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Diversity in Unity?

Simi Malhotra

By Basavaraj Naikar
Book Enclave, Jaipur, 2004, pp. viii 271, Rs. 625.00


Basavaraj Naikar makes a candid disclosure right at the beginning of the book, when in his very short preface of eight sentences he says that the volume “…includes articles that I have written over the past twenty years on major Commonwealth writers” (p. v). Therefore, it does not come as a surprise that this book of twenty-four chapters contains an assortment of the who’s who in the field of Commonwealth writing across many continents—Chinua Achebe, Ngugi wa Thiong’o (which for some strange reason Naikar spells as NGugi wa Thiang’O), Wole Soyinka, Nadine Gordimer, Margaret Lawrence, Patrick White, G.V. Desani, Gurcharan Das (spelt by Naikar, equally inexplicably as Gurucharan Das), Manohar Malgonkar, Khushwant Singh, Chaman Nahal and Rabindranath Tagore to name just a few. He admits quite frankly that such a selection illustrates the principle of “diversity in unity” (p. v). However, such ‘unity’ in this postmodern-postcolonial times is something that the contemporary reader should be wary of. Furthermore, his dedication to his father for having instilled in him “moral idealism” (p. iii) pretty much sums up the categories he employs in his analysis while dealing with some of the problems encountered by many of these Commonwealth writers. However, his avowal of such moral categories reeks of criticism a century too old.   In the first four chapters—where Naikar takes up Chinua Achebe’s novels Things Fall Apart, No Longer at Ease, Arrow of God and A Man of the People—he deals with issues such as cultural conflicts, moral dilemmas, religious clashes and political hypocrisies which willy-nilly are concerns for a nation with a colonial past and the challenges of a postcolonial present. In the next three chapters he takes up Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s A Grain of Wheat, The River Between and Petals of Blood, novels which deal with modes of resistance to colonial powers and a coming into being of a nation. However, it is surprising that while Naikar speaks of “epics of anti-colonialism”, he himself holds on to problematic categories such as “Negros and the White Men” (p. 48). It must be stated that in this rather black and white universe of his, Naikar does little justice to these authors and their texts when he approaches them through simplistic and reductive binaries such as east/west; colonizer/colonized etc.   Naikar shifts his attention from novelists to a playwright, the Nigerian Obotunde Ijimire, ...

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