Abstract : In contemporary works of Indian fictional writers like Salman Rushdie, Shashi Tharoor, Amitav Ghosh, Vikram Chandra, Aswin Sanghi, Amish Tripathi – and the list is rather long – it could be seen that the theory of history that gets traced in their narratives strikes a balance with the observations of postmodern historiographers like Hayden White and Linda Hutcheon. Interrogating these situations, the major aim of this paper is to assert that Indian fiction in English has been mostly critical about traditional historiography and canonical history and endeavors on its own to present newer possibilities where histories are produced by combining myth and marginalised/ forgotten chronicles and thus filling the gaps and lacunae of history with make-believe or fictional histories.
Keywords: fictional histories, postmodern historiographic metafiction, Indian fiction, poetics of postmodernism
Differing from official history, the novelists of the present scenario attempt at alter/native history. For instance, Salman Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence (2008), Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies (2008), and Aswin Sanghi’s Chanakya’s Chant (2010) are such texts which exhibit/ characterise the production of postmodern historicised make-believe histories.
The second half of this paper contextualises the stance of meta- historiographic fiction/history-fiction in contemporary Indian socio- cultural, politico-religious context. The trend ostensibly shows up a non- European kind of historical fiction; the current trend of Indian fiction in English is obviously towards the creation and narration of myth-make- believe histories while at the same time critically commenting on history through a self-reflexivity to interrogate Indian cultural histories.
In conversation with Gunter Grass, Salman Rushdie observes that writers of present time have an inclination towards a historical project: “… the purpose of the fiction was in a way paradoxical, that the fiction is telling the truth at a time at which the people who claimed to be telling the truth are making things up. So in a way you have politicians or the media or whoever, the people who form opinion, in fact making the fictions. And it becomes the duty of the writer of fiction to start telling the truth. This is a kind of paradox which perhaps is true of many countries now” (qtd. in Dhar 79).
The objective of this paper is not to challenge the various aspects of history, its veracity and even the process of historiographies, but to trace the histories from different perspectives and their re-telling and retailing fictional narratives by examining the multiple/manifold ways in which they operate. Contemporary writers of India taking advantage of the elastic nature of histories appear to create powerful imagined chronicles of histories. These histories come from different regions and locales thereby creating many chronicles of difference.
Indian writing in English has gained a prominent position in the international arena after the big three of India. This is because of Salman Rushdie’s monumental Midnight’s Children that has won Booker of Bookers’ prise consecutively three times followed by Arundhati Roy’s God of Small Things. However, their legacy has been created by the writers of mid-nineteenth century. But the writers of the pre-independence have focussed on the techniques of the colonial masters. Although they attempted patriotic themes, their works exhibited the style, form and content of the English writers in their corpus of writings.
After the exposure to several critical theories and -isms, Indian writing in English has started to evaluate itself, which in turn paved the way toward subaltern studies, postcolonial studies and women’s studies. In all, the trend of the writers or the socio-political, cultural- religious scenario influenced the contemporary writers to react/art and respond to the cultural – political context of India. Several writers turned to emerging newer ways of interpreting society as representing nationalism, man-woman relationship, and so on. Some among such writers focussed on the history of events and characters. Thus, they attempted the genre of historical fiction focussing on the real events of the past without deviating from the “original past” in their interpretations. This process of fiction coupling with history has been a debatable one for critics who believed history as narratives fixed and objective as well. The notion of history has been critically theorised right from ancient time to the present (see Warrington). Indian history has been from the western point of view centred around the aristocracy and in favour of the rulers of the past. Although most of the regional literature has recorded history of its own region in different languages, there is a need to retrieve the marginalised/forgotten history by tracing and reading between the lines of archives and existing historians’ historical narrative. Thus, many of the contemporary Indian fictional writers engage history in their fictional narrative from their point of view, which is generally democratic, and for the people of common. The contemporary Indian fictions strongly bear historical trace as backdrop, for instance, Salman Rushdie’s (b1947) Midnight’s Childern (1982), The Moor’s Last Sigh (1995), The Enchantress of Florence (2008), Shashi Tharoor’s (b1956) The Great Indian Novel (1989), Amitav Ghosh’s (b1956) The Hungry Tide (2004), Sea of Poppies ( 2008), Vikram Chandra’s (b1961) Red Earth and Pouring Rain (1995), and Aswin Sanghi’s (b1969) Chanakya’s Chant (2010).
