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2 - Roots and Routes: On Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 January 2021

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Summary

Significant Writers of the Indian Diaspora

In an early essay, ‘The Diaspora in Indian Culture’, Amitav Ghosh writes:

The modern Indian diaspora – the huge migration from the subcontinent that began in the mid-nineteenth century – is not merely one of the most important demographic dislocations of modern times: it now represents an important force in world culture. The culture of the diaspora is also increasingly a factor within the culture of the Indian subcontinent. This is self-evidently true of its material culture, which now sets the standard for all that is desirable in the metropolitan cities. But the diaspora also counts among its members some of the finest writers: to my mind there are no finer writers writing in the English language today than V.S. Naipaul, Salman Rushdie and A.K. Ramanujan. In its own way the literary culture of the diaspora is also an important social and political – and, of course, literary – force within India. (Ghosh 1989: 73)

The writers singled out in Ghosh's statement have in their several oeuvres scrutinised and commented upon the diasporic condition in distinctive ways, whether it is the ancestral memory of rupture despairingly recalled by Naipaul:

Even when at school I had got to know (as part of school learning) the historical facts of the region [the West Indies], they did not have any imaginative force for me. The squalor and pettiness and dinginess – the fowl-coops and back yards and servant rooms and the many little houses on one small plot and the cess-pits – seemed too new; everything in Port of Spain seemed to have been recently put together; nothing suggested antiquity, a past. To this there had to be added the child's ignorance; and the special incompleteness of the Indian child, grandson of immigrants, whose past suddenly broke off, suddenly fell away into the chasm between the Antilles and India. (Naipaul 1988: 141)

or the ambivalence of freedom adroitly registered by Rushdie:

When individuals come unstuck from their native land, they are called migrants. When nations do the same thing (Bangladesh), the act is called secession. What is the best thing about migrant peoples and seceded nations? I think it is their hopefulness. […] And what's the worst thing? It is the emptiness of one's luggage.

Type
Chapter
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Writing India Anew
Indian-English Fiction 2000–2010
, pp. 47 - 58
Publisher: Amsterdam University Press
Print publication year: 2013

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