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Book Review

Dhishma, A Decolonial Reading of Nayyar Mustafa’s Experimental Novel-Naghmana Siddique

Dhishma is a novel by Nayyar Mustafa, who dedicated it to the future human being who will unchain humanity from the chains of coercion, stagnancy, and inequality. The story opens with a meetup of philosophers from different times to watch a premier. The thinkers on the high pedestals of history, philosophy, and theory are brought together by temporal distortion at a venue of the writer’s choice. The first chapter is titled the clash of Philosophies, which is expository and introduces characters to the reader in an interacting situation. There are five chapters, including one on the technique of play within the play. Throughout the novel, well-recognized and highly admired epistemologies grapple when placed at a different spacio-temporal locus. Sane knowledge bemused and entered the boundaries of insanity by deconstructing the established standards of sanity and insanity, rationality, and irrationality. Dhishma becomes a site where these well-established knowledge epics turn into mock epics. Buddha, Voltaire, Hitler, Barth, Said, Gramsci, Simone de Beauvoir, Trump, and Modhi met at a cinema hall to watch an intellectual premier of the movie Dhishma based on the central idea of The Clash of Civilization by Samuel P. Huntington, who himself is one of the characters of the novel.  

  Dhishma is more than a postmodern or postcolonial novel, so decolonial theoretical insight seems more promising for understanding Dhishma. Postmodernism, as a literary theory emancipates from the West, is equally criticized by third-world intellectuals; for instance, Denis Epko states postmodernism is “nothing but the hypocritical self-flattering cry of overfed and spoilt children of hyper-capitalism…. A post-material disgust of the bored and the overfed” (Loomba, 1998, 206). Post-colonialism is a series of specific historical events in Asia and Africa that gradually became an intellectual site for the writers of erstwhile colonies to share their colonial experiences. It is said that the driving force behind postcolonial writings was self-representation by the people of former colonies, but in the market of ideas, its popularity forced capitalist academia to own this scholarly position due to its increasing value. So, there is an ironic ambiguity about whether postcolonialism is an independent paradigm driven by a quest for self-representation by the so-called third-world writers or a platform where capitalism as a new expression of coloniality patronized third-world literature.

This hindsight paves the way to suppose that the coloniality of power is like a colonial matrix that offers no outside, and there is no postcoloniality; we are still inside the matrix. The need is to identify one’s position in this never-ending matrix and break the silence. This position is called that specific locus from which one can enunciate. Mignolo, an Argentinian theorist, delineates this precise geo-political positioning of someone in the matrix of the coloniality of power as the locus of enunciation. Not necessarily; everyone needs to reach the center to speak. One can speak or enunciate even from the same position that one holds in the hierarchy of coloniality; that is a never-ending phenomenon. He puts forward the idea of decoloniality instead of postcolonialism due to the abovementioned ambiguity. The need is to decolonize epistemology by receiving it with a colonial difference. When coloniality of power encounters decoloniality, the colonial difference comes into being. The colonial difference is a space where the coloniality of power is working, and two types of histories confront, hegemonic local history and subaltern local history.

 Decoloniality challenges the universal value of Eurocentric epistemology. It provides a site of colonial difference where epistemologies can interact, dialogue, and form new tapestries of knowledge appropriate to the locus where they have been received. It is a theory from The Global South that offers itself as an effective lens to study and analyze literature from The Global South

