Identity Crisis a Major Theme in Rohinton Mistry and Vikram Seth's Creations
The transnational migration of Indians to alien or foreign lands is a continuous practice since colonial and post-colonial times. This immigration further resulted in Indian diasporas, prior to their migration; these Indians had, and occupied different social strata in India. Having reached Canada, they settled down to form a composite diasporic community of the Indian origin. However, giving rise to the emergence of the Indian diasporic identity in Canada.
Identity is a state of mind in which one recognises or identifies one's character traits that lead to finding out who he or she are and what one does. In other words, it is who you are and what you define yourself as being. The theme of identity is often expressed in books and novels or any other piece of literature so that the reader can relate to the characters and their emotions. It is useful in helping reader's understand that a person's state of mind is full of arduous thoughts about who they are and what they want to be. People can try to modify their identity as much as they want, but that can never change. The world has probably changed more swiftly than before, with the increasing exchange of capital across the globe. Therefore, cultures mixing changed in manners, which tremendous implications for the identity and self of individuals who are moving across a variety of different cultural. The cultural exchanges taking place not only at social levels, but also in the mind of individual selves. The culture is characterised by change within groups as well as within the self of individuals who are torn between a localised situation in which they grew up and a globalised location in which they have moved in search of job, pleasure and money. The reflection of society and culture demands a new conception of individual identity. The notion of identity is still dominant, highly dynamic and contested circumstances in which individuals find themselves. Identities have multiplied and therefore, tend to shift in meaning according to context, as a result of which some have suggested the concept of identity should be replaced by the notion of identification, pointing to the nature of contemporary identities. Others have suggested that the analytical value of the concept of identity is insufficient to do justice to the vibrant character of the lives of multicultural individuals.
The novels of Rohington Mistry and Vikran Seth deal with characters that have an identity that they have tried to alter in order to become more at ease in the society to which they belong. The theme of identity is often expressed in books and novels or any other piece of literature so that the reader can relate to the characters and their emotions.
Mistry and Seth both are Indian born writers, who have migrated to foreign lands for the purpose of job and education. Moreover, never thought of becoming writers even the theme of writing is more or less same. The flavor of Indianness in the works of Mistry and Seth will be highlighted. A comparative study of their novels will be undertaken with the intention of throwing light upon the strains of experience and situation that are found common in the two writers. In addition, the times and the lives of these two novelists and the social ambiance that shaped their psyche
The characters of Rohinton Mistry's novels are often engaged in the same search for an identity, show sign of cultural isolation, adjusting to the alien environment without forgetting their roots completely. Therefore, these diasporas and their children experience displacement, fragmentation, marginalization, discontinuity and identity search. They live with fissured identities generated by the dislocations, longing for home, to go back to the lost origin, they create imaginary homelands, partial based on memories.
Mistry belongs to the group of Parsi Indian diaspora in Canada. He was born in Bombay in 1952, and migrated to Canada in 1975. In the 1970s emigration was considered the best option for well educated young Indians and armed with his Mathematics degree, he took up a job in a Toronto bank, studying English and Philosophy part time. He began writing seriously after winning a University writing competition.
Mistry has been writing about India since 1975, his writing reflects the Indian diasporic experience. His work indicates that he belongs to both and neither of the two cultures, feelings of dislocation and displacement are reflected in his creation. Nayantara Sahgal points out that the issue of identity assumes greatest significance when one is deprived of a country. Thus, Mistry represents both India and Canada. The writer has shifting locations in a globalised world and hence, it is necessary to understand the complexities of his diasporic experience.
Vikram Seth writes about Delhi and San Franciso with equal felicity in his writings. He was born in Calcutta in 1952, and he went to England to study in 1969. Through his fiction and non-fiction works, he has become well known in contemporary writing in English. While at Stanford, where he entrolled at University of California for a Ph D in Economics, Seth was a Wallace Stegner Fellow in creative writing. In 1994, he was awarded the Commonwealth Writer's Prize and was called a reliable spokeman of Indian cultural heritage and national identity.
Seth through his writings depicts the socio political situation of India of the early 1950s, where the new born India was caught between its idealistic notion of trying to create an equal and just nation, yet still struggling with age old practices of untouchability, the caste system, Hindu- Muslim intolerance and other prejudices. He has written extensively on political issues. He made a great contribution to enrich Indian English writing with respect to theme and techniques.
Since Mistry began his writing career at the age of 31. He published a collection of short stories followed by three novels. Such a Long Journey (1991), A Fine Balance (1996) and Family Matters (2002).
Such a Long Journey (1991), Mistry second novel deals with the problems of India during India's war with Pakistan after 1970. The protagonist Gustad feels anguish for his family; he feels neglected, alone and misunderstood by his son, wife and friends. He is greatly affected by government and corruption around and feels alienated. The Parsis' struggle for survival by balancing between community and national consciousness resulted in his identity crisis.
