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ArticlesNo Where Man - Asit Kanti Sarkar, West Bengal

No Where Man – Asit Kanti Sarkar, West Bengal


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Diaspora has been a reality all over the world through ages. In his essay on Gunter Grass, Rushdie proclaims, “We all cross frontiers; in that sense, we are all migrant peoples”. (qtd in Sharma 01) Willing or unwilling migrations make people undergo the pangs of diasporic experience. The diasporas find themselves in-between two worlds, but belonging to none.

Searching one’s identity, especially in an alien land with alien culture, is the central question for every individual. Diaspora from India to countries like the U.K., the U.S.A. or the West Indies had to face new way of life, often almost opposing in nature and suffer a confusion of cultural identity. They underwent culture- shock and then culture –clash when tried to accept or reject the foreign culture. Conscious and subconscious nostalgia for their homeland made them stand in-between and suffer from dislocation and identity crisis. Naturally, the process of doing away with the confusion and realizing that there is no one right identity, as identities are fluid and constantly changing, was neither easy nor natural for immigrants as they had to face decades of overt and indirect racism, poverty, exclusion and assimilation on behalf of native In-between-ness, a constant feeling of dislocation and identity crisis, characterises first generation diaspora most.

The second generation Diaspora who were between the whirl-wind of their old and new cultural and social sets of traditions is found in another cultural existence: ‘hybridity’ which according to Bhabha is the third space of the “in-between”.

Subjects of migration, confusion of cultural identity, hybridity, multi-ethnicity and in-betweenness are highly important for Diaspora writers such as Amitav Ghosh, Meera Sayal  Monica Ali, Jhumpa Lahiri, Hanif Kureishi etc. Rushdie and Naipaul are two father figures of diaspora writing.

Rushdie situates himself in a position of perpetual-in-betweenness, in “an imaginary homeland”. He is a migrant caught between three countries, unable to exist comfortably in one. His works show an increasing effort to represent his diasporic experience through a combination of modernist metropolitan and third world narrative style. His work, including his recent memoir, Joseph Anton (2012), is often concerned with locating himself in relation to the diaspora culture in Britain. Though not nation centred, his work still remains obsessed with the space of the nation he had moved away from. Rushdie’s fourth novel Satanic Verses (1988) consists of a frame narrative, using elements of magical realism, interlaced with a series of subplots narrated as dream visions. The narrative, like many other stories by Rushdie, reveals the story of Indian expatriates Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha in contemporary England. The Satanic Verses, as Spivak and a number of other commentators, including Rushdie, have pointed out, is a novel about migrancy in general and about South Asian immigrants to Britain in particular.  The novel is pregnant with the subjects of diasporic experiences, alienation, rootlessness and hybridity.

Timothy Brennan says that the novel is “The most ambitious novel yet published to deal with the immigrant experience in Britain that captures the immigrants’ dream-like disorientation and their process of “union-by-hybridization. The book is seen as “fundamentally a study in alienation.” (qtd. in Wikipedia)  According to Muhammad Mashuq Ibn Ally, “The Satanic Verses is about identity, alienation, rootlessness, brutality, compromise, and conformity. These concepts confront all migrants, disillusioned with both cultures: they meditate between them both. The Satanic Verses is a reflection of the author’s dilemmas.” The work is an “albeit surreal, record of its own author’s continuing identity crisis.”(qtd. in Wikipedia)

Naipaul in his novels The Mystic Masseur and A House for Mr. Biswas examines the Hindu society in Trinidad as it loses the rituals and unifying symbols it had brought from India. The feeling of social dislocation which resulted from this decay is universalized in The Mimic Men. His Ganesh and Ralph Singh dream of India in an attempt to escape this chaos. A House for Mr. Biswas, Naipaul’s autobiographical novel, is the story of Mr Mohun Biswas, an Indo-Trinidadian who continually strives for success and mostly fails. Mr.Mohun Biswas associates the highest achievement of his life with owning a house. His life is a series of minor disasters, each of which can be seen as his angry rebuttal of an uncongenial society. Born with six fingers in the wrong way, at the inauspicious hour of midnight in the family of a labourer of Indian origin in Trinidad, Mr. Biswas is not likely to have a bright future. When he goes to paint signs at the store of the Tusli family of Arwacas in Hanuman House, he gets caught while passing a love-note to one of the daughters of Mrs.Tulsi called Shama. Consequently, he is trapped into marriage with Shama by her Mother, Mrs.Tulsi and her uncle. Mr. Biswas enjoys the physical security provided by his marriage into the Tulsi family but refuses to submit to its orthodox and authoritarian arrangement. He manages to establish areas of independence for himself, though at times of unemployment and illness he and his family remain tied to the Tusli household for shelter and sustenance. Consequently, the idea of a house of his own becomes an obsession or a symbol of true independence for Mr. Biswas. He buys a house for himself on Sikkim Street in Port of Spain, and at last is contended to live independently with his family. He dies from heart attack at the age of forty-six, but he has left his family the independence and with a place to belong. Biswas’s victory is insignificant but measured against what has happened to the Tulsis, it assumes importance as a precursor of a new order. For his triumph, Biswas pays with his life: he dies young, prematurely aged, sick, exhausted, and receiving little or no recognition but much humiliation from society for his sincere efforts to organise as per his heart’s desire. He ends his story achieving the ultimate goal of owning his own house. After a long search of identity, he realizes that his home must be made in Trinidad, no matter what the conditions of his life or how absurd his existence. Kenneth Ramchand rightly suggests that “A House for Mr. Biswas is a novel of rootlessness par excellence” (92)

Editorial Team of Indian Ruminations.


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