The Challenges of Multiculturalism in India: Analyzing Sidhwa and Rushdie

Cosmopolitanism is defined in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy as “the idea that all human beings, regardless of their political affiliation, are (or can and should be) citizens in a single community”. This belief not only applies to political affiliation but also to religious beliefs, which, in the case of the formation of India and Pakistan, proves to be a difficult challenge to overcome. The utopian ideal of cosmopolitanism is addressed in both Bapsi Sidhwa’s novel, Cracking India, and Salman Rushdie’s, The Moor’s Last Sigh. Both novels discuss the difficulty with nation building in India and Pakistan after the departure of the English. Cosmopolitanism is addressed by both narrators in similar ways. Through both novels, one can see major challenges in the implementation of this ideology. These challenges include a lack of identity, a holding on to previous loyalties to political and religious parties, and the violence that ensues when unity is severed.

A cosmopolite is a citizen of the world, in the sense that they do not necessarily belong to a certain nation, religion, or political party, but to the human species itself. This leads to an identity problem when self-proclaimed cosmopolitans realize that those who do not believe in cosmopolitanism have outcast them from their previous groups. Certain groups in India, the so-called Macaulay’s Minutemen, neither belonged to India or England; instead they were a class of their own. In Cracking India, Colonel Bharucha upon giving a speech to the Parsee community stated, “We have to be extra wary, or we’ll be neither here nor there” (26). In this quote he is warning the community that because of their service and faithfulness to England, they must be careful to stay neutral because they are minorities. The Parsee’s have survived by staying neutral in time of strife and conflict, which is ever more important at this instance with the English’s possible departure. To throw in their support with the English, they would never be welcomed in India or Pakistan, and to support one of the Hindu or Muslim groups vying for power, they would be outcast by both. Since the Parsees had no official nation of their own, they had to remain neutral and blend in with their surrounding communities, thus making them cosmopolitans in a sense, and also, a group without an identity of their own.

This lack of identity is also expressed in the Moor’s Last Sigh. Moraes’s first love, Uma Sarasvati, could be described as a cosmopolitan. Her past was unknown to the narrator and she belonged to no particular group. She was simply a citizen. This plurality of her background however proved to be her downfall, as Moor describes, “a defeat in the pluralist philosophy on which we had all been raised…it had been the pluralist Uma, with her multiple selves…who turned out to be the bad egg” (272). Despite Aurora’s belief in cosmopolitanism, she is the one who orchestrated the events which led to Uma being found out as a liar, using this ideology to gain a foothold in a wealthy family to bring about its demise. Uma is just one example of how a cosmopolite cannot survive in a community which does not recognize cosmopolitanism, the Moor himself also struggles with his own identity. Much like the Parsees in Cracking India, the Zogoibys could be classified as Macaulay’s Minutemen in the sense that they adopted much of the Western ways and attitudes toward Indian culture. Vasco Miranda explicitly called them such in his drunken outburst at a party. Throughout Moor’s life he has struggled to fit in to the community, not just due to his physical malformation, but his lack of belonging to a certain culture due to his family’s cosmopolitan views. Upon his departure from India he states, “There was nothing holding me to Bombay any more. It was no longer my Bombay, no longer special” (376). This distance described by Moor to his hometown can be viewed as the end of hiscosmopolitan community. Since the battle for power over the city between Muslims and Hindus, and economic power versus political power has shattered his community, he is no longer welcome. Had he attached himself to a religious group or political party, one doubts whether he would leave. One can assume he would feel a sense of belonging to his city and opt to stay and help his affiliates gain control once more despite his family ties, which were frayed from the start.

When unity is severed, a cosmopolitan society reacts with violence. It is impossible to maintain this ideology without some unifying force or common moral understanding. The religious differences of India between Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs give way to different moral beliefs and obligations. Only with something tying them together can these differences be overcome. As stated before, the country did not view itself as cosmopolitan, therefore, not everyone shared the belief that they were citizens of the world trying to get along in peace. In Cracking India, the departure of the English ruptured a unity between the people of India. While striving for independence, each religious community shared a common goal and a common enemy: the English. Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and Parsees would all assimilate in the park together, citizens of a common goal. Once independence was sought after, Hindus and Muslims began vying for power in order to place their own people in position to prosper. The narrator, Lenny, saw this change and states, “I became aware of religious differences. One day everybody is themselves-and the next day they are Hindu, Muslim, Sikh Christian” (101). No longer were the people that of a common community, but instead members of one religion or another. This inability to separate oneself from their religion is one of the hardest challenges of a cosmopolitan worldview.

It is only those few people, unified by their love of Ayah, which remains for a short period of time, cosmopolitan. Lenny notices this after being dragged away from the Sikh group in the park, “Only the group around Ayah remains unchanged. Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Parsee are, as always, unified around her” (105). Once this unity is severed, even this group of friends turn to violence. The love of Ayah becomes a quest for power and dominion in much the same way as the quest for power in India. Ice-Candy Man assumedly kills Masseur to further his quest for the love of Ayah. Sikhs and Hindus in the group leave to escape the violence in the community that is entrenching itself in their tight-knit group. This group of cosmopolitans cannot withstand the effects of segregation by religion and violence becomes commonplace. In The Moor’s Last Sigh, violence between the people also occur when unity is shattered. To a small extent, this can be seen in the Zogoiby household after the death of Francisco da Gama. This clash was inevitable because “the family was already plunging towards that catastrophic conflict, the so-called ‘battle of the in-laws’” (33). When the patriarch of the family dies, the sons inherit the business and the matriarch’s greed drives the family to divide and turn on one another. The family unity was held together by Francisco and his successful trade business, when he dies, the family’s lust for greed and power turns them on one another and they resort to violence in order to inherit.

While the family feud in the Zogoiby household shows the eruption of violence when unity is severed, it is merely a smaller representation of what happens to Bombay after the death of Mainduck. When the explosion at Mainduck’s house goes off, the whole city of Bombay begins to explode. Hindu against Muslim, Abraham’s group against Mainduck’s group, everyone becomes a victim or perpetrator. When the delicate balance of power between Abraham and Mainduck crumbles, the society around it crumbles. There was a sense of belonging to the people of those groups, a sense of unity. When these opposing fronts are confronted they violently react to their opposition. This division directly challenges cosmopolitanism because these groups are vying for power instead unifying in the face of adversity. Much like the character’s loyalties to their religion in Cracking India, the characters in The Moor’s Last Sigh cling to their loyalties to both religious and political parties. The cosmopolitan ideology faces many challenges in both Cracking India, and The Moor’s Last Sigh. Through reading these two novels, one finds that it is much harder to forfeit one’s previous loyalties to religion, political party, and to family. To be a cosmopolite, one has to belong as a citizen of the world, not just their community. Often times, cosmopolites struggle with identity issues as seen in Moor and Uma. These identity issues and loyalties to past affiliations often result in violence against opposing factions when unity is severed and the balance of power is shifted. Both novels represent these challenges and show the reader that not only can cosmopolitanism not occur during this time period in India/ Pakistan, but that it is a utopian ideal that often ends with much more negative results than positive.