Space and settings is considered as one of the fundamental aspects in literature. When and where a play or a novel is set provides one with necessary knowledge of a particular period, the society, culture and practices, perceptions and belief systems of the Age. Also, space portrayed in works of art, shape the thinking and ideologies of the audience. This points out to how a space is presented in literature, as it acquires a positive or a negative resonance through the decades and centuries.
In the introduction of her book, Space, Place and Gender, Doreen Massey states, “The terms space and place have long histories and bear with them a multiplicity of meanings and connotations which reverberate with other debates and many aspects of life.” (01). The politics of space has been taken up for study by numerous theorists, and, on the other hand, has influenced and conditioned the readers of literary works to have pre- conceived notions about a specific space such as Edward Soja, David Harvey, Frederic Jameson and Stuart Hall to name a few.
When a space is talked about, it cannot be studied in isolation: a space comprises of what we refer to as our surroundings, flora, fauna and nature in general, coexisting with human beings. A society or what is known as a social space is formed by the population. This points out to the direct correlation between space and that of humans and their interdependence on each other. A space merely exists, but, it acquires significance only when it is inhabited. The same way, humans create and provide meaning, interpret their surroundings to realize their identities.
Space and time are interconnected and, therefore the actions and events that take place in a space are time bound, coupled with the changing trends in time, there is a change in knowledge systems. Since, literature reflects life, this constant interaction of space and time heavily influences the literature produced during a certain period. This theory of the relationship between the spatial and temporal was introduced by Mikhail Bakhtin. According to Bakhtin, these two categories represent an elementary unity, as in the human perception of everyday reality. This “intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships” is referred as “chronotope” (Bakhtin 03). The basic premise of this theory is that narrative texts are not merely composed of a chain of events and dialogues, but, the primary structure is the construction of a fictional world or chronotope. Bakhtin borrows this idea from Emmanuel Kant, who puts forward the thought that time and space are essential and become a means through which human beings perceive the surrounding world. Also, central to literature, characters become a means through which the plot moves ahead and develops. A character or person put in a specific situation and environment reacts and responds to the incident(s). The characters portrayed become a product of their societies and its restrictive nature which follows a set of established rules and norms. Therefore, a person becomes a victim of the space in which an individual lives.
Moreover, language is seen as a hindrance and its limiting and restrictive nature forms the so called ‘reality’ of the society. A space can be seen as an active and political ground, full of tensions and distortions. Additionally, the social factors influence the populace which either accepts or rejects a particular trend or belief system in question.
Doreen Massey, in her, Space, Place and Gender also throws light on the dualisms and contradictions in a space:
The question of the conceptualisation of place also links in again to the issue of dualisms, for, as with space, so with place certain formulations of the concept are embedded in concatenations of linked and interplaying dichotomies which in turn are related, both in general form and in their specific connotational content, to gender (09).
The biological idea of gender and the constructed notions on sexuality has seeped into the minds of the commune, resulting in inconsistent and differing opinions of the public. Further on, labelling and pigeonholing on the basis of appearance, sexuality and gender is not an unfamiliar ritual around the globe. In modern India, where heterosexuality is the order of the day, the rights and lives of the so called ‘other’ must be taken into account. The LGBTQIA (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual) community and its movement of fighting for basic rights of equality has gained momentum in the recent years. In such a case, space becomes an important factor to ascertain their existence. As Henri Lefebvre, in his The Production of Space, puts it, “…groups, classes or fractions of classes cannot constitute themselves, or recognize one another, as ‘subjects’ unless they generate (or produce) a space.” (416)
Among the LGBT community, the transgenders are further discriminated and ill-treated. As explained in The Transgender Persons (Protection Of Rights) Bill, 2016:
Transgender community is one of the most marginalised communities in the country because they do not fit into the general categories of gender of ‘male’ or ‘female’. Consequently, they face problems ranging from social exclusion to discrimination, lack of education facilities, unemployment, lack of medical facilities and so on (08).
Often referred as the third gender, the transgender community appears to have existed as early as ninth century BC. This community comprises of eunuchs, kothis, Hijras and the like. Through the centuries, the transgender community has been described in early works of art and the conception of their identity in the modern era has come to be so, due, to hierarchical power and knowledge systems. In the earliest Tamil text, Tolkappiyam, refers to them as of being a ‘neuter’ gender. In the Hindu mythology, Ardhanarishwara is an androgynous form of Lord Shiva and his consort, Parvati. The name comes from the Sanskrit term ‘ardha’, meaning ‘half’, ‘nari’ referring to woman and ‘ishwara’ meaning, ‘lord’. As Devdutt Pattanaik explains in his work Shikhandi, “In Chola bronze art, Shiva is shown wearing earrings meant for men on the right ear and earrings meant for women in the left ear. Thus he displays his comfort with male and female, or rather, with mind and nature” (170). Even in the epic, Ramayana, when Lord Rama leaves for the forest, after being banished from his kingdom for fourteen years, he turns around to his followers and requests all men and women to return to the city. Since, Lord Rama does not make a mention of Hijras, they decide to stay back and await Lord Rama’s return. Similarly, even during the Mughal rule in medieval India, Hijras occupied high positions as administrators, generals and guardians to the queens and womenfolk and they were considered trustworthy and clever.
