Book Reviews

Representing India: Des and Pardes

Book: Representing India: Cultures, Politics, and Identities by Mukesh Williams and Rohit Wanchoo published from Oxford University Press, 2008, Pages 368, Price: £ 24.99 (United Kingdom), Rs. 695 (India) Hardback ISBN-13: 978-0-19-569226-6 

India arose like a phoenix from the ashes of British colonialism and within a span of sixty years overcame the debilitating effects of its colonial past. In 1900 Indian economic growth was 0 %. In 2004 it was 4%, and today India is a fast developing economy with an average economic growth of 9.5% per annum. In the 1950s India was seen as a basket case, one of the backward countries of the underdeveloped world. Today India is seen as a leader of Asia and an emerging superpower soon to outpace China. The renewed interest in the growth and modernization of India has awakened a new interest in its languages, literatures and identities that constitute a new and formidable India in the twenty-first century. 

The book Representing India: Literatures, Culture, Politics by Mukesh Williams and Rohit Wanchoo published from Oxford University Press, 2007 captures the ethos of both the distant past and recent present and provides a rich resource to those familiar and unfamiliar with India. The book brings together diverse areas of scholarship ranging from literary studies and historical research to subaltern, federalist and statist notions of understanding India. It also provides an understanding of the way the nation has been represented over the decades and the way South Asian scholars themselves have constructed their past and present. The book also provides exhaustive analyses of the rise of Sanskrit, the contributions of the Orientalists, the ideas of the Anglicists, the modernization of regional languages, the Hindi-Urdu controversy and the hardening of religious identities in the political domain and the emerging South Asian diaspora.

The book deals with the emergence of English in early colonial period and provides knowledge of the dissemination of western modernity in India. The book also provides a critique of colonialism as practiced by nineteenth and early twentieth century modern Indian elites and the creation of Indian writing in English. Early nineteenth century writers like Henry Derozio and Michael Madhusudan Dutt created the idea of the motherland or matryabhumi and later Bankim Chandra Chatterjee expanded this notion into a larger concept of nation and national identity in Anandmath. The Indian freedom struggle and the creation of new forms of political protest through the INC and Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas of satyagraha and ahimsa further destabilized the British Empire. Postcolonial, subaltern, Marxist and statist notions of analyzing and representing the nation provided new frameworks of placing Indian literatures in English of the last 160 years in a more comprehensive manner. The rise of contemporary literary writing especially the novel from Salman Rushdie to the Stephanian School of writers further revealed the maturing of Indian writing in English and how India has been able to transform English from a foreign language into a local vernacular. This allows a postmodernist analysis of provincializing Europe and an understanding of the colonies writing back to the Empire.

The book also deals with the way Indian identity has been represented over the years in Hindi cinema and popular culture. Taking the rich resource of Bollywood movies the book analyzes the way Hindu, Muslim and Christian identities have been represented in Hindi films. This leads to a discussion of the role of television in constructing regional and national identities through the Hindi language and the rise of the BJP in the 1990s as a political force challenging the hegemony of the Congress Party. Controversial issues such as the hardening of religious identities, the problems with Hindu-Muslim relations and political loyalty to a secular nation state have also been handled in the book quite ably.

Its expatriates also represent India in every part of the world especially in the United States and Europe. Today the Indian diaspora stands at an awesome 23 million. The Diaspora contributes both financially and intellectually to the development and strengthening of the motherland. However to understand the modern diaspora we have to delve into the history of pre and colonial times to distinguish between the different diasporas ranging from the indentured labor during the colonial period sent to the Caribbean islands in the nineteenth century now called the PIOs and the professional classes going to Europe and America in modern times called NRIs and South Asians. Within the diasporaic communities there are lot of differences and the way they are treated by both the country of adoption and the mother country. India for instance treats the PIOs as part of the sad and easily forgotten history of its colonial past. The diaspora in the Middle East is rejected as lower and working class while the disapora in Europe and America is valorized as knowledge based and successful. The diasporas have also created their own politics, hybridized culture and literatures that are at the vanguard of social transformation and change.

The book is easy to read as it handles difficult concepts in a simple, lucid manner. The footnotes provide more information and cross-references to various topics dealt with in the book and can be useful in exploring any topic further. Representing India can prove to be an excellent guide to students who wish to understand the diversity of India and write a research paper on some of its aspects such as the Indian vernaculars, English language, English literature, Hindi media, politics, caste, religions, identities or Diaspora. The book will be of great value to both the student and researcher who would like to see a synthesis of diverse literary and critical approaches representing and analyzing India. The book can prove to be a valuable addition to the growing knowledge on and about India. It must be read.

About the Authors:
Mukesh Williams has worked in contemporary American Literature at the Indian Institute of Technology and taught English and American literatures at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi for nearly two decades. He has also taught American Studies, South Asia, Asian Security, Media and Identities and English Communication at Keio University-SFC and Soka University, Japan for over a decade and has published over fifty research papers dealing with many topics covered in the book. Both as a member and former international advisor to MELUS-India he has presented papers in its international conferences. He has also published dozens of analytical articles on political and social issues relating to India and Japan, many poems in national and international journals, a book of poems entitled Nakasendo and Other Poems from Writers Workshop Calcutta, and articles on Hindu tradition and culture. 

Rohit Wanchoo has worked in modern South Asia at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi and Cambridge University in Britain. He has taught history at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi for over two decades. He has presented a dozen papers at various conferences in India.   


More by :  Ruchika Mohan

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