BOOK REVIEW: The Fading Glitter of a Satellite Existence
by Rita Nath Keshari on 17 Jul 2011 2 Comments

Considering the large output of literary texts trying to assess the impact of the globalization policies adopted by the Indian government in 1991, we feel that those published in the early phase of this economic revival deserve special attention – first as forerunners and then as imaginative constructs.


A quick glance at the events leading to the formation of the new industrial policy (NIP) of July 1991 by the Narasimha Rao government will show that India’s creditworthiness had plummeted to a new low. US-based credit-rating agencies declared India unsafe for foreign investment and India found it extremely difficult to procure funds in the international market and woo NRI deposits back. The NIP and revised industrial policy statement of October 28, 1991 liberalised the foreign direct investment (FDI) policy significantly, especially in high priority areas, to save the balance of payments situation at home and to escape the imminent external debt trap. The thought of FDI providing a healthy competitive indigenous market was only a secondary consideration. The protectionist regime was to be slowly dismantled despite the fear of the vote bank being heavily dented, so critical was India’s foreign debt liabilities.


Dr. Hrusikesh Panda’s Odia novel, Suborno Dweepo (1994), was prompt in addressing the issues and concerns relating to liberalisation, while balancing the demands of art and creative imagination. Dr. Lipipuspa Nayak’s excellent English translation of this novel (The Golden Island, 2011) has a lucid introduction that confirms the original writer’s exposé of neo-colonialism. Though Panda chooses a country other than India to highlight the implications of rampant foreign direct investment, it is clear that the same pattern of the sad outcome of liberalization is replicated in the imaginary country called The Golden Island. This land becomes a paradigm of the Asian and African countries which adopted globalization as a panacea for all their economic deprivations.


By allowing fiction to blend with fact, a political novel opens up a vista – carefully chartered by imagination – on rigidly chronicled events. The novelist is at liberty to people his world with characters who offer multi-dimensional interpretations about historically authenticated events. The writer thus creates a ‘feel’ of a historical period or political upheaval with far greater impact than a minutely documented report. The novel embodies in the individual destiny of Abhisek, the protagonist, the peculiar pressures and problems of an entire epoch.


From the vantage point of the Golden Island, Panda sees his country mired in corruption and chicanery; the masses crawl with flickers of hope towards the milestones of bitter disillusionment. Even in the early nineties, when the champagne and caviar parties celebrating the new economy in India’s metros were still being hosted, the author foresaw that the benefits of an open economy would not percolate down to the masses. His prediction about the rampant myopic globalization of underdeveloped countries is proving uncomfortably close to the fading glitter of promises made by politicians and international funding agencies. There is loud propaganda about the high growth rate in India, but statistics hide the reality of a nation reeling beneath debts and renewing application for fresh debts to service the old ones.


Blasting the carefully constructed myth of developing countries progressing under the aegis of a benign postcolonial world order, Panda crafts his multi-layered novel with the consciousness of an individual caught in the stranglehold of a neo-colonial society. A distinguished senior bureaucrat who does not calculate the price of opposing the diktat of political figures around him, Panda transmits onto his characters the readiness to question and scrutinize the dubious implementation of seemingly innocuous policies.


In the novel, the civil servant protagonist Abhisek is deputed to Subarnapur, capital of Golden Island, as advisor to the rural development department of the government. Obviously his superiors think it superfluous to consult him as it is presumed that civil servants would be thrilled about a ‘foreign posting’ and the perks accompanying it.


Shocked at the political and economic fragmentation of Golden Island, Abhisek gradually realises his truncated powers and surveys the festering corruption around him. The author cautions us from the beginning that the protagonist’s choices and experiences are not ends in themselves and ought to mirror a larger historical process. To achieve this purpose, the protagonist looks beyond the shoulders of the rulers of Golden Island and focuses on ordinary characters completely ignorant about the manner in which vested interests are plundering their homeland. Resisting the elitist political documentation of socio-economic progress in vogue, that deletes the underclass from their records, the novelist traces grassroots politics while delving into the problems of workers and peasants.


The example of daffodil cultivation over hectares of prime agricultural land at the behest of the World Bank illustrates the lackadaisical attitudes of the local public servants in charge of such projects. Manitree, Director of the Daffodil Department of the Government of Golden Island, inwardly cowers before Abhisek because his questions expose her ignorance and her refusal to learn her subject better. Mr. Cox, ‘a massively built Caucasian man’ and the official representative of the World Bank, ‘just wanted to ensure if the import of equipments for the project, supposed to be made on various grounds, had been done or not, and at what stage the procurement stood’.


This quotation from the English translation succinctly sums up the role of the World Bank in trying to deplete the scarce economic resources of the borrowing country. To prove the veracity of his indictment of this mercenary money-lending group preening as an altruistic organization, Abhisek urges Manitree, Director of Daffodils Department, to trudge up the hill to the actual site of the flower plantation – where there is surreptitious and illicit cultivation of poppies!!! Manitree, aware of the drug barons sponsoring poppy cultivation, exhorts Abhisek to hold his tongue for her sake and for the sake of the farmers teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. Abhisek makes us pause and think about the relative order of crimes: the growing of poppy plants or the bartering away of one’s sovereignty for the sake of clandestine financial deals.


