Enabling Opposition and Power Relations in Meatless Days
Caleb Paull '93 (English 34, 1991)
In Meatless Days Sara Suleri reveals her history to us by telling us the histories of the people around her, the people whom she's spent her life with. She speaks of her mother "writing" her, but makes it clear that she is "written" by everything which she includes in the book. The reader can only get a picture of her when she is defined in relation to the world with which she interacts. This process of revealing one's self through what one reveals can be extended to a general statement about reciprocity: as one tries to shape one's context, the very process of change is influenced by the already existing context. Thus we find that as an individual's growth and definition are based on the history of their surroundings, the growth and definition of a culture evolve based on existing forms.
Suleri's parents' relations reflect the situation in India in 1947, a situation of altered power relations. India had just gained independence from England and there was the question of what shape postcolonial India would take. Suleri's mother was an Englishwoman, her father an Indian supporter of Pakistani independence. His relationship to his wife reveals how his thoughts and actions arose from and were tied to his experience of colonization, how postcolonialism grows out of colonialism:
Did she really think that she could assume the burden of empire, that if she let my father colonize her body and her name she would perform some slight reparation for the race from which she came? Could she not see that his desire for her was quickened with empire's ghosts, that his need to possess was a clear index of how he was still possessed?
Z.A. Suleri's identity and attitudes towards decolonization are dependent on India's colonized past. It is in reacting to this past that he and his country define themselves. The idea of enabling opposition is that nothing can exist independently of it's opposite. Postcolonialism cannot exist without colonialism, for the two concepts are defined in terms of one another. Z.A. Suleri's need to possess his wife becomes not a symbol of his newly acquired power over the former colonists, but a symbol of how his life, his very desires, are still shaped by the idea of colonization. Sara Suleri expresses the fate of decolonized countries through the power relations of her parents. A decolonized country is not a tabula rasa, free from all attachment and bias. It is a country which can change, but only based on the culture which colonialism has left behind. Sara's father exerts cultural power over her mother, but his control is based on the power relations of colonialism. He is no longer the colonized, but the colonizer. Although the roles have switched, the game is still the same: Z.A. Suleri's actions are forever based on the context of colonialism. In a sense the ever changing nature of culture is an ongoing colonialism in which the colonizer becomes the colonized, the old society creates the new.