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From England to India

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And as soon as this obsession takes over, as soon as Johnfindshimself almost losing himself in this object, how it pleased him, it puzzled him and how that becomes the reality for him than anything that is happening around him. We find that the communication lines also begin to get cut off between John and Charles. They ate their sandwiches side by side. When they had done and were shaking themselves and rising to their feet, John took the lump of glass and looked at in silence. Charles looked at it too. But he saw immediately that it was not flat, and filling his pipe he said with the energy that dismisses a foolish train of thought. “To return to what I was saying––” So this is significant, Charles also sees it but he returns to what he was saying. And here we find that this is what differentiates Charles from John, this is that line which can be drawn between John and Charles, both of them they see it and it is accessible to both of them, and both of them they managed to touch it, but the way they respond to the solidity of that material word, the way they respond to the object that has come to their hand that is what makes it entirely different. And look at what John does now. He did not see or if he had seen would hardly have noticed that John after looking at the lump for a moment, as if in hesitation, slipped it inside his pocket. And we find that this story is taking an interesting turn now, there was hardly any significant action over here if you survey this from the beginning. We notice that there is hardly anything which is happening here except for John’s transformation which is gradual in a certain way and that’s also very very sudden. And we find that even before he realises it, John finds himself obsessively attracted to this object and he slips it within his pocket, it becomes a part of him. That impulse, too, may have been the impulse which leads a child to pick up one pebble on a path strewn with them, promising it a life of warmth and security upon the nursery mantelpiece, delighting in the sense of power and benignity which such an action confers, and believing that the heart of the stone leaps with joy when it sees itself chosen from a million like it, to enjoy this bliss instead of a life of cold and wet upon the high road. (Refer Slide Time: 17:10) “It might so easily have been any other of the millions of stones, but it was I, I, I.!” The image of the child coming in cannot be in this image is being brought into the story. John feels the excitement of a child and if you think about it in the way James Joyce, another significant modernist writer, the way he begins his important work, The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. It begins with baby talk, there is a way in which childhood or the language of the child or the behaviour of the child is used as something to retain originality, to get back to some kind of authenticity which no longer was that during the modernist period. And we find that same attempt perhaps in a different way being made over here. We find that John is being compared, John’s excitement and John’s sincerity, John’s attachment to this object is being compared to that of a child. And in the same way that piece of glass, that stone also gets some life and this personification is significant as well, it might so easily have been any other of the millions of stones but it was I, I, I. So the value attributed to this object which is otherwise nothing, it also increases exponentially as the story progresses. As we read on we find John very gradually but in a very steady way descending into complete insanity and he reaches a point where even Charles is unable to rescue him, and his office space we find it getting completely transformed into something like a madman studio and we realise that he is beyond redemption by the time the story ends. (Refer Slide Time: 19:06) We can skip a few details and come to the end of the story where we find Charles making an attempt to finally reach out, making an attempt to reach out to John one more time. “What was the truth of it, John?” asked Charles suddenly, turning and facing him. “What made you give it up like that all in a second?” So now we get to know that the beginning of the story is making a sense, John just gave it up all in a second and we do not know what had happened before that moment, but there is that moment that comes into his life where he holds this object and he realises that nothing else is worth pursuing, not a promising political career, not a promising office in his party. (Refer Slide Time: 20:09) And he does not want to be the officeholder of any important position, instead, he just wants to possess the series of solid objects which mean nothing to the others. Halfway through the story, we are also being told about this transition, the transformation which was becoming evident to everyone and how it completely changed his life. He was no longer young, his career, that is his political career was the thing of the past, people gave up visiting him, he was too silent to be worth asking for dinner. He never talked to anyone about his serious ambitions, their lack of understanding was apparent in his behaviour. That is the crux of this story –– the lack of understanding, the inability to understand the kind of passion that John has for something which does not have any value at all. (Refer Slide Time: 20:53) I am not very sure whether even if the contemporary things have changed or whether we can understand this