The Presentation of the Western World in Indo-Anglian Fiction

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 The Presentation of the Western World in Indo-Anglian Fiction

By – Dr. Prakash Narain, Vol.II, Issue.XXII, November 2016

Introduction to the Author:

Dr. Prakash Narain is the head of English Department, MGM (PG) College, Sambhal, UP. He has attended various conferences and presented papers on different literary topics. Also, he has published papers in different literary journals on vivid literary opinions.


The western world is presented in the novels of several Indian English novelists whether it is Salman Rushdie or Vikram Seth; Amitav Ghosh or Upamanyu. The main focus of the novels after the nineties is to show Indian-born people, rather the expatriate in different countries of the globe and how they react against or for the society of that particular country. In this way, Indian novelists open up the door of the western world to the Indians and the vice-versa. In Vikram Seth’s ‘An Equal Music’, Upamanyu’s ‘English, August’, Amitav Ghosh’s ‘Calcutta Cromozome’, Salman Rushdie’s ‘Ground Beneath Her Feet’ and ‘Enchantress of Florence’, etc. the western influence, rather the global journey is very much evident. Now, the question which automatically arises before us that whether the exposure of the western world or the East-West relationship in the novels after the nineties, a bane or a boon for the Indian writing in English Naturally it has its positive as well as the negative aspects. The global journey, on the one side, gives us the scope to roam without physical journey to see the world through the black letters of the novels and to think and evaluate the cultures of the different countries with our culture and habits on the other way, critics are also of opinion that such a journey marks the intrinsic merit of the novels because the novels based on journeys on a foreign land seem more a travelogue or itinerary rather than a compact work of fiction. The problem of unity and disunity in structures, themes and content appear from the very issue as we are discussing in the previous section that whether the global journey a boon or a bane for the Indian English novels.

Critics like M.K. Naik are of opinion that “such an excessive journey as is evident in the recent novels down from Anita Desai or Shashi Deshpande will create disorder, chaos and frustration in a particular fiction”. The problem of unity and disunity should be understood in its detail because it is the core of essential good writing whether it is fiction or poetry; prose or short-stories. The particular problem arises due to the rapid growth of ideas as ‘globalization’, ‘hybridity’ and ‘diaspora’. For all its revolutionary and therapeutic benefits, there are, as Fanon has written, many pitfalls to national consciousness. Foremost among these are uncritical assertions and constructions of cultural essentialism and distinctiveness. Fanon, as Bhabha points out, “is far too aware of the dangers of the fixity and fetishism of identities within the calcification of colonial culture to recommend that “roots” be struck in the celebratory romance of the past or by homogenizing the history of the present. The entrenched discourse of cultural essentialism merely reiterates and gives legitimacy to the insidious racialization of thought which attends the violent logic of colonial rationality. Accordingly, the unconditional affirmation of Indian culture reinstates the prejudices embodied in the unconditional affirmation of European culture. Clearly, the nationalist work of psychological and cultural rehabilitation is a crucial and historically expedient phase in the liberation of a people consigned, as Fanon puts it, to barbarism, degradation and bestiality by the harsh rhetoric of the colonial civilizing mission. Nonetheless, aggressive assertions of cultural identity frequently come in the way of wider international solidarities. Ideally, national consciousness ought to pave the way for the emergence of an ethically and politically enlightened global community. National consciousness, which is not nationalism, is the only thing that will give us an international dimension. The same thing is evident in the neo-novelists of the Indian diaspora. The fake nationalism inspires disunity within the structure and theme of a particular fiction but according to Salman Rushdie, “the unity can be achieved through the management of themes into a particular framework so that the effect of globalization would not affect the unity”. However, the problem of unity and disunity is a complex problem to comprehend for a layman who doesn’t have enough literary nourishment. But it is a serious problem and that is why, we discussed it in a comprehensive way. The recent novelists of Indian origin and the European novelists of the twenty-first century concentrate also on this particular problem and it is also the Ulysses’ bow of criticism among erudite personalities.

For instance, as a global problem, the mass migration happening from the villages to the cities and it is shown intricately in the case of Rasheed in A Suitable Boy. Even Arun moves to Calcutta for his job and he takes up a cosmopolitan identity in A Suitable Boy. These migrations can also be seen in an Equal Music where Michael moves away from his hometown in the countryside to Vienna and then to the city of London to pursue a musical career. The characters take up a cosmopolitan identity rather than a pan-national identity and this is one of the traits of globalization. Seth uses different styles and genres which are amply reflected in his works. His poetry, novels, a novel in verse, a travelogue, a libretto, a memoir, all these reflect his inclination to travel on uncharted territories and very few people can claim to have achieved fame by experimenting with such different genres. Even his works reflect a global nature in the variety with which Seth provides his readers. One can only marvel at the length he went to so as to give such an in-depth study in all his works. In the novel ‘English, August’ by Upamanyu Chatterjee, we see that the story centers around a westernized city-boy Augustya who is stranded in a small village with a job he isn’t interested in at all. The western influence on young generation and vast difference between urban and rural lives form a part of the theme as well. The influence of over sexuality of the western life can easily be seen in this novel. Agastya is often shown indulging in masturbating. The reference of Mrs.Shrivastava’s black bra under yellow or pink blouse is enough proof of this fact.