The theme and fictional structuring do not correspond to historical novels as per the definition of Walter Scott, Avrom Fleishman, F. J. Ticker and Georg Lukacs. According to them literary adaptation of historical materials should be objective, authentic and authoritative representing the history as it is without deviating from the existing history. According to Avrom Fleishman, “when life is seen in the context of history, we have a novel; when novel’s characters live in the same world with historical persons, we have a historical novel”(qtd. in Hamnett 35). The insistence of “the same world with historical persons” apparently rejects the modification of history in the historical novel. That is the reason why Georg Lukacs praises the fictions of Walter Scott who has exhibited his faithfulness to history in his historical novels. History that is considered objective, truthful and highly researched and scrutinised to gain the authoritative position is criticised as narrative in the postmodern context. In line with this, Juren Pieters, Professor at Ghent University, observes commenting on canonical history, “earlier historicists reduced history to single, massive monolith that left no room for the dissonant voices new historicists wanted to listen to and converse with (Pieters 21-22).
History can be defined from the historian’s point of view as:
History, is to be a fact, i.e. objectivity is sought (for thought is still abstract and seeks reality in an object) in pastness: so reality is envisaged sub but from specie praeteriti…History, like science, starts from experience: not from the merely here-and-now (pure perception) but from consciousness of an enduring and changing given world. This world already contains in itself its own past, experienced as that which we remember; so that the past as such is not discovered by history, which as it were prolongs and elaborates a phase of experience whose roots are already presented to consciousness. (Collingwood 135)
The concept of history has been remarked/rethought from its canonical status to its manyheadedness by critics and thinkers like, Charles Mannin Hope Clark, Michel Foucault, Natalie Zemon Davis etc. Commenting on Huyssen’s criticism that postmodernism relegates history to the dustbin of an obsolete considering it as merely a text, Linda Hutcheon responds that “history is not made obsolete: it is, however, being rethought – as a human construct” (Hutcheon, A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction 16). Its availabilities are in texts. The historical narrative/text that is available to us provides many signs of absence/marginal elements, which help to reformulate historiography and construction of many histories. Among the historians some have traced the literary aspects of history as narrative, for instance, Hayden White. In way of looking at this interaction between history and fiction is to try to understand the way one reads history in relation to fiction.
Since both are mediated by linguistic entities, it would be a good start to analyze the way language is assembled to convey meaning. There has been a recent contention on the ‘ability’ of a ‘reader’ as to whether or not one would be able to arrive at an authentic meaning of the written word when one is always mediated by language and other pre-formed notions attendant upon the reader’s interpretative consciousness. The conventional view of history and fiction falls into a binary tension. Most scholars apprehend history as something that is truer than fiction. “Is it possible”, asks Alison Lee, to view history as “a synthetic, self-structured body of pure, non-linguistic fact?” Alison further comments that history and fiction cannot be antithetical as language is the common medium through which both are realised. The only way to confront these conundrums is to look at views from both historical and literary angles. In his essay “The Fictions of Factual Representations”, Hayden White addresses these issues from the point of view of a historian. He argues that the nineteenth-century opposition of fiction and history arose in response to the “mythic” thinking, which, it was believed, had led to the “excesses and failures“ of the [French] Revolution.
It became imperative to rise above any impulses to interpret the historical record in the light of party prejudices, utopian expectations, or sentimental attachments to traditional institutions. In order to find one’s way among the conflicting claims of the parties which took shape during and after the Revolution, it was necessary to locate some standpoint of social perception that was truly “objective”, truly “realistic”. (White, The Fictions of Factual Representation 26)
As a result, history was generally viewed as a true account of the past, authentic descriptions of the events in the past thus giving history a preferred state as against fiction, which is generally understood as the individual whims, and fancies of the authors who put together only ‘their’ account of events in history. Hence, the importance of historical research is to get “factually accurate statements about a realm of events which were (or had been) observable in principle, the arrangement of which in the order of their true original occurrence would permit them to figure forth their true meaning or significance” (25). It is evident that apparently events do not cohere in any particular sequence and that the author provides the much-needed coherence and builds on history.
