Amitav Ghosh: Alternate Histories, Resistance and Minor Literature

Abstract: Writing/reading is a political act; an ever changing performance that continuously challenges the established ways of life and narration. During the process the writer/reader creates alternate spaces of expressions, distinctive open fields on which a creative writer’s impressions and politics come to play. An author from the Indian subcontinent writing in the latter half of the twentieth century and debating on history, culture, politics, language and people makes use of this plane of possibilities to invent stories that challenge previously recorded scripts of colonial history and its forms of representations. Amitav Ghosh as a writer from the post independence era naturally navigated away from the pre- given modes of contents and expressions to these other shores of story telling. As a writer who narrates the stories of the colonial bygone and the post colonial contemporariness he constantly wraps up new layers of alter/new-narratives that is in a process of constant social, cultural, historical and political ‘becomings’ that dethrone the continued personal and political dominance. The story telling ignites a narrative method that directly creates a generation, a people, and a living previously absent.

Keywords : minor literature, deterritorialisation, cultural resistance, ‘becomings’, form of representation, colonial modernity

Writing/reading is a political act; an ever changing performance that continuously challenges the established ways of life and narration.

During the process the writer/reader creates alternate spaces of expressions, distinctive open fields on which a creative writer’s impressions and politics come to play. An author from the Indian subcontinent writing in the latter half of the twentieth century and debating on history, culture, politics, language and people makes use of this plane of possibilities to invent stories that challenge previously recorded scripts of colonial history and its forms of representations.

Amitav Ghosh as a writer from the post independence era naturally navigated away from the pre-given modes of contents and expressions to these other shores of story telling. Amitav Ghosh’s narratives, peculiar for the shades of life they contain, are often a rendering of little histories/mini stories of lived experiences. Ghosh’s concern has always been to place on record all those left out alter movements which has always made history a conceptually ever changing process. His writing picks up those strands of readings which lay scattered under the crushing presence of the dominant mode of representations. As a writer who narrates the stories of the colonial bygone and the post colonial contemporariness he constantly wraps up new layers of alter/new-narratives that is in a process of constant social, cultural, historical and political ‘becomings’ that dethrone the continued personal and political dominance. The story telling ignites a narrative method that directly creates a generation, a people, and a living previously absent.

Postcolonialism, as a theory and practice of resistance, emerged as a challenge to the essentialist positions embodied in colonialism. The theoretical frames through which it developed had specific ways of re/ claiming the past, narrating other histories and incorporating hybridities. The politics of a creative writer in such a milieu usually functions within similar forms of representation. Such narrative positions critiquing coloniality may form another focal point of affirmation and eventually come to represent yet another essentialist position. It is precisely at this moment of self-reflexive awareness postcolonialism as an anti representational theory needs to move out of its rigidities, to identify a point of departure. The writings should follow a political, liable trail of continuous production through the use of language and literature as interventions within the general representations of colonial narratives.

The writer needs to detach himself/herself from forms of representation to produce more revolutionary ways of production/becoming.

Post colonialism needs a writing; a specific mode of writing in to becoming/existence, that which Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari call ‘Minor writing’, a concept developed by them in their study of Kafka, titled, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature. Minor Literature, according to Deleuze and Guttari, is not the literature by the minority. But the ‘minor’ is the revolutionary zeal against all modes of standardisation. In ‘becoming minor’ a counter hegemonic stance is never aimed at. It is a continuous process of ‘deterritorialisation’ and ‘becoming’ open to play, which repeatedly unravels all forms of majoritarian positions from within the constraints of the major.

