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Book Review: ‘Postcolonial Indian English Fiction: Decentering the Nation’

By Ajay K. Chaubey

Title: Postcolonial Indian English Fiction: Decentering the Nation
Editors: M. Rajagopalachary & K. Damodar Rao
Publisher: Rawat Publications, 2016.
ISBN: 978-81-316-0758-9. Price: ₹ 895. Pages: 222.

Prior to the publication of Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, G. V. Desani, in his novel, All About H. Hatter, used ‘exotic, polyglotic, supranational themes’1 in the tradition of Joyce’s Ulysses, texts that decenter the nation and its history. Desani is considered to be the literary guru of Rushdie, Ghosh, and Sealy, among others. Rushdie says, “My own writing, too, learned a trick or two from him (Desani).”2 But, post-Midnight’s Children, writing fiction in history and history in fiction has been summum bonum for Indian writers of Anglophone fiction as the “historical narrative/ fictional narrative merges” (Wolfgang Iser quoted in Nayar of this volume, 185). However, presenting “national allegory” is one of the major techniques practised by them, especially after Rushdie. There is a host of such authors who have been overtly and covertly influenced by Midnight’s Children and they have tried to follow and unfollow the technique of presenting Indian tradition, myths, culture and the socio-political history of post-colonial India in their creative feats from time to time. This phenomenon has been a matter of academic debate and many Indian academics have written, reiterated, ruminated, and offered theoretical postulations. As a result, a plethora of books, essays, and volumes have been published.

Most recently, a brighter star, in the shape of a volume, has emerged in the firmament of critical writings. M. Rajagopalachary and K. Damodar Rao, editors from the Department of English, Kakatiya University, Warangal, have brought a compendium of critical essays, entitled Postcolonial Indian English Fiction: Decentering the Nation, at a time when Rushdie was again targeted by Iranian clerics for alleged blasphemy, for The Satanic Verses. There is need for fresh debate, which this volume provides. The rationale of taking only this literary genre, i.e. fiction, in account for the study is quite clear. The editors claim that, “[O]f all literary forms, it is fiction that is most suited to re-present social and political history in the programme of offering resistance narrative” (6).

The editors incisively present a critical survey of the literary taxonomy of Indian English fiction in the Introduction, which is followed by twenty-six, unified articles. The essays have been written to decenter the ‘nation’ using  postmodern techniques. Eight essays out of twenty-six present ‘history’, which interfaces the narrative of literature, nationalism and mythos in general, and the Indian novel in English, in particular. In this segment, essays by A. S. Dasan, Mohan Ramanan, H. Kalpana, T. Viswanadha Rao and K. Damodar Rao tackle heterogeneous leitmotifs and offer an introspective analysis.

The more appreciative steps taken by the editors in this volume are to unpack a palimpsest study of Rushdie’s novels. Four essays by M. Prabhakar, Mujeebuddin Syed, M. Narendra, V. Nagarani and K. Purushotham thoroughly analyse Midnight’s Children, Shame and Shalimar the Clown. They present the historiography of a nation, subaltern voices and the ‘insurgency’ of history in the texts by Rushdie, that campaigner of presenting “contemporary reality… without borders in postmodern fiction.” In today’s literary scenario, the most celebrated author, after Rushdie, is another Booker winner, Arundhati Roy. A critical essay on The God of Small Things by Jibu Mathew George is based on a “couple of histirico-temporal paradigms” (177). George notices how “Braudel’s long temporality to the history of oppression, primarily related to caste and gender” is analysed by the novel.(178).

Apart from Rushdie and Roy, the volume significantly covers essays on Chaman Nahal, I. Allan Sealy, Shashi Tharoor, Vikram Seth, Amitav Ghosh, Dina Mehta, Gita Mehta, David Davidar, Githa Hariharan and the diasporic novelist, Jhumpa Lahiri, who are all renowned in the canon of Indian English Literature. The essays on these authors present a wide gamut of study through the lenses of postcolonialism, Marxism, New Historicism, Gandhianism,  hermeneutics, and deconstruction. The writers in this volume critique the piebald picture of the nation as presented in the novels by these writers. The criticism offered in the volume thoroughly interrogates the manipulations of voices and temporalities; speckled pre-colonial existence, the cataclysm of partition; multiplicity of sense and incident; problematics of violence and political meta-narratives and more. Additionally, the essays differ from the criticism included in the previously published glut of anthologies in terms of erudition, scholarship and the way they have been undertaken. Most of the critics are distinguished professors of English in various universities, institutions, and colleges of India.

The versatile and widely published critic, Professor Pramod K. Nayar’s subject and critical approaches on concurrent issues pertaining to literature, culture and society, make his two essays the gemstones of the volume. His first essay entitled ‘Narrative, Hymen, Laterality: Postmodern Strategies in Mukul Kesavan’s Looking through Glass explores the unexplored “terrain of … postmodern topography” (Nayar p.185). He offers the polygonal significance of the ‘Glass’ in his own way—literary, historical, political and popular culture. The essay reflects Roland Barthes’ theories of ‘Discourse of History’ and ‘the Reality Effect’. The next essay by Nayar, “The (B)Other of Borders: Kavery Nambisan’s The Scent of Pepper,” differs and defers from the aforesaid paper. This essay traces the “question of ‘Othering’” in the text of Nambisan. The paper, written in the conceptual framework of Homi K. Bhabha, pinpoints the term ‘native,’ “where the nomenclature ranges downward from nation, race, tribe to individual,” as opined by the critic himself (190).

Some of the essays in the anthology are too short to be ‘chewed and digested’ though they offer a handy solution to the texts being studied. However, most of the essays are longer and well-written and may be advantageous for postgraduate and doctoral candidates to consult. The volume does not contain only the rich reservoir of episteme on the subject but also promises food for thought for the pan-global academia. The editors have sagaciously offered the synchronic reality of the texts in the volume and, for this, they deserve special appreciation.       

1. (see para 11).
2. (see para 2)

Dr. Ajay K Chaubey
is Assistant Professor of English at the Dept. of Sciences and Humanities, National Institute of Technology, Uttarakhand, India. His major academic publications include V S Naipaul (Atlantic, 2015), Salman Rushdie (Atlantic, 2016), followed by South Asian Diaspora in three volumes to be released by the Rawat Publications, Jaipur by the end of this year.


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