However, this view has been challenged by observant historians and literary critics alike. White, for instance, says that the production of history and fiction are not entirely dissimilar. The methods the historians and novelists use, the techniques both historians and fiction makers undertake reveal similar patterns of work. Hayden goes to the extent of saying, not without truth, that the “way in which we know the past is through historiography which is subjected to the same creative processes as fiction. The writing of history, as he points out, in “The Fictions of Factual Representation,” is a “poetic process” (White 1976: 28). The meaning of the word “poetic” derives its significance from its etymology. The Greek word “poiesis” signifies a form that is methodically put together. What is relevant for this study is that this “methodical putting together” involves not only scientific methods but also methods that the agent that puts together thinks as scientific. In his sense, such an agent, himself being a product of history, is a victim of socio-political and socio-cultural circulations that inform his ‘account’ of history. Hence, the current understanding is that history is a form of “narrative” just like fictional narrative. In other words, how the so-called “truth” is achieved in the compilation of history. On a deeper analysis it is evident that the methods of history to achieve a semblance of truth or objectivity will bring to light the way these elements interact to lure the readers of history into believing what they read is a truthful account, unemotionally and objectively composed sans any political, cultural and personal bias. On the other hand, history, in fact, gives a narrative account of a point of view. An authentic model of history would be that which simultaneously takes into account all the timelines, parallel and vertical, which of course is humanly impossible. In order to understand the real nature of history one should look into the spine on which history is constructed – Time. Time forms the very backbone of history giving it the logical coherence that one perceives. What is time other than the perception of it by humans who stand to benefit from it? Is time singular, linear or is it something that we ‘read’ as singular and linear based on our limited perception. The post-scientific interpretation of time, the many worlds interpretation of quantum physics and the current models of universe read time as continuously forking and parallel realities
Alternatively, time is understood as having multiple, parallel, non-linear progressions. In this sense, a ‘true’ historical account should take into consideration these multiplicities of time. The question is whether or not the canonical or the orthodox history takes into account all the aspects of time. In this connection White argues in The Historical Text as Literary Artiefact that historical narratives are “verbal fictions, the contents of which are as much invented as found and the forms of which have more in common with their counterparts in literature than they have with those in the sciences” (White, The Historical Text as Literary Artifact 42). Does this mean that the value of history as a text that interacts with the world is to be brushed aside? One would assume that such a view of history would make it untenable and value-free and that history has lost its centrality as a hard-core, scientific, objective and therefore authentic, ‘meticulously researched’, and chronicled account of time past. While it is true that such a radical view might displace history, it, in fact, opens a scholar to a new possibility. The interrogation of history has not only opened up new perspectives on history per se but also fresh implication for the reading of fictions – particularly the history- fictions of select authors. The term History – Fiction refers to those writers who use and abuse history thereby digging up the marginal/forgotten history in the form of self-reflexive/referential method to the act of history-fiction narrative. The select fictional works of Salman Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh, and Ashwin Sanghi have been read taking into account not only contemporary theories of fiction but also the present understanding and theorisation of history along the lines Michel Foucault, Hayden White, Linda Hutcheon, T. N. Dhar, and Paul Sharrad. Commenting on White’s conclusion Alison states, “White places historiography on the same plane as fiction, but denigrated neither. As he sees it, both use conventional literary structures-tragedy, comedy, irony, metaphor, among others-in order to manipulate the reader’s perception”.
Historiography provides one with a methodology to interrogate and confront history as a product of socio–cultural, psycho-social and socio-political circulation. The term is often used as a meta-description of the study on history, or rather, the historicity of history. One such view of historiography is to explore the possibilities of interactions and influences from other fields that are traditionally either opposed or quite different from the canonical history. T. N. Dhar says that historians and philosophers of history show interest and open-mindedness to the absorption of influences from other disciplines. This change orients naturally towards historiography. Historians from the past have contributed to the development of the concept of history. Only in recent decades, they have seen history as narrative, which leads to knowledge, and they have paid close attention to the role of language too. This has given a lead to the disclosing of other similarities between the structure and form of history and fiction.
Salman Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence and Ashwin Sanghi’s Chanakya’s Chant produce places as motherland where a unified whole is hoped for with existing differences and different diversity. On the other hand, Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies shows the displaced people and how they yearn for home, home-places where they may settle down as their own meaningful worlds and communities. As Allan Pred has suggested, place is “a historically contingent process” which appropriates and transforms space and nature.
In Chanakya’s Chant, sense of history, place and location have been predominant one where the crux and key focus of the protagonists is rootedness and belonging as a whole. That is the reason why the prominent characters Gangasagar and the historical figure, Chanakya strive for uniting India/Bharat respectively. These characters’ single- minded aim is to have united India and to achieve this goal they go to any extreme creating politics based on caste, religion, culture, and geography. When Gangasagar is put into a new school, within a few months, he helps the headmaster in grading papers. His favourite subject is history. In later days, only his close associates know that Ganga is “not interested in teaching history”, but “interested in creating it” (CC 14). The technique of Chanakya as king maker is repeated as history repeats itself in the present politico-cultural context through the character of Gangasagar. The work is a history-fiction, which establishes an unknowable truth about the past events through the presentation of the political history of the post-independent India. Ashwin Sanghi does not take history, which is ‘out there’ filled with characters. On the other hand, the work of art emerges from his private experience and imagination. Hence, it is a subjective version of storytelling in the form of history-fiction and the current political history is represented allegorically as Shashi Tharoor has done in his fiction, The Great Indian Novel combining with the Mahabharata.