 In this context, when postmodernism and postcolonialism have the issues of inclusion and exclusion, this article offers a decolonial reading of the novel Dhishma by Nayyar Mustafa with this hypothesis that Dhishma grows at a site where epistemologies are received with a colonial difference. Although the dialogue is between hegemonic epistemologies but received by a consciousness that dwells at a subalternized geo-political positioning. Here another postmodern notion is questioned: the Death of the Author. Dhishma offers a few alterations. The writer might be inspired by Barthes’s notion that text is “a tissue of quotations,” where different previous texts “blend and clash.” But in the case of Dhishma, when we enter the text as a reader, we find that these quotations or previous epistemologies first pass through an alive consciousness of the writer and then come out by giving a new combination of meaning at a particular geo-political positioning. Otherwise, creating such defamiliarity and novelty to the epistemologies already known was impossible. So, the Author is not dead but cleverly maintains his presence in the text. The point of absurdity that is received in the wake of this epistemic dialogue among the characters of the novel assures us that the Author is alive and received hegemonic Eurocentric epistemology with a living consciousness that acts as a container to “blend and clash” the existing text, and what comes out is a mixture, a formless but an original response. He makes his silent enunciation possible at his locus by engaging the characters in dialogue that results in chaos. The writer’s presence mocks these epic narratives from his locus in the colonial matrix. The Author is neither dead nor absent. He makes the caricatures of the metanarratives once proved historically, though futile when placed at a different spacio-temporal position in the colonial matrix. 

While replying to Hitler’s profound thoughts Voltaire maintains,

“تمہاری یہ نا پختہ اور خام محبت اس اندھی لڑکی کو کیا دے سکتی ہے، جسے چودھری کا بیٹا اغوا کر کے لے گیا اور تین دنوں کے بعد اس کی برہنہ لاش کچرے کے ڈھیر سے ملی؟…… میں انصاف کے ساتھ ہوں اور آ زادی کے ساتھ ہوں

We, as readers, identify Voltaire’s epistemic stance that he supports justice and freedom, but the idea is further extended by an indigenous intervention that reminds us of the presence of a consciousness that had experienced a phenomenon that Voltaire did not. Eventually, received epistemology becomes anomalous when rehearsed with a colonial difference.   Dhishma is something more than a postmodern or postcolonial novel. Its originality takes it beyond the liminal space of Bhabha, where cultures intertwine and interact to give new meaningful combinations. Dhishma is a space where epistemologies interact and dialogue with a colonial difference, but nothing emerges. This element of nothingness is everything for the writer, who does not intentionally mock these high-pedestaled Western epistemologies but only puts them at a specific position in the colonial matrix and celebrates absurdity. The universal value of Eurocentric epistemology is toppled down not by contraposing or offering a grand dichotomy like orientalism but by dragging certain opinions at the writer’s situatedness in the colonial matrix of power and testing their validity and meaningfulness at that locus.

Interestingly, high philosophical opinions that the characters of Dhishma hold were of universal value at their locus, but this universality or truth without parenthesis turns into pluriversality and truth in parenthesis. Pluriversality is another way to decolonize knowledge, and the writer attains this effect by engaging received epistemology in dialogue. Any epistemology’s zero-point or universal value works with this assumption that a particular knowledge claim is devised for a universal subject. Nevertheless, it works to assert intellectual imperialism. This universal value is questioned in the pluriverse of Dhishma. 


File Photo:Nayyar Mustafa has authored a number of short stories collections and novels.

Dhishma is not a simple demonstration of intertextuality but a living example of bilanguaging, which is neither mere intertextuality nor bilingualism. It is an essential aspect of decoloniality. Unlike bilingualism, which is the skill of using two languages, bilanguaging is beyond that. It encompasses a consciousness that can live in two languages. It is “an interesting and powerful expression of using and living between languages with a colonial difference, something different from bilingualism is bilanguaging, while the former is a skill the latter is a way of life” (Mignolo2012). The concept of bilanguaging rather than bilingualism is thinking between the languages, “beyond sound, syntax, and lexicon, and beyond the need of having two languages. This experience is found in the fractures of language. A consciousness that perceives epistemologies coming from hegemonic local history knows his subalternized local history can intervene to make a new combination of epistemology. But what comes out of this interaction is mockery and caricatures to show the invalidity of imported knowledge claims at a site of colonial difference.  

