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Rule of the Uncanny

‘Governmentality,’ and the Question of History in Basheer’s Novels

Mohamed Shafeeq Karinkurayil (shafeeq.k@manipal.edu) is a postdoctoral fellow at the Manipal Centre for Humanities, Manipal Academy of Higher Education.

The novel as a form is argued to be the literary counterpart of an individuating world. In the postcolony, however, the novel as a form will have to find new ways to account for the rupture from history effected by the duplication of the same names across two registers, one in popular memory, and the other in governmental registers. Select works of Vaikom Muhammad Basheer are analysed to decipher how this crisis in historicity was negotiated in terms of the literary.

The author thanks the anonymous reviewer for comments and wishes to express his deep gratitude to Satish Poduval for his guidance in writing this article. He also acknowledges the assistance of the CSDS–ICSSR Fellowship in conducting a major portion of this research.

The rise of novels has been associated with the installation in the representational regime of real individuals placed in real time and place (Watt 1957). This real individual would soon be identified as the “proto-bourgeois” who could then imagine a community around them (Anderson 1983; Armstrong 2006). The themes of divergence in the postcolony with the European experience have been attentive to the variegated nature of reality in the novel milieu (Anjaria 2012), and what is realistically aspirational for the colonial subject there, in their individuation (Mukherjee 1985). That the category of the individual, a product of the colonial encounter, often has to contend with another project of the same pedigree—governmentality—against the homogenising logic of which individuation has to strive through corporeal and verbal expressions too have been noted (Tharu 2000; Bose 2006; Majeed 2009). The concern here, on the other hand, is the representational struggle in narrating the community as inheritors of a past even as it lives through the times of governmentality when communities acquire new meaning in the state register. But, the community itself undergoes a transformation as it is refracted in the governmental prism, bringing forth a crisis in representation. The concern of this article is the resolution of this crisis, one variety of which is analysed through examining the works of Vaikom Muhammad Basheer (1908–94).

The Inheritance of Loss

In the introduction to Ntuppuppakkoranendarnnu, published in 1951, Basheer lays out the objective of his work as:

to project the glory of the bygone days of Islam and at the same time to point out the failure of present-day Muslims to adjust to the modern life because of this mythical past. Every beggar and every butcher even now claims that he is a direct descendant of Akbar the Great. The elephant is the symbol of that obvious past.1 (Basheer 1980: x)

What is interesting about this objective is the link that Basheer mends between a past that is characterised by Akbar the Great and the degraded present of the Mappila community. The community of Mappilas in Kerala is not linked to Akbar in their memory or political past. Mappila literature in Kerala, which is usually identified from the 16th century in the events post the arrival of the Portuguese, either proffers political links to the Zamorin, the king of Calicut, and thereby a local grounding, or an imagined Muslim globality. The cultural memory of the Muslims in Kerala connects them to Arabia through the many linkages of trade, the memory of Zamorin who embraced Islam in the presence of the Prophet himself, and the long interaction in the intellectual tradition between Egypt, Yemen, and the Malabar coast. That Basheer chose the figure of Akbar, the pre-eminent ruler acceptable to secular India from the Mughal dynasty, posits a case for this novel as framed by pan-Indian rather than regional concerns. That the Muslim community of India could then be imagined as a whole through the figure of Akbar, rather than say an Ottoman Caliph—which has had more resonance among the Muslims in Kerala through M K Gandhi’s and Ali brothers’ Khilafat movement— and who would, thus, conjure the category of a global Muslim, already signals in Basheer the awareness of the coming of the nation state in which the older self-definitions do not hold water any more. Invoking Akbar, a past is made available through the notion of the nation state. Ntuppuppakkoranendarnnu is an “Indian” novel written in a “vernacular” tongue that serves, as illustrated in the novel, as the medium through which this “Indianness” can be performed.

The institution of the nation in India has been understood in terms of a passive revolution, whereby the colonial-educated bourgeois elite of India strove to bring to nationhood, given the varied population groups that constitute it. The relationship between the two segments therein, that of the already-nation and the nation-in-the-making is one of tutelage, a legacy of the moment of Gandhi’s mobilisation (Chatterjee 1986). The establishment of this postcolonial nation at its moment of inception then cleaves between two segments, one of which is understood as universal because of its claims to intelligibility in the language of modern politics, and that of the other, which is particular. While the universal centre is unmarked and transcendent, the particulars concomitant with it—marked as castes, tribes, and communities—are deemed to be recipients of the governmental state’s care (Chatterjee 1993, 2004).

