Existential Alienation and the Indian Diaspora: An Approach to the Writings of Anita Desai, Bharati Mukherjee, Sunetra Gupta, and Jhumpa Lahiri.

  • Amit Shankar Saha Seacom Skills University
Keywords: fiction, diaspora, existentialism, alienation, Indian, literature


The essay explores the points of convergence between existential alienation and diasporic alienation through the fictional works of Anita Desai, Bharati Mukherjee, Sunetra Gupta, and Jhumpa Lahiri. It shows that the creation of identity and self-fashioning by the Indian diaspora are processes akin to the creation of essences by human beings for their existence. It investigates Sartre’s “being-in-itself�, “being-for-itself�, and “being-in-the-world� from the diasporic perspective to show that the enormous freedom invested on human beings is crucial in making choices of multiple identities in diasporic life. The essay further goes on to Camus’s concept of “absurdism� to explain the need for creating values and meaning in an indifferent postmodern world to survive the predicament caused by displacement. It brings out the existential nature of the paradoxes inherent in diasporic life. This marriage of a currently out-of-favour philosophy known for its universality with a relatively in-favour theory known for its specificity is done so as to acknowledge an alternative perspective. Thereby it also broadens the critical space for examining the literary representation of the Indian diaspora.


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Author Biography

Amit Shankar Saha, Seacom Skills University

Dr. Amit Shankar Saha is a postdoctoral researcher, a critic, a short story writer and a poet. In a previous avatar he was also a guest professor teaching in the distance education programme of Madras University. He is currently teaching in Seacom Skills University. His love for literature led him to obtain a PhD in English from Calcutta University. His doctoral dissertation is titled “The Indian Diaspora in Transition: Reading Anita Desai, Bharati Mukherjee, Sunetra Gupta and Jhumpa Lahiri.� His research articles have appeared in journals and anthologies nationally and internationally such as Research and Criticism (BHU, India), Families (Kolkata, India), Pegasus (Kolkata, India), Decoding the Silence (Delhi, India), Comparative Literature and Culture (Purdue University, USA), Cerebration (Drew University, USA), DESI: La Revue (Bordeaux University, France), Diasporic Consciousness (Germany), Humanicus (Czech Republic), and others. His essays and reviews have appeared in Desijournal, Desilit Magazine, Muse India, Boloji, Rupkatha, Langlit, Diplomatist, Asian Signature, Vanya’s Notebook, etc.

His short stories and poems have been published in periodicals and books both in India and abroad such as Estrade Magazine, Muse India, Journal of Bengali Studies, The Four Quarters Magazine, Kritya, Indiaree, Writing Raw, Palki, Learning and Creativity, Hall of Poets, Asia Writes, The Dawn Beyond Waste, The Red Balloons, Telling a Yarn, Blessings, and others. He has won prizes at a number of creative writing competitions which include Wordweavers Awards, Poiesis Award for Literature, The Leaky Pot - Stranger than Fiction Prize, Asian Cha – Void Poetry Prize, Reuel Prize (Shortlisted), and others. He has also written for the Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul series books. Dr. Amit Shankar Saha is the co-founder and coordinator of Rhythm Divine Poets group.


Primary Texts

Desai, Anita. Bye-Bye Blackbird (1971), Delhi: Orient Paperbacks, 2001.

- Fasting, Feasting (1999), London: Vintage, 2000.

- Diamond Dust (2000), London: Vintage, 2001.

Gupta, Sunetra. Memories of Rain (1992), London: Orion, 1992.

- A Sin of Colour (1999), Delhi: Penguin, 1999.

Lahiri, Jhumpa. Interpreter of Maladies (1999), New Delhi: HarperCollins, 2000.

- The Namesake (2003), London: Flamingo, 2003.

Mukherjee, Bharati. Jasmine (1989), London: Virago, 1998.

- Desirable Daughters (2002), New Delhi: Rupa, 2004.

Secondary Texts

Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994.

Bohlmann, Otto. Conrad’s Existentialism, London: Macmillan, 1991.

Chaudhuri, Amit (ed.). The Picador Book of Modern Indian Literature, London: Picador, 2001.

de Luppe, Robert. Albert Camus, Tr. John Cumming and J. Hargreaves, London: Merlin Press, 1966.

Foster, John. The Nature of Perception, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Gindin, James. Postwar British Fiction: New Accents and Attitudes, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1962.

Keats, John. The Works of John Keats, Hertfordshire: The Wordsworth Poetry Library, 1994.

Kumar, Nagendra. The Fiction of Bharati Mukherjee: A Cultural Perspective, New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers, 2001.

Naficy, Hamid (ed.). Home, Exile, Homeland, New York: Routledge, 1999.

Priest, Stephen (Ed.). Jean-Paul Sartre: Basic Writings, London: Routledge, 2001.

Rushdie, Salman. Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981 – 1991, London: Granta Books, 1991.

Said, Edward W. Reflections on Exile and Other Literary and Cultural Essays, London: Granta Books, 2001.

Scruton, Roger. Modern Philosophy: An Introduction and Survey, London: Pimlico, 2004.

Van Herk, Aritha. “Post-Modernism: Homesick for Homesickness� from The

Commonwealth Novel Since 1960, Ed. Bruce King, London: Macmillan

Academic and Professional Limited, 1991.

Vertovec, Steven. The Hindu Diaspora, London: Routledge, 2000.

Warnock, Mary. “Introduction� from Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, Tr. Hazel E. Barnes, London: Routledge, 2003.

Wordsworth, William. Palgrave’s Golden Treasury, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

How to Cite
Saha, A. “Existential Alienation and the Indian Diaspora: An Approach to the Writings of Anita Desai, Bharati Mukherjee, Sunetra Gupta, and Jhumpa Lahiri.”. Contemporary Literary Review India, Vol. 4, no. 1, Feb. 2017, pp. 1-32, http://literaryjournal.in/index.php/clri/article/view/156.
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