Revisiting Macaulay’s Minute in a Postcolonial World

Revisiting Macaulay’s Minute in a Postcolonial World

 

Decolonizing English language teaching in South Asia, especially in the Indian subcontinent, is an issue that has become of central importance in the academic scenario of the erstwhile colonies of what was theBritish Empireonce. ELT is a part of the overall education policy and the policy has developed in a continuous process traceable to the colonial era. There are two extreme stances in the spectrum of responses to colonialism through ages. Between them lies a whole array of intermediate positions. The extreme stances are of welcoming or expecting “recolonization” while condemning all that is native, and the other extreme is of opposing and condemning indiscriminately all that colonization stood for or brought. If we focus on the responses inIndiaonly, on one hand there are those who are all praise for the Raj era and wax eloquent about how it civilized a nation that got even the concept of nationhood from its colonial masters. They rightly point out how the administrative structure and the basic civic systems of the subcontinent were laid down by the British. They also point out how the enlightened modern way of thinking and education was the gift of the colonial masters. They glorify the Raj and are anglophiles to the hilt. On the other hand there lies a set of persons who blame the Raj unreservedly. They equate evil with the colonizers and ascribe all that is good to those who oppose them. The hypothetically ascribed intentions of the colonizers negate all they had done in and for the colonies, even when the effect was totally positive. It is this extreme band whose favourite document that exposes the colonial policy is Thomas Babington Macaulay’s Minute of the Educational Policy (the Minute), 2 February 1835, that Lord William Bentick had later assented to and that was the cornerstone of the long term development of the education system of the Indian subcontinent:

The Minute had the support of the powerful government lobby and was
a classic example of using language as a vehicle for destabilizing a subjugate culture with the aim of creating a subculture. As Macaulay says, this subculture inIndia would consist of: a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern, a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinion, in morals and in intellect. (Sharp qtd. in Kachru 37)

They find its sentences and parts, never the whole body of thought contained within or its main intent, very strongly supporting their side. They quote repeatedly and out of proper context only those limited parts, drawing reductionist, essentializing and simplistic conclusions from them. They choose specially the following parts: “a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature ofIndiaand Arabia.” and,

We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern, –a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect.

It has been done in a Goebbelsian manner: so many times that for people, in general, the moment the Minute is mentioned these lines, especially their intention flash to the mind’s eyes. The present paper is not at all an apologia, either for Macaulay’s intention or the wisdom underlying his Minute; more so, because the Minute had not a single idea that was “invented”. Macaulay was just presenting the then prevalent line of thought that had matured through the long struggle between the two major and contending views the colonizers held of the colonized of the East: the Orientalist versus Anglicist controversy. It was the overall discourse, i.e. “large body of texts with a similar intent and set of protocols”, of contrapuntal positions (Paranjape). It had generated all the ideas and the heat, one part of which is strongly present in the Minute. Neither extreme of views was race exclusive, as they had both white and brown proponents, depending on the part of grand narrative they were interpellated with. Yet, they did constitute parts of a structure and could only function while belonging to it. The Minute only present a set of ideas, not essentially and exclusively related to either the content or the medium of education. Moreover, to make the point clear, it must be mentioned that Raja Ram Mohan Roy was a great supporter of the medium of instruction being English, instead of the then prevalent languages of the schools: Sanskrit and Arabic. His reason to support an alien language was that he believed it would create opportunities of opening the mind of the students to the western ideas, ideals of modernity and modern science.  His letter to Lord Amherst that he had written in the year 1823, presents his point persuasively. The nineteenth century Indian Renaissance was largely the outcome of the exposure of the Indian intelligentsia to the Enlightenment ideas, albeit a bit belated in comparison to the other colonies viz. theUSA.Roywas totally against the blind adherence to the word of the “shastras” that the religion of his time strongly prescribed. He favoured an education system that benefited from rational thinking and modern advances in science, medicine, technology etc. He knew that to break the clutches of a superstitious and enfeebling set of practices that was called religion in his time, he would also have to destroy the whole system that sustained it, and Sanskrit or Arabic based education system was at its root. So he prepared to do away with the very root. He opposed the opening of educational institutions that forwarded the teaching of classical and conservative Hindu or Muslim languages and education with the funds provided by the Government. These educational institutions, subsidized as they were, only fattened the evil ignorance of the masses. It is in this formative phase of Indian education system thatRoyand Macaulay strove to better the lot of the masses. Macaulay’s Minute has thoughts that run exactly parallel toRoy’s letter and to study the Minute in this context will provide valuable insight into the working of modern minds. Roy, Macaulay and many others made their stand against the then very strong orientalist lobby and reasoned to prove the assumptions and methods of their opponents wrong. In the long run they emerged victorious. Their side won and their victory decided the direction in which the education system of the Indian subcontinent would finally develop. In a way, it also decided bilingual system of education with English as a Second Language eventually.

 

It is very important to focus on the Minute in detail because it is from this point of origin that whole subsequent system is alleged to have come, especially by those who criticize it.Roywanted a system of education that gave a rational outlook and took one away from the superstitions that were fed to the masses by the then prevalent systems, viz. the madarasas and pathshalas that gave only a very conservative kind of education in Sanskrit or Arabic. Macaulay opposed the same system of education inIndia, just like his enlightened Indian predecessors, and very much like his enlightened Indian successors. He asserts: “a Government pledging itself to teach certain languages and certain sciences, though those languages may become useless, though those sciences may be exploded, seems to me quite unmeaning”. His prophetic words were eventually proven right and his intention was adopted by patriotic Indians in the century that followed. English is the language of higher education, science and technology, medicine etc. in the Indian sub-continent, and not Hindi, Urdu, Sanskrit or Arabic. Hypothetical projections of a past that could have led to an alternate present have been made by the extremists, but they disregard the simple fact that analysis of hypothetical situations doesn’t yield concrete results. Today’s reality is, that the books and journals in the field of higher education and research are mostly in English and not in the vernacular or classical languages, just as Macaulay had written “that the intellectual improvement of those classes of the people who have the means of pursuing higher studies can at present be affected only by means of some language not vernacular amongst them.” the decision taken by the history was regarding the question Macaulay had asked: “What then shall that language be? … which language is the best worth knowing?” Although the first question has been answered decidedly, the question of value of the language is too subjective to be answered with finality. His infamous assertion regarding the second questions must be mentioned to in relation to the debate. He was asserting the intrinsic superiority of the literature etc. of his nation and asserting what was the most prevalent view of his times. He was wrong, as the hindsight decrees; yet, he wasn’t exaggerating or being unnaturally mean. Yet, whatever he writes about the historiography of Sanskrit texts, although a bit exaggerating, has been proven to be accurate by the modern historians:

But when we pass from works of imagination to works in which facts are recorded and general principles investigated, the superiority of the Europeans becomes absolutely immeasurable. It is, I believe, no exaggeration to say that all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written in the Sanscrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgments used at preparatory schools inEngland. (Macaulay)

The problem he presented was of educating a people who could not be educated in their mother tongues. His confident assertions may be proven fallacious, illogical, even ridiculous today, but his prediction turned out to be true. English is the coveted and the most popular medium of education in urbanIndia, that is a part of the global village called the world. The hegemony of English language and literature is directly linked with the forces of globalization and polarization of powers – both military and monetary. As far asIndiais concerned, English happens to be the passport for securing gainful employment in the private sector. Thus, it acts as it did nearly two centuries ago, as is mentioned in that much detested and debated about document. Macaulay had very confidently and rightly asserted:

InIndia, English is the language spoken by the ruling class. It is spoken by the higher class of natives at the seats of Government. It is likely to become the language of commerce throughout the seas of the East. It is the language of two great European communities which are rising, the one in the south of Africa, the other inAustralia, –communities which are every year becoming more important and more closely connected with our Indian empire. Whether we look at the intrinsic value of our literature, or at the particular situation of this country, we shall see the strongest reason to think that, of all foreign tongues, the English tongue is that which would be the most useful to our native subjects.

He was right. Even the most recent developments in history bear witness to this fact. English gave Indians advantage over the Chinese in winning considerable employment opportunities in the recent times in BPO and KPO sectors. So much so, that Obama himself had to exhort his countrymen to compete well with the English speaking Indian population. The large pool of Indians who know English is the main reason behind a lot of economic development, especially in the service sector.

 

One very relevant issue touched in the Minute is relevant even today. The issue was: whether the vernaculars should be promoted, instead of English, especially when good basic textbooks at the level of even secondary education, are not easily available. In the past it had been decided in favour of English. As Roy and many of his enlightened contemporaries had demanded, Maaculay too, supported teaching of European science, instead of a jumble of unsystematic and entirely confused science in the classical languages and vernaculars. The assertion he made is hotly debated even today. Makrand Paranjape, in his “Decolonizing English Studies: Attaining Swaraj”, very interestingly presents the case of the native science and medicine by giving one of the most popularly given example of the small rural furnaces in India that produced, and even now do so, high quality steel. Then he mentions people in the eighteenth centuryBengalproviding inoculation from small pox moving from one place to another, and Pune barbers performing intricate nose surgeries. He recommends more such recoveries in order to mend the rupture in the mind of the colonized from his past. Yet, he conveniently forgets to mention the fact that after the spread of the Industrial Revolution all over Europe and then, the world, cottage and small scale manufacturing of steel could not keep up with market demand, and had to give way to large scale steel production in huge factories. He does not affirm that the majority of the people in the erstwhile colonies, once they are aware of the modern medical science’s advancements even if they had never had any formal education, would trust doctors trained in western medicinal science and surgery for severe cases. What “is” cannot be challenged because it could have been something else. Iconoclasm, just for its own sake, is not a very advisable practice. Decolonization as a rationalizing and liberating practice, in line of the hitherto incomplete Enlightenment project, is very much a part of the grand narrative of progress that the West (from where nearly all the colonizers came) supports. Just because it is supported by the West, it doesn’t become automatically wrong and opposable. Macaulay compared the opening up ofIndiato English language, culture, stream of philosophy and literature, to the opening up ofEuropeto Greek and Latin cultures, languages and knowledge during the Renaissance. He very strongly presents his case with help ofRussia’s development as an example. The Russian young man was civilized and led to development “by teaching him those foreign languages in which the greatest mass of information had been laid up, and thus putting all that information within his reach. The languages of western Europe civilisedRussia. I cannot doubt that they will do for the Hindoo what they have done for the Tartar”. The assumption underlying this assertion is that industrial and scientific progress and civilization are good and must be striven for. If the assumption is questioned, then Macaulay appears to be wrong, nay, evil in his intention: aiming to give progress and civilization, as he knows them, to the colonies.

 

The question of civilization has been raised and answered variously in various times and climes. To bring the issue closer home, Mahatma Gandhi’s views can be relevantly cited. What were civilization and its gifts to Macaulay was poison and corruption to the Mahatma. In his Hind Swaraj he writes about the “disease” called the western civilization. He used the famous dream argument of Descartes, who, ironically, is the central pillar of that very civilization’s central strand of philosophy, traditions of rationalism and free thinking. Gandhiji asserts that people couldn’t criticize the Western civilization unless they were freed of its influence. He went on to criticize that “bodily welfare” was being made the “object of life” (29). Strangely enough, he even seems to dislike the spread of the power to be printed, read and understood, democratically and without any limitations or impositions, because “Formerly, only a few men wrote valuable books. Now, anybody writes and prints anything he likes and poisons people’s minds” (29). All that science and technology have achieved in their so called “march of progress” meant nothing to him in comparison to what it had spoiled. He cites the development of war machines and the exploitation of the masses by a few super-rich people. He is in favour of religion and asserts that the Western civilization has lost it. Finally he solemnly pronounced: “According to the teaching of Mahommed this would be considered a Satanic Civilization. Hinduism calls it the Black Age” (30). As this extreme view of civilization is generally not held by most of the people in the world, they do enjoy the fruits of this very “Satanic Civilization” and try to improve upon it instead of denouncing it and discarding it in favour of a hypothetical (Eutopian) Ram Rajya. Macaulay belonged to the pragmatic set and took progressivism to be good. He recommended the same for the colonized.

