Water out of fire: Novel women, national fictions and the legacy of Nehruvian developmentalism in India

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Third World Quarterly, 2001, 22 (6), pp. 951 - 967
Issue Date:
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In the post-independence period in India popular fictions present a paradox: they represent the corruption of the era as well as the desirability of its modernity. In the work of overwhelmingly successful writers such as Shankar, the path of Nehruvian development is a double sign. It represents the corruption of the 'licenced raj' as well as the desirable lifestyle and possessions of the educated elite. The more the nation modernises, the more corrupt and desirable it becomes. All the noble social goals of the Nehru era- education, women's emancipation, progress-become transactional: things to be exchanged for wealth, Western technology and status. There is no room for integrity here; integrity is possible either in the past or in the West. These fictions tell the story of the 'deferral' of Western modernity in the imaginary of the postcolonial nation. Women, in these fictions, are especially ambiguous; though modernised and educated, they also retain their traditional roles and conventional gender relationships are valorised. This flawed representation of the modern nation also embodies its tragedy. This article concludes that the failure of the post-independence Nehruvian development project and its noble social goals has created a space that allows economic liberalisation and religious fundamentalism to flourish.
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