In Chanakya’s Chant, Ashwin Sanghi portrays present political histories, i.e. from 1920s to 2010 where historical events of Chanakya’s time is repeated in smartphone world constructing/playing histories, indulging in intrigue and strategies to establish power. Chanakya uses his cunningness to revenge the Magadha king, Dhanananda, “they would pay for what they had done. His tears would be paid for in blood” (CC 10). Chanakya chooses Chandragupta Maurya and trains him to the status of a king and defeats Dhanananda. Similarly, Gangasagar chooses Chandani Gupta and makes her the prime minister of India. Both Chanakya and Gangasagar play with culture, social status, religion, history in order to achieve their goals.
In the similar vein, Amitav Ghosh’s most of the novels engage with history that are marginalised or forgotten. Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies is the first in a trilogy, set in the historical and social context of colonial period about 1830s and 40s. The novel discloses the opium wars, how the British India forced poor people and convicts to produce opium that was the trade between China and India. In Sea of Poppies, Ghosh problematises history by filling with the historical catalogue of obscure and fascinating details about the production and trade of opium. Ghosh presents vividly the living conditions on land and the boat and the strategies for survival employed by his characters. We meet a bankrupt raja whose indebtedness lead him to a life of crime (forgery) and is sentenced and banished to Mauritius along with several characters including his servants. Amitav Ghosh (re)focusses on the trivial and not much on the noteworthy characters bearing significance. In the novel, the characters like Deeti and Kaluva represent ordinary folks of the village to be highlighted by the narrator.
The novel presents different strata of colonial society shifting from a widowed Brahmin village woman, Deeti; a low caste, chamar man, Kaluva; a bankrupt Raja Neel Rattan of Raskhali; Lei Leong Fatt (Ah Fatt) from a land of Maha-Chin; the gomusta, Baboo Nob Kissin Pander; a mulatto American freedman Zachary; a French girl Paulette and her mate Jodu and along with other coolies, slaves and convicts as the slave ship, the Ibis sails towards the Indian Ocean from the Hooghly, almost all the characters feel that their old familial attachments are washed away. The Bishu-ji, one of the prison’s jemadars says to Neel Rattan, the Raja,
“From now on, you will never be able to escape this Aafat. He will be on your ship and you will have to travel with him to your jail across the Black Water. He is all you have, your caste, your family, your friend; neither brother nor wife nor son will ever be as close to you as he will…he is your fate, your destiny…you cannot escape what is written on your forehead. (SOP 316)
The novel records minute details, characters’ stories, cultures, custom, language of slaves, convicts, shipmates. In the ship, Deeti starts singing while other women join her in the song that gives the pathetic condition of the slaves, “the women’s voices grew in strength and confidence, the men forgot their quarrels: at home too, during village weddings, it was always the women who sang when the bride was torn from her parents’ embrace – it was as if they were acknowledging, through their silence, that they, as men, had no words to describe the pain of the child who is exiled from home” (SOP 398).
To create Sea of Poppies, Amitav Ghosh takes up a scene from the diary of Sir George Grierson’s inquiry which is set in Bengal during 1830s. He attempts to fill the gap in the recorded history with his imagination by playing with history. According to history, it is the time of opium war between British India and China. Ghosh has also read the description of the great Sudder opium factory at Ghazipur published in 1865 by the factory superintendent, JWS MacArthur (SOP 512-3).
Sea of Poppies is filled with characters who function simultaneously as the narration shifts from several point of view in the Ibis. Each bonded labourer tells stories of his/her life makes history bearing significance of the socio-political, cultural-religious context of the colonial period thereby interpreting the condition of the present.
‘Among the women, the talk was of the past, and the little things that they would never see, nor hear, nor smell again: the colour of poppies, spilling across the fields like abir on a rain drenched Holi; the haunting smell of cooking fires drifting across the river, bearing news wedding in a distant village; the sunset sounds of temple bells and the evening azan; late nights in the courtyard, listening to the tales of the elderly’. (Sea of Poppies 397)
Ghosh is very conscious about his own culture, traditions and history of the common people. He interprets his observation about a particular social and historical milieu. By doing so, he produces history- fiction that act as a significant and meaningful link between the past and the present. As we enter into the narration of the text, the history gradually becomes clearer – the larger history of slave, caste, bonded labour, forgery and slave trade as well as the characters’ stories. The political past history is repeatedly exposed at moments of intimate relationship.
