may be a homo.” He rang back immediately. “Do you have a suit with you? If not wear mine. There is an extra one in my room. My marriage suit. Don’t tell my wife though.”

Edward started off the moment he saw MM. There was a lady sitting next to him. From Edward’s tone it was clear he was trying to impress her. KK introduced her. “This is Ervin, Edward’s new boss”.

Edward went on. “MM, you should ask your boys to put in more hard work. If the work is not completed in time, there is a penalty to pay,” he looked at her and added, “isn’t it so?” She was drinking vegetable soup. “Fine”, she said to confirm what Edward had said. “Where do you find good leather stiff” she asked, “Is it true that in Mysore elephants roam around still?” Conversation dragged. In the middle of all the talk he read an sms from a friend asking him what he was doing. He smsed back saying he is reading an English paper. The friend sent another sms asking if it is good. Manohar wrote back, good but grammar is all wrong. He thought the conversation should be rescued. But Edward said, “It is a tragedy that in India there are no leaders except that Sonia Gandhi.” Manohar said, “Same tragedy with you. You elected George twice. Now you struggle to put petrol in the car. How much is it per gallon now”? Edward finished the remaining soup in a single gulp. Ervin forgot to wipe the butter away from her lips.

KK kicked his legs to make him shut up. After all the leave taking, they dropped Edward and his boss to Hotel Leela. When they were back KK called him in and scolded. “Do you have any sense? He was trying to impress her… if he loses his job there, the fellow will come here and pile on us. What is it to you if bin Laden throws a bomb or Bush drives a bamboo in his butt… it is a war between a chicken thief and pirates… we are vegetarians… why get involved… pick him up from the hotel tomorrow. Apologise to him and set things right. Praise George’s daughter if you like… arre, does he have a daughter…” KK concluded.

Manohar took off KK’s suit. KK saw Manohar’s torn shirt. “Hey, what happened… you should have got a mechanic to do it… why did you try it on your own?” Manohar looked at KK. “Do I have to pick him tomorrow… I have two proposals to send.” “Tell me in the morning, if you cannot I will pick him up” KK said staring at the wall. “Edward wanted to know about a good massage parlour, I told him you would know” KK gave him a wink.

Back in the room he noticed there were four missed calls. He called back. She said from the other end “Did you pay the bill?” “Paid. They didn’t charge any fine. I also took the Principal to task”, Manohar fibbed. “Why did you have to do that? What if paapu gets into trouble… I heard you had a fight with someone on the road… paapu is telling everyone here it was a big Pokeman fight. Everyone in the building knows about it now. Not only that, paapu is dancing around saying his father got scolded by the teacher for telling lies. What is happening to you Manohar? For trivial reasons people get murdered in this Bangalore, why did you have to have a street fight? What will people think? Why do you get into all kinds of laphadas? If something happens, what will paapu and I do? You have taken crores of loan on top of it for the site and for this flat. I have had enough of all these… the quarrels, fights… Tell me when are you coming home for dinner? I have to take paapu to his friend’s birthday party…Hope he won’t start telling stories of your escapades there”, she finished with, “I bought a sari, twelve thousand.”

“Don’t wait for me, I will reach by two or three in the night. Need to prepare a few proposals and I have to prepare for tomorrow’s meeting. Hope I will be forgiven”.

“All my life I will have this forgiving business. Let it be… Bring bananas if you can”.

By the time he finished all his work, it was three in the night. He started for home. On the way he saw an auto ahead of him wailing away. Either side of the road was being filled with a cloud of smoke emitted by the auto. Manohar kept honking so that he can overtake. Auto didn’t give him way, though it speeded a bit. Manohar thought of bumping into the auto.

Suddenly there was the sound of something breaking. The auto started to drag from one side to the other. Then it overturned and fell into the ditch dug on the roadside for the flyover. For a while there was a din – sounds of something breaking, shouts, all mixed up. Then there was silence. Manohar could only hear feeble sounds of agony.

Manohar stopped the car and looked for the source of the sound. He saw the driver crying in severe pain. Every nerve on the driver’s face was drawn out in pain. Blood oozed from his mouth and fell on his chest. Amid fear and pain he saw someone being near. He started to beg … please help me… call an ambulance…. Have a small daughter at home… please help… He began howling in pain.

Manohar touched his pocket. Found a Kings cigarette. He lighted it and took a puff. He looked at the howling, crying driver and said, “It is hurting, is it, bastard… you were driving in the middle of the road as if there is a rocket stuck to your bum… suffer now, what is it to me if you die, why should I get involved in your laphada.” He got into his car and turned the ignition. “Sorry sir” the driver was screaming. Slowly the driver’s wailing faded away.

Manohar looked into the side mirror to see what he can see. There was darkness spread right up to the horizon.

Arousing Compassion in Brahmins



I vividly remember an interview that Alanahalli Krishna did with Kuvempu many years ago.

Alanahalli asked Kuvempu: “Do you really believe that the Madhwa philosophy is a mean one?”

Kuvempu replied: “Mean? Most mean.”

Alanahalli had a hearty laugh over that, and the waves of that laughter still reverberate in my ear.

