Sunday, August 22, 2010

Githa Harirharan

Githa Hariharan is one of the most prolific woman writers of India. She was born in Coimbatore in 1954. He was brought up in Bombay and Manila and got education in these two places besides the USA. She has worked as a staff writer for WNET- Channel 13. In Mumbai Chennai and Delhi she has been working as an editor first in a publishing house and then in as a freelancer. Githa Hariharan is also a social activist known for her care and concern for women. In 1995, she challenged the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act as discriminatory in the Supreme Court of India and recorded victory.
The works of Githa Hariharan include novels, short stories articles and columns and also the essays of different topics that interest her. She published her first novel-The Thousand Faces of Night in 1992 and was awarded Commonwealth Writer’s Prize in 1993. This novel was followed by The Ghost of Vasu Master (1994). Her third novel When Dreams Travel appeared in 1999 and it was quickly followed by In Times of Siege (2003). Her latest publication is Fugitive Histories which appeared in 2009. Besides novels, Githa Hariharan has also authored a collection of short stories- The Art of Dying (1993), and a books of short stories for children- The Winning Team which came out in 2004.A Southern Harvest (1993) is a collection of short stories from South India translated by her into English and Sorry Best Friend! (2004) is a collection of short storied for children co-edited by her.
The crisis of identity has always enjoyed a defining significance in the thematic framework of the Indio Anglican novels. The novels of R. K. Narayan, Mulkraj Anand, and Raja Rao redesigned the techno-thematic fabric of Indian English fiction and laid the foundation of the new Indian English fiction. The post colonial age represented by these three novelist was chiefly a quest for identity along different dimension of socio-political and economic order of India. The novels of Mulkraj Anand explored the thick congested fabric of Indian life and structured his fiction with unquestionable authority. The crisis of identity plays vital role in the cast of the narrative of Anand. His novels like The Untouchables and The Coolie explore the hidden dimensions of human psyche along socio-economic and cultural dimensions. Barkha’s dramatic reaction to the situation when the modesty of his sister is attempted by a Brahmin aptly illustrates the agony of identity crisis at a socio-cultural level;

