Literary Shelf

Slaves are The Same

The Universality of The Colonial Experience
of Different Parts of the World
'Erstwhile colonies of the world unite!' sounds a loud call. Nevertheless, the loudness of the call does not undermine its relevance and legitimacy. The politics of colonization has been such that countries that had been close historically and culturally in the past, have now been distanced. Countries that would have been natural friends have become enemies. For example, Thailand, Mammyar and Singapore are very near to Indian culture and ethos. But the significant part of their trade and bilateral dealing are with Europe. The fact that our colonizers were the same people and they exploited and ransacked our different lands should actually kindle sympathy. Ironically, it is not so. 

The best way of practicing post colonialism is to be ourselves. To be at ease with our surrounding and ourselves is the first step towards practicing post colonialism. Postcolonial is often criticized for its fixation to the past. But without a proper understanding of past, there can be no future.

In the literary field, there are universal echoes in the expression of colonial experience and postcolonial response to it. When Gabriel Garcia Marquez defies the Western canon of decent, rational writing and fills his tales with unfathomed mysteries, fountains of eternal youth, hens with tiny lumps of gold, witches and spirits, the Western mind boggles but we as Indians final exact affiliation with that kind of writing. In a country like India where ghosts, spirits, gods and goddesses have been the integral part of the tapestry of life, there is no problem in understanding Marquez. When we study the Nobel Lectures by Marquez or Octavio Paz or Pablo Neruda, their concerns seem to be exactly ours. The social agenda, in which literature is an important crystallizing catalyst, of all erstwhile colonies is quite similar.

We may take note of the following words of the Nobel Lecture by Marquez, ‘...the Europeans of good will and sometimes those of bad as well –have been struck with ever greater force by the unearthly tidings of Latin America, that boundless realm of haunted men and historical women, whose unending obstinacy blurs into legend'. [1]
 We cannot miss the irony of these words. The so called civilized world is entertained by 'unearthly' land and its people. The 'third' world is out for sale. We are out to entertain the rich men and woman of rich nations. The rich nations need situations and people whom they can pity; no matter they themselves have been the cause of the ruin of the pitiable masses. The colonizer comes for poverty tourism. We may be millionaires but we may remember that we are slum dogs. 
I find post colonialism to be a cry against the unjust world order. The rich, mysterious, proud and boundless past of the erstwhile colonies on one hand and utter penury, lack of self-respect and today's state of disfigured mentality on the other, put the erstwhile colonies in tongue-less solitude and loneliness. They are in a bewildered state. After being repeatedly looted, they do not know where do they stand or what should they say? This is a pathetic state indeed. We are not honored by our own honors. We do not judge ourselves by our own yardsticks. We are not even elated by our own beauty. 'Pappu ki aakhein light blue, Pappu dikhta angrez hai.' For being handsome, Pappu must look like an 'angrez'.
Post colonialism challenges those parameters with which the dominant European culture judges other cultures. Alien yardsticks applied on the history, culture and literature of erstwhile colonies have no validity. Life, breath, history, geography, fervor, art, food, ways of worship, thinking, and parenting - just everything is different in any given two distinct territories of the world. Why should rules and values of one area be applied on the others? This is absolutely unjust. Marquez says in his Nobel Lecture, 'The interpretation of our reality through patterns not our own, serves only to make us even more unknown, ever less free, ever more solitary.' [2]

Every nation has to undergo the painful process of birth in order to be recognized and respected. There is no cake walk alternative. Marquez urges the European world to 'reconsider their ways of seeing us.' Every nation should have its own agenda, its own priorities and techniques of achieving its desired aims. Marquez uses a beautiful phrase: 'solidarity with our dreams!' One's dreams should be one's own; every nation should stand by its own dreams. The point is to drive home the cruelty of colonization and resultant unjust world order. The unjust world order has denied the erstwhile colonies of establishing their own goals and means of achieving those goals. In today's world, no nation can survive without being at the mercy of the rich nations.
When we look at the Middle Eastern countries, we will again find similar patterns of chaos and disorder. The tale of these countries could have been the tale of India, or Pakistan or Mammyar. In 2004, Labri Sadiki Wrote The Search for Arab Democracy: Discourses and Counter–Discourses.

The book is an eye-opener. Most of the Middle Eastern countries are facing the severe problem of loss of identity. More than three quarters of a century after the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, from which most of these countries emerged, these states have been unable to define, project and maintain a national identity that is both inclusive and representative. Independence and political end of colonization have not ended social fragmentation and war into the Middle East.