Kuvempu’s impatience with the Madhwa philosophy can be understood in the context of his broad humanist position. The “Nithya muktha, nithya samsaari, nithya naraki” (“One who is forever free, forever involved in worldly affairs and forever goes through the torments of hell”) philosophy of Madhwacharya holds that the human being and the world do not change.

It renders society static, devoid of dynamism, and makes a philosophy of hellish hierarchies.

Vishvesha Teertha is born in this context and is the head of a mut that propagates this philosophy. He seems to be trying to move out of the inertia, struggling to break the confines of the philosophy. It strikes me as the struggle of a little sparrow caught in a net and desperately fluttering its wings.

There are times that I feel that he ought to be with us, not out there. But when I ask myself if his struggle is truly from the heart and born out of a deep religiosity, I cannot confidently answer in the affirmative.

We begin to wonder if Vishvesha Teertha’s padayatra is a matter of religious faith or religious politicking when we juxtapose him with the vachanakaras who said “Keelingallade hayanu kareyadu”, implying that there is no redemption without defeating the ego, and moved closer to the lower castes with this deeply felt faith.

When asked if a man from the Kuruba community would ever be made the head of his mutt, Vishwesha Teertha lost patience and retorted: “You ask this only to Brahmins. Would you ask the same question to a Christian or a Buddhist institution?”

In fact, any man belonging to the Christian or Buddhist faith can ask his religious institution why he cannot head it. Those religions allow it. But is such a thing possible in a Hindu caste-religion? Did a Kanaka Dasa, who stood outside the door of the temple, not belong to your religion? Or is each caste a religion by itself?

What then is dharma or religion? It is, in fact, the hierarchy of higher and lower castes and practices associated with it. This is why we do not think it is petty when Vishwesha Teertha is not allowed to perform puja in Tirupati.

This is also why we fail to see the hypocrisy of a man who will command people not to convert to other religions without a hint of moral dilemma, but will never declare: “Do not covert to other faiths, I am willing to make you the head of my mutt.”

We are never struck by the cruelty of a system that has accepted exclusion as a tradition.

Vishwesha Theertha is all set to give “Vaishnava deekshe” (initiation) to Dalits. There are already several Dalit cult traditions which have long ago been initiated into the Vaishnava tradition. They follow the purificatory rituals of “madi” and treat their shankha-jagates (conch and cymbals) with reverence and do not allow others to enter places where they are kept. They look for brides and grooms within their own small community.

This has led to greater divisions rather than any coming together.

The seer’s padayatra might increase the population of such dasas among dalits, more people might blow conches and strike cymbals. People who have done this have never moved from their position as untouchables.

When such is the case, the Pejavar seer would do well to re-think his plans of giving “Vaishnava deekshe”.

Instead, giving “thrija” (third birth) deekshe to the twice-born Brahmins might be good for the unity, balance and health of our society. The present dwija initiation is intellect-centric. The Gayatri mantra that is central to dwija deekshe speaks of awakening the intellect.

Intellectual activities could also lead to deceptions, discriminations and a sense of superiority and inferiority. What the Indian society today needs urgently is an awakening of a sense of compassion and camaraderie. I request the seer to give this (the thrija deekshe), especially to the Brahmins, to awaken empathy.

My request should not be mistaken for arrogance. (I am sure U.R. Anantha Murthy would ask me to give him “thrija deekshe” if he were to hear of this new concept!)

India has given birth to many things. In fact we are masters in the business of giving births. We are people who have made rowdies of gods to keep the hierarchies of the four varnas, and the discriminations that come with it, intact. I am asking the Pejavar seer to inspire yet another birth and awakening.

We are, after all, a nation that believes in births and re-births.

Let me add to this logic with another theory: Those who practiced untouchability in their previous births are born untouchables in this birth, in order to experience it first hand. Those who practice it now will be born untouchables in the next birth. If there is any truth in re-births, this could as well be happening.

The Indian mind which has killed itself thinking up logical arguments to justify hierarchies, might as well indulge this logical argument for once to bring about unity.

I am getting tired and weary, but there is no end to this. I am living from time immemorial in the hope of finding love and equality. My dream is that the Pejavara seer’s padayatra would inspire at least a few young dwijas to turn trijas, marry outside their castes, and inspire the birth of a new humanity.

I hope my dream comes true.


Image courtesy: Vartha Bharati

Alain Badiou’s 15 Theses on Contemporary Art

Any thoughts?
Alain Badiou

15 Theses on Art
Published 2004

I think the great question about contemporary art is how not to be Romantic. It’s the great question and a very difficult one. More precisely, the question is how not to be a formalist-Romantic. Something like a mixture between Romanticism and formalism. On one side is the absolute desire for new forms, always new forms, something like an infinite desire. Modernity is the infinite desire of new forms. But, on the other side, is obsession with the body, with finitude, sex, cruelty, death. The contradiction of the tension between the obsession of new forms and the obsession of finitude, body, cruelty, suffering and death is something like a synthesis between formalism and Romanticism and it is the dominant current in contemporary art. All the 15 theses have as a sort of goal, the question how not to be formalist-Romantic. That is, in my opinion, the question of contemporary art.