The strongest reason that Macaulay put forth to oppose the subsidized education of traditional type in Sanskrit and Arabic and to support modern Western Education in English medium, was the simple matter of the market demand creating its supply. The classical and vernacular medium and the traditional type of education in Indiaforced on the native populations “the mock learning which they nauseate”. To prove it he presented the fact that the Arabic and Sanskrit medium students needed to be paid for studying while people pay to get education in the English medium schools. He demanded that “the people shall be left to make their own choice between the rival systems of education without being bribed by us to learn what they have no desire to know”. The same is true for today’s India too, where the madarsas and Sanskrit pathshalas are criticized for their supreme unconcern for what is required of their students in real life, and their total neglect of the demands of the existence in modern society. More and more people are sending their children to the English medium schools and there is a proportionate decline in the number and popularity of schools that teach in classical languages based or vernacular mediums only. Even poor people send their children to English medium schools in hope that learning English would definitely enhance their employability and will finally help in moving up from the social stratum they belong to. The same motivation was working exactly in the same manner in Macaulay’s time too. The language of power was creating market and learners at a very fast pace; just as it had done in past after the Muslim invasion and expansion in India. Macaulay very incisively opines: “Nothing is more certain than that it never can in any part of the world be necessary to pay men for doing what they think pleasant or profitable”. He had ample support favouring English against the classical languages of learning. He quotes facts and statistics to support his point and illustrates it with an example of the petition that the students of the SanskritCollegehad presented to the committee that had say in policy making. They needed an employment that allowed bare existence because what they head learnt devoting the best years of their lives was not the market’s demand, so they were no gainfully employable. “They have wasted the best years of life in learning what procures for them neither bread nor respect”. He called “the state of the market…the detective test” of the desirability or demand of his times. It also happens to be the demand of our times. He very strongly and clearly puts forth: “What we spend on the Arabic and SanscritCollegesis not merely a dead loss to the cause of truth. It is bounty-money paid to raise up champions of error”. His is the voice of reason and is echoed even today in many modern, liberal, even religious Hindus and Muslims. He was totally against the fostering of superstition and also against the languages that became its medium. He was like his European predecessors, especially like Diderot etc. in the 18th centuryFrance, and also like the enlightened Indians viz.Roy. He was also like many who followed the same line of thought and action later inIndia.

 

Analysing Macaulay’s premises, assumptions and claims leads one to a coherent and distinct attitude he had towards life and humanity. He appears to have a firm faith in the superiority of the West over the East – aesthetically and intellectually, arising implicitly out of its geopolitical superiority. He believes in his appeal to reason and not to emotions to bring about the change that he finds to be positive after a logical analysis of facts in hand. He had a firm and unquestionable loyalty to his nation and has unshakeable faith in the bright future of the Empire and its language. He may have been proven wrong about the geopolitical and temporal strength and extent of the Empire, but he was accurate about the predictions he made regarding the strength and future of the linguistic entity called the Empire of English language. Two hundred years after the Minute were written, Randolph Quirk expressed a similar confidence in the future and power of his language: “a language – the language – on which the sun does not set, whose users never sleep” (qtd. in McArthur xiv). It is this very empire of English language of whichSouth Asia is a part.

 

Macaulay was not a blind racial chauvinist that many portray through the pieces from his minute. He was a liberal and rational man. He could see what was true and was ready to stand for it. He was not at all condescending like his various orientalist contemporaries in wrongly believing “that no native of this country can possibly attain more than a mere smattering of English”.  His was a pragmatic outlook and his practical approach did prove to be the right one in the long run. He very justly adduces examples of Indians:

There are in this very town natives who are quite competent to discuss political or scientific questions with fluency and precision in the English language. I have heard the very question on which I am now writing discussed by native gentlemen with a liberality and an intelligence which would do credit to any member of the Committee of Public Instruction. Indeed it is unusual to find, even in the literary circles of the Continent, any foreigner who can express himself in English with so much facility and correctness as we find in many Hindoos…

One may insinuate towards some ulterior motive in the passage given above, but then, the same may be done with their side of discourse too. Macaulay’s bona fide intention was proven exactly when he had presented the Minute before the Supreme Council of India “embodying his views and announcing his intention of resigning if they were
not accepted” (Bryant qtd. in Kachru 37). His honesty and intention are also reflected in the very part of his Minute that has supplied the heaviest artillery to his critics:

that it is impossible for us, with our limited means, to attempt to educate the body of the people. We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern,  –a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population. [Italics mine]

I have italicized all that had not been quoted in the present paper before reaching this part. It has been done to provide the exact context to Macaulay’s famous “villainous”, colonizer’s sentiments of exploiting the masses through the creation of a “class of clerks”. If the italicized parts are read closely, it’ll be found that the practical man was right in framing a policy with “limited resources” in mind. It’ll also be found that the final aim and explicit intention of the writer was to “refine and enrich” the vernacular dialects ofIndiathrough the very class that was trained in the English language, physical, moral and intellectual strengths and culture: the interpreters in true and complete sense of the honourable word. He was firm in his faith and wantede progress for the country his race had colonized. Whatever the faults of his race might have been, Macaulay’s Minutes do offset them by showing an honourable and truthful English gentleman trying his best to “accelerate the progress of truth”.

Macaulay’s legacy stayed. As Kachru’s 3 circles very clearly indicate, most of the erstwhile British colonies in South Asia (India,Pakistan,BangladeshandSri Lanka) are found in theOuter Circleof English speakers (qtd. in McArthur 100). English stayed, even after the Empire was done away with. The legacy of colonialism that undoubtedly benefits those erstwhile colonies is English language that was once alien to these soils. It has now taken roots that have gone too deep to be uprooted in near future. A whole class of people is confident enough to make English their second language, and proudly affirm it, without any guilty conscience on “having betrayed their mother tongue”. Macaulay’s aim of creating an intermediary class was fulfilled. He did not know it fully that his prophesy would come true one day, especially when he was mentioning the future of English language in the world. Neither was he wrong about the impact of the language on the economy and socio-political and intellectual geography of the world.

 

 

 

Works Cited

 

Gandhi, Mohandas K. Indian Home Rule or Hind Swaraj. Navajivan: Ahmedabad, 1938. Print.

Kachru, Braj B. Asian Englishes Beyond The Canon. Hong KongUniversity Press:Hong Kong, 2005. Print.

Kachru, Yamuna and Cecil L. Nelson. World Englishes in Asian Contexts.Hong KongUniversity Press:Hong Kong, 2006. Print.

McArthur, Tom. The English Languages. CUP:Cambridge, 1998. Print.

Paranjape, Makarand. “Decolonizing English Studies: Attaining Swaraj?” swaraj.org. n.d. Web. 27 December 2011.

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History, Race and Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies

In The Wretched of the Earth Fanon very forcibly expresses his opinion regarding the history of the world. It was the 1960’s when he was thus writing and it was revolutionary then to think of the past in that manner. Only a couple of decades back most of the mainstream historians would have shied away from a stream of thought that dared to assert: “For centuries Europe has brought the progress of other men to a halt and enslaved them for its own purposes and glory; for centuries it has stifled virtually the whole of humanity in the name of a so-called ‘spiritual adventure’” (Fanon 235). A couple of decades later, it became very natural. The hegemony of the imperial powers of the world were severely challenged, and successfully too. The postcolonial revisiting and revision of history started since the time when the colonized subject, silenced and marginalized, started asserting his own identity instead of one that was purely constructed by his colonial masters, during the process of decolonization or at the end of the socio-political decolonization when, intellectually, their nation was still in the clutches of the intellectual and cultural hegemony of their erstwhile rulers. The postcolonial writers of fiction wove their narratives intricately, patterned with the themes that appealed to or were infused into them. Their work took roots in the land that had been liberated recently from the pernicious foreign control. They reacted against exploitation of the powerless- theirs and, in general, anybody’s. Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies is a narrative woven with the warp of individual stories and woof of general history. Great historical events are shown being shaped by individual agents, and vice-versa.

Histories… take the form of narratives, and the ways in which the events described are portrayed, linked and made sense of are themselves susceptible to critical interrogation… historical events do not mean things in themselves but, rather, their meanings are generated by the ways in which they are described and linked together to form a historical narrative (Malpas 98).

The industrial revolution in many European countries was facilitated, expedited, made possible with the capital accumulated due to the exploitation of the so called backward races. The advanced races imposed their will and culture on those who had no say in the process. Then they presented their mission of all pervading and shameless exploitation as one of cultural and religious salvation of the barbarians and pagans. They had the power. The power to speak, write, reason and prove: all were theirs. So, they created the narrative of a history from their perspective and objectivised the objectification of the natives. As the postmodern historiography points out, “historical inquiry is born less of the necessity to establish that certain events occurred than of the desire to determine what certain events might mean for a given group, society, or culture’s conception of its present tasks and further prospects” (Malpas 98). The history of the Empire was meant for the consumption at two levels: by the white man and by the black/brown/yellow one too. Therefore, it had to be convincing. It turned out to be so convincing that the anti and postcolonial discourses had to use all their powers to dispel the myths created by the colonial histories. The process of de-mythization has not been completed till now, and the postcolonial discourse continues to perform its task even today. Such being the case, Sea of Poppies can be seen as an attempt to narrate a specific history from a particular perspective. The narrative is of interlinked lives of various brown and white characters, and the narrative perspective is the critical one. The “anti colonial freedom movements had fought for political self-determination, the ‘post-colonialists’ inspired by Said fought for the intellectual and spiritual self-determination of the people who had been subjected to colonial rule” (Rothemund 31) unmistakably postcolonial. Ghosh revisits the past with a very critical eye. His fiction curiously, strongly and predictably enough, abounds in postcolonial themes “of cultural translation, of braided temporality, of marginality itself” (Boehmer and Chaudhuri 3). He has his own version of it – that arises out of the consensus among the postcolonial intelligentsia – and he makes the narration of his fiction his tool to propound his thesis. Of course, like all previous histories, his story that is intermeshed with history, can be critically interrogated. Yet, the fact remains that the “desire” to determine what the colonial rule meant to those colonized cannot be denied to the hitherto voiceless and marginalized subject, written out of the discourse structurally. It is this very desire that is behind the creation of Ibis trilogy. Amitav Ghosh mentioned in his interview with a BBC correspondent, “Opium financed British rule in India”, that he had started Sea of Poppies as the story of indentured immigrants from Bihar. With the growth of the volume of the story history entered it. The indentured immigration from India, which had started in the 1830’s, is shown curiously merging with the Anglo-China opium war and the consolidation of the Raj’s position in Asia. Opium became the medium of strengthening and expanding the Empire, as it was behind the generation of huge revenues that went into the Empire building. In the beginning of their interactions with china, the west was totally at a loss because the Chinese wanted none of their products, whereas, they needed a lot from there. Thus originated a kind of trade that was in favour of the Chinese. It was totally according to the diktats of Free Trade, yet it was unprofitable. So it had to change. Opium became the medium of change when it was insidiously inserted into the Chinese market, legally, and later, against the law of the land. The “trafficking in opium tilted the balance of global trade to benefit the west”(Brook 3). The edicts of the Chinese emperor against opium were proven to be powerless because of the “deadly combination of expanding Chinese demand and skyrocketing British supply. … Lin Zexu was appointed imperial maritime commissioner in 1838 to stop the opium trade” (Brook 6). His tough measures culminated into the opium war
(1839-42), that ended with a shameful defeat for the Chinese. It was this defeat,
some historians claim, that opened China to the western influence and resulted
into its modernization. Just like some claim that India benefited largely through its colonization by the British because they gave it the foundation of modern nationalism and all the basic institutions required to run a state effectively. As if India was a wilderness, sans any system, before 1757 and it would never have modernized itself had it not been shamefully and deleteriously exploited by its colonizers. The other side of the same coin of exploitation was the havoc wreaked on the Indian farmers. This devastation of the economy of two prosperous Asian nations was whitewashed by the white people and even some native historians is shocking.
The gap between the resources of the colonized and the colonizer is not just of economic power and dependence. It spreads into the superstructure and creates two separate spheres of existence. Those who have power “do what their power permits them to do [and] … pretend that it is for some higher cause” (Ghosh 388-89). Maintaining the status quo is in favour of the powerful. They tolerate the socio-political structure of the colonized nations because it benefits them. They actively uphold the native’s rights when it benefits them and at the very next moment show their real selfish motive that lies hidden behind the façade of a civilized system of governance. As Captain Chillingworth clearly points out:
“that in matters of marriage and procreation, like must be with like, and each must keep to their own. The day the natives lose faith in us, as the guarantors of the order of castes – that will be the day, gentlemen, that will doom our rule. This is the inviolable principle on which our authority is based.” (Ghosh 718)

The pseudoscientific racial theory of the colonizers had been carefully propounded and propagated in order to make the subjection and subjugation appear natural and according to the “binary typology of advanced and backward(subject) races” (Said 206). The legitimation of exploitation was facilitated “by anthropological theories which increasingly portrayed the peoples of the colonized world as inferior, childlike, or feminine, incapable of looking after themselves… and requiring the paternal rule of the west for their own interests (today they are deemed to require ‘development’)” (Young 2). The inferior/superior dyad, with its putting the white man in an advantageous position, made it imperative to maintain the purity of the difference. The very danger of a white man’s “‘going native’ … [that] encompass[es] lapses from European behaviour, the participation in ‘native’ ceremonies, or the adoption and even enjoyment of local customs in terms of dress, food, recreation and entertainment” that is most feared by the colonizers(Ashcroft 115). As Mr. Doughty tells Zachary, “Mind your Oordoo and Hindee doesn’t sound too good: don’t want the world to think you’ve gone native” (Ghosh 73). There is a curious version of this fear in the native’s mind too. It is best exemplified in the pressure built upon the Europeans regarding the behaviour and dress code they were expected to observe without any margin for deviation. The white man had to shoulder his sacred burden. It was a sacrifice that he had to make. He had to colonize, control, exploit, tyrannize and even kill the black/brown/yellow peoples of the world, in order to civilize them. The white man’s arrogance is reflected unconsciously in the smallest of things. During Neel’s trial, the judge declared that India had been “opened to the benefits of civilization… [the Englishmen were] chosen to burden with the welfare of such races as were still in the infancy of civilization”(Ghosh 349). By the time Neel’s trial ended, it was very clear to him “that in this system of justice it was the English themselves – Mr Burnham and his ilk – who were exempt from the law as it applied to others: it was they who had become the world’s new Brahmins”(Ghosh 353). The clear cut bipolar division of the world into advanced/backward races went a long way towards convincing the ruler and the ruled races alike. Sea of Poppies treats the theme of postcoloniality with frankness and indicts the ills of the colonial era without mincing any words.