Within a Minor Literature there is a constant open ended shift of positions and random displacements that dethrone the dominant mode of historical/social/political/cultural/literary presentations and contains constant possibilities of creating new narrative spaces. Claire Colebrook in his book on Deleuze observes,

Art has the power, not to represent the world or located subjects, but to Imagine, create and vary affects that are not already given. In literature, for example, such effects would be the powers of language that are not tied down to communication and representation, a language that becomes sound (a stuttering language) or a language that creates sense (such as the absurd world of Alice in Wonderland). Such a literature, Deleuze and Guattari argue, is a minor literature. It does not appeal to established models; nor does it claim to represent humanity. It produces what is not already recognizable. It does not add one more work to the great tradition; it disrupts and dislocates the tradition. (103)

Deleuze and Guattari outline three prominent features of Minor Literature in their work Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature. They opine that within a minor literature “language is affected with a high coefficient of deterritorialisation”(16). The writer attempts to deride the major language of its consistency and set standards of sense and sound with a continuous attempt at variations in the realm of its rules, expressions and content. A minor work not just deterritorialises the language, but also the literary, social and political elements set to tune by a major language.

Deleuze and Guattari’s reading of Kafka, which led them to the understandings of being ‘minor’, gives insights into the political functions of literature written in a minor form which is the second notable feature of minor literature. According to them everything in Minor Literature is political. Within a major literature the social concerns of the individual is foremost, whereas in a minor literature, individual concerns are directly connected to the immediate political environment. “The political domain has contaminated every statement” (17). A minority presented in a major literature need to configure himself/ herself to exist. A Minor Literature, on the other hand, is created to narrate exclusions, to mark its presence very much within a major discourse. Talking about minoritarian literature in Deleuze Dictionary, Adrian Parr follows Ronald Bogue’s observation,

Throughout his stories and novels Kafka directly links psychological and family conflicts to extended social and political relations. And though he necessarily writes as a solitary individual, he treats language as a collective assemblage of enunciation and thereby attempts to articulate the voice of a people to come. (168)

The third feature of minor literature as expressed in Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature is that “everything in it takes on a collective value” (17). As there are,

no possibilities for an individuated enunciation that would belong to this or that “master” and that could be separated from a collective enunciation […] what each author says individually constitutes a common action, and what he or she says or does is necessarily political, even if others aren’t in agreement (17). Minor writings produce a new value for a new consciousness. […] a collective, revolutionary, enunciation […] the possibility to express another possible community and forge the means for another consciousness and another sensibility. (17)

The postcolonial attempts of refiguring subjectivity/identity/ representation have been taken to the limits of collectivity/visibility/ production respectively within a minor writing. The minor narrative/ writer intrudes into an overriding discursive system and reuses the tools of expressions, linguistic and cultural, to propose collective and visible innovations and productions. Minor writings discard exact positions of subjectivity/identity to follow subjectivities, collective and created, incessantly in the process of becoming. It calls attention to the “blur, mixed-up history […] there isn’t a subject; there are only collective assemblages of enunciation” (18).

The continuous deterritorialisation of majoritarian positions and the peculiar act of ever becoming new collectivities, of people and issues hitherto invisible, link Amitav Ghosh’s narrative politics to the minoritarian position proposed by Deleuze and Guattari. The narratives of Amitav Ghosh negate representations of omniscience, power, colonial modernity and the self within the narratives of colonialism and aims at continuous social, psychological, political and linguistic deterritorialisations. The alter positions he takes over domination, colonisation and its manifestations form the alternate notes of minor expressions of the texts.

The texts discussed here, The Glass Palace, In an Antique Land and The Hungry Tide, follow a similar strain of Amitav Ghosh’s methodology of contextualising the inert concerns of his politics. His minor politics work through a different reading of coloniality, colonial modernity and the ways in which they are disrupted within narrations of resistive everyday. Within the narratives colonial history is no longer documentations of conquest and rule but alternate stories of little resistances. Modernity no longer sings songs of progressive emancipation but sheds its cloak to show its other sides of unpleasant realities and routines are not just a background of narrative social milieu but deliberate resistive political actions of everyday.

Ghosh’s story of colonisation speaks through riots, revolts and rebellions. His lines echo the dialectics of little resistances, minor histories and the dynamic and randomly shifting power centres, individual as well as collective, against any mode of domination that has sprung up randomly through out the subcontinent and beyond.

His little histories provide us with effervescent shades of local and individual notes of resistance thereby lavishing at the conflicting and ever dynamic portfolio of minor positionings.

