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Diaspora Placed By Amitav Ghosh English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 3169 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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RECONFIGURATION OF “DIASPORA” IN ‘THE CIRCLE OF REASON’ AND ‘THE GLASS PALACE’ BY AMITAV GHOSH. Objective: To trace the the notions and feeling of diaspora placed by Amitav Ghosh in his two novels. Diaspora, etymologically derived from the Greek term “diasperien” where “dia” means “across” and “sperien” means “to sow or scatter seeds”, diaspora can perhaps be seen as a naming of the other which has historically refereed to displaced communities of people who have been dislocated from there native homeland through the movements of migration, immigration or exile. First used to describe the Jews living in exile from the homeland of Palestine, diaspora suggests a displacement from the homeland, circumstances or environmental location of origin and transfer in one or more nation states, territories or foreign countries. The term “diaspora” then has certain religious significance and pervaded medieval writings on the Jewish, to describe the plight of Jews living outside of Palestine (586BC.). Another early historical reference is the Black African diaspora, beginning in the sixteenth century with the slave trade, forcibly exporting West African out of their native land and dispersing them into the “New World”, parts of North America, South America , the Caribbean and elsewhere that slave labor was exploited through the middle passage. These early historical references reveal that diaspora is not always voluntary. Diaspora in, the rapidly changing world we now inhabit, speaks to diverse persons and communities moving across the globe from Kuala Lumpur to Sydney , Harare to Toronto , Paris to Marrakesh or even Calcutta to Trinidad, just as earlier in the twentieth century it mapped the movements of Palestinian refugees from Jerusalem to Amman or Beirut and Pakistani refugees from Karachi to Der-es- salaam.

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In thinking through the category of diaspora and its link to geographical entities such as nation states, it is thus crucial to consider the important role of nation formation and constitution during the post world war II era. While cultural and literary interrogate contemporary form of movement, displacement and dislocation from travel to exile. Mass migration movements, the multiple waves of political refugees seeking asylum in other countries, the reconfiguration of nation state, particularly in central the concept of nationhood take account of the specific geopolitical circumstances that precipitate the movement of people. The term “diaspora” used to describe the mass migration and displacement of the second half of the twentieth century, particularly in reference to independence to movements in formerly colonized areas, waves of refugees fleeing war-torn states and fluxes of economic migration. Diaspora has been particularly loosely associated with other terms, particularly transnationalism, to describe the disjunction and fractured condition of late modernity, however , diaspora needs to be extricated from such loose association and its historical and theoretical specification made clear. While diaspora may be accurately described as transnationalist, it is not one and the same with transnationalism. Transnationalism may be defined as the course of citizens, thoughts, possessions and capital across nationalized territories in a way that undermines ethnic group and nationalism discrete categories of classification, money-making organization and political constitution. But there is a some what slight difference between diaspora and transnationalism, however, in that diaspora refers specifically to the movement forced or voluntary of the people from one or more nation state to another. Whereas transnationalism speaks to larger, more impersonal forces specifically those of globalization and global capitalism. Diasporic subjects are distincted by hybridity and heterogeneity- artistic, linguistic, cultural, national and these subject are defined by the transversal of the borders demarcating nation and diaspora. Diaspora does not, however, transcends difference of race, class, gender and sexuality nor can diaspora stand alone as an epistemology and historical category of analysis, separate and distinct from interrelated categories. More complexly, diasporic scholars have suggested innovative and nuanced ways of thinking across the once demarcated terrains of identity and exploring the imbrications of ethnic and national categories, while offering insight into the cultural construction of identity in relation to nationality, diaspora, have, gender and sexuality, of course, class inflicts, if not haunts the formation of all these categories. To that end, class disrupts and complicates often in productive ways the intersection of race, gender and sexuality. Diaspora has been theorized from many diverse points of departure- East Asian, South Asian, South East Asian, Asia Pacific, Carribean, South American, Latin American, African and Central European. Recent uses of homeland, rational ethnic identity and geographical location to deployment of diaspora conceptualized in term of hybridity or heterogeneity.

While diasporic studies has emerged as an important new field of study , it is not without its critics. The term “diaspora” has been critiqued as being theoretically celebrated while ethologically indistinct and a historical. Some scholar, arguing that diaspora enters into a semantic field with other terms and terrains, such as that of exile, migrant, immigrant and globalization, have assented that diaporic communities are epitome of the transnationalist moment, other critics have resisted and critiqued such celebratory models of thinking diaspora, noting that such celebration are often a historical and apolitical, failing to note the different contexts allowing or prohibiting movement globally or even locally. For example, Bruce Robbins(1995) offers a close readings of four journals – diaspora, boundary 2, social text and public culture – that have “broken new ground in stimulating and supporting work in the international area, the non specialist area beyond area studies, and each of them see the work it publishes as in some senses adversarial”(P97). In his analysis he describe diaspora as “one of the four journals which has gone furtherest through never without qualification toward celebrating transnational mobility and the hybridity that results from it as simple and sufficient goods of themselves” (P98). While Robbins’s description of diaspora as a journal that “celebrates transnational mobility” is itself somewhat problematic, the article importantly as how and why do reputed academic journal contribute to and also map out terrain of intellectual engagement centering around the question of nation formation and migration within a transnational frame? And how do these journals valorize certain types of the theorization of nation specifically those centered on global mobility over others? Analogous of the problematic use of the term border within branches of area and ethnic studies in general, the term risks loosing specificity and critical merit if it is deemed to speak for all movement and migration between nations, within nations, between cities and within cities. Some feel separated when they are out of their country while there are some people who feel separated and alienated even in their own country, and colonial power was one of the major reason for their alienation.