1. Art is not the sublime descent of the infinite into the finite abjection of the body and sexuality. It is the production of an infinite subjective series through the finite means of a material subtraction.

2. Art cannot merely be the expression of a particularity (be it ethnic or personal). Art is the impersonal production of a truth that is addressed to everyone.

3. Art is the process of a truth, and this truth is always the truth of the sensible or sensual, the sensible as sensible. This means: the transformation of the sensible into a happening of the Idea.

4. There is necessarily a plurality of arts, and however we may imagine the ways in which the arts might intersect there is no imaginable way of totalizing this plurality.

5. Every art develops from an impure form, and the progressive purification of this impurity shapes the history both of a particular artistic truth and of its exhaustion.

6. The subject of an artistic truth is the set of the works which compose it.

7. This composition is an infinite configuration, which, in our own contemporary artistic context, is a generic totality.

8. The real of art is ideal impurity conceived through the immanent process of its purification. In other words, the raw material of art is determined by the contingent inception of a form. Art is the secondary formalization of the advent of a hitherto formless form.

9. The only maxim of contemporary art is not to be imperial. This also means: it does not have to be democratic, if democracy implies conformity with the imperial idea of political liberty.

10. Non-imperial art is necessarily abstract art, in this sense: it abstracts itself from all particularity, and formalizes this gesture of abstraction.

11. The abstraction of non-imperial art is not concerned with any particular public or audience. Non-imperial art is related to a kind of aristocratic-proletarian ethic: Alone, it does what it says, without distinguishing between kinds of people.

12. Non-imperial art must be as rigorous as a mathematical demonstration, as surprising as an ambush in the night, and as elevated as a star.

13. Today art can only be made from the starting point of that which, as far as Empire is concerned, doesn’t exist. Through its abstraction, art renders this inexistence visible. This is what governs the formal principle of every art : the effort to render visible to everyone that which for Empire (and so by extension for everyone, though from a different point of view), doesn’t exist.

14. Since it is sure of its ability to control the entire domain of the visible and the audible via the laws governing commercial circulation and democratic communication, Empire no longer censures anything. All art, and all thought, is ruined when we accept this permission to consume, to communicate and to enjoy. We should become the pitiless censors of ourselves.

15. It is better to do nothing than to contribute to the invention of formal ways of rendering visible that which Empire already recognizes as existent.

Corruption in Supreme Court ??


Mr. Shanti Bhushan’s affidavit in the supreme court in relation to the  contempt case against Mr. Prashant Bhushan wrt to the latter’s opinion that several recent CJIs were corrupt. Text taken from Outloook.


The Hon’ble Chief Justice &
His Companion Justices of the Supreme Court of India
The humble application of the Petitioners above named.

Most respectfully showeth:

