Book Talk

Pavan Kumar Malreddy, Orientalism. Terrorism, Indigenism: South Asian Readings in Postcolonialism, 2015. New Delhi: Sage. ISBN 978-93-515-0142-8.

~ Sasanka Perera, South Asian University

At the most fundamental level, the title of Pavan Kumar Malreddy’s book poses a serious epistemological and logistical question for readers. That is, how would such a modest book of 169 pages do justice to the vast and almost endless thematic possibilities suggested by the crucial terms in  the title of the book itself such as ‘orientalism’, ‘terrorism’, and ‘indigenism’ within an understanding of ‘postcolonialism’ in ‘South Asia’. It seems to me, what the author has set up for himself is a mammoth task that is intellectually impossible to achieve in a single book. Such a venture should ideally be conceived perhaps as a life-long multi-prong academic initiative.

Nevertheless, in attempting to address these vast areas of discourse, the author asserts at the very outset that the scope of the book is to “rescue the enabling impact of postcolonialims’s passage that courses through diverse claims and counterclaims over its origins, disjunctures, and emancipatory pathways” (2015: xvi).  Further, Malreddy intends to challenge the ‘conventional’ antinomies established by way of   early postcolonial theory, and to proceed toward a “renewed articulation of  post-essentialist, transformative, and even mutative qualities of the discourses involved”  (2015: xvi). Again, one cannot help but notice the gigantic task the author has set up for himself. This is further complicated by the book’s claims for a ‘South Asia focus’ at the heart of its analysis by situating recent debates in South Asian literary studies within the larger context of postcolonial theory (2015: xvi, xvii). 

The question of course is, if these fairly expansive goals have been achieved in the book.  The basic textual/discursive approach in Malreddy’s exploration has been to attempt to address the identified issues via eight essays presented in three separate sections. Except for the eighth and final essay, all others have been previously published in four journals between 2008 and 2012. It seems to me one of the crucial and persistent limitations of the book is its attempt to gather these essays written at different times and under different thematic interests — which do not seem to have taken South Asia as a serious enough point of departure or focus of attention — as a stand-alone collection. The vastness of the title and the over-encompassing gestures in the introduction have been geared towards accommodating these essays in the present collection. While the author clearly has ideas, a sense of intellectual idealism and valid expectations, these have not been by and large realized in the book. 

What the author presents is interesting to read, but one gets a feeling of déjà vu in the sense that much of this has been seen, said and argued before. What would have been of interest is to bring these readings squarely within a serious understanding of South Asia in general and South Asian literary studies in particular which after all is one of the crucial stated intentions of the book.  Such an endeavor would have offered the book some mooring within the emergent corpus of works focused on South Asia. But its ‘focus’ on South Asia is the book’s most obvious casualty as well. The author’s relative familiarity with India stands out in his essays while at the same time, his obvious unfamiliarity with the rest of the region also manifests very clearly as also evidenced in the thinness of references to important works beyond India in the bibliography. South Asia cannot be a mantra which can be conjured by the scattering of these words within a given discourse. It has to be achieved intellectually and must manifest clearly in what one writes.

(This review was initially published in Sociological Bulletin, Vol. 65, No. 2 (May – August 2016), pp.  284-286. It is republished in TAP Book Talk with the reviewer’s consent)

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