Between the Lines

Between the Lines: South Asians and Postcoloniality

Deepika Bahri
Mary Vasudeva
Copyright Date: 1996
Published by: Temple University Press
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    Between the Lines
    Book Description:

    This ground-breaking collection of new interviews, critical essays, and commentary explores South Asian identity and culture. Sensitive to the false homogeneity implied by "South Asian," "diaspora," "postcolonial," and "Asian American," the contributors attempt to unpack these terms. By examining the social, economic, and historical particularities of people who live "between the lines"-on and between borders-they reinstate questions of power and privilege, agency and resistance. As South Asians living in the United States and Canada, each to some degree must reflect on the interaction of the personal "I," the collective "we," and the world beyond.

    The South Asian scholars gathered together in this volume speak from a variety of theoretical perspectives; in the essays and interviews that cross the boundaries of conventional academic disciplines, they engage in intense, sometimes contentious, debate.Contributors: Meena Alexander, Gauri Viswanathan, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Amritjit Singh, M. G. Vassanji, Sohail Inayatullah, Ranita Chatterjee, Benita Mehta, Sanjoy Majumder, Mahasveta Barua, Sukeshi Kamra, Samir Dayal, Pushpa Naidu Parekh, Indrani Mitra, Huma Ibrahim, Amitava Kumar, Shantanu DuttaAhmed, Uma Parameswaran.In the seriesAsian American History and Culture, edited by Sucheng Chan, David Palumbo-Liu, Michael Omi, K. Scott Wong, and Linda Trinh Võ.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0108-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. CHAPTER 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-32)
    Deepika Bahri and Mary Vasudeva

    This volume brings together the voices of South Asians in the Anglo-American academy on the construction and representation of the “postcolonial.”¹ Combining interviews, literary criticism, commentaries, and cultural studies,Between the Lines: South Asians and Postcolonialitysuggests the diversity and complexity of what one might designate the “postcolonial” subject. Further, even within the narrower parameters of specifically South Asian postcolonial subjectivities and their representation in the language and framework of the academy, the quest for a stable South Asian identity is a daunting venture; hence, the varied articulations presented here offer an understanding of identity as the product of complex...

    • CHAPTER 2 Observing Ourselves among Others
      (pp. 35-53)
      Deepika Bahri, Mary Vasudeva and Meena Alexander

      This interview was conducted at Meena Alexander’s home in New York City on 12 November 1993. Settled in front of the picture window in her apartment, we began our discussion overchai(tea) and cookies. We sat on the edge of a covered futon (no American sofa or La-Z-Boy here), surrounded by Wordsworth, Anita Desai, Gunter Grass, works by Alexander herself, and other books too numerous to count. We felt for a moment as if we had stumbled into a library in a home in Delhi, but the view from a window overlooking the Hudson River provided a reminder that...

    • CHAPTER 3 Pedagogical Alternatives: Issues in Postcolonial Studies
      (pp. 54-63)
      Deepika Bahri, Mary Vasudeva and Gauri Viswanathan

      This interview was conducted in segments, by mail and through telephone conversations in March and May 1994, between Viswanathan’s busy schedule and repeated trips to India.

      DB/MV: Given the current proliferation of work done in the name of the “postcolonial,” it seems imperative that we work toward developing a definition. Much of the work done under this label seems to suggest very different notions of what “Postcolonial” Studies should entail. How would you define the term?

      GV: “Postcolonial” is a misleading term because it assumes, first of all, a body of knowledge or a specifiable period of time after colonialism....

    • CHAPTER 4 Transnationality and Multiculturalist Ideology
      (pp. 64-90)
      Deepika Bahri, Mary Vasudeva and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

      This interview took place at Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s office at Columbia University on 12 November 1993. We had caught Spivak at an obviously busy time, since she was preparing to leave the country in less than a month. Meanwhile, she had two days to complete her compilation of materials for a course on theorizing women. As we settled into her office, cluttered with the accumulations of a long academic career—including literally hundreds of books, neatly alphabetized—she told us about the enormous amounts of primary material she had gathered for the course and the task of sifting out the...

    • CHAPTER 5 African Americans and the New Immigrants
      (pp. 93-110)
      Amritjit Singh

      People of South Asian origin in the United States number about two million now and may be regarded as an “imagined community” within the broad framework of Benedict Andersont’s definitions.¹ Although American conceptions of “race” playa significant role in how all immigrants of color are perceived (more on this later), their assimilation into American life parallels in many ways what earlier European immigrant groups have undergone. The replication in North America of homeland attitudes and hierarchies or even of subcontinental conflicts is not unique to our ethnic group, nor is the feeling of despair at the fragmented sense of community...

    • CHAPTER 6 Life at the Margins: In the Thick of Multiplicity
      (pp. 111-120)
      M.G. Vassanji

      The condition of the world today brings home to us—those of us who had forgotten—the pervasiveness of smaller ethnic, communal, or sectarian identities and the tenacity with which they survive. We have seen pluralismbased national identities—built on the idea that human equality and fraternity should ultimately override ethnic or other communal differences—disintegrate and these smaller components reasserting themselves, shaking off the old idealism and taking up apparently where they last left off. Neighbors tum against neighbors, communities that once joined forces to fight colonial domination and conquest take up arms against each other to settle scores...

