Book Review: Critical studies of South Asian Anglophone Fiction

Critical studies of South Asian Anglophone Fiction
By Syed Afsar Sajid
Title: ‘The State of Nation, Diasporic Predicaments & War Memories
in Contemporary South Asian Anglophone Fiction’
Author: Aamer Shaheen
Pages: 124 – Price: Rs.600/-

Aamer Shaheen is an Assistant Professor of English Literature at GC University,
Faisalabad. Author of many an academic research paper for national and international
journals, on a miscellany of topics from Anglophone literature, he also has a book titled
‘National Imagination and Diasporic Identities in Pakistani Anglophone 9/11 Fiction’, to
his credit (2020).

The flap of the current work succinctly highlights its form and text thus: ‘The book
critically examines fairly recent South Asian Anglophone Fiction, with regard to the
postcolonial themes of literary criticism: the state of nation and diasporic identity, by
centring half a dozen fictive texts of prominent novelists originating from South Asian
countries of India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.’

Indian authors Sanjeev Sahota’s ‘The Year of the Runaways’ (2015) and Arundhati Roy’s
‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’ have been critically examined as the state of nation
novels depicting the wily concept of Hindutva and cast-led radicalization in Indian
society.

Fiction writers of Pakistani origin Nadeem Aslam’s ‘Maps for Lost Lovers’ (2004)
and Kamila Shamsie’s ‘Home Fire’ (2017) have been studied as ‘the emblems of identity-
related predicaments’, accruing from ‘local homeland culture or religion’ of the Pakistani
diaspora in Britain. Sri Lankan fiction writer Arudpragasam’s two novels ‘The Story of a
Brief Marriage’ (2016) and ‘A Passage North’ (2021) have been shown as ‘the memorial
temple sites’ for the Sri Lankan Tamils to enable them to commemorate their compatriots
who were either lost or fated to live with acute post-war traumas, during the 26-year long
(1983-2009) Civil War.

Eulogistic appreciation of the work by a cross-section of literary scholars tends to lend
weight to its credentials as well as literary propriety. Dr. Asma Aftab Khan (GCUF)
commends the analyses conducted by the author in this book that are ‘grounded in the
material historico-political realities of South Asian societies in the back-drop of their
colonial past, neocolonial present and postcolonial future’. She goes on to say that it is
like an act of ‘atonement’ on the part of the author and hopes that this book will go a long
way to offering the readers ‘new insights’ into the South Asian fiction.

Dr. Muhammad Asif Khan (TIUB) is of the view that the author has analysed ‘the cultural themes explored by Indian, Pakistani, and Sri Lankan fiction writers’ in the postcolonial theoretical framework. Dr. Muhammad Ayub Jajja (TIUB) thinks that the instant book ‘subtly comments on ‘Subalternization’ and ‘Othering’ of lower caste Dalits and Muslims in India, women’s resistance against patriarchy, the rising trends of obsessive Westoxification
and fundamentalism among Pakistanis at diasporic spaces, and war front and post-war
memories and traumas of Sri LankanTamils’.

In a rather lengthy introduction to the book, the writer deliberates its theme and intent. In
its conclusion, he observes that ‘The six novels, subjected to comprehension in this
book, thus, present three major ways, apart from many other prevalent, of looking at contemporary South Asian Anglophone fiction: the state of nation, diasporic predicaments, and war memories’.

‘The Year of the Runaways’, Indian author Sanjeev Sahota’s second novel, narrates the
story of three men and a woman, Avtar, Randeep, Tarlochan aka Tochi, and Narinder
(Randeep’s spouse), and their unsavoury experiences of living in Britain as illegal
immigrants. Four chapters of the book accord with the seasons, starting in winter. Their
meagre past haunts them like an ignominious shadow and they are mortally afraid of
being deported to India, if detected.

‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’ is purported to be ‘an aching love story and a
decisive remonstration’. Its heroes are those who have been broken by the world they
live in. Latterly they are ‘rescued, mended by love, and by hope’.

But they never surrender. Ms. Roy’s art as a storyteller is at its best in this novel albeit an
unconventional, quadrilateral romance underpinning its geo-political trinity entwining
Delhi (Old and New), the war-stricken valley of Kashmir, and the Central Indian forests.
The story of ‘Maps for Lost Lovers’ by Pakistani diasporic novelist Nadeem Aslam focuses on the murder of a pair of lovers named Jugnu and Chanda.

Besides, the book comments on the working class Pakistani immigrants in England and the religious tradition they are so firmly committed to. The novel is also distinguished for its poetic prose, its brilliantly conceived round characters, and its delicate exposure of religious
tradition. It highlights the macabre events happening in a north London suburban town
known as ‘Dasht-e-Tanhai’ amongst the immigrants.

Kamila Shamsie, another Pakistani diasporic fiction writer, published her seventh novel
in 2017 under the title ‘Home Fire’. The work is patterned on Sophocles’s play ‘Antigone’,
and its chief concerns include the identity and security of Muslims in Britain. It explicates
‘the troubles of Muslims as they struggle to maintain a unique cultural identity while
defending their ‘Britishness’ and loyalty to the state against political and social activists
who wish to alienate them’.

Sri Lankan novelist Anuk Arudpragasam’s two novels ‘The Story of a Brief Marriage’ and
‘A Passage North’ are connected to the traumatic rigmarole, as it were, of a nearly two
and a half decade long civil war. The former ‘explores characters who were in the thick of
conflict’, facing bombardment from the country’s army while ‘eking out an existence of
sorts’ in a Tamil refugee camp.

The conflict involved a Buddhist Sinhalese majority in the
south and a Hindu Tamil minority in the north. The civil war ended into a victory for the
Sri Lankan forces wiping out their Tamil opponents, the author Arudpragasam himself
being a Tamil. In the second novel, the writer explores characters who ‘struggle to
survive in the wake or on the edges of that trauma’.

Aamer Shaheen has scholarly examined the formal and contextual aspects of the six
novels briefly discussed above, like a veritable researcher — detached but fact finding.
The themes of these fictional works though dialectically diverse inter se, belong to a
commonality of interests and issues bearing on what may be termed as a modernistic
contemporaneity characterizing our age.

Syed Afsar Sajid
Syed Afsar Sajid
The writer is a Faisalabad based former bureaucrat, poet, literary and cultural analyst, and an academic. He can be reached at: [email protected].

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