Language had been a major representative tool by which the colonisers gained and retained their power hold upon the Indian subcontinent. The later tactful and purposeful resistive fluctuations one does in a language to incorporate new forms and structures of difference disrupt formerly set up linguistically representative milieu. Such variation one does in a language is political and revolutionary for it exerts new linguistic and thereby new possibilities of history, culture and everyday.

Amitav Ghosh has similar and peculiar methods of linguistic alter plays. He performs his politics of historical negation through his different use of language. The peculiar blend of languages that form a different dialect negates and rejects all the set notions of a majoritarian standardisation in language use as well as the prevalent truths, facts and histories established through such a language. In Amitav Ghosh’s stories the grand idea of colonialism as invasion and subjugation is deterritorialised through a language of specific sense and sound that conveys alternate mini stories of resistance and self assertion; personal and political, individual and collective.

His writings offhandedly blend words from different languages (presented using English alphabets/sound system) thereby establishing new relations between varied routine linguistic possibilities. His use of multiple languages, Hindi, Arabic, Burmese etc. mixed up with the majoritarian English are abstract nuances through which his politics is carved out into a different space of minor expressions/minor narratives. Becoming minor in a language is not further establishment of a counter language of mixed up variety. Rather, it is a continuous production of multiple varieties of language from within an established system, major or minor. Continuous difference, of repetition, of production marks writing minor. As Deleuze and Guattari observe in A Thousand Plateaus, “Minor language does not exist in themselves: they only exist in relation to a major language and are investments in that language for the purpose of making it minor” (105).

Ghosh’s use of native tongue/minor language in his readings does not follow a pattern. They sprout out from life and rebellions, food and clothing, culture and social gatherings, cultural markers and ways of life, from the everyday to the most cunning of political power games. In The Glass Palace, the tactical use of Hindi words present a different history of the native quite different from the usual awareness one gets from the anglicised versions of colonialism. The text includes everyday words like, gaari, kuch to karo, basti, devi etc. A bunch of words relating to native professions like dulash, munshi, nakhoda, hsin-ouq, maistry, lathyals also can be found in varied situations as a casual part of narrative presentation. Words such as kaala indicating the skin colour and thereby the class and caste of the lead character Rajkumar mirrors the Indian cultural hangovers and the text becomes a site where not just the European dominance is rejected, but also the in-home disequilibrium of elite-subaltern binary.

Further in The Glass Palace, language is twisted of its sense and form and is deterritorialised of its plain meaning to contain double edged ironies of colonial situation rendered through colonial hangovers and confusions of Arjun. The peculiar use of italics font to indirectly express certain pertinent issues focus on what remain unsaid. The specific tactic of minor presentation is sharp in the direct commentaries of anti- dominance (colonial or otherwise) expressions scribbled in print varied italics. The Glass Palace with a particular use of italics on a specific conversation of Indian soldiers, in the British army, asks on the face of colonial strategies, “Brothers ask yourself what you are fighting for and why you are here?: do you really wish to sacrifice your lives for an empire that has kept your country in slavery for two hundred years” (391). The usage of ‘amader gurujon’, ‘our teachers’ in the text to comment on the British is directly ironical of the ‘master halo’ that the colonisers have always claimed to possess.

In an Antique Land also shares similar blend of language use, mostly Arabic. Usages like Ustaz (teacher), Shiyuu’eyya, bint’amm,( father’s brother’s daughter) ‘amm shagig (uncle) showing professions and relations implant a world of Egyptian life into the narrative that speaks of histories being unearthed and rendered anew. The text in particular shows how a particular history vanishes from the memories and documents of humanity along with a vanishing language. Bomma’s history was buried in a language no more visible. Ghosh retraces and creates a fresh history for Bomma by piecing together scraps of details he found from Geniza in Hebrew and Judeao–Arabic scripts. Language functions as a personal charter, a chronicler of personal and collective histories lost to time and modernity.