Systemic and systematic exploitation of the inferior “races”, as the white man looked down upon the “Asiatick” and the “African”, originated in the racialist doctrine that Todorov very pithily summarizes in his statement of its five basic propositions. The first proposition is the simplest. It obviously consists in affirming that there are such things as races. The next one posits that there is continuity between physical type and character; but races are not simply groups of individuals who look alike (if this had been the case, the stakes would have been trivial). The racialist postulates, in the second place, that physical and moral characteristics are interdependent; in other words, the segmentation of the world along racial lines has as its corollary an equally definitive segmentation along cultural lines. To be sure, a single race may possess more than one culture; but as soon as there is racial variation there is cultural change. The solidarity between race and culture is evoked to explain why the races tend to go to war with one another. In the third postulate same determinist principle comes into play in another sense: the behavior of the individual depends, to a very large extent, on the racio-cultural (or “ethnic”) group to which he or she belongs. This leads to a unique hierarchy of values as the racialist is not content to assert that races differ; he also believes that some are superior to others, which implies that he possesses a unitary hierarchy of values, an evaluative framework with respect to which he can make universal judgments. The final point is the conclusion arrived at:

There is a need to embark upon a political course that brings the world into harmony with the description provided. Having established the “facts,” the racialist draws from them a moral judgment and a political ideal. Thus, the subordination of inferior races or even their elimination can be justified by accumulated knowledge on the subject of race. Here is where racialism rejoins racism: the theory is put into practice (Todorov 66).
Ghosh is clearly critiquing the racialist doctrine through his work. Coming from a person whose people were colonized and exploited for centuries, it does not seem totally disproportionate or unnatural. This fact notwithstanding, the critique itself can be critiqued for a certain degree of either honest oversimplification or purposeful collusion that results into overlooking certain important facts. The driving force behind the Empire was lussion and for the accumulation of wealth. The lust for wealth was not at all limited to the upper ranks of the racial hierarchy. It was present in the colonizer and in the colonized as well, although the extent to which it could be satisfied depended on the power of the person or of the people in question. The colonial rulers were powerful, hence they exploited the colonized, but they could never have succeeded in doing so without an active, voluntary and complete collaboration of the colonized e.g. Baboo Nob Kissin, Raja Neel Rattan’s father and he himself.
These collaborators were used by the colonialists but also made use of their rulers to serve their own interests. The advocates of the excentric view hold that the periphery did not accept passively what the centre imposed on it but shaped the imperial impact to a large extent. Ronald Robinson, the pioneer of ‘excentrism’, even claims that this theory can explain the rise and fall of colonialism through the reversal of a single model… Colonialism thrives on recruiting collaborators and when it can no longer do so, decolonization becomes inevitable. (Rothermund 23)
The Chinese opium trade, which the world history reports with the exploitation of the Chinese at the foreground and that of the Indian peasant’s at the background, has been inverted in the narration of Sea of Poppies. The colonial and native historians’ whitewashing of the exploitation is encountered with and then countered here. The postcolonial perspective “discovered” it in a way, and tried to undo the wrong done by the majority of the past historians. As Malpas asserts in The Postmodern, it was the result of: “‘historical pluralism’ … in which different groups’ or cultures’ accounts of a historical event cannot simply be ruled true or false on the basis of their relationship to a grand narrative, but rather require different sorts of analysis that explore their philosophical, political and literary underpinnings” (99). The postcolonial history is a site where the creation of a narrative to counter the colonial narrative takes place. Its aim is a continuous questioning of the grand narrative of progress and civilization being handed over to the inferior races.

…postcolonialism’s struggle against the grand narratives that underpin imperialist thought is not based simply on a strategy of ‘changing’ their ‘direction’ to include under the heading ‘Man’ people from non-European or North American cultures, but that it is also seeking to transform the idea of progress and universality by thinking about the discontinuities generated by the violence of colonialism. On the basis of this, a key aim of Bhabha’s criticism is to produce counter-narratives that make explicit the legacies and effects of the carnage and brutality of colonial rule that modern histories have tended to downplay.( Malpas 99-100)

Malpas makes it clear in his, Jean-Francois Lyotard that history is the narration of the story of a nation or people. It intends to explain the existence of a human entity in terms of its being shaped in continuation with the past, and the cycle leading to future. The tale is “presented according to the rules of the narrative genre and, like literary narrative, can take a number of different forms” (Malpas 74). Ghosh shiftS the point of focus of his history-as-story very uncomfortably for the prototypically constituted western eyes, to the filth the West had created and its mechanism of generating it. Opium and coolies were exported from India. As is pointed out in Sea of Poppies: “In the good old days people used to say there were only two things to be exported from Calcutta: thugs and drugs or opium and coolies as some would have it” (113). It generated profit that sustained the Empire. In fact, “trafficking in opium tilted the balance of global trade to benefit the west”( Brook 3). The extent of exploitation in the country that produced the human and material produce was limitless. Opium ruined lives. It ruined the lives of the poor Indian farmers whose very lifestyle. Sea of Poppies very clearly and poignantly brings forth one of the main and recurring motifs of the commonwealth fiction: the mechanism of exploitation, in its full detail. It shows how the farmer was exploited and how the agricultural timetable of a nation and the sustainable lifestyle of its people were altered with devastating effects on the economy. Deeti remembers the good old days when the fields “would be heavy with wheat in the winter… now, with the sahibs forcing everyone to grow poppy, no one had thatch to spare… poppy had been luxury then, grown in small clusters between the fields that bore the main winter crop”(Ghosh 42). The vicious cycle of debt that the farmers of the opium belt entered, made any idea of escape impossible. The grain crops and vegetables were not grown. There was only a sea of poppies in all the fields. To feed their families they took more debt and thus they became more confirmed in their state. Opium broke the very fabric of the society, as was the case when Deeti and Kalua came across the impoverished transients in Chhapra, “driven from their villages by the flood of flowers that had washed over the countryside” (Ghosh 298). Hunger pressed them so much that they were ready to forget all bindings of caste, religion and concern for life and it safety. They only had one thing in their minds: survival. That’s why they signed agreements to work on the farms in some unknown lands, even hazarding to cross “black waters”. If money was the main motive behind the exploitation of the Indian farmer, the same was true in the case of the Chinaman too. He was drowned in the river of smoke, while the white suppliers of opium glibly produced altruistic justifications all the time: “Indeed, humanity demands it. We need only think of the poor Indian peasant – what will become of him if his opium can’t be sold in in China? Bloody hurremzads can hardly eat now: they’ll perish by the crore” (Ghosh 385). The very idealistic Mr. Burnham, the devotee of Free Trade, surprisingly happens to be a very forceful supporter of the English merchant’s right to supply opium to china, even if the Chinese are against it. He sees the Chinese emperor’s edict against opium as halting the “march of human freedom” and, ironically, explains it to a racially mixed Zachary that freedom meant “mastery of the white man” (Ghosh 117). He very happily and confidently expresses his joy at America’s being the last bastion of liberty: because slavery is legal there!
Sea of Poppies is a tale of the effects of racialization and rationalization of history on the subject races: colonized, tormented and exploited.

“Postcolonialism is in effect a metamorphosed version of postmodernism in relation to the anti-colonialist and decolonizing practice in Oriental and Third World countries” (Ning 233). Sea of Poppies is a typically postcolonial response to the collective past of Asia. It is a rational attempt to present human condition, the postmodern stage of it, at the level of individual emotions and destinies, and at the level of nations as players in the international arena. It challenges the grand narrative of capitalism: capital accumulation through free trade, leading to overall well being through the trickle down effect, and the whole nation’s developing due to the way in which the invisible hand directs the market. These grand narratives of the colonial era are challenged effectively in this novel that offers an alternative point of view very strongly and convincingly.

Works Cited
Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin. Key Concepts in Post-Colonial Studies. Routledge: London, 1998. Print.
Boehmer, Elleke and Rosinka Chaudhuri. “Introduction”. The Indian Postcolonial: A Critical Reader. Ed. Elleke Boehmer and Rosinka Chaudhuri. Routledge: New York, 2011. Print.
Brook, Timothy and Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi. “Opium’s History in China”. Opium Regimes: China, Britain and Jap-n, 1839-1952. ed. Timothy Brook and Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi. Univ. of California Press: Los Angeles, 2000. Print.
Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched Of The Earth. Tr. Richard Philcox. New York: Grove Press, 2004. Print.
Ghosh, Amitav. “Opium financed British rule in India”. BBC News. 23 June 2008. Web. 27 November 2011.
–. Sea of Poppies. 2008. PDF. 27 November 2011.
Ning, Wang. “Postcolonial Theory and the ‘Decolonization’ of Chinese Culture”. Linked Histories: Postcolonial Studies in a Gobalized World. Ed Pamela McCallum & Wendy Faith. Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2005. Print.
Said, Edward W. Orientalism. New York: Vintage, 1979. Print.
Young, Robert J. C. Postcolonialism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: OUP, 2003. Print.

Sea of Poppies: Postcolonial strands of the Commonwealth Literature

The term Commonwealth of Nations, under the titular headship of Queen Elizabeth II’s benevolent gaze, gives the impression of a unity that is deceptive. Although all these nations are theoretically united under one umbrella, there exists a chasm that separates them. There are two sets of nations: the white and the new (black/brown) commonwealth. The new commonwealth has had a recent past in which it had experienced domination and colonization under the British Empire, the largest imperial and colonizing power in the history of mankind, even as late as the 1980’s. Literature of a large number of these countries was denoted as that of the third world in the past due to their developing or underdeveloped status of their economies, and even “before the coinage of [the term] ‘postcolonial’, one was accustomed to speak of what the novels of Gabriel García Márquez and Chinua Achebe had in common over and against, say, those of Margaret Drabble and Alain Robbe-Grillet. The reference … was to the ‘third world’” literature (Larsen 24). The term postcolonial has nothing to do with the specific geographical location or the point of origin of a specific thought. It is related more to the nature and orientation of a thought or an idea. It is a paradigm shift, comparable to the post quantum theory shift in the paradigm of the hitherto Newtonian Physics. From a west centric approach to world history, the spread of democracy resulted into a more diffused and decentralized approach to history. Thus dominant discourses were challenged effectively and even replaced by strategically developed mini or local narratives in the countries that had been exploited in the past. The literature taking birth in these various nations is very diverse in nature, yet it has something that becomes visible occasionally, and runs as a subterranean stream at other times. That thing is its response to its colonial past. It is this past that joins the peoples and experiences of these countries, and their literature too. Writers and artists of the commonwealth, willingly or unwillingly, have inherited their country along with their colonial past. Amitav Ghosh is one such writer. Although he had withdrawn The Glass Palace from the final list of Regional Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 2001 , declaring:

As a grouping of nations collected from the remains of the British Empire, the Commonwealth serves as an umbrella forum in global politics. As a literary or cultural grouping however, it seems to me that ‘the Commonwealth’ can only be a misnomer so long as it excludes the many languages that sustain the cultural and literary lives of these countries (it is surely inconceivable, for example, that athletes would have to be fluent in English in order to qualify for the Commonwealth Games). (qtd. in Roy Chowdhury)
He does benefit from the legacy of India’s being a part of the Commonwealth. Ghosh’s assertion on the pride of language and nation arises out of his intellectual constitution that was built in a postcolonial India: a part of the Commonwealth. It gives him a dual advantage of a local-postcolonial and, at the same time, a global perspective. He is a commonwealth writer whose fiction curiously, strongly and predictably enough, abounds in postcolonial themes “of cultural translation, of braided temporality, of marginality itself” (Boehmer and Chaudhuri 3). His Ibis trilogy promises to be his most thoroughgoing take on postcolonialism; a backward glance at the infamous opium trade cycle that finally lead to the Anglo-china Opium War and China’s subjugation to the omnipotent “free trade”. Sea of Poppies, the first part of the trilogy starts a cycle of stories that is continued in the next book: River of Smoke. History seeps into the stories of the characters in so many ways that they become histories of colonial exploitation. This paper focuses on Sea of Poppies to highlight the common themes of commonwealth writing that are conspicuously present in it.

