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Effects of Colonialism in The Books

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Tamas by Bhisham Sahni and The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai deal with the repercussions of the period of subjugation by the British and how deeply partition affected the lives of people. Partition of India and Pakistan was not merely a geographic division but also divided the people in their hearts; their thoughts tuned to a different wavelength and culminated hatred for each other. The book, Tamas shows the realistic portrayal of the nation, India dissected into Pakistan and India majority population being Muslim and Hindu, respectively. The peace held between the two religions was disrupted and led to a series of violence, to which hundreds of innocent people became prey to this inhumane activity. The novels act as a medium to decipher the silent decaying of a nation, when it is polluted by irrational principles and logic seems to be missing, it is to understand that community clashes and hierarchical division eats up the nation like mites.

Sahni in his novel, broadcast a first-hand experience of the prevalent chaotic times of the horrors of partition, and how politics came into all of this, manipulating people, and snatching away their innocence and guilt sending them on a killing spree. The novel also talks about the association of animals to a religion which fueled so much hatred in the Muslim community that they revolted against the act of killing a Pig and keeping it at the doors of a mosque, the gates that lead to heaven and helps people in maintaining contact with the divine.

“Say (O Muhammad): I find not in that which has been revealed to me anything forbidden to be eaten by one who wishes to eat it, unless it be Maytah (a dead animal) or blood poured forth (by slaughtering or the like), or the flesh of swine (pork); for that surely, is impure or impious (unlawful) meat (of an animal) which is slaughtered as a sacrifice for others than Allah (or has been slaughtered for idols, or on which Allah’s Name has not been mentioned while slaughtering)” (al-An’aam 6:145)

These lines from the Quran, clearly states that killing pig or eating pork is a “haram” and anyone following Islamic religion should think so too, thus it instigated the people from the Muslim community and resulted in a revolt which led to destruction of peace and property, pierced the harmony between the communities.

We see that, the novel starts with the scene that remains the cosmos of the entirety of the novel, it tells a story, gives a glimpse of unfolding of the consequences. Tamas resembles with the way, U.R. Ananthamurthy’ Samskara is written where the primary scene is introduced at the beginning and the story begins around the act that is constructed for the readers. The title itself proposes the darkness and ignorance, embedded in a human being which is considered to be an element of nature in Vedanta. Tamas in literal sense means a property inhibited by an individual that is not positive, is ignorant, dark and lethargic which can be inferred by reading the novel, where we see the dark sides of humanity, and shredded innocence, impaired their sense of being.

Bhisham Sahni celebrates the vividness of culture, religion and how diverse they are in their approach. Tamas, is a tale of chaos and sorrow, it takes us on a journey of reality that withstood the strands of time. Sahni’s book is contemporary in nature, it can be felt by an individual who constructs his identity on his actions but not by the religion, he is born to follow. The book talks about the horrors of riots in Pakistan and India following independence, in the year 1947. People were massacred, wives were raped, children were abducted and all this happened in the name of peace. The irony of this regarding partition is also shown in the play, Toba tek Singh, written by Saadat Hasan Manto, which was published in the year 1955. The story portrayed is a strong satire depicting the relationship between India and Pakistan. The play illustrates the inmates kept at Lahore Asylum of which some were transferred to India following the Independence of Pakistan in 1947. Tamas, is also a period television film, written by Govind Nihalani in 1988. Sahni also won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1975 and also was awarded the Padma Bhushan for literature in 1998. Sahni uses a fictional string to create a story so that he could visit the past when the riot took place.

The story stars the character of Nathu who is a sweeper, bright and hard working. Nathu was asked to leave all his work unattended and exterminate a pig by another character Thekedar. After a series of denial statements and an act of bribery by the latter, Nathu killed the pig. The cadaver of the dead animal was found at the front of a local mosque the following morning.

The story is not woven with fiction and fantasy but with the ink of seen reality and unheard cries of many. The riot left a deep scar in the hearts of people, so much so that they could not undo this cursed path, which haunted their future and never allowed themselves to have belief in the other community. We see that the novel talks about a place, created by his poetic imagination which is beyond borders, territories and indifferences. Writers like Khushwant Singh and Radhika Swaroop wrote soul shrinking novels like A Train to Pakistan and Where the River Parts, painting the intensified violence and bloodshed that devastated the harmony of the village. Also in the novel Where the River Parts, Swaroop presents us with the contaminated love story where the protagonist, Asha, has to leave her husband and suffer the terrifying pain of losing her entire family.

