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Subjected Subcontinent

Sectarian and Sexual Lines in Indian Writing in English


Eiko Ohira

This book offers a new, complex understanding of Indian writing in English by focusing its analysis on both Indo-Pakistani Partition fiction and novels written by women. The author gives a comprehensive outline of Partition novels in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh written in English as well as an overview of the challenges of studying Partition literature, particularly English translations of Partition novels in regional languages. Featured works include Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, Bapsi Sidhwa’s Ice-Candy-Man, Amitav Ghosh’s Shadow Lines, Meena Arora Nayak’s About Daddy, and Sujata Sabnis’s A Twist in Destiny. The book then moves on to a study of novels by women writers such as Githa Hariharan, Kiran Desai, Anita Desai, and Arundhati Roy, exploring their perspectives on sexuality, the body, and the diaspora.
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E. M. Forster wrote A Passage to India in 1924 after staying in India for just under a year as the secretary of a small principality’s maharajah. Although set in the 1920s, when Mahatma Gandhi and others were intensifying their resistance efforts, the novel mentions nothing about the unrest. This is one of many “questions” that the book raises.

To seek answers, I decided to visit India, taking up an invitation from Professor Harish Trivedi, head of the Department of English at the University of Delhi, to be a Visiting Professor. My flight to Mumbai arrived at 2.00 a.m. one day in December 2000, after completing a nine-month posting as a visiting researcher at the University of Cambridge.

My first challenge was to secure accommodation without being cheated by the local underworld figures so prevalent downtown. I knew that the first few days were toughest for foreigners, as Scottish and Korean students had told me that they faced outrageously high prices to stay in cheap lodgings.

I heard frightening tales almost daily. In one account, a kind-looking Indian couple rendered a Japanese train traveller nearly unconscious with a drugged banana. They were actually professional thieves. Then there was the story of a young Japanese woman hospitalized for typhus when she actually had acute gastritis, the point being that the institution lied to get the insurance money. These stories caused me to feel increasingly wary and hesitant. Then there were the excessively cumbersome...

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