Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Fragmented Truth

There is no formula for post-colonial literature. The style of literature has no template and varies drastically in content, style, and theme. Salman Rushdie’s essay, Imaginary Homelands, examines how emigration and western exposure affects literature of post-colonial India. The effect of the interactions between various juxtaposing cultures is described by Rushdie in a way that reflects a sharing of ideas, where cultures are mutually influenced by one another—a process of transcolonization. Emigrating from India and living abroad, Rushdie finds that her memories of India becomes fragmented and she is “obliged to deal in broken mirrors, some of whose fragments have been irretrievably lost” (11). However, writing from a physical distance appears to allow writers to speak openly without fear of rebuke.
I found Rushdie’s essay to be particularly pertinent, because of my own experience living abroad. While studying abroad in New Zealand—a former British colony—I enrolled in a course (or “paper” as the Kiwis might say) on New Zealand literature. During the semester, we read many novels by renowned New Zealand authors; yet, many of them were writing from abroad. I question that often arose in class discussions is what qualifies a New Zealand writer as a New Zealand writer? If a person has been living in London for more years, than they have lived in New Zealand are they still a New Zealand writer? If a person has not returned to New Zealand in decades, can they still write accurately about New Zealand? I think Rushdie addresses these questions excellently. She found that, although her memory of India remained in “fragmented shards,” she could still create her India. Through her writing, she portrayed “a version” of India “no more than one version of all the hundreds and millions of possible versions” (10). As readers, it is important to remember that stories of homelands are not historical accounts, but an ability to experience a country through another’s lens.
I also found it very interesting that India itself, in particular Bombay, is a conglomerate of many different cultures that continue to influence one another. Even before colonization, India contained distinctly different religious and social cultures living amongst one another. The country has never been without cultural contact zones. Rushdie makes this clear when she notes that, although Muslim, she “does not consider Hindu culture to be either alien from [her] or more important than the Islamic heritage” (16). This is clearly evident in Chandra’s novel, Love and Longing in Bombay. In short stories, such as Shaki, the author reveals numerous religious and sociological subcultures within Bombay. These cultures are constantly clashing and are often forced into contact, where the influence becomes irreversible. In Shakti, the marital joining of a traditional colonial and affluent Indian family, like Dolly’s, with the more westernized and modern Indian family of Shelia’s is able to appease their cultural differences. Although both cultures can not return to pre-contact, they are able to learn from one another and develop together. Rather than looking to literature to return readers to a nation’s pre-colonial roots, literature should be used as lens to reflect the dynamic process of this continuous transcolonization.

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