Salman Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence is another example of history-fiction where the author creates historical narrative or imagined world taking some strings from official history. Mogor dell’Amore arrives at the court of Akbar claiming that he is the son of a lost princess, the daughter of Baber namely, Qara Koz, “Lady Black Eyes”. She is considered to be an enchantress and sorceress who is arrested by the Shah of Persia and later she becomes a lover to a Florentine soldier Argalia. Salman Rushdie builds histories between Florentine and the Mughal Empire. He brings to light the historical milieu of Mughal India, the Safavid of Iran, the Ottoman Empire, and Renaissance in Italy and at the end of the novel the New World representing the sixteenth century politico-religious history. The novel presents story within story like mirror image in the novel, which interweaves, moves back and forth across time and space. The novel forms a platform for the fictionalised Akbar the Great, to ponder over the deep questions of humanity: individual, group, art, religion, culture, politics and time. He is both politically powerful as well as intellectually great. Rushdie explores the concept of time and imagination or metaphysical reality through the fictional character. Akbar the Great and the city, which he has ruled, appear imaginary. The real things which are related to space – time seem as fantasy, “Sikri would always look like a mirage” (EOF 33). They cross “the border between sanity and delirium, between what was fanciful and what was real” (33). Rushdie has made the imaginary things happen more real than the real ones. He creates an imaginary character, Jodha which is often related to historical character.
‘Even the emperor succumbed to fantasy. Queens floated within his palaces like ghosts… One of these royal personages did not really exist. She was an imaginary wife, dreamed up by Akbar in the way that lonely children dream up imaginary friends, and in spite of the presence of many living…the emperor was of the opinion that it was the real queens who were the phantoms and the non- existent beloved who was real’. (EOF 33)
Most of the characters in the novel including the nine stars, that is, the nine great countries under Akbar’s regime, acknowledge her existence, her beauty, and her wisdom, the grace of her movements and the softness of her voice. On the other hand, Akbar has never referred to himself as “I” but as “We”. By referring to himself as “We”, he means himself as an incarnation of all his subjects, of all his cities, lands, rivers, mountains, lakes, the animals, plants and trees.
‘He meant himself as the sum total of all his victories, himself as containing the characters, the abilities, the histories, perhaps even the souls of his decapitated or merely pacified opponents…as the apogee of his people’s past and present, and the engine of their future’. (EOF 38-39)
Akbar realises as an individual existing in the space and time through the recognition of this idea of self-as-community which makes the existence in time, to be a being in the world…inevitably a being among other beings, a part of the beingness of all things” (EOF 39).
K. Srilata refers to this in the Literary Review as “magical world of mirrors”. She observes that in the novel “Rushdie delves into the minds of historical characters such as Akbar to string together a multi-themed narrative about time, travel, identity, power, desire and story-telling”.
In the creation of imaginary wife, Jodhabai, Akbar talks all the personal matters concerning politics, religion and culture. The conversation happens in the empty space of conventional time. As far as Akbar is concerned, the conversation is mutual. Jodha says Akbar concerning the East-West mystery.
‘Yes: this place, Sikri, was a fairyland to them, just as their England and Portugal, their Holland and France, were beyond her ability to comprehend. The world was not at all one thing. ‘We are their dream’, she had told the emperor, ‘and they are ours’. She loved him because he never dismissed her opinions, never swatted them away with the majesty of his hand’. (EOF 60)
Rushdie presents a fictional world which touches the fringes of historical events rather in a fictitious manner. These fictional historical worlds are narrated through story forms. Here, ‘the willing suspension of disbelief’ is more appropriate. The story of The Enchantress of Florence is told by Vespucci, the story he himself believes. He wants to convey the truthfulness of the story to Akbar as well. However, Akbar likes to listen to him. The entire novel is more than being a fine story, it is about how to create a fictional world across space and time, being history, fiction, imagination, lie, at the same time, a story that enchants and entertains readers. In connection with this, Engelbert Jorissen says of the novel:
There the lie, more politely absolute fiction is created, and on the other hand the generation problem is made to understand, that is perhaps one more major point of the novel, how to combine, at that age even geographically, historically different places and times. Ago Vespucci, Argalia, Machia, at the beginning of their friendship to their old age, the journey with princess Qara Koz from Machiavelli’s Times’s Italy to the so called New World, that is America, and from there to India, behind that lies the long story of Qara Koz, with for example, her arrival in Ottoman Turkey, at the heyday of Ottoman Tulipomania. (71)
Rushdie uses magic realism which makes timelines blurring in every context. In this novel, he interweaves actual historical events with fantastic and dreamlike elements as well as with materials derived from myths and fairytales. On the contrary, Rushdie does not bother about this distinction as it is evident in Akbar’s natural self. He describes the emperor’s wrath: “The gathering fell into a silent terror, for Akbar in a rage was capable of anything, he could suck down the sky with his bare hands or he could suck out your soul and drown it in a bowl of your bubbling blood” (EOF 51). On the other hand, his creation of Jodha is drawn inside the less concrete world of magic realism. She is a character known to have existed in history. On the contrary, Rushdie presents her in the present time. “She was a woman without a past, separate from history, or, rather, possessing only such history as he had been pleased to bestow upon her” (EOF 61). The other real wives of Akbar contest the existence of Jodha. The spacio-temporality and the existence of Jodha are fully imaginary which Akbar creates reality. The conventional eyes do not recognise it. “His mother and Queen, Marian- Uz-Zamani, his senior, actually existing wife, detested him too, but they lacked imagination and opposed all intrusions of dream-worlds into the real” (EOF 393).