  Dhishma is an outstanding example of contemporary decolonial aesthetics from the Global South. Unlike the traditional concept of aestheticism and sublimity, originating from Greek epistemology and sweeping into European philosophy and criticism, decolonial aesthetics heals colonial wounds that cut across the issues of inequalities that persist even after decolonization. Epistemic inequality is one of those inequalities that persist even after colonialism. For instance, modernity was received with reverence in the sub-continent due to the hegemony of coloniality. This imposed modernity; in fact, coloniality in disguise produced individuals like Ibnul waqt, a character from the novel by Deputy Nazir Ahamd. It was not modernity but the burden of modernity that native people endured and adapted the ways of life imposed on them for civilizational survival. Later, colonialism ended, and modernism swept into postmodernism with new epistemological trends. Native intellection was shocked again, and hegemonic intellectual imperialism made them believe in the universality of knowledge from Europe and received by the Global South. This colonial wound transfers from generation to generation, from civilization to civilization. This agonizing colonial wound intimidates native intellect and reduces it to the only receivers of knowledge and consumers of modernity. But the same colonial wound caused decolonial aesthesis, sensing, and emotioning of a native writer/artist. It is something different than the Western canons of sublimity and aesthetics. 

Unlike Ibnul waqt, who receives modernity with reverence at a liminal space, Nayyar receives postmodernism at the locus of colonial difference, making Dhishma an outstanding example of decolonial aesthetics. This intervention dragged so-called universal epistemology for new combinations. For example, many times in the novel, Roland Barth tries to accentuate his postmodern notions but mediated by a hidden presence and ends with verbal caricatures to perplex the reader either he/she is to ponder over philosophical propositions or hilariously laugh at the intervention of the writer from his locus of enunciation.

بارتھ والٹیئر کو ایک جگہ مخاطب کرتے ہوئے کہتا ہے، “تو جناب والٹیئر آ پ کی نثری نظم!…آف میرے خدایا!… میرا مطلب ہے آ پ کی تھیوری میں تجرباتی عنصر کدھر ہے؟ متغیّرات کدھر ہیں؟ مقداری تحقیق اپنائی گئی یا کیفی پہلوؤں سے استفادہ ہوا؟… چونکہ ایسا کچھ بھی نہیں لہذا یہ بالکل کچرا ہے۔ تا ہم ممکن ہے ایسا نہ بھی ہو کیونکہ بہرحال یہ ایک اضافی قدر ہے!…

The dialogue is never seamless, instead at its climax, it becomes an accumulation of unending signifiers by impeding the seriousness of meanings, ending at a very natural mockery that takes birth from the uncertainty and irrelevancy of zero-point epistemology at a locus where it is rehearsed. For instance, Barth tries to conclude the discussion between Said and Gramsci by adding his opinion,

“دیکھیں جی! مشرق اور مغرب ایک ذہنی کیفیت کا نام ہے۔ اب اگر آپ مشرق ک نام بدل کر “بھنڈی” اور مغرب کا نام بدل کر “توری” رکھ دیں تو معاملہ خود بخود حل ہو جائے گا۔ اسی تناظر میں امن کا ایک ترانہ پیش خدمت ہے۔۔۔ مشرق وشرق ہاراکاری

مغرب وغرب

درشن درشن

رات کے اندر! 

بات کے اندر!

ذات کے اندر 


۔۔۔۔بھنڈی بھنڈی توری توری

کیسی قربت، کیسی دور

اچھا ہے، سب اچھا ہے

جو بھی ہے سب اچھا ہے

 Eventually, the discussion that started with the question raised by the sane philosophers about the possibility of communicating madness becomes an answer by becoming evidence of madness that cannot be transmitted. A way to heal the colonial wound is to intervene silently, operate, and change rational philosophical considerations into noise and sheer madness. Turning epic epistemology into a mock epic is an instance of decolonial aesthetics.

To sum up, Dhishma is a site where the writer innovatively decolonizes epistemology; he neither constructs dichotomy like orientalism nor gives hybrid ideas that take birth at a liminal space. Hence, he enunciates from his locus in the colonial matrix by testing the received epistemology at his geo-political positioning.

About the author:
Naghmana Siddique is a Pakistani Phd scholar and assistant professor of English. Her writings have appeared in prestigious national and international publications.

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