Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

1 South Asian Homeworlds, Transnational Alliances

Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

1 South Asian Homeworlds, Transnational Alliances

Article excerpt

HOME IS TRADITIONALLY SEEN as a static place with a variety of positive and negative attributes, functioning as a shelter, but one that is too narrow for self-realization. This ambivalence is immediately apparent in the demarcation of houses into a variety of separate rooms which can be allocated according to various imposed structures and strictures. It is thus most likely that many different 'homeworlds' will materialize in one and the same family home.1 The way people live, move, and behave within a particular domestic space characterizes their social status, gender roles, and right to belong to this place at any particular moment. The domestic microcosm, not least in fictional representations, reflects many facets of different homes:

women writers have typically figured women's lived experience - however various and complex, however idyllic or tortured - through architectural images, top-to-bottom reconstructions, and "chants" that remodel as they move from room to room.2

In recent years, increasing critical attention has been paid to notions of home and their representations in literature - particularly the domestic sphere proper, at one end of the spectrum, and the nation as homeland, at the other. Home in Indian public debate, communal understanding, and literature, however, still typically signifies no more or less than one's place of birth and, more constrictively still, the rule of patriarchy. 'Home', in other words, is the ancestral house and household, which - despite the internal domestic primacy of women and 'matriarchal' exceptions like Hanuman House in V.S. Naipaul's A House for Mr Biswas (1961) - is generally under the overall control of the male line of inheritance. This system of male succession was commonly practised in Indian Hindu society in the nineteenth century, for instance. The ancestral house was traditionally identified as a man's place of belonging, since for many years daughters had almost no right to a share in their father's property. This exclusion of women from a right to inheritance (common enough, too, in Western law until well into the nineteenth century) slowly underwent modification from the early twentieth century onwards through the Hindu Law of Inheritance Amendment Act in 1929, the Hindu Women's Rights to Property Act in 1937, and, finally, the Hindu Succession Act in 1956, which ultimately replaced the previous two. Today, the latter law is used to organize the lines of succession in Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, and Sikh communities.4 Despite this social change, many girls still grow up with the knowledge that their father, who is obliged to guard their integrity, will soon pass this responsibility on to their future husband.5

More recently, a significant shift away from the traditional focus on gender status and the local domestic realm can be observed in representations of South Asian homeworlds, toward broader spatial implications. While in the 1980s the ancestral house was mainly depicted as the dominant reference point for negotiations of individual identity, contemporary novels such as Anita Nair's Ladies Coupé (2001), Chandani Lokugé's Turtle Nest (2003), and Meera Syal's Anita and Me (1997) increasingly present the modern home as in transit. This transitional zone is attendant on the protagonists' constant moving around and on the provisionality of a more frequent use of the rented flat as a motif expressing modern home life, as depicted in Rupa Bajwa's The Sari Shop (2004) or Monica Ali' s Brick Lane (2003). bell hooks suggests that home is "a place which enables and promotes varied and ever-changing perspectives, a place where one discovers new ways of seeing reality, frontiers or difference."6 In its linking of individual situations to larger structures, hooks maintains, the domestic microcosm reflects not only individual home life but also widespread social and political norms. Home is thus made up of widely differing components, such as urban architectural settings, and of symbolic patterns such as social practices based on particular life-styles, values, and norms. …

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