What is unremarked about the transition to governmentality is its meaning-giving attributes. The tribes, castes, and communities that mark themselves as denominational categories for the benevolence of the state have a history that is not concomitant with the nation state. That these castes, communities, and tribes acquire their contemporary nature in the encounter with colonialism is commonplace now. The problem, however, is in accounting for the self-definitions or the (mediated) memory of these population groups themselves; their self-narration cannot be subsumed under the experience of coloniality or the arrival of the nation state. The Mappila community in Kerala, in their own histories, trace themselves to the encounters with the merchants of Arabia. The memory of the Mappilas will encompass in its imaginative cartography, the holy city of Mecca, the Prophet’s city Medina, Hadhramaut in present-day Yemen, and Kozhikode in Malabar, networked through centuries of sharing. When the Mappila of this past is transformed into the Mappila who belongs to a community made intelligible through governmental technologies, the transformation is not just an expansion of meaning, but a demand on restructuring one’s link with the (imagined) past. The Muslim phenomenologically remembers/claims their past to be linked with Akbar, but, is at the same time forced to turn this memory as a cultural remainder, turning Akbar into an icon, even an ahistorical icon, so that this self-definition can be made a part of the discourse of the nation state. The first name of the dead father turns itself into a surname in the gallery of many surnames, each stringed together as the achievement of the nation state. The infringement in the practice of this memory, that is, any attempt to be Akbar rather than claim him, can only be understood in this new discourse as a claim to sovereignty. In effect, governmentality forces a rule of the impostor, where the proper nouns of the past are replaced by uncanny versions of themselves, torn out from their space-time to be stuck in a hall of timeless fame.

Ntuppuppakkoranendarnnu

Ntuppuppakkoranendarnnu is the second of what would later be called the Muslim novels of Basheer. The novel tells the story of a young girl, Kunjupathumma, who begins her life in the opulence of material and social power, as the daughter of a rich and powerful merchant, but grows up to see herself and her parents reduced to penury by losing out to court cases, having to leave the village and set up life elsewhere in abject poverty. In the new neighbourhood, the family not only undergoes a change in place, but also a change in all their convictions. This, as they encounter their neighbours Nisar Ahmed and Ayisha—strange names for Kunjupathumma—who claim themselves to be the “real” Muslims, even as they seem to be so much like the Kafir teachers of Kunjupathumma in school in their sartorial practices, especially by wearing a bodice. The novel, subsequently, locates Kunjupathumma’s family as the locus of the modernising drive of their neighbours. Ahmed initiates a turn to toilets from the earlier practice of open defecation; Ayisha trains Kunjupathumma in the correct pronunciation of Malayalam words, and to a continuous process of tutelage (in language as much as in winning her brother’s affection), much like the already-nation imagined its duty to be. Ahmed and Kunjupathumma are soon in love and the culmination of the novel is also the fruition of the modernising project. Kunjupathumma now wears a bodice, a saree, pins flowers to her hair, all of which were earlier marked as the attire of the Kafir.

In their days of plenty, Kunjupathumma is always reminded by her mother that of all the other Kunjupathummas in the world—a commonality they would rather live without—what makes her special is that her grandfather had an elephant (aana), and a huge tusker at that. The world of plenty, which forms the first half of the novel, is also an enchanted world with angels hovering in the skies, and the talk of the cosmos and divine order engaging those below. The narrative voice slips seamlessly between what can be identified as standard Malayalam and what is a Muslim demotic, such that any distinction between the object language and metalanguage is impossible. Not so in the second half, which is inaugurated by the exodus of the family from the village to the great unknown in the cover of the night, having lost all material wealth and social prestige:

Nothing has happened to the world. But ... their past, present and future are all shattered. Yet ... the river and the sands lie glittering in the moonlight ... people are bathing in the water ... On the sand some are sitting together and enjoying the fun of gossip ... nothing has happened to the world. But Vattan Adima’s and his wife’s and his daughter’s life seemed shattered.

Nothing has happened to the world. (Basheer 1980: 31)

The disjunctive turn of events has to be located in the continued existence of the world and for the need to continue life, thus effecting a link sans accoutrements between the past and the present. It is at this point, through the assertion of the continued existence of the world that the metalanguage, in standard Malayalam, is firmly established. Realism takes over as the narrative contract for the rest of the novel. This sharp turn in the nature of language has led one observer to term Basheer’s language as sterile, standard Malayalam, while Kunjupathumma’s as that which lends the novel with the dialogic (Sherrif 2005), while another reads it as Basheer’s mimicry of the distance between one’s lifeworld and the dialect of literature (Poduval 2010).