Not that he can always be at the forefront of an attack against underhand deals and other malpractices. Quite often he is at the receiving end. There are episodes about inflation flaring up overnight and preventing the common man from buying articles for daily use or even bus tickets. When Abhisek finds his salary inadequate to purchase such items, he wonders about the plight of ordinary Subarnapurians of Golden Island. The reader begins to realise how galloping inflation can propel even an honest man to discard virtue and succumb to the indirect pressure to join a gang of unscrupulously corrupt.


This pressure is nothing new to Abhisek, for back home in India he was always up in arms against malfeasance. Here again, he mentions Odisha as his home state and the various departments against which he waged regular warfare. Juxtaposing the neocolonial situation of Golden Island against India, applauded all over as an emerging superpower, the author seems to ask why we refuse to recognize India as a country still wriggling in the throes of neo-colonialism. He draws parallels between the style of governance, the superficial models of development and the religious intolerance permeating most public activities in India and in Golden Island.


Tragedy is never far from him, and his sensitivity does not allow him to overlook the sad absurdity of the fate most people suffer. We see the differing, sometimes complementary views of the author and of Abhisek the political Advisor. Thus the text becomes self-reflexive like two mirrors facing each other. This reciprocity succeeds in capturing images and doubling them so as to add depth to the perspective presented. What distinguishes this mise en abyme (in-depth setting) technique is that it sets free a character in the novel/text to take up the actual task of the narrator in charge of narration.


It is not easy to perceive the different strands of narration held taut by the protagonist. The other characters, overbearing and desirous of overpowering him, try to hijack the narrative of his life. His wife Himani gives up on him because she does not see the powers of redemption in him. Herself a successful bureaucrat, she has very little patience for what she terms as his fanatical non-conformism.


Manitree professes to love him, but Abhisek detects in her the same attempt, like Himani’s, to overpower him. He realises that she fails to understand the fine line dividing individuality and egocentrism. Ironically, both women are his professional subordinates, but manage to sneak into his private domain as wife and lover to register claim over him. He struggles to hold onto his space both in his life and in the story. He regards Manitree’s husband as an individual whose grip over life is weakening, but Manitree has no concern for such debilitating influences.


It is probably this callousness of Manitree’s that helps her to ride over the political crisis generated by the sudden death of Chandravadan, Prime Minister of Golden Island. Dr. Bad, who surfaces at this juncture, decides to misappropriate public funds while masquerading as a benevolent and progressive guardian of State. The Chief of Police of Golden Island, who is hand-in-glove with the interim caretaker government, unleashes a reign of terror in the peace-loving island so that the plunder can go on peacefully undetected. They even decide to bring back Romualdez, Chandravadan’s widow, who had been deported from Golden Island on charges of betting and tax evasion.


In this pervading chaos, Abhisek learns about his transfer, but the order of the new posting does not arrive nor is there any explanation for this delay. This seems emblematic of his existence in a limbo – wanted neither in Golden Island nor in India. The irony is deepened when he cannot reach his rendezvous with Manitree in the Circuit House where he is wanted and awaited. Trapped in the violent outburst of communal riots among the followers of the Beard and the Rod sects, Abhisek tries to reach the Circuit House.


Manitree stands on the dimly-lit verandah wondering about his delay, but fails to see him inching towards her. Knowing she cannot see him because of the dark, he nevertheless tries to reach out to her. She goes inside, perturbed and restless. This failure to meet despite their proximity is symbolic of the human inability to bridge psychological distance. Were they not aware of their growing incapacity to relate to each other when this secret meeting was fixed? Even if they had met, could they have really understood each other? As he drops to the ground he tells himself he will return to his village, to his roots, to regain his identity there. We see in his moment of physical agony and spiritual anguish, Manitree is far from his mind. The city or the urban landscape, a paradigm of soulless material development, has rejected him or so he thinks as his thoughts finally cease to flow.


The ambiguity about Abhisek’s fate at the end of the novel is deliberately woven into the rich texture of the narrative. It was probably necessary for the author to create this vacuum so the reader stirs out of his complacency. The point of sanity and sardonic humour in a world of chaos easily disappears; the reader may feel like returning to the beginning of the narrative to assure himself about Abhisek’s presence.

Book: The Golden Island [original Subarnadweepa, Odia novel, 1994]

Author: Dr. Hrusikesh Panda

English Trans.: (Dr. Lipipuspa Nayak)

Publisher: Pakshighara Prakashani, Bhubaneswar [distribution by Rupa & Co., Delhi]


Also by the same author –

Multicultural Theatre and Drama, a collection of essays on the subject, edited by T. Sai Chandramouli, Hyderabad-based academic, translator and poet; Authorspress, New Delhi.



Pakshighara Prakashani

Plot no. 271, 2nd floor

Gauri Nagar

Bhubaneswar, Odisha – 751014

Ph: +91 94385 59778


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