Amitav Gosh and George Orwell

Is Amitav Ghosh’s The Glass Palace a novel that rewrites colonial narratives about Burma such as George Orwell’s Burmese Days? Why? Why not?

When talking about Amitav Ghosh’s “The Glass Palace as a rewrite upon the colonial narrative among the late 19th century narratives, Ghosh’s very own words comment on “This is how power is eclipsed; in a moment of vivid realism, between the waning of one fantasy of governance and its replacement by the next, in an instant when the world springs free from its moorings of dreams and reveals itself to be girdled in the pathways of survival and self-preservation”.  “The Glass Palace” is one of the Gosh’s ambitious novels which are set on Burma, India and Malaya. Being a part of the land which was ruled by Britain’s for over a 100 year, Gosh very forcefully focuses on the issues given birth by the colonial phase of the state. It unbeatably talks about the national impulses faced by Indian soldiers serving in British army.

This is a woven tapestry of the concerned issues of colonial approach like mutiny and special rule for women. One is never away from the astray of being caught up by the strong grip of the colonial narrative found in the novel. The novel is the verdict of the fact that the imperialism engulfs the narrative so of the land being ruled over and gives and portrays it with its very own language.

George Orwell’s “Burmese Days” is very much parallel to the voice of the narrative represented in “the Glass Palace”. The thing is not of being smarter or cleverer but this is about how the real native or the speaker is given secondary importance when given light upon by the white writers of colonial era. Post colonial approach has brought a new stream of consciousness which enabled people to peep through the real narratives of the land which were high jacked either by the foreign rule or through the socio-political pressure of the century. Thus Amitav is very much right in saying that a moment of power is eclipsed by the fantasy of the next one. When Britain’s hold the pen power, everything said and written about the brown people was on their ignorance, maltreatment ways and the poor conduct. No matter how rich and how provocative the culture of the land is, this is still unacceptable to these white people as it constitutes the theme of the “Burmese Days” as well where we find Dr. Veraswami attempting to pave way for being the member of British Club at Burma. This creates a discomfort to U Po Kyin that a non white member is trying to be a part of the White Community. This makes “Glass Palace” very familiar to the post colonial writers’ school of thought like Edward Saeed has talked about in “Culture and Imperialism”.

The Glass Palace like Burmese Days is reflective of cultural conversations and ethnic unions which is one of the big acquired traits of the colonial narratives. In “Burmese Days” Flory has eager hunger for talking on the critique of Raj and admiring and condemning the British rule simultaneously. His very words “the lie that we are here to uplift our poor black brothers instead of to rob them” are an open comment upon the masked intentions of British establishments which is familiar to the oil mining stimulus in Burma represented in “The Glass Palace”. The role of Rajkumar bringing his recruiters from the distant land to the Burmese trade is also a drawback which these colonized lands have always been attacked with. The imperialism being the biggest form of the capitalism did not leave much space and never showed generosity for the natives to grow with their own economy prevailing in their ethnic and cultural circles.

The history cannot be alienated when woven in a discourse. This is the voice of the narrative that leads the readers to identify the shreds of history from the fiction which is hardly possible. Therefore the colonization narratives being very tricky do not let the native voices to grow up and speak for their own selves which in result give a maximum support to the imperialistic narrative being perceived by the colonized.

This fear of other is reckoned as being Xenophobic in Edward Saied’s Culture and Imperialism where he reinforces that the colonized ultimately become dumb as are not bring heard by the world hence; the space is created for the ruling elements who apparently speak for the natives but dig their own interests by giving a misled portray of the native beings. This voice is subsequently identified as the foreign if not being supported by the local and partial speakers of the land.

George Orwell has favored the colonized souls through the character of Flory in his novel “Burmese Days” where he desires to marry a culturally rich Burmese woman but knows that his soul cannot be satisfied but by marrying a White English woman. This is the dilemma not only of the “Burmese Days “but of the time of colonization where will and personal wishes were veiled by the economic pressures and social taboos. Rajkumar’s search for Dolly is indeed a symbolic journey of the present powers to the economic resources hidden in these far and distant lands. Dolly’s character is the marked parameter between two cultures and two ethnic value resources where one embodies the success through the adopted ways and the other symbolizes the dazzling and true form of the rich native culture and land. I’ll bring second part of my paper in next article to support my case with text evidences.

By: Ammarah Khan


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