Who am I?
"You know what I think the trouble is, Bibiji? For me, India has got
something to do with being a child. Something to do with feeling loved,
protected and belonging. Maybe even something to do with my parents' own
longing...longing to return. For the child in me it is warm and
familiar, and for the grown up that I am, it is a strange land, in which
I don't know my way around."
This is an extract from Leena Dhingra's novel, Amritvela. Amritvela
is one of the many novels, which tell a story of migrants. Migrant
literature, that is, writing by and about migrants, is a topic, which
has commanded growing interest within literary studies since 1980s.
People leave their homes to settle in countries or cultural communities,
which are initially strange, to them.
Most of the migrant literature has been based on its principle
channels of mass migration in twentieth century. These include European
migration to North America or Australia; migration from former colonies
to Europe; literature in the context of work migration and exile
Migration literature often focuses on its social contexts in the
migrants' country of origin which prompt them to leave, on the
experience of migration itself, on the mixed reception which they may
receive in the country of arrival, on experiences of racism and
hostility, and on the sense of rootlessness and the search of identity
which can result from displacement and cultural diversity.
Issues of migrants' identity have been main concerns that are taken
up by numerous writers, including most notable writers like Salman
Rushdie, Rudyard Kipling, Hanif Kureishi and Jhumpa Lahiri. The haunting
question of 'who am I?" echoes in most of the novels based on migrant
In her novel Amritvela, Leena Dhingra, an Asian woman writing in
Britain, has her central character ask the question "Who....am.....I?"
on four separate occasions. Amritvela tells a story of Meera, the
protagonist of the novel who visits her homeland, India. Meera, who was
taken to England as a child by her parents, is now married to an
Englishman and has a young daughter - so Meera's East-West identity is
tied to both space and family. The novel follows her three-week-long
visit to India, to the house of her great aunt, and closes at the point
of her return to India. In effect, the novel details the internal
struggle between the two halves of Meera's divided self. It is a
struggle motivated by the classic East-West binary opposition, which
sees Meera attempting to sort out which half of her identity is the
dominant one, only to find at the end of her struggle that no such
opposition exists and that her identity is not something which can be
separated out or neatly divorced. Ultimately she realizes that she needs
to 'integrate and fit together again' and accepts her diasporic
Meera in Amritvela, who visits India, begins as a search for a
homogeneous entity she can be part of. She wants to believe the notion
of 'No place like home', but still doubtful whether her home is India or
England. She strongly believes that there is a harmonious, idyllic and
Gandhian India. But she soon finds out that even her family home is not
an 'Indian' house in any pure sense. When she looks around the drawing
room (A European concept in itself), Meera sees the 'familiar mixture of
India and Victorain'. When she wanted to buy a pair of Indian style
slippers, her cousins recommend her to go a large department store. But
she refuses that and goes to the bazaar, and there she is greeted in
English by the shopkeeper and brings her a pair of 'export quality'
sandals. This scene in bazaar demonstrates the fact that she is actually
most comfortable somewhere between two cultures, where the multiple
threads of her individual identity can be woven together.
It is obvious that no one feels like home in any strange land. But
most of them adapt to the strange atmosphere using different strategies.
The most important thing is, many of them survive, and live happily ever
after. Their stories are not always fairy tales, but every story tells
something exotic. Most writers have grabbed those exotic qualities in
migrants' lives. Following extract shows how Salman Rushdie has looked
on migrants' identity.
As the narrator in Salman Rushdie's story 'The Courter', which is
appeared in his book East, West insists, there is no need to choose -
both East and West are part of the identity of Asians living in West
"I, too, have ropes around my neck, I have them to this day, pulling
me this way and that, East and West, the nooses tightening, commanding,
[.....] I choose neither of you, and both. Do you hear? I refuse to