Quest for identity is one of the central themes of the commonwealth literature. The reason behind it lies at the core of the existence of the peoples who had been under the yoke of the empire for over two centuries. Sea of Poppies has several characters on their personal quests for identity. Baboo Nabo Kissin happens to be one such person. He had been expectantly waiting for the transformation of his mundane self into his deceased, revered and ethereal aunt. It is against all logic, but he has faith. Signs are sent to confirm his faith. He happens to meet Lord Krishna himself, in his latest incarnation: Zachary Reid, or that’s what he fully believes in. It is his quest that gives his courage to overcome his fear of losing his Brahmin caste by actually crossing the black waters. Mr Zachary Reid was transformed into Malum Zikri, Deeti became Aditi, Kalua became Maddow Colver, Jodu turned into Azad Naskar, Paulette into Putleshwari or Pugly and Raja Neel Rattan Haldar into just Neel. They forged or found a new identity for themselves, and the colonial setup acted as a catalyst for their transformations.

The relationship between the colonized and the colonizers is shown in its various hues in Sea of Poppies. There’s always a tension in even the most cordial and beneficial kind of relationships, especially with the rise in the power that the colonizer had over the colonized. The closest relationship between a native and a white person exists between Jodu and Paulette. They are like siblings, yet their race separates them, despite Paulette’s nearly “going native”. Baboo Nobo Kissin and Mr. Burnham’s is another prominent and inseparable pairing in the novel. Yet, the Indian gomasta is never at ease in presence of his English master. He remembers how he was abused by his past and present masters with kicks and vituperations, and maintains his dignity even in such circumstances. Raja Neel Rattan Haldar was ruined because of Mr. Burnham’s heartlessness and treachery. These instances are parts of the set of unequal relationships between the colonizer and the colonized. When blown into right geographical proportions the same kind of problems existed at national and international levels too. The complicated and problematic relationship between the white man and his subjects makes the core of much that is categorized as commonwealth literature. Serang Ali and Zachary Reid are another couple separated by their race. The lascar is behind Zachary’s success in reaching his position, yet he can never be one of the Zikri’s people. There remains a distance between them, although he takes proprietarily pride in his protégé’s ascent. Serang ali’s influence on Zachary Reid is immense and deep. He is the sartorial and behavioural father who completely transformes his unadopted yet own son. He even gives him a new name: Malum Zikri, which means one who remembers. There’s a deep bond between a partially white (or, partially black) Reid and the yellow and brown natives of his lascar crew. It’s not just a coincidence that the only male member of the master race, who is sympathetic with the natives, even to the extent of becoming a part of their community, happens to be an American, and not a British subject. The very danger of his “‘going native’ … [that] encompass[es] lapses from European behaviour, the participation in ‘native’ ceremonies, or the adoption and even enjoyment of local customs in terms of dress, food, recreation and entertainment” that is most feared by the colonizers(Ashcroft 115). As Mr. Doughty tells Zachary, “Mind your Oordoo and Hindee doesn’t sound too good: don’t want the world to
think you’ve gone native” (Ghosh 73). There is a curious inversion of this fear in the native’s mind too. It is best exemplified in the pressure built upon the Europeans regarding the behaviour and dress code they were expected to observe without any margin for deviation. It is this very pressure that forces Paulette to wear her saree clandestinely, only at night when she was away from the censuring eyes of the native servants of Burnham’s, because they expected her to dress and behave following the unwritten and undeclared code of expectation from the master race. It is once more confirmed when she has to speak the variant of English acceptable to Babu Nobo Kissin, Mr. Burnham’s gomasta, and not Bengali that she knew well and that was the Indian’s mother tongue too. The purity of language and culture were very important pieces in the jigsaw puzzle of the Empire in which the work of resin, that bonded all the pieces together, was performed by the racial pride, even chauvinism that resided in the hearts of the master races.

When a particular position becomes precarious and untenable reason is utilized to buttress it. Repeated falsification of truth and invention of facts becomes essential when an unnatural imposition has to be shown as the natural order of the things. History is white washed, revised, reread and re-presented in various ways to support otherwise unsupportable claims and to hold hitherto untenable positions. An element of narration had always been present in history because of one simple reason: even a simple collation of facts has to be made on the basis of some conscious decisions and has to pass through the human medium that invariably alters the content. In Sea of Poppies racialization and rationalization of history are shown at work through dialogues and narrative accounts. Neel’s accidental stumbling upon a theme that would keep Mr. Burnham’s mind fully and enthusiastically occupied – “Free Trade” – also serves to expose things unsaid. He gives a white man a chance to show his superiority – personal and racial – over a brown zamindar. He is happy to announce “When the doors of freedom were close to the African, the Lord opened them to tribe that was yet more needful of it – the Asiatick” (Ghosh 118). The black/brown/yellow races were the subject races to be marginalized and silenced effectively and to be effectively written out of the power discourse. After the slave trade was made illegal, merchants like Mr. Burnham quickly shifted to other lucrative areas. Only one similarity remained between their old and new trades – profit generated out of shameless and inhuman exploitation of the colonies. The Africans were sold as slaves for profit and then the Indians were transported as indentured immigrants to generate capital to be used for supplying opium and finally subjugate the Chinese. Physical, physiological, mental, socio-political and economic subjugation of the native populations was the sole aim of the strongest class in the whole Empire: the merchant class. They had made it appear very natural that the Chinese consumed opium, so much so, that Neel was astonished to hear that the kind of history he knew was totally untrue. Here, the narrator’s subtle intervention must be acknowledged. In his own attempt at revisiting history, he tries to expose the wrongs of the past in his novel. Reason is shown working devilish schemes very transparently in Sea of Poppies.

The pseudoscientific racial theory of the colonizers had been carefully propounded and propagated in order to make the subjection and subjugation appear natural and according to the “binary typology of advanced and backward(subject) races” (Said 206). The legitimation of exploitation was facilitated “by anthropological theories which
increasingly portrayed the peoples of the colonized world as inferior, childlike,
or feminine, incapable of looking after themselves… and requiring the paternal
rule of the west for their own interests(today they are deemed to require
‘development’)” (Young 2). The white man had to shoulder his sacred burden. It was a sacrifice that he had to make. He had to colonize, control, exploit, tyrannize and even kill the black/brown/yellow peoples of the world, in order to civilize them. The white man’s arrogance is reflected unconsciously in the smallest of things. During Neel’s trial, the judge declared that India had been “opened to the benefits of civilization… [the Englishmen were] chosen to burden with the welfare of such races as were still in the infancy of civilization”(Ghosh 349). By the time Neel’s trial ended, it was very clear to him “that in this system of justice it was the English themselves – Mr Burnham and his ilk – who were exempt from the law as it applied to others: it was they who had become the world’s new Brahmins”(Ghosh 353).
The clear cut bipolar division of the world into advanced/backward races went a long way towards convincing the ruler and the ruled races alike. Sea of Poppies treats the theme of postcoloniality with frankness and indicts the ills of the colonial era without mincing any words. There are characters who speak as the writer had been speaking to the media about the factors behind the genesis of his novel. Amitav Ghosh mentioned in his interview with a BBC correspondent, “Opium financed British rule in India”, that he had started Sea of Poppies as the story of indentured immigrants from Bihar. With the growth of the volume of the story history entered it. The indentured immigration from India, that had started in the 1830’s, is shown curiously merging with the Anglo-China opium war and the consolidation of the Raj’s position in Asia. Opium became the medium of strengthening and expanding the Empire, as it was behind the generation of huge revenues that went into the Empire building. In the beginning of their interactions with china, the west was totally at a loss because the Chinese wanted none of their products, whereas, they neede a lot from there. Thus originated a kind of trade that was in favour of the Chinese. It was totally according to the diktats of Free Trade, yet it was unprofitable. So it had to change. Opium became the medium of change when it was insidiously inserted into the Chinese market, legally, and later, against the law of the land. The “trafficking in opium tilted the balance of global trade to benefit the west”(Brook 3). The edicts of the Chinese emperor against opium were proven to be powerless because of the “deadly combination of expanding Chinese demand and skyrocketing British supply. … Lin Zexu was appointed imperial maritime commissioner in 1838 to
stop the opium trade” (Brook 6). His tough measures culminated into the opium war
(1839-42), that ended with a shameful defeat for the Chinese. It was this defeat,
some historians claim, that opened China to the western influence and resulted
into its modernization. Just like some claim that India benefited largely through
its colonization by the British because they gave it the foundation of modern
nationalism and all the basic institutions required to run a state effectively. As
if India was a wilderness, sans any system, before 1757 and it would never have
modernized itself had it not been shamefully and deleteriously exploited by its
colonizers. The other side of the same coin of exploitation was the havoc wreaked on the Indian farmers. This devastation of the economy of two prosperous Asian nations was whitewashed by the white people and even some native historians is shocking.
The gap between the resources of the colonized and the colonizer is not just of economic power and dependence. It spreads into the superstructure and creates two separate spheres of existence. Those who have power “do what their power permits them to do [and] … pretend that it is for some higher cause” (Ghosh 388-89). Maintaining the status quo is in favour of the powerful. They tolerate the socio-political structure of the colonized nations because it benefits them. They actively uphold the native’s rights when it benefits them and at the very next moment show their real selfish motive that lies hidden behind the façade of a civilized system of governance. As Captain Chillingworth clearly points out:

“that in matters of marriage and procreation, like must be with like, and each must keep to their own. The day the natives lose faith in us, as the guarantors of the order of castes – that will be the day, gentlemen, that will doom our rule. This is the inviolable principle on which our authority is based.” (Ghosh 718)

There is no escape for the powerless. Living on the margins is very dangerous. The English sahibs created and controlled the whole power structure. The subaltern didn’t have any voice, right or human status. Thrown on the periphery, he was forced to observe thecentre of power and its functioning from a distance. The peasants of India, who were forced to grow poppy, instead of food grains or vegetables, were exploited to such and extent that they barely
survived and started floating toward marginality and landlessness.
Another theme of the literature of the commonwealth: race engendered sense of inherent superiority (in the master race) and inferiority (in the subject races), is brought forth very clearly and forcefully in Sea of Poppies. Moreover, Ghosh seems to be creating that much wanted space, so that the subaltern can really speak. In a postcolonial twist to the stereotypical perspectives, this Sea of Poppies gives precedence to the perspective of the colonized over that of the colonizer. It’s not because of any bias in the narrative voice but because of the predominance of subject voices that are heard in the polyphony of positions centred on characters portrayed in the form of individual subject consciousnesses. History is revisited and judgement is passed over the power misused to exploit the imperial subjects in the.
Sea of Poppies very clearly and poignantly brings forth one of the main and recurring motifs of the commonwealth fiction: the mechanism of exploitation, in its full detail. It shows how the farmer was exploited and how the agricultural timetable of a nation and the sustainable lifestyle of its people were altered with devastating effects on the economy. Deeti remembers the good old days when the fields “would be heavy with wheat in the winter… now, with the sahibs forcing everyone to grow poppy, no one had thatch to spare… poppy had been luxury then, grown in small clusters between the fields that bore the main winter crop”(Ghosh 42). The vicious cycle of debt that the farmers of the opium belt entered, made any idea of escape impossible. The grain crops and vegetables were not grown. There was only a sea of poppies in all the fields. To feed their families they took more debt and thus they became more confirmed in their state. Opium broke the very
fabric of the society, as was the case when Deeti and Kalua came across the
impoverished transients in Chhapra, “driven from their villages by the flood of
flowers that had washed over the countryside” (Ghosh 298). Hunger pressed them so
much that they were ready to forget all bindings of caste, religion and concern
for life and it safety. They only had one thing in their minds: survival. That’s
why they signed agreements to work on the farms in some unknown lands, even
hazarding to cross “black waters”. If money was the main motive behind the exploitation of the Indian farmer. The same was true in the case of the Chinaman too. He was drowned in the river of smoke, while the white suppliers of opium glibly produced altruistic justifications all the time: “Indeed, humanity demands it. We need only think of the poor Indian peasant – what will become of him if his opium can’t be sold in in China? Bloody hurremzads can hardly eat now: they’ll perish by the crore” (Ghosh 385). The very idealistic Mr. Burnham, the devotee of Free Trade, surprisingly happens to be a very forceful supporter of the English merchant’s right to supply opium to china, even if the Chinese are against it. He sees the Chinese emperor’s edict against opium as halting the “march of human freedom” and, ironically, explains it to a racially mixed Zachary that freedom meant “mastery of the white man” (Ghosh 117). He very happily and confidently expresses his joy at America’s being the last bastion of liberty: because slavery is legal there!
Sea of Poppies is a tale of the effects of racialization and rationalization of history on the subject races: colonized, tormented and exploited. It presents the central concerns of commonwealth (postcolonial) literature very clearly. One of the clearly fore grounded themes is the mechanism of how the pseudoscientific theories of race, with its binary division of backward/advanced race, is translated logically into master/subjest races and then, naturalized and internalized by the ruling and the ruled alike. The novel also presents through its narration and actions and words of prominent characters, how economics drove history of the colonies that were later designated as the Commonwealth. Moreover it also shows how the lust of money and power drives ethics and reason too. Money blinded the exploiters so much that they forgot the tenets of Christianity and liberal humanism. The mechanism of exploitation is presented in its full ghastly detail, sometimes very vividly and graphically. With all these strands of the concerns of eternal nature are woven the strands that belong to a puny individual characters personal quest and destiny. The public and the personal-private elements are artfully annealed to convert them into something rich and strange.
Works Cited
Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin. Key Concepts in Post-Colonial Studies. Routledge: London, 1998. Print.