A Fine Balance (1996) is a tale of suffering of those innocent and the outcastes who made attempts to survive during the period of Emergency in India in 1975. Mistry brings four characters together to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair.
Family Matters (2002) the third novel by Mistry expresses the oppressive situation of India and Maharashtra including the major concerns in the 1990's, the era of the post-Babri Masjid riots, corruption and communalism. It depicts the efforts to survive for better future by three different families. The characters developing a sense of belonging as home but they had a feeling of unbelonging/never felt at home as there was lack of proper emotional communication and attachment within the family.
Seth is an Indian poet, novelist, travel writer, librettist, children's writer, biographer and memoirist. His novels are The Golden Gate (1986), A Suitable Boy (1993), An Equal Music (1999) and A Suitable Girl (2013).
The Golden Gate (1986) uses a traditional literary approach to storytelling, and has traditional nods to the humanitarian values. His use of a hero seeking love in the world, having a series of related adventures, to the use of jokes and puns, high and low humor, quick shifts in action, and the use of gravity, surprise and social comment, Seth follows closely in the traditions of his literary forbears. At the same time, Seth modernises his story's parts and themes appropriately. The modern concept of living is the twisting of everything to make it fit into its own priorities and so a terrific disruption takes place. And modern man becomes vulnerable to such influences.
A Suitable Boy (1993) set in India just after the country gained independence, is a story of four families over eighteen months, where a mother searches for a suitable boy to marry her daughter. Through the characters the novel portrait political, social and religious conflicts which overtook India during the first year after Independence. It is about a generation of Indians who recall the British Raj and the Partition all too well, and who cherish family ties, caste and religion because they offer continuity with the past.
An Equal Music (1999) revolves around London and Vienna. Here Seth conceals his Indian identity and writes about alien lands. He does not criticise the country which had once colonised his motherland. It is a story of two music lovers, celebrates the power of music but also the dangers of looking into the past.
A Suitable Girl (2013) depicts the action of India from 1950s to the present day, through the protagonist Lata, as a grandmother. She recalls and tells to her grandson.
Rohinton Mistry emerges as the voice of the Parsis in the field of English Fiction. It is hard to avoid the feeling that his books are a distillation of his own life before he left Bombay. "Writers write best about what they know," he says. "In the broad sense, as a processing of everything one hears or witnesses, all fiction is autobiographical - imagination ground through the mill of memory. It's impossible to separate the two ingredients." (Mistry Interview with Angela Lambert).
The identity crisis among Parsis in the post-colonial India emerges as a theme of writing in Mistry's fiction. Moreover, his writings may be regarded as a domestic, social and political commentary on the Parsis. After Independence many Parsis left India and mostly the suffering and helpless were left behind who could hardly feel a sense of belonging to India. Mistry is not claiming to be a social reformer or India's cultural ambassador abroad. He is attempting to decipher the cause of identity crisis in the Parsi community.
As reflected in the novels of Mistry, Parsis are a truly displaced lot. They have migrated to new lands in search of jobs, education, marriage etc. However, they do not feel comfortable in the new lands nor do they wish to return to their so called homeland, uprooted as they were from Iran. Thus, Parsis today are nowhere men, resulting in identity crisis.
Seth deals with the characters which are natives of places like India, China, England and America. He gets inside a culture and writes as if belongs to that particular culture. This makes him an international writer; his work reflects a civic identity. He presents the picture of India from the outsider's viewpoint. Indian adopts English Language and culture in order to earn their livelihood but is not ready to give up their Indian sensibility. Amaresh Datta writes of creative writers, writing in English in India and says:
But one still wonders if English became the language of our dreams, of the nuance of our social and English can become the language of our dreams, of the nuance of our social and personal relationship and of elemental passions oriented in a particular way by our environment and tradition. In any case, the literature produced by Indian authors in English cannot perhaps avoid some kind of artificiality whether it centres round non- Indian experience or India (Datta 1991: 100).
Seth has created a space for himself with his unique style of writing. His works reflects his knowledge about many different cultures, and he possesses multiple identities which transcends national barriers.
Datta, Amaresh. 1991. "The other Person" Indian Literature No. 144. July- AugustLambert Angela Interview with Rohinton Mistry. The guardian. Saturday 27 April 2002 01.44 BST.
Mistry Rohinton, Such a Long Journey. Faber and Faber, 1991.
Mistry Rohinton, A Fine Balance. Faber and Faber, 1996.
Mistry Rohinton, Family Matters. Vintage publication, 2002.
Seth, Vikram. The Golden Gate. USA: Random House. 1986.
Seth, Vikram. A Suitable Boy. New Delhi: Penguin Books.1993.
Seth, Vikram. An Equal Music. New Delhi: Penguin Books. 1999.
Seth, Vikram. A Suitable Girl. New Delhi: Penguin Books.2013.