  1. That the applicant is filing the present application for his impleadment as Respondent No. 3 in the aforementioned contempt petition as the applicant is making a categorical statement in the present application that eight of the last sixteen Chief Justices of India were definitely corrupt and also providing the names of those eight definitely corrupt Chief Justices in a sealed cover as an annexure along with the present application.
  2. The Applicant is a practicing advocate who was enrolled on 8th July 1948. He has appeared in each and every High Court in the country. He is well acquainted with the manner in which the Indian judiciary has been functioning and how its character has been changing over the years.
  3. That the applicant has been a part of the campaign for judicial accountability since its inception in the year 1990.
  4. That there was a time when it was almost impossible even to think that a judge of a High court or the Supreme Court could be corrupt. Things have changed drastically during the last 2 or 3 decades during which corruption has been growing in the Indian judiciary. So much so that even a sitting Chief Justice of India had to openly admit that 20% of the judges could be corrupt. Very recently in March 2010 a sitting Chief Justice of a high court openly made a statement. The statement of the sitting chief justice was published by the Times of India in its issue of 6th march 2010 with the headlines “In our judiciary, anybody can be bought, says Gujarat chief justice”. A copy of the news paper report is being annexed hereto as Annexure A.
  5. That the applicant believes that the reported statement may not be correctly reflecting the perception of the Gujarat Chief Justice, since he should be knowing as the applicant does that there are and have always been plenty of totally honest judges, but they are also becoming the victim of this public perception since no institution of governance in the country is taking any effective steps about dealing with corruption in the judiciary.
  6. That India became a republic in 1950, when the people became sovereign. They got the right to constitute their institutions, the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, to serve them, who would be accountable to them.
  7. That before 1950, corruption was almost non existent in the High Courts. The Federal Court had in 1949 got Justice Shiv Prasad Sinha removed from the Allahabad High Court, merely on the finding that he had passed 2 judicial orders on extra judicial considerations.
  8. That it however appears that thereafter the judiciary has adopted the policy of sweeping all allegations of judicial corruption under the carpet in the belief that such allegations might tarnish the image of the judiciary. It does not realize that this policy has played a big role in increasing judicial corruption.
  9. That the Constitution prescribed removal by impeachment as the only way of removing judges who commit misconduct since it was believed at the time of the framing of the Constitution that misconduct by judges of the higher judiciary would be very rare. However those expectations have been belied as is apparent from the surfacing of a series of judicial scandals in the recent past. The case of Justice V. Ramaswami and subsequent attempts to impeach other judges have shown that this is an impractical and difficult process to deal with corrupt judges. The practical effect of this has been to instill a feeling of impunity among judges who feel that they cannot be touched even if they misconduct.
  10. That corruption by judges is a cognizable offence. The Code of Criminal Procedure requires that whenever an FIR is filed with respect to a cognizable offence, it is the statutory duty of the police to investigate the offence. The police has to collect evidence against the accused and charge-sheet him in a competent court. He would then be tried and punished by being sent to jail. The Supreme Court has however by violating this statutory provision in the CrPC given a direction in its Constitution bench judgement in the Veeraswamy case of 1991 that no FIR would be registered against any judge without the permission of the Chief Justice of India. In not a single case has any such permission ever been granted for the registration of an FIR against any judge after that judgement.
  11. That the result of this direction has been that a total immunity has been given to corrupt judges against their prosecution. No wonder that judicial corruption has increased by leaps and bounds.
  12. That an honest judiciary enjoying public confidence is an imperative for the functioning of a democracy, and it is the duty of every right thinking person to strive to achieve this end.
  13. That unless the level of corruption in the judiciary is exposed and brought in the public domain, the institutions of governance cannot be activated to take effective measures to eliminate this evil.
  14. That it is the common perception that whenever such efforts are made by anyone, the judiciary tries to target him by the use of the power of contempt. It is the reputation of the judge which is his shield against any malicious and false allegations against him. He doesn’t need the power of contempt to protect his reputation and credibility.
  15. That the applicant strongly believes that a responsible citizen should be prepared to undergo any amount of suffering in the pursuit of the noble cause of fighting for a clean judiciary.
  16. That there are 2 statements of Respondent no. 1 published in Tehelka by Respondent no. 2 which are alleged to constitute contempt of court. In the 1st statement, Respondent no. 1 has expressed that in his view, out of the last 16 or 17 chief justices of India, half have been corrupt.
  17. The applicant states that in his view too this statement is absolutely correct. At the time of the publication of this report in Tehelka, the last 16 Chief Justices of India were the following:1. Justice Rangnath Mishra,
    2. Justice K.N. Singh,
    3. Justice M.H. Kania,
    4. Justice L.M. Sharma,
    5. Justice M.N. Venkatchalliah,
    6. Justice A.M. Ahemadi,
    7. Justice J.S. Verma,
    8. Justice M.M. Punchhi,
    9. Justice A.S. Anand,
    10. Justice S.P. Bharucha,
    11. Justice B.N. Kripal,
    12. Justice G.B. Patnaik,
    13. Justice Rajendra Babu,
    14. Justice R. C. Lahoti,
    15. Justice V.N. Khare,
    16. Justice Y.K Sabharwal

    Out of these, in the applicant’s opinion, eight were definitely corrupt, six were definitely honest and about the remaining two, a definite opinion cannot be expressed whether they were honest or corrupt. The signed lists identifying these eight, six and two Chief Justices of India are being enclosed in a sealed cover which is being annexed hereto as Annexure B.

  18. That in fact two former chief justices of India had personally told the applicant while they were in office that their immediate predecessor and immediate successor were corrupt judges. The names of these four Chief Justices of India are included in the list of the 8 corrupt Chief Justices of India.
  19. That since the applicant is publicly stating that out of the last sixteen Chief Justices of India, eight of them were definitely corrupt, the applicant also needs to be added as a respondent to this contempt petition so that he is also suitably punished for this contempt. The applicant would consider it a great honour to spend time in jail for making an effort to get for the people of India an honest and clean judiciary.
  20. That the applicant also submits that since the questions arising in this case affects the judiciary as a whole, the petition needs to be decided by the entire court and not merely by three judges handpicked by a Chief Justice.


In view of the above, it is most respectfully prayed that this Hon’ble Court may be pleased to:

  1. allow the present application and implead the Applicant as a contemnor in the aforementioned contempt petition as Respondent no. 3; and
  2. pass any other or further order/s as this Hon’ble Court may deem fit and proper in the facts and circumstances of the case.

(Shanti Bhushan)

New Delhi

The Locations of Indian English Novel


Following is an extract from my article published in The Journal of  Contemporary Literature. Vol. 2, No. 1. January 2010. pp. 34-49.

Many Worlds of Indian English Novel

This paper surveys the field of Indian English Novel in order to arrive at an understanding of the major areas of concern for any study of the field. This survey is conducted by examining certain prevalent assumptions, both positive and negative, regarding the field. The examination takes into account the implications of the naming of the field itself and explores various subject positions from which a fruitful negotiation of the field is possible. The paper begins with an exploration of the sociological status of the field of Indian English novel by attending to such characterisations of the field as elitism, alienated, inauthentic and ambivalent. Then I go on to examine issues related to the stability of terms that name this discourse by way of which I set out to identify the problematic of constituting the field. The paper further takes issues of nation, nationalism and how these frame a study of Indian English novel. And finally it examines the postcolonial interventions and suggests that the issues of language, modes of production, circulation and consumption lead us to characterise Indian English Novel as a fuzzy discourse.

