Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Travelling Into Exile: Amitav Ghosh's 'Glass Palace'

-Brian Mendonca

One of the most striking features of The Glass Palace (2000) by Amitav Ghosh is the theme of travel. The lengthy forays into travel in the novel are almost mind-boggling, serving in an intricate, if subtle way, to knit the novel in a kind of geographic certitude which makes up for the absence of any real meaning in the lives of its central characters. The constant motion of the novel displaces the characters, exposing them to the vagaries of circumstance and their aftermath which is often tragic as in the case of Saya John. In many ways the exilic returns home to reaffirm his/her roots although in a reified dimension, viz. Dolly finds her destiny in becoming a nun in a Buddhist monastery in Sagaing, Burma; Dinu returns to set up shop as a photographer in Burma.

However, the travelling is both voluntary as well as involuntary. Pushed by the exigencies of the moment, Rajkumar leaves his dead mother in the boat and proceeds with the boat captain to seek his fortune and his life upstream. King Thebaw and Queen Supalayat have no choice but to be carted off to Ratnagiri in a stunning sea voyage from Mandalay to Madras to Outram House. Of course they would like to continue living in the Glass Palace in Mandalay, but at the risk of being eliminated by the invading British colonial forces. Travel and exile is not the comfortable binary as is usually assumed. In The Glass Palace both notions are problematized. Set against the tumult of resistance moments in India, Burma, USA overarched by the mercurial Mrs. Uma Dey, travel propels the characters into the centre of the conflict zones where at ground zero, like Arjun they are forced to examine their motives. This paper will examine these themes.

-‘Travelling Into Exile: The ‘Little Empires’ of Amitav Ghosh’s Glass Palace.’ Indian Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies (IACLALS) Annual Conference on ‘Space, Place, Travel, Displacement and Exile,’ BITS, Goa Campus, 12-14 February 2015; pix of Brian being felicitated by IACLALS officials at the valedictory function while Damodar Mauzo (seated) looks on.

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