kind of passion which beats all kinds of rationality. Coming back to the end of the story. When Charles asks him, “What made you give it up like that all in a second?” John replies, “I have not given it up” “But you have not the ghost of a chance now,” says Charles roughly. “I do not agree with you there,” says John with conviction. Charles looked at him and was profoundly uneasy; the most extraordinary doubts possessed him; he had a queer sense that they were talking about different things. He looked round to find some relief for his horrible depression, but the disorderly appearance of the room depressed him still further. What was that stick, and the old carpetbag hanging against the wall? And then those stones? Looking at John, something fixed and distant in his expression alarmed him. He knew only too well that his mere appearance upon a platform was out of the question. “Pretty stones,” he said as cheerfully as he could; and saying that he had an appointment to keep, he left John –– forever. And Charles rarely had a choice because here he finds his friend slipping away into madness, into complete insanity and he also realises that they had always been talking about entirely different things and this is significant because even as the story begins we get this feeling that the body on the left and the body on the right is not really on the same page. The body on the left and the body on the right are talking about two entirely different things, obsessing about two entirely different things. It is just that chance had bought them together pursuing similar kinds of ambitions, but it certainly was not there to stay. Attempting to make for the sense of the story I want to draw your attention to Walter Benjamin’s discussions on the impulse to collect. According to Walter Benjamin, he was a Marxist critic, he identified this impulse collect as an anarchic which the desire for the object proceeds reason. In other words, the collector or the character in the story, John, we find him approaching objects with some kind of a democratic attitude and this is what Walter Benjamin also had pointed out that this collector who is anarchic, who is working under this anarchic impulse, he also has his democratic attitude towards the material world where he says junk shops and museums and the things that he gets from the roadside in similar ways. And that's kind of anarchy, that's kind of democracy that he celebrates as well, and there are three kinds of collectors that Walter Benjamin also encourages us to think about; the private and the public one and the personal which is entirely different. The private and the public are different but it can still be clubbed together in the sense that in a private collector, one who collect things privately we find him that person transforming things to something else which has an external value, and it is pretty much the same in a public collector as well except that for a public collector his act of collecting objects, it almost gets away more of a legitimate kind of status, it is more justifiable. And very often we find that getting displayed on a social or an academic level, we find that getting increasingly getting manifested and contemporary art forms as well. So the private and the public collector tells the justifiability about them, there are legitimacy and some kind of a rational and credibility associated with them. But the personal collector which is where we can place John in this story, he is not the private or the public collector, there is an inability for him, within him to communicate with the rest of the world the value of the things that he is collecting. So for him, the personal collector that he is, the desire towards the things, the desire towards the object is also about losing himself. He is not able to find himself once he begins; pursuing this obsessive addictive passion of collecting objects. And in the personal collector’s life, we also realise that since it is not something which can be projected well in the public domain, the encounter with the object it also transforms the thing as well as oneself. The thing transforms in the personal collector’s eyes and that is not visible to the rest of the world, but the collector himself also undergoes a radical change which is, of course, visible to everyone and not certainly encouraging, it is a disappointing change, and it is more or less like a fall from the glory that was. So in the personal collector’s story, as we would see in John’s story, we find loyalty to the thing being displayed and this at some level is very original, very pure, it does not have any other kinds of ambitions steering it forward. And in John’s case, if we see John as this anarchical actor, we also realise that the transformation of things, the concern in his eyes, the otherwise forgettable objects they undergo a transmission which the others are unable to understand and which he is unable to communicate, which he is unable to get across. And extending Walter Benjamin’s argument, it is also possible to say that an art collector in the contemporary, an art collector who is dallying in objects in the contemporary, the moment he situates himself or herself within the praxis of art that is certain respectability that also comes to him. And of course, there is a way in which we can extend these arguments to materiality and to how capitalism changes the world and the way art is being conceived, and how things began to acquire value. How value is being attributed to various objects depending on how they get situated. Perhaps, thinking about the museum as space is one of the best ways