Friday, August 11, 2006

The English Patient: Reading the Re-presentation

Media representation of the Sikhs have been quite reflective of the theoretical violence that has been inflicted upon the community from various circles. The Sikhs have been re-presented according to an orientalist discourse that intially operated within the power dynamics of colonial rule and was exclusively adopted in the construction of Indian nationalism, strictly modernist in it nature. The Sikh body is located within its own authority structure, one that involves an immersion in a particular kind of religious praxis that places the self within the Word (Shabad) as the locus of true Being, rather than the rational ego. This is why it naturally resists an alien Imperial authority, such as the colonisers and indigenous contemporary rulers bring for both assume the ego and reason as ultimate centers of authority. This is also why the Sikh body is treated so harshly and violently.

The Sikh body negates the experience of presentness central in the imperialist discourse and sings Shabad in all times which is radically disturbing for the commodification of both music and text. It traces authenticity of the Being in the moments created by the Guru both in the Shabad as well as practice, thereby challenging the authenticity that has been established via well thoughtout design of imperialism. As it terms the imperialistic design as illusory, for the Sikh body, its too ususal to come under attack. The Sikh body is so conspicous that it would come under attcks such as its misrepresentation in Hollywood, mockery in the bollywood, and manslaughter in the streets of Punjab and Delhi.

Although the re-presentation of Ondaatje's Kip in the movie comes with a kind of 'sophistication' bollywood has just realized to have, the orientalist twist in the movie is quite obvious for the audience that has read the novel. In this article, Nikki Singh has explored the transformation of Kirpal Singh's character from the novel to movie. The article explores how "Ondaatje sensitively portrays Kip’s development from a colonial false consciousness to an authentic post-colonial Self", and how "Ondaatje’s book which ends in a postcolonial consciousness is subverted and perverted into a colonial text by Minghella et al." Nikki Singh explains how the Sikh body can never be dissociated from Darbar Sahib, Amritsar, a place that provides it with the transformative moments. As Kirpal Singh's inner journey and his experince of the Harimandir are absent from the movie, "without history and identity the Sikh sapper effortlessly glides in and out of Hollywood's phantasy world."

The article concludes by quoting Said’s claim “that systems of thought like Orientalism, discourses of power, ideological fictions—mind-forg’d manacles—are all too easily made, applied, and guarded" (1979:328). In support of the authenticity of the concluding remarks, I would suggest to see this orientalist disturbance with Ondaatje's Kip.

Prabhsharandeep Singh

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Where do we go from here?

In her article Sikh Studies: Where do we go from here? *, Doris Jakobsh states the problems that a western student, or the diaspora Sikhs would face in the area of Sikh studies. She locates the problems in the "religio-cultural meta-narrative that is the Sikh tradition." This raises a few questions as how and when the Sikh tradition(s) worked as a meta-narrative? What do we mean by Sikh traditions? Would we differentiate between pre-Singh Sabha, Singh Sabha, and post-Singh Sabha period? Has this meta-narrative been effective throughout the entire Sikh history or it emerges with the Singh Sabha movement? If we locate it in the Singh Sabha discourse, why would not trace it back into the imperialist discourse that is still functional in the academia?

As Doris Jakobsh obviously ignores all these questions and jumps to draw conclusion on the basis of this myth of meta-narrative, we are pushed to see it in terms of what levinas describes as "the dignity of being the ultimate and royal discourse." The issues of Self and subjectivity need to be discussed in this context before we try to go anywhere. It must be clear that it is not just the "subjects" as the Sikhs that need to be "defined", we need to explore the complexities that lie in the changing faces of blonde brute and priestly nobility, constantly contradicting and adapting each other.

Prabhsharandeep Singh

*Readers are suggested to see the journal for more detailed version of the article:
“Constructing Sikh Identities: Authorities, Virtual and Imagined,” International Journal of Punjab Studies No. 1 and 2, Vol. 10 (January 2004) pp. 127-142.

Review on Doris Jakobsh's book can be found here.