The tusker, which links Kunjupathumma to her lost legacy, is however forgotten for the rest of the novel until the very end, when it makes a farcical comeback as Ahmed and Kunjupathumma are wedded to each other, and a group of children assembled at the occasion makes fun of this hallowed memory:

[Kunjupathumma’s mother] looked at Kunjupattumma, standing gorgeous. She thought of the able Nisar Ahmed. They have just stepped into the bright future by the grace of God. The Lord, Master of the Universes, Rabbul Aalameen, will set everything right. History is definitely history ... In the end umma, tearful and stammering, said, “They s-s-say your uppuppa’s ... huge elephant ... was an elephant ant! ... an elephant ant!” (modified translation based on Basheer 1980: 119)

The “elephant ant” is to be literally translated as ant lion, but for stylistic reasons R E Asher has preferred the aforesaid phrase. This ending of the novel is a strange one in that it does not follow the protocols so far established in the narrative. It is neither the author in his narrative authority of the metalanguage (who is omnipresent), nor the protagonist, nor the framing narrative voice (which is a point-of-view position), who recounts the story as the memory of a very distant past, who gets to have the final word. This curiosity has attracted scholarly attention. While one of the reading strategies has been to see Umma (Kunjupathumma’s mother) as consigned to the yesteryears of history, and thereby to read her last lines as the end of an undesirable past (Karasseri 1998: 96), another is to read it as a stutter, which recounts the inability to account for a past that is no longer knowable (Poduval 2010). Elsewhere, this last line is read as the crucial link to the framing narrative voice in the beginning, thereby indicating the impossibility of putting the past behind (Karinkurayil 2014), more in the lines of the Benjaminian rupture in history. In such a reading, the narrative voice would actually be Umma’s, who is speaking to us from the beyond, where history has confined her. Here, the inclination is to look at this last line of the novel as also figuring the radical change of signifiers that occasion the transformation to governmentality. As aana (elephant) is “recognised” as kuzhiyaana (ant lion), the transformation is also from a past in which one’s individual past is hallowed, to a levelling which is at once entering modernity, but also stepping out of history through a radical process of resignification. While Kunjupathumma wears a bodice and saree, and decks her hair with flowers, she is nevertheless not the unmarked citizen, but is still sartorially (modern) Muslim as the tip of her saree is still on her head. Kunjupathumma is now visibly a Muslim, registered in the “Modern,” arriving at a national present from a past that can now only be recovered as ethnic. Governmentality, thus, empties out individual content for community representation in simultaneity with the other communities that make up the nation state. The moment of the arrival of modernity, thus, also becomes in the postcolonial context, the moment of emptying out of historicity, such that one finds oneself in a simultaneity of existence, but also levelled into community (with all the other Kunjupathummas).

Naked King of Governmentality

E V Ramakrishnan (2010) reads Ntuppuppakkoranendarnnu as Basheer’s failed attempt at narrating a community in the form of a novel, which is in collusion with the nation. According to Ramakrishnan, Basheer would break out of the straitjacket of this form through madness, in his subsequent and the last of the three Muslim novels, Pathummayude Aadu (Pathumma’s Goat). He reads it as a novel of transaction and notes that the postcolonial novel, as it transgresses its formal compulsions, allows for the narration of a community while also endowing its individuals the position of rational subjects calculative of their self-interests (Ramakrishnan 2010). One could read here the very obverse of the realist narrative in Ntuppuppakkoranendarnnu, where the disenchantment of the world, rather than inaugurating the individual, removed Umma from history, tossing her into the abyss of the loss of the
“loss itself.” It is not just that the elephant is lost, but that the very word which will signify that loss—“elephant”—is itself lost.

Basheer’s experiments with governmental fiction reaches its height in the little manoeuvres of his Sthalam narratives, a collection of loosely connected short stories published intermittently.2 If the loss of historicity that governmentality ushers in is mourned in Ntuppuppakkoranendarnnu as the inability to represent the past, this inability is turned into a rapturous celebration of possibilities in the Sthalam narratives. In the confines of this Sthalam—the Malayalam word for place—Basheer creates a space where the petty events of day-to-day life exist and is framed by the grand historical tropes of national relics and revolutions. The narrative technique blends the quotidian with the rhetoric of the metanarratives of world-historical movement (à la Marx), on the one hand it is a chronicle, and thereby alludes to the historical nature of these events, while also, as is the nature of the chronicle, is coloured by personal witticisms and elisions. The chronicler, however, is not the subject of movement in these narratives; these are not about the development of the inner self of the narrator as he moves through the outer world. Rather, the inner self and the outer world are characterised by their flatness, which operate only at the interface.