to look at it, if you look at the Museum it is the place of knowledge production, it holds the keys to the vast amount of knowledge, but at the same time, the world of the museum is not real. Of course, it reflects the reality of the outside, it reflects the reality of the material world which was and which still is, but at the same time, there is an unreal nature to the museum. Compare that with the anarchic collector that someone like John is, John in this short story “Solid Objects”. We find that the objects within the museum, it could be completely rational, it could be a stone, it could be something from the past which cannot be situated in the present in any way, but at the same time, there is a way in which we can treat it with double ambiguity. We can attribute certain value to it so that it adds to the knowledge production and in that sense by extension becomes a significant addition to the understanding of human behaviour, understanding of human history itself. InJohn’s case, when Charles visits John and sees all of these terrible objects at home and the things which he had collected randomly from here and there, which looks only like rags to Charles, we find that it healthy environment out of which anything productive could come. And compare that with a museum, it could be the same kinds of things which are inside but it is organised in such a way that it is situated within a certain knowledge system and it is also a naturalised unnatural environment and it effectively significant about how different ways in which knowledge systems work and how they are schematically arranged within particular discursive traditions. As we try to wrap up the story, I want you to think about how Johnas this anarchic collector, he lets the objects to take over his life entirely. And what he does in this process is also very very intrinsically modernist, he lets go of the need to define them, there is no way in which he tries to position it in such a way that the others can also see how it is projected, where it can be situated and what its value could be. So helmets goof this entirely to define them, which is what modernism, literary modernism also did to a very large extent. The writers, the works that came out, they try to completely get rid of this need to define anything, need to situate a meaning within a context and make it accessible for everyone to see. And this certainly a process which causes madness, and we find that this precisely is the process which led John to slip away into madness. And here madness is the result of being unable to share his experience, and this story in that sense remains as a story which is about a man who is unable to share his story because he fails to situate it within a framework which is readily accessible to others and in a very typically modernist way. Perhaps Virginia Woolf is also trying to tell us that at the end of the day even when you are telling the story, the stories have very little role to play in shaping the reality, in shaping the many situations that one is fraught within. And one can look at this story “Solid Objects” as the sides of life from one of those modernist episodes as an extension of one of those ways in which literary modernism had been exemplified. I think it is an important key to access the ideas of modernism itself, I encourage you to go through this story and take a look at it by yourself so that you all go and get a sense of the discussions and the many critical frameworks within which modernism has been situated. I thank you for listening, and I look forward to seeing you in the next session. Hello and welcome to a lecture on the dawn of the new Indian novel in English, my name is Ranjani and I will be running you through the course of the presentation. This presentation seeks to provide an analysis of the novels post-Midnight’s Children with a focus on The Inheritance of Loss, the primary objective of the presentation is to assess the role of the Indian texts in the canon of world literature, however, this is different from the endeavour undertaken concerning silence the court in session and other works before midnight children because this work is primarily, a work was written in English and not a translation from another language, so the endeavour is also unique for the matter of fact that it is post-colonial and does not have any bearings with the earlier nationalistic endeavours of the previous writings, so let us get into the objectives of this presentation. (Refer Slide Time: 0:59) The first objective of the representation is to identify the significance of the inheritance of loss to the canon of world literature, secondly to trace the change in pre-occupations of the Indian novel in English since midnights children and to identify the inheritance of loss as part of this changing literary trend, so in this presentation, I try to provide a non-traditional analysis and I draw largely, significantly from the work of Rajeshwari Sundararajan and other post-colonial theorists from whose works I derive a lot of my main arguments, also it will explore a lot of parallel questions regarding other works in literature such as a midnight's children and the God of small things and it tries to probe why the inheritance of loss may not have established itself as one of the more popular works within this canon. (Refer Slide Time: 1:49) So let us get into our first objective with why is the inheritance of loss important to world literature. So, a basic introduction to the inheritance of loss, the inheritance of loss is the second novel by Indian author Kiran Desai, it was first published into 