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Diasporic writings

Continuing the series on diasporic literature, I wish to further explore diasporic writings in this week’s column. As I described in the previous week’s column, one of the important features in the move is a de-territorilisation and a re-territorilisation. In simple terms, it is one’s losing the old ‘home’ and regaining a one in the new lands.

However, de-territorialisation does not mean mere loss of geographical territory but losing the cultural territory. In general, the diasporic writing all over the world is concerned with spaces, landscapes and journeys. In diaspora, this change of place through a journey which leads to loss of territory is always followed by a regain of new territory. ‘Dislocation from is followed by relocation to’.

Pramod K Nayar observes, “Diasporic literature’s dealings with space thus move between ‘home’ and ‘foreign’ country, between the familiar and the strange, the old and the new. Contrasts and comparisons between two spaces are frequent in the writings of immigrant postcolonial authors. It is surely not a coincidence that a large number of diasporic writings has spatial location implied in its very title: An Area of Darkness and A House for Mr. Biswas (Naipaul) , Tales From Ferozesha Bagh (Mistry), Duck and Poona Company (Ferrukh Dhondy) , Brick Lane (Monica Ali), Nampally Road and The House of a Thusand Doors (Alexander), In An Antique Land, The Shadow Lines, and The Calcutta Chromosome (Ghosh).

The principal features of diasporic culture/literature include the shift, contrast and relation between the centre (where the newly immigrants’ homeland and ancestors and parents originated) and periphery (in the adopted countries where they find a new homeland); the memory-individual-communal ( of home , of childhood landscapes, historical events and people); sense of alienation in new society/culture or land; a need to retain features from homeland (strong-willed attempt to retain rituals, language, forms of behaviour and culinary habits); attempt to reclaim of history of homeland and childhood spaces and a conscious attempt to carve out ethnic identity in new society ( forming ethnic enclaves and identity tags such as Sri Lankan Australian) at the same time seeking acceptance and assimilation in the new society/culture and homeland.

Diasporic writing in a globalised context has assumed ‘conscious raising genre’ where the concerns are not only about the themes of nostalgia, imaginative reconstruction of the homeland and identities but also about the issues such as cultural citizenship, cosmopolitan justice and global inequality. The theme of identity in diasporic writing is not a mere attempt at exploring multitude of locations and subjecthoods but largely a political issue of global justice, cultural rights, self-determination and cosmopolitanism.

Nostalgia

One of the major themes in diasporic literature is nostalgia. It, in a way, is a life-long longing particularly on the part of first generation of migrants for now lost homelands, history of homelands and its rituals, traditions and languages ( however, the second generation of migrants would not long for their parent’s land of origin). One of the factors which intensifies the sense of homelessness is one’s realisation that he or she has not found a new home in the adopted country. A larger part of the corpus of diasporic writings, therefore, explores the theme of an original home. What has often happened is that since the original home is now lost due to migration, the idea of home is integrated into the imagination and myths of the diasporic community.

Nayar notes; “Memories of ‘original’ country haunts the spaces of exilic writing. Postcolonial diasporic literature can be presenting as analepsis- looking backward at the past-and prolepsis- facing forward to/ at the future. Looking backward at the past involves the extensive uses of memories of the ‘old’ country, the point/place of origin and ‘home’. Facing the future involves a degree of uncertainty at the prospect of a new location and life. However, in many cases the memory of the ‘old’ county is false in the sense that the exile tends to superimpose a memory that may not necessary to be conterminous with the ‘real’ one. That is, exile idealises the ‘old’ home country from snapshots, songs, and rather vague memories.”

Therefore, one may arrive at the conclusion that the home country featured in diasporic literature is more imagined than real; the idea of home country is a mythical place. Avtar Brah writes: “ ‘home’ is a mythical place in diasporic literature. In this sense, it is a place of no –return, even it is possible to revisit the geographical territory that is seen as a place of origin. ”

Reconstruction

This imagined homeland or place of origin is a reconstruction out of memories from childhood, newspaper reports. Citing Salman Rushdie, Nayar observes; “ …what Rushdie describes as reflections made ‘in broken mirrors, some of whose fragments have been irretrievably lost’. Exploding the myth of home, Rushdie speaks of ‘imaginary homelands, Indias of mind’. Hanif Kureishi, the British-born writer of Pakistani origin, captures the role of imagination in constructing the myth of ‘home’ beautifully in his essay ‘The Rainbow Sign’ where he describes how he ‘imagined’ his native Pakistan.

Did my uncle ride on camels? …Did my cousins, so like me in other ways, squat down in the sand like little Mowglis, half-naked and eating with their fingers? ..Stories help me see my place in the world and give me a sense of the past which could go into making a life in the present and the future. ”

‘Home’ in diasporic writing is, by and large, a product of speculation and imagination. It can be retrieved, reached, or returned to only in memory. Even if the diasporic writer would revisit his or her homeland, he or she may no longer be a part of it or in other words, an outsider / an exile. The homeland , thus, reconstructs in diasporic writing may not exist in reality partly due to changes that have been taking place since the diasporic writer journeyed from his ‘old homeland’ decades ago to a new ‘homeland’. The Idyllic village life, flora and fauna and its largely agricultural based economy has, now, become a part of the past. Perhaps, it is lost forever.

 

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