Cultural Displacement In Canadian Literature-Rohinton Mistry S Squatter Essay, Research Paper
Rohinton Mistry is known as a post-colonial writer. His writings reflect the Indian diaspora – the splitting of identity. On the one hand, his characters dream of being integrated into, and accepted by, Canadian society. On the other hand, these same characters are torn my an insatiable desire to be true to their native culture, to honour and cherish their own, distinct cultural identity. This is the theme of Squatter . Rohinton Mistry uses satire and symbolic imagery to attempt to convince his readers damage, he feels, that can come of hybridization. His short stories are very layered, presenting the reader with many images representing the dichotomy of the Indian versus the Canadian (Western) culture.
At the beginning of the story, Nariman s character is depicted as one who has been greatly influenced by the Western culture and material goods (1932 Mercedes-Benz, which he called the apple of his eye , whistling of an English song, Clark Gable moustache – page728). Ironically, he presents his listeners with two very distinct stories: one representing the need to stay strong and resist conformation, and the second, the story of Sarosh and the alienation that (can) come out of integration with the Canadian culture.
When describing the compound in which the Parsi sub-culture lives, Mistry presents the reader with an image of a drab place, a place with blocks , which compels me to envision the complex as a sort-of prison, with cell blocks and an iron gate where the watchman stood (730). The fact that Mistry integrates words from his native language within the English text further
illustrates the need of a post-colonial writer to subtly resist the expected conformation to the language of the master (Shakespeare s Caliban example) in order to be canonized into the realm of Canadian literature.
In his first story, Nariman tells of Savukshaw, the greatest of them all (728), and his game of Cricket against the English. This story outlines the constant struggle between cultures and races and one culture s desire to strive to remain (and to be seen as an) individual and strong. Examples included on page 731 – English had to keep reproducing balls in order to replace those destroyed by Savukshaw s strength (symbol of will); a sadhu gave him the secret to make his bat strong enough to hold up against strain and pressure (strength of bat used to strike back against oppression by imperialism); Savukshaw s advice about practice, lots of practice represents the constant
determination needed to remain loyal and true to oneself, and to win back lost individuality.
The second story is absolutely filled with satirical imagery. The listeners are introduced to Sarosh, a friend of Nariman and the subject of the story. Upon arriving at the decision to emigrate to Canada, Sarosh makes a promise to his mother that if he is unsuccessful in becoming totally integrated into the Canadian culture by ten years, he will come back to India. The one custom that
Sarosh cannot seem to master is that of being able to use the bathroom by sitting down on the toilet seat; unless he can master this task, how could he claim adaptation with any honesty if the acceptable catharsis continually failed to favour him? (733).
While we may see the ability to use a toilet properly as being related to Canadian identity ridiculous, it is a very deep and layered example which justifies the character s reasoning. As Canadians, we pride ourselves on bing a mosaic culture, but we are not so open to different ways and customs ( a foreign presence in the stall, not doing things in the conventional way (leads to) the presence of xenophobia and hostility p.735). Further, Canadians do not go out of their way to understand the customs and problems of others, as the supervisor illustrates on page 735 when he sends Sarosh away to deal with his problem instead of trying to help ( No problem. Just contact your Immigration Aid Society ).
Another satirical image used to represent the Canadian culture was the ability to ingest Wonder Bread because it is a Canadian bread which all happy families eat to be happy in the same way; the unhappy families are unhappy in their own fashion by eating other brands (736). The bread represents the culture itself – the underlying belief of Canadian culture is that unless you can immerse and integrate yourself totally and absolutely into the culture (with no traces of other brands ) then you have been enlightened, and to be enlightened is to be truly happy.
Dr. No-Ilaaz had a different idea. He was known to gradually introduce small amounts of things which people could not absorb so as to build up an immunity to the harmful effects – at least that is what we are led to believe at first (736 – Coke example). When Sarosh went to him for help with his unique problem, Dr. No-Ilaaz presented Sarosh with a solution to his problem. He proposed a contraption called Crappus Non Interruptus , which worked, with the use of a remote-control, like a garage-door opener – a solution so far-fetched and ridiculous that it forces him (and the reader) to think that it should not be necessary to go to such lengths to conform to another culture, and that you should strive to preserve your own identity.
In presenting this dilemma for the reader to ponder, you come to the realization that if you make great sacrifices to conform to another culture, then you are losing a part of yourself in order to become more like the Other . This concept can be related to Blake s states of innocence and
experience; once you let the experience of the master culture take over, then the innocence and purity of your original identity will be lost forever, as you will never be able to revert back to the innocent state – once exposed to experience, you are forever experienced.
Dr. No further explains the concept of hybridity; he relays the question that if more people conform to the master culture, then it could cause problems. When he states you could be sharing the code with others. Then the risk of accidents becomes greater (738) he is referring to the fact that as more and more people are hybridized, the purity of the native culture is dead and gone, forever. Upon deciding not to take advantage of the treatment, Sarosh resigns himself to the opinion that he will never be truly Canadian and makes the decision to return home to India.
Finally, when on the plane, Sarosh achieves success on the toilet and finally considers himself Canadian. Too late to get off of the plane, he comforts himself with the fact that he has, in fact, achieved his goal. What he discovers upon his arrival home is that Dr. No-Ilaaz was right – once
Sarosh crossed over into the realm of Canadian-ism, he could no longer be considered Parsi. Everything in India became foreign to him, as the European influence changed the way he perceived things. The end result was total displacement from both cultures in which he so wanted to be a part and remain a part of. Sarosh later relates this story to his friend Nariman, stating that for some (integration) was good and for some it was bad, but for me life in the land of milk and honey was just a pain in the posterior”.