Secularism in Salman Rushdie's Midnight's children and Vikram Seth's A suitable boy : history, nation, language
This thesis is a comparative study of Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children (1981) and Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy (1993). It compares the novels' representations of the postcolonial Indian nation-state and of the conflict between secular and religious perspectives in the Indian public sphere. The novels are interpreted as responses to specific moments of crisis in the so-called "secular consensus" of the Indian state: Midnight's Children to the Emergency of 1975, A Suitable Boy to the rise of the Hindu right in the early 1990s. The aim of this study is to establish secularism as an interpretative concept in South Asian literature in English. Each chapter examines different aspects of the texts in relation to secularism. The first chapter outlines two different theoretical positions, Seth's "rationalist" and Rushdie's "radical" secularism. The second examines the question of minority identity in the two novels. The third explores the different narrative structures that shape their ideas of Indian citizenship. The fourth compares their differing versions of India's national past. The fifth interrogates the status of English as a secular language in the Indian context by examining the interaction between English and Indian vernaculars in the two texts. The dialogic form of the novel has been appropriated by postcolonial Indian writers in English in order to stage contrasting religious and secular worldviews. This dialogism, it is suggested, may offer the possibility of opening up the public sphere to different modes of communication not exclusively defined by rationalism.