The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, March 9, 2003

Caught between tradition and modernity
Manisha Gangahar

Clive Avenue
by T.S. Tirumurti. Penguin Books. Rs 275.
Pages 259.

Clive AvenueTHE mere practice of renaming cities and streets, "converting British relics into national relics", cannot by itself help us shrug off the imperial legacy. Clive Avene is, in fact, an attempt to emphasise the futility of this exercise especially when the imperial or rather neo-imperial culture has influenced the very lives of indigenous people. The residents of Clive Avenue cannot identify with any other name for their home but the one given by the British.

Clive Avenue, ostensibly a cul-de-sac, is essentially about the intersection of different cultures. Not only is there a coming together of contrasting cultures like French and Tamil, but also a fusion of modernism and tradition. The conflicting attitudes and ideas of the characters fashion their lives. Sundaram’s profession as a surgeon and his scientific study does not in any way contradict his traditional attitudes. Whether it is belief in horoscopes, caste or the "girl-seeing ceremony", they are a part of the existence of these people. Modernity doesn’t change this in spite of the desire on the part of the modern youth to "move on". Rajan, "an America-returned gentleman", claims to espouse modern ideas. However, he is not comfortable with the idea of his fiancée flaunting herself at a disco but is opposed to the conservative attitude of his mother towards his friendship with a French girl, Dominique. The foreigner holds a balanced stance when she advises Rajan to give up his condemnation of traditional symbols that are a part of the any country’s legacy: "I sometimes worry when I see guys like you trying to be psuedo-rebels. Be rebels with substance".


It is the process of assimilation amidst globalisation that is the focus of the story. As Rajan says: "Assimilation essentially means enriching one’s own culture by cross-pollination without encouraging your own vitals to be eaten away." He further brings forth the quintessence of India by stating, "India is essentially a multireligious society". At the same time the blame for anything that goes wrong is not shouldered collectively by Indians.

Rajan’s experience back home is not pleasant enough for him to stick to his decision of staying in his hometown. It is an internal dilemma that makes him uncomfortable: "Things are different and not necessarily for the better". However, the reasons for his pursuing a like in America, which is equally a "wasteland", are not clearly explained. Indeed, the novel does present America as a land of free choices: "Two alien souls from different cultures…both in the US for the first time…She had just started smoking—to throw away the yoke of Mexican society. And he, to discard the yoke of a Brahminical upbringing." Thus, crossing over of the borders, both territorial and cultural, is feasible in an alien country. The sought-after assimilation, according to the novel, cannot take place so easily in a country like India because of its age-old heritage. The identities of its people deter genuine relationships of love and friendship and one is strangled by the conflicting demands of tradition and modernity.

The author does not provide any answers but invites the reader to decipher the puzzle of life in the context of his/her understanding of relationships, moral and cultural dogmas and his/her sense of individuality. The reader can relate to the characters of the novel as they have been picked from the real life and their experiences are genuine and not merely the imagination of the writer. The novel traces the regular course of life but seems to reiterate that one cannot escape or avoid it.