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Interrogating Cultural Dissonances


Naved Farooqui

THE INORDINATELY STRANGE LIFE OF DYCE SOMBRE: VICTORIAN ANGLO-INDIAN MP AND CHANCERY LUNATIC
By Michael H. Fisher
Hurst & Co, London, Distributed in India by: Foundation Books, 2010, pp. 396, Rs. 695.00

VOLUME XXXIV NUMBER 8 August 2010

Dislocation and rootlessness are modern phenomena which stem from the emergence of the nation state and has opened up an entire arm in academics that focuses ‘on those moments or processes that are produced in the articulation of cultural differences.’ As Homi Bhabha puts it, ‘The move away from the singularities of “class” or “gender” as primary conceptual and organizational categories, has resulted in an awareness of the subject positions—of race, gender, generation, institutional location, geopolitical locale, sexual orientation—that inhabit any claim to identity in the modern world.’ It is in this context that one could read The Inordinately Strange life of Dyce Sombre: Victorian Anglo-Indian MP and Chancery ‘Lunatic’, as many of these categories like class, gender, race, geopolitical locale, the location of culture in itself are interrogated through Dyce Sombre’s life. Michael H. Fisher‘s nonpartisan biography of Dyce Sombre throws open naturalized certitudes in the nation state model for interrogation. By astutely capturing the inordinately strange life of Dyce Sombre, he opens the tools of the nation-state for questioning that build, sustain and challenge the normalization of culture and social norms, which suppress rather than express individuality. Dyce Sombre’s life, amidst various things is a site on which cultural and historical forces play out. The very thought that Dyce lived and died as a man without citizenship, shows how questionable the notions of citizenship were and continue to be so in our lives. Dyce Sombre’s case exposes law as being a purveyor of culture rather than being perceived as an agent for establishing and ensuring principles of equity. Thereby the biography questions the ability of law to arrive at ‘truth’. Dyce Sombre lived during strange times. Caught between opposing historical forces at multiple junctures, his identity is difficult to qualify. As a ‘three fourth Indian and a one fourth European’, with a mixed ancestry and peculiar personal history, labelling Dyce Sombre becomes an attraction, challenge and a hurdle for his contemporaries as well as us.Dyce Sombre’s genealogy was as inordinate as his lifestyle. His descendants included ‘German and French Catholic mercenaries, a Scots Presbyterian subaltern, Indian Muslim and Hindu women. Born and bred in the cosmopolitan principality of Sardhana, his enculturation was totally at odds with the emerging culture of the nation-state model. Located strategically between the fading Mughal imperial capital of Shajahanabad (Delhi), and the prosperous British military base ...


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