Samiran George Ghissing
Samiran George Ghissing currently teaches at the English Department of Janki Devi Memorial College, University of Delhi. His area of interest is Literary Food Studies, Indian English Literature, American Literature, and Cinema studies.
This paper will analyze representations of the Gorkhaland Movement in Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss (2005), Satyadip S. Chhetri’s “Beyond Sausages and Poached Eggs” (2013) and Purna Rai’s “Declaration of a Revolution”(1996). I argue that in these texts the writers posit hunger as the incipient cause for the demand of the Gorkhaland Movement. The hunger is of two kinds: a natural hunger--the continual concern is economic deprivation--and a metaphorical hunger--a hunger for an identity. An identity that is at once Indian and a reflection of the hybrid existence as Indian-Nepali while trying to overturn the “foreigner” tag that is associated with the Indian-Nepalis in India. While tracing the food imagery it becomes clear that the meta-languages of food in these narratives reveal consumption as coded expressions of power. The writers through the alimentary symbols create an idiom where hunger isn’t just dearth but a language of resistance.
Keywords: Literary Food Studies, Gorkhaland Movement, Indian-Nepali, Hunger
Can the hungry go on a hunger strike? Non-violence is a piece of theatre. You need an audience. What can you do when you have no audience? People have the right to resist annihilation.
—Arundhati Roy, Interview The Guardian
The increasing state intervention and diktat on personal consumption and diet in India with the “beef ban” and consequent lynchings in Uttar Pradesh, the refusal to include eggs in the mid-day meal schemes in Madhya Pradesh, and the use of culinary terms like “momo” and “chowmein” as racial epithets against the North Eastern community; food is increasingly being used to shape and define what it means to be an “authentic” Indian citizen. Some citizens are seen as more “Indian” than others; the upper caste, hindu, bourgeois, North Indian male unsurprisingly--yet problematically--serves as the normative subject. The state’s role in legitimising or prohibiting certain food harkens back to the age old--caste based--culinary restrictions, constructing a hierarchy through culinary order.
Against the backdrop of such friction, a conversation about eating food and cultures is crucial for minority communities, specifically for this paper, the Indian-Nepali community. The terms “Nepali”and “momo” are symbolically used as a tool for othering and branding the entire North Eastern community as a foreigner. The usage of a foreign nationality (Nepali) and concomitantly its food (momo) reminds us of the inextricable link between food and personal identity. The conflation of the two is emblematic of what it means to be an Indian-Nepali i.e. an other or a foreigner. In the national imaginary there is no such thing as an “Indian-Nepali”, there are no hyphenated citizens, they are invisible. In Literature of the Indian Diaspora: Theorising the Diaspora Imaginary, Vijay Mishra explains the “law of the hyphen” as one in which certain citizens are still fighting to find its place and meaning in the nation state when oppositional values and meaning is ascribed on the hyphenated/non hyphenated status:
In actual practice the pure, unhyphenated generic category is only applicable to those citizens whose bodies signify an unproblematic identity of selves with nations. For those of us who are outside this form of ‘universal’ identity politics, whose corporealities fissure the logic of unproblematic identification, plural/multicultural societies have constructed, for their unassimilable others, the impure genre of the hyphenated subject. (Mishra 184)
Swatahsiddha Sarkar elaborates this concept in the Indian-Nepali context in Gorkhaland Movement: Ethnic Conflict and State Response, where he says that the crux of the problem is the failure to see particular communities needs to be represented in a decolonized nation in a hyphenated manner. Sarkar mentions while “Indian Bihari” or “Indian Bengali” is seen rather meaningless “Indian-Nepali” is always a meaningful category and also oxymoronic as it describes foreign loyalties. The problem arises when one group is seen less of a natural citizen, with a liminality that cannot be afforded. Where the non-hyphenated national is posited across the dubious hyphenated other,
The case of the Nepalis in India unfolds a double edged character of national identity, more as an obvious sequel of Bhabha’s double narrative movement of pedagogy and performative, exemplified through the capacity of defining who is a member of the national community and who is an ‘other/alien/foreigner’. To put matters to simple terms, it is proposed that the existence of a national community presupposes the existence of other nations. (Sarkar 45)
I use Mishra and Sarkar’s intervention as an entry point to see the Indian-Nepali as a liminal figure. This liminality results in the characters in the chosen texts being seen as abject figures. I draw from an intertextual understanding of abjection from Kristeva and Butler. For Kristeva the abject has only one quality “that of being opposed to I” where the boundaries of meaning collapse and “it is thus not lack of cleanliness or health that causes abjection but what disturbs identity, system, order. What does not respect borders, positions, rules. The in-between, the ambiguous, the composite” (Kristeva 10-13). Butler’s understanding of abjection expands upon Kristeva’s, where she sees the abject as outside the constitutive of the subject. Who can be deemed a subject and certain bodies’ membership to be a subject is foreclosed. The spectacle of hunger and hunger strikes makes visible the abject and “is potentially decentered in moments of self-recognition and self-determination by those who remain abjected by hegemonic racial, gender, and sexual norms, even though they might be occasionally “recognized”or “tolerated” by formal liberal reason” (Butler 64-65) but this “tolerance” is only till they remain docile and non-threatening. The paper seeks to analyse narratives that highlight the Indian-Nepali community and make them visible within the very site of their abjection—the stereotypes, dearth and hunger—to interrogate the power relations they are embedded in, where the minority subjects are rendered strange, foreign and abject to the majoritarian national culture.
