Archive for August, 2008


En el entierro de mi padre (5 de septiembre de 2007), recité este poema de Alfred, Lord Tennyson, cuya texto, ahora en el primer aniversario de su fenecimiento (28 de agosto de 2007), me permito brindaros en esta traducción al castellano, efectuado por mis manos.



At my father’s funeral on 5 September 2007, I read this poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. I have now, on the first anniversary of his decease (28 August 2007), translated it into Spanish.




Poema de Alfred Lord Tennyson, traducido al castellano por Christopher Rollason


Ocaso y estrella del atardecer

¡Y una clara llamada para mí!

Y que no haya lamento por la barra

En mi momento de zarpar


Sino una marea que al moverse parece dormida

Marea alta sin sonido ni espuma

Cuando lo que surgió de lo más hondo

Vuelve allá de donde vino


Crepúsculo y campana del atardecer

¡Y luego las tinieblas!

Y que no haya tristeza de despedida

En mi momento de embarcar


Pues por muy lejos de nuestros confines del Tiempo, del Espacio,

Que me pueda llevar la corriente

Espero ver a mi Piloto cara a cara

Una vez atravesada la barra



Alfred, Lord Tennyson (England, 1809-1892)
Sunset and evening star,
    And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
    When I put out to sea.
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
    Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
    Turns again home!
Twilight and evening bell,
    And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
    When I embark;
For though from out our bourn of Time and Place
    The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
    When I have crost the bar.

Note added 17 October 2010:
The Spanish translation is now also on-line at the Victorian Web site:
(my thanks to Prof. George Landow).


RAMAYANA exhibition at the British Library, London

It is not too late for me to recommend the very fine exhibition still on at the British Library, London (16 May – 14 Sept 2008) on "THE RAMAYANA: Love and Valour in India’s Great Epic". The exhibition showcases over 120 illustrated manuscripts from the 17th century, from the library’s collection, and, around that visual material, traces the ramifying history of the epic, starting out from the classic Sanskrit version by Valmiki but taking in the multiple reinterpretations in different languages and media, all over India and over a large swathe of South-East Asia too. There is as much there for scholars and experts as for newcomers to the marvellous tale of Rama, Sita, Ravana and Hanuman. This is a bath of Indian and Asian culture, not to be forgotten!
More information at:



Manju Kapur’s fourth novel, THE IMMIGRANT, is now out in India (published by Random House).

Its main subject is NRIs (Non-Resident Indians) in Canada.
(2nd entry for 9 Aug 08)
you can find a long and interesting interview with Manju
by Jai Arjun Singh
NOTE added 8 January 2009:
My review of this novel is now up on this blog (entry for 27 December 2008).

Amitav Ghosh’s «Sea of Poppies» and Salman Rushdie’s «The Enchantress of Florence»: History and the future of Indian writing in English

By a curious synchronicity, two heavyweights of Indian Writing in English (IWE), Salman Rushdie and Amitav Ghosh, have, in the first half of 2008, published historical novels almost simultaneously. In addition, both novels have been placed on the longlist for the 2008 Booker Prize (which Rushdie’s own Midnight’s Children has effectively won three times over, having been voted "Booker of Bookers" for the prize’s 25th and then for its 40th anniversary). Comparison thus invites itself: while my personal opinion is that Ghosh’s historical vision impresses while Rushdie’s disastrously fails, I shall await with interest the full-length studies that will no doubt appear comparing the two novels in detail.


Both are beyond doubt historical novels in the acceptation first popularised by Walter Scott, although there are immediate significant differences between the two writers’ projects. Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence alternates between the Mughal empire under Akbar and the Renaissance Italy of Machiavelli, linking the two via the appearance of a Florentine wanderer, Mogor dell’Amore, at Akbar’s court in Fatehpur Sikri and the presence in Florence of Qara Köz, a Mughal princess with magical powers. Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies narrates a more recent period, namely earlier nineteenth-century India in the time of the East India Company: it relates India to the wider world since its theme is the transporting of indentured labourers and convicts to the island of Mauritius on the ship Ibis, and offers a remarkably broad canvas of characters – from the low-caste Bihari ox-cart-driver Kalua and Deeti, the woman he rescues from a sati, through Baboo Nob Kissin, pen-pushing clerk and flamboyant devotee of Krishna, to Paulette, Bengal-raised daughter of a French botanist, and Zachary, a deceptively white-seeming freedman mulatto from Baltimore who becomes the vessel’s second mate.