Boehmer, Elleke and Rosinka Chaudhuri. “Introduction”. The Indian Postcolonial: A Critical Reader. Ed. Elleke Boehmer and Rosinka Chaudhuri. Routledge: New York, 2011. Print.
Brook, Timothy and Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi. “Opium’s History in China”. Opium Regimes: China, Britain and Japan, 1839-1952. ed. Timothy Brook and Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi. Univ. of California Press: Los Angeles, 2000. Print.
Ghosh, Amitav. “Opium financed British rule in India”. BBC News. 23 June 2008. Web. 27 November 2011.
–. Sea of Poppies. 2008. PDF. 27 November 2011.
Larsen , Neil . “Imperialism, Colonialism, Postcolonialism”. A Companion to Postcolonial Studies. ed. Henry Schwarz and Sangeeta Ray. Oxford: 2005, Blackwell. Print.
Roy Chowdhury, Shreya. “Keeping regional literature out has made C’wealth tag lose relevance”. Timesofindia. Oct 9, 2010. Web. 15 December 2011.

Said, Edward W. Orientalism. New York: Vintage, 1979. Print.
Young, Robert J. C. Postcolonialism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: OUP, 2003. Print.

The Postcolonial Global Village and R. Parthasarathy’s Poems

the most reassuring thing

about the past is that it happened. (from “Exile”, 75)

Had the same been the case, life would have been much simpler. Past has ingenious and insidious ways of reaching present and future through its invisible yet powerful tentacles. It resists fading away without leaving traces. It is these traces of the colonial era that make the past of the colonies touch their present – their language being one of the most important traces. English came toIndiawith the East India Company and stayed when they left, as it had taken roots in the soil of the country. Moreover, it remained a privileged language. In fact, it is not just a language inIndia. For the powerless it is their passport to power – a guarantee of better job prospects and upward social mobility. This is not the case just forIndia. Phillipson states that English is promoted as a panacea for economic and social problems at both the nation-state and individual level (27). Thus, after decolonization became a reality from being just a remote possibility, English was welcomed as a positive force that democratized the nations and empowered the powerless. But then, the coin has two faces.

Said’s fusion of Foucault’s discourse theory and Antonio Gramsci’s thoughts on hegemony have heavily theorized the area of thoughts related to the effects of the colonial domination over the socio-cultural structure of the peoples who were colonized and hegemonically controlled through the colonial discourse, defined as a coordinated set of practices, primarily linguistic, that aimed at the “management of colonial relationships”(Hulme, 2). Moreover, it also became the presenter and representer of the non-European world to Europe. Gone are the days when orientalism held the sway. Neo-orientalism rose from its ashes. The stance is present in even the native writers and poets, either consciously or unconsciously. The images of Indiathat Rajagopal Parthasarathy’s poems present are not unilaterally flattering. They also have the rampant poverty and filth in them that orientalism loved to show as a dominant trait of the coloies. Thus, Parthasarathy confirm the image of the other constructed by the Orientalists: “A grey sky oppresses the eyes: │porters, rikshaw-pullers, barbers, hawkers, │fortune-tellers, loungers compose the scene (from “Exile”, 76). [Note: All the lines from “Exile”, “Trial” and “Homecoming” have been taken from Ten Twentieth-Century Indian Poets.]

Said had pointed out how socio-cultural programming is embedded insidiously and invisibly and how it is maintained with the application of “power political… power intellectual, power cultural [and] power moral” (874). Gramsci states that the “whole fabric of society” (276) is imbued with the hues of social programming through coercion or hegemonic ideological control. Postcolonial theory sees colonial discourse’s main propagating force – its culture, e.g. literature and philosophy – as means to social programming. This programming is severely questioned in the scenario arising out of the development of the postcolonial discourse that squarely posits itself against its predecessor – the dominant discourse of colonialism that left its permanent marks on the modern, postcolonial societies. “One significant aspect of the modern world has been the impact and legacy of imperialism, colonial territorial acquisition and control” (Low and Wolfreys, 200). The societies, under the power of their imperial masters, made transition to some form of modernity in a hybridized manner, while they retained their ancient traditions to some extent. Language was a key area of contest where various forces contend to gain cultural ascendancy. Using a language which is not one’s mother tongue is not very conducive for the flourishing of one’s creative faculties and for truly quenching one’s thirst for knowledge, argues Parthasarathy obliquely when he writes: “School was a pretty kettle of fish: │the spoonfuls of English │brew never quite slaked your thirst” (from “Trial”, 78). Here he tries to make a statement, not only about a language, but also about the futility of any attempt at coercive imposition of language use as it is sure to fail. The natural processes of social growth and acquisition of linguistic competence are very unstructured and undesigned in their own unchaotic manner. One’s natural choice happens to be the path of least resistance that is taken by any individual acquiring language skills and getting socialized: “Hand on chin, you grew up, │all agog, on the cook’s succlulent │folklore” (from “Trial”, 78).

One’s roots are deep. That’s why transplanting takes a long time and a lot of effort on the part of the transplanter of cultures: in this case, the colonial powers and their successors. Hegemony is perpetuated through ideology that is culture dependent. Gloria Anzaldua asserts that culture is the reason why we perceive reality as we do. “Dominant paradigms, predefined concepts that exist as unquestionable, unchallengeable, are transmitted to us through the culture” (888). An obvious question arises in response to this: If our perceptions and intellectual processes are heavily determined by our respective cultures, from where comes socio-cultural interrogation? Descartes had the answer when he had asserted cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am). The doubting part of the mind is actually that part of human existence which proves that one actually exists. It is this doubting part of mind that questions the obvious and attempts to look beyond it towards the limpid pool of truth. The colonial discourse provided an array of control factors that could be targeted for opposition after the hegemony of the colonial power was done away with. This explains the propensity and predominance of the interrogating attitude in the postcolonial discourses. Socio-cultural interrogation finds a place of pride in the postcolonial discourse and Parthasarathy’s poems strike home with their apt observations and valid inferences drawn about the master-subject power play: “It’s no use trying │to change people. They’ll be what they are” (from “Exile”, 75). He presents the crumbled empire, the state of the erstwhile powers and the aftermath of decolonization with accuracy when he asserts that “An empire’s last words are heard│on the hot sands of Africa. │The da Gamas, Clives, Dupleixs are back” (from “Exile”, 76). His irreverence seeps out of the membrane of his poem, intentionally or unintentionally. It may also be the proverbial postcolonial reaction, an expression of angst or simply what goes on in a desolate exile’s mind when Parthasarathy observes the finality of impotence of our colonial master race: “Victoria sleeps on her island│alone, an old hag, │shaking her invincible locks” (from “Exile”, 76). This image of the Empress is incongruent with what the tradition of the colonial discourses had firmly established in more than two centuries of domination. Although the right to interrogate such socio-cultural constructs was hotly contested but the actual process had always been acting, albeit unnoticed or silenced. After a long colonial domination and the resultant marginalization, with power concentrated in the hands of the colonial powers and directed upon the colonial subject all the while, the subject was in a very knowledgeable position to take an interrogating stance on things projected as naturalized through practice and our poet does the same. The coin has two sides to it. The counter discourse to the resistance of the subject race’s assertion of national identity is present in his own poems as the question an exile is asked:

If you love your country, he said, why are you here?
Say, you are tired of hearing about
all that wonder-that-was-India crap.
It is tea that’s gone cold: time to brew a fresh pot. (“Remembered Village”)

There are no honest answers to the question that can satisfy rationally, but there are many things in the world of emotions that logic has never heard of. Therefore, the reply is characteristically illogical, yet sound: “But what wouldn’t you give for one or two places in it?” (“Remembered Village”).
The postcolonial discourse addresses the relationship between the erstwhile subject population and the culture and language of the countries that were their colonial masters whose traces remain even after they left. Kolkata is presented as “the city Job Charnock built” (from “Exile”, 77). The problem for a modern creative writer who is using the language of their masters is not a very simple one. Parthasarathy too, faced the situation.

Two of Parthasarthy’s concerns have been what he feels to be the lack of an Indian English and the lack of a tradition in which to write whereas most writers depend on tone and the various social and cultural associations of words. Indian English poets may feel they are working in a foreign language cut off from such roots. (King, 234)

As a solution to this problem, he chose Tamil over English for his original work and as a source language from which to translate into English. Thus he became a part of the long running tradition of Indian English poets that began with Michael Madhusudan Dutt, the IE poet who abandoned English to write in his own language – Bengali. Parthasarathy “initiate[d] a dialogue between himself and the Tamil past” (King, 234). Doing thus, he became a part of the larger debate of regionalism versus assertion of the postcolonial national identity. “In its specific regionalism Parthasarathy’s poetry might be said to express Tamil rather than Indian nationalism” (King, 234). Even then, in the context of the postcolonial discourse, his assertion forms a part of the range of reactions available to the erstwhile subject nation. His poems are indicative of that stage in the life cycle of the postcolonial discourse when the subject successfully asserts his identity and his claims to the master’s language and literature. Parthasarathy himself explains in his preface: “In attempting to formulate my own situation, perhaps I stumbled upon the horns of dilemma. From the beginning I saw my task as one of acclimatizing the English language to an indigenous tradition (9).” The poet is conscious of the hiatus between the soil of the language he uses and his own roots. Parthasarathy admits in his Preface to Rough Passage; “Even though I am Tamil specking and yet write in English, there is the over whelming difficulty of using image in a linguistic tradition that is quite other than that of my own (9).” He advises Indian English Poets to return to their respective linguistic traditions. In this he is similar to the writers like Soyinka and Achebe from the continent ofAfrica, who react against the forced homogenization brought about by the hegemonic control of the forces of globalization and seek to go back to the oral indigenous tradition. This countercurrent in literature is a part of the larger post-colonial discourse. English being the language of the colonialist forces from whom their countries had won freedom painfully, these writers passed through three stages: unquestioned acceptance and imitation, partial questioning and alteration and rejection and creation of new forms of literature that they had inherited from their colonial masters. They are not the sole representatives of their countrymen or culture. They only represent a set that has chosen one way. The other set with different choices has writers that are “de-rooted and have to cure this handicap through ‘a cultural imagery,’ trying to overcome their fear of not belonging anywhere and nowhere. The writer adopts a caricatured identity…as ‘World’s Citizen,’” (Boneza).

Parthasarathy has a very acute sensibility and he is fully aware of his individual past and that of his nation’s collective consciousness when he exclaims about himself: “He had spent his youth whoring │after English gods” (from “Exile”, 75). His position is special because he had lived among his people and also among those who see him and his people as others – “‘coloureds’ is what they call us” (from “Exile”, 75). English is the language in which he has been intellectually active and comfortable but Tamil is his mother tongue, his root, the language of his emotional structure. He has to return. The question is – when? He faces the classic dilemma of a postcolonial bilingual poet in which a choice has to be made between English and his mother tongue. For him English is not a neutral entity. It is not just a language as it belonged to the master race once, and his mother tongue definitely has the first claim over his creative faculties. Moreover, it suffuses his mind and being in such a manner that it affects his whole creative output immensely. The loss of identity and the logistics of returning to one’s roots is a common phenomenon that is also present in Parthasarathy’s poems. Despite all his difficulties he did return to his mother tongue: “My tongue in English chains,│I return, after a generation, to you” (from “Homecoming”, 80). Yet what he found on his return did not conform to what he had expected on his return. The pristine and puissant Tamil of classical antiquity that the poet yearns for will never be his. His language has been contaminated and “tired”. It is “hooked on celluloid” and is “Wrenched from its sleep in the Kural,│teeth, palate, lips still new │to its agglutinative touch” (from “Homecoming”, 80).

Art, in all its forms, has always been a product of human mind processes, and the mind processes aren’t totally independent of the effects of the stimuli coming from the world out there. Human actions are affected by their milieu − social, political, economic and cultural − and affect the milieu in their turn. Thus, literature has a reciprocal relationship with the people and systems of its own time and before and after it. The degree and extent of the circles of influence in which the production, dissemination and reception of literature fall have been changing in types and radii with the changing times. In a span of less than a hundred years, the world and kind of literature it produces have undergone a sea change. Parthasarathy’s journey from English to Tamil and then towards an assimilation that can house both symbiotically is indicative of a globalized world that is coming out of the shadow of its colonial past, giving birth to an international literature. Rushdie had put forth in his article entitled “In Defense of the Novel Yet Again,” published in the special issue of The New Yorker that the kind of novel that globalization has given birth to is  “postcolonial … decentered, transnational, interlingual, [and]cross-cultural” (qtd. in Al-Azm, 47) Leevi Lehto writes about such poetry’s having:

independence vis-à-vis National Literatures, including institutionally […]; mixing of languages; borrowing of structures – rhythmical, syntactical – from other languages; writing in one’s non-native languages; inventing new, ad hoc languages; conscious attempts to write for more heterogeneous, non-predetermined audiences… (qtd. in Vriezen).

