Representations of migrant and nation in selected works of Rohinton Mistry and Salman Rushdie
This thesis explores the representations of, and the relationship between, the migrant and the nation in selected works of the Bombay-born novelists Rohinton Mistry and Salman Rushdie. I explore each writer's engagement with contemporary debates surrounding the material, political, social and imaginative consequences of the crisis in secularism in India during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, and consider how this engagement is informed by their migrant positions beyond India's borders. A primary concern is the way in which Mistry's and Rushdie's representations of the nation, and of migrant and diasporic subjects, intersects with the representation of Bombay in their work. This thesis is divided into five chapters. The first two chapters concentrate on Mistry's fiction, the remaining three on Rushdie's work. Published between 1988 and 2002, the central novels examined are situated within debates regarding the founding principles of the Indian nation, and notions of Indianness, the rise of communalism in general and Hindu nationalism in particular, and the renaming of Bombay as Mumbai. My readings foreground the necessity of a close understanding of the historical and political transformations taking place within Bombay and India during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, but also during the 1950s and 1960s. I argue that Mistry's and Rushdie's work is informed by a deepening anxiety over these socio-political transformations, and over how reconfigurations of Indianness increasingly position minority communities, and migrant and diasporic subjects, outside of definitions of national identity. This anxiety extends into the negotiation of their own migrant positions. My reading of the differing representations of the migrant in Mistry's and Rushdie's work engages with ideas of accountability, political responsibility, and with notions of cosmopolitanism. In doing so, I question familiar assumptions regarding the migrant condition as one of predominantly empowering political agency. I argue that, while both authors emphasise the importance of the migrant sustaining a critical engagement with India's politics, they also foreground the anxious difficulties of doing so. This difficulty informs Mistry's and Rushdie's divergent negotiation of their own position as migrant writers, and I examine how their fiction is marked by an anxiety over the adequacy of writing as a mode of political engagement with the crisis in secularism and the parochialisation of Bombay, and as a means of negotiating the politics of migrancy.