There is a tendency to view Indian Writing in English as an ambivalent discourse. This characterisation reduces the complexity to a binary of indigenous and alien and asserts that English being an ‘alien’ language for Indians, it should not be used for creative expressions. The objection does not include usually such writings as journalistic, personal, administrative or professional. However, the reductionism in this objection becomes clear if we step across the colonialism/nationalism binary and attend to the deployment of English for various purposes by Indians.

While the English language is a social marker of privilege in India, it would be erroneous to restrict elitism to having access to English language or to assume that access to it is the final barrier for the subaltern. Elite and subaltern are contingently produced social relations. In fact, the context of social relations is the only site where elitism/subalternity can be discerned. Caution is needed against unproblematically bracketing literature written in English as being elite and thereby implying that what is not in English and is in modern Indian languages as not being elite. Speaking of the literary field, we may notice that novelists who write in the modern Indian languages and those who write in English occupy similar terrain of social status, as against the multiple layers of economic and cultural hierarchy that exist in Indian society. There are situations when the relation of English to any of the modern Indian languages is characterised by privilege. However, the modern Indian languages (even the ones that are officially ‘recognised’) do not in themselves form a level field. The relation between the various Indian languages is also characterised by privilege and underprivilege, something that might be seen operating behind the many language riots. Further, even within a language group social relation is characterised by hierarchisation at various levels. This applies to literary texts as well, and it is not necessarily the English texts that are privileged always and everywhere. More pertinently, an antagonistic view of Indian Writing in English as an alien discourse misses the rich and resonant interaction between Indian languages and English on the one hand, and on the other, the intertextual discourse that Indian English literature develops out of its being housed within the tradition of literatures in India. As Vinay Dharwadkar says,

[…] after nearly two centuries of continuous aesthetic refinement, the highly crafted ‘English’ of Indian-English literature is full of the long shadows of the Indian languages. The indigenous languages are among the social, political, and aesthetic elements that have penetrated the English language in its alien environment on the subcontinent… To the great distinction of Indian-English writers and their collective creativity, this shadowy interspersion constitutes a pervasive, internal ‘decolonization’ of English at the level of language itself.

The increased currency of the Indian English novels within the global postcolonial knowledge industry in the present juncture has definitely privileged the novels written in English. But the fact that this was not always the case and that this privilege is true only of novels (of a particular kind) suggests that our reading of elitism/subalternity with respect to the field of Indian English literature should be more nuanced. For example, right now, poetry written in English has few takers and the poets struggle to find publishers.

The unqualified branding of Indian English literature as elite has little purchase if made in dissociation from material conditions and the issues of reception and dissemination. Such a belief is the outcome of a commonsensical idea that English is an elite language. This is based on the reading of the socio-cultural scenario wherein residues of colonial consciousness hold English as a superior language. Another reason is the economic and social opportunities, especially in the new economy, that are available to those who speak English. Imagining the exceptions will better explain the issue. One, a person in India without ever knowing/learning English can live an elite life in many socio-cultural situations. On the contrary, a girl, proficient in English, working in a call centre (with all her American accent) might be subjected to several layers of subordination. This, however, is not an exercise in denying the fact that in India English is a privileged language and the language of the privileged, but to indicate that the terms ‘elite’ and ‘subaltern’ need to be understood in the context of social relations. Meenakshi Mukherjee locates this issue in the larger political and economic context:

The demands of economy, both national and global, create a thrust towards a homogenisation of culture, and in India the language that can most effectively achieve this is English, which is also the language of upward mobility… It is logical that reading habits should also follow this trend. Whether it is desirable or not, seen from this point of view, the growing visibility of English as the preferred language of literature in India seems to be an irreversible process.

The beginning, development and the contemporary practice of Indian Writing in English evidences its deployment in diverse ideological and cultural contingencies. In his excellent essay on Indian Writing in English, Vinay Dharwadkar identifies four ‘subject-positions’ that writers of Indian Writing in English come to occupy. He traces the complex inter-relations and interactions between these and the development of the various genres in Indian writing in English. The four subject positions Dharwadkar discusses are: collaboration, provincialism, nationalism and cosmopolitanism. He associates ‘collaboration’ with the imitative discourses wherein approximation with the metropolitan colonial culture is deemed a positive value and hence the attempt results in valorising the imperialist discourse. The second subject position, provincialism, is associated with the spirit of reviving the indigenous traditions with the village as the metaphorical locale of such discursive articulation. Ideologically this position presents a strong critique of the colonial power and situates itself as a resistant discourse to both the metropolitan as well as the Indian urban culture. The third subject position in Dharwadkar’s scheme is nationalist, which sets itself up as the inclusive counter discourse to colonialism, aspiring to resist the ‘foreign’ and representing the solidarity of the ‘national’. The fourth subject position identified by Dharwadkar is cosmopolitanism which does not ideologically align completely with any of the three subject positions, but negotiates with the metropolitan, national, and provincial culture to produce a discourse of modernity. Dharwadkar develops a much-nuanced reading of the historical processes under which the many discursive forms developed in relation to socio-cultural and historical conditions:

Each of the four subject-positions that appeared in the Indian cultural sphere and in print in the nineteenth century was constituted dynamically in its differentiation from the other three positions, with which it interacted conflictually, continuously and untrancendably. Each position was a condensation point for a historical process, a geographical location, an ideology, a cultural identity, a corresponding political strategy, and a characteristic mode of representation and style of writing.