Sahni shrewdly paints a picture of dead bodies of people belonging to various communities including Sikh while the Muslim folk demanded ransom in exchange of their lives. Upon disagreement to the mentioned terms, a fight breaks out between the two communities and the Sikh men leave shelter to unite, gathering arms leaving their women and children in fear, who decide to give up their lives by jumping into a well, carrying their children on their backs.

The story displays fractured and fragmented relationships and communications between neighbors where the doors and windows were mostly shut, all public activities were stopped and beautiful districts and villages were turned into Inferno. The air around the place was filled with suspicion and fear. In all of this, the fire of communal hate is heightened by pretentious religious extremists, e.g. – Devrat. The decisive moment in this situation is represented by an episode of the grains in the grain market turning to ash where the writer constructs an image of the town which is shattered and lying at the doorsteps of riots. The book explores physical violence as a motif but projected psychological violence as a means of rupturing sanity. The political mind game then, as of now, was the reason behind uncountable causalities where human life was seen as nothing in order to get what they want.

The Britishers didn’t pay attention to the problems of the people even the Deputy Commissioner Richard remained unaffected and considered the problems faced by the people menial in nature. Although for the sake of the position, Richard implemented some measures to collect some leaders and named them Aman Committee to send out a message of peace. The writer has shown characters like Harnam Singh and his wife Banto who have lived their whole life in the place they called home which gives a subtle hint to the poem Postcard from Kashmir, written by Agha Shahid Ali, where Shahid Ali also talks about a place which had an imprint on his heart and stamp on his soul forever. For Harnam Singh, it is difficult being relocated to a new place which did not feel like home. But being a targeted receptor of violence, he had to choose a difficult choice amongst the two he was offered by fate.

The novel shows the power politics and communal politics well established. It unmasks the strategy of the communal leaders to instigate religious hate and communal quarrels. The politics is seen to be influencing people into dark alley of shrunken mentality. But the novel also sketches the rays of hope during those crucial days of independence. Preface to the novel, it is shown how violence was generated by its roots. Starting from when the leader gives hope of violence and the people following like cattle in a herd serves the cruel intentions of the communalist. Tamas enlightens the lack of enlightenment in the crevices of the blistered soul. The book thoroughly speaks about the disorders residing in the community during the days before partition and how deeply the madness of pity indifferences has created ridges which are hard to overcome. The novelist has shown the three communities Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs respectively, in a stereotypical way, filling the gaps of the line drawn by the society. So Tamas as a novel brings out different shades of humanity, blurring the lines between humanity and cruelty.

The novel, The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai, deals with the sensitive topic of migration and fragmented, doubtful self-identity. The construction of identity is very broad in terms, it is what an individual associates with. People even in the contemporary times have been maimed by the superior upper class people exploiting the mere exploited.

Existentialism is a concept stated and defined in philosophical books but people are scared to implement existentialism, it states that woman or man or any other gender is free to exist in their individuality. The book majors into characters Sai and Biju, constructing an identity for them.

The novel is primarily based on the Kalimpong district in the Indian state of West Bengal. Kalimpong has a history and name for its institutions, of which most of them were established during the colonial period ruled by the British colony. It can be seen in the story that there is a sense of colonialism and post-colonialism. The characters are shown fidgeting between the classes, trapped in the vicious cycle of India’s class system. The story can be read in between the lines and the emotional baggage of the characters comes out to the spinning of words by the novelist, Desai.

The story is said around the time period of 1980s when Sai, a 17-year old girl has come to live with her grandfather, who is an educated judge and Alumni of the Cambridge University. The story also talks about the unrequited love between Sai and her math tutor, Gyan. Desai in her writing style brought out each and every character story and gave them a distinct life. Even there are instances in the book where “maleness” is shown to be crude and ruthless, also achieved by having sex. The dreams and blissful hope are conveyed in the story where everyone wants to escape the rigid caste system laid in their homeland.

Just like in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman where the protagonist is the believer of American dreams and truly expects that America will offer opportunity to everyone who deserves it. So in this novel also, Biju the son of the cook dreams of an opportunity that will be delivered to him, only when he’ll migrate to America. Even after migrating to America, Biju’s caste stands with him as a shadow. The assumed belief of the people in India is that the lower social class is not trust-worthy and the upper social class treats them as their slaves. On the other hand, the lower caste expects betrayal as a key feature in upper class. And thus the binary is created where the two social classes kept their lives separate.

There is a dissection in the identity of the three characters Judge, Sai and Biju, who apparently masquerade their roots and have accepted the Western world, to be more progressive and welcoming. The judge is a complex character who was under influence of colonialism so much that there were instances given in the form of dialogues where he gets angry at his mother for being “Indian”. He wants to camouflage into the world of the West. From a very tender age, the judge learned all the mannerism of the people of the West. So the identities of the three characters are a compromise and are disjointed. And it is the hangover of colonialism.

