Thursday, 21 June 2012

Zulfikar Ghose & Sir Wilson Harris

I recall, as a teenager, coming across the name of Zulfikar Ghose in a textbook on English literature. Apparently he was a rising star and I wondered why I'd never heard of him. I continued wondering, on an active basis, such, at that time, being my zeal for literary culture, till,  at some point during the 80's, I read his books- or rather didn't read his books but paid the over-due fine and forlornly returned them to the library.

Later, in the 90's, Ghose featured as a figure of fun for me. I firmly believed him to be a precursor of Rushdie who, with plodding Punjabi logic, sought to become the Magic Realist Marquez of the sub-continent by siting his novels in Brazil. 
More recently Zulfikar Ghose's stock has shot up- not because his books have suddenly become more readable or because he actually has anything to say- but because of the universal obloquy attaching to the credentialist 'Post Colonial' Academic Availability Cascade from which he'd had the good taste to stay fastidiously aloof.
Though committed to an elitist, Flaubertian, Art-for-Art's sake banality, Ghose is a shrewd and surprisingly funny guy- funny in quite a robust, almost Punjabi, sort of way- and that's what makes this is a must watch video-

There have been some attempts to rescue Ghose's old comrade-in-arms B.S. Johnson- also unreadable but quite mad and thus of possible interest- from oblivion but it is Sir Wilson Harris (he was knighted in 2010), the great Guyanese novelist, whose work commands most respect.

Sir Wilson had worked in Guyana as a land surveyor. He had met the sort of people, he had traversed the sorts of terrain, Evelyn Waugh found so fascinating and depicted as the polar opposite of his own pre-War London, centered on White's gentleman's club.

Sir Wilson- settling in a post-War London which, though disfigured by hooliganism and color prejudice, still had a gemutlich 'We're all in this together, Blitz-type, spirit'- became the Chief Surveyor of a Jungian Amazonia of the Unconscious which, to my mind, justified the Catholic, that is the optimistic, aspect of Waugh. Though he himself considered the fate of a member of White's forced to read Dickens aloud in a clearing in the Guyanese Jungle to be an intimation of the horrors of Hell, Sir Wilson proved Waugh was wrong. What Waugh had described were not the two opposite poles of English's Lebenswelt but centers of the same circle- whose circumference is nowhere.
As far as I know, Sir Wilson wasn't much read by the colored people of my generation- or those who came after us. We could only see racism and narratives about the exploitation of indigenous people and in any case wasn't Jung some sort of Nazi?
Who reads books anyway? If Sir Wilson wants to catch our attention he should go into Television. That's what the British Black Panthers did- think Dacus Howe & Farrukh Dhondy.
Basically writing books is elitist or Uncle Tom behavior- unless you're real cute like Zadie Smith- and so Sir Wilson is probably just another, Sir V.S Naipaul type, sneering patrician.

Prof. Ghose pays eloquent tribute to his old friend, Sir Wilson, and hopefully this will encourage young people of South Asian backgrounds to explore the marvels his works uncover. A word of caution- in Jungian thought, the Anima can lead you to Wisdom but can't be forced to take you by a short-cut.
 Rushdie forced his Anima to give him a shortcut to Wealth and Fame but the price he paid was prancing ninnydom.

I notice Prof. Ghose is welcomed and honored by young Pakistanis and that his novels are being issued as textbooks. This confirms my suspicion that young people nowadays are all bum-boys and transvestites and useless completely. Back in the Fifties, Shantiniketan students beat up and chased away, the great Indo-Anglian novelist, Prof Ghose- Sudhin Ghose not Zulfiqar Ghose- thus setting a high standard to which we must all aspire. I'm not saying beat up Prof. Zulfiqar Ghose- those elderly Sialkotis are bloody strong. Still at least you can taunt him a little and run away. Tagore set up Shantiniketan to show how genuine students (not those motivated by the desire for a Diploma and a cushy job) should treat professors and novelists and other such rascals. If you can't imitate them, at least honor them in your heart.
Mind it kindly.

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