How have women writers reacted to the suffering that marked the onset of this new millennium, which began with what has become known as 11 September phenomenon? In addition to the attack on the World Trade Center, it has taken the form of bomb blasts (one occurred in the Indian Parliament) and a chain of wars in Islamic countries ever since Osama Bin Laden identified himself as the Terror behind 9/11: the Afghan War, then the Iraq War, and the recent bombing of the U.S.Embassy in Pakistan, killing an American diplomat. Neelum Saran Gour and Pat Barker are instances of the intellectual, feminine, anguished reaction — the first Indian and the second English. Both write about devastation, external and internal. Gour, a former Charles Wallace writer-in-residence at the University of Kent and currently professor of English at Allahabad University, has been a humour columnist for the Hindustan Times. Among her collections of short stories and three novels, one of them is entitled Messrs Dickens, Doyle and Wodehouse Private Limited.
Both Sikander Chowk Park and Double Vision use fiction to study the aftermath of a bomb blast that is imaginary and a war that was all too real. In both novels, surprisingly, the male journalist's view-point surfaces, and he is equally traumatised by the trauma he had reported. Many such journalists and war reporters abound in the world. Terror is dissected by both writers through a fresh, inward quest and from the various view-points of various characters, men and women. Various kinds of terror form the substance of both novels, the meat.
In a television interview, Gour related that her novel began years ago years ago when she passed a real bomb blast in Kolkata. In Sikander Chowk Park she portrays not just a bomb blast but an unhappy marriage and the rape of a young Muslim girl; and years later she planted an imaginary bomb blast in Sikander Chowk Park, Allahabad. The professor in Gour never seems to leave her. The novel is full of ponderous remarks on "The Millennium Corpse", "The Millennium Baby", "The Actor of the Millennium" and so on. In addition, Thomas Hardy's "The Darkling Thrush" is dissected in Urdu and English, having been written on a significant date in another century. Gour did research on DNA fingerprinting at the Centre For Cellular and Molecular Biology.
Gour's novel can be compared to that by Pat Barker, who won the Booker Prize for The Ghost Road. Double Vision is an English woman writer's response to the War in Afghanistan, a rather jerky response. She describes the trauma of the war, particularly the effect on a war reporter who is a widow of a war photographer killed on assignment (and who is rebelliously working on a shocking statue of Jesus) Then there is Peter Wingrave, a jailbird in his juvenile years for an unknown crime who has a common love-interest with Sharkey, the traumatised war reporter. Other characters include the au pair girl, the daughter of the parish's clergyman whose wife has deserted him. There is agony in both novels, the punishment of crime, the punishing task of writing a brooding dark novel. No wonder Gour thinks of Hardy, who is associated with Gothic novels. Both contemporary novels have a Gothic element.
Gour, Neelum Saran. Sikander Chowk Park. Penguin Books, 2003.
Barker, Pat Double Vision. London: Hamish Hamilton, 2003.
Last modified 8 March 2006