A close look at Partasarathy’s poems will reveal the assimilation of heterogeneous cultural indicators at work. Past and present cultural impacts fuse to generate a future that has a place for both. In the life of an exile the cultural indicator of India, Ravi Shankar, shares space with the products of the western civilization: “cigarette stubbs, empty bottles of stout │and crisps” (from “Exile”, 75). Although it is not a synthesis and the co-habitation is uneasy and short-lived in this specific instance, yet, it directs one towards a solution of sorts. It conceals in itself one of the many dimensions of a possible future of the erstwhile subject in the postcolonial era.

 

 

 

Works Cited

Al-Azm, Sadik J. “The Satanic Verses Post Festum: The Global, The Local, The Literary”. Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East. vol. XX Nos. 1&2 (2000). n.d. cssaame.com. Web. 15 March 2011.

Anzaldua, Gloria. “Borderlands/La Frontera ”. Literary Theory: an Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan.Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1998. Print.

Boneza, Rais Neza. “Ghettoization or Globalization Of African Literature”. author-me.com . 2006. Web. 15 March 2011.

Gramsci, Antonio. “Hegemony”. Literary Theory: an Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan.Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1998. Print.

Hulme, Peter. Colonial Encounters: Europe and the Native Carribbean 1490-1797.London:Methuen, 1986. Print.

King, Bruce. Modern Indian Poetry in English. O.U.P.:New Delhi, 1987. Print.

Low, Gail Ching-Liang and Julian Wolfreys. “Postcolonialism and the difficulty of difference”. Introducing Literary Theory: A Guide and Glossary. Ed. Julian Wolffreys.New Delhi: Atlantic, 2005. Print.

Parthasarathy, R. “Remembered Village”. n.d. drunkenboat.com. Web. 14 April 2011.

—.  Rough Passage. O.U.P:New Delhi, 1977. Print.

—. Ten Twentieth-Century Indian Poets. Ed. R. Parthasarathy. New Delhi:Oxford, 1977. Print.

Phillipson, R. “Linguistic Imperialism”. Dunford Seminar Report. London, British Council. 1991. Print.

Said, Edward. “Orientalism”. Literary Theory: an Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan.Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1998. Print.

Vriezen, Samuel. “Globalization in Literature – Vierde Column Voor Vooys”. Vooys. issue 27-4, December 2009. Web. 15 March 2011.

 

The Structural Role of Iago in Othello

There are two main sets of players in drama that form the core of all action – the protagonists and the antagonists. Their pushes and counter pushes are behind both the initiation and the development of the main and sub plots. About Shakespeare’s plots it is said:

His plots, whether historical or fabulous, are always crowded with incidents, by which the attention of a rude people was more easily caught than by sentiment or argumentation; and such is the power of the marvellous, even over those who despise it, that every man finds his mind more strongly seized by the tragedies of Shakespeare than of any other writer; others please us by particular speeches, but he always makes us anxious for the event (Johnson 136).

In many tragedies, the antagonists appear to be the root of not only all evil, but also of all action. As the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics puts it, “villains in tragedy choose their mighty victims, and like the fates, appear to manipulate the machinery of the plot to destroy them with appalling ingenuity” (861).  They are known by their structurally central role of driving the action while being pitted firmly against the protagonist. They are, many a time, not only the initiators but also the prime movers of all important action. Due to their central importance in furthering the action, villains become very important for the development of plot wherever they are present, even when they have a minor role to play as that of Oswald in King Lear. It is about characters like Iago that Sitwell commented: “Certain characters in Shakespeare have the grandeur and loneliness of a pariah sun in a heaven of evil, casting down disastrous rays upon all alike, breeding new forms of life from primeval mud” (17).

Amongst all the villains of Shakespeare’s tragedies, the most important originator and mover of actions against an ever trusting and unsuspecting hero, the most cunningly dangerous and dangerously dissembling villain is Iago. He is a “complex and credible figure” (Stewart 294). He is present in Othello from the first scene of the first act to the last scene of the last act, barring two scenes only. He generally very actively controls, or is involved in, most of the scenes. He controls firmly the action of the whole play and its protagonists too. He does that mainly with his own evil genius, with some help from fortune, his wife Emilia, his pawn Roderigo and the basic nature of the protagonists.

Iago manipulates Roderigo thoroughly and uses him to perform many dirty tasks of his. He uses Emilia to get the inside information and that crucial handkerchief which starts a chain of events terminating into a catastrophe for the protagonists. He works on Othello’s trusting nature and controls him so much that he runs the Moor’s family life, career, emotional stability, and, to his own eyes, even his honour. Cassio crosses Iago’s path unintentionally and pays its price without any fault of his own. Desdemona is inconsequential and expendable for Iago. Although he is not free of lust for her, he is not a man to be moved by anything but his prime motive in the play which is his revenge. Desdemona just happens to be a convenient tool that served the great evil schemer’s purpose well. There are many other characters like Brabantio with whose lives Iago plays as the action proceeds.

In this play the villain is the sun around whom all the characters revolve through his control of their actions. “He is to be understood as the mere source of motive power whose function is to bring the seed of death … to maturity…” (Murry 318). Therefore, Iago is the central force that drives the plot forth and makes the action progress. As the action of the play starts Iago is seen reasoning with Roderigo.

Rod. Thou told’st me thou didst hold him in thy hate.

Iago. Despise me, if I do not. Three great ones of the city,

In personal suit to make me his lieutenant,

Off-capp’d to him; and, by the faith of man,

I know my price, I am worth no worse a place.

But he,..

“I have already chose my officer.”

…One Michael Cassio, a Florentine (Oth. 1.1.6-12; 16-20),

Thus are mentioned for the first time Iago’s two main enemies against whom he’ll spin his lethal silken web of lies and deceit and then will destroy them. He tells Roderigo that he follows Othello with some plan of his own and then takes over the reins. He instructs Roderigo and accompanies him to rouse Brabantio to inform him that his daughter Desdemona has eloped with Othello. Being what he is, Iago safely withdraws from the scene of forthcoming action as he can not accompany Brabantio’s party or be seen with Roderigo. Till this point of the play all action originates in and is controlled by Iago, while his pawn Roderigo functions exactly as previously planned.

In the second scene of the play Iago is seen by Othello’s side as his trusted ancient, proving his loyalty to him, also proving the gentleness of his nature. While doing all this he is also provoking Othello against Brabantio imperceptibly. He fails to provoke the noble Moor against his father-in –law but upholds the Iago myth – that of his being an honest man. Iago tries but fails in controlling the action of this scene because of Othello’s immense reserve, nobility and self-control. Still, Iago is a major participant in this scene too. Thus he lays down the framework of all action that will take place till the end of the play, with few fine alterations he himself will make for efficiency of execution. Iago appears Godlike in his planning of actions and control of the plot.

The action shifts fromVenicetoCyprusin the second act. Iago has more free space for his manipulative tactics here because here he can fool most of the people most of the times as he is new to many of them. He begins immediately. In the first long scene all the central characters interact and a lot of space is provided for the development of action. He keeps on dissembling so consistently that most of the action is made possible through his success in making others see only the Iago he wanted to project. Once he is left alone with his stooge Roderigo, he pushes the pace of action up and in the direction he wants it to take. As his first step, he proves it to Roderigo that Desdemona loves Cassio. His cynical talk with an alternative interpretation to Cassio’s innocent smile, whisper and a parting kiss to Desdemona gives Roderigo hope to live and function on Iago’s detailed instructions. Although in this phase Iago is not very sure of his next step. He only plans to use Cassio’s own fault of losing his senses under alcohol’s effect against him. Once he is alone, Iago reveals the real reason for removing Cassio from his way. It is to replace him in the general’s service. Iago is the most important element affecting the action of this scene. Moreover, he pushes the overall actions to a heightened pitch.

The success of Iago’s plan depends on Cassio’s getting drunk and the third scene of the second act begins with Iago’s maliciously leading an unwilling Cassio towards his doom by making him drunk. He makes Cassio neglect his duty on his night watch and then fills Montano’s mind with wrong information. He tells Montano that Othello knew Cassio’s vice that he overlooked and made him his lieutenant. Montano is convinced and believes every falsehood Iago parades as the absolute truth. This small set of foundational steps leads Montano to stand against a drunk Cassio following Roderigo and he is hurt fighting. The well tutored Roderigo disappears completely from the scene of action the moment he could outrun Cassio and then follows Iago’s instruction to “go out and cry a mutiny”. When Othello appears on the scene of the crime Iago lets out the impression that he is totally unwilling to speak:

I had rather have this tongue cut from my mouth

Than it should do offense to Michael Cassio;

Yet, I persuade myself, to speak the truth

Shall nothing wrong him (Oth. 2.3.213-16)

Forced by his noble ideals Iago finally reports the “truth” to Othello trying all the while to appease him and save Cassio’s career. This enrages Othello to the extreme and precipitates prompt removal of the lieutenant from his position. One of his targets achieved, Iago sets himself immediately to achieve another by consoling Cassio and suggesting him the best possible way out of his present unbearable fall from grace. His plan is the best and Cassio willingly lets himself be led by his biggest enemy with full faith in him.

Iago’s knowledge of human nature and his creative problem solving skills help him forward his cause by apparently helping others again and again. Iago’s plans start bearing tangible fruits for him and he commands the full trust and attention of all the central characters after this scene till nearly the end of the last scene of the play. He leads one action after another very rapidly to its completion and thus leads the plot towards its climax. His ability to dissimulate for successful manipulation makes everything easy for him till he is exposed as a villain. At the end of the scene he spells out the line of action very lucidly, as if he could see the future:

…For whiles this honest fool

Plies Desdemona to repair his fortune,

And she for him pleads strongly to the Moor,

I’ll pour this pestilence into his ear,

That she repeals him for her body’s lust;

And by how much she strives to do him good,

She shall undo her credit with the Moor.

So will I turn her virtue into pitch,

And out of her own goodness make the net

That shall enmesh them all (Oth. 2.3.342-51).

Whatever this strangely and incongruously prophetic soul expresses becomes the truth very shortly, as if Iago were omniscient and omnipresent in the small world of the play; the writer of everybody’s fate and actions.

The third act is the culmination and fruition of Iago’s master plan. The first scene has Cassio falling neatly in line with Iago’s plan on his own accord. He requests Iago to get Emilia’s help to meet Desdemona alone so that he can convince her to plead for him to the Moor. His request is readily granted and Iago also assures to keep Othello away while Cassio talked to Desdemona. He has his own plans and the locus of control of all action lies in him once more. Iago sends Cassio with Emilia to Desdemona in the third scene and has played the part of a concerned friend so well that Emilia tells her mistress’ “Good madam, do. I warrant it grieves my husband / As if the case were his” (Oth. 3.3.3-4). As Cassio sees Othello coming he leaves hastily and Iago gets his chance. “Ha! I like not that” (Oth. 3.3.35), says Iago. Thus begins a series of questions and answers that make an unwilling Iago reveal the truth to Othello while trying to avoid doing so all the time. Now he has his biggest prize. He has the mind of the hero in his clutches and has the power to affect his actions. Thus he has become the most powerful person inCyprus, de facto, if not de jure. He sows the seeds of suspicion in Othello’s mind by apparently speaking against his own suspicions. He calls Cassio honest and proves otherwise. He calls Desdemona virtuous but also says that she had betrayed her father so cunningly, thus leading Othello to the obvious conclusion that she may, nay, will betray him too.

One central trait of the Elizabethan drama is very prominently present in Othello, as the “essential structure of the Elizabethan drama lies not in narrative or the characters but in the words”, the core of the drama was built on words (Bradbrook 5). Iago’s character controls the play through his command over language. Iago’s mastery over both language and human psychology helps him further his intended actions towards their completion. The biggest possible help Iago could get from his fortune came in the form of the handkerchief Othello had given to Desdemona. Desdemona drops it and Emilia brings it to her husband “to please his fantasy”, as he had always asked her to do so. Iago, who knows that “Trifles light as air / Are to the jealous confirmations strong / As proofs of holy writ” (Oth. 3.3.326-28), produces it as the ocular evidence Othello asked for to take action against the supposed culprits. This ocular proof was crucial because Othello had warned Iago that his life was in danger if he failed to produce it. Thus comes a very crucial point in the plot’s development and the villain is only one step away from the final push towards the endgame. Iago’s method is very subtle as he first talks of a handkerchief spotted with strawberries that he had seen Cassio wiping his face beard with. Actually Iago had dropped the handkerchief in Cassio’s chamber for a “special purpose” (Oth. 5.2.325), as he confessed to Cassio at the end. This planting of elements to gain a targeted end is a common device used by some very dangerous evil minds in Shakespeare’s tragedies. Aaron does it through the incriminating letter, using Tamora as his agent and Cassius does it through the fabricated letters to Brutus. Both these instances play crucial role in the progress of not only the evil schemes of these villains but also the overall action of the play. What happens to Othello’s mind is described by Coleridge in his Table Talks:

Jelousy does not strike me as the point in his passion; I take it to be

rather an agony that the creature, whom he had believed angelic, with whom he had garnered up his heart, and whom he could not help still loving, should be proved impure and worthless. It was the struggle not to love her. It was a moral indignation and regret that virture should so fall… (1)

Thus arises in Othello “black vengeance, from hell” and Iago commits his full support to his general. Othello entrusts Iago with the important task of killing Cassio within three days. Iago, bound by his solemn pledge agrees to kill his friend Cassio but requests Othello to let Desdemona live. With this stroke of his manipulative genius, Iago makes Othello sign Desdemona’s death sentence. He finally gets half of what he had set out for. Othello makes him his lieutenant but the best is yet to come. In the next scene Iago is working Cassio’s mind and asking him to press his cause with Desdemona while she has tried and failed as Othello talks of nothing but the handkerchief Desdemona has lost.