In an Antique Land further comments on the cultural uniqueness of each language. How a regional space’s ways of life is lost in translation. The text marks how every minor realisation and use of language carries the peculiar attitudes and colours of life which can seldom be enacted with a majoritarian language. Ghosh gives an example from the text which shows the uniqueness of expressions in a language when he shares an episode from his Egyptian life, the text reads,

“In Arabic the word ‘circumcise’ derives from a root that means ‘to purify’: to say of someone that they are ‘uncircumcised’ is more or less to call them impure.

‘Yes, ‘I answered, ‘yes, many people in my country are “impure”. I had no alternative; I was trapped by language”. (62)

In the text The Hungry Tide, apart from the native words which exist as the resistance writing of the minor, the parallel rendering of past time as another ‘line of flight’/history through the narration of Nirmal’s note book is captured entirely in italics. The print variation, here, consciously brings into being another story/history that is minor in expression. Nirmal’s note book which reminds of an uneasy aspect of history that took place in the Sundarbans island of Morichjhapi in 1978 is the chronicler of a history dissolved under the official records. The italicised narrative finds alter stories of survival tactics lost to the power dominance of the Left Front Bengal government. The language in his note book performs another history, minor and becoming, by standing apart in its mode of font selection.

New layers of stories of partition refugees and everyday resistance, survival, and exhaustions are a reminder of the buried, little narratives of common man lost to the deluge of political power plays. The little politics of the text performed without any pomp by differentiating itself from the major mode of narration and placing it in separate chapters and in italics is the minor method of the author to make us view alter realities of continuous differences.

The new textures of language that Ghosh’s narratives put forth with its many different ‘lines of flight’ away from the established concepts and power control present deterritorialised other histories. This new found manifestation of histories and memories overwrite the coloniser and his language, history and the thrust upon memory. Ghosh’s new Englishes, his intrusion into the colonisers tongue begins a “stutter” which maps a self space from within the “cramped spaces” to create a becoming time and space. Similar to the techniques of Kafka as observed by Deleuze in his Essays Critical and Clinical, great writers are almost always foreigners within their own native language in which he/she writes because, Deleuze notes,

He draws his strength from a mute and unknown minority that belongs only to him […] he does not mix another language with his own language; he carves out a non pre existent foreign language within his own language. He makes the language itself scream, stutter, stammer or murmur. (109-110)

He proceeds to comment,

Creative stuttering is what makes language grow from the middle, like grass, it is what makes the language a rhizome instead of a tree, what puts language in perpetual disequilibrium. Being well spoken has never been either the distinctive feature or the concern of great writers (111).

Ghosh’s minor histories bring into being histories and peoples missing. Each text has a unique way of negating the canvas of colonialism by lurking on specific alter realities of protest and resistance in an unassuming minor realm. The nature of the narratives is to deride not just the European colonial claims, but to negate any form of binary dominance and provide an open field of becoming relations and possibilities of history and life.

The Glass Palace with its inherent minor narration of Burmese history and realisations shows varied kinds of alter-moves against the grand rendering of domination. Within the Burman condition the Burmese are invented to form a people with separate history from beneath the thrust of a common sub-continental colonial history. Though the general idea seems to challenge the European colonisation, we very soon join the flux of readings/resistance not just against the empowering British but the Indians too who subjugate the geopolitical and socio- economic essence of the Burmese territory. The lines show the sprouting up of a segmented move of rebellion against the strategies of the Indian power players in Burma. The Indian strategic move of exerting the natural resources of Burma along with the British is rendered equally cunning. The readings of the ‘Indian cunningness’ that Ghosh intends is played within the colonial situatedness. The idea of invasion that spreads from one territory to the other and from one power centre to the other is ‘colonial’ in its essence. By providing an indirect remark on the veiled colonial strategies and unmasking the other realities of the chain of submissions, Ghosh is in fact deriding the value system of the dominant/British.

