By: Konika Mukherjee
“In every country of the world, there are climbers, “the ones who forget who they are” and in contrast to them “the ones who remember where they came from”
Franz Fanon (On Colour and Prejudice, Black Skin, White Masks)
Reading Patrick White’s Voss, I felt a kind of kinship with the female protagonist Laura Trevelyne: born in England and living in recently discovered Australia; Laura links her identification with the sand she is surrounded with. Quite interestingly, she tells Voss, the German, that it is he who is ‘isolated’ and goes on to make a remark which also reflects her own sense of alienation. She says, ” That is why you are fascinated by the prospect of desert places, in which you will find your own situation taken for granted, or more than that, exalted.” White’s obsession with sand to represent alienation reminded me of Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘The Squatter’s Children’. If he deals with alienation using sand Bishop uses rain to effectively claim and hold on to identication with the land.
I, am an Indian, North-Indian to be precise but there ends my belongingness. Being a Half-Bengali lived in four different cities: a religious city, Allahabad; an industrial city, Kanpur; a hill station, Mussoorie and a metro city, New Delhi; I feel lost when I’m asked about my hometown. The situation worsens with the questions: “Never been to West Bengal?”, “Not religious!?”, “A teetotler!?”… I feel a sudden envy for Salman Rushdie, there are no “broken mirrors”, no “fragments” which have been “lost” because they weren’t *there* to begin with. He experiences a physical alienation and I feel mentally alienated. The optimist in me tries to justify my situation by trying to enjoy the slight imperfection in my belongingness, I found solace in Sam Shepard’s claim that he has “… found that what’s most valuable about that place (home) is not the place itself but the other people…”
Yet I feel irritated, by Laura’s sense of gloom, by Voss’ desire to find an acquaintance with the sand, by Rushdie’s nostalgia and his ability to fill the missing fragments with fiction; it drives the shard of displacement deeper, with what do I patch the frayed ends of my existence? White has an answer,
“…Where are you from, boy? He asked.
The lad did not answer. He could have been absorbed.”