Kiran Desai’s Booker winning novel The Inheritance of Loss (2005) is perhaps one of the only popular texts, where the major narrative arc is set in the Darjeeling district, which houses a key portion of the Indian-Nepali community. And is the backdrop of one of the protracted statehood demands, the Gorkhaland Movement. The novel itself met with heavy criticism within the Indian-Nepali community for what was viewed as an unsympathetic look into the movement and its people. However, I argue, the meta-languages of food reveal a discourse of sympathy and the Gorkhaland Movement as a leveller of class generated consumption pattern. Purna Rai’s “Declaration of a Revolution” (1996) and Satyadip S. Chhetri’s “Beyond Sausages and Poached Eggs” (2013) gives us a glimpse into the material reality of the “common man” and the “hungry” characters’ dilemma over the need for economic sustenance or respond to the call for hunger strikes. The pertinent question asked is: “Can the hungry go on a hunger strike?”. My epigraph points at the paradoxical nature of hunger strike as a political tool. In a hegemonic structure where the Indian-Nepali has been invisibilised and stand for the abject, how can hunger strikes evoke necessary reaction? How can we see them? Hunger strike is a piece of theatre that demands spectators, and above all it is wielding power through an affective spectacle. When the abject is a symbol of horror and disgust; is violence the only recourse? As Roy comments “people have the right to resist annihilation”. A nuanced reading of hunger is essential, the narratives I have chosen highlight multiple understandings of hunger. Hunger not just as dearth or lack but a return to bare life where the rage of hunger can be tapped for political purpose.
Hunger has been used by Levinas to investigate the ethical relation to the Other. To Levinas it is only through the body that hungers, that one can understand the importance of the hunger of the other: “...which one recognizes in giving (as one "puts the things in question in giving")—this gaze is precisely the epiphany of the face as a face. The nakedness of the face is destituteness.* To recognize the Other is to recognize a hunger. To recognize the Other is to give” (Levinas 75). As the ethics of eating well entails that one has to first enjoy one’s bread, know its value and give it up for the other. Giving, not in order to have the merit of giving, but to understand the meaning behind the sacrifice of one’s own hunger, and through one’s own hunger understand the hunger of others. There is a cost to pay, it cannot be without sacrifice on the one giving. In the narratives, one sees that the revolution cannot be achieved without sacrifice on both sides of the faction. The hunger of Indian-Nepali characters demand satiation, hence, the texts questions hunger and ultimately articulates hunger not only as a lack, but as a site of negotiation, as hungering for more, and moving towards a rights discourse. The writers also provide a fecund ground to investigate the alterity of the characters rendered invisible in the historical and literary discourse. Since Levinas bases the recognition of hunger, on the affect, the metaphorical hunger is also closely related to the physical one. The metaphorical hunger is the lived reality between the hyphen, “Indian” and “Nepali”. The meaning of the hyphen is the identity crisis that plagues the Indian-Nepalis. The writers question the nationalist boundary making based on purity in a geographical/cultural border zone that is Darjeeling district.
