The Cord and the Instability of Experience

Part 6.3 of Drama in English from Singapore and Malaysia

Adapted from Post-Colonial Literatures in English, ed. Rajeev S. Patke, 1998.

Even where we do not get such internalisation of the coloniser's norms, simply the presence of English (and through it the coloniser) in the internal landscape of post-colonial writers can, of itself, destabilise the text. In the Malaysian writer K. S. Maniam's play, The Cord, for instance, the convincing evocation of the indigenous Indian experience leaves us with no doubt about the playwright's inwardness with it. Yet, the very presence of English does destabilise. Muthiah, the English-educated native administrator, is the 'representative' of 'the white man (who) left long ago'. His mimicry of the coloniser is overt, and extends beyond externals to the coloniser's exercise of power over the Indian labourers who are the focus of the play. But even as these people are reduced and destabilised, so is the authority of Muthiah, whose mimicked 'false-toned' English 'makes (him) a stiff white corpse', who is challenged and destroyed. At the end, ambiguous, unresolved, both parties are left the losers, propelled into a state of destabilised uncertainty or defeat.

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