It may be safely used as the framework to understand the positions within Indian English Novel. If at all, the complexity has increased and it may be possible to find a couple of more subject positions in the contemporary historical condition. I would add globalisation, modern conservativism, and emancipatory modernisation. The first of this relates to Indian writings in English (much of it in mass media) that situate themselves in a postnational condition of globality with nation as having no claim on identity or affiliation. The second subject position is ideologically conservative and is like the revivalist category mentioned by Dharwadkar, but materially it locates itself in modernity even as it ideologically rejects it. The third valorises modernisation as a means of empowerment and deploys English language for that purpose. Here, the resistance is to the indigenous orthodoxy and the metropolitan culture of late capitalism is a strategic means of militating against the discursive structures that perpetuate traditional dispossession. This is mainly found in anti-caste discourses. Thus, Indian Writing in English is a discourse of many dimensions that at once addresses a number of complex, accrued, and multi-sourced socio-cultural tangles, and issues of political economy in India. The demand often made against the Indians’ use of English for creative purposes becomes a hopeless romantic objection which views language use in a simple identity binary of self and other. Therefore, questions of validity of Indian Writings in English are largely irrelevant considering the various ideological, cultural and social locations of this discourse and its deployment for different purposes by different people.

Constituting the Indian English Novel

Constituting the field of Indian English Novel presents a peculiar problem as the term suggests solidity to notions such as India, Indian English and novel. For example, nation has come to be seen as a construct and the processes of formation of a nation are considered to be never complete. This constructivist view of nation holds that a discrete identity of nation is not readily available; that is always discursively staged. From this standpoint, each of the three words here throws up tangled issues. How does one interpret the term ‘Indian’ when used in naming the field of ‘Indian English Novel’? Can one, contrary to the indeterminate notion of nation and identity, claim it to be a stable pointer to the inside and the outside of the field? Naming is an act of delimiting and structuring. The nomenclature assigned to this field is reductive and shows up many cracks under close scrutiny. The name it bears can only feebly contain the many contending issues that beset any claim of coherence within. For example there is the well-known gender question: that women writers had for long received less attention or that female life is inadequately represented in literary traditions. This debate alerts us to how the name ‘Indian’ might act as a mechanism of appropriation of a large cultural and societal space while glossing over the muted voices within. Thus, the question of naming a field in terms of national identity is deeply problematic. The case of V.S. Naipaul is an interesting one because, though he is a Trinidadian, who never held Indian citizenship or lived in India, his works were included for long in the syllabi of Indian English Writing courses in many Universities in India. In fact, in a book published as recently as 2001, Tabish Khair discusses Naipaul within the canon of Indian English Fiction. (Ch. 11) So does Vinay Dharwadkar in his 2003 essay on the formation of Indian English Literature. (252) Diasporic novelists bring to the fore another problem by rendering it impossible to claim that any novel on India or any novel by a writer of Indian origin can unproblematically belong to Indian English literature. The diasporic writing also challenges any easy notion of ‘Indian’ as well as the kind of Indias appearing in their works considering that they deal with the memory of homeland. In many cases the representation of homeland is keyed more to the conditions of diasporic existence in the host country. The challenges that diasporic writings throw at categorisation of literature on national basis are discussed by Arif Dirlik:

As literature has been placed at the service of exploring ethnic and transnational (or diasporic) identities, the construction of identities in literary work has been confounded with the ethnography of culture, subjecting the writer to pressures that subvert the autonomy of creative work. Compounding this confusion is the question of the cultural belonging of literature as it is divorced from earlier associations with nations and national languages.

The emergence of Indian English novels into prominence in metropolitan academic spaces in the era of globalisation has raised questions about the relation between the diasporic and the India-based writers and their works. There is an asymmetrical relationship between the two in terms of the reception and dissemination of their work within as well as outside India. The former by now are well established in the canons of postcolonial cultural studies with the latter receiving comparatively less attention. R. Raj Rao points out this schism and notes bitterly:

The current hype surrounding the Indian English novel has nothing to do with [the] writers based in India. These are serious writers but they have none of the benefits of those writers based abroad… Those who write only in English and are based in India are nowhere men and nowhere women.