It is new for Rushdie to attempt a fiction set back so far in the past, unless one counts the Arabian dream chapters of The Satanic Verses; Midnight’s Children has been read, and with good cause, as a historical novel, but it deals with the recent past. Ghosh, by contrast, has already explored a (somewhat later) period of imperial history in Asia, starting from the late nineteenth century, in The Glass Palace. A further structural difference is that Sea of Poppies is the first part of a trilogy (incidentally a popular novelistic convention in the Bengali tradition), and its narrative is therefore unfinished, whereas Rushdie’s is (I would say thank goodness) a single, self-contained narrative.


Generically, both are somewhat complex and difficult to define in a nutshell; a degree of experimentalism is common to both, as too are painstaking research and studied intertextuality. Rushdie’s degree from Cambridge was in history, and Ghosh’s training was as an anthropologist: these novels show the two at pains to demonstrate their research skills, with lengthy bibliographical credits appearing at the end of both. Rushdie, indeed, goes as far – in earnest or in play – as to blur the fiction/non-fiction divide by listing his historical sources in alphabetical order, over a six-page bibliography which might more aptly grace a straightline academic study.


The Enchantress of Florence marks Rushdie returning in force to the genre with which he made his name, magic realism: his previous novel, Shalimar the Clown, had used magic-realist effects fairly sparingly, but here the fantastic Thousand-and-one-Nights-type tricks pile up, if anything tediously, starting from the moment when Akbar magicks an imaginary woman into becoming his favourite wife. The novel’s fantastic elements coexist rather awkwardly with spoonfuls of dubiously digestible factual material – topographical data on Fatehpur Sikri that might seem straight out of a Lonely Planet guide, historical information about Florentine politics or Central Asian warfare that has all the vitality of a medieval chronicle. Historical novel thus meets fantasy in a fiction that might recall Scott’s The Talisman, the neglected masterpiece admired by Edward Said that also depicts the East-West encounter; but Rushdie, alas, falls far short of Scott.


Generically, Amitav Ghosh has in the past used magic realism more sparingly than Rushdie – discreetly in his first novel The Circle of Reason and fused with non-realist genres such as science fiction and ghost story in The Calcutta Chromosome, but elsewhere not at all. Sea of Poppies begins as if it is going to be magic-realist, with the young Bihari woman Deeti "seeing" the apparition of a two-masted ship, a "vision not materially present in front of her" (Ghosh, 7) on the Ganga outside the opium factory in Ghazipur; but this premonition of the Ibis turns out – like the voice from the dead near the beginning of Vikram Chandra’s otherwise realist novel Sacred Games – to be the book’s sole approximation to magic realism. Nonetheless, it somehow does not feel quite appropriate to categorise Sea of Poppies unqualifiedly as straight realism, for – a shade disconcertingly till the reader gets used to it – this novel’s dominant register is comedy. In the past it is Rushdie rather than Ghosh who has been associated with the comic, yet here, and despite the presence of such self-evidently severe themes as sati, labour exploitation and racially skewed justice, the timbre of Ghosh’s writing is resolutely light and ludic – as, to cite but one instance, in the bizarre moment when Baboo Nob Kissin discovers that Zachary is labelled in the vessel’s log as "black" and exultantly concludes he must be a manifestation of Krishna, the Black Lord. This strong presence of the comic in Sea of Poppies is likely to disorient some of Ghosh’s critics in the world of postcolonial studies, but others may conclude that he is working within a tradition of Bengali humour and that the comedy is a means of highlighting the resilience and resourcefulness of the ordinary person in the face of oppressive structures.