Chhetri’s short story “Beyond Sausages and Poached Eggs” is set against the contemporary political climate with the rhetoric of non-violence and intermittent hunger strikes and tells the story of an unnamed Indian-Nepali driver of a plantation owner. The story is a first person narrative that self reflexively explores the nature of servitude in the Indian-Nepali working class community and their status in the nation vis-à-vis ethnicity. The narrative isn't driven by a plot but is the narrator’s reflection on the Gorkhaland Movement, the cyclic nature of exploitation, and the role of hunger in creating his identity. Rai’s “Declaration of a Revolution” tells us the story of another labouring class Indian-Nepali, we aren’t provided with his exact profession, it is an interchangeable menial work. Like Chhetri’s narrative, the husband isn't named, he lives in dire poverty with his wife and numerous children. The story unfolds as a conversation between the husband and wife. The wife asks him the nature of the political sermons and questions the hunger strikes he is participating in at the cost of their household sustenance. This nightlong conversation delves into an analysis of the nature of “revolution”. The story is again set in the present political scenario. The Inheritance of Loss has interlinking narratives, chief among which is the love story between Gyan, the Indian-Nepali tutor, and Sai an upper class student of Gyan. Their story unfolds amidst the rising political tensions in the Darjeeling district and is set in the violent stage of the Gorkhaland Movement in the 1980s. The secret budding romance between Gyan and Sai flourish over numerous excursions to restaurants, picnics and dinner. Food that first brought them together ultimately undoes their relationship. Food becomes a sign of their alterity and becomes a conduit for the unfolding human drama.
“Beyond Sausages and Poached Eggs” is an important foray in using food as a metaphor for class oppression and associating it with violence. Chhetri’s writing acts as a co-text for the forgotten history of Indian-Nepalis’ contribution in the nation making. Where classic historicism fails to include the minority groups and their history, relegating them as the ‘other’ within the postcolonial cultural gamut. Chhetri counters this invisibilisation as the short story is replete with documentary style reiteration of the Gorkha contribution in the nation building: from Indian-Nepali freedom fighters like Durga Malla—whose statue is in the garden of the Indian Parliament, Ram Singh Thakuri a soldier in Subhas Chandra Bose’s INA who gave musical notation to the patriotic anthem “Kadam Kadam Badaye Ja”. The first person narrator inserts these snippets of facts into the story line to create a subaltern history, he asserts “we too have grown” and want our own space, a claim to the nation.
The story is relayed to us by a nameless lower class Indian-Nepali character he narrates the story in simple prose “I am 30 years old now. Yet I look 40. I stay in a small hamlet near Darjeeling. It is basically a hamlet made up of tea garden workers. No, I do not own the land; they say it belongs to the tea garden. I am the driver of the Manager and hold a special position among my fellow workers” (Chhetri 1). The character is nameless and metonymically represents the numerous faceless Indian-Nepali working class community. His father was a cook for the “burra sahib”—a designation given to the plantation owner—and had died during the police firing in a Gorkhaland meeting:
When I was four years old I lost my father. He had gone to get sausages from Keventer’s in Darjeeling for the then Manager. My mother used to tell me that the earlier Burra Sahib loved to have sausages and poached eggs for breakfast. My father was the cook of the Manager’s bungalow, and his prized possession; the Manager had filched him from a very famous restaurant in Darjeeling for a bottle of Glenfiddich, the restaurant owner’s weakness. Twelve years later on that fateful day, there was a meeting for Gorkhaland in Chowk Bazaar. The crowd got so excited by the Supremo’s speech that they were almost ready for action. The cops sensed the tension and opened fire. My father received a bullet to his chest. The packet of sausages still lay clutched in his hand when they brought his body to the police station. The Burra Sahib never got to eat those sausages….I never touched the sausages. I always felt that it was the sausages which took my father’s life… (Chhetri 1-2)
Early on sausages is indelibly etched on the narrator’s memory as a symbol of violence and class oppression. The manner in which the narrator’s father comes to work for the Burra Sahib is described as “filched” that is stolen or bartered as a petty commodity, for a bottle of alcohol, Glenfiddich. Both sausages and whiskey becomes markers of upper class consumption and identity. This juxtaposition of violence and food is repeated in The Inheritance of Loss where in a Gorkhaland procession, a peaceful march turns into a violent confrontation with the state machinery, with shots being fired leading to the death of countless protesters and the counter violence against the police. Finally, when the violence settles down the landscape is an image of “the red blood lay over the market road in slick pools mingled with a yellow spread of dal…a messy blur clearing into the silent still image of a spread of food mingled with blood”(Desai 277-278). Both Desai and Chhetri are aware that the basic need for alimentation is the initial cause for the unrest. The juxtaposition of extraordinary violence with the quotidian food imagery visibilizes the state violence against its own people. This violence and death mark the place as site of abjection and makes Kalimpong an uncanny place. It is important to note that in both the narratives Indian-Nepali community is at the receiving end of the violence. In Chhetri’s story the protagonist’s father’s death may seem co-incidental but for the packet of sausage clutched in his hand implicating the Burra sahib in his death.