Conversely, with the arrival of colonialism from the 18th century, the situation underwent a drastic change. The Europeans could not stand the sight of the transgender and thus, by, the second half of the 19th century, the British administration “sought to criminalize the hijra community and to deny them the civil rights” (Michelraj 18). Under the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871, eunuchs were registered and were closely observed and monitored. The eunuchs, who were registered and dressed like a woman, were penalized when they danced or sang in public. When the rules of living were not adhered to, punishments included arrest without warrant and imprisonment up to two years or fine or both.
In their essay on Decolonizing Transgender in India, Aniruddha Dutta and Raina Roy discuss the hegemonic discourses of the LGBTQI identities as recognized by the state, and, also, look at the variance in gender on the regional scale. In their essay, they make a mention of a definition by the United Nations Development Programme, an organisation that assists the Indian state with its AIDS program,
Transgender is a gender identity. Transgender persons usually live or prefer to live in the gender role opposite to the one in which they are born. In other words, one who is biologically male but loves to feel and see herself as a female could be considered as a male to female transgender person. It is an umbrella term which includes transsexuals, cross dressers, intersexed persons, gender variant persons and many more. (Dutta and Roy 327).
In the modern day context besides gaining recognition in the society, the transgender community has been taken up for study by the academia. The emergence of transgender writers such as A Revathi, Living Smile Vidya and Laxmi Narayan Tripathi have brought to the forefront the problems faced by them and the inner conflict of male and female within oneself. The body becomes the focal point of the narrative along with other life experiences and events which make up the transgender experience. I am Vidya by Vidya, a transgender from Chennai, traces the struggle faced “while transforming hirself from a male (Saravanan) to a female (Vidya)” (Baruah 48). Vidya narrates her sex transformation surgery as, “Yes, what I saw in that moment was death. They had removed that part of me over which I had silent tears of rejection from the time I could remember… Inside I was at peace. It was a huge relief.” (Vidya 16) Revathi, in her autobiography, The Truth About Me: A Hijra Life Story, narrates various incidents to show Doraisamy’s desire to dress like a woman. His male body nutured the passions of a female and he felt trapped in a man’s body: “A woman trapped in a man’s body was how I thought of myself…. I wondered why God had chose to inflict this peculiar torture on me, and why He could not have created me wholly male or wholly female.” (Revathi 15).
In the media and movies, the portrayal of transgender community has undergone a prominent change for the better. For instance, in the Vicks advertisement, a trans mother, Gauri Sawant can be seen with her adopted daughter, Gayatri, whom she is raising without any legal documents and single handed. It would be pertinent to mention that Dr. Manabi Bandyopadhyay is the first transgender principal and holds a doctorate degree in Philosophy. Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, born into a Brahmin family, is known for her autobiography Me Hijra, Me Laxmi, and was the first transgender to represent Asia Pacific at the UN. She has also represented her community and India on international platforms such as the World AIDS conference in Toronto.
However, these works are autobiographies and at this point, one can raise questions such as, do other writers discuss the transgender experience in their works? If so, how different are their portrayals from the transgender writers who have undergone the trauma of being ostracized by the society due to their identity? Also, how do the surroundings contribute in perceiving their reality which is apparently different from the heteronormative populace?
This paper attempts to study the factors that lead to the change in a character in a given space, while trying to assess as to how a space gets a symbolic resonance and establishing the causal relationship between the settings and an individual with the consequent shift in space resulting in shift in the centre.
The second chapter will analyse the theoretical framework which in turn will lead to discussions in the subsequent chapters. The third chapter will focus on the spaces of the childhood home and the exile space of Khwabgah in the novel, wherein a study of the physical and social spaces will be undertaken. The fourth chapter will involve the analysis of a graveyard as an ecological and a social space which is exploited by the character. In the fifth chapter, a discussion on the mental spaces will be carried out, followed by the concluding remarks. This study in entirety is undertaken in the context of Arundhati Roy’s work, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness and, will focus specifically on the portrayal of the transgender community.
THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK AND APPLICABILITY
In an environment, the space and settings hold predominance particularly in literature and therefore cannot be restricted to our immediate surroundings. However, it can be differentiated on the basis of physical mental and social spaces. Physical space takes into consideration nature and the entire cosmos; whereas, mental spaces give a psychological angle which deals with the inner mindscape of an individual. Social spaces relate to the influence of the nexus between power and knowledge, an idea which was advocated by the French theorist, Michel Foucault, and lays emphasis on the impact of knowledge systems on our day to day activities and beliefs. On the one hand, mental space forms its basis on “logical and mental abstractions” (Lefebvre 11) and on the other hand, social space, as Henri Lefebvre in his groundbreaking work The Production of Space explains is,”…the space of social practice, the space occupied by sensory phenomena, including products of the imagination such as projects and projections, symbols and utopias.” (12)
The ‘ideal space’ which aligns itself with the mental space, differentiates itself from the ‘real space’, that is a space of social practice. These two spaces justify and necessitate each other. In addition to this, “social space is a social product” (Lefebvre 26). A social space is an outcome of past actions and it permits certain actions to take place, and also suggests and prohibits some actions. This reiterates the idea of space being dynamic, as it undergoes changes, yet, keeps in perspective the historical background through which it asserts and enforces the rules and norms in the society.