Intertextuality is certainly a key feature of both novels. In The Enchantress of Florence, the magic powers of Qara Köz recall similarly gifted women figures from other magic-realist novels – Sierva Maria in Gabriel García Márquez’s Del amor y otros demonios / Of Love and Other Demons or Blimunda in José Saramago’s Memorial do Convento / Baltasar and Blimunda. Mogor dell’Amore’s conversations with Akbar may remind the reader of the similar exchanges between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan in Italo Calvino’s Le città invisibili / Invisible Cities, while the emperor’s love-relationship with his (at least in the novel) imaginary wife Jodha echoes Adolfo Bioy Casares’ La invención de Morel / The Invention of Morel, whose narrator falls in love with a computer-generated woman. In Sea of Poppies, the Ibis recalls multiple moments from Herman Melville’s maritime writings, resembling the vessels of Moby-Dick in its mix of ethnic origins, "Benito Cereno" in its past as a slave-ship, and "Billy Budd" as a locus of on-board class violence; Lewis Carroll – a favourite in Bengal – is present in a Calcutta banqueting sequence (Ghosh, 232) that evokes his Mock Turtle and his "beautiful soup" in its "hot tureen"; and the IWE tradition too is paid homage to in a trial for forgery that recalls the one in R.K. Narayan’s The Guide. It remains to be seen, however, which out of Rushdie’s and Ghosh’s intertextual practice is the more productive.


Meanwhile, the two novels certainly converge in demonstrating a rich exuberance of language. In Rushdie’s narrative, however thin or flat the story, the writing has the denseness and inventiveness that its author’s readers have come to expect from him, but it does not present any real innovations on his previous practice. Ghosh, by contrast, breaks new ground: while The Glass Palace and The Hungry Tide certainly had their share of non-English lexical items, Indian or more generally Asian, Sea of Poppies in numerous places piles up the Indian (Bengali or Bhojpuri) or lascar-pidgin terms to the point where some readers might begin to get confused. Here Ghosh’s practice resembles that of Vikram Chandra in Sacred Games, with its accumulations of Bombay argot; and Ghosh, like Chandra, has chosen to meet readers halfway by placing a glossary, not in the novel itself but on his official website. Amitav Ghosh has said before now that one day he will write a novel in Bengali, and whether this novel and the trilogy it will be part of it form a staging-post on that road remains to be seen.


Finally and inevitably, the reader of both novels has to ask the questions, "what is this book about?" and "was it worth reading"? Last-ditch defenders of Rushdie will no doubt respond that his latest book is a significant exploration of the East-West meeting and of cultural pluralism as – it could be argued – evinced in observations of the type: "There is no particular wisdom in the East … All human beings  are foolish to the same degree" (Rushdie, 286), or: "discord, difference, disobedience, disagreement, irreverence, iconoclasm, impudence, even insolence, might be the wellsprings of the good" (Rushdie, 310). Whether, however, such gnomic observations stand up in the context of this novel’s one-dimensional, tinsel narrative with its accretions of clichés and stereotypes both eastern and western, dry-as-dust chronology and box-of-tricks magic realism, is quite another matter. Amitav Ghosh, meanwhile, while also signifying "miscegenation and mongrelism" (Ghosh, 442) in terms that might appear to parallel Rushdie, succeeds – as Rushdie does not – in pushing his fictional practice into new dimensions of formal and linguistic experimentation while, most importantly, telling a moving story that embodies the capacity of ordinary folk to survive and celebrate despite the oppressive incursions of power. It may sound subjective, but while when I turned the last page of The Enchantress of Florence I concluded I had not been able to identify with a single character for a single minute, when Sea of Poppies came to an end I was genuinely sorry, while also more than pleased that I will meet Ghosh’s characters again in the second instalment. Who then is going in the right direction, Rushdie or Ghosh? The Enchantress of Florence seems to me one of Rushdie’s least interesting novels, a damp squib on a par with Grimus and Fury and a great disappointment after the return to form of Shalimar the Clown; while I read Sea of Poppies as the work of a Ghosh at the height of his powers, surprising and charming his readers on the level of the page while maintaining a constant human commitment. The war may be on between the flashy gyrations of the postmodern and a surprisingly flexible and resistant Indo-Anglian realist tradition: the Booker judges’ verdict may offer an inkling of where things will move next on the fraught terrain, with its increasing globalised burden, of Indian Writing in English.





Ghosh, Amitav. Sea of Poppies. London: John Murray, 2008.

Rushdie, Salman. The Enchantress of Florence. London: Jonathan Cape, 2008.