In Purna Rai’s “Declaration of a Revolution” we witness the main protagonist’s dilemma over the dire need for sustenance and the desire to respond to the “declaration of a revolution” he hears in a political rally. The protagonist is representative of the “common man” who unfailingly attends Gorkhaland meetings and speeches thoroughly invigorated only to come home where the economic needs are high and hunger reigns supreme. As his wife scolds him, “Even if you are united and start a revolution, don’t start off with a strike. Remember last time we went hungry—will you resort to strike at the cost of keeping the children hungry?...enough, enough, tomorrow our children will not go hungry”(Rai 294-205). He vacillates between the need for food and the need for change. The narrative highlights his inner turmoil and it becomes clear that it isn’t just his hunger but his children’s as well and the dearth in their future. The dearth is not just the physical dearth but the concomitant death of the possibilities. It is the lack of food for the “heads”, “hearts” and “activity”, the affect, which is made possible only through economic stability. Desai mentions that economic dearth and hunger brings about predation by institutions, “It was the impoverished who walked the line so thin it was questionable if it existed, an imaginary line between the insurgents and the law, between being robbed (who would listen to them if they went to the police?) and being hunted by the police as scapegoats for the crimes of others. They were the hungriest” (Desai 282).
Physical hunger forms a major rhetoric in the political speeches heard by the narrator in the story and its consequent foreclosures:
Himalayas of this country….each grain of sands, trees and plants is soaked with our own sweat and blood. It holds our painful stories and tales of our progress, and the bitter history of our century is also ingrained here. Oh countrymen! My dear poor and afflicted family! What have gained by this long struggle and developmental war? What have we achieved? Only hardships, persecutions, only struggle. Today we are hungry; today our and your children are naked and hungry—today the breasts of our mothers do not shower us the holy milk tasting like honey. But only gives out a tired sigh…. (Rai 205)
By aligning hunger as a signifying system symbiotic with social, economic and finally political ideologies it gives us an important tool to study it, as both produced by and productive of historical and cultural contexts. In other words, hunger is neither isolated from nor merely symbolic. It is actively generating and an example of what it means to be part of the modern Indian state. One has to be a consumer, by which you become a participant in the capitalist framework and important to the state.
Hungry characters on the other hand are defined by a lack and therefore invisible in the schema of modern consumption and hence notably visible only as a site for exploitation. Even to the Cook—Panna Lal—in The Inheritance of Loss, Gyan as a tutor is a strange concept because of the ontology of eating invariably puts him as inferior in intellect. The cook assumed the tutor would be Bengali. Food is creating and signifying intellectual merit:
I thought he would be Bengali”…. “Bengalis,” said the cook, “are very intelligent.”... “It’s the fish,” the cook said. “Coastal people are more intelligent than inland people.“Coastal people eat fish and see how much cleverer they are, Bengalis, Malayalis, Tamils. Inland they eat too much grain, and it slows the digestion—especially millet—forms a big heavy ball. The blood goes to a stomach and not to the head. Nepalis makes good soldiers, coolies, but they are not so bright at their studies. Not their fault, poor things. (Desai 73)
The important point here apart from the stereotype is that it reveals the ingrained idea that “you are what you eat”. Food isn’t just symbolic but is used as an ontological tool to legitimize status throughout the three narratives. Despite the crumbling facade of Cho Oyu and Mon Ami in The Inheritance of Loss, the dietary pattern is lavish, colonial, and a reminder of their status as neocolonial master. The ethnic food on the other hand dulls the poor Indian-Nepali inhabitants. Symbolically, it is the dining room which is the first formal setting of “sharing bread” between Gyan and Sai. The act of eating together is anything but a bonding experience, it has contradictory implications as it the beginning of their romance but also portents the immanent failure of their romance. Gyan’s in-expertise while eating fancy “western food” with