Defining the hyphens in knowledge
Reviewed by Manisha Gangahar

By Rana Nayar
Orient Black Swan
Pages: 276. Rs 445

Inter-Sections Defamiliarising the familiar is what Inter-Sections attempts to do, while emphasising the need for a contrapuntal reading, not merely of texts but also of structures and systems of knowledge. Yes, the hyphenated title is what first catches the attention, and the author, in anticipation, clarifies: "it is not a quirky decision… it focuses on interdisciplinary nature and engagement with diverse ideas."

Of course, no longer can the gaps and fissures be ignored, for they too carry a meaning. Hence, Rana Nayar takes the "hyphen" to be a signifier of the threshold, the inbetweenness, be it the dichotomy of "real" and "fiction", the binaries of "they" and ", of "theory" and "practice", or the assortment of many truths. The hyphen would not just suggest being at the crossroads but also the freedom to choose the direction, the new path. There could not be a more apt title for the endeavour that the author has committed to in each of the essays in the volume.

Inter-Sections is a compilation of 16 essays and as the sub-head "Essays on Indian literatures, translations and popular consciousness" reads. The book is divided into four sections, each connecting to a part of the sub-head. The thematic division of the volume facilitates a seamless reading of the essays and, at the same time, an understanding of a particular idea within the larger theoretical framework of the category.

In the first section, Reading Indian and Indian English Literature, Nayar explores the idea of "location" through his essay Locating/Dis-locating Indian Literatures. Underscoring the fact that the concept of location is a relative term, the author goes beyond a comparing exercise to interrogate the ideology and the canon that has become a part of learning, teaching, and even reading. Nayar toys with the possibility of having a counter-canon: After all, location is primarily a matter of spatial displacement and spatial adjustments or readjustments, which ultimately work towards the making, unmaking or re-making of the literary culture within a society."

Whether the revamping of English Studies in departments or reading rooms is possible, and if yes, then to what extent is debatable. The author gives enough space for the reader to disagree without letting his own argument be flawed, and that is what makes reading an academic research paper a delight.

In Indian writing, is the Indian completely lost or compromised? Nayar takes this up in his second essay, Re-contexualizing the Post-1980s Indian Novel in English. The novel, says the author, in the Indian context is not an indigenous but an indigenised form and insists that taking into account the development and failures in the genre of novel-writing in other parts of the world is essential to understand its state in India. As the essay unfolds, it is a delight to trace the emergence of the New Indian Novel in the works of Amitav Ghosh and Shashi Tharoor along with the author. Without getting into the jargon and convoluting things more than they already are, Nayar’s arguments are lucid. An uninitiated reader, who just picks up novels and books of poetry for leisure reading, would not feel left out.

But the poor cousin of novel and poetry is the Indian English Drama which, the author feels, has never been treated with the seriousness it deserves. If he says that Mahesh Dattani is the true contemporary Indian playwright, he argues it well in his essay Emerging Trends in Post-Independence Indian English Drama. Nayar asserts that Dattani has managed to reinvent the spoken word.

The focus of the second section is Punjabi literature: Some Contexts and Texts, wherein Nayar not merely traces the evolution of the literature in a regional language but, at the same time, explores the "points of conjuncture between Indian English literature and Punjabi literature". Though the author, having functioned within the western paradigms, is an outsider, yet he offers a new perception and his own, different terms. The author’s engagement with the concept of "cultural memory" through the reading of Gurdial Singh’s novel Parsa offers a new reading not just of the narrative but an understanding of the concept in a different light.

"Cultural memory resides in those fissures, gaps and silences or in the residual elements where history deconstructs itself… its reclamation is possible only through such non-hierarchical, cultural sources as folk stories, songs or little narratives," argues Nayar.

The last section of the volume centres on the ideological influences of the mass media and their implications for popular consciousness. As Noam Chomsky has argued through his propaganda model how consent is manufactured even in the media, Nayar explores the discourse of mass communication within the framework of Indian reality. In fact, he underscores the indifference and callousness with which our English newspapers function when it comes to language: "… begin to perceive our domestic situations and events through the eyes of foreign correspondents." But language is not the only problematic area when it comes to mass media. Ideological burden and hegemonic interception and the conflict between quantity and quality, all offer their own knots. Moreover, as the author demonstrates through media writings on Indra Nooyi, and even Arvind Adiga, the nature and content of media projections need to be viewed with scepticism. Newspapers have certainly shifted from being "opinion makers" into products of consumption. Commodification of news is what is practised with more commitment than journalism per se. For a common reader, who wouldn’t begin his/her day without the dose of morning news, these essays on media would prove enlightening. The essays, courtesy author’s writing style and tone, are not insipid or mind-numbing, despite being scholarly. And, the detailed endnotes take care of ignorance, if any, on part of the reader. The volume, undoubtedly, brings together various paths trodden by the author but the assimilation of experiences and understandings, arguments and their resolutions, make it an incisive and insightful reading.