Many Indian writers have contributed to the rich tradition of English literary studies. Writers like Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Rao and R.K.Narayan ,were the ones who made Indian English literature recognized and all were subjects of the British rule in India. Writers like Nirad. C.Chaudhari chosen the English coasts because his views were not willingly accepted in India. Salman Rushdie’s “imaginary homeland” encompasses the world over. Salman Rushdie, V.S Naipaul, Amitav Ghosh, Anita Desai, Rohinton Mistry, Vikram Seth have all made their names while residing abroad. These nonresident Indian writers have tried to discover the feelings of displacement in all of their literature. In one of his interviews, Amitav Ghosh said that “I don’t think migration signifies one thing. There are so many reasons why migrations take place – it could be economic, social, political or even related to education”.

Amitav Ghosh is one of the well known face in English literature. His work received great critical acclaim: winning several awards and major nominations. His work deals with remarkable themes set against historical backdrops. His writings reveals about his subterranean connections and patterns. But his all the various ideas that inform his work are basically his characters whose life engages us and take us to some magnificent imagined places and times. Some of his novels are:

The Circle of Reason (1986), Shadow Lines (1988), The Calcutta Chromosome (1995), The Glass Palace (2000), The Hungry Tide (2005), Sea of Poppies (2008).


The Circle of Reason is the first novel of Amitav Ghosh. The Circle of Reason is remarkable for many reasons. Its theme is different from traditional concerns of Indian English fiction. It challenges a direct and simple appreciation. In fact, it needs a different types of approach to be grasped fully. The book itself is sort of a paradox. It exuberates restlessness with extreme control and poise. The new thrust and lift that came to Indian English fiction duing late eighteenth and nineteenth century is partly due to this path breaking work. It is daring in its experimentation with form, content and language of the novel.

The novel, although not strictly organized, is episodic in nature or we may call it picaresque. The novel is a journey in irregular. Traditionally the protagonist Alu should have gone from ‘tama’ (darkness) to ‘satwa’ (purity). Ghosh freely mixes a chain of thoughts. He superbly mixes past, present and future of his book. He describe one incident and if the incident links itself to any past happening, he immediately goes to that past incident. Through whole novel he played with changing consciousness. So the whole fabric of the novel keeps floating, goin backward and forward. In any case present is born out of past. So why should one not go to the great reservoir of memories, dreams and desires i.e past. The novel is crowded with characters. Alu is the only constant factor who lives by trial and error method, falls at times, stand up again and finally moves on to realize his potential, if he has any. The novel, without becoming a melancholic case history, underlines the troubled times, through which all of us are living. Like a typical ended novel, it ends without providing readymade solution. There is a soothing effect at the end. Different threads seen to draw together yet there is no effort at preaching. In a typical picaresque fashion, Alu moves from Lalpukur in India to Al- Ghazira in Egypt and then to a small town in north eastern edge of the Algerian Sahara. The first section of the book contains many instances of migration. One of the instance from the book is that of Balaram’s birth year 1924, which forces author to think about the mass Indian migration to West. The People of Lalpukur, for example, had seen ” vomited out of their native soil”(p 59) in the massacre connected with the partition of Indian. Within the novel people witnessed one more time that the spectacle of people being thrown miles away because of the civil war that led to the emergence of Bangladesh. The journey of Alu, although, does not bring any kind of satisfaction or success. It celebrates the sense of unquiet wanderings. Its goes on and on searching a vision suitable for present timer. It is like chasing a phantom that ultimately vanishes into the thin air. The Circle of Reason has both historical as well as mythological elements . Mythical references have been moulded to reflect contemporary condition in a true new historicist fashion. Here ghosh nicely weaves ideas, characters and metaphors through magic and irony and develop his fictional motifs. Characters in the novel are not far from metaphors, they become metaphors. The charcters as well as different situation of the novel stand for rootlessness. Sometimes, I also wonder of our fascination about the idea of rootlessness. The present piece of work seems obsessed with his idea of migration. Migration, diasporic feeling, rootlessness and a new kind of sensibility born out of these factors – what is new, typical and unique of our age is loneliness and sense of vacuum that comes with the individual migration or migration of comparatively smaller groups. In real sense everyone is away from the roots- where have all the roots gone. There is nothing in this novel that can ordinarily be called a “home”. Sometimes novel seems confused and one is not sure about the city or village. Its goes back and forth from Bangladesh to Calcutta, then Middle East to Kerala. The story moves in very uncertain atmosphere. The novel can be called an eternal chronicle of restlessness, uncertainty and change.

