by Fakrul Alam
My attention was attracted by it almost as soon as I stepped out of Sydney airport and pretty soon I was doing it too—the Australian salute! The gesture consists of the fingers of your hand raised half voluntarily as if to swat away something occupying facial space and upsetting one’s mental equilibrium, but in the end the movement is obviously nothing more threatening than a half-hearted attempt to brush away the pesky, ubiquitous Australian fly. Indeed, I now realize I had seen it often in cricket broadcasts: Big Tony Greig, it is obvious, was doing it in the sidelines, while commentating, as was modestly built Rickie Ponting while taking guard, or brawny Bret Lee when darting in to bowl his lightning-quick balls. And my wife and I were going to do it again and again the three weeks we spent in Down Under Land whether in and around the cities of Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, or Brisbane, where we were to spend 21 pleasure-filled “high” Australian summer (late December to early January ) days!
by Fakrul Alam
India in Mind. Edited by Pankaj Mishra. London: Picador India, 2005
Pankaj Mishra’s anthology, Imagining India offers us twenty-five remarkable ways of looking at India, and, inevitably, imagining it. The viewers, alphabetically arranged in Mishra’s capacious collection, range from the whimsical and endearing Englishman J. R. Ackerley to the equally idiosyncratic and engaging but more famous American Gore Vidal. Chronologically, the entries span over a century; the earliest is Mark Twain’s characteristically sharp account of his visit to Bombay at the end of the 19th century to Pico Iyer’s 2003 elegant fictional ruminations on the much-traveled tourist triangle of Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra (although the extract from Vidal’s novel has him conjuring an encounter with Gautama Buddha in fifth century India). Most entries describe India in the twentieth century, encompassing turn of the century Raj, the waning days of empire, the period of transition when Indians finally took over their country, and the closing years of the last millennium when intermittently “eternal”, occasionally exquisite or esoteric, and often exasperating India still claimed the itinerant, alienated or exilic writer’s attention.
by Fakrul Alam
The Future of Knowledge and Culture: A Dictionary for the 21 st Century. Edited by Vinay Lal and Ashis Nandy. New Delhi. Penguin Viking, 2005.
By the end of the twentieth century, projects of modernity were becoming increasingly discredited in the realm of ideas. Postmodern thinkers had undermined most grand narratives and dismantled quite a few of the structures erected by enlightenment thinkers. Nevertheless, habits of thoughts shaped by well entrenched disciplinary apparatuses, models of development promoted by organizations pushing globalizing schemes and models, media blitzes sponsored by multinational capitalism, and constant ideological interpellation had blunted the sensibilities of most people. Many had started to believe that it was enough to live in a world of conspicuous consumption and have their desires satisfied instantly, endlessly.
by Fakrul Alam
Teaching Literature . Oxford : Blackwell Publishing, 2003. 177 pp.
Nearly thirty years ago, when I first went into a classroom in the University of Dhaka to teach English literature I remember how terrified I was. I had spent a couple of days reading for the class and half of a sleepless night writing out the lecture itself. I think I had written out my lecture in its entirety—twenty pages at least! —and then memorized it. And yet once in the classroom I managed to blurt it out in about forty minutes, leaving me with ten minutes of sheer agony and embarrassment.
by Fakrul Alam
Like the city that it focuses on, Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found ( Delhi:
Viking Penguin, 2004, 584 pages) is a big, sprawling book. The result of a two and a half year stay by someone who had once grown up in the city and who is now a journalist and fiction writer based in New York—an even more gargantuan metropolis—the book is an intense, sustained look at a unique city. Reading it, one becomes aware that the city is humongous and contains multitudes. No two people will see it the same way though any one who has visited the city even once will see it even more vividly how unique it really is through Mehta’s book.
by Krishnan Unni P.
The Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationlism by Nyla Ali Khan, London and New York: Routledge, 2005.
