The narrative of ‘modernity’ has never been a straightforward one; nor have its multiple origins ever been contained solely within the European body. In seeking to uncover some points of departure for this study of the fictions of the South Asian diaspora in Britain, it is important to recognize from the outset that diasporic histories are often by their very nature discontinuous and frequently involve a doubling of vision, a ‘form of accountability to more than one location’, more than one tradition.
Furthermore, the spaces opened up by the dominant narrative of a Western modernity have always derived from a process of filtration built on a series of cross-cultural encounters and interconnections, whether staged at ‘home’ or ‘abroad’. For whilst the historic experience of Empire was clearly significant in creating a climate for cultural reconfigurations, the encounter with European philosophical and epistemological systems was only
of many other parallel and indigenous processes influencing the translation and genesis of new literary forms and genres. In the case of the Asian subcontinent, as Nayantara Sahgal implies in the epigraph above, it is difficult to define where ‘one culture begin[s] and another end[s] when they are housed in the same body’. For, if we view the ‘colonial’ as the ‘new
from which events are to be everlastingly measured’, we will unfortunately, she says, limit the range of our vision and only ever see one side of the picture. As she goes on to say:
My own awareness as a writer reaches back to x-thousand B.C., at the very end of which measureless time the British came, and stayed, and left. And now they’re gone … their residue is simply one more layer added to the layer upon layer of Indian consciousness. Just one more.