its proper cutlery and etiquette signal his class position. The judge has a recognition/flashback of his own experience in England with western food and the discomfort; but instead of sympathy this recognition horrifies him, it makes the boundaries between him and Gyan less rigid. So, he goes out of his way to humiliate Gyan to maintain a sense boundary between the classes. The young tutor with his repugnance for all colonial allegiances is made to eat lamb chops with peas, tomato soup, potato and gravy. When Sai and Gyan dine together during their courtship period they briefly forget their differences and loving call each other “momos”. Eating momos and calling each other “momo” is described by Desai as the “dumpling stage of love” and the “momo” for them signify love and affection , “mutton in dough, one thing plump and cozy within the other—it connoted protection, affection” (Desai 140). This tender moment replete with affection is again undercut by their eating etiquettes, where Gyan uses hands Sai uses tablespoon, and both notice this difference while embarrassedly trying to ignore it. However, early on the deep cultural and social schism between the two is made clear. Gyan and Sai’s social standing interrupts their love affair and food that had brought them closer now becomes to each other a sign of their alterity. As Gyan ruminates and consoles himself that the culinary signification is symptomatic of their different upbringing and outlook in life:
She who could not eat with her hands;...never chewed a paan and had not tried most sweets in the mithaishop, for they made her retch;....felt happier with so-called English vegetables, snap peas, French beans, spring onions, and feared—feared—loki, tinda, kathal, kaddu, patrel and the local saag of the market. Eating together they had always felt embarrassed—he, unsettled by her finickiness and her curbed enjoyment, and she, revolted by his energy and his fingers working the dal, his slurps and smacks. The judge ate even his chapattis, his puris and paranthas, with knife and fork. (Desai 176)
As Gyan and Sai’s romantic bubble cracks the political unrest impinges upon their lives, the Gorkhaland posters proliferate the landscape, ranging from “we are stateless” to “we are constitutionally tortured. Return our land from Bengal”. Marx posits this gnawing need of hunger as “a natural need; it therefore needs a nature outside itself, and object outside itself, in order to satisfy itself, to be stilled. Hunger is an acknowledged need of my body for an object which exists outside it, indispensable to its integration and to the expression of its essential being” (Ellman 32). Marx is talking about physical hunger as well as what I call metaphorical hunger; which is a mixture of affect and need. The demand is for recognition of the hybrid status of the Indian-Nepalis. It isn't just about self articulation but how others view you as well. This hungering can be satiated only through action. Rather than ignoring this affective hunger and focusing only on the physical hunger, it is the combination of both which is articulated, in what it means to be a hyphenated subject—to be an Indian-Nepali. Both kinds of hunger in all the three texts aren’t just about sustenance but also of satisfaction, it moves towards remedying wrong.
In “Beyond Sausages and Poached Eggs” the narrator mentions how the “Gorkha” in him was created. It is on his trip to Kolkata where he is introduced by the Burra sahib as his “Man Friday”—which has racist connotations derived from Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, the primitive man, the popular stereotype of the loyal Gorkha servant/soldier. A stranger in the city asks him “where I was from” and then more explicitly “where in Nepal my home was” this casual branding as foreigner is implicit in the construction of the national imaginary, there is constriction on who it conferred as an “authentic” citizen and consequently who isn’t. The identity crisis of the Indian-Nepalis is when the term Nepali has connotation of nationality over ethnicity. This innocuously asked question is however loaded with meanings; it elicits “origins” and relegates the protagonist to “margin”. He is marked as a stranger and Butler calls it as being marked as “unreal”, this unreality is a violence in itself, “whose lives are real? How might reality be remade? Those who are unreal have, in a sense, already suffered the violence of derealization” (Butler 33) and this “derealization” of the other means that they are neither citizens nor foreigners, subjects nor objects and exist as abject beings.