Sthalam narratives revolve around a bunch of characters removed from the genteel precincts of the ideal citizenry. Thorappan Anthru, Driver Pappunni, Anavari Raman Nair, Ponkurishu Thoma, Mandan Muthappa, Undakkan Anthru, Ettukaali Mammoonju, Veerapandyapandaram, Sainaba, Miss Lachi Pandaram, and others traverse a world of theft and honour, thrift and philanthropy, all at the same time. Thorappan Anthru and Driver Papunni are the “absent centres” of this universe. Known and revered for their skills in the art of robbery and vandalism, and absent mostly due to their exile (“undergrounding” themselves), they often provide the hypervisible moral compass of this world. Anavari Raman Nair owes his epithet “Anavari” (The Elephant Grabber), now his official name as in the “books of the Police Station and the kitabs of the jail” (Basheer 2009: 19), to an incident in which he availed his skills to abduct an elephant. Thoma becomes “Ponkurishu” Thoma (The Golden Cross Thoma) after stealing the impressive golden cross from a church outside “The Place” for humanitarian purposes; for, after all, the Lord who was crucified on a wooden cross can do without a golden one. “Mandan” Muthappa (Muthappa, the Idiot) the pickpocket, and Ettukaali Mammoonju (Spider Mammoonju), called so thanks to his scrawny features, prominent limbs and the long whiskers spread out to both sides to rustle with the bodies of the female passers-by (Basheer 2012), both assume themselves to be the disciples of Anavari and Ponkurishu (Basheer 2009). Ottakkannan Pokkar (Pokkar, the One-eyed) is the card sharper, whose place of business is the weekly bazaar and towards the uninterrupted exercise of which a rupee is proceeded to the
local police station (Basheer 2008a). The police station has two policemen, whom the narrator describes as the “agents of the foreign government,” “reactionaries,” and “war-mongers” (epithets that are most repeated throughout the narratives). They are the crucial outsiders against whom every once in a while the “progressive” and “peace-loving” (repeated as frequently as the foreignness of the police) inhabitants of The Place rise up in revolt with the objective of “pickling the noses” of these “foreign agents.” Veerapandyapadaram, is the snake charmer and Miss Lechi, his beautiful daughter, has developed a feeling for Ponkurishu (Basheer 2011). Sainaba, “the most prominent of the beauties of The Place” (Basheer 2008a: 13) is the daughter of the card sharper and not a novice in the art of stealing, as discovered by Mandan Muthappa to his dismay (Basheer 2008a).

The Place draws its ideological sustenance and morale from the memory of the martyrdom of Karumban Chennan, whose talent to be invisible as he strikes houses for burglary is attributed to his skill in stealing the foetus out of pregnant women and melting them for their fat and applying it on himself before his escapades. The memory of his martyrdom at the end of a long chase by “the reactionary foreign government and the war-mongering foreigners” is immortalised by his dagger, now a relic in the history of The Place.

His dagger is now in the possession of Thorappan Avaraan. The inhabitants of The Place could not preserve Karumban Chennan’s body in the service of the people of The Place or their foreign sympathisers as a source of eternal inspiration to Revolution. The foreign reactionary government draconically buried it at an undisclosed location. (Basheer 2011: 37–38)

Basheer’s language, as can be observed from the quote above, parodies the language of the Hegelian–Marxist world-historical movement, the literary commonplace of an ambience consciously embedding itself in the concerns of the class struggle. The careful disposal, distribution and juxtaposition of epithets—reactionary versus progressive, war-mongering versus peace-loving—often slips into ecstatic incantations of abuse, letting loose at once the full weight of a parody towards the arbitrariness of not just epithets considered to denote and describe the world-spirit, but also of the randomness of significations themselves:

“Coward! War-monger!” Anavari continued, brushing off the soil, “you donkey-skinned, run away! You reactionary puppet of a lout!” (Basheer 2011: 18)