See also my earlier blog entries on the 2 novels – Ghosh: 28 May 08; and Rushdie –

31 Mar 08; and ‘Interview with Rushdie’ entry, 6 Oct 08


For an update on the Booker Prize, see entry for 15 Sept 08: the final winner was yet another Indian writer, Aravind Adiga for "The White Tiger".


Note added 22 Dec 2009: This review has now been published in:

Indian Journal of Postcolonial Literatures, Thodupuzha, India), Vol. 9, No. 2, December 2009, pp. 240-244.

– see entry on this blog for 21 Dec 09



Journal / Revista HISPANIC HORIZON (Delhi) – with my essay on / con ensayo mío sobre ROSARIO CASTELLANOS



Now out is the 2008 issue (Year XXIV – No 26) of HISPANIC HORIZON (ISSN 0907-7522), the journal of the Centre of Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Latin Amercan Studies of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. This issue has been edited by Meenakshi Sundriyal and carries a special focus on ‘Notions of Nation: Identity and Representation’. There are contributions in both English and Spanish, from scholars resident in India, Spain, France, Venezuela, the US and Canada.

Hispanic Horizon’s website is at:


Among the articles in this issue are studies on José María Arguedas and Óscar Colchado Lucio (Lipi Biswas Sen), the life of Cervantes (Jean Canavaggio), Portuguese responses to 1857 in India (Sovon Sanyal), ‘Convivencia’ in Al-Andalus and Mughal India (Susnighda Day), Latin American immigrants in Spain (Indrani Mukherjee), and Catalan nationalism (Llorenç Carrió Crespi and Sebastià Serra Busquets).


The issue also includes (pp. 29-40) my own article on the novel ‘Balún Canán’ by Mexico’s Rosario Castellanos (‘”A Woman Schooled in Latin”: Rosario Castellanos, Ambassador of Mexico and Chiapas’). This text was originally written following the appearance in 2004 of the first critical edition of this novel to be published in Spain (Letras Hispánicas – Ediciones Cátedra, ed. Dora Sales Salvador). This English-language version is also available on-line at:

A Spanish-language version is on-line too, at:


and a résumé of that Spanish text was published in 2005 in ‘San Marcos Semanal’ (Universidad Mayor Nacional de San Marcos, Lima), no 37, p. 6; cf also my blog entry for 27 September 2005.




Ha salido ahora el número para 2008 (Año XXIV – Nr 26) de HISPANIC HORIZON (ISSN 0907-7522), la revista del Centre of Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Latin Amercan Studies de la Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. Este número ha sido editado por Meenakshi Sundriyal y está subordinado al tema: ‘Notions of Nation: Identity and Representation’. Hay aportaciuones tanto en inglés como en castellano, de estudiosos residentes en India, el Estado español, Francia, Venezuela, EE UU y Canadá.

El sitio de la revista se ubica en:


Entre los artículos de este número figuram estudios sobre José María Arguedas y Óscar Colchado Lucio (Lipi Biswas Sen), la vida de Cervantes (Jean Canavaggio), las reacciones portuguesas a los eventos de 1857 en la India (Sovon Sanyal), la ‘Convivencia’ en Al-Andalus y la India mughal (Susnighda Day), los inmigrantes latinoamericanos en el Estsdo español (Indrani Mukherjee), y el nacionalismo catalán (Llorenç Carrió Crespi y Sebastià Serra Busquets).


Se incluye igualmente (págs. 29-40) mi propio texto sobre la novela mexicana ‘Balún Canán’, de  Rosario Castellanos (‘”A Woman Schooled in Latin”: Rosario Castellanos, Ambassador of Mexico and Chiapas’). Este estudio fue escrito originalmente después de la publicación en 2004 de la primera edición crítica española de esta novela (Letras Hispánicas – Ediciones Cátedra, edición de Dora Sales Salvador). Esta versión inglesa existe también en línea, en:

También en línea hay una versión en castellano, en:

Una versión reducida de dicho texto fue publicada en 2005 en el ‘San Marcos Semanal’ (Universidad Mayor Nacional de San Marcos, Lima), Nr 37, p. 6; véase también mi entrada en esta bitácora de 27-IX-2005.