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Contesting cultures or negotiating hybridity? Interrogating 'Brick Lane', ‘The Namesake’ and ‘I for India’

Friday, January 14, 2011

Tasleem Shakur

(Dr. Tasleem Shakur is a Co-Ordinator Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at Edge Hill University, UK and he also edits two journals, South Asian Cultural Studies and Global Built Environment Review)

This is a revised version of the paper first presented by Dr. Tasleem Shakur at a conference at Hope University, Liverpool in 2007.

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Background context

This paper attempts to explore the emerging heterogenic, hybrid apparently contested south Asian diasporic spaces as reflected by two recent novels/films and a documentary produced in the West. Although the south Asian population had been living outside south Asia for centuries (from the colonial time), we have observed a steady rise of immigration to the West (particularly in the UK) since the second world war and decolonisation of the sub-continent during the late 1940s. By the 1960s visible south Asian populations were settled in the UK and an increasing number of people have started to migrate to America.

However, while the population increased for various political and socio-economic factors (not discussed as it is beyond the scope of this article), hardly any literature in English seemed to be available (or being recognised) in the Western world written by the south Asian immigrants right up to the 1970s. Perhaps the only exception is Naipaul whose ‘A House for Mr Biswas’ (Naipaul, V.S, 1961 ) was adored as the single voice of a Trinidadian immigrant (with a south Asian descent) writing on the life of a south Asian in England. On the other hand whilst there a rich literature of colonial south Asian novels (and films) from the early twentieth century exist (Forster’s ‘A Passage to India’, 1924. later David Lean’s film adaptation in 1984), very few English (or European and North American) writers seem to have written about the south Asian diaspora and instead continued with the portrayal of romanticised colonial spaces right up to the 1970s (The Jewel in the Crown, 1966/1984, Heat and Dust 1975/1982 and The Far Pavilions 1978/1984). While all these post colonial period novels set during the colonial time have been successfully made to movies or TV serials, the only documentation of south Asian life and their interaction with their host nations that exists are the archival footages of south Asian immigrants through news reels or of BBC short programmes on languages intended to improve the English language skills of the new immigrants...

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