Postcolonial Identities in Naipul's Magic Seeds, Arundhati Roy, and Salman Rushdie

Sabine Thirion, France

In the first chapter of Magic Seeds by V.S. Naipaul, the hero, Willie, and his sister are confronted by a rose-seller in a restaurant in Berlin. The rose-seller is a Tamil and what disturbs Willie, an Indian himself, is that the Tamil does not look at them in the eye. To Willie, the Tamil rose-seller epitomizes servitude. Willie's sister, however, makes a point in showing her brother that his way of thinking reflects what most Indians have been made to believe throughout history, that is to say, that "in India there were servile races, people born to be slaves, and there were martial races" (p. 7). In Willie's sister's eyes, that false belief stems from the Empire and imperialistic ideas. Yet, there is no truth in the existence of "servile races" and "martial races." So called "martial races" were, in fact, abused by the Empire and then treated like inferior beings. As for "servants", they often became the "brave ones" in their fight against the oppressor. Tamils are among them.

What the whole book demonstrates, in fact, is that some perverted historical views, inherited from colonialism, must be abandoned. Thus, former subalterns must no longer stand in awe of history or accept the ideas promoted by British textbooks of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. On the contrary, they must look at their own family-histories and try to understand them, without any shame or under-esteem. In The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy portrays two male characters, Pappachi and Chacko, who have "so internalized the values, beliefs, and ideologies of the colonizer" (Mullaney, p. 37) that they cannot exist. Her whole aim, however, is to seek meaning in the apparently disconnected and fragmented lives of her characters. Like Salman Rushdie, Roy is at odd with the idea that books must speak with one, unitary voice against a former oppressor. India's History is multiple, its culture is not single. Still, just as books must reflect those religious and ethnic diversities, they cannot obliterate the experience of colonization. Past-colonialism is a living fragment in a myriad of other lives: it should, in no way, be worn as a blazon of martyrdom.

Colonization provided subalterns with false identities. Therefore, they must not be afraid to shed their false knowledge of History. Endowed with their own personal fragmented histories, they can now embrace the modern world, even at the risk of losing themselves. This sense of "historical loss" is — paradoxically — the actual proof of their existence as individuals. Such is the point of many post-colonial books.

[Editor/Webmaster's note: Of course, one might ask, which "experience of colonization" — only that by the British or that by successive waves of conquerors from Hindu monarchs to the Muslim invaders from Persia who ruled India when the British East India Company encountered it? Twilight in Delhi, the first novel by a South Asian published in English, expresses great bitterness at the English not only because they displaced Muslims as rulers but also because they treated Muslims and Hindus equally. Does the division of the people of India into "servile races" and "martial races" predate the British conquest of India or derive from it? GPL]


Mullaney, Julie. Arundhati Roy's The God Of Small Things, a ReaderŐs Guide. New York and London: Continuum, 2002.

Naipul, V. S. Magic Seeds. London: Piador, 2004.

Roy, Arunhati. The God of Small Things. New York: Random House, 1997.

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Last modified: 16 June 2000