Akbar, after listening to stories of Qara Koz narrated by Mogor d‘Amor, falls silent. “Across time and space, he was falling in love” (EOF 298). Qara Koz has started to visit Akbar’s private room instead of Jodha. “A different woman visited him, Qara Koz, Lady Black Eyes” (EOF 388). Akbar realises his metaphysical time conquering him.
‘He was bent on the sounds of the future and she was an echo from the distant past. Perhaps that was what lured him, her nostalgic gravity; in which case she was indeed a dangerous soreness, who would drag him backwards in every way, in his ideas, his beliefs, his hopes’. (EOF 389)
Qara Koz is merely an imaginary figure in the story, though she is a historical character, told by the narrator. The citizens of the Empire have ‘formed an unfavorable impression of Jodha’ (EOF 410). “Qara Koz had quickly become the people’s princess, whereas Jodha had always been an aloof and distant queen” (EOF 410). Rushdie presents in this historical novel that mirrors contemporary sensibilities and apprehensions “before the real and unreal were segregated forever and doomed to live apart under different monarchs and separate legal systems” (EOF 324). Andy Johnson reviews this novel, “a fictional story that incorporates meticulous research and real history-the stranger’s story mingles truth and untruth until the two cannot be separated”. He goes on to say about the novel, “Though the location has been lost, the chamber itself actually did exist in Sikri, a discovery that helped Rushdie and that he says was of ‘colossal’ importance in India’s history”. Rushdie himself says the purpose of writing this particular novel concerns mostly the face-to-face relationship between the East and the West. He says:
Both the cultures of India and Europe were very rich and were going through a very rich phase and yet they were more or less entirely unknown to each other. And I thought if I could find a story which put them in contact with each other it would be almost like the science fiction form we call first contact, where we first meet the alien civilisation. (qtd. in Johnson)
There is a tension between the actual space-time and the space- time created by Akbar. On the other hand, there is also tension between travelling and staying at home, between a heterotopology and a topology. This makes the characters to be at conflicting ends to the space and time. Akbar has a sense of travel to wage battles invariably most of the time. Dana Badulescu observing this novel says that, “it is liminality and insubstantiality that give problematic “substance” to an equally protean sense of identity” (4). For instance, when Akbar orders Dashwanth, the painter to paint his second dream-lover, the hidden “dream woman” Qara Koz/Lady Black Eyes/Angelica/Angelique, the enchantress, the painter paints her at that same time falls in love with her. In magic realist way, Dashwanth vanishes into his own painting.
Dashwanth’s own characteristic way of looking, and he surmised that this dolorous countenance might be the artist’s way of inserting himself into the tale of the hidden princess. But Dashwanth had gone further than that…he had somehow managed to vanish. He was never seen again not in the Mughal court, nor anywhere in Sikri, nor anywhere in all the land of Hindustan. (EOF 158)
Birbal, one of the wisest of Akbar’s courtiers solves the mystery by disclosing the presence of Dashwanth in the painting’s frame has been removed. On the other hand, Akbar orders that the border to be put back and Dashwanth be allowed to have some peace.