The novel basically tells three stories. The first part deals with the story of Balaram. He is rationalist and is very much influenced by Louis Pasteur. He has no involvement with people and he is equally cynical. Alu (Nachiketa), the protagonist, is a nephew of Balaram. He is a only one who survives in the family. The second part of the novel tells another tale. An earthly, zestful trader tries to bring together the communities of India and Middle East. But those efforts remain unrealistic. The third part in the story of Mrs. Verma, who, outrightly rejects the rational thinking. At the end of the novel, these three are in the search of newer horizon, unformed hopes and ideas. On an allegorical plane Alu is someone rooted in identity. But as we will see by his torturous wandering, Alu seems only to satirize his name. Ghosh divide man as mechanical man and other type of man can be easily assumed, thinking man. In this thinking, Ghosh, is talking about the Man on the loom or even further the idea behind on loom and not just the instrument. It is also the idea behind history. Loom united human race at times, it divides at other. It brought victories to some, subjugation to others. This passage is significant in its historical perspective, simply because the author here goes not to mere events or states of being but to themes that run then. The anti colonial note against the monopoly of hand shine cloth in obvious. There the relation of loom to computer, the most advanced achievement of Man at machine, is beautifully and factually established.

Through this book Amitav Ghosh portrayed his diasporic feelings, loss of homeland and rootlessness which were clearly understandable and warmly felt.


Tracing Indian lives in Burma, Amitav Ghosh’s The Glass Palace (2000) recall Burma as a part of British India. Ghosh, who is from India, attempt to bring the suppressed history of subaltern in this novel. The Glass Palace is therefore condemned to record in exit ential dilemma. Where in the subjects is inevitably partitioned, a confused refugee never quite focus nor contained within the frame. Ghosh’s character’s, in this most spacious of his fiction, literally include both kings (Thebaw, Queen Supalayat, The Burmese Princess) and commoners ( Dolly, Raj Kumar, Saya John, Uma) but what unities them all is the unavoidable narrative of colonial dislodgment. If any single motif frames the grand picture, it is the occurrence of the ‘English soldiers’. That these soldiers as turn out more often that be Indian sepoys and some time ever, Indian officers- compound the puzzling effect.

As Ghosh tells us , that smoke of dusts tend to hang over the imposing scenario. Whole cities are on the run and it is often impossible to see far given the apprehensive conditions. The Glass Palace of his title, it turn out, indicates both the magnificient half of mirrors which form the centre piece of the Mandalay residence of Burmese royalty are the name of a ‘small photo studio’ where the book’s action appropriately ends. A writer’s business was to write and problematic values could, in his view, be interrogated as effectively in chapter sixteen. The rest of the forty eight chapters of ‘The Glass Palace’ concern, during period of history both harrowing and exciting, the interaction between three families: of Dolly and Raj Kumar in Burma, of Uma and her brother in India and of say John, Raj Kumar and Matthew in Malaysia. Ghosh’s novel, one can argue that coincidence represents what post modernist would call ‘break’ in the logic of narration, just as post colonialism mark a disjunction from the earlier trajectory of colonialism. Migration in this book of Amitav Ghosh is the real experience: the protagonist suffer from it to larger extent as the role was assigned to him. Ghosh tries to focus on the reason of Indian involvement in imperialism and also takes in the economic perspective. Many Indians who were in the roles of businessmen and soldiers were involved and victims who throughout helped the British to conquer and sustain their empire. Other characters of the novel struggled for the Indian independence and few even revolted against the Britishers.

In the light of emigration as a worldwide phenomenon it is indeed, Ghosh in his novel ‘The Glass Palace ‘managed to confine the past and what it must have meant to move to abroad settled down there and then be thrown out of there by war. It gives out the feeling of conquered and exploited and the terrible pressures and tensions of those people who were part of more than one ethnicity and culture, an almost usual result of the movement of people and the British empire set in motion.

In his writings, Amitav Ghosh portrayed his diasporic feelings, loss of homeland and rootlessness which were clearly understandable and warmly felt while going through his work.

Selected Bibliography

Ghosh, Amitav , The circle of reason, publish (ravi dayal publishers) 2003

Ghosh, Amitav, the glass palace, new York, random house inc,2002

The Indian Diaspora: Dynamics of Migration,(sage publication)2004

Robbins, Bruce, Internationalism in Distress.

Essays :

The Imam and the Indian (2002)

Exile literature and Diasporic Indian writers by Amit Shankar Saha


Migration of the reality of my times by Amitav Ghosh to India e news.


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