In the fourth act Iago lays an elaborate trap for the Moor, in which he will also catch Cassio and Desdemona. He asks Othello to watch him talk to Cassio from a distance. He says:

For I will make him tell the tale anew,

Where, how, how oft, how long ago, and when

He hath and is again to cope your wife.

I say, but mark his gesture (Oth. 4.1.84-87).

He talks to Cassio about Bianca. Othello sees his free gestures and laughter and interprets them to be meant for his Desdemona. The clinching evidence is presented when Bianca enters the scene brandishing Othello’s handkerchief that Cassio had given her to jealously return it end exits demanding his presence at supper. One stage of Iago’s plan is complete at this point but he does not stop with only this success. Even amidst such active confusion Iago furthers his cause by exhorting Cassio to follow Bianca and assuring that Cassio will be with her at night where he says he’ll meet him. Actually he intends to execute his plan of getting Cassio killed through the agency of Roderigo. Before that he has to work on Othello’s jealous mind to make him take the concluding violent act, his final solution to all te problems. Iago’s control over the Moor is such that he actually overrides all the alternatives for Desdemona’s murder to put forth his solution which is to “strangle her in her bed, even the bed / she hath contaminated” (Oth. 4.1.203-04). In this very scene Iago is seen repeating his habitual act of misrepresentation to disparage and harm others. On Lodovico’s asking him about the true nature of Othello after having seen him mistreating Desdemona severely, Iago characteristically replies:

It is not honesty in me to speak

What I have seen and known. You shall observe him,

And his own courses will denote him so

That I may save my speech. Do but go after,

And mark how he continues (Oth. 4.1.274-78).

Thus, once more, the honest Iago damns his victim despite staying nobly tight lipped and noncommittal.

The second scene of the fourth act presents the crowning glory to Iago’s dissimulation when Desdemona orders Emilia to call her husband after Othello insulted and shocked her by calling her a whore. Iago is the “eternal villain” Emilia suspects behind Desdemona’s misfortunes (Oth. 4.2.131). Yet no one suspects him while he allays all their fears and blames it all to Othello’s disturbed state of mind due to the business of the state. Thus he forestalls all possible measures they could have taken. Later on Iago starts one more important action by instructing a hitherto discontent Roderigo in the violent act of the night to come.

In the last act  the action moves very fast towards the end, but the end turns out to be very different from what Iago had planned. Iago tutors Roderigo in cowardice by asking him to strike at Cassio in the dark. Roderigo attempts the murder but fails and lies wounded along with Cassio whom both Roderigo and a hidden Iago had wounded. Thus Iago performs his first physically verifiable evil action, that too, without any witness to prove he did so. Cassio, Iago’s victim, never suspects him as Iago returns to the scene of crime right in front of Lodovico and Gratiano. He comes to help his friend Cassio and on seeing his state gets so enraged that he kills Roderigo. He then implicates Bianca in all that has happened with Cassio and then has a clear foreboding of the future as he says, “This is the night / That either makes me or fordoes me quite” (Oth. 5.1.128-29).

The last scene of the last act is the culmination of Iago’s successful career followed by its termination after his exposure. Othello kills his beloved Desdemona with his own hands and then commits suicide on finding her innocent and Iago’s revenge is complete. Yet Iago fails as his wife reveals his true nature and his crime of using the stolen handkerchief to fabricate a false case against innocent Desdemona. He tries his best to silence her but is too late in killing her as she has told everyone about him already. Killing Emilia inn full view of everyone is Iago’s first rash act and this one delayed act cost him his success and happy life. Till he is exposed he controls the movement of the plot to a large extent. All the people who acted even with their own free will were given their free actions either through unconscious implant of the seed ideas or as direct and strongly backed suggestions by their benefactor Iago. At all the crucial junctures where action needs a definite direction and push, Iago is always present with all the right reasons and justifications for those he makes work for his selfish gains. Iago is shown as the playwright of the action in the play – Shakespeare’s partial image in the world he populated with the progenies of his pen. No villain, in no other tragedy of Shakespeare has so completely controlled the action of the play from the beginning till the end. Macbeth and Edmund are rivals to Iago in their control of action around them and Macbeth registers a continuous albeit not as strong presence as Iago does. Yet, even these two great villains stand nowhere when Iago’s nearly absolute control over the action of both characters and the play are concerned. The other villains contribute to the overall action (Macbeth) or control the action in a major sub-plot(Edmund) but they pale in front of Iago who stays with the main action that actually originates in his mind. He has full faith in his cause and knows that he has the powers to achieve his ends using means that are basically evil. In this he stands with Edmund, the villainous bastard son of the Earl of Gloucester in King Lear. Both assume central importance in the action of the plays they are present in. both are not the most powerfully placed persons as the play begins, but by the end of the play they are the most powerful determiners of action as they command the actions of many major characters of the plays – both antagonists and protagonists.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Bradbrook, M. C. Themes and Conventions of Elizabethan Tragedy. New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 1979. Print.

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. Specimens of the Table Talk.London: John Murray,1837. Print.

Johnson, Samuel. “Preface to octavo edition”. Famous Introductions to Shakespeare’s Plays. Ed. Beverley Warner.New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1906. Print.

Murry, John Middleton. Shakespeare.London:JonathanCape, 1959. Print.

Preminger, Alex et.al.eds. Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics.London:Princeton, 1975. Print.

Shakespeare, William. William Shakespeare: The Complete Works. New Delhi: Oxford and IBH Publishing Co. Ltd., 1980. Print.

Sitwell, Edith. A Notebook on William Shakespeare.London; Macmillan, 1965. Print.

Stewart, J. L. M. “Shakespeare’s Men and their Morals”. Shakespeare Criticism. Sel. Anne Ridler.London: OUP, 1970. Print.

Sea of Poppies: A Postcolonial Critique of the Past

Amitav Ghosh mentioned in his interview with a BBC correspondent that he had started Sea of Poppies as the story of indentured immigrants from Bihar. As the story grew in volume and scope, history entered it. The indentured immigration had started in the 1830’s, at the end of the decade came the opium war with China and the firm establishment of the opium based trade of the Raj. It was no coincidence, points out Ghosh in the same interview, that they had to leave merely twenty years after the opium trade stopped. Thus ended the cycle that had started with Warren Hastings’ coming up with the idea of balancing the trade deficit of the East India Company with China. The “trafficking in opium tilted the balance of global trade to benefit the west”( Brook 3). It went on for some time but then the Chinese emperor tried to stop it all. The edicts of the Chinese government against opium were proven powerless
because of the “deadly combination of expanding Chinese demand and skyrocketing
British supply… Lin Zexu was appointed imperial maritime commissioner in 1838 to
stop the opium trade” (Brook 6). His tough measures culminated into the opium war
(1839-42), that ended with a shameful defeat for the Chinese. It was this defeat,
some historians claim, that opened China to the western influence and resulted
into its modernization. Just like some claim that India benefited largely through
its colonization by the British because they gave it the foundation of modern
nationalism and all the basic institutions required to run a state effectively. As
if India was a wilderness, sans any system, before 1757 and it would never have
modernized itself had it not been shamefully and deleteriously exploited by its
colonizers. The other side of the same coin of exploitation was the havoc wreaked on the Indian farmers. This devastation of the economy of two prosperous Asian nations was whitewashed by the White and even some native historians is shocking. Ghosh had critiqued the colonial exploitation – past and present – in his essays too. The Ibis trilogy is possibly his most vehement indictment of the scourge of imperialism and colonialism. Ghosh had pointed out in “Imperial Temptation” that “[c]ontrary to popular belief, empire is by no means a strictly conservative project: Historically it as always held just as much appeal to liberals”.

Ibis of the novel was a ship built to transport slaves. After the formal abolition of slavery it was acquired by Burnham Bros. to carry opium from India to China. It gave a new
identity, consciousness, nay life, to all the main characters of the novel. There are several intertwining strands of lives that are shown being lived in Ghosh’s universe: Sea of Poppies. Zachary’s conversion into a gentleman is very ironical in itself. The irony is compounded by
the fact that the biggest force behind his conversion is Serang Ali – the man with
a shady past. It is an atavistic revisiting of Pip’s great expectations coming
through a convict – his fairy godfather – whom he finds so revolting that he plans
to deny himself the very advantages that he had accrued because of his benefactor.
Although, Pip starts liking Magwitch by the end, the patterning of emotions and
events has been reversed in this novel, as Zachary likes his benefactor in the
beginning, only to renounce him at the end. The person who was a pirate in the past appears to be a saint in comparison to Mr. Burnham, the real pirate and a prototypical colonial, in fact, its stereotype in the novel.

Economics drives history. It’s very clearly brought out in this novel. Zachary realized
it in his very first trip to Mauritius. Slavery being abolished, farms needed
coolies fromIndia now to be kept profitably running. Chillingworth, the Captain of Ibis, very perceptively pointed it out that the kind of trade they called free was only for the benefit of the white man, and in no way was it going to help the Chinaman. His final pronouncement on his race is very apt:

The truth is, sir, that men do what their power permits them to do. We are no different from the Pharaohs or the Mongols: the difference is only that when we kill people we feel compelled to pretend that it is for some higher cause. It is this pretence of virtue, I promise you, that will never be forgiven by history.’ (388-89)

 

The whole power structure was the creation of the English sahibs. The subaltern was structurally written out of the discourse and had no say in taking decisions that altered his
life for good. Exploitation had reached to such an extent that the farmer barely
survived and started floating toward marginality and landlessness. One would expect that an enlightened member of the white race would be just in his dealings with the colonized peoples. This did not happen to be the case with the Captain. He very strongly opposed Kalua’s running away with Deeti, as he clearly told Zachary. The reasons he gave for it were quite stereotypically British and he is very proud of following and justifying his country’s way of dealing with the unjust systems prevalent among the native populations. There was an unwritten and unspoken pact between the rulers and the ruled: “that in matters of marriage and procreation, like must be with like, and each must keep to their own. The day the natives lose faith in us, as the guarantors of the order of castes – that will be the day, gentlemen, that will doom our rule. This is the inviolable principle on which our authority is based”(718).

The exploitation of the colonized peoples and the total devastation of the
agricultural timetable, economy and sustainable cycle of their life have been very
clearly highlighted in this novel. Deeti reminisces about the good old days when
the fields “would be heavy with wheat in the winter… now, with the sahibs forcing
everyone to grow poppy, no one had thatch to spare… poppy had been luxury then,
grown in small clusters between the fields that bore the main winter crop”(42). The
imposition of an alien crop and crop cycle in just the span of one generation
converted the whole landscape and ruined the lives of the poor farmers of the
gangetic belt. The area under opium cultivation increased exponentially it soon engulfed all the land that was arable. Yet the Englishman pushed the native farmer even harder for cultivating even more opium. The same Englishman pushed the Chinese towards hell too, giving altruistic justifications all the time: “Indeed, humanity demands it. We need only think of the poor Indian peasant – what will become of him if his opium can’t be sold in China? Bloody hurremzads can hardly eat now: they’ll perish by the crore” (385). Opium, the powerful economic force, was a very potent drug too. It controlled human brains and lead to addiction. Those who controlled the production and supply of opium also controlled its slaves. “Opium’s addictiveness has proved irresistible to buyers, profitable to producers
and dealers, alluring to states…so much power vested in one simple substance”(
Brook 1). As Bahram very shrewdly explained in River of Smoke to his father-in-law: “Opium is…completely useless unless you’re sick, but still people want it. And it is such a thing that once people start using it they can’t stop; the market just gets larger and larger”(90).It is this nature of opium that made it appealing to both the controllers and the controlled. Through it the British enslaved many a Chinese, and thus Deeti had rendered her mother-in-law helpless and harmless. Its effect went a long way in creating the long lasting and vivid images of the “affemkhor”, both Indian and Chinese, in the novel and in history. It fit snugly into the set of traits attributed to the orient, viz. effeteness, excess, effeminacy etc., as Young points out:

Colonial and imperial rule was legitimated by anthropological theories which
increasingly portrayed the peoples of the colonized world as inferior, childlike,
or feminine, incapable of looking after themselves… and requiring the paternal
rule of the west for their own interests(today they are deemed to require
‘development’) (2).