    • CHAPTER 7 Mullahs, Sex, and Bureaucrats: Pakistan’s Confrontations with the Modern World
      (pp. 121-136)
      Sohail Inayatullah

      Pakistan’s attempts to enter modernity on its own terms have been fraught with obstacles and contradictions. Caught between East and West by globalization, undone by leakages through the tenuous membrane of national sovereignty (the rise of ethnic nationalism and sectarianism), and yet vulnerable to the reemergence of Islamic and pre-Islamic myths long forgotten, Pakistan remains both traditional and modern.¹

      For Pakistanis there is an obvious dissonance between the claims of the West that civilization means Western civilization and Pakistani claims that Pakistan represents the land of the pure, the home of Muslims, with Islam representing the alternative to amoral capitalism...

    • CHAPTER 8 Coming to Terms with the “Postcolonial”
      (pp. 137-164)
      Deepika Bahri

      Some fifteen years after the term “postcolonial” began to circulate in the Western academy, the question “What is the postcolonial?”—raised by Vijay Mishra and Bob Hodge in 1991—continues to tax the imagination of academicians.¹ Essays interrogating the term, its use and abuse, its pitfalls and diffuseness, abound in journals and conference meetings. Discontent in and about the field has not, however, limited the scholarship in this area. Through an exploration of the term’s history, usage, and definition in light of multiple criticisms and inadequacies, I attempt to evaluate what is lost and what might yet be gained by...

    • CHAPTER 9 An Explosion of Difference: The Margins of Perception in Sammy and Rosie Get Laid
      (pp. 167-184)
      Ranita Chatterjee

      Framed with sound bites from Margaret Thatcher, Stephen Frears and Hanif Kureishi’s second collaborative film,Sammy and Rosie Get Laid(1987, U.K.), firmly situates itself not only in the British but specifically in the London scene of race, class, and sexual politics. While focusing on the infidelities and complexities of the lives of Sammy, an accountant of South Asian descent, and his wife, Rosie, a white social worker, Frears and Kureishi also attempt to portray a landscape of exuberant intermingling between people from different ethnicities, sexualities and classes. Thus, we see Sammy’s affair with Anna (a white American photojournalist) and...

    • CHAPTER 10 Emigrants Twice Displaced: Race, Color, and Identity in Mira Nair’s Mississippi Masala
      (pp. 185-203)
      Binita Mehta

      The relationship between nonwhite minority groups in the United States today is an issue that requires our immediate attention. To recognize the gravity of the situation, one has only to look at such disputes in Brooklyn as the 1990 black boycott of two Korean grocery stores, and the clashes between the Hasidic and African American communities in the Crown Heights neighborhood. The much publicized April 1992 riot in South Central Los Angeles following the Rodney King verdict was not simply a black versus white incident but one that involved members of African American, Korean American, and Latino communities. Peter Kwong...

    • CHAPTER 11 From Ritual Drama to National Prime Time: Mahabharata, India’s Televisual Obsession
      (pp. 204-215)
      Sanjoy Majumder

      TheMahabharatahas recently been introduced to Western audiences via Peter Brook’s elaborate, international, and multiethnic theatrical production. Between 1987 and 1988 the English-language version, produced by Brook’s International Center of Theatre Research (CIRT), traveled around the world, opening in Zurich and moving on to Los Angeles, New York, Perth, Adelaide, Copenhagen, Glasgow, and Tokyo.¹ Brook attempts to present the epic as a cultural text that is able to stand independent of anyone history or social reality, as a universal tale of “all humanity.”² This is significant when we examine theMahabharataas a cultural text, for in his use...

    • CHAPTER 12 Television, Politics, and the Epic Heroine: Case Study, Sita
      (pp. 216-234)
      Mahasveta Barua

      On a Sunday morning in January 1987 Indians all across the nation sat down, or stood around, to participate in yet another telling of the twomillennia-oldRamayana.¹ The epic, the primary text of which has been attributed to the poet Valmiki, has been retold hundreds of time in major and minor regional languages, through folk tales, ritualized readings, pageantry, and even film.² The telling referred to here took theRamayanainto yet another genre—the television series. Produced’ and directed by Ramanand Sagar, a Bombay filmmaker, the serial continued for a year and a half amid devotional frenzy on the...

    • CHAPTER 13 Replacing the Colonial Gaze: Gender as Strategy in Salman Rushdie’s Fiction
      (pp. 237-249)
      Sukeshi Kamra

      The fictional author in Shame, in one of the many metatextual moments in the novel, asserts somewhat disingenuously that his “fairy tale” has escaped his control, that the women have taken over what was, he believed, a story primarily about males:

      I had thought, before I began, that what I had on my hands was an almost excessively masculine tale, a saga of sexual rivalry, ambition, power, patronage, betrayal, death, revenge. But the women seem to have taken over; they marched in from the peripheries of the story to demand the inclusion of their own tragedies, histories and comedies, obliging...

