Monday, February 24, 2014

Teaching the God of Small Things

character map
While snapping this picture on her gifted-and-talented phone, my student accidentally cut off Margaret Kochamma (and dead Joe) on the far left side of this whiteboard picture, and I wonder if that signifies something about the students' current inability to process post-colonial conditions of shattered intimacies, but here you have it: the character map we developed after reading the first three chapters of the novel for today's class. In my South Asian Literature course I allotted only four class sessions in which to discuss this fractured, poetic 320-page postcolonial novel. Today, in a brief lecture I provided what I thought might be necessary background information about the colonization of places along the Malabar coast, the state of Kerala and its Communism, land reforms, Syrian Christianity, the caste system (although they've already studied Cracking India and Untouchable, so they're pretty well-up on that), in addition to biographical information about Arundhati Roy. I am probably the last person to find out that the novel is loosely based on Roy's life, and that of her mother Mary Roy.

We began to have a rich discussion of the significance of the History House and the allusions to Heart of Darkness in chapter 2--one student pointed out that the 7-year-old perspective dominating the narration conflates Chacko's philosophizing about History as a big ghosty house they inhabit with an actual house that holds a haunting history of its own--the British guy that went mad, like Kurtz. Students appeared surprised when I explained that Kari Saipu, or the "Black Sahib," seems to have had pedophilic tendencies, and that this has implications for how postcolonial Indian history is imagined in this book (Kari Saipu makes me think, in fact, very much of early scenes of Hari Kunzru's Impressionist as well as what happens to Estha later, and then of the Kite Runner which we'll be watching rather than reading. Why all the pedophilia, Edward Said?). I suppose I'll keep blogging about this, since it's one place to keep my thoughts linear in a case where the novel is anything but.