When Borne Across: Literary Cosmopolitics in the Contemporary Indian Novel

When Borne Across: Literary Cosmopolitics in the Contemporary Indian Novel

When Borne Across: Literary Cosmopolitics in the Contemporary Indian Novel

When Borne Across: Literary Cosmopolitics in the Contemporary Indian Novel

Synopsis

India's 1997 celebration of the Golden Jubilee marked fifty years of independence from British colonial rule. This anniversary is the impetus for Bishnupriya Ghosh's exploration of the English language icons of South Asian post-colonial literature: Salman Rushdie, Vikram Chandra, Amitav Ghosh, Upamanyu Chatterjee, and Arundhati Roy. These authors, grouped together as South Asian cosmopolitical writers, produce work challenging and expanding preconceived notions of Indian cultural identity, while being sold simultaneously as popular English literature within the global market. This commodification of Indian language and identity reinforces incomplete and simplified images of India and its writers, and at times counteracts the expressed agenda of the writers. In When Borne Across, Ghosh focuses on the politics of language and history, and the related processes of translation and migration within the global network. In so doing, she develops a new approach to literary studies that adapts conventional literary analysis to the pressures, constraints, and liberties of our present era of globalization.

Excerpt

“To be born again, ” sang Gibreel Farishta tumbling from the heavens, “first you have to die. Ho ji! Ho ji! To land upon the bosomy earth, first one needs to fly. Ta-taa! Taka-thun! How to ever smile again, if you first won't cry? How to win the darling's love, mister, without a sigh? Baba, if you want to get born again …” Just before dawn one winter's morning, New Years's Day or thereabouts, two real, full-grown men fell from a great height, twentynine thousand and two feet, toward the English Channel, without benefit of parachutes or wings, out of a clear sky.

Salman Rushdie, Satanic Verses

Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses famously commences with the delusional Indian megastar Gibreel Farishta, and his sidekick, Chamcha, transformed into magical beings as they sail down to earth after terrorists blow up their plane. The scene is jolting. Inhabiting his screen persona, Farishta survives the treacherous passage (the plane crash) to the West as Rushdie tropes the many life-threatening journeys of the Indian diaspora to Canada and the United Kingdom. His language moves fluidly between realism (“parachutes”) and fabulism (“wings”), effectively rendering communicable to global audiences the felt dislocations of the migrant “when borne across. ” My book takes its name from this culture-specific notation of the migrant, one who is “translated” when borne across kala pani (black water). The incident dramatizes the book's primary argument on the capacities of the literary to translate local struggles, a cosmopolitan literary activism within the political limits that are evident even in this initial scene.

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