The Upside-Down Swan: Suniti Namjoshi

Akshaya K. Rath, National Institute of Technology, Rourkela, India


Diasporic, lesbian and transnational, Suniti Namjoshi—within the framework of postcolonial discourse—attempts to construct an ‘alternative universe’ in textuality. In constructing of an alternative political identity, Namjoshi undertakes a comparative approach in selecting subjects for producing a neo-textual universe, and a comparative study of cross-cultural identities remain central to the analysis of Namjoshi’s work. In this paper I argue that it is because of colonial anti-sodomy law, and because of religious and social stigma that the mission of constructing an alternative universe remains operative in Namjoshi’s work. I also suggest that in Namjoshi’s work, feminism, postcolonialism and queer theory merge but her work has been deliberately sidelined by the academia.

In 2006 Suniti Namjoshi (b. 1941) published Sycorax: New Fables and Poems. It included a section on the ‘unsung / untold’ story of Shakespeare’s Sycorax and a section on the ‘new’ life of Protea. By then, taking textual genesis from Shakespeare’s The Tempest and imitating the fashion of many postcolonial texts, in 1984 Namjoshi had published in From the Bedside Book of Nightmare a section entitled “Snapshots of Caliban”. “Sycorax”, a continuation of “Snapshots of Caliban”, of rewriting Shakespeare, attempted to reorganise the structure of the “humanist universe”—a project, rather a challenge, she attempted to undertake in The Jackass and the Lady in 1980. Rewriting Shakespeare to challenge the existing structure of the male-centred ‘humanist universe’ is part of the volumes of writing she has produced. They include rewriting of ancient and canonical fables and stories, and making new ones in the process of defining / identifying the lesbian / feminist ‘self’ amongst birds, beasts and animals. Rewriting canonical texts as a third-world lesbian feminist also includes exploring possibilities of multiple dimensions of traditional stories, fables and poems. For instance, the untold story of Sycorax portrayed in Sycorax, inclusion of an ageing sparrow as the witness of colonialism, and humanising Protea, a character from Greek mythology as a lady, are some of the instances of reorganising the world. Presently celebrated as a fabulist and a poet, Namjoshi has been constantly producing poetry and fables since the publication of her first collection of poems, Poems, in 1967.

Namjoshi’s Because of India: Selected Poems and Fables (1989) and Goja: An Autobiographical Myth (2000) are considered autobiographical and they show her development as a third world lesbian poet. Conversations of Cow (1985) and The Mothers of Maya Diip (1991) thematically remain critical of lesbian identity in a heterosexist world. The collections of work celebrating lesbianism are mostly written outside India and Namjoshi justifies the reasons behind such an exercise in the introductory sections of Because of India.

This article explores that Namjoshi maps the different facets of lesbian desire and identity within the framework of postcolonial discourse. It analyzes the representation of animal imagery with which she identifies the homosexual self. Further, it highlights in principle the way law, religion and social discourses are presented against sexual identities in Namjoshi’s work, and the way she attempts to frame an alternative universe in textuality. It argues it is because of Indian law against homosexuality and social stigma that the mission of constructing an alternative universe remains operative in Namjoshi. Further, it suggests that in Namjoshi’s work, feminism, postcolonialism and queer theory merge but her work has been deliberately sidelined by the academia…Access Full Text of the Article

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