Debajyoti Biswas (PhD) is an Associate Professor and Head of the Department of English, Bodoland University. His areas of interest are northeast India, nationalism and identity, and the environmental humanities. His writings have appeared in journals like South Asian Popular Culture, English: Journal of the English Association, Journal of Narrative and Language Studies, Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, Postcolonial Studies, Rupkatha Journal, Journal of International Women’s Studies and Humanities, and Humanities & Social Sciences Communications. He has edited Nationalism in India (Routledge 2021) and Global Perspectives on Nationalism (Routledge 2022). E-mail: deb61594@gmail.com


Travails of Modernity: Precarious Lives in Amitav Ghosh’s The Living Mountain and Anuradha Sharma Pujari’s The Forest Wails

Abstract: Amitav Ghosh’s fiction and nonfiction continue to inquire into the relationship between colonization and climate change and its effect on human and nonhuman lives. In one of his recent nonfictional works The Nutmeg’s Curse, Ghosh explores the history of Banda islands (Indonesia) and its connection with the nutmeg. Highly valued in the European markets for its culinary and medicinal properties, nutmeg also became the target of mercantile capitalism and the subsequent cause of the destruction of the villages by the agents of the Dutch East India Company. Ghosh metaphorically presents the advent of European mercantile capitalism and the destruction of local cultures, economies, and ecologies. While mercantile capitalism gradually made way for industrial capitalism, the connection between industrialism and modernity as an essential marker of postcolonial nations invariably links the fate of the postcolonial nations with the effects of modernity on local ecologies. Taking this as a vantage point, this paper proposes to read two fictional works (Sharma Pujari’s The Forest Wails and Amitav Ghosh’s The Living Mountain) and see how unorganized modernity can damage ecology in India (as well as in other postcolonial countries of Southeast Asia). Whereas Ghosh’s telescopic approach gives us a bird’s eye view into the trajectory of planetary crisis, Pujari sees the travails of modernity as a social impasse that causes irreparable damage to ecology. The Forest Wails shows that while environmental debates rise and ebb in the political arena, the literary responses to such incidents try to navigate into the lives of people sandwiched between their struggle for survival and the political mantra of development. The paper draws from the works of Vandana Shiva, Ramachandra Guha, Madhav Gadgil, and Wolfgang Sachs to argue that modernity only benefits a select few capitalists, whereas its adversity is faced by the poor. These two works of fiction are chosen for their use of the mountain as a symbol. The mountains in these works encapsulate metaphorically the subsistence of tradition and the damages it sustains from Western modernity. Both these works may be seen as anecdotal parables that encapsulate man’s tryst with modernity and precarious futurity, thereby traversing the limitation of regional reading. The paper argues that, while the anxiety of loss of the home is perennial in a modernized society, the inevitable developmental journey (law of precedence) of everyman leads to the intensification of the Anthropocene crisis.
Keywords: Anthropocene, solastalgia, northeast India, modernity, terraforming