The political speech in Desai’s text in chapter Twenty Six again discusses hunger, describing the India-Nepali’s continuous oppression from the colonial to the neo-colonial one. The government’s apathy and under development of the region, while simultaneously plundering its natural resources—from tea, timber, soil, hydroelectricity etc.—is highlighted. The Indian-Nepali community assert themselves as they try to negotiate their right to the place, claiming that this is “where our parents were born, where our grandparents were born. We will run our own affairs in our own language…” and warns the Gorkha soldiers to leave their service from the Indian army that just uses them “Please quit the army at once. For when you will be retired then you may be treated as a foreigner” (Desai 158-160). From the want of rights and recognition of their heritage to highlighting the difference from the mainstream Bengal state, which founds their demand for a new statehood:
In 1947, brothers and sisters, the British left granting India her freedom, granting the Muslims Pakistan, granting special provisions for the schedule castes and tribes, leaving everything taken care of …Except us. EXCEPT US. The Nepalis of India. At that time, in April of 1947, the Communist Party of India demanded a Gorkhasthan, but the request was ignored…We are labourers on the tea plantations, coolies dragging heavy loads, soldiers. And are we allowed to become doctors and government workers, owner of tea plantations? No! We are kept at the level of servants…In our own country, the country we fight for we are treated like slaves. Everyday the lorries leave bearing away our forests, sold by foreigners to fill the pockets of foreigners. Everyday our stones are carried from the riverbed of the Teesta to build their houses and cities. We are labourers working barefoot in all weather, thin as sticks, as they sit fat in managers’ houses with their fat wives, with their fat bank accounts and their fat children going abroad. Even their chairs are fat…(Desai 158-160)
The political rhetoric in the novel flips the position of the native and the foreigner, where now the Bengalis are seen as the outsiders. Hungry characters and their hunger is articulated as the true forbearers of the soil while the “fat outsiders” are known only for their cannibalising appetite. An appetite marked by excessive consumption that drains the area and its people of natural resources and sustenance. The separatist movement is vehemently opposed by the upper class characters who want to maintain the status quo. Lola and Mrs Sen, the Bengali sisters, launch into prejudiced tirades as words like “illegal immigration” and “anti-national” enters the text. This anti-national rhetoric turns more vulgar with the obvious colluder of anti-nationalism, Muslims, ““And then, baba, the way these Neps multiply” Mrs Sen: “Like Muslims” “No self control, those people disgusting”” (Desai 129). The Gorkhaland movement that was/is a grassroots movement attempts to makes visible the starving body absent from everywhere and tolerated only when docile and invisible. The very moment Indian-Nepalis vocalise their grief and dissent they interrupt the imaginary segregated world in The Inheritance of Loss.
The symbolic order is disrupted and the abject bodies become a threat. The invisible body and its hunger are no longer invisible and becomes threatening to the elite upper class society. The result is an immediate backlash upon the bodies by state machinery and tirades fill the novel: how dare “these Neps” demand rights and usurp “our” space. Hence, the use of violence on the Gorkhaland protesters, in all the texts is the culmination of the entire nexus of power that was armed and ready to remove them from public sphere to make them invisible again. Butler uses the term “unreal”, however, the abject bodies have a spectral quality to it. What does it mean to use use violence against unreal bodies? Is that violence unreal as well? The key analysis that Butler states is the double negation. a symbolic process, where even at the site of “unrealness" and abjection, the abject bodies exist spectrally. Hence, they have to be negated again and again. The impulse is to quell the movement and quell it continuously because even though they are abject, they continue to be present at the very site of their abjection. As long as “I” exists the “Other” exists as well. As long as economic inequality and inequity is present the character’s hunger persists. The hunger keeps the Indian-Nepalis radical and disavows forgetting. Hunger acts as a way of remembering and contesting erasure.
The rallying calls of the Gorkhaland Movement is heard and interrupts the upper class privilege in specific sites: firstly, in the high end restaurant Glenary’s a symbolic marker of excess consumption, and secondly, the library, a site of education and learning that is foreclosed to many working class Gorkha community. After witnessing Gyan in the Gorkhaland procession Sai is unsettled and on her return journey symbolically throws up the fancy restaurant food, the sick is interestingly called mulligatawny—a hybridized food, a remnant of the colonial legacy. This is an important mark as it is at this juncture, of her own abjection—Kristeva mentions vomit as another site of horror and the inner/outer obfuscates—that she starts introspecting about her class privilege and “self-centeredness”.
