Networks of Stories: Amitav Ghosh's the Calcutta Chromosome.
ARIEL 2009, April-July, 40, 2-3
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Amitav Ghosh's fourth novel, The Calcutta Chromosome (1996) is a complex, quasi-science fiction narrative set in the near future. It centres on the Egyptian-born Antar's attempt to find out why his former colleague in a New York-based conglomerate, Murugan, disappeared while on leave in Calcutta. Using computer-mediated communication and holographs, Antar discovers that while researching the real-life scientist, Ronald Ross (1857-1932), Murugan had uncovered the workings of an Indian "counter-science" group. This cult was apparently the driving force behind Ross's Nobel prize-winning discovery that malaria is transmitted by anopheles mosquitoes. The group comprises shape-shifting subaltern figures, including the scavenger woman Mangala and Ross's favourite servant sometimes known as Laakhan. The group experiments with pigeon sacrifice and religious rituals in an ultimate quest to achieve immortality. Beneath the novel's multiple layers of narrative lies a debate about knowledge and power relations. (1) This paper's epigraph, "knowledge [can]'t begin without acknowledging the impossibility of knowledge," is taken from a pivotal, if paradoxical speech by Murugan, and wittily encapsulates one of Ghosh's most compelling dilemmas as a writer. How can one challenge the totalizing impetus of the knowledge that has been imposed by the West on its former colonies, without reproducing its claims to universal applicability? Murugan's identification of a knowledge that recognizes its own "impossibility" draws both on postmodernist thought (2) and on a strain of Hindu thought which indicates that recognizing that one does not know everything is the first step towards knowledge. This philosophy is illustrated in the Upanishads, in which it is stated:
- Category: Language Arts & Disciplines
- Published: Apr 01, 2009
- Publisher: University of Calgary, Department of English
- Seller: The Gale Group, Inc.
- Print Length: 33 Pages
- Language: English