Whenever a reference to Middle East is made, the picture of perpetual conflict, war and poverty comes to our mind. The problems of today's Middle East can be traced back to imperialism and colonialism because European colonial powers drew borders ignoring the roots of the region, ancient tribal boundaries and local histories.
In my opinion, this is exactly the manner in which disputes between India and Pakistan ought to be viewed. The lean man with lathi might have been killed for this but the fact remains that division of India was done on unjust grounds.
When we see the African situation, we are surprised to note that the strongest postcolonial notes come from this part of the world yet the interiors of Africa were not colonized until almost the end of 19th century. Africa was looted more fast and more intensely than any other colonial region in the world. Perhaps that is the reason of the sharpness of the postcolonial voice from Africa. The British Empire tried to overlook and ignore the African empires of the pre-colonial era. The British tried to build one single railroad throughout the whole continent and thus 'educate' the whole lot in one go. 

I am again reminded of a short story by Marquez titled 'The Sea of Lost Time’ where Mr. Herbert arrives on an untouched, virgin island and slowly eats into the very spirit of the island and its people. He offers huge money to natives for receiving 'his' education and finally succeeds in corrupting all that was once pure and original.
Chinua Achebe from Nigeria and Ngugi wa Thiongo from Kenya have been powerful postcolonial voices. The African voice is full of pain for the inhuman treatment of the natives. Achebe's call is basically for considering the viewpoints of the non-westernized nations. He suggests ways of countering the effects of colonialism. His classic criticism (1975) of Conrad's Heart of Darkness echoes our criticism of novels or films that project our country in bad light. What we as Indians often say about Arvind Adiga's The White Tiger or Arundhati Roy's God of Small Things or movies like Slum dog Millionnaire directly echoes with what Achebe says of Conrad’s book. Damaging stereotypes of the erstwhile colonies must not be perpetuated.
French voice against colonialism in the form of Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth (1961) and Albert Memmi's The Colonizer and the Colonized are for the use of violence in establishing the new world order. Fanon's words echo with extreme rightists in India who openly say that bloodshed and the path suggested by the likes of Bhagat Singh and Subhash Chandra Bose would have produced greater national solidarity among Indians.
Edward Said, (1978) through his Orientalism is also not saying anything with which we do not feel instant affinity. The book is basically a protest against the (mis) presentation of the Orient by the Occident. He has convincingly and powerfully shown the repetition of damaging and incorrect projection of the orient by the Occident. Sail openly discards writers like Edward William Lane who spend two to three years in Egypt and came with an entire book on Egyptians, Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians. The book became the Bible of knowing Egyptian culture in Europe. This is how wrong constructs go abounding in literature and society alike we can find countless parallels for our Indian society's faulty description by the colonizers.

The recent public movement in our country to call the events of 1857, the first war of Independence, instead of Mutiny can be sited as one example. Even sympathetic books like A.L. Bacham's The Wonder that was India, cited as a classic by many, eventually end up making India even more unknown and un-understood for the rest of the world. The countless works on our spiritual traditions, on India's poverty and its alleviation and various other issues come under this kind of knowledge.
What is needed is a living model of post colonialism. We have enough of disinterested, dispassionate, ‘unfeeling’ literary criticism. We must find universal patterns in the post colonial voices and envisage common strategies to resist neo-colonialism in the form of catchy phrases like globalization and post modernism. Z. Sardar in his book Post modernism And the Other : The New Imperialism of Western Culture says,

‘Colonialism was about the physical occupation of non western cultures. Modernity was about displacing the present and occupying the minds of non western cultures. Post modernism is about appropriating the history and identity of non western cultures as an integral face of itself, colonizing their future and occupying their being. [3]

Similarly, R.I. Young in his book Post Colonialism : An Historical Introduction says,

‘To sweep colonialism under the carpet of modernity, however, is too convenient a deflection. To begin with, its history was extra ordinary in its global dimension, not only in relation to the comprehensiveness of colonization by the time of the high imperial period in the late 19th century, but also because the effect of the globalization of western imperial power was to fuse many societies with different historical traditions into a history which, apart from the period of centrally controlled command economics, obliged them to follow the same general economic path. The entire world now operates with the economic system primarily developed and controlled by the west and it is the continued dominance of the West, in terms of political, economic, military and cultural power, that gives this history a continuing significance. Political liberation did not bring economic liberation and without economic liberation and without economic liberation, there can be no political liberation’. [4]

We as educators must be alert to multi-culture ness. If we are chauvinistic and elitist in our approach, we cannot be said to be practicing post colonialism. We must have our own education system. We must be sensitive to those segments of society that have been marginalized over the ages by forces such as religion, tradition, mythology, trade or system of government.

It was Lord Buddha who for the first time in the history of human kind spoke of ‘Gantantra’. He visualized representatives of the different sections of the society coming together and solving all issues pertaining to polity.

