Post Colonial India and South Asian Identity Essay

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Post Colonial India and South Asian Identity

"Pakistan is often perceived as merely one of those far-away places that serve as breeding grounds for extremism and violence," yet this is not a clear image of the truth (Perner 23). Pakistan is in the midst of an internal conflict, with those who want to embrace globalism and those fighting to get rid of it for a misguided view of life before international influence. In many ways, Hamid's novel Moth Smoke is much different than other post-colonial literature in the idea that the west is not entirely responsible for the divides in cultural identity in regional politics. Rather, the west simply brought with it new tools to help distinguish those with access to the elite social circles and those without. Still, Hamid does show some positive benefits from a globalized identity in the image of a much stronger female role within an ever increasing modern Pakistani society.

Much of postcolonial literature looks at a nostalgic image of a cultural past untainted by western and global influences. Yet, this is not what Hamid is proposing in his work, making Moth Smoke a new and unique view of a country forever changed by globalism and evolution towards a modern identity. To look back at Mohsin Hamid's novel Moth Smoke, is to make a connection between this intricate relationship between past and present within contemporary literature. Watching the character developments tells the reader a lot about urban living in modern Pakistan. The novel itself centers on a newly established and burgeoning elitist society in the city of Lahore, Pakistan. Multiple narratives are employed by Hamid in order to provide for a holistic account of multiple stories, representing a greater portion of this new and evolving Pakistani society. Darashikoh Shezad, also known as Daru, is one of the characters tracked in the novel. He is much more on the outer edge of society, and tries desperately to fit into the elite groups emerging within it (Jay 54). This is greatly contrasted with the account of Daru's best friend, Ozi. Hamid writes "God has been kind to Ozi's father," signifying that Ozi' family has been well taken care of (Hamid 23). He is much more affluent, fitting into the elitist rings of society like Daru never can.

This is a relatively new experience within the modern society of Pakistan, and Hamid uses a single character to connect these very abstract concepts and relationships within a single individual's life span. Daru, the primary protagonist, and many of his other counterparts throughout the novel find themselves on the outskirts of this newly created and flourish elite society in Pakistan. As these individuals try to adapt to a new lifestyle brought to Pakistan from the outside global world, they find themselves in extremely conflicting situations, where the past and present of their culture and country cannot always exist together in perfect harmony because of such polar opposite influences within a more modernized Pakistan. Daru wants to be a part of this elite new group that comes from its relation to a globalized culture and the wealth of foreign interests in the region. Yet, as he tries to adapt, he finds he cannot truly assimilate in a healthy manner into this new image of a more globalized Pakistan. Daru watches himself go from a relatively comfortable position employed with perks like constant air conditioning, to a heroin addict living on the streets and with no hope for the future. He and other characters, like Murad Badshah, are engulfed by the starkly contrasted western lifestyle that conflicts with the more traditional and conservative Muslim society that was present before globalization reached the borders of Pakistan. As more and more of the west comes into Pakistan, it represents a clear divide within this culture: those living more lavishly with foreign goods and privileges like air conditioning, and those who refuse to assimilate and loose their cultural heritage for just a few novelties. Even Mumtaz notices his position on the outside of society; "Mumtaz would later wonder whether Darashikoh's lack of air-conditioning played a role in attracting her to him" (Hamid 137). Many in society feel incredibly torn, wanting a modern life, but yet are unable to live with the laceration of their cultural heritage. This internal conflict is represented by the destructive force that is Daru through most of the novel. Daru will do anything, an as a result he falls into great despair.

What is interesting in this new tale is not necessarily the drama, but who is responsible for its presence within society. The research discusses Hamid's opinion that "human beings are coming to recognize the illusion that nations are out there as empty spaces, they are beginning to work against those illusions, whether it's migration of people across places, terrorists who strike across countries, whether it's global capitalism, whatever it is. The U.S. is in the same boat" (Yaqin 6). Hamid aims to explore the notion of a post-colonial culture as a way to try to break away from it. Here, Jay suggests that "Hamid sets out to analyze contemporary Lahore through a 'post-post-colonial' framework, one less interested in foregrounding the persistent effects of British colonialization than dramatizing how economic globalization has transformed Lahore and the characters populating his novel" (Jay 51). Rather than blaming the west whole heartedly for bringing ills that have degraded the modern citizens of regions like Pakistan, Hamid places more responsibility on the people and the past they so glamorize through popular myths and culture. He starts this process very early on, with the early introduction of the Mughal Empire which reflects the coming story of how material riches play a role in defining the classes of society. In this recollection, Hamid is "trying to bypass the colonial experience" (Jay 55). The separation between the haves and have nots is not necessarily unique to a more modern Pakistan, but was also seen in the lavish spending of the Islamic Mughal Empire as well. Ozi and his friends on the inside of modern Pakistani society represent those Muslims who were living in luxury even before introduction to the west and all of its impending influences. The same spirit of jealousy and gossip are present in modernity, but resemble the spirit of the past, where people would stab each other in the back to get closer to the king and his court. Jay asserts that "with its sustained focus on the effects of economic globalization, Mohsin Hamid's Moth Smoke stands apart from many South Asian English-language novels" (Jay 51). The idea here is that these negative elements of society were not fully brought in from the outside, but rather are just a representation of what was always there. In many ways, this is Hamid's way of pulling away from a postcolonial identity and reconnecting with the past, not on a blindly nostalgic view, but on a more practical and realistic one. The breaks within society have, in many ways, always been there, and are not solely a result of colonialism. The west did not bring the evil and jealousy, but rather just brought new tools and materials with which the elitists of Pakistani society could distinguish themselves from what they see as an outdated cultural past. Ties to the west provide Pakistani citizens with a greater advantage, even in their own societies, but it is not the sole reason for the conflicts within the modernization process. Hamid himself is a product of this hybridized culture, having received his higher education here in the U.S. (Yaqin 2). As such, he has a unique perspective of the differences between those who embrace globalism and those who cling to a more regional identity despite the face of adversity.

This new wave of globalism is not the same thing as the effects of British colonialism. By bypassing the importance and influence of colonialism, Hamid is suggesting that we look at the situation from a new angle in order to rectify the fragmentation between a society demanding modernity and one that still clings to its traditional identity which is often in conflict with globalism principles.

Still, Hamid also shows some positive benefits globalism has provided for women within Pakistani society. One of the strongest and most honest characters in Moth Smoke is Mumtaz. She is strong and honest in expressing her true feelings, refusing to allow herself to be silenced by the older patriarchal dominance that had been silencing women before her for generations. Unlike Daru, she learns and understands her own flaws, giving the reader hope that she will only continue to develop towards a more stable and healthy identity, despite all of the conflicts she faces within society as it fights to modernize. Yet, this newly empowered position is only emerging, as Mumtaz is forced to lead a double life in order to protect herself from some of the more conservative members of the society who are trying to keep it from modernizing it further. She fights against this oppressive…[continue]

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