Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Exile in the Homeland? Anti-Colonialism, Subaltern Geographies and the Politics of Friendship in Early Twentieth Century Pondicherry, India

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Exile in the Homeland? Anti-Colonialism, Subaltern Geographies and the Politics of Friendship in Early Twentieth Century Pondicherry, India

Article excerpt


The concept of exile remains overwhelmingly influenced by the writings of Edward Said, particularly in his development of the 'contrapuntal' as a key method in understanding how exile life is lived between the 'homeland' and the space of 'exile'. However, by drawing on feminist work which has critiqued the notion of 'home' in Said's work, together with work on subaltern geographies and the politics of friendship, this article argues for a conception of exile that works in between dichotomies of 'exile' and 'home'. In order to make this case, the article draws empirically on the example of the 'exile' of a number of Indian anti-colonial revolutionaries in the French-Indian enclave of Pondicherry, India between c. 1908 and c. 1918, focussing particularly on Subramania Bharati, a Tamil poet and anticolonial nationalist. Whilst in exile, in his own 'homeland' Bharati drew upon, translated and reshaped existing discourses from both 'Western modernity' and South Asian culture to create his own particular arguments for a future independent India. This subaltern geography opens up ground for alternative spaces of exile to emerge that challenge dichotomies of home/exile.


Exile, anti-colonialism, subalternity, politics of friendship, Pondicherry, India


The study of exile is crucial to postcolonial studies, bound together as it is with processes of dislocation, rupture, loss and resistance. Exile is also inherently spatial, involving a movement across space and away from ones' 'home', and is often equated with enforced displacement away from one's place of origin. It is this notion of displacement from, and connection to, a homeland that makes exile important to a variety of conditions affected by colonialism, from the attachment to a distant metropolitan homeland of settler colonialists, through to the problematisation of 'home' thrown up by studies of postcolonial diasporas (Brah, 1996). However, in this uneasy and problematic dichotomy of exile/home, exile is often seen as unsettled, whereas home is a stable and knowable category. In this article, I challenge this dichotomy by drawing on feminist critiques of Edward Said, and read these alongside recent scholarship on the subaltern in geography and anti-colonial politics more generally.

In particular, whilst Said's work on exile remains pre-eminent to scholars of exile, its tendency to place emphasis on a desire or longing for a 'homeland', and in contrast, to create exile as a space of dislocation or rupture reinforces this dichotomy. Instead, it is important to recognise that both homeland and exile are terms that are bound together in contingent and relational processes, and, as a result, this article, whilst focussing on 'exile', argues that we should be more mindful of the various different experiences of exile that challenge dichotomous readings of exile/homeland. In this case, what does it mean when you are seen to be in exile in your own homeland? How does this unsettle these categories, and what alternative tools may we need which will work alongside Said to help understand them? I make a case for a reading of exile which, by utilising geographical work around the subaltern and its attempts to understand and reconfigure categories of elite/subaltern (Clayton, 2011; Jazeel, 2014), resists and challenges formulations of exile life along a binary spectrum of 'home/exile'. To do this, I draw empirically on the experiences of a number of anti-colonial exiles in Southern India in the early twentieth century, particularly the Tamil poet and writer Subramania Bharati.

For around a decade, between c.1908 and c.1918, the French-Tamil city of Pondicherry, on the southeast coast of India, formed an important hub in a transnational network of anti-colonial radicalism. As a French territory in British-dominated India, the city provided a number of key opportunities for political organisation, mainly smuggling seditious materials through the port and post office of the city (Hyslop, 2009; Suresh, 2010). …

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