Henri Lefebvre introduces the idea of space being dynamic. On the other hand, the notion of space as being concrete and not based on abstractions is postulated by Mikhail Bakhtin. He also stresses the fact that the world is not “transcendental”, but “forms of the most immediate reality” (Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel 85).Further, it points to Lefebvre’s concept of space that reflects the inner psyche which interprets the world from a subjective point of view. However, Bakhtin differs in this view, and believes that our perceptions are based on what we see around us, that is, what we see is what we perceive. Therefore, the space produced is a manifestation of one’s thoughts and actions which boils down to a space becoming a means of production along with it being a means of control in which, ultimately, power and dominance is exercised.
The notion of distinction and division of space as per the private and public sphere is discussed by French theorist, Michel Foucault and Henri Lefebvre. Their findings and ideas concerning the division of space differ. Foucault claims that spaces work through binaries and some of these binaries are required to be maintained. Quoting Foucault:
And perhaps our life is still governed by a certain number of oppositions that remain inviolable, that our institutions and practices have not yet dared to break down. These are oppositions that we regard as simple givens: for example between private space and public space, between family space and social space, between cultural space and useful space, between the space of leisure and that of work. (Foucault, “Of Other” 02)
However, Lefebvre suggests, in his The Production of Space, in spite of having physical barriers, such as walls and partitions that separate one space from another, there exists continuity between the spaces. In the sense, that a space might be cut off physically from the social space outside, yet, they “still remain fundamentally of that space” (87). In contrast to social spaces, abstract spaces operate negatively, that is, it maintains certain social relations and at the same time, stands in resistance to some. It “relates negatively to that which perceives and underpins it- namely, the historical and religio- political spheres” (Lefebvre 50). This idea runs similar to the one addressed by Michel Foucault in his essay Of Other Spaces, in which Foucault theorizes the concept of ‘heterotopia’ as opposed to utopia or the ideal world. These heterotopic spaces act as counter sites to the real spaces. A space is thus a combination of the interplaying dichotomies and contradictions in a given space that accept, verify or reject that space.
Yi-Fu Tuan, a Chinese- American geographer differs from the mentioned theorists, as, Tuan suggests, a ‘place’ is different from a ‘space’, as, according to him, “space is freedom” (Space and Place: The perspective of Experience 03), whereas, place is associated with shelter and security. He further enumerates that the ideas of ‘space’ and ‘place’ need each other to define the other and attain meaning. Quoting from his work, Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience: “From the security and stability of place we are aware of the openness, freedom, and threat of space, and vice versa. Furthermore, if we think of space as that which allows movement, then place is pause…” (06).
However, space cannot be separated from the surroundings and environment, since, the ecosphere forms a part of the space. Nature, for long has been exploited which continues unabatedly by man, who thinks himself to be superior to nature. Being a rational being, man tries to assert his dominance and power over nature. Peter Barry, in his chapter on Ecocriticism states a simple definition of ecocriticism as explained by Cheryll Glotfelty: “Simply defined, ecocriticism is the study of the relationship between literature and the physical environment” (Barry 239).The term ‘ecocriticism’ can be traced back to William Rueckert’s essay, Literature and ecology: an experiment in ecocriticism (1978).
The focus of ecocriticism is to give an earth centric approach to literature and its study. Ecology, as a theoretical framework, is similar to critical theory while associating itself with the concerns of the ‘others’ who in the periphery are silenced and voiceless as opposed to the centre and the privileged. Ecology as a proactive subject tries to retrieve nature from its subaltern position as the ‘voiceless other’, and wishes to give it an identity while enabling to re-establish the communication between man and nature. As Fritjof Capra, in his book, The Tao of Physics, states that the universe is “a complicated web of relations between the various parts and the unified whole” (138). This points out to the fact that the world is based on interactions and a chain of communication between human and nonhumans, and this destabilizes the notion of man being the centre.
In ecology, the exploitation of nature is associated with the physical violence towards women, since nature is assigned a feminine position. The various schools of thought emerging in the field of ecology include- Deep Ecology, Social ecology and Ecofeminism. Deep ecology views culture as opposed to nature, whereas, social ecologists argue that culture aids in the development of nature. Ecofeminism stands opposed to the domination and exploitation by authoritative power systems and more specifically, as the term suggests, ecofeminism aligns itself with the feminist movements. It targets the patriarchal patterns in the existing society and as Ariel Salleh suggests, ecofeminism fights against the Eurocentric patriarchal exploitations of women and natural resources.
Man’s superiority arises out of the arrogance of being the only creature who is endowed with intellect and with the ability to speak. Man, also struggles between his natural instincts that is in conflict with the notions of culture. Ecology also studies the conflicting relationship between mind and matter. Endowed with apparently ‘superior’ sensibilities, man exploits nature and exercises his power on the ‘silent’ nature. Serpil Oppermann’s work titled, Ecocriticism: Natural World in the Literary Viewfinder, suggests “A vision of nature as a self- articulating subject refutes nature/culture dualism inherent in our thinking towards a consciousness of human beings valuing both nature and culture in their diversity” (04).