    • CHAPTER 14 Style Is (Not) the Woman: Sara Suleri’s Meatless Days
      (pp. 250-269)
      Samir Dayal

      In an interview, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak has replaced an old question about female identity (particularly Third World female identity)—namely “What is woman?”—with another question: “What is man that the itinerary of his desire creates such a text?” In rehabilitating the position of the questioning subject she intends to call attention to the context of phallocentrism. The question she posed originally was “Who am I as a woman?”—a question that was also about “man in terms of the text produced.” But now, she says, she “thinks about the arena of practice in a somewhat broader way. It also...

    • CHAPTER 15 Redefining the Postcolonial Female Self: Women in Anita Desai’s Clear Light of Day
      (pp. 270-283)
      Pushpa Naidu Parekh

      The politics of theoretical and literary representation by international women of color in the last decade or two and its intervention in the diversifying context of feminist discourse invites and, in many cases, challenges theorists and practitioners to address the specific nature, method, and polities of these representational practices. In this context, to borrow Bapsi Sidhwa’s terms, “third world, our world” women’s voices interpellate postcolonial theories of cultures with diverse strategies that explore the praxis of cultural contact, difference, domination, and change.¹ Known an? emerging Indian women writers have recently begun to be studied in the West within the rubric...

    • CHAPTER 16 “Luminous Brahmin Children Must Be Saved”: Imperialist Ideologies, “Postcolonial” Histories in Bharati Mukherjee’s The Tiger’s Daughter
      (pp. 284-297)
      Indrani Mitra

      Few South Asian immigrant writers have commanded as much critical attention as Bharati Mukherjee (only Salman Rushdie comes to mind) or provoked as strong and disparate reactions in critics and readers. Two excerpts may illustrate the spectrum of Mukherjee criticism.

      The first is from an essay on South Asian immigrant writing by Feroza Jussawalla: “Bharati Mukherjee definitely seems to have found her ‘haven’ in the United States, but with this comes an obsequiousness, a pleading to be mainstreamed.... This new generation of South Asian writers are ex-colonials, twice colonized, like the twice born Brahmins, oppressed by their European education and...

    • CHAPTER 17 The Troubled Past: Literature of Severing and the Viewer/Viewed Dialectic
      (pp. 298-312)
      Huma Ibrahim

      When one nation, albeit with great self-contained diversity, “chooses” to split into unequal halves, what questions are we forced to ask about the historical and social psyche of peoples who were part of an uneasy whole but whose severance led to a massive butchery of one another? At the theoretical level, this violence against so-called different religious groups has a long-standing history in the subcontinent, from nearly a thousand years of Muslim colonial rule to two hundred years of Western, primarily British, colonialism. The somewhat artificial sub-continental partition gives rise to a presupposition of what I call a viewer/viewed dialectic,...

    • CHAPTER 18 Jane Austen in Meerut, India
      (pp. 315-336)
      Amitava Kumar

      Twelve sleeping pills in fancy packets of four each, made in Ulhasnagar, near Bombay. Brand name Somnorax. Asupine king on each packet with hands beneath his head and eyes wide as chasms. And inscribed beneath him the lines from Shakespeare’sMacbeth:“the innocent sleep, Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleave of care.”

      Adistrict collector recalls his youth in Azamganj where, enrolled in a Hindimedium school, he waded through Wordsworth’sPreludeon his own because knowing English, of course, gives one confidence.

      An old man boasts that his granddaughter is doing her M.A. in English (“A very fine subject, Keats...

    • CHAPTER 19 Border Crossings: Retrieval and Erasure of the Self as Other
      (pp. 337-350)
      Shantanu DuttaAhmed

      This labor, at least initially, must invoke memory, which is where the border dweller usually begins. For me, working from the shadows of the diaspora, the border does not mark a specific location so much as it does a material condition.¹ And if memory helps us frame the borderlands we do inhabit, then it seems that any field ofinquiry within these parameters can potentially become charged with the personal. As a result, what is contained in these pages cannot be detached from me in any significant sense. Although the Western academy demands the impersonal skeleton only—the cool and immaculate...

    • CHAPTER 20 I See the Glass as Half Full
      (pp. 351-368)
      Uma Parameswaran

      So what is it like to be a woman, a South Asian, and a feminist in North America?¹ What is it like to be a nonwhite, non-Judaeo-Christian, nonmale in academia? What is it like to be a Canadian writer who was born and educated in India?

      Responding to this self-imposed framework, I sent an essay to the editors. In due time, after an exchange of cordial notes, came the formal acceptance in which I was asked (1) to shorten the essay somewhat and (2) to reinforce it with theories and other theorists on self-representational writing. I started with the easier...

    (pp. 369-372)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 373-373)