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Intersections, Interpellation and Collision

Malavika Karlekar

By Neluka Silva
Sage Publications, Delhi, 2004, pp. 257, Rs. 320.00


In recent decades, the nation as mother, its/her violation and the consequences have been of considerable interest to postcolonial studies in South Asia. Often enough the tensions find a reflection in literature, either in English or in the rich vernacular writings of this fascinating geographic area. In the present book, Neluka Silva, a Sri Lankan Professor of English, sets out to examine “the ‘naturalised’ and ‘sacralised’ gendered tropes, images and linguistic formations in the representations of the nation” in the writings of the region. She argues that nationalism soon acquires the very forms and tools that it resisted and “holds the greatest threat to women, non-bourgeois classes and minority groups in South Asia” (pp.15, 19). As women were co-opted into nationalist struggles, their bodies became inscribed with love, hate, torture and passion.       Political leadership in the region over the last half a century is marked by the emergence of the woman as leader – not, of course, a necessary assertion of feminist principles but of dynastic politics. Apart from this, the woman is as Silva points out, a member of the authentic community, the ‘good mother’ image being conflated with that of the good citizen. And the woman politician who is able to juggle the various roles and images is bound to be successful. Silva choo-ses post-independence literary texts from the South Asian region focusing on the Emergency in India, ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka and the emergence of Bangladesh to examine issues of identity and nationalism in post-colonial literature.       From India the author looks at Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and Nayantara Sahgal’s Rich like Us – two texts where Indira Gandhi’s multiple identities “overlap and displace each other” (p. 46). Restating the somewhat well known discourse around Indira Gandhi—when she likened herself to the modern-day Joan of Arc and then her transformation from the benevolent, nurturant Durga to the malevolent Kali—Silva moves on to the two texts. For both authors, the Emergency of 1975 was a watershed, marking the beginnings of Hindu fundamentalism and changes in notions of the democratic Indian nation state. In Rushdie’s work, the Widow occupies centre stage, standing in opposition to the narrator, Saleem. Silva argues that Rushdie unsettles established notions of class, sexuality and masculinity. She feels that both novels highlight the failure of the democratic nation, ruled by the autocratic Widow/ Sahgal’s  Madam, where the principles of pluralism and ...

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