Greg Garrard, in his work, Ecocriticism, quotes Ynestra King, who argues that “A healthy, balanced, ecosystem, including human and nonhuman inhabitants, must maintain diversity.” (26). What is suggested here is the idea of a sustainable and integrative living which the careful use of natural resources with the aim of conserving nature and co-existing with nature.
A natural space is home to humans who form societies and civilizations and a set of governing principles which are expected to be adhered to. A society is governed by the norms which come into existence with the circulation of knowledge systems that are discriminative in nature. The promotion of the ideas of gender with man and woman as the hierarchical centres does not allow any gender identities to operate along with these dominant binary ‘opposites’ of gender. A different and a more radical opinion is suggested by Catharine Mackinnon, according to whom having a gender means that one has already entered into a “heterosexual relation of subordination” (Butler, “Gender Trouble” xiii). Judith Butler in her work, Undoing Gender, explains how a limited knowledge system that promotes the heterosexuals as the norm leads to a resulting narrowing down on the concept of gender identity. Quoting from her work: “A restrictive knowledge system on gender that is limited to the binaries of man and woman as the only way of looking at gender, operates on power and it narrows down the concept of gender and “forecloses the thinkability of its disruption (43).
In the academia, the emergence of transgender studies is closely aligned with the surfacing of queer studies. Queer studies is anti-heteronormative, yet, sometimes, it fails to acknowledge the fact that not only is the same- sex choice different from the heterosexual cultural norms, but even a transgender could be anti-heteronormative. As a result, queer studies sometimes propagates what may be called “homonormativity”, that is giving homosexuality a privileged position due to its differing from heterosocial norms, “and an antipathy (or at least an unthinking blindness) toward other modes of queer difference. Transgender studies is in many ways more attuned to questions of embodiment and identity than to those of desire and sexuality…” (Stryker and Whittle 07).
The word ‘transgender’ took on its present meaning from the pamphlet published in 1992 by Leslie Feinberg, titled, Transgender Liberation: A Movement Whose Time has Come. The earliest usage of the term is usually attributed to Virginia Prince, an advocate for freedom of gender expression. Feinberg addressed through her pamphlet, individuals who were marginalized due to their difference in gender identity to join hands in order to fight for socio- political and economic justice and freedom. For Feinberg,
Transgender, in this sense, was a “pangender” umbrella term for an imagined community encompassing transsexuals, drag queens, butches, hermaphrodites, cross- dressers, masculine women, effeminate men, sissies, tomboys, and anybody else willing to be interpolated by the term, who felt compelled to answer the call to mobilization. (Stryker and Whittle 04).
Transgender studies, as an academic field includes transsexuality, cross- dressing and some aspects of intersexuality and homosexuality, cross- cultural and investigating into history of gender identity and diversity in its purview. On the other hand, queer theory, which started off as an academic revolt as a reaction against the hegemony of the heterosexuals that was considered as the norm with regard to gender and sexuality along with debunking “hierarchies and offered space to varied gender choices, without privileging any.” (Baruah 453). Therefore, as Judith Halberstam explains in her work, In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives, “Queer uses of time and space develop, at least in part, in opposition to the institutions of family, heterosexuality and reproduction.” (01). The word ‘queer’ is also loaded “with so many social and personal histories of exclusion, violence…” (Sedgwick 09).
As discussed in this chapter, in a given space, due to the power structures that define and redefine the so called ideal society which takes into consideration the opinions of the few who hold power. Ecology and transgender studies as areas of studies challenge these hegemonic power structures and try to highlight and bring to the forefront the discourses and the communities that were so long marginalized and subjugated.
PHYSICAL SPACING: ANJUM AND HER WORLD
Things Fall Apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. -W. B. Yeats, “The Second Coming” (3)
As discussed in the previous chapter, the transgender community, which undergoes marginalization, is portrayed in negative light in society, be it stories and beliefs such as transgender persons kidnapping male babies and castrating them, or killing a transgender bringing back luck and so on and so forth are constructions made by the majority of the society. Many activists and writers have worked on and protested against this unfair and unjust treatment of the transgender community. One such work is Arundhati Roy’s unapologetically brave and well- researched novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (2017), published after a ‘long’ hiatus of twenty years after her Booker Prize winning novel The God of Small Things (1996).
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness deals with a myriad of themes including that of death, desertion, corruption and the survival of the fittest. However, her major focus remains on the perils and troubles of the people and their fight for existence and freedom in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The novel centres on the characters Nagaraj Hariharan, Tilottama and Musa Yezwi and charts out their friendship that begins in college and the love Nagaraj and Musa have for Tilottama. It also traces the mysterious life led by Musa which proves to be disastrous for his friends and lands them in trouble. The novel, as is characteristic of Roy’s other writings has Leftist underpinnings along with Roy focusing on bringing to the forefront the problems faced by the so-called ‘others’ in contemporary society.
