Islam and Nationalism in India: South Indian contexts

  • Book Title:
 Islam And Nationalism In India
  • Book Author:
M.T. Ansari
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  • PART I
  • “Two circles of equal size” 1
  • 1 “An impossible factor”: Ali’s autobiographical fragment 3
  • 2 Muslim responses in colonial India 30
  • 3 Questions of community 55
  • Malabar contra memory 71
  • 4 Re-figuring the fanatic: Malabar, 1836–1922 73
  • 5 Memoirs of the Malabar rebellion 100
  • Literary nationalism in Malayalam 121
  • 6 “Higuita” and the politics of representation 123
  • 7 Another: Indulekha and The Jewel of Malabar 139
  • 8 All too in-human: Chemmeen and Naalukettu

Literary nationalism in Malayalam

The partition of the Indian subcontinent leading to the formation of two nation-states is even now essentially remembered and recounted in India as betrayal and loss, as a violent sundering of the motherland by communalities within it.

 To cite a relatively mild example, “our Independence too was peculiar: it came together with the Partition of our country, the biggest and possibly the most miserable migration in human history, the worst bloodbath in the memory of the subcontinent: the gigantic fratricide conducted by Hindu, Muslim and Sikh communalists” (Aijaz Ahmad, 118).

Shifting the focus from such narratives, I have tried to trace the history of such a memory and the memory of such a history through an examination of the colonial period and the contradictions that structure the logic which counterposes the Hindu and Muslim communal with secular-modern frames within the nationalist discourse.

In the preceding chapters, I have pointed out that the 1921 Malabar rebellion against both the British overlords and the Hindu land-lords was a watershed in the history of the subcontinent. I have argued that this rebellion, being an immediate effect of the Congress mass mobilization campaign and the Khilafat movement, forever determined the future form of freedoms in the Indian subcontinent by ricocheting a by-now-redoubled image of the communality of the Muslim peoples.

The negotiations between nationalist leaders and Muslim leaders were at a crucial stage in the wake of the mass mobilization and Khilafat movements. The representations of the Malabar rebellion in popular press, which cued in with nationalist discourse, seem to have given a fi llip to ideas and images already in circulation.

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The establishment of a “Moplastan,” as many newspapers dubbed it, in Malabar, which went against the policy of surrender urged by the Congress, underlined the possibility of Islam being a constant threat to the notion of a unifi ed nation. The spate of shuddhi and sangathan undertaken in Malabar in 1922, and thereafter, in order to purify the converts points to the possibility that Malabar fi gured as a region that had to be “sanitized,” cleansed as well as brought back to sanity.

 In this chapter I try to trace the phrase “Malabar,” the earlier denomination for a region and a time, in literary narratives. “Malabar” as re(li)gion metaphorically denotes the regional and religious aspirations of a community purportedly prone to irrational and separatist demands. “Malabar” also works metonymically in that other Islamic communities in other regions can replace the Mappila community of Malabar.

Thus, in more ways than one, Malabar continues to embody the dangers threaten-ing our nation from inside as well as outside. In this chapter, I have chosen to read dominant texts because other “Muslim” texts, with the exception of Vaikom Muha-mmad Basheer, hardly fi gure in the confi gurations of mainstream literary taste. Almost all texts by Muslims from Malabar (Basheer, though he settled in Malabar, hails from south Kerala) are bracketed off under the category of Mappila Sahityam [Mappila Literature].

Most of the texts I engage with have already been translated into English and are also prescribed in various literature courses. Apart from that, there is also an urgent need for the discipline of English Studies to engage with literary texts in the regional languages of India since they are probably richer (narrative) instances for a reading of the cultural politics of our contemporary existence.

 My attempt is to look at some of the literary representations of the proper noun “Malabar,” as a shorthand notation for Muslim communality. 1 In this chapter, I examine a contemporary literary representation of Malabar in a much-acclaimed Malayalam short story, N. S. Madhavan’s “Higuita” (1990).

 My readings of these texts are structured via the question of representation. “Representation” is a crucial concept in literature, since the latter may be said to involve a narrative ordering of the real, and I will draw on Jacques Derrida’s discussion of its role in the European modern to show the complexity of this seemingly simple concept.

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In “Sending: On Representation,” Derrida examines the imminent closure of representation, in order to open the fi elds or folds of the theory of representation as translation in its textual (literary as well as cultural) form.

 Formulating what the word “representation” means, Derrida comments that this word appears already inscribed in an idiom. The word has connotations of “the delegation of presence, of reiteration rendering present once again, in substituting a presentation for another in absentia and so on” (1982, 303). Language is seen as a system of representation that would re-present a content (“a meaning, a thing, and so on”) anterior and exterior to it.

This reign/regime of representation “pro-grams and precedes us” and our concepts of language; translation and history are “essentially marked by structure and the closure of representation” (304). The mark of modernity is, in Heidegger’s words, “[t]hat what-is should become what-is in representation” (cited, 307). What-is exists only in “being-represented,” and the bringing-to-being of representation coincides with the bringing-to-being of the subject.

 In the (post-)Cartesian period “representation” was determined not as a “bringing-to-presence” before a subject (bringing in front of a subject what already exists anterior to it), a re-constitution, but as an originary constitution in the mental space of the subject. The human subject, thus, became the determining fi eld, “the domain and the measure of objects as representations, its own representations” (307). Heidegger, again in Derrida’s words, places the Latin praesentatio and repraesentatio alongside the German Darstellung and Vorstellung .

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