The Burmese minor narration which speaks for itself showcases the minute ways in which the common Burmese turned over power strategies to invent (even through violence) their own little spaces within and outside the narrative of history and everyday. The character Uma, who represents the voice of the pro independence Gadar Party, during her visit to Burma to meet her long time friend Dolly experiences the Burmese intolerance and protest on the foreign presence and exploitation. The Burmese attitude to the migrant Indians had changed to severe hostility over a period of exploitation. The Indians who settled in the country during colonialism made fortune from Burma’s natural resources, especially teak and rubber. The native public gradually developed hatred for the Indian masters who ruled over their economy. The text provides a direct hint of the 1930 anti-Indian riots in Burma.

Things have changed in Burma […] there is lot of danger, a lot of resentment and much of it is aimed at Indians […] money, politics-so many diff things, Indian money lenders have taken over all the farm land; Indians run most of the shops; people say that the rich Indians live like colonialists, lording it over the Burmese. (240)

Apart from such collective forms of revolts Ghosh also weaves the narrative with individual, everyday acts of revolt and resistance. The changing individual consciousness is presented as a representational psyche of a changing generation. In The Glass Palace characters like Arjun, Uma, Dolly and Aung San Suu Kyi, speak about different attitudes of protest against domination from within and outside. He focuses on individual modes of thoughts to bring in a more radical politics which later become minor narrations of life and living.

In The Glass Palace, Arjun is a major character through whom we witness the over whelming mental vibrations of individual revolt. He who has been initially led away by the colours of the empire gradually realises his no where positioning. It is through Arjun that Ghosh reads to us the emotional as well as the political awakening/becoming of our military as well as mental resistance and revolt. The lines make clear how the formation of INA (Indian National Army) can be traced back to a different kind of an open protest by the Indian’s serving in the British army. Initially they are all very happy to have a very sophisticated existence. They form a different cluster, “first set of educated Indians”, as Arjun puts in. Gradually the confusion creeps in. Hardy, a colleague of Arjun lures him frequently to reconsider or realise the truth of their professional existence. He reminds him of the inscription at the Military Academy at Dehra Dun. “The safety, honour and welfare of your country come first, always and every time. The honour welfare and comfort of the men you command come next” (330). They interrogate their self identity and whom are they fighting for.

This country whose safety, honour and welfare are to come first, always and every time–what is it? Where is this country? The fact is that you and I don’t have a country-so where is this place whose safety, honour and welfare are to come first, always and every time? And why was it that when we took our oath it wasn’t to a country but to the King, Emperor-to defend the Empire? (330)

The fixed representations of subjectivity/modernity halo are shattered to become little acts of differences that tell stories and possibilities of otherwise histories. The minor politics of resistive awareness functions through the realisation of strategies of attributed power, well being and authority to a select few.

While The Glass Palace creates such new narrative spaces of colonial discourses amidst layers and layers of stories of power, dominance and resistance creating new stories of history that continuously speak from individual lives and routine everydayness of living, In an Antique Land narrates into existence of a generation, a crowd, gone astray within the narratives of colonial modernity. Ghosh follows the path of 12th century Indian ocean trade route as an after thought to counter the all round glitter that the European as well as the modern world claimed to have brought with them. The nullification of the claims of colonial modernity showing the other faces of migrant/exiled alter narrations and presenting the harmonies of the precolonial trade zones are Ghosh’s mode of colonial repudiation within the text.

The text speaks about the 12th century Indian Ocean trade route which had a unique history of rigorous indigenous shipping and commerce that was wiped off and made to disappear without even leaving a forgotten history since the arrival of the Europeans. Ghosh shows it as one of the oldest maritime highways connecting diverse regions, cultures and civilisations. The channel ran across Cairo, Aden, around the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean to Calicut and the Malabar Coast. Tabish Khair has quoted Clifford Geertz’s observation in his review of the book thus,

In this mobile, polyglot and virtually borderless regions, which no one owned and no one dominated, Arabs, Jews, Iberians, Greeks, Indians, various sorts of Italians and Africans pursued trade and learning, private lives and public fortunes, bumping against one another […] but more or less getting along, or getting by, within broad and general rules for communication, propriety and the conduct of business. It was, we might say, a sort of multicultural bazaar. Today this part of the world is divided, like the rest of the globe, into singular and separated national states. (26)

Similar to Clifford Geertz’s idea Ghosh also upholds a different impression of life and associations of the pre-colonial era. He shows how the dawn of European colonialism uprooted the very idea of togetherness. The concern and tolerance that brought together these diverse worlds were crushed and rendered invisible with the coming of Vasco da Gama in 1498.