This phenomenon has serious consequences in the way literary representation of India takes place as well as literary discourses are shaped. The development also needs to be studied in terms of the nature of ‘India’ portrayed and how this participates in the generation and normalisation of a particular kind of representation. In other words ever since the international market, academy and readership have valorised such writers as Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth, Amitav Ghosh, Arundhati Roy, Rohinton Mistry and Bharati Mukherjee, the representation of India by non-diasporic writers also has come to be influenced by the success of these writers. This may be seen as a kind of orientalisation and Vinay Dharwadkar in fact makes exactly the same point when he says, “it leads to a renewed exoticization – practically a re-Orientalization – of India in diasporic writing.” (257) Anis Shivani (2006) discusses this with reference to four diasporic novelists, Amit Chaudhuri, Pankaj Mishra and Manil Suri.

Rama Mehta’s Inside the Haveli


Below is an extract from my article on Rama Mehta’s novel Inside the Haveli. The article was published in South Asian Review vol. 30. No. 1. September/October 2009. pp. 286–301. It is titled “Emplotment of Aristocratic Nation in Rama Mehta’s Inside the Haveli

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In South Asian debates, the nostalgic mode of cultural memory deploys binary oppositions such as ‘tradition’ and ‘modernity’ so as to defend the perpetuation of cultural orthodoxy. The terrain of postcolonial debate has witnessed the resurgence of this kind of defence of cultural orthodoxy in the name of critique of modernity often. One of the sites for the assertion of cultural orthodoxy has been the space of ‘nation’. In as far as ‘nation’ is a modern form of sociality in South Asian societies it is fraught with issues of derivation. One familiar trope in the critiques of nationalism is the one based on its ‘alienness’. Such a critique is usually predicated upon a defence of cultural orthodoxy: the brahminical patriarchy. The charge of ‘alienenss’ in such critiques is a reductive examination of the phenomenon of nationalism ignoring the plural conceptions of nation. The labelling of nation as a derivative discourse legitimizes a hegemonic notion of cultural interaction whereby the reconfigurations effected in the concept are devalued. These critiques of nationalism ignore contestations of nation and nationalisms by rendering them as singular. Thus, an important critical engagement evident in past and present mass movements is negated by this critique though it has acquired greater visibility.

Nations are not imagined into being in abstraction but through associations based on shared practices and dissociations based on differentiations. These two processes are never complete or coherent, thereby leading to an unstable production of identity that is forever in the making. This instability in and the continuous production of the collective identity hence characterises nation as a field of contestations. ‘Nation’ as a collective identity is continuously under construction and forever pluralized. Beginning with this constructivist notion of nation, this paper examines the configuration of collective identity in Rama Mehta’s Inside the Haveli. The argument I present here is that the novel valorizes feudal aristocratic patriarchy via a plea for preserving the local tradition by ignoring the class and gender refractions therein.

Inside the Haveli is Rama Mehta’s only novel though she has published academic books and children’s fiction. Her works of fiction for children are Ramu and Life of Keshav. Rama Mehta’s academic books include The Western Educated Indian Woman (1970), The Divorced Hindu Woman (1975), and India: Now and Through Time (co-author) (1971). The novel was published in 1977 and thus 1970s is the period in which Rama Mehta published all her works. Significantly, the novel and the non-fictional books have common concerns as they all circle around the issues of women’s relation to tradition and modernity. The particular intervention that this novel made in the contemporary debates about the conflict/continuity between tradition and modernity was enthusiastically received. This is apparent in its positive reception. The novel won the 1979 Sahitya Academy Award and was heralded by established critics such as Srinivass Iyengar:

Inside the Haveli is a sensitive piece of realistic fiction, even an authentic sociological study, and it is written with a naturalness and poise that are disarming and effective at once. The evocation of scene, character and especially of atmosphere is almost uncanny… The balance between repose and movement is well sustained, there is romance but no cheap sex, there is tension but no violence, and there is a feeling for the values and verities.[i]

Published at a time when in India the desire for modernity was strong even as pride in tradition was fierce, Inside the Haveli is a novel that sets up a face off between tradition and modernity and it is seen as offering the best of both the ‘worlds’.[ii] Its popularity seems to be not so much due to resolving the conflict between tradition and modernity, but for favouring tradition and maintaining a conservative outlook, both in ideological framing of the narrative as well as the style in which it is rendered. That the novel’s ideological framing of modernity can at once gather up pedagogic import is suggested in the praise showered on it by Viney Kirpal:

Rama Mehta’s intentions in writing this novel are to help the western educated Indian reader regain his belief in his own traditions… The resolution of the novel is that Geeta gradually grows away from the westernised perception acquired from her education and learns to appreciate the dignity, solemnity, meaning and worth of indigenous traditions[iii].

This paper proposes to examine closely the deployment of the thematic of tradition and modernity and explore how this stages ‘nation’. The analysis of the novel takes into account the institution of two temporal and spatial categories in the novel, one representing the traditional aristocracy inhabiting the haveli and the other representing the world outside it which is integrated into nationhood. The novel then goes on to valorize the former, defending its socio-cultural practices by glossing over the inherent oppressiveness. Contrary to its initial claim of common bond among the inhabitants of the old city of Udaipur, the novel reveals processes of othering within the old city based on class and gender. It ends up contesting the horizontal life effected by nation on behalf of the aristocracy, the defence of which is made in the novel by defending its traditions. The novel, however, effectually silences the dissent based on class by portraying the generosity of the aristocracy. Thus, in this novel, contestation of nation as a modern collectivity is undertaken from the point of view of the aristocracy. It deploys the thematic smoke screen of the conflict between tradition and modernity only to naturalize the perpetuation of patriarchal hierarchy.

