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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 48, November 19, 2011

A Statement in Neocolonialism

Monday 21 November 2011

BOOK REVIEW

by RITA NATH KESHARI

The Golden Island by Hrusikesh Panda, (English translation: Lipipuspa Nayak); Pakshighar Prakashani; Bhubaneswar; pp. 184; 2011; Rs 200.

The Golden Island is the English translation of Subarnadweepa, an Odia novel by Hrushikesh Panda, a writer with more than twenty works. The original Odia was published in 1994, the year India went for globalisation of the economy.

Set in an imaginary tiny country, the Golden Island, the novel trails the sad fate the country eventually acquires neocolonial and agencies. The plot unwinds through the personal story of its protagonist Abhishek, an upright civil servant from India on a deputation to the Golden Island. The country is a realm of limitless insanity. Abhishek is appalled at the way the country is driven towards anarchy, chaos and decimation: the insentitive, corrupt and machinating politicians who sponsor sycophancy and riots; ostentatious dishonest broker-policy-planers with their misplaced priorities and greed; a people taking to irrational violence in the absence of steady economic activities, traditional agriculture replaced by daffodil plantation at the insistance of the World Bank, import of foreign cultural practices and beliefs, and so on... In the Golden Island, people elect their techno-savvy PM, who can drive his car like an airplane, with the naive hope that he will propel their economy overnight, and riots break out when he dies in one of his racing escapades. Amid this realm of limitless insanity and misplaced euphoria, Abhishek often asks himself: does this world have a map?

Abhishek can console himself that the Golden Island is not his own country; he has the limited role of a court jester in that foreign country. But the eternal fighter in him would not let him. Besides, he is a loner. His loneliness is an outcome of his personal philosophy of life: his cynicism of eventuality of life before the inevitability of death. Thus, his conviction to help a poor man with his actions, since he has been born. Alongwith, too, runs his personal tragedy: custody suit of his two little children which which he loses. He is not a successful fighter at his personal front; or perhaps, he is too straight and naive in the ways of the world. He does not want to put up a fight there—with a machinating wife, and his hyper-sensitive ego, he does not want to expose the little children to the horrifying absurdity of a court trial. He loves his wife despite her cruelty and irrational stubbnorness, who stays apart, and this makes him even more tragic a character.

ABHISHEK solaces in his past in his village, his only retreat. In the mad world of deafening noise (from expensive imported vehicles whose parts are not available in the Golden Island) and irrationality, he withdraws to his quiet past in his faraway village in Odisha. A lot of the novel are nostalgic look-backs of the protagonist, where he reminisces an earlier scene where he had helped a people get the rationed cooking oil, or an aunt in his village get a family pension, or rescued a mendicant of his village from a bunch of touts, or spent a nice summer afternoon in a mango orchard with his beloved from his village. It is as though a part of Abhishek has coalesced into his village, the place of his mother and dead father.

The novel ends in a traumatic last chapter, where Abhishek has been transferred and without a posting, runs out of money. He decides to borrow money from his colleague, and goes out to fetch it without the knowledge that a riot has started following the accidental death of the PM of the Golden Island.

Subarnadweepa (the original Odia novel) is the first Indian language novel on the theme of neocolonialism. Told as an allegory, the novel transcends to the universal story of the destiny of a third world country trapped with crass onslaught of consumerism. The personal story of the tragic protagonist of the novel adds to the brilliance of the thematic treatment. It is as if the fate of the country and the protagonist intertwines at the end of the novel which is irredeemably tragic. The narration excels in its original metaphors, imagery, powerful idiom of the novelist and realism. Hrusikesh has been a major voice in Indian language literature, and a trendsetter in Odia fiction. An activist, Hrusikesh has fought for the poor and the disadvantaged throughout his bureaucrat’s career. His literature is borne out in his life, the suffering he has gone through in his personal and professional lives, and is not produced from any literary dogma. The Golden Island is a Hrusikesh Panda novel.

Dr Keshari is a Senior Lecturer and critic based in Pondicherry

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