Dr. Rashmi Sadana, Visiting Faculty, Department of Anthropology, Columbia University, USA




Under the Occasional Lecture Series Program, the Centre for Contemporary Theory invited Dr. Rashmi Sadana, Visiting Faculty, Department of Anthropology, Columbia University, USA, to deliver two talks on “Literature, Authenticity and the Indian Writer” and “Language, Place and the Limits of Postcolonial Critique” on 13 and 14 February, 2008.

Indian writing in English gave birth to issues such as authenticity, location, loyalty, betrayal, author and audience, among others. Invoking such issues in her talk on “Literature, Authenticity and the Indian Writer”, Rashmi Sadana contemplated several ramifications involved in Indian writing in English in a multi-lingual context, and threw sufficient luminance on whether there is any sense of betrayal in a writer’s shift in the language s/he chooses to employ and write in. While commenting on on Kiran Nagarkar’s Cuckold, the questions that Rashmi Sadana critically looked into were: Does one face any conflict in writing in two languages? Why does one prefer to write in other languages such as English? Does this destabilize one’s identity in terms of community relationship? Such questions, in her view, create apprehensions on the aspect of “authenticity” in regional literature versus global literature. It also creates the politics of language, culture and literary production. The question, then, is whether there is any sense of “betrayal” of “national” element in one’s choice to write in English. Rashmi Sadana articulates that the situation in India typifies one’s inclination to the language than to the “hermeneutics” of language, where ideological claims to authenticity imply inexorable contradictions. The issue, however, turns out to be enchantment and choice of language, where she referred to the contestation between English and Hindi in North India, and between Hindi and other languages in the South. She made an extensive discussion of Vikram Seth’s translation of A Suitable Boy into Hindi by Gopal Gandhi speculating that such a translation could be an act of cultural recovery to seek cultural authenticity and responding to the anxiety of “Indianness.” Rashmi Sadana was also concerned about a translator’s omission of certain aspects in the translated work that further complicate the notion of authenticity thus bringing an ethical aspect into the act of translation.

In her second talk, Sadana addressed the issues of location and place in Indian writing in English in the “transnational” arena amid several other arenas. Quoting works such as Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, she made a reference to the end of “English Novel” that ceased the dominance of typical British ethic. Further, she made a distinction between writing in the postcolonial context and in the transnational context through comparing and contrasting the novels of Ahmad Ali’s Twilight in Delhi and Anita Desai’s In Custody.  For her, the former symbolizes the “foreigner” in the homeland and dislocation of the native writer, portrayal of demise of Urdu poetry narrated through the prose and more of lament for the loss of Urdu culture, and the latter is an ironic story about literary traditions and academic illusions. Rashmi Sadana finds three important historical developments in Twilight and Custody:  rejection of Hindi and English –as a sign of bourgeoisie India and middle class aspiration, and changes in the Hindi and Urdu culture in main cities in India. Rashmi Sadana finally takes the argument in the direction of normative/narrative significance of English, saying that the adaptation of new cultural worlds may not be a usurping of the old ones as one has to take account of the inevitable changes, however recognizing the politics of usurp and maneuver. This process may be treated as a valuable way of tracking social changes. Nevertheless, for her, categories such as “postcolonial” and “transnational” renderings push several aspects to the periphery