IN THIS LOOK AT THE LITTLE- KNOWN WORLD OF LITERATURE FROM FORMER FRENCH COLONIES, AJAY KAMALAKARAN FINDS FRANCOPHONE WRITERS TO BE BOLD AND ICONOCLASTIC.</p>
Many of us in Anglophone India love to hate Arundhati Roy for making controv
ersial statements and some of us even go the extent of labelling her as anti- national.
There is an invisible line, however, that even she doesnalt39t cross: that is taking on certain religious dogmas heads- on. This is of course the country that banned Salman Rushdies Satanic Verses and flirted with a ban on Dan Browns the Da Vinci Code . But, little known to the moral police, censors and the general reading public, is a set of authors from former French colonies, who spare no words to call out customs and practices they disapprove of.
Morocco- born Tahar Ben Jelloun is one such Francophone writer, who has dared to take on the patriarchal and conservative society of the North African countries.
Ben Jellouns The Sand Child and The Sacred Night , written with elements of magical realism, strongly attack the traditional values of post- colonial Morocco.
The books are a lyrical account of Mohammed Ahmed, a girl, who is raised as a boy to circumvent Islamic inheritance laws.
Mohammeds father completely fails to see the psychological impact that his drastic decision would have on his daughter until he is in his deathbed. The narrative filled with allegorical interpretations is a haunting look at the psyche and culture of the socalled Maghreb countries.
Ialt39ve often wondered how women from conservative families in these countries feel about traditions that are chauvinistic in nature and forced down upon them. Whats different about women in these countries compared to say India, is the fact that the French colonisers tried to impose liberal values in Algeria and Morocco, whereas the English wanted Indians to be more like citizens of Victorian England. So Indian conservatism blended well with Victorian English traditions, whereas, the conservative Islam of Morocco was incompatible with French values, making women from traditional families in the Maghreb countries in conflict with fellow citizens who had a liberal outlook.
I quote a passage from The Sacred Night that would be banned in an instant in India, if the moral police knew of it: ” As I bent down low, I couldnalt39t help thinking of the animal desire my body, especially in that position, would have aroused in those men if they had only known they were praying behind a woman.
Not to mention the ones who start playing with themselves the moment they see any rear end thus presented, male or female.” Writers from sub- Saharan Africa have also had the courage to speak out against the dictatorships they live in and the lawlessness in their countries. In The Suns of Independence , Ahmadou Kourouma, who hailed from the Ivory Coast, mocks the direction that his country and its neighbours take after independence from the French.
The book is the story of Fama, the last of the Dumbuya princes, who finds himself to be of little use in an independent Ebony Republic. Fama, like most members of the Malinke tribe, curse the independence and the division of their land between 2 new independent countries, the independence that gave power to a new autocratic elite.
Superstitions have been adapted into the Internet Age in India and several dogmas will outlive most of us in contemporary India, without strong calls for changes and reforms.
Kourouma, on the other hand, doesnalt39t spare the traditions he loathes in the Ivory Coast. ” Yes it all had to collapse, if only because the republics of the suns of independence had neglected to provide themselves with institutions such as fetishes, or sorcerers to ward off danger.” Former French colonies in the Indian Ocean have also produced great writers, like Ananda Devi, whose roots are in Andhra Pradesh. The Mauritian writers lyrical style almost adds a new dimension to Francophone French literature. Although Devi shows tremend