2006, so this happens to be her second novel, the first novel written by her was Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard, which was published in 1998 and it is a very popular and widely recommended novel in its own right, it is a recipient of several awards, including the Man Booker prize for that year, the National book critics Circle fiction award in 2007 and the 2006 Vodafone crossword book award. The novel articulates exile experience and the consequences of globalisation from a post-colonial perspective, so our analysis of this novel will largely concern itself with the last points mentioned in this presentation, which is the novel concerning itself with the exile experience and the consequences of globalisation from a post-colonial perspective and we also try to draw analysis, comparative analysis between the other booker with his midnight's children and this booker itself. (Refer Slide Time: 2:58) More about the novel, the story is set in the village of Kalimpong in the 1980s and novel explore the lives of characters who are trapped in India’s class system, both of the lower class and the upper class, the characters, hopes and dreams are conveyed in the novel, along with their ultimate dream of immigrating to America and finally escaping the rigid caste system of their homeland. So some things that of significance here is an unusual setting itself increase the novel is located, it happens to be located in the foothills of Darjeeling and explores the unusual theme across different generations, Kalimpong happens to be at the foothills of the Himalaya and the story itself opens and unfurls in a small village of Cho Oyu in Kalimpong. (Refer Slide Time: 3:44) We’ll now have a brief overview of the characters involved in this novel, our primary character is Sai who is a young girl of 16 years, who comes to live with judge Jemubhai Patel when she is orphaned at nine when her parents died in Moscow in an accident and she became close to the Gyan, a Nepali mathematics tutor who is hired to teach her, so Sai is a character who is located at the conflict of identity, adolescence and personal questions that arise at the intersection of womanhood and teenage-hood, so she becomes a very interesting character and is very central to the plot point of this novel. Next character is Judge Jemubhai Patel, who is an Anglophile and who can be said to have a sort of a colonial hangover from whatever remains of the British past, he has a Cambridge educated judge in his left to care for the child he has never fully known, has a tortured marriage, is alienated from his world to such an extent that his only close ally is his dog Mutt
who he treats with affection and he has never seen to be friendly with the cook, Coming to the cook, the cook lives in a hut near the judge’s house and is kept on meagre wages and is tremendously proud of his son Biju whom he imagines to be widely successful in America, so this happens to be another very crual plot point in the novel because it sets its stage for how the American life is commonly perceived by Indians as stated here, he imagines his son to be widely successful in America, it is the character of Biju that we see this very popular myth is disproved, Biju struggles from job to job as an illegal immigrant in New York City and suffers a serious of humiliations and trials as it tries to survive in New York and finally returns to Kalimpong, when he hears of the political disturbances in his hometown. (Refer Slide Time: 5:35) Our next to characters also crucial to the plot Gyan, Gyan begins the novel as naive as Sai, but eventually, he matures due to the GNLF movement that arises in Kalimpong, Gyan is 20year-old mathematics tutor who is Nepali in origin, so this is an intersection of different variables in his character that is not commonly seen in a novel. Nepalis are not usually seen to be as well educated or capable of educating others, but Gyan in this novel is a young man of 20, who is not only well educated and well-read in mathematics, but it is also taking the effort to educate our young girl who is Sai. After the political awakening, Gyan becomes frustrated at Sai’s innocence and cultural elitism. It must be mentioned here that Sai and Gyan get romantically involved, but this changes in the later stages of the novel as a story unfolds. Lola and Noni, Lola and Noni are upper-class Bengali woman who similar to the judge Jemubhai Patel, also suffer from a British hangover, a colonial hangover. They have assimilated many parts of British and Western cultures, such as celebrating Christmas, reading Jane Austen and listening to the BBC, we can also be seen to be extremely proud of their relatives who work in the BBC and are very showing of their contacts within the BBC whom they can connect with when he need any favours. But whether these flavours, whether these contacts come to their use is a different question altogether, but the mere relationship that they bear with the people in the BBC or with anybody in that part of the world is seen to set them apart from the other people who do not have relationships with people living in the West. (Refer Slide Time: 7:08) Here is an excerpt from a conversation between Lola and Noni, this is particularly significant because it is a cheeky jibe at another popular Indian writer of Trinidad in Tobago origin who is V S Naipaul and his book is also referenced here, which is A bend in the road, so let us go through this excerpt. “We had better run to the market, Noni. It will empty. And our library books! We must change them.” “I won’t last the month,” said Lola. “Almost