Transnationalism is an idea that encompasses various discursive and cultural formations of nation’s ideologies, culural practices and modes of resistance. Literature, viewed in this context, becomes an accurate tool of expressing the agonies, sentiments and sensitive issues that often lurk within the nations. Writers who have a wide panorama of incorporating into their works issues that cross beyond the borders are global writers despite their merits and demerits. Nation becomes the foremost platform for these writers to expand and shrink, to extend and substitute because it is a different aspect of nationalism that they wish to highlight. Nyla Ali Khan’s The Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism makes an attempt to study the different types of nationalisms and deviant discourses connected to them in the writings of V.S. Naipaul, Salman Rushdie, Amitava Ghosh and Anita Desai.
by Mala Pandurang
Chinnamani’s World, Mukunda Rao. Penguin Books, India, 2003.
Chinnamani is eleven years old and lives in Indira Slum, one of the five hundred slums in the growing cyber-city of Bangalore. A large number of the slum dwellers in Indira Slum are migrant laborers from Tamil Nadu and work as construction laborers at rapidly expanding middle-class-housing layouts. Chinnamani reluctantly attends a nearby corporation school. He is passionate about cricket, and worships the Tamil ‘superstar’ Ranjnikanth. His father (Tharkari Thangamani) is a multi-lingual vegetable vendor filled with remorse at his inability to break his habit of drinking His mother (Parvati) does backbreaking construction work to ensure the family does not go hungry. It is Parvati’s determination to give Chinnamani an ‘English medium’ education that keeps him at a school he detests attending.
by Mala Pandurang
Arundhati Roy. Critical Perspectives. (ed.) Murari Prasad. New Delhi : Pencraft International. New Orientations Series. 2006. 211 pages. Rs 450.
This volume is a competently edited collection of eleven qualitative essays that focus on Arundhati Roy’s engagements with intersecting discourses of postcolonialism, globlization, anti-capitalism and feminism.
The contributions can be divided into two categories. First, those offering multiple perspectives of Roy ‘s only novel, The God of Small Things – beginning with Aijaz Ahmad’s oft quoted response to GOST that first appeared in Frontline in 1997. While Ahmed accepts that ‘the ideology of form’ is Roy ‘s strength, he critiques her ‘ideological opposition to communism’ as fraught with complications. Campbell-Hall presents a comparative study of the textual representative of skilled labour in Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient and Anil’s Ghost and GOST and suggests that the text offers alternate post colonial identities through the dalit artisan characters; Alex Tickell analyses the scene of the family in their sky-blue Plymouth as a ‘fitting analogy for the creative situation of the post colonial author’; Antonio Navarro-Tejero focuses on the signification of the ‘factory’ in the novel in the context of the ‘decadence of domestic business as modernization and capitalism takes over’; and Madhu Benoit analyses the consequence of the ‘metatemporal narrative mode.’ The essay I particularly enjoyed reading was Brinda Bose’s reading of the construction of the erotic in GOST. Bose counters Aijaz Ahmad’s critique of Roy ‘s political positioning by suggesting that ‘ one’s personal politics is after as extension of one’s position’, and therefore ‘ a politics of desire could be considered as viable as a politics as any other’.
by Mala Pandurang
Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss, 2006; Penguin Books, India (Rs. 495. 324 pgs.)
The Inheritance of Loss has a minimal plot. The narrative is set at the foot of Mount Kanchenjunga in the Himalayas. It is 1986 when the story opens with a robbery by young insurgents, who force their way into a retired judge’s decrepit colonial mansion and steal his hunting rifles in the presence of the judge, his seventeen-year-old granddaughter Sai, his cook, and his purebred dog Mutt. The narrative then weaves back and forth, offering the personal histories of the characters, and the political background to a growing discontent and insurgency of the Indian Nepalese youth, “ fed up with being treated like the minority in a place where they were the majority” (19). The Gorkhaland National Liberation Front (GNLF) is now seeking a separate Nepali state , and as acts of violence, and of police brutality mount, the lives of the non-Nepalis who have resided in the hills for decades take tragic twists, as they become unwanted outsiders, and prisoners of their own location.
Three generations are braided through Hiroshima, the Partition and 9/11. Yet they are untouched by it all.