At the same time, Roy, begins the narration by referring to the Hijra or the transgender community. While there is no singular protagonist in the novel, the story commences, centred on Aftab (later known as Anjum) and later involving other characters. Through the character of Anjum, Roy portrays the transgender community and their day-to-day struggles. Anjum serves as a voice and a representative for her commune throughout the novel. Aftab, after coming to terms with his new-found identity, takes up the name of Anjum and shifts to Khwabgah, a place in the same neighbourhood where Aftab’s family stays, but, also the sole place in that whole heteronormative space which ‘allows’ Hijras to exist and eventually earns a reputation of being known as the ‘haven of Hijras’. Anjum later on, shifts to a graveyard where he lives away from society, her existence almost bordering on that of a recluse. The three spaces in which she resides at different periods of her life impacts the way she perceives herself as an individual. This change in space by Anjum is undertaken with the ultimate purpose of realising her identity.
The first space introduced in the novel is the childhood home of Aftab. Set in “Shahjahanabad, the walled city of Delhi” (Roy 07), the space is cramped with various small shops in different lanes. Born the fourth of the five children, Aftab is the first ‘boy’ in the family, until it is discovered by his mother, Jahanara Begum, that Aftab is a ‘Hijra’. She thinks:
“In Urdu, the only language she knew, all things, not just living things but all things- carpets, clothes, books, pens, musical instruments- had a gender. Everything was either masculine or feminine, man or woman. Everything except her baby. Yes of course she knew there was a word for those like him- Hijra. Two words actually, Hijra and Kinnar.” (Roy 08)
Jahanara Begum’s first reaction to Aftab’s gender is that of shock. The simple fact that the mother decides to protect Aftab and the truth about his gender from the entire family reveals the stigma that is attached to not fitting into the two socially recognized and accepted categories of gender – male and female. She puts off Aftab’s circumcision for a few years until she is forced to reveal the reality of his gender identity to her husband, Mulaqat Ali. Aftab’s father, Mulaqat Ali, firstly, is portrayed as a representative of the patriarchal society and is a victim of the social space. He stands for male dominance and is a fundamentalist who is proud of his culture and heritage and abides by conventions and traditions.
When considering Aftab’s home as a space, it becomes an extension of the public or social space, as the heteronormative idea of gender is what this family believes in. In The Production of Space, Lefebvre builds on the notion of a so called private space, such as a building, a closed space or home that cannot separate itself from the public space. He states:
Visible boundaries, such as walls or enclosures in general, give rise for their part to an appearance of separation between spaces where in fact what exists is an ambiguous continuity. The space of a room, bedroom, house or garden may be cut off in a sense from social space by barriers and walls, by all the signs of private property, yet still remain fundamentally part of that space. (87)
Since, the childhood home is set in an urban space where crowds gather and it is typically a market space where products are available and sold, it accumulates and concentrates all these crowds and symbols. Also, an urban space refers to a “centre and centrality” (Lefebvre 101) in contrast to the peripheral space and its social functions. The urban space becomes a hegemonic structure in the social space and in such a case, in the novel, the house becomes a symbol of internal power and authority. Further on, the father, after the realisation of his son’s identity as a Hijra, asserts his superiority on his son and restricts the movement and activities of Aftab. Aftab, a child victimized by the patriarchal setup, is confined to his home space and is discouraged from singing “of Thumri and Chaiti” (Roy 16). From a young age, Aftab’s inclination towards music is revealed by Roy in the narrative. Aftab is described as having “a sweet, true singing voice” (Roy 12). Further, he is said to sing the raags “with the accomplishment and poise of a Lucknow courtesan” (Roy 12) which is applauded by others in the beginning, but soon turns into teasing.
This points to the very idea of boyhood and the stereotypical notions and roles the society assigns to the gender of male and female that is indoctrinated to them from a very young age. The fact that Aftab’s voice is ‘sweet’ seems to be the root cause due to which he faces the harsh discrimination. Moreover, the Thumri and Chaiti raag in the Hindustani music are considered as feminine ragas which is further explained in an article on Hindustan Times,
Thumri is rooted in the world of women in eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The form in which it is recognised today evolved as a court art in late 18th and early 19th century Awadh, where it was sung by courtesans who performed for royalty and nobility, both in the kotha or the durbar. They drew from the musical repertoire of desi gana, that is, songs of the soil, music of the household. Chaiti, kajri, hori, barahmasa were songs sung by women in their homes. The narrative voice of the thumri has always been female (www.hindustantimes.com).
The simple fact that Aftab sings and masters the ragas that are feminine could be another reason for everyone around him to tease him, as this is not what is ‘traditionally expected’ out of the masculine gender. The social space defines masculine activities, in contrast to the activities linked to the feminine and female space.
