Assignment: The Calcutta Chromosome as a Post-Colonial Novel


Title: The Calcutta Chromosome
Author: Amitav Ghosh
Publisher: Penguin Group
SBN: 9780143066552
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 262
Rating: 2/5

Hmmm, I have to write an assignment on The Calcutta Chromosome as a post-colonial novel.. and i just can’t write! The book isn’t that great, really.. Ghosh has written better novels after this one.. But it still shows the post-colonial thinker’s or writer’s crisis. No, the overall post-colonial crisis. See! this is the reason why i can’t write it down..i don’t have clarity! Actually, it’s the same thing, isn’t it? Just the post-colonial crisis! hmm, so, i’ll try to make points here.. :
1. Post-Colonial theorists question the stereotypical notions about the ‘native’ and the colonizer:

Native                                                         Colonizer

– Religion.                                                  – Science.

– Superstition.                                            – Rationality.

– Supernatural.                                                    –

And Amitav Ghosh is no exception.
2. He includes an Egyptian, Antar. A character with a post-colonial heritage, just like the Indians in the book: Murugan, Sonali, Urmila, Mrs. Aratounian, Romen Haldar. By doing this, he suggests that all Colonialisms are same i.e., all experiences of Colonialism in all parts of the world are the same. (But they’re not). Why? Because, the Indian experience of colonialism is different from the Latin American experience of colonialism. How? In India, the British took away wealth and exploited the ‘natives’ economically. There was cultural exploitation as well but the British didn’t assimilate with the Indians and instead maintained a distance and a level of difference from the native. While in Latin America, there was mass killing of the population and almost all of the population was wiped out and the land was taken by the Europeans. The former culture of ‘Latin America’ has hardly survived.
3. The creation of the Indian Epistemological System (IES). Ghosh creates an Indian system of knowledge through Mangala Devi, Laakhan and their cult but..
a) This Indian Epistemological System is merely the opposite of what possibly the Western Epistemological Sytem (WES) is i.e., if the WES is logical, reasonable, scientific, linear; Ghosh’s IES is illogical, unreasonable, unscientific and non-linear.

Q: Why does the IES have to be something that is merely opposite of the WES and only then be Indian?
b) Ghosh spends more time on the WES than on the IES: The story of Ronald Ross’s discovery of the malaria vaccine is explained in fine detail. Mangala Devi and Laakhan’s practices have got nothing to do with the actual Indian practices: Mangala Devi’s system of transportation or immortality is transmuting her blood into another body that she chooses. This shows that Ghosh doesn’t really know what the actual ‘India’ or the ‘East’ is and ergo he fails to give them any value.

Mangala Devi’s practices are portrayed from an outsider’s point of view. We can see Mangala Devi and her followers doing something that looks like a havan and it doesn’t mean anything. I can almost see Ghosh the English-educated Indian observing these rituals from a distance and writing about them. So, although he wants to give these practices and their outcome some value, he fails to do so because of the way in which he portrays them. Also, all that Mangala Devi and Laakhan are given is Immortality. That is hardly giving any value to their cult.
A sort-of conclusion:

The novel, therefore shows the Post-Colonial Crises:

i) Merely answering back to the West.

ii) Not knowing what the actual ‘India’ or ‘East’ is.
And this happens because English-educated Indian writers do not have the language in which they would be able to talk positively about India and Indian practices. So it all comes down to discourse.
Hmmm.. this helped. 🙂

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