Discursive Technique

It is in these frenzies of cross-fertilising registers that Basheer’s Place comes alive. He pleads to be taken seriously as the chronicler, and assures us repeatedly of the factuality of the incidents he is narrating. Through such devices as the footnotes, and through such conceits as “evidence,” “confession,” etc, Basheer’s discursive technique is at once an attack on the nationalist history with its gallery of saints, heroes and conquests, as well as the idealised inevitable underclass revolution prophesised to come (like the monsoon in June). This universe is strewn with a vocabulary indebted to the world wars and revolutions—the puppet governments, the allegation of war-mongerings, Vladimir Ilich Lenin’s embalmed body—all jostle in the grand revolutionary imagination of the people whose revolutionary uprising aims to “pickle the noses” of the policemen. “Comrades” and “sympathisers” lend themselves unto this moral environs. If the imaginary of the world-historical movement in its communist inflections seem to be one coordinate of the Basheerian parody, its other coordinate is provided by the peculiar realisation of Indian nationalism which claims “Diversity” to be a peculiarity to be overcome by a transcendental “Unity.” Unity as a transcendental value, which prevails over and above all peculiarities, is non-existent in Basheer’s Sthalam. The inhabitants of The Place, distributed across the communal spectrum, are primarily denoted by their religion–caste affiliations:

But Ponkurishu Thoma did not present himself at the People’s Court. He was discussing some inter-political affairs with Kochuthressia. So the People decided that the Christians of The Place be punished. Beat up those bony Christians who pass! As a matter of fact, the Court was composed of many Nairs and many Nambudiris, with a few Varriers and Marars. There was not even a whiff of the Musalman or Ezhava, Tiyya, Ullada, Mukkava or Pulaya. When the decision of the Court was known, the fat Christians gave their verdict against the Court …

Ezhavas, Tiyya, Ullada, Mukkava, Paraya and others split into two. One group joined the Nairs. The others joined the Christians … The Muslim almost fought within themselves. Finally the Nairs, Nambudiris, Varriers, Marars, Ezhavas, Tiyyas, Pulayas, Parayas, Ulladas, Mukkuvas, Christians and Musalmans decided—they will have a massive all-out fight. Anyone can beat anyone. (Basheer 2011: 23–25)

“Nairs,” “Nambudiris,” “Varriers,” “Marars,” “Musalman,” “Ezhavas, Tiyya, Ullada, Mukkuva,” the obsessive reiteration of the different castes and communities that make up “the people,” gnaws at the discourse of modernity, nationalism and revolution, and a public sphere circumscribed by the edict to never ask or speak caste. These are instances of not just the rupture of the category of people with the aim of uncovering the real agents of power, they also parody the communal–consensual politics of paternalism that was built into the nationalist motto of “Unity in Diversity.” The choice of “Musalman” (rather than Malayalam/Arabic “Muslim”) is a gesture towards the governmental language, characterised as it is with the Hindi/Urdu inflection of the Indian union, thus reiterating the national dimensions of this small world. The two policemen in this parody are representatives of the foreign powers against whom the category of the people, here the people of “The Place,” is constituted. In the absence of these policemen, the category splits itself into communities, the splintered nature of which spectacles such as the “People’s Court” fail to conceal.

The arrival of two sants, one Muslim and one Hindu, in The Place, in Sthalathe Pradhana Divyan (1953) is occasioned by the turn towards what is seen as the project of modernity, towards health and education.

The Holy Saints assumed the leadership of The Place. They submitted before the people some revolutionary programmes.

The stink of the bazaar should be brought down. Goat, cow, buffalo, pig, dog, duck, bull, rabbit, hen etcetera should not be reared in the houses. Fish—raw, dry, rotten—should not be kept in the house forever. Intestines, blood, bones, etcetera should be buried afar. Rotten leather should not be kept in the house either. Every house should have a minimum of one toilet. Every community should toilet-train their young ones. (Men and Women) should take bath at least once a week.

If the men and women do not adhere to this programme, the Holy Saints will punch their nose in. (Basheer 2011: 63–64)

The detailed instructions insinuating the high-sounding nationalist programme is undercut by the silliness of the punitive. The sublime paternal authority that is the citizen–state turns into the obscene figure of a bully. The holy saints are juxtaposed with the filth and the stink, their holiness descending into the unruly. The Basheerian parody, however, reserves its subterfuge for a later moment; the two saints are, and were always by the knowledge and blessing of the people of The Place, the thieves Thorappan Avaran and Driver Pappunni! The citizen project is transformed into an orchestrated attempt at impersonation, that of disguising thieves who are on the run. Rather than effecting a divide between the rational citizen and the pathological subject of emotion and passion (and implied criminality), citizenship itself is seen as a project in active connivance with the pathological. If the unruly crowd is the counterpoint of the citizen constructed in the former’s bid to control and discipline, the two saints are akin to the dream within the dream, which is then the short circuit to the nationalist reality that the universal rationality is at once caught up with recourse to idolatry on the one hand, and plain bullying on the other.