The novel written by Desai contains cynicism about globalization, considering it as a product of colonialism. Isolation is also a recurring theme in the novel where Biju among the city of thousand others also feels alone and misses his childhood with his father and his grandfather. The judge seemed to be contemplating of his past actions and living in the dark shadow of his previous sins. There is a hang of colonialism even after the colonies were no more the dominance of India, people in their hearts were colonized and believed to be socially appealing only when they knew the English manners like the Englishmen. Mimicking the style of the Britishers, we created a self that was aloof from the individual itself and this created fission in their acceptance of the identity.

We see that, there is an ongoing crisis in the minds of the people because they had bathed in the English ways so much that they were a strangers to their own culture, own people, own land and also themselves. Characters like that of the judge, Sai, and also Biju are seen fidgeting with their tagged national identity, the imperialism had dented their truth and made them see a haze of lies that only the Englishmen are powerful and sophisticated, civilized and concentrated beings. This psychological over powering has been done by introducing the concept of self and others where, the self is the European discourses while at the periphery remained the “other” less educated and civilized people. The concept of self and the other was stabilized because the third world nations believed it to be true, it is easy to control someone’s mind if that individual is giving allowance to act so, thus not compromising with the integrity, they had. Colonizers not only ruled for so many years, but still in the modern contemporary times, the imprint of the binary of self and the others stands still in the minds of the people, to which we have generalized our thinking. It is seen in the novel, the cook is proud of the fact that his son is in the foreign land and thus a big man, not fighting for his survival. The cook seemed not bothered by the difference in distance and that his son, Biju does menial jobs at wages which are extremely low and he is being in the country unlawfully. Biju on the other side thinks of a day when he will be home, the land he knew.

European discourses created a master slave dichotomy where, they mastered the art of being the dominant and the only authority that is sanctioned to be judgmental on others, creating self-doubt in them to an extent that they could not believe otherwise. The story in the novel is carefully woven around two different worlds held together by the fascination of these characters with the West. This hybrid self is constantly torn apart by the nuances of the British people and slyly turning them against their natural ways. The intact possession of the imperialism makes this story about different characters, uniting them by their love for the colonial ways.

Desai with the art of her words show the people in their true form, feelings that were raw were seen. There is a constant battle within the characters, and an unsaid baggage they seem to lift. The contrast in the character of the judge and the granddaughter, Sai and the cook and his son Biju, we see that these two pairs have a very opposite relationship; the cook seemed to love his son unconditionally and the judge was mentally drawn away with his granddaughter. The relationships shown in the novel are carefully drawn and, directed to give a realistic portrayal of the times.

The book in length talks about the struggle of the people and Gorkhaland issue. Gorkhaland was the term coined in 1980’s, to give a name to the struggle of Nepali speaking people in West Bengal, especially in regions like Kalimpong, Kurseong, Darjeeling and other hilly districts, demanding a state of their own. They faced a lot of problems, people speaking Nepali were outnumbered by the people speaking Bengali, this multiculturalism became a barrier, because there were people residing from various ethnicities and thus, a minor population wanted to have a state of their own where they could feel at home, on their land. Thus, Desai here in her novel showcases the less travelled history of the tension and turmoil going in the times of Gorkhaland revolt. She manages to capture the essence of a post colonial novel and sends the reader in a trance of contemplation, finding the truth and answering the persistent question of “Who are we”? The novel guides us to think a thought of how culturally and socially we have created norms, mimicking the West. It is just not a story of a girl who falls in love with a person and how difficult it is for them to meet but it is a tale of secrets and undying silence we see in characters, something that they are searching, and as an audience that quest to search unanswered questions is visible. The writing style Desai uses is quite simple for readers to understand the haze of so much more that is not said. She is transparent in her style and dwells on details, so as to paint a more vivid picture playing in reader’s head. The novel is intricately written joining the diaspora of the families and their feelings are being communicated to the readers as well.

Both the novels highlight a historic event and the writers do not shy away from telling the truth of turmoil, the horrifying reality and do not cover the pitfalls with the tactics of words. The novelists focuses on portraying the centralization of colonial parties and how much deeper they run in the veins of people even post independence. Decentralising the West as the centre of all existence should be deconstructed and harmony amongst humanity should be stabilized. The world is a small place and within that we have different countries, nations, ethnicities and that is why we are stronger, it is time that all beings understand the importance of peace in a world which could be turned to dust if so many clashes between communities will happen and a third party, seeing a nation in its weakest form would dampen its glory.

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Effects of Colonialism in the Books. (2019, April 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 27, 2021, from
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