 

The orient was sustained by Mr Doughty’s of the empire. Its idea was such that
appeared very natural and unobjectionable to the oriental subject himself and thus
was he interpellated – unconsciously, strongly and deeply. The white man did not
accept the native who tried to break free of the stereotype. Raja Neel Rattan
Haldar had received a liberal anglicized education and had become a gentleman in
his own fashion. The comments he got confirm the way the stereotyping worked: “one
thing I can’t abide it’s a bookish native” and “Wait till you hear the barnshoot
bucking in English – like a bunder reading from The Times”(30). Mr. Doughty’s views
also extend to the area of maintenance of white man’s distance. He advises Mr
Reid: “Mind your Oordoo and Hindee doesn’t sound too good: don’t want the world to
think you’ve gone native”(73).

Curiously but predictably enough, the native population in the novel expects a certain set
of external and inernal attributes from the white men and women, their masters.
That’s why Paulette has to wear saree very secretly and then change into European clothes so that the servants of the house do not see her wearing one. Stereotypes play a very important role in sustaining systems and erason, the two edged sword is used effectively by both the exploiters and the exploiters in the novel.  As a copybook example of propagating stereotypes, a white man educates a novice: “In the good old days people used to say there were only two things to be exported
fromCalcutta: thugs and drugs or opium and coolies as some would have it”(113). Another white man has already benefited from both. Benjamin Burnham planned to make money out of transporting coolies and use the capital thus generated to supply opium toChina. He is irked at the resistance of the Chinese authorities and sure that they can be “made to understand the benefits of Free Trade”(117). Ibis is to be used as a slaver despite the British law’s being against it. Mr. Burnham sees it as halting the “march of human freedom” and explains it to a racially mixed Zachary that freedom meant “mastery of the white man” (117). It is ironical because Zachary had left theUSA because the whites there would not allow the black and mulatto workers survive: as an injured Freddy Douglass had told him. Then Mr. Burnham praises theUnited States of America as the “last bastion of liberty …[as] slavery’ll be safe inAmerica for a while yet ”(118). “When the doors of freedom were close to the African, the Lord opened them to tribe that was yet more needful of it – the Asiatick”(118). The real extent of the Asiatic’s exploitation in the hands of the Imperialist powers can be glimpsed in mere data given as: “the contents of those few sheds[of Ghazeepore Carcana] …were worth several million pound sterling and could buy a good part of the city ofLondon”(134). The working conditions in these factories made hell appear soft. Life was a walking and half waking, yet interminable nightmare.

 

The exploiter-exploited relation in the novel is not limited just between the two races. Class and Caste are very prominent factors in the novel. Neel finds the names of the foreigners confusing because they don’t reveal their social origins and status to him, unlike his own countrymen, whose names reveal their religion, caste and village. Yet, he is not aware of the kind of caste system prevalent in the white man’s land – the social segregation and discrimination based on colour. Its internalization by the disadvantaged races is clearly and ironically revealed in Zachary’s comment: “I’m not a mulatto, Mr Crowle. My mother was a quadroon and my father white. That makes me a metif” (753).

 

The colonial’s view of the native’s freedom have been strangely the same, be it Australia, the USAor in Asiaof the novel: “It is the unanimous opinion of all of us who do business there that the mandarins cannot be allowed to have their way”(166). To Neil’s apparently naïve question: “But surely we can offer Chinasomething more useful than opium?”(166), comes the reply: “there is nothing they want from us…but we…can’t do without their tea and their silks. If not for opium, the drains of silver from Britainto her colonies would be too great to sustain”(167). Once more, how one’s view of time in history is constructed is clearly reflected in Neel’s question: “But China’s hunger for opium dates back to antiquity, does it not?” and the answer dispels all myths – “It’s happened almost within living memory – for which we owe a sincere vote of thanks to the likes of Mr Burnham”(167).  It was the Europeans who, like they had done in Africa and Americas, had corrupted the natives with intoxicants that would enslave them. “Recreational consumption of opium in Chinawas initiated by the Dutch
and English who laced tobacco with opium… to trick Chinese out of their money” (
Brook 6). “But Mr Burnham! Are you saying the British Empire will go to war to force opium onChina?” asks Neel in dismay and the enlightening reply that he gets in response is ideology in live action(171). Mr. Burnham now falls back on the abstract principle of freedom of trade and of the people ofChina, and there should be free trade in opium as in any other commodity.

The white man takes his burden very seriously and as a responsibility that God Himself has put on his shoulders. This idea drives him and it needs a screen of ideology for legitimation. Freedom of all as a birth right was invented as an ideology because mere monetary concerns driving man make him appear mercenary. It is Mr. Burnham who later reveals the real reason behind the imposition of the consumption of opium on China: the sustenance of the British rule in Indiarested on opium, so much so, that the Company’s annual gains from opium equaled the revenue of the US. But then, the demagogue inside him pushes the merchant aside to present the case differently by supporting the motto: “Jesus Christ is Free Trade and Free Trade is Jesus Christ” (173). It was not uncommon to that age, as laissez faire was the favoured liberal mode of economic system and they had full faith in the power of the invisible hand that finally removed all iniquity and irrationality despite the capriciousness of individuals.

Religion makes a heady concoction with the greed of the powerful. Such has been the case since the time of the Pharaohs. It is religion that is again called in to buttress the arguments that were hitherto chiefly rational: “If it’s God’s will that opium be used as an instrument to open China to his teachings, then so be it ”(173). Moreover, opium also happens to be a gift of benevolence that the Englishman must bestow upon his Chinese brethren, even if it has to be done against the wishes of the Manchu tyrant. The reason behind it being that opium gives morphine, codeine and narcotics along with laudanum and “it is opium that has made the age of progress and industry possible”(174). Moreover, the wholesale corruption of the Chinese way of life is blamed upon the morally and physically weak Chinese, and the “antidote for addiction lies not in bans enacted by Parliaments and emperors, but in the individual conscience”(174). Naked lust for wealth is justified by shifting blames: “It is tyranny alone that is to blame for Chinese degeneracy, Sir. Merchants like myself are but the servants of Free Trade, which is as immutable as God’s commandments”(175). The lust for material advantage being rationally justified ex post facto is nothing new. History lives on and resurfaces, exposing the real human nature in instances like the American invasion ofIraq in the recent times.

The Orient was first created and then perpetuated through a process of incubation that was long and insidiously subtle. The person in the subject position was interpellated with success and became a willing party to the spread of the same ideology that was the crux of his own exploitation. Paulette’s hiding her sari that she wore while sleeping was because the servants of Bethel“held strong views on what was appropriate for Europeans”(184). They would not accept any aberration from the stereotypes propagated by the ruling race, because they had internalized them as natural order of the things. Mr. Burnham’s gomasta Baboo Nobokrishna Panda preferred communicating in English when with the white people; he had even an anglicized name for them to use. All these natives did was to please their masters and to survive. When it was difficult for the white man to dominate the natives, as was the case in the imperial China, he used opium to “intoxicate, impoverish and demoralize” them ( Brook 2). Marx called opium trade “free trade in poison”( Brook 2).
How opium rendered a human being into something sub-human is seen in case of
Hukum Singh and his mother, or into an animal like state, is exemplified in Lei
Leong Fatt or Ah Fatt who is known as “Afat i.e. calamity” in the novel. In fact he is, in a way, representative of his countrymen whose life was permanently altered due to opium. “Without opium, Chinese history… would have been far different”(Brook 1) and the same is true about the farmers of India. The vicious cycle of debt that the farmers of the opium belt entered, made any idea of escape impossible. The grain crops and vegetables were not grown. There was only a sea of poppies in all the fields. To feed their families they took more debt and thus they became more confirmed in their state. Opium broke the very
fabric of the society, as was the case when Deeti and Kalua came across the
impoverished transients in Chhapra, “driven from their villages by the flood of
flowers that had washed over the countryside”(Ghosh 298). Hunger pressed them so
much that they were ready to forget all bindings of caste, religion and concern
for life and it safety. They only had one thing in their minds: survival. That’s
why they signed agreements to work on the farms in some unknown lands, even
hazarding to cross “black waters”.

The white man’s arrogance is reflected unconsciously in the smallest of things. During Neel’s trial, the judge declared that India had been “opened to the benefits of civilization… [the Englishmen were] chosen to burden with the welfare of such races as were still in the infancy of civilization”(349).  By the time Neel’s trial ended, it was very clear to him “that in this system of justice it was the English themselves – Mr Burnham and his ilk – who were exempt from the law as it applied to others: it was they who had become the world’s new Brahmins”(353). In a postcolonial twist to the stereotypical perspectives, this Sea of Poppies gives precedence to the perspective of the colonized over that of the colonizer. It’s not because of any bias in the narrative voice but because of the predominance of subject voices that are heard in the polyphony of positions
centred on characters portrayed in the form of individual subject consciousnesses. Now, Serang Ali ironically becomes the controller and partial writer of a white (supposedly) man’s destiny. He, in a way, becomes his sartorial and deportmentorial mentor. In a smaller way, but still substantially, Paulette’s dress and behaviour are determined even by the native servants at Mr. Burnham’s. Moreover, her being brought up by Jodu’s mother molded her behaviourally as a person somewhere between white and brown in race. She is more at ease with her “brother” Jodu, or, even with her “jahajbhais and jahajbehans” than with
the Burnhams and their circle of acquaintances. Ironically, the only white person she relates to and likes, after her father, turns out to be “racially impure”. Moreover her comfort level and trust increase when she comes to know about Zachary’s “blackness” through Baboo Nobo Kissin.

The imperial mission did not end with the independence of the colonies.
Neocolonialism came to the fore. System of colonialism changed in the twentieth century
but “the same (ex-) imperial countries continue to dominate those countries that
they formerly ruled as colonies” (Young 3) The difference was, that the empire was
now informal and hidden. What was opium or cotton or sugarcane to the past
empires is now oil to the USA. History and its narration in Sea of Poppies merge
with the story of the present international relations. The way in which the past
imperial power exploited their subject peoples finds parllel in the way US dealt
with Iraq. The idea of empire has undergone a transformation but its core has
remained the same. It is this core that has been narrated in the novel, Sea of Poppies. There is a continuum of racial subject positions in the novel, ranging from the pure white exploiter(Mr. Burnham), to mixed blood sympathizer(Zachary), to brown or yellow in close touch with white(Neel, Jodu and the lascars), to finally, brown and totally native exploited characters(Deeti and Kalua) . Their destinies intersect on the centre called Ibis.

Ibis trilogy, of which Sea of Poppies and River of Smoke are parts, is a postcolonial critique of the imperial exploitation of the peoples of Asia. History is revisited and judgement is passed over the power misused to exploit the imperial subjects in the past. The term postcolonial has nothing to do with the specific geographical location or the point of origin of a specific thought. It is more a term related to the nature and orientation of a thought or an idea. It is a paradigm shift, comparable to the post quantum theory shift in the paradigm of the hitherto Newtonian Physics. From a west centric approach to world history, the spread of democracy resulted into a more diffused and decentralized approach to history. Thus dominant discourses were challenged effectively and even replaced by strategically developed mini or local narratives in the postcolonial and postmodern era. The first two novels of the Ibis trilogy do take a fresh look at that part of the history of Asia that had been whitewashed by the dominant discourses very effectively and conclusively. The subject’s entity is culturally embedded in a culturally structured world. They are complicit in their own domination. Internalization of the dominant discourse and its subsequent active propagation happen so imperceptibly as to appear natural. Resistance and putting forth of one’s own system don’t seem to be even remotely possible. Ideological apparatus of modern states make any challenge to them nearly impossible.
The imperial mission did not end with the independence of the colonies.
Neocolonialism came to the fore. System of colonialism changed in the twentieth century
but “the same (ex-) imperial countries continue to dominate those countries that
they formerly ruled as colonies” (Young 3) The difference was, that the empire was
now informal and hidden. What was opium or cotton or sugarcane to the past
empires is now oil to the USA. History and its narration in Sea of Poppies merge
with the story of the present international relations. The way in which the past
imperial power exploited their subject peoples finds parllel in the way US dealt
with Iraq. The idea of empire has undergone a transformation but its core has
remained the same. It is this core that has been narrated in the novel, Sea of Poppies. There is a continuum of racial subject positions in the novel, ranging from the pure white exploiter(Mr. Burnham), to mixed blood sympathizer(Zachary), to brown or yellow in close touch with white(Neel, Jodu and the lascars), to finally, brown and totally native exploited characters(Deeti and Kalua) . Their destinies intersect on the centre called Ibis.

 

Works Cited

Brook, Timothy and Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi. “Opium’s History in China”. Opium Regimes: China, Britain and Japan, 1839-1952. ed. Timothy Brook and Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi.Univ. ofCalifornia Press:Los Angeles, 2000. Print.

Ghosh, Amitav. “Imperial Temptation”. Amitavghosh.com. Web. 2 December 2011.

–. “Opium financed British rule inIndia”. BBC News. 23 June 2008. Web. 27 November 2011.

–. River of Smoke. 2011. PDF. 27 November 2011.

–. Sea of Poppies. 2008. PDF. 27 November 2011.

Young, Robert J. C. Postcolonialism: A Very Short Introduction.Oxford: OUP, 2003. Print.