The confinement of Aftab by his father seems problematic. Firstly, home as a place has traditionally been associated with women. Secondly, why would the father restrict the movements of his son if he wanted the son to develop masculine traits and behaviours? Therefore, from a traditional point of view, restricting the movement and activities of his son can be indirectly seen as a nurturing of and encouraging the feminine side of Aftab. In Space, Place and Gender, Massey states how the public spaces are gendered. Quoting Massey:
The space of modernism which was mostly celebrated are the public spaces of the city…. But that city was also gendered. Moreover, it was gendered in ways which relate directly to spatial organization. First, it was gendered in the very general sense of distinction between the public and the private. This period of the mid- nineteenth century was a crucial one in the development of the notion of ‘the separation of spheres’ and the confinement of women, ideologically if not for all women in practice, to the ‘private’ sphere of the suburbs and the home. (235)
Yet, this control over Aftab by his father can be seen as a form of surveillance. The concept of panopticon, introduced by Jeremy Bentham, is based on a prison system. It started out as an architectural design of a circular prison, divided into individual cells, all of which could be observed from a single vantage point. The French theorist, Michel Foucault developed his theory on the relation between power and discipline, from this structural design put forward by Bentham. Jeremy Bentham made use of the term ‘inspect’, whereas Foucault translated it as ‘surveiller’. As explained by Foucault in his work Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, “The panoptic mechanism arranges spatial unities that make it possible to see constantly and to recognise immediately…. Full lighting and the eye of a supervisor capture better than darkness, which ultimately protected. Visibility is a trap” (200).
This place of Aftab’s childhood home serves as a sort of panoptic surveillance in his life. Here, the father’s control over his son can be interpreted as a supervisor or prison guard watching over the prisoners. In this case, the guard is represented by the father, and the ‘prisoner’ is Aftab. The father, as the centre, chooses not to understand the gender conflict of the son and tries to discipline Aftab so that he can make a man out of his son. Also, Mulaqat Ali feels that by controlling Aftab’s movement and keeping a close watch over his activities, Aftab will lose his ‘tendencies’ of being a hijra.
Concurrently, as stated earlier, the major effect of the panopticon is that it induces in the “inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power” (Foucault, “Discipline” 201). Moreover, visibility, for a transgender becomes a constraining factor due to their appearance. In the novel, by becoming ‘visible’ at home, Aftab’s state of consciousness is being observed by his father. It is a “faceless gaze” (Foucault, “Discipline” 214), wherein, the enforcement and assertion of Aftab’s gender identity as being ‘masculine’ is exercised through curbing his movements and day to day activities. Aftab cannot question the hegemonic rule and control of Mulaqat Ali since the father stands for all the repressive orders in the society that try to maintain order in the society. In this way, discipline “arrests and regulates movements” (Foucault 219). Further, home as a place, for Aftab becomes a dwelling place, “when to dwell means merely that we take shelter in them” (Heidegger 01).
According to Yi-Fu Tuan, “The primary meaning of home is nurturing shelter. It is the one place in which we can openly and comfortably admit our frailty and our bodily needs” (Place: An Experiential Perspective 154). This is, however, not the case with Aftab and his home as a place as he is unable to be his true self inside the house, and also, outside the home space.
The home as a place, restricted Aftab from expressing his gender and therefore, at the age of fifteen, “Aftab stepped through an ordinary doorway into another universe” (Roy 25). This space, known as Khwabgah, is a ‘haveli’ where a number of transgender persons and cross dressers reside. Interestingly, Roy chooses the word ‘Khwabgah’, an Urdu term, to refer to the abode of Hijras; the word when roughly translated into English means ‘House of Dreams’. Roy introduces this space to acquaint the readers to the transgender community as this haveli houses transgenders like Mary, Ustad Kulsoom Bi, Bombay Silk, Bulbul, Nimmo and also others like Razia, who is not a transgender, but, “was a man who liked to dress in women’s clothes” (Roy 22). Aftab enters Khwabgah for the first time with utter reverence for the place, “as though he were walking through the gates of Paradise” (Roy 20).
Khwabgah serves as a counter-space to the walled city of Shahjahanabad and to the heteronormative society. A counter space questions the established norms, notions and takes on the hegemonic structures that promote homogeneity and order. These counter-sites have existed through centuries and stand opposed to the real spaces, which are seen as a utopia, an image or idea of a perfect or idealistic version of a society. These counter-sites are considered subordinate to the ‘real spaces’ and are spaces of ‘otherness’ which is seen as a parallel space that is juxtaposed within the space, wherein the outcasts and the ostracised reside. As explained by Michel Foucault in his essay Of Other Spaces, these counter-sites are termed ‘heterotopia’. Quoting Foucault:
There are also, probably in every culture, in every civilization, real places- places that do exist and that are formed in the very founding of society- which are something like counter-sites, a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which the real sites, all the other real sites, all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted. Places of this kind are outside of all places, even though it may be possible to indicate their location in reality. Because these places are absolutely different from all the sites that they reflect and speak about, I shall call them, by way of contrast to utopias, heterotopias (4).