Dashwanth released into the only world in which he now believed, the world of the hidden princess, whom he had created and who had then uncreated him…Instead of bringing a fantasy woman to life, Dashwanth had turned himself into an imaginary being…If the borderline between the worlds could be crossed in one direction, Akbar understood, it could also be crossed in the other. A dreamer could become his dream. “Put the border back”, Akbar commanded, “and let the poor fellow have some peace”. (EOF 159)
Rushdie displays Foucauldian heterotopia, ‘the spaces of otherness’, which are neither here nor there, simultaneously physical and mental, for example, Akbar’s imaginary wives Jodha, Qara Koz, and Qara Koz and her mirror. Foucault says, “We are at a moment when our experience of the world is less that of a long life developing through time that of a network that connects points and intersects with its own skin”. He distinguishes between utopias and heterotopias. According to him, utopias are sites with no real place. On the other hand, heterotopias are places different from all the sites that they reflect and speak about. However, he brings a unity or a space where the Utopias and heterotopias meet, “a sort of mixed, joint experience, “which is the mirror image in the sense of Foucault and Borges. Akbar himself distances himself with the space in actual life indulging in mirror life. Qara Koz is assisted by her mirror. Mogor d’Amor is born of the Mirror’s mirror. Foucault says, “the mirror is, after all a utopia, since it is a placeless place. In the mirror, I see myself these where I’m not, in an unreal, virtual space that opens up behind the surface”. In Homi Bhabha’s sense, The Enchantress of Florence is a metaphor of dissemination, not just one moment, but recurring moments of “the scattering of the people that in other times and other places, in the nations of others, becomes a time of gathering…other worlds lived retroactively” (Bhabha 139).
In this way, the contemporary Indian Writing in English, the fictional writers engage with history in chronicling the time past and time present thereby creating/tracing infinite contexts. Linda Hutcheon says the application of parody and intertextuality open “the text up, rather than close it down” and it challenges the single, objectivity and closed, ‘centralised meaning’ (Hutcheon, Historiographic Metafiction Parody and the Intertextuality of History 5).
The above-mentioned theoretical framework obviously deals with historiographic metafiction bearing much significance on hermeneutic and formalist’s outlook. Based on this, we could find out “the recognition of textualised traces of the literary and historical past” in Sea of Poppies and are aware of how and what these literary expression do to the chronicled histories in the selected history-fictions. Ghosh’s construction of marginal history draws our attention to the colonial strategies, political histories and the culture and custom of people. His imagined historical construction displays discourses of the past. Neel the Raja of the Raskhali is cheated/arrested by the colonial masters. Deeti, who is helped to escape Sati is in pathetic condition parting her six year old daughter because of the threat from her brother-in-law, the slaves and coolies’ lives are going to be in the opium plantation, the language loses its purity and new type of language evolves. Ghosh does not ridicule or eulogise history on the other hand he studies ‘a current cultural phenomenon that exists’ (Hutcheon, A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction IX).
Similarly, Salman Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence, excavates the very minor character in the canonical history and constructs make- believe history of Qara Koz, one of the sisters of Babur, the Mughal Emperor. Akbar’s engagement with his imaginary wife appears to be more real than real wives are. Akbar’s notion of religion and argumentative tradition are displayed to represent a solution to the current cultural-religious context.
The researcher has probed into the literature that concerns with the subaltern, minority, forgotten, imagined communities, and voiceless people and has brought out how the authors have historicised and problematised and have given some space in history to the literature that is deprived of the mainstream history. The select authors concentrate on the Indian Fiction in English on specific features such as history, language, landscape (place), customs, dialects, temporality (time), and characters situated in a particular region. In a way, these select authors have tried to turn “our heads backwards into our past” (Sivaramakrishnan, Introduction: Theorising Interreadings 1). And as Murali Sivaramakrishnan rightly observes:
Literature is not the only domain where these (sense of place, time and action) issues are problematised, of course. The consequences of the decode–encode complex and its dimensions in terms of the cultural–historic rhetoric/fabric has been discussed and debated ad–nauseum by now in academic circles all over the world, in as varied a discipline like Anthropology or Cybernetics, Geography or Ecology. (1)
The contemporary postcolonial Indian fiction in English, which engages with history, has drawn our attention into narratives of local, marginal and the forgotten terrain. The fictional writers of this type have written postmodern historiographic metafictions where story telling becomes an act/art of chronicling as well as narrativising history and politics. The act of storytelling, their narrativity becomes an alter/ native history. The select authors engage with history in order to process history rather than to produce it along with experimenting/highlighting the local flavour thereby creating some identities for the marginal. The fictions of Salman Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh and Ashwin Sanghi display how historical characters, events, myths, symbols, and other religio- political and socio-cultural metanarratives are/have been recast in the contemporary Indian Fiction in English, especially that of post independence Indian fictions to (re)construct history and help to deliver us from this collective amnesia and remind us the pluralistic repercussion of the past in the present and, perhaps, the future, thus maintaining certain humanistic ethical perceptions and absolute values that are essential in creating an egalitarian society.