The man must have made indecent suggestions to her. I wonder what he did. Father of fathers, I could kill that man. I could kill that man. (Anand, The Untouchables, 69)
R. K. Narayan explores the idea of the crisis of identity along various dimensions. Almost all his novels are based on the idea of the crisis of identity and the consequent efforts to locate them. His first novel- Swami and Friends, (1935), has the seeds of the same theme manifest in form of children’ pains and pangs. The other novels are also structured on the same idea explored along different dimensions. A reference to The Dark Room( is obligatory as the crisis of identity plays.All the three major characters suffer the crisis of identity in their own ways. Ramani is torn apart between marriage and infatuation. Savitri endures all the pains and alienation of a conventional, male dominated family set-up. Shanti Bai is the new representation of identity crisis. She is ‘married to an unscrupulous husband’ but ‘rejects identity with him and escapes to Madras.’ (p16). It is, however, interesting to note that the identity crisis of Savitri continues to grow more and more piercing. The last scene of the narrative elucidates the perpetuity of the crisis of identity when she feels like calling her one time aid but realizes her helplessness and withdraws. It can easily be inferred that Savitri in the beginning is same as Savitri in the end. The Guide (1958) is another major novel of Narayan. The east-west confrontation play decisive role in the cast of the narrative and thus the crisis of identity owes its genesis to the this ideological conflict. Both the major characters-Raju and Rosie- spend their life locating their identity, and, the search remains an effort in vain. The Vendor of Sweets is the most poignant representation of the identity crisis that owes its genesis to the conflicting values of the east and west.
The novels of Anita Desai mark a parallel stream in the history of Indian English fiction. It is however undeniable that her novels have been knit around the complex idea of identity crisis with a female character on the focus. Her first novel- Cry the Peacock published in 1964 is an important landmark in history of Indian English literature. Anita Desai added impetus to the feminist wave that came into critical notice since the advent of Nayantara Sehgal in the horizon of Indian English writings. She explored a world subsisting within the world and located the fragmentation of the protagonists’ identity. The protagonist of her first novel- Maya is a wrecked soul who longs for her identity realized in terms of marital harmony but never succeeds. In her second novel- Bye Bye Black Bird( ) the crisis of identity is born of the conflict between the spirit of place and the protagonist’s soul. The incompatibility between these two dominant forces constitutes the dynamics of the action and the nature of the narrative. The crisis of identity and efforts to locate it along the finite dimensions of the narrative is the kernel of the techno-thematic frame work of her novels. In Custody (1980) and Clear Light of the Day (1984) - her most celebrated novels, is another revelation of the perennial quest for identity which is put to stake under the chafing pressures of the cultural forces and the efforts to relocate it becomes a painful enterprise.
The spirit of eighties was spearheaded by Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children published in 1980 and Shame published in 1983. Both these novels are knit around the idea of identity crisis which owes its birth and life to the direct collision between individual and history. The Satanic Verses published in 1988 explores the religious identity of an Asian expatriate in England. In Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1991) he takes the identity of a writer on the focus of the thematic structure and knits the narrative. The success of these novels firmly established the prominence of identity crisis in the thematic set up of the Indian English fiction. The novels that hit the literary horizon capture our attention for the prominence of the theme of identity crisis. Amitav Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines ( ) is another masterpiece published in the same decade. It also explores the identity of the protagonist against the backdrop of the Indian culture and heritage. The nineties were the natural extension of the thematic boldness and technical innovativeness. It is also the decade which marks the flowering of Githa Hariharan as novelist. She, along with Anita Desai, shares the diadem with another prominent figure of Indian English fiction- Arundhati Roy who surprised the world with a unique first- The God of Small Things published in 1995 and was awarded Booker in 1996. The God of Small Things is also knit around the complex idea of the crisis of identity realized at the level of human relationship.
Githa Hariharan thus enjoys a crucial place in the history of Indian English fiction. On one hand she is an integral part of the larger part of the tradition, on the other hand, she is an important cord in the tradition of Indian women writers. It is clear from a close survey of these two traditions that the crisis of identity and the pivotal aspect of the techno-thematic network of the Indian English fiction.
The age of Githa Hariharan is undisputedly the most complex phase of the cultural history of India. There were quick transitions and subtle and unpredictable changes that redefined the identity of individual in general and of a woman in particular. The advent of the television and the consequent expansion of the news channels and entertainment channels is one most outstanding phenomenon that sped up the transitions. No transitional phase in the cultural history of India has been as forcefully accelerated as this. The spread of education is also a factor of great significance which took place during the last two decade. The education was not confined to make people literate but it had new functions to perform. The spread of technical education and management studies shaped the reshaped the mind of common Indians with handsome participation of women in reshaping the cultural history of India. The spread of communication with easy access to information through cellular phones and internet are some other prominent feature contributing to the new cultural identity of India. The simultaneous advent of so many decisive factors stirred the social set up of country with a number of new possibilities and probabilities rising up to meet the new challenges. It is however interesting to know that the changes that took place confronted the traditional values system that that ruled over the Indian society with despotic authority. The concept of generation gap acquired new impetus and became more decisive in comparison to previous years. The birth of a new order and new system became obligatory. The advent of the multi- national companies is another very prominent feature responsible for the new shape of the society. Education too had a new form and a new function by acquiring international order. Employment was also redefined. The limitations of times and spaces were reduced to inexistence and movements of the young aspirants became more free. The induction of new technology in the fields of computers paved way for the escape of Indian minds and women too became integral parts of this new wave. Thus it becomes clear that the society was changed and the women were no exception to it. The birth of a new woman in the old society practicing quaint orders and methods was the common phenomenon witnessed in all corners of the vast social set up.
All the five novels that hit the literary horizon are written during this tumultuous era of Indian socio- cultural history. Devi the protagonist of the first novel-The Thousand Faces of Night, returns to Madras after obtaining a degree from the USA and she returns only to fall prey to the chafing pressures imposed upon her by the old existing order. The crisis of identity becomes evident in the contrast between Devi and her mother Sita. It is interesting observation that Sita nurtures the dream of a happy conventional marriage for her daughter but it turns out to be a disaster for Devi. Her lover offers a temporary escape from the hollow married life but the order rules over like a tyrant. The use of myths and legends is the most outstanding part of the technique of narration. It is through these subtle allusions, myths and legends that the narrative acquires the desired intensity to mirror the agony of the crisis of identity. The Ghosts of Vasu Master is another masterly structured tale of a school master who has retired from a school in a small town. The relation between Vasu and Mani together intensity the impact of crisis of identity of the school master who live too much in the past and has virtually no present. Teaching Mani who can’t speak is a great challenge before Vasu and that seems the only weapon to surmount the barrier of identity crisis and relocating the lost identity. When Dreams Travel is another masterstroke of fantasy well in cadence of the tales of Arabian Night.
The quest for identity is identified with the journey of mind along times and spaces. In Times of Siege is another important novel of Githa Hariharan. The novel is structured around the ethnic identity of the individual in relation to the larger aspect of his identity. The novel unfolds many layers of human psyche as an individual along ethnic and nationalist dimensions. Fugitive Histories, the last publication credited to Githa Hariharan, is a novel steeped in pathos. The narrative owes it basis to the gallant efforts of a Hindu girl Mala who marries Asad a Muslim boy of her choice. As the narrative advances, Mala tries hard to relive the happiness of the past which is metaphorical to the reordering the fragmented identity.
It is clear from the above discussion that the crisis of identity plays pivotal role in the thematic design of the novels of Gita Hariharan. Thus a study of the identity crisis in her novels is to explore the depth of the narrative and discover the latent meaning and experience of her narratives. In the light of prevailing disparities and rapid transitional changes, it is more then evident that the study of the crisis of identity in the novels of Githa Hariharan is to the study the most tumultuous transition in the study of India. The new definitions and dimension of human mind and human relations seek apt representation in the backdrop of what had been happening for generations. The strain between any two characters is the strain between any two individual making an institution and being a part of it. The crisis to which her characters are subjected is the crisis hovering over the society. A detailed study of the novels of Githa Hariharan acquaint us with the base realities of emerging social set up of India without any emotional or ideological veneer. The age comes out and presents itself in all forms of realities hitherto mirrored or concealed.