Conclusions

Franco Moretti (2000) credits the genre of Bildungsroman to inaugurating the idea of “youth” in European culture, one that is characterised by mobility and inner restlessness, as opposed to it
being just a biological differentiation. The invention of youth was significant because it also suggested something more profound:

Virtually without notice, in the dreams and nightmares of the so called ‘double revolution’, Europe plunges into modernity, but without possessing a culture of modernity. If youth, therefore, achieves its symbolic
centrality, and the ‘great narrative’ of the Bildungsroman comes into being, this is because Europe has to attach a meaning, not so much to youth, as to modernity. (Moretti 2000: 5)

Bildungsroman was Europe’s symbolic response to chaotic times characterised by “change” defined temporally rather than spatially. The dynamics of change, of modernity, could only be incorporated by delimiting youth itself, that it is always anticipating an impending doom, “the sense of an ending.”

The dynamics of change, precisely because of its eternal nature, then poses the question of a different ending, that of narrative ending. How is one to end a novel if change is always underway? Tobias Boes (2012), in his study of German Bildungsroman from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to Thomas Mann, finds in the idea of nation, that of resolution in a homogeneous empty time, a strategy of resolving this narrative deadlock.

Basheer’s Ntuppuppakkoranendarnnu is marked by the passage from one register of time to the other. While the earlier register of time is Islamic and is charted according to the tales of the beginning of the world and of the signs of its impending end, the second register is the linear unfolding of the protagonist towards ideal citizenry. However, the conclusion serves not as the ironing out of the differences towards an ideal resolution, but as the occasion of a narrative disruption. Kunjupathumma’s Umma reminds her that “History is definitely history.” The non-synchronous elements of the present, rather than muted in the conclusion towards a national present, ends in an illustration of the slippage in signifiers and signification (between aana and kuzhiyaana) effected under the new regime. The nation lives in multiple times and Bildungsroman fails to soothe it out. What we are left with is the hysterical laugh of the youth (who mock at the idea of the elephant) and the sob of the
by-now irrelevant mother. But, as to what persists in memory, we are not given a clear choice. Should we laugh with the young, or weep with the old? In fact, this equivocation in emotions is what causes this novel:

It all seems to have happened countless thousands years ago. For, isn’t childhood a long way off? Since then many things have happened. Kunjupattumma can recollect it all only as some kind of a joke. Raw, green life. These are of course eternal, irresolvable mysteries. Nothing is really in one’s grasp, is it? What does one do? One feels like heaving sobs; and also to laugh one’s heart out. Isn’t laughter better than weeping? So recollect and smile. (Basheer 1980: 53; translation modified by Poduval 2010: 366)

The Sthalam narratives signal the failure of both the ends of Bildungsroman, that of individuation as well as one’s placement in the national whole. Udaya Kumar (2005) has likened the thinness of these narratives to the pre-linguistic stage with its obsessions to part objects, thereby indicating the absence of fully-formed (alienated) individuals. If the introduction of Bildungsroman in governmental times presents a crisis of identity, the Sthalam narratives toss away history within the frame of a chronicle and substitute historicity with a reduction
of individuals to their governmental categories. The imagined community, far from being ideal citizens, are pathological subjects.

The governmental logic operates through the creation of a knowing centre, one who is imagined as above all particular concerns. It is as against the universality of this logic that all democratic demands are deemed particular. Basheer’s manoeouvre is twofold: first, to assert a centre/universal which is just a ploy, and therefore a masquerade; and second, if the particular exists only in relation to this universal, the particularity of that universal sutures the centre with the periphery in an organic link, which ironically makes an ideal nation. The minoritisation of the particular can be overcome not by imagining an all-encompassing universal, but only by particularising the universal. One can either laugh with the young or mourn with the old, but one is an impostor.

Notes

1 The quotes are from R E Asher’s translation of Basheer (1980).

2 The Sthalam narratives consist of three novellas: Mucheettukalikkarante Makal [The Card Sharper’s Daughter] (1951), Sthalathe Pradhana Divyan (The Principal Divine of the Place] (1953), Anavariyum Ponkurishum [Anavari and Ponkurishu—The Elephant Scooper and the Golden Cross] (1955) and a short story, “Ettukali Mammoonju” (1967).

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Updated On : 26th Apr, 2019

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