Indian fictional writers trace the social, political, and cultural past that run parallel to the mainstream (his)stories of their country. In addition, it will also depict their choice of narrative methods, their mode of characterisation and how those characters are created to inspire us in a better manner in order to lead the present and future in the light of the past glory. Thus, The Enchantress of Florence, Sea of Poppies, Chanakya’s Chant are fictions that bring forth various histories, historical characters, and their relevance today, and bring out their inter-relatedness. The novelists have used critical framework such as the theories of historiographic metafiction, deconstruction, hybridity, intertexuality, fragmentation, parody and magic realism in order to ‘interrogate the notion of consensus’ (Hutcheon, A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction 7).
Now the contemporary novelists bring the backdrops to the front highlighting it to our attention. History is imagined with the relics and chronicles of the past by the way the act/art of chronicling. Remembering the past is very enjoyable and pleasurable for one who is at rest. Time is (re)lived. The contemporary activities/pressures/busy lives shadow the remembrances/memoir of the pasts. Only relaxed mind/people with rest/meditative person/creative artists bring the histories/past events/ forgotten events/ by filling up the gaps in histories by chronicling them.
‘There is the spirit and genius of [a] city, where almost every stone tells you a story, where history is embedded even in the dirty lanes…It has a definite and positive atmosphere, which you can feel in your bones’ (Nehru 1982).
History cannot be given or (re)presented as it is or as it happened. It is like a deep hard surface which is covered by multiple layers of histories/fungus. One can only scratch the fungus rather than touching the hard surface, it is highly sedimented. Because the time and temporality serve to form the fungus and the same ‘time and temporality’ demand the scratching the fungus of history as it demands. The process of digging the fungus is called “very scientific” by hardcore historians. However, literary people do not seem to claim any single scientific true history but attempt to scratch all possible ways of imagining thereby creating multiple histories. History can only be chronicled. According to R.G. Collingwood “chronicle is the past merely believed upon testimony but not historically known. And this belief is mere act of will: the will to preserve certain statements which we do not understand. If we did understand them, they would be history” (202-203).
In contrast to this definition R.G. Collingwood classifies that a chronicle is merely testimony and further goes on to describe that “the past leaves relics of itself, even when these relics are not used by any one as materials for history; and these relics are of many kinds, and include the relics of historical thought itself, that is , chronicles”(231).
Paul Sharrad says that Indian Fiction in English has a great affinity with history and the technique of “chronicling is the better mode of recording the past: Just put all the facts down and let them speak for themselves” (148).
Although the novelists’ representations are from histories, past events and cultural histories of the pastime, the visualisation of the readers upon the narrative takes place in the present. The novelists are capable of taking the readers to the lived experience. The past events are brought in repeatedly to live in the mind of the readers who are kept always in the present reading the novel.
The contemporary Indian Fiction Writers have created make– believe history that involves both facts and fictions–elements from traditional storytelling, legends, minor histories, and folklore. Salman Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh and Ashwin Sanghi construct make–believe history that further reconstruct self, nation, and cultural identities. The theory of history and historiography of Linda Hutcheon about the poetics of postmodernism in the contemporary history-fictions strike a balance in the context of Indian English fictions. She says, “whatever narratives or systems that once allowed us to think we could unproblematically and universally define public agreement have now been questioned by the acknowledgement of differences-in theory and aesthetic practice”( Hutcheon, A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction 7).
Paul Sharrad says that the postcolonial studies consistently theorises the place of history in literature and culture in order to show traditions. For instance, the stories of Prem Chand, Rabindranath Tagore in the past, Salman Rushdie, Shashi Tharoor, Amitav Ghosh and others in the present have attempted globalising the local in their fictions engaging with history. Sharrad says:
Without history – the succession of past events–there would be no Indian novel, and certainly no Indian novel in English. Without history–the codified narrative of those events – our understanding of literature and of the place in it of Indian English writing might appear quite different. (6)
As mentioned earlier the contemporary Indian Fiction writers do not write historical novels as per the definition of Walter Scott, Avrom Fleishman, F. J. Ticker and Georg Lukacs. On the contrary, the fictional writers imagine stories which overlap with histories of past and present thereby creating a “make–believe” history which sometimes form a base for the historians to proceed in their historical narratives in future. In the writings of postcolonial fiction, there is a sense of place, a sense of time and a sense of culture and a sense of history and identity. The essences of the local traditions are brought to the forefront in the contemporary Indian fiction in English. History and literature not only share mutually, but also interweave and blend so that no one can tell which history is and which literature is.
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ENOCH R. Is Research Scholar, Dept. of English, Pondicherry University, Pondicherry.