through.” she thumped A Bend in the River. “uphill task––”. “Superb writer.” said Noni. “First-class. One of the best books I’ve ever read.” “Oh, I do know.” Lola said, “I think he’s strange. Stuck in the past… he has not progressed. Colonial neurosis, he has never freed himself from it. Quite a different thing in now. In fact, she said, “chicken tikka masala has replaced fish and chips as the number one take-out dinner in Britain. It was just reported in the Indian Express.” So this conversation is an encapsulation of what this novel attempts to do, which is to replace the colonial neurosis of the past with new post-colonial analysis, also signified the metaphorical statement which she makes saying, chicken tikka masala has replaced fish and chips, so one dominant mode of analysis is now being replaced with another mode of analysis where people of Indigenous origins are finally being given an original voice. (Refer Slide Time: 8:33) So this is another excerpt from Homi Bhabha’s ‘Freedom’s Basis in the Indeterminate’, published in 1992, which I believe summarises all the characteristics that this novel has, so let's go through this. Postcolonial criticism bears witness to the unequal and uneven forces of cultural representation involved in the contest for political and social authority within the modern world order, postcolonial perspectives emerge from the colonial testimony of 3rd world countries and the discourses of minorities within the geopolitical divisions of East, West, North and South. They intervene in those ideological discourses of modernity that attempt to give a hegemonic “normality” to the uneven development and the differential. Often disadvantaged histories of nations, racist communities, peoples. They formulate the critical revisions around issues of cultural difference, social authority and political discrimination to reveal the antagonistic and ambivalent moments within the rationalizations of modernity. So this novel is an undoing of the dominant discourse is mentioned here and the hegemonic normality is being undone in many ways, so let us have a look at that. (Refer Slide Time: 9:46) Post-colonialism in the inheritance of loss, the best way to approach the inheritance of loss is to consider it under the rubric of postcolonial diasporic fiction, e novel’s diasporic location also reveals its cosmopolitan outlook and sensibility, the inheritance of loss performs a humanizing function superbly well as regards to many of its Indian and non-Indians
characters. So this tells us that inheritance of loss is perfectly conducive to a postcolonial analysis, not just because of its characteristics, but also because of the very themes from which it draws heavily, and as stated previously, the geographic location of this novel is unlike any other,
located in the foothills of the Himalaya, how often we come across a book that is located not just away from the political centre, but also the geographic centre of the country, coming to the third point on the slide, the inheritance of loss performs a humanizing function, so what is this humanising function? Traditionally Western novel has sort to will enlarge the humanistic sensibility of its readers and many works of canonical English fiction effortlessly engage in what may be termed as a humanising mission, as I see to bring members from a formerly overlooked national gender or social type or niche within the sphere of literary representation and one could argue that the inheritance of loss continues this function extremely well, not only there is being marginalised people into the dominant discourse, but also trace them with unique respect and regard, it helps you connect with people from distant locations and helps you empathise and sympathise with their situations. (Refer Slide Time: 11:24) So I like to evoke the opening paragraph of this novel to state how the geographical location is evoked perfectly in these statements. All-day, the colours had been those of dusk, mist moving like a water creature across the great flanks of mountain possessed of ocean shadows and depths. Briefly visible above the vapour. Kanchenjunga was a far peak whittled out of ice, gathering the last of the light, a plume of snow blown high by the storm as its summit. Sai, sitting on the veranda, was reading an article about giant squid in an old National Geographic. Now and then she looked up at Kanchenjunga, observed its wizard phosphorescence with a shiver. The judge sat at the far corner with his chessboard, playing against himself. Stuffed under his chair where she felt safe was Mutt, the dog, snoring gently in her sleep. A single bald lightbulb dangled on a wire above. It was cold, but inside the house, it was still colder, the dark, the freeze, contained by stone walls several feet deep. So this paragraph perfectly encapsulates the whole essence of this novel by just juxtaposing different elements against one another, for instance, in the first paragraph is a very elegant description of the mountains as whittled out of ice and gathering the last of the light and right in the next paragraph is an article about giant squid in old National Geographic magazine, so it narrates an instance of how the virtual geography presented in National Geographic is juxtaposed to the actual geography that is right in front of the eyes, in the foothills of the Kanchenjunga. Also present is the judge himself, who was engaged in the game of chess with the dog stuffed under the chair below his feet, so this provides a very good entry point into understanding how the novel takes place and how the story unfolds and what to expect itself.