Inside the Haveli demarcates its narrative paradigm by instituting a division between the magical time of traditional community and the flat horizontal time of nation-state. The former derives its enchanting character in its difference from the memory-less domain of the latter. The novel opens with a highly resonant description of Udaipur’s ‘Old City’ in its distinction from the new township: “Udaipur was once the capital of the state of Mewar; now it is only a town like many other towns in Rajasthan.”[iv] (3) The contrast invoked in the words ‘once’ and ‘now’ introduces the nostalgic and rues the levelling of Udaipur with ‘many other towns’ in the time of the nation-state. The insertion of Udaipur into the flat horizontal plane of nation-state is viewed as undermining its magical uniqueness.

The novel characterises this ‘magicality’ as being generated in the now through a memory of the past: “But the change in its status hasn’t diminished its beauty, nor the air of mystery that hangs over what is now known as ‘Old City’.” (3) There is a suggestion that the diminution in the status is occasioned by the integration of the state of Mewar into the Indian nation-state, into becoming one among the many towns of Rajasthan. The likeness to other towns is seen here as a diminution in status. Thus, the coming of the nation-state (the state of Mewar has been dissolved into the Indian nation-state at the time of Indian independence, and the beginning of the novel is twenty-five years from that time) has brought about a reduction in the status of Udaipur.

The change in the status nevertheless is only a limited ‘loss’ because, the novel goes on to assert, its ‘beauty’ is undiminished. The result of this contradiction is the production of magicality: ‘the air of mystery’ that ‘hangs over’ the city. The severance is neither complete, nor is the flattening all-penetrating because this mystery, this nostalgic production of the magicality that sustains the past through remembered practices sets up the ‘old city’ as distinct. Therefore, “the wall still divides Udaipur into two halves. The new township is beyond the old wall and the city within it.” (3) The topographical division also marks a deeper distance as the ‘old city’ and the new township are enveloped in the novel’s narrative prose in distinct zones of time. In two paragraphs of contrasting visions of each other, the novel points to the distance in terms which focus on the continuity with the past for the old city and an absence of collective memory for the new township. (5) In the first of these paragraphs, the view of the township by the people of the old city is presented:

They have seen the rows of neat houses on either side of the broad tarmac road. The air is clean and in it there is no cow dung smoke but there is no soul in the new township. Its people have not memories of what Udaipur was like, they are newcomers, they don’t have common ancestors. They don’t belong to the soil of Mewar. (5)

This view of the township as a body without past, without memory, without soul and without roots is an index of the collective identity invoked in the novel. It is an identity that is specific to Udaipur, issuing from the memory of its glorious past (“No one in the city can forget those days when Udaipur belonged to the people” (5)). Unlike the old city, the new township is a conglomeration of people without collective memory, ancestors, common customs and a sense of belonging. Thus, the old city and the new township occupy different horizons of collectivity, the four hundred years old wall signalling the distance. Though this wall is crumbling, there are big gaps (presumably symptomatic of the ambivalent space where the old city and new township form continuity), it still ‘divides’ Udaipur.

The view of the old city by the people in the new town is less penetrating. While the description of the new township seen by the people of the old city is detailed enough, the description is minimal when the people in the new town see the old city: “They are puzzled by the wall–enclosed havelis… There is no way they can look into the courtyards… The town people leave the old city, without having fathomed what goes on inside men’s and women’s apartments of the haveli.” (5) The differentiated visions of each other, one penetrating while the other puzzled, sets up in the novel a preferred site of narrativization. The old city from now on becomes the closed off horizon of the narrative universe. The narrative dismisses the new township, never to venture into it, though its presence continues to index the ‘crumbling’ wall and the growing gaps in it.

[i] K.R. Srinivasa Iyengar, Indian Writing in English. rev. edn., New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Private Limited, 1985. p. 753.

[ii] See R.K. Asthana, “Tradition and Modernity in Inside the Haveli”, in R.K. Dhawan, (ed), Indian Women Novelists, vol. IV, New Delhi: Prestige Books, 1991. pp. 193-201.

[iii] Viney Kirpal, “How Traditional can a Modern Indian be: Analysis of Inside the Haveli” in R.K. Dhawan, (ed), Indian Women Novelists, vol. IV, New Delhi: Prestige Books, 1991. p. 176.

[iv] Rama Mehta, Inside the Haveli. (1977), New Delhi: Penguin, 1996.

Amazing Wildlife Photos by Lokesh Mosale


My friend Lokesh Mosale is a wildlife photographer who is based in Maysore, Karnataka. His pictures never stop surprising me. He seems to capture movements and play of light. It is not the remoteness of the bird captured in his photo that attracts our attention but the moment captured that is amazing. I hope he wont mind me posting some here. Please visit his website and ENJOY.