Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 22 April 2012





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

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 Uppal.

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 migrants.

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 postcolonial authors.”


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 connections.

“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?’.

Angry eyes

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 wait’

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.



Donate Now |
LANKAPUVATH - National News Agency of Sri Lanka
Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL)

| News | Editorial | Finance | Features | Political | Security | Sports | Spectrum | Montage | Impact | World | Obituaries | Junior | Magazine |


Produced by Lake House Copyright © 2012 The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd.

Comments and suggestions to : Web Editor