Amitabh Ghosh’s ‘Calcutta Cromozone’ also presents the influence of the western world. The novel begins with the story of Antar, an employee of the LifeWatch organization, who recounts an encounter with L. Murugan, an employee of Life Watch who has disappeared in Calcutta. The plot is quite complicated and its timelines are deliberately mixed up. Antar starts to track Murugan’s disappearance in Calcutta many years back. Murugan has asked to be transferred to Calcutta because of his fascination with the life of Sir Ronald Ross. The Calcutta of Ronald Ross is well separated in time from the Calcutta that Murugan visits, but the New York of Antar and the Calcutta of Murugan seem to overlap in time, though it is clearly stated in the novel that they are separated by many years. Through his research into old and lost documents and phone messages, Antar figures out that Murugan had systematically unearthed an underground scientific/mystical movement that could grant eternal life. Loosely described, the process is as follows: the disciples of this movement can transfer their chromosomes into another, and gradually become that person or take over that person. In the novel, Ronald Ross did not discover the mysteries of the malaria parasite; it was a group of underground practitioners of a different, mystical “science,” natives of India, who helped to guide Ross to the conclusions for which he is famous. These Indians provided Ross with clues in the belief that in the moment Ross made his discovery, the parasite would change its nature. At this point, a new variant of malaria would emerge and the group’s research using the chromosome-transfer technique would advance even further Western silence is a recurrent theme in the novel, originating from the often-stated premise that to say something is to change it. Huttunen notes that the workings of the Indian scientific/mystical movement uncovered by Murugan “constitutes a counter-science to Western scientific discourse”. The tenets of the group contain aspects of the Hindu belief in the transmigration of souls as well as of contemporary scientific ideas about genetics and cloning. Its native Indian members operate through means kept secret from the more Westernized characters and from the reader, and their activities become progressively clearer as the novel continues until their plan is revealed to the reader. Huttunen explains that the methodology of this group is based on the ideas of Emmanuel Levinas about communication by way of silence. In Levinas’ view, “the other exists outside the traditional ontology of Western philosophy which conceives of all being as objects that can be internalized by consciousness or grasped by adequate representation … Consequently, silence in this novel represents the kind of unattainable experience that transcends the level of language, or knowing”. It is this enigma that the novel leaves behind as an abiding theme. The reader is forced to keep thinking about it much after turning the last page. The mystery at the heart of the story is never completely resolved by the author, leaving much to the reader’s understanding and interpretation.

In his novel ‘The Ground Beneath Her Feet’, Salman Rushdie brings us an epic report about western life at the end of the second millennium. The story centers on Vina Apsara and her lover Ormus Cama, a pair who have brought almost unthinkable influence and change to western music: to rock and roll. Together their music has dwarfed that of the Beatles and The Rolling Stones and any other influential group you might care to name. Apsara and Cama have been the pair that all others have given their props to throughout the tumultuous last three decades of rock. Their story — the story of their love, music and rise to the heights of their lives and influence — is told by Rai, a photographer who was Ormus’ and Vina’s childhood friend and who becomes Vina’s sometime lover. Rushdie presents a reflection of the western life, thus:

Meanwhile, Vina’s playboy lover had been taken to hospital in the grip of drug-induced seizures so extreme that they eventually proved fatal, and for days afterwards, because of what happened to Vina, the world was treated to detailed analyses of the contents of the dead man’s bloodstream, his stomach, his intestines, his scrotum, his eye sockets, his appendix, his hair, in fact everything except his brain, which was not thought to contain anything of interest, because it had been so thoroughly scrambled by narcotics that nobody could understand his last words, spoken during his final, comatose delirium.

This novel of Rushdie, defined by Toni Morrison as “a global novel”, the book sets itself in the wide frame of Western and post-colonial culture, through the multilingualism of its characters, the mixture of East and West and the great number of references that span from Greek mythology, European philosophy and contemporaries such as Milan Kundera and the stars of rock’n roll.

The Western influence can be seen in his other novel ‘Enchanterss of Florence. The central theme of The Enchantress of Florence is the visit of a European to the Mughal emperor Akbar’s court and his claim that he is a long lost relative of Akbar, born of an exiled Indian princess and an Italian from Florence. The story moves between continents, the court of Akbar to Renaissance Florence mixing history, fantasy and fable A tall, yellow-haired, young European traveler calling himself “Mogor dell’ Amore,” the Mughal of Love, arrives at the court of the Emperor Akbar, lord of the great Mughal empire, with a tale to tell that begins to obsess the imperial capital, a tale about a mysterious woman, a great beauty believed to possess powers of enchantment and sorcery, and her impossible journey to the far-off city of Florence. The Enchantress of Florence is the story of a woman attempting to command her own destiny in a man’s world. It is the story of two cities, unknown to each other, at the height of their powers–the hedonistic Mughal capital, in which the brilliant Akbar the Great wrestles daily with questions of belief, desire, and the treachery of his sons, and the equally sensual city of Florence during the High Renaissance, where Niccolò Machiavelli takes a starring role as he learns, the hard way, about the true brutality of power.

To conclude, my research paper has clearly shown the presentation of the western world in the Indo –Anglian fiction with its intense influence on the different characters and situations of several Indian English novels.

Woks Cited :

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