The hallmark of any successful revolution is the levelling of social hegemony, while the Gorkhaland movement didn't result in a separate state for the Indian-Nepalis, it did lead to carving the territory out as an autonomous region within Bengal. In the novel these gains are symbolically shown through the levelling of consumption patterns. In Desai’s novel, the first chapter begins with the “rebels” inserting themselves in the routine of the afternoon tea, the judge sits crossly demanding “a cake or scones, macaroons or cheese straws” from the cook. Their afternoon tea is interrupted, when the rebels invites themselves to the tea and demand snacks to satiate their hunger. While the short stories delve into unveiling the hungry body as a spectacle, in the novel, the hungry characters demand to be fed. As a final insult they defecate in the toilet without flushing marking the consumption, and then the scatological, this act is subversive and symbolic. The boundary between the inner and outer is confounded by those excremental passages in which the inner effectively becomes outer. The excreting function becomes a symbolic way through which forms of identity-differentiation are blurred. (Butler 170)
In one swift act the episode becomes a thorn in the judge’s mind as he is made to wait on the lower class Gorkhaland supporters and then symbolically becomes the other. Even Bengali sisters realize that the political unrest “didn’t come from nothing,” and calls it an old feeling of anger that couldn’t be divorced from Kalimpong, “It was part of every breath….It did matter, buying tinned ham roll in a rice and dal country; it did matter to live in a big house…it did matter to fly to London and return with chocolates filled with kirsch; it did matter that others could not” (Desai 242). The division of the upper and the lower, the hungry and the satiated the "inner" and "outer" worlds of the subject, this boundary becomes fragile as the local shops stop selling the Bengali sisters food, they in turn become the hungry ones and has to rely on her Indian-Nepali maid to purchase necessary food items. Even in Cho Oyu except little food that Sai buys when possible, it is their garden that feeds them. For the first time in their life, they sample and eat the local cuisine:
For the first time, they in Cho Oyu were eating the real food of the hillside. Dalda saag, pink-flowered, flat-leafed; bhutiya dhaniya growing copiously around the cook’s quarter; the new tendrils of squash or pumpkin vine; curled ningro fiddleheads, churbi cheese and bamboo shoots sold by women who appeared from behind bushes on forest paths with cheese wrapped in ferns and the yellow slices of bamboo shoots in buckets of water. After the rains, mushrooms pushed their way up, sweet as chicken and glorious as Kanchenjunga. (Desai 281-282)
The blockade and strikes reveal that the nature of the consumption pattern, the boundary drawn and maintained for the purposes of social regulation and control is in fact a fragile construct. Even nature aids and abets the “insurgents” as the heavy monsoons had caused landslides divorcing the hills from the main state and all the shops remained closed as there was a halt in the supply coming from the plains. It is also nature that serves as an example for Rai’s protagonist who answers his wife’s question “Really tell me what all happened, Every day you say “meeting, meeting”, by this meeting we do not get enough to eat. So many children—you must think—for others it is not a problem but it is difficult for the poor like us. Now the children are small, what will happen when they’ll grow up?” (Rai 204). He ponders over the dilemma over family duties and duty toward the community and the Gorkhaland Movement. The protagonist claims to understand the meaning of a revolution: which is not “fights, violence and all that” but as in the distance dawn approaches and a rooster crows he declares “Do you hear, this is a revolution, for a cock to crow is a revolution, understood?”(Rai 208). Rai’s narrator aligns the Marxian call of the labour revolution as natural phenomena, a rising up of the labour to sustained inequity. He articulates revolution and hunger as the reality of being. He identifies hunger not as a void but a fecund site. One with transgressive powers, that can be harnessed as a political tool. Even the performative aspect of the hunger strikes seen as “playing politics”, is to be read, not as a pejorative “play” but as participating in the larger political process of the country. Moving from objects to subjects. Hunger acts as a symbol of neglect as well as an agent of change.
Butler, Judith. Bodies That Matter. London and New York: Routledge, 1993. PDF file.
---. Precarious Life: The Power of Mourning and Violence. London and New York: Verso, 2004. PDF file.
---. The Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997. Print.
Chhetri, Satyadip S. “Beyond Sausages and Poached Eggs” HIMĀL: South Asian. 2013.
Desai, Kiran. The Inheritance of Loss. New Delhi: Penguin, 2006. Print.
Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez. New York:
Columbia University Press, 1982. PDF file.
Levinas, Emmanuel. Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority. Hague, Boston and London: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1979.PDF file.
Mishra, Vijay. The Literature of The Indian Diaspora: Theorizing The Diasporic Imaginary. London and New York: Routledge, 2007. PDF file.
Rai, Purna. “Declaration of A Revolution” Contemporary Indian Short Stories: Series IV. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1996. Print.
Sarkar, Swatasiddha. Gorkhaland Movement: Ethnic Conflict and State Response. New Delhi: Concept Publishing Company, 2013.Print.
Subba, T. B, A.C Sinha, G. S Nepal et al, eds. Indian Nepalis: Issues and Perspectives. New Delhi: Concept Publishing Company, 2009.Print.