Within a few years of that day the knell had been struck for the world that had brought Bomma, Ben Yiju, and Ashu together, and another age had begun in which the crossing of their paths seem so unlikely that its very possibility would all but disappear from human memory. ( 286 )

The invention of the alternate stories of the bygone that has been made invisible/absent since the era of colonial hegemonies is created anew with stories that share the ‘other harmonies’ of the pre-colonial era. The trade routes of the earlier centuries were tracks of binary less plural markers of belongingness. The stories are new, as much as it deviates from the usual, official awareness that we had of the past. They make up little histories of difference that bring in new readings and fresh life upon the land, people and the ‘otherness’ missing.

The Hungry Tide creates minor spaces of self expression by inventing a crowd lost to power, thereby dismantling various colonial/ elitist strategies of maintaining authority. The text doesn’t carve up any record of the process of global colonialism and resistance. But Ghosh’s discourse on colonisation functions within the narrative through underlining the callous repercussion of invasion, colonisation and decolonisation. Its politics of little acts of anti colonial debates work through the alter stories of partition refugees and their ways/attempts of survival. The place, a people come in to being speaking/voicing their stories of abandonment and exile.

Partition has always remained the bloodiest aftermath of decolonisation of the Indian subcontinent. The text shares the horrors of the partition and the quandary of the refugees with special focus on Bengal partition after independence. The de-colonial strand is weaved through colonial minor-narration of everyday life and survival tactics of partition refugees. At the heart of The Hungry Tide is Morichjhapi, an island remembered as the site of forcible eviction of East Pakistan refugees by the Left Front Government of West Bengal in 1979. Ghosh’s minor narrative brings to life a people fated to drown in the blindness of history. The narrative explains thus,

Morichjhapi was a tide country island […] it fell within a part of the Sundarbans reserved for tiger conservation […] in 1978 it happened that a great number of people suddenly appeared in Morichjhapi. In this place where there had been no inhabitants before there where now thousands, almost overnight […] they were refugees, originally from Bangladesh. Some had come to India after partition, while others had trickled over later […] most of them were Dalits. (118)

The narrator further comments that these refugees where not fleeing from Bangladesh when they had come to Sundarbans, but from a resettlement camp in central India called Dandakaranya within the thick forest of Madhya Pradesh. The narrative brings out the civil government’s strategies of resettling invalids by forcefully silencing them and making them ‘settle’ in whatever uninhabitable space they had been allotted. The narrative comments, “They called it “resettlement”, said Nilima, ‘but people say it was more like a concentration camp, or a prison. They were surrounded by security forces and forbidden to leave. Those who tried to get away were hunted down” (118).

The self narratives of living that the refugees created for themselves apart from their represented status of invalids, homeless humans squeezed into half habitable dry lands was a political act of self assertion to make themselves visible. The politics of minor narration brings forth the routine realities of refugee ‘settlement’. The central Indian resettlement camp, Dhandakaranya, narrates into history the tales of the invalid humans dumped to silence and invisibility by the civil/ elite power centre. The invented collectivity, refugees, creates a language to outsource their existence. They dismiss agency and create a collectivity that comes to visibility. The value laden image of the European/elite claiming betterment for natives is discarded to narrate more realistic realisations of the need to create one’s own space.

The politics of the minor positions of craving separate spaces and sense from within the dominant elite geographies of strategic plays are presented through the routine and natural methods of survival tactics that these outcastes vigilantly put across with minimum resources. The inhabitants of the settlement were tear-gassed, their huts razed to ground, and fisheries destroyed in the violence which eventually broke out between the police and the refugees. But the settlers didn’t give in and the fierce aloof counter moves continued until the resistances of the islanders were brutally put down.