We have to be careful in guarding ourselves against reverse racism. Every person in the society has a right to speak for every other section of the society. Our education system is hopelessly repetitive and cramming orientated.

Noam Chomsky says,

‘Far from the democratic education we claim to have, what we really have in place is a sophisticated colonial model of education designed primarily to train teachers in ways in which the intellectual dimension is often devalued. The major objective of a colonial education is to further de-skill teachers, and students to walk un-reflectively through a labyrinth of procedures and techniques.’ [5]

We must evolve our own pedagogy which is more inclusive and more elastic. De-centralization of education is an immediate need. Good quality education must be provided in all towns, big or small. Hierarchy in education is the most dangerous trend that a society can actually face. Mc Laren and Torrese have written in an article in a book Critical Multiculturalism : Rethinking Multicultural and Anti Racist Education which says,

‘Critical educators must always ask themselves tough questions what is the hidden history of otherness contained within our narratives of liberation? Whom do they exclude, marginalize, repress? How can we re-gather what has been lost and fill the empty space of despair with revolutionary hope? Hope stipulates an other who stands before us? [6]

When we reject the signifying system of imperialism, that rejection should percolate within our own society as well. We need to replace the system of colonial thought with our own patterns and styles.
For example, cold theorizing has had a dumping effect on many non western societies. Non-western societies are warmer in their human relationships. The people of these societies speak more; they are more informal in their behavior; they weep more openly; and they are basically story-tellers. Many great writhers like Marquez, Achebe, and Rushdie have gone directly to pre-colonial style of story telling. This is an effective tool.

Let us quote Payme,

‘Since scientific descriptions have traditionally enjoyed a higher truth status in Western culture, postmodern expositions tend to give more attention to the previously undervalued narrative mode... But in a post-modern perspective it is assumed that it is our immediate, day to day, concrete, personal apprehension of our lives-expressed through the ‘stories’ we tell ourselves and others about our lives-that is primarily knowable. The stories are also influential. In a post- modern perspective these stories or narratives form matrix of concepts and beliefs by which we understand our lives and the world in which our lives take place; and there is a continuing interaction between the stories, we tell ourselves about our lives, and the further stories we then tell. [7]

It is a common accepted fact that traditional societies, particularly their women communicate better through experiences, life stories and anecdotes. In this regard folk literature projects and programmers on oral literature can be effective tools of ending colonial mind set.

Stone-Mediatore says,

Many third world women  in particular, have found theoretical discourses inadequate and have turned to experience oriented writing to communicate their struggle against an array of patriarchal and neo-colonialist institutions. When scholars focused on criticizing experience we alienated our work from these practical struggles. We may address other’s stories as sites for deconstructive analysis, but we forfeit learning from them and building theories responsive to them. [8]

So our own encounters with any kind of colonial attitude or racism become relevant to the practice of post colonial theory.

Once my uncle, while on a visit to London, asked a Londoner as to where one might get clothes. Critically looking at my uncle’s skin, the Londoners said, ‘Rags are sold over there, especially for Asian.’

My sister currently living in Barack Obama’s America, tells that whites do not prefer to mix up with coloured people.

All those who  are in touch with international media (through internet, of course) know about British media’s constant description of Janjaweed militants of Sudan as ‘Arab’! People of Sudan speak Arabic, wear Dish-dasha (the flowing dress of men) and are Muslims. Apart from these affiliations to Arabic nations, we all can locate that Sudan is not an Arabic nation. But the feeling of alienation, of self-encased identity is such among all of us that Sudani people become African people. 

We are all suffering from ‘I, me, Myself’ syndrome.

Post colonialism is about breaking this rigidity. We have to be involved, and concerned in matters of national and individual dignity.  In this manner we can actually contribute to a world which is run by justice, transparency and honesty.

It is very difficult to decolonize minds. We have taken layers and layers of borrowed training. Post colonialism is not averse to new ideas. It only urges us to negotiate well with the bombardment of trends and formally establish ourselves. We might be silly, passionate, touchy and what not. But the best agenda is to be ourselves. We have swallowed so much from the West that to undo all that is definitely a huge task. But we can always try. 

I wish to quote a poem by Ludy Massamba (1988). The title of the Poem is Don’t Say.

Don’t Say you love me
Because you must know the meaning of love
Before saying it
Don’t let I love you sound like the English
‘Good Morning, How are you?’
Don’t Say
Don’t Say you care for me
Because one must care from herself
Before caring for someone else,
So don’t say you care for me
When you don’t care for yourself
Don’t say
Don’t say you will do anything for me
When you cannot do a thing for yourself
Don’t say
Don’t say you will never lie to me
Because you are doing it
Don’t Say’ [9]

I find this poem to be not only beautiful but also a strong statement against Westernization. Berger chewing, pizza gobbling and chewing gum spitting cannot go hand in hand with ‘I Love You, I care for you.’ We have to be a Little serious, a little sincere, a little intense – we are Indians. We have to speak our own language; the mood and tone must be ours.    