As mentioned earlier, Khwabgah is a haven for the ostracised people. The name given to the space- Khwabgah could be a deliberate usage on the part of the novelist to drive home the idea that this is the place where the stifled dreams of most of its inhabitants are allowed to flourish, at least to an extent, as opposed to their constrained existence in the heteronormative world. Due to approximation and being shunned by the normative heterosexual ‘majority’, the residents are torn in terms of ideologies and their stance of existence. On the one hand, the Nayak of the Delhi Gharana, Ustad Kulsoom Bi, Khwabgah is a space “where special people, blessed people, came with their dreams that could not be realized in the Duniya”(World) (Roy 53). Kulsoom Bi is proud of her identity as a hijra and of the rich historical heritage that is associated with the hijra community. On the other hand, Nimmo Gorakhpuri, a resident was not happy with her existence. She tells Aftab that God made Hijras because “He decided to create something, a living creature that is incapable of happiness. So he made us.” (Roy 23). However, despite their contradictory opinions, ideas and ego clashes, there exists a sense of harmony and understanding between the residents of Khwabgah.
Further, heterotopias undergo changes and functions differently in a society, based on the culture and historical framework. This notion can be traced to the historical evolution of knowledge and changing views of the society on the transgender community. As Kulsoom Bi states, referring to Khwabgah, “This house, this household, has an unbroken history that is as old as this broken city”, she said. “These peeling walls, this leaking roof, the sunny courtyard- all this was once beautiful.” (Roy 48) By making this statement, Roy juxtaposes the history of Khwabgah as a haveli or mansion, with that of the glorious history of the Hijras that started to decline with the British colonising India.
Besides this, heterotopic spaces are restricted and isolated from the outside world. As Foucault states,
Heterotopias always presuppose a system of opening and closing that both isolates them and makes them penetrable. In general, the heterotopic site is not freely accessible like a public place. Either the entry is compulsory, as in the case of entering a barracks or a prison, or else the individual has to submit to rites and purifications. (Foucault, “Of Other” 07)
Khwabgah as a heterotopic space is suggested by Roy, when Aftab is not allowed to enter the haveli. Only after a few months of helping the residents of Khwabgah by running errands and doing some menial and odd jobs, is he allowed to enter this space. Also, after shifting from his childhood home to Khwabgah, on his first night as a resident in this space, he dances to “everybody’s favourite song from everybody’s favourite film- ‘Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya’ from Mughal-e-Azam” (Roy 25). Apart from this ritual, a small ceremony is conducted the next night during which he is presented with a green Khwabgah dupatta and is officially and formally initiated with rituals and rules, as a member of the hijra community. In addition to this, Roy subverts the homogeneity of the authoritative heterosexual space by intermingling the world of the social space with the counter-space. This is suggested through Aftab’s movement from his home space to Khwabgah, where he takes up the name- Anjum. Therefore, by introducing conflicting spaces, the result from juxtapositions and separation of these spaces point to the paradoxical nature of spatial arrangements.
At the same time, it is important to note that the image of a queer ideal space is based on the ideal of freedom from the hegemonic heteronormativity. This can be seen as a desire to escape the oppression and subjugation practiced by social structures. This longing for an ideal land is enhanced with the feelings of diaspora and estrangement. These feeling loom large in Anjum’s life wherein, despite being part of the hijra community and Khwabgah, she is unhappy and unable to realise her identity while being dissatisfied.
GRAVEYARD: REWORKING THE IDEA OF A SPACE.
I had dreamed of speaking with the dead, and even now I do not abandon this dream. But the mistake was that I would hear a single voice, the voice of the other. If I wanted to hear one, I had to hear the many voices of the dead. And if I wanted to hear of the other, I had to hear my own voice. The speech of the dead, like my own speech, is not private property.
-Stephen Greenblatt, Shakespearean Negotiations (20)
As seen in the previous chapter, Anjum moves from a place that stops her from realising her gender identity, that is, her childhood home, to a space, Khwabgah, which, she thinks to be her ideal space to explore herself, in the beginning. Her movement from one space to the other can be seen as her movement away from society. If her childhood home represents a place in the patriarchal and constricting norms of the social space, her shift to Khwabgah can be seen as her moving away from the domain of the masculine space, to a space that is more accepting and welcoming of her gender identity. Her shift to the graveyard can be seen as her leaving behind the society and the community, to live in isolation. However, due to various external factors that will be taken up for study in the following chapter (Chapter Five), Anjum leaves Khwabgah to live in a graveyard.
Before taking up this space of a graveyard for study, it is necessary to consider how this space of a grave has been presented in literature and in general, perceived by people. In English literature of the eighteenth century, The Graveyard Poets dealt with subjects and themes of death, temporal nature of life. Their poetry was submerged with imagery of graves, night, darkness and death, which lay the roots for the Gothic genre in literature. Some of the famous Graveyard poets include Robert Blair, Edward Young, Thomas Gray and Thomas Parnell. In Parnell’s A Night- Piece on Death, the speaker “steps on the cemetery, he considers the gravestones, trees, tombs and the charnel house. He describes how they are associated to each other in perceiving death” (Akhavan 1204). Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” describes death of his friend Richard West. The recurrent theme is of death and the glum atmosphere of a graveyard and tombs.
As Ken Worpole notes in his book, Last Landscapes: The Architecture of the Cemetery in the West,
Thus the cemetery exerts a continuing influence upon the urban imagination, especially for children, for whom this walled world (a world literally turned upside down) is often a source of unease and superstition, as it is in so many neo- Gothic novels and films, from Wuthering Heights to Easy Rider, from Great Expectations to The Night of the Living Dead (22).