Nirmal personifies individual resistance within the text. Being a hard core communist he didn’t acknowledge the government policy towards Morichjhapi refugees. More over, he was enthralled by the futurist utopian settlement the newly arrived refugees setup. He was much overwhelmed by their ways of life and felt as if the long elapsed vision of Sir Daniel Hamilton of a classless community life will rematerialise once again. His diary renders the strong and deliberate mode of minor narratives of living that the refugees put forward, individually and collectively. His vision of life; and later his death form parts of a chain of incidents that are unavoidable individual expressions/ experiences that give way to new socio cultural and political formations/ understandings of a society/community consistently in the process of becoming.

In an Antique Land marks the individual resistance move mainly through the narrator who is none other than Ghosh. The narrative which shares his life in the Egyptian villages shows more of a cultural resistance. He also resists the concept of a globalised modernity, an off shoot of coloniality, by lurking on the pitfalls of globalisation and new age modes of living. In the modern day narrative that Ghosh weaves with his own personal experience as a researcher we stumble upon some of the modern day religious dilemmas and the walls of intolerance and unacceptability modernity have built across religious beliefs. Ghosh, a Hindu, living among the Muslim natives in Egyptian hamlet is often confronted with questions regarding his religion/faith. The text shares more than a couple of instances where Ghosh finds himself at loss to answer the doubts of the local Egyptians. In the discussions which follow we find most of the locals terribly shocked at the Indian beliefs of cow worship and burning the dead. They are also intolerable of the Indian disregard to their own systems of beliefs like male and female circumcision. Once during a chit-chat Jabir happens to ask Ghosh,

“Of course you have circumcision where you come from, just like we do? Isn’t that so?”

Ghosh replies,

‘Some people do…And some people don’t’.

‘You mean,’ he said in rising disbelief, ‘there are people in your country who are not circumcised?’ […] ‘so what about circumcision?’ a voice demanded […] which wanted to know whether women in my country were ‘purified’ as they were in Egypt […] the faces around me grew blank with astonishment as I said ‘no’ once again. So you mean you let the clitoris just grow and grow?’ a man asked, hoarse-voiced. (203)

The fellahin fail to accept and even tolerate the beliefs of Ghosh who tries in vain to communicate the natural differences in their ways of life. Ghosh often faced misgivings regarding burning of the dead and cow worship. The villagers can never accept the idea of burning the dead and they accuse this as a way of escape from the judgment day. Ghosh‘s concern makes one realise the lack of tolerance and the rejection of plurality of belief systems in the modern world which claims to be global and cosmopolitan as part of colonial modernity. Chances of alternate narrations of life and living are fully cut short in the space where Ghosh lived thereby making it a deliberate effort for the writer to sketch another tracks for the stories of life left out or scorned at to find its own minor narrative.

Amitav Ghosh’s works champion resistance to singular forms of authority, empire or the civil government. The politics of creating otherwise histories of a people and a province are the new found tracks upon which Amitav Ghosh positions his minor narratives that emerge from points of ‘weaknesses’ and through the politicisation of the spaces of everyday protest. The change provoking reading possibilities of his narratives leave them open ended and receptive to the variables of sense, sound and attitude. The politics of minor creation that work through the deterritorialisation of language, history, memory, power, resistance, and annals of representational politics configure a vision constantly in a state of flux.

Colonialism or more generally, the will to dominate that ruled over generations is cancelled out and re-enacted through minor detailing of protest and the deliberate abandonment of self positioned victimhood by the subdued. The bylanes of such nonvictim realisations and the resultant shifts of multiple centres are the dialectics through which the minor-narrative history develops. The constantly shifting power binaries resulting in a play of repeating difference directly affect the contradictorily dynamic flow of history by bringing in multiple divergences. Facts, fantasy, fancy, memory, creative thinking/doing are all brought together to form a minor narrative pattern where a constantly altering reading of disciplines, lives and texts are made possible. They repudiate binaries and create new narrative spaces in a language that is invented and that which constantly ‘becomes’.

