A nation is constructed through heterogeneous life narratives ranging from autobiographies, biographies, family histories to interviews and memoirs. However, we many observe the politics of such representations; very often we see narratives of subjects hailing from the dominant, mainstream sections of society being fostered as nation’s histories and one cannot ignore this elitism. Rituals associated with these figures also complement the nation – making process with a dose of nationalism. Reading of such discourses becomes an act of remembering a nation, its tradition and its shared, collective past. Here, national identity is merged with personal identity. It is to be observed that the advent of the digital age coincided with the expansion of reception of life writings and one can notice a nation’s boundaries getting transcended. On the other hand, life histories of the marginalised and subalterns also contribute to a nation’s process of historicisation by providing alternative histories. The positive development is that today, narratives of both these groups are getting acceptance and here, the contribution of the Subaltern Studies collective under Ranajit Guha proves it beyond doubt.1
Coming back to the contribution of some modes of life narrative constructing/imagining a nation, perhaps it is important to focus a little on autobiography as a genre, and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s autobiography The Story of My Experiments with Truth in particular. is taken for granted that Mahatma’s autobiography, his personal history, acquires the dimension of the biography of modern India. In this context, a few words on Udaya Kumar’s well – argumented essay “Autobiography as a Way of Writing History” become relevant. He logically states that autobiography may be approached as a historical document, a valuable reference material for historians and he makes the following observation: “. . . a quick glance will show us that a large number of Indian self-narratives written in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were obsessively preoccupied with the experience of historical change. Using the life of the author at times as a mere pretext, they sought to provide their readers with a ‘slice of history’ “ (421).
The section. “Nationalism” includes three articles which interrogate various aspects of nationalism. In “The Making of the Nationalist Imaginary: Postcolonial Stakes and Nationalist Claims in the Film Velu Thampi Dalawa,” Renjini dwells on the politics embedded in the Malayalam biopic on Velu Thampi Dalawa. She goes on to trace its postcolonial dimension and analyses how it becomes a nationalistic discourse. Shahid and Harinarayanan undertake a study of celebrity culture and show how the making of a sports icon complements the making of India as a nation through “Celebrity Culture and Writing the Nation: Sachin Tendulkar as the Alter Ego of the Indian Middle Class.”2 Rajesh V. Nair in “Cartooning Gandhi and the Politics of Representation” analyses the role of a comparatively less – explored form, cartoons in imagining a nation by studying a few cartoons of Mahatma Gandhi.
1. Subaltern Studies Group: The Subaltern Studies Group (SSG) or Subaltern Studies Collective is a group of South Asian scholars who joined hands in 1980s to formulate a new narrative of the history of India and South Asia. Ranajit Guha was the leader of the collective and though they were pro left, they were critical of the traditional Marxist versions of Indian history. Anti-essentialist in orientation, the subaltern historians focus on non-elites — subalterns — as agents of political and social change.
2. Life writing and celebrity culture: There are different types of life narrative included in forms like obituaries, encomiums, interviews and social networking sites (SNSs) like facebook and twitter are recent sites of narrating lives. As a matter of fact, such people become celebrities, due to the excess media coverage. In the case of SNSs, we may notice a dilution of identities, that of class, gender, nation, caste, ethnicity etc. Sachin Tendulkar, Malala, and the ‘nameless’ Delhi rape victim are pertinent examples here.
Kumar, Uday. “ Autobiography as Way of Writing History: Personal Narratives in Kerala.” History in the Vernacular. Eds. Raziuddin Aquil and Partha Chatterjee. New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2008. Print.