In India those of us who work in theory tend to fall into three broad categories, the regionalist, the nationalist and the internationalist. Not so much by the content of our work but by our discourse-styles are our real positions revealed: the nationalists speak in a language which their Indian peers can easily comprehend, while the internationalists, their sights fixed on distant academic horizons, essay in these postmodern days to a bedazzling but self-defeating obscurity which may justly be termed "vaguology." When the verbal froth settles, the poverty of their ideas is quickly exposed. The regionalists, on the other hand, define themselves in opposition to both these categories: they are uncomfortable with the discourses of both the nationalists and the internationalists. They consider both positions as betrayals of the interests of the immediate community in which they live and work. This third position which seems to be gaining ground, abandons the idea of the nation altogether and hitches its wagon to some special interest group, regional, linguistic, religious, casteist, gender-based or otherwise. Its proponents ceaselessly attack the ideology of nationalism as being hegemonic and oppressive, but they speak little of what will replace it. Needless to say, these positions are not mutually exclusive, but often overlapping and interconnected.
Perhaps, this opening paragraph has already betrayed my position which I need not spell out with unnecessary bluntness. Yet I believe that literary theorists who almost as a second nature start off problematizing other people's positions ought to, first of all, apply the same treatment to themselves. What better way to do this than by a series of preliminary questions: What sort of literary theory do we need? How will this theory deal with the problems of tradition, modernity, and postmodernity? And what are our responsibilities as Indian literary theorists? I hope the answers to some of these questions will emerge if not in the course of this paper then at least in the responses which it evokes.
It is only after we problematize our own positions that we can begin to demonstrate the seriousness of our intent. Only then can we ask ourselves where we stand vis-à-vis our own special region or community, our country or nation, and the West or the world at large--the three broad "camps" between which we scuttle and to which we owe partial allegiance. If we do not ask ourselves who we are and who we want to become, I am afraid we'll end up demonstrating the kind of futility enacted by Birbal's instructive lesson on how not to make khichadi: tie the pot to the ceiling while the stove is on the floor. To offer a more pertinent example, we will become like those of our Third World postmodernists who assert their difference with the dominant culture of the West in terms sanctioned by the West and only after the West has officially endorsed such expressions as articles of its newly proclaimed postmodern creed. The fact is that most of us are and have always been different; but some of us are fortunate enough to be different in ways which are comprehensible and marketable in the West. There is a difference, surely, between those who are different and those who have become the brokers of difference.1
That is why I wish to reintroduce into the contemporary debate an older agenda of anti-imperialism and nationalism. Our forefathers bequeathed it to us with much toil and tears, but in these days when nationalism has itself become a dirty word, we are wont to forget this legacy easily. No doubt, there is much more to anti-imperialism, whether political, economic, social, or cultural, than nationalism. No doubt, nationalism is itself a flawed and compromised doctrine. But why turn our backs on its life-sustaining springs? What else do we have to rally together except the idea of a civilization-state which promises social justice, equality, federalism, and democracy? We...