Loss of inheritance and cultural otherness
In this week’s column, I would like to deal with the theme of loss of
inheritance and cultural otherness as depicted in the diasporic novel
‘To whom it may concern’ by Canadian poet and fiction writer Priscila
Although the novel is about the impeding foreclosing of Hardev
Dange’s house, the novel codifies the chequered nature of life in
diaspora in general and in Canadian diaspora in particular. With an eye
for fine details, Uppal depicts the generation of migrants’ lives and
the virtual reconfiguration of ethos and emergence of an intensely
hybrid culture where the issues of inheritance and belonging play a
vital role particularly in the lives of the second generation of
One of the prominent issues that the novel explores is loss of
inheritance. Loss of inheritance and gaining of belonging is a part and
parcel of diasporic life. Pramod K Nayar describes this special movement
as de-territorialisation and a re-territorialisation. He observes; “The
special move involves a de-territorialisation and a
re-territorialisation. De-territorialisation is the loss of territory. .
It is both geographical and cultural. Diasporic writing across the
world, to make a sweeping generalisation, is concerned with spaces,
landscapes and journeys.
Since diaspora involves a change of place through a journey, this is
a self-evident literary theme. What is also significant is that the loss
of territory is almost always accompanied by gain of new ones.
Dislocation from is followed by a re-location to. Diasporic literature’s
dealing with space thus moves between ‘home’ and ‘foreign country’,
between the ‘familiar’ and ‘strange’, the old and the new. Contrast and
comparison between two spaces are frequent in the writings of immigrant
In ‘To whom it may concern’, the author draws contrast and comparison
and the cultural otherness primarily through the marriage of Birendra
and Victor. In a diasporic sense, it is an ideal marriage between two
cultures. The author craftily points out that roots even in members of
the second generation have not completely been lost and the process
of‘re-territorialisation’ still takes place and that second generation
of the migrants share hybrid cultural identities torn between their
parents’ countries of origin and adapted country and between the old and
the news cosmopolitan culture. The author has used a ‘Red Sari’ as a
potent metaphor which virtually bridges two cultures; old and the new
and the clash of cultures within the domain of interpersonal
“Hardev smacks the papers with his uncontrollable hand, and his eyes
widen. ‘But…but I thought you had a wedding dress. Dorothy phoned months
ago. November I think. Yes, November, she said you picked out a wedding
dress. The one you wanted. I thought.
‘But I was planning to wear it to the wedding reception! Mom said.
She said..’ she raises back and forth in her mind over the details she
planned with Victor and her mother. Wedding reception; red sari, red
shoes, red rose in her hair. It’s true that she wasn’t excited by the
idea first, and kept putting off dealing with it, pretending she wasn’t
getting the hint as her mother left magazine photos of South Asian
brides on the kitchen table, but when she mentioned it to Victor, he
argued in its favour.
He teased that he would love to have two brides instead of one- his
French Catholic bride at the church, and his Indian one at the
reception. And after desert at Memories with his mother, she wanted to
wear the damn thing just to unnerve her, keep this woman, who she hoped
would leave them alone once the vows were spoken, at a distance. ‘How
could you get rid of it?’.
Wanting to turn away from her pleading, angry eyes but trapped in
wheelchair, he slapped his forehead instead. ‘you never cared before!
Why are you asking for these things now? You thought they’d just be here
when you want them, didn’t you? Well, sometimes, these things can’t
Stunned Birendra feels her throat start to throb. This isn’t how she
imagined things would go today. In fact, she expected gratitude, an
expression of her father’s pleasure that she would be wearing this
important piece of clothing. What happened to all the ‘family pride’ he
likes to talk about often? Where was her sari?”
It is obvious that Birendra’s father was not referring to the ‘Red
sari’ but the regime of customs and traditions that Birendra
deliberately left behind in integrating into the new diasporic society
acquiring not only language and religion but also culture.
Her father had already given up hope that his offspring would follow
Indian customs and cultural practices and family traditions symbolised
by the ‘red sari’ which passes down from one generation to another. For
Birendra the change on the part of her father in a way is unbearable.
“ She can’t believe it, but she’s crying because it never occurred to
her that her father would give up on her, give up on who he imagined her
becoming those years ago. No matter what that woman was, she now wishes
she were more like her, more connected to the family, notwithstanding
her desire to disown them. The sari is gone. Could it be that her
father’s imagination disowned her? ”
One of the major themes that ‘To whom it may concern’ explores is the
loosening of traditional ties and flux nature of diasporic existence.
It is a process of ‘disowning’ which gradually re-configure
hierarchical network of relationships in the extended family. For
instance, Birendra wants to completely abandon Asian family structure
having more children. For her family means Victor and herself only. She
longs for travelling with Victor from one country to another as Victor
may get diplomatic posting in diverse countries. In other words, what
she wants is to get away from her family and from Victor’s family.
However, what is clear is that Birendra has not been able to completely
shed her roots and even against her own consciousness, in a way she
laments over the loss of ‘red sari’ or the loss of inheritance.