An Introduction to the Essay:

“The Ghost of Mrs. Gandhi” was published in the 17th July, 1995 issue of The New Yorker . In this essay, “The Ghosts of Mrs.Gandhi” (1995), Amitava ghosh emphasizes the empathy of fellow human beings for the victims of such riots, actions which do not find a mention in journalistic and historical records.



It is the personal history about the author’s experiences in New Delhì the day in 1984 that the Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, was shot. The author was living in a part of New Delhi called Defence Colony and teaching at Delhi University. On the morning of October 31st, he took the bus to the university at about the same time Mrs. Gandhi was shot a few miles away. By the time he reached the campus, news had spread.

The word was that she had been assassinated by two Sikh bodyguards, in revenge for her having sent troops to raid the Sikhs’ Golden Temple of Amritsar earlier that year. After teaching his class, author left the university with his friend Hari Sen who lived in Safdarjang Enclave. Mobs had formed along the streets looking for Sikhs. A woman on their bus told a Sikh to crouch and hide; a mob surrounded the bus and the passengers said there were no Sikhs on it. The mobs were burning the Sikh’s businesses and houses, and burning them alive as well. Hindus and Muslims who would protect the Sikhs were also victims of the violence.

Hari Sen’s neighbors Mr. & Mrs. Bawa were Sikhs. Author and Hari went to the BawasO house to urge them to come over. As the mobs entered their street, the Bawas climbed over the back fence. Their Hindu cook stayed and guarded the house. Both houses were spared. The next morning author gathered at the compound of a relief agency where a protest against the violence had been organized. Author recalls passage by V. S. Naipaul about whether to join a protest or not. The organization of the Nagarik Ekta Manch, or Citizens’ Unity Front was created.

The Front also produced the pamphlet entitled “Who Are the Guilty?”, a searing indictment of the politicians who encouraged the riots and the police who allowed the rioters to have their way. The Bosnian writer Dzevad Karahasan, in an essay called “Literature and War” (published last year in his collection “Sarajevo, Exodus of a City”), makes a startling connection between modern literary aestheticism and the contemporary world’s indifference to violence. After the violence, author w the novel “The Shadow Lines.” Author describes the difficulty he has had with writing about that day.

In his essay The Ghosts of Mrs. Gandhi (New Yorker, July 1995), Amitav Ghosh introduces the reader to the Bosnian writer Dževad Karahasan and his ‘remarkable essay called Literature and War (published…in the collection Sarajevo, Exodus of a City), which ‘makes a startling connection between modern literary aestheticism and the contemporary world’s indifference to violence.’ Ghosh goes on to quote Karahasan:

A Critical Analysis of the Essay:

Let us not fool ourselves… The world is written first – the Holy Books say that it was created in words and all that happens in it , happens in language first. and concludes:

It is when we think of the world the aesthetic of indifference might bring into being that we recognize the urgency of remembering the stories we have not written.

Ghosh is invoking here his own long-held silence, finally broken by the publication of his essay in 1995, an account of ordinary citizens’ reactions to the terrifying pogroms conducted in New Delhi against the Sikh community in 1984-as reprisals for the assassination of Mrs. Gandhi, the Indian prime minister, by her Sikh bodyguards.Ghosh interprets this reticence in light of Karahasan’s remark that “The decision to perceive literally everything as an aesthetic phenomenon – completely sidestepping questions about goodness and truth – is an artistic decision.

That decision started in the realm of art, and went on to become characteristic of the contemporary world.’ He resolves his indecision about writing about the 1984 killings by conducting a form of self-inquiry: Is he a writer or a citizen? Should he write about the riots and his response to it, as the former or as the latter? Should he only write about the violence, or all else that accompanied it too? Write Ghosh finally does, as a citizen, as a human, as a friend, who is a writer too.

In so doing, in recounting tales of terror, cruelty, and bravery, Ghosh depicts a world infected not by an ‘aesthetic of indifference’ but one of engagement and attention. A world created with an aesthetic of indifference would be a bland and colorless one; it would lack the horrors of the world Ghosh describes but also its animating spirit. Karahasan’s remark about the primacy of the word suggests an even more radical fate for the world not written about: it ceases to exist

The point to be made here, that the writer bears a responsibility to pay attention to the world around him, to make note of it with an unflinching eye, is an old one. Indeed, it is disappointingly conventional: the writer must write; all else is subordinate to this foundational principle; to not write is to commit an existentialist sin.

Ghosh’s own reflections add another twist: that the responsibility to write about catastrophe has a moral dimension; the writer must not seek out an affected, neutral, ‘from on high’ pulpit from which to issue commentary, but must instead introduce his own moral perspective into the words written, that his writing must bear his personal impress.

These perspectives introduce into what would otherwise be merely voyeuristic forays into the violence of atrocities, a much-needed corrective: they make human and comprehensible the inexplicable. In a world underwritten by an aesthetic of indifference we look on unflinchingly at the terrible, but our gaze is a banal and bland one. Its sees little; it feels even less.






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