While tracing life in its routine down centuries as in In an Antique Land or an entire century as in The Glass Palace or a particular point of time as in The Hungry Tide, Ghosh records a new pattern of story telling where new histories enact over minor layers of little factualities, that which over run the recorded facts of colonial history. The becoming narratives of the bygone and the histories/perceptions/acts of the people coming into visibility further move rhizomatically incorporating lives and attitudes, of the everyday and the bygone, giving them ever new reading spaces. Amitav Ghosh, with his shared concerns for the displaced and the dispossessed, becomes the Scheherazade of unending tales of peoples and places. A weaver continuously at work, spreading out hues of life, attitudes and predicaments of those who tag tracks of minor positions along the highways of history.

After reading Amitav Ghosh in-between lines, his minoritarian expressions of alter creations and ways of everyday living/resistance one can’t move on without noticing his strong political/critical stand expressed through little expressions of life and creativity. Ghosh’s writings which voice specific deterritorialisation of major discourses to plateaus of alternate visibility plays are political in its presence and theoretical in its readings. Ghosh’s ‘minor politics’ makes his creative works critical with an uncanny understanding of the omniscient, rigid theoretical expressions of the enlightenment as a stagnant point within a particular frame of time and space. The planes of probabilities that one comes across in his writings is a coming together of many histories, many modernities and many readings of life, letters and experiences which don’t occupy specific compartments of creative-critical divide. Like his stories that disrupt every turn of binary in content and expression, the reading possibilities of his works too cancel strict categorical or academic divisions. The creative and the critical intersect in his narratives which have a strong political stand on the issues discussed, questioning the recurring binaries in academic disciplines and opening up new possibilities of reading/writing.

The paper while tracing the peculiarities of Ghosh’s position on the idea and practice of coloniality and forms of resistance, has attempted to go for a meta-theoretical criticism of the concept of the postcolonial as an oppositional idea and practice of coloniality. The rigorous nature of theoretical concepts and their historical-literary readings, once considered to be the strength of the critical positions, became meta- critical in their ways of staunch and inert expressions. With regard to the theoretical postulates of the postcolonial no different/new readings, devoid of a back reference of colonial fixity/dominance were developed. At this focal point of theoretical slippage it becomes necessary to free the concept of its self imposed walls of limitation. An all round revision of the concept is essential within historical/literary studies. The rigid routes of counter positions of the postcolonial theory need to be broken down and unplugged agape for becoming readings. The proposed open ended readings of Amitav Ghosh’s narratives elaborate the possibilities of revising the theoretical limits of postcolonial studies. The paper intends to shift the time and place defined position of the theory from being postcolonial to bring it under the rubric of discourses on colonialism. This change of perception that the paper proposes is the specific contribution it puts forward to the field of postcolonial studies.


Colebrook, Claire. Gilles Deleuze. London: Routledge, 2002. Print. Deleuze, Gilles. Essays Critical and Clinical. Trans. Daniel W. Smith and

Michael A. Greco. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1997. Print.

Deleuze, Gilles, Felix Guattari. Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature. Trans. Dana Polan. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986. Print.

—. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987. Print.

Ghosh, Amitav. In an Antique Land. New York: Vintage Books, 1992.


—. The Glass Palace. London: Harper Collins, 2000.Print.

—. The Hungry Tide. London: Harper Collins, 2004. Print.

Khair, Tabish. Ed. Amitav Ghosh: A Critical Companion. Delhi: Permanent Black, 2003. Print.

Parr, Adrian. The Deleuze Dicionary. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010. Print.


LAKSHMI PRIYA. Is Assistant Professor, VTMNSS College, Dhanuvachapuram.

Default image
Is Assistant Professor, VTMNSS College, Dhanuvachapuram.

Newsletter Updates

Enter your email address below to subscribe to our newsletter

Leave a Reply

Physical Address

304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124