The best way of practicing post colonialism is to be ourselves. To be at ease with our surrounding and ourselves is the first step towards practicing post colonialism. Postcolonial is often criticized for its fixation to the past. But without a proper understanding of past, there can be no future. Post colonialism is simply sensitizing a person about any kind of unjustified usurpation, dominance or oppression.

We can totally agree with R.J. Young when he says,

‘Postcolonial critique is a form of activist writing that looks back to the political commitment of the anti colonial liberation movements and draws. Its inspiration from them, while recognizing that they often operated under conditions very different from those that exist in the present’.[10]

2. Ibid.
3. Sardar Z. 1998, Postmodernism and the Other. London : Pluto. 13.
4. Young, R.J. Postcolonialism : An Historical Introduction. 2001. Oxford : Blackwell. 5.
5. Chomsky, Nom. Chomsky on Miseducation. 2000. Lanham: Rawman and Little Field Publishers. 3.
6. May. S. ed. Critical Multiculturalism : Rethinking Multicultural and Antiracist Education. 1999. London: Falmer Press. 208.
7. Payne, M. Narrative Therapy. 2000. London: Sage. 20.
8. Stone, Mediatore. 2003. Reading Across Borders : Story – telling and Knowledge of Resistance. New York: Palgrave; Macmillan. 1.
10. Young, R.J. 10.   


More by :  Prof. Shubha Tiwari

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Views: 3378      Comments: 8

Comment I agree with you that the Indian system had great faults. But every thing has two sides. My paper is on the confusing impact of the West on Indian minds.Today, we're neither Indians nor Westerners. This 'khichri' status cannot be called good. Moreover, please do contemplate on the fact that all that is Indian or was Indian is not bad. India is on the threshold of forming new identities. Post colonilism, as in the present paper, is an attempt to help form the new identities.

Prof. Shubha Tiwari
04-Oct-2011 07:59 AM

Comment Well, this is a nice article. Identity is complex issue. We Indians infact have more complex identities compared to most people on earth. Our identities are mostly based on Caste, Language, Religion and sometimes lifestyles.... Even arranged marriages are mostly 'Caste' based.
But there is no point blaming the West for small discriminations. We Indians are much worse. For more than 2,500 years there was a great divide between upper caste and lower castes.
Even today, I have seen caste , language, and community bias taking precedence in firms (including corporate companies / MNCs).
Tell me which is worse ? Feeling 'not at home' in a foreign country or feeling 'not at home' in your own country ?
Whether we like it or not, western influence is brining technology to the masses. Electricity, TV, Light, Eletric Engines , Railways, Cars, Aeroplanes, Nuclear technology , Computer, Internet etc etc etc etc.... What is the Indian contribution in inventing any of these ? almost ZERO !! Where would India be without the technological innovations/inventions and Influence of the west ? I guess in the pre-colonial era where one had to be an upper caste Hindu to draw water from the well !

04-Oct-2011 05:22 AM

Comment I agree that in our country there are problems of perception. 'Identity' is a complex, multi-layered issue. Every one has one's own version of 'be yourself'. I fully agree with what you have said.

Prof. Shubha Tiwari
21-Aug-2011 10:58 AM

Comment In India's case, "Be yourself" might mean "Be a high caste Brahmin woman. Don't think about the Dalit woman who cleaned your latrine and carried your excrement on her head. After all, she was there before the colonizers came and she remained after the colonizers left."

Arun Mukehrjee
21-Aug-2011 10:21 AM

Comment You're right. It's easier said than done. But we can always try. We cannot rewind time but we can recapture some of our original essence. All said and done, I still believe that the spirit of India is strong.

Prof. ShubhaTiwari
06-Jul-2011 19:10 PM

Comment It is easy to say be yourselves unfortunately colonialism has extolled such agreat price all of us have forgotten who we are. And all that we know is that it is hip to say "I love you" because that is what the Master says!!

Am I incorrect. Whe are we ?

Kamal Joshi
05-Jul-2011 19:10 PM

Comment Glad that you liked it. Thanks for appreciation.

Prof. Shubha Tiwari
04-Jul-2011 19:10 PM

Comment Prof.Tiwari --- thoroughly relished your article. Thank you for sharing it!

Shaheen Sultan Dhanji
boloji contributor

Shaheen Sultan Dhanji
03-Jul-2011 19:10 PM

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