During my childhood, I read The Tempest by William Shakespeare, from The Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb. I loved reading it, Prospero with all its magical power, Ariel— the fairy, Ferdinand and Miranda’s love story, all used to make me feel good, but what used to make me feel bad was Caliban, sounds so similar to Cannibal.
But, was Caliban, really bad? Well, that’s the beauty of a classic literature, there’s enough space for dialogues to take place. Hence, even though, this play could have been a play solely on Prospero’s greatness, Shakespeare, chose to give voice to Caliban. Thus, in Act I Scene II, probably line 320, we find an exchange between Prospero and Caliban, here what the later has to say:
“I must eat my dinner. This island’s mine, by Sycorax my mother, Which thou tak’st from me. When thou camest first, Thou strok’dst me, and mad’st much of me; wouldst give me Water with berries in’t; and teach me how To name the bigger light, and how the less, That burn by day and night: and then I lov’d thee And show’d thee all the qualities o’ th’ isle, The fresh springs, brine-pits, barren place, and fertile. Cursed be I that did so!—All the charms Of Sycorax, toads, beetles, bats, light on you! For I am all the subjects that you have, Which first was mine own king; and here you sty me In this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me The rest o’ th’ island.”
Does it ring something in your mind? Don’t you think that it is talking about the colonial atrocities that the White Man used to impose upon quote-unquote “brown,” and “black,” natives, who once believed them? Who believed that East India Company is there to make trade, not to make them slaves? Even though the White Man built the railways, constructed the bridges, and introduced the Western Education, to the Asian and the African, yet can they justify their atrocities?
‘The White Man’s Burden’—Literature Not Just Criticize but Give Sanction to Atrocities
Well, they can. Period. What has been defined as Ideological State Apparatus or ISA, by Louise Althusser becomes very important here. Often people in power, according to Althusser, the capitalist, make people believe in certain ideologies, through various institutions, among, which there is family, school, society, sports, legal system, and of course, politics. However, another important thing also plays a crucial role in it, and that is Art, in any form. To quote Althusser, ‘Ideology is a “representation” of the Imaginary Relationship of Individuals to their Real conditions of existence.’
Althusser, believed, even a literary text or its sub-text can play a vital role in producing an ideology. One such crucial text is Rudyard Kipling’s “The White Man’s Burden.” Where Kipling urges the “White Man,” to take up the burden of civilizing the “new-caught, sullen peoples,/Half devil and half child.” In a way, giving sanction to atrocity carried out by the imperial power.
In this regard, a report on The New York Times becomes very relevant, where the newspaper report states that the poem actually, justifies the US rule over Philippines, during 1899. The same theory became relevant during the Afghanistan war also.
Draupadi/Dopdi—Give Voice to Weak, Help them to Rise against Atrocities
While talking about atrocities against weak and common, how can one forget the women, who are subject to atrocities almost every day, since time immemorial? Even, the greatest epic of all time Mahabharata, centers on the revenge against one such atrocity committed against a woman. How can one forget how amidst her in-laws, her husbands, who happens to be her protectors, Draupadi or Panchali, faced the biggest insult, trauma, and humiliation that any woman can even think of. However, she had Lord Krishna to save her. But that Dwapar Yug, magic used to happen that time, but this is Kalyug, and no magic takes place in this world. Survival of the humans with self-respect and dignity is the biggest magic.
Hence, Mahasweta Devi’s short story Draupadi/Dopdi gained relevance. The story is set in the 1971 Bengal, where at the same time the Naxallite movement in the Bengal was taking place, and the liberation of Bangladesh was also taking place. During this time tribal community of the state too, became an active participants of the movement.
The story therefore, revolves around Dopdi Mejhen who is not just a woman but also a woman from the tribal community—a Santhal! So, she was not just a subaltern but, someone who, according to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, is “doubly shadowed.” Now, she however, was not a pitiable character but a strong character, who with her husband killed the landlords to usurp their wells because that was the most fundamental source of water in their village.
However, one day she is caught by the police and the armed forces. To make her speak about the other people in her group and to gather information on the rebel that was uprising, another character in the story, Officer Senanayak, asked his men to rape her.
Now, the irony is the officer who carries out the heinous act, was the one, who instructed her to cover up herself, after everything is done. However, Dopdi disrobed herself and stand before Officer Senanayak, without her clothes, and exclaimed, “There isn’t a man here that I should be ashamed.”
It shook off Officer Senanayak, as this was quite unacceptable for him, but here only literature played its part and told us that when atrocities have crossed all its boundaries the weak stands up against the powerful. Either they create their own language, or they use the language of their master to pay them back in their own coin.
‘Things Fall Apart’, when the Ruler get Paid by their Own Coin
“You taught me language, and my profit on ’t
Is I know how to curse. The red plague rid you
For learning me your language!”
Caliban said this to Prospero, and meaning is quite clear to us, Caliban made Prospero realize that one day the language he had taught Caliban, would be used by Caliban to gain his righteous power. Similar thoughts and actions were carried out Chinua Achebe through his novel Things Fall Apart.
Before, Achebe readers have mostly seen African through the eyes of Joseph Conrad or Joyce Cary, through their novels The Heart of Darkness and Mister Johnson. In these novels, Africa is a “wild” country. A “dark,” country; darkness, that is equivalent to the Freudian Id, where the darkest desires of man resides.
Achebe changed this view, because he isn’t a part of the colonial power rather he carries the experience of being subjugated. The narrative changed, now the ones, who faced atrocities started telling their stories. Achebe’s Things Fall Apart not just show the readers Africa in a different light, but also at the same time, encourages his fellowmen to take the advantage of missionary education system. To use the language of the oppressor to tell the story, history, and the language that’s their, that the oppressor have tried to wash away from their lives.
Atrocities are not new. It’s the nature of this world, look at the food chain and you will know. However, the cases with humans are little different. They are sensitive, and they have intellect. They just need a push to stand against the atrocities carried against them. Literature, and art, time and again has given that push to the Man, so that they stand against atrocities carried out against them.
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