Opinion

BOOK REVIEW: Bridging The Gap Between Literature And Politics

Professor Satendra Nandan’s new book Brief Encounters: Literature and Beyond is the latest child of a literary activist who made the bridge between literature and politics a long time ago.
18 Jul 2015 12:33
BOOK REVIEW: Bridging The Gap Between Literature And Politics

Professor Satendra Nandan’s new book Brief Encounters: Literature and Beyond is the latest child of a literary activist who made the bridge between literature and politics a long time ago.

In 36 eloquent pieces, divided into four parts but woven together into a tapestry consisting of historical, literary, political and social threads, Nandan proves again he is a master at work.

As Nandan recounts in the opening piece, ‘Personal,’ his daughter Kavita, sent him a book a few years titled “Literary Activists: Writer-Intellectuals and Australian Public Life.” Nandan notes wryly that there were no Asian-Pacific-Australian writers on the list.

Perhaps if the initiators of the list were considering Nandan’s work, they might have been stumped, for want of a better word. While Nandan makes much of his admiration for Australian writer Patrick White and recounts his upbringing and political life in Fiji, Nandan’s work, cannot be reduced to mere compartments.

His latest creation in itself is an indictment of Pacific writing that reduces itself to literary navel-gazing, content with coconuts, beaches and myopic political discourses.

In his second essay, “Literature and Politics,” Nandan captures his book’s voice, by way of reading V.S Naipaul’s classic “A House for Mr Biswas,” a prize he received in 1963, for participating in a debate.

That fateful evening I began reading A House for Mr Biswas in my dimly lit bure in the light of a dhebri, with its wick singeing my rather long locks of hair. Little did I realize that this was text that would take me into myself, my memories of my parents and the untold, unwritten, fitfully visible history of my grandparents. The novel was a search for recognition and identity of a very ordinary person, and a place he could call his own. This was the basic right of every individual…It was a common universal yearning of the deepest kind.

Nandan’s voice in Brief Encounters, is that of a Fijian who has finally found peace.

He reveals his admiration for the Bainimarama Government that allowed an ordinary person, raised on the banks of the Nadi River, descendant of indentured labourers to be part of this country’s future.

Fijian, that name, once monopolised and debased by ethno-nationalists is now resurrected and embraced by all communities, in Nandan’s exposition.

It was the Bainimarama Government’s radical inclusive policies that built the Biswas-house for Nandan and other marginalised communities.

Not everyone wants to be called a ‘Fijian’ but it is the crucial definition for any and every citizen of Fiji. The word Fijian is being deeply enriched, extended and expanded to accommodate new meanings, virtues, ethics and dimensions. No other word has so much meaning for a child of Fiji,” he writes in ‘An Election For A Nation.”

Nandan, the former politician, has every right to be angry, having experienced the brutality of the 1987 coups but his anecdotes on the Colonel, Sitiveni Rabuka lack the grinding bitterness of other commentators.

In fact, literature, Nandan’s writing, to be precise, may have placed a small part in the the Colonel’s reformation, of sorts.  Nandan recalls that his poetic reflections on the tragic fall of Dr Timoci Bavadra, deposed Prime Minister, struck a chord with the former coup leader. Since then, Rabuka has been on a pilgrimage of sorts, seeking forgiveness for all the trauma and pain he caused in 1987.

If writing cannot lead to truth and reconciliation, it is not worth writing. A pen is mightier than the gun, so to speak.

It is a writer’s job to expose lies, to paraphrase George Orwell.

Brief Encounters is one writer’s attempt to expose the lies of misplaced identity and structural racism. As a Pacific writer Nandan’s consciousness soars in his essays, weaving literary criticism of Russian, Carribean and European writers into his work. No wonder then, the other half of the book’s title is Literature and Beyond. It points Fijians outside of their compartments, outside of their comfort zones, outside of their racial groupings to take their place on the global stage, as a people united, not divided.

Feedback: josuat@fijisun.com.fj

Brief Encounters: Literature and Beyond is published by IVY Press International Puyblishers, ANU, Australia. It was printed in Fiji and is available at local bookstores.

 

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