While graveyard is associated with death, it has acquired a negative attribute not only in life, but, also in literature through the decades and centuries. Shunning graveyards equates to shunning and fearing the idea of the inevitable death. Cristina Pividori, in her essay, Eros and Thanatos Revisited: The Poetics of Trauma in Rebecca West’s The Return of the Soldier, explains Wyatt Bonikowski’s claim that death drive “upsets not just the stability of civilization but the very foundations upon which each individual creates his or her sense of self.” (93). There is a sense of eeriness, loneliness and isolation connected with this space. As pointed out by Susan Stryker and Stephen Whittle in The Transgender Studies Reader, since the public and the private spaces are gendered, a transgender finds it problematic to fit into these compartmentalizing and rigid binaries that exist in spaces.
The division of public and private spaces, which relies upon and reinforces a binary gender system, has profound implications for people who live outside normative sex/ gender relations. Transgendered people are in jeopardy in both “ordinary” public spaces and in those designated as lesbian/gay (592).
Also, the space of a graveyard is usually associated as a masculine and patriarchal space and, in India, it is a common practice for women not to go to graveyards. Since graveyards as a space is generally restricted for women and the fact that Anjum associates herself as being a trans woman; the fact that she goes and lives in the grave can be seen as her going against the established norms of the society. The graveyard space, that is considered as a metaphor of death becomes a life giving source to Anjum when she enters the space. Not only does it become a haven for Anjum but the contradiction of the space associated with death assists her to find her identity, wherein, identity is linked to life and the assertion of existence. Roy, in her novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, acquaints the readers to the space of a graveyard and tries to deconstruct the stereotypical notions one associates with this space. By roping in a space associated with death, Roy can be seen experimenting with genres, blending into the narrative, the gothic with the realistic aspects of human life and suffering.
On comparing the graveyard to the other two spaces of the childhood home and Khwabgah, where Anjum dwells before moving to the graveyard; the two spaces are set in the urban space that is yet again connected to the social space. Though Khwabgah acts as a counter or a conflicting space to her childhood home, both these spaces are set in the cramped lanes of old Delhi which highlights the closed and limited movements in the space. These spaces align themselves with civilisation and community. On the other hand, the graveyard is a natural and an open space with a lack of human activities.
At the same time, as Henri Lefebvre notes, “Tombs and funerary monuments belong, then, to absolute space, and this in their dual aspect of formal beauty and terrifying content” (235). There is a certain sacredness associated with the space of a graveyard as; on the one hand, it is the resting space for the dead, which makes the space an exile space in itself, yet, on the other hand, there is beauty and aesthetics associated with the landscape of the graveyard with reference to the tombs and graves. Further, Anjum’s travel and shift to the graveyard can also be seen as her disturbing the resting place of the dead when she resides in the graveyard, as she can be seen as a representative of life.
As stated in the work Mobilities: New Perspectives on Transport and Society, “Social isolation is one of the most commonly cited reasons why particular spaces are avoided” (Grieco and Urry 55). Firstly, Anjum’s movement from society perhaps makes it easier for her to perceive herself and realise her identity and this is made evident when she chooses the space of a graveyard, which is a socially ostracized space with less or no scope for human interaction and communication. Thus, “Only a ten- minute ride from the Khwabgah, once again Anjum entered another world” (Roy 57). The location of the graveyard is convenient as it lies within a reachable distance from the other two spaces of Khwabgah and Anjum’s childhood home.
This graveyard, that shares its northern boundary with a government hospital, is described as an “unprepossessing” and “run-down” (Roy 58) along with being a rich and a fertile space. Quoting from the novel, “If they were recognizably Muslim they were buried in unmarked graves that disappeared over time and contributed to the richness of the soil and the unusual lushness of the old trees” (Roy 58). Since its associations with death, the graveyard is looked at as a barren, abandoned space that implies stillness and lack of life. Yet, this space is full of rich nutrients and soil, which can be seen as suggesting a fertile ground.
In ecological discourse, nature in general, is associated with women due to their ability of reproducing. In such a case, Anjum residing in a graveyard is both problematic yet significant in realising her identity. The notion of woman and nature’s connection with fertility is problematized in the case of Anjum as she is a trans woman. Anjum longs to have a child of her own, however due to biological limitations is not able to bear a child. Though her wish of bringing up a child does come true, when she adopts an abandoned girl child, Zainab, while residing in Khwabgah, she can never have a child through the natural phenomenon of giving birth and reproducing. This realisation and reconciliation in Anjum about her incapacity of not being able to bear a child can be seen at her first step and movement towards coming to terms with her gender identity. Thus, this image of an empty womb is juxtaposed with the lushness of the landscape of the graveyard.
Mr. D.D. Gupta, an old client of Anjum, constructs a temporary shack for her to store all her belongings. However, after coming out of her unhappiness, “Anjum’s tin shack scaled up. It grew first into a hut that could accommodate a bed, and then into a small house with a little kitchen” (Roy 67). When Anjum had moved to the graveyard initially, she would unroll her carpet and bedding and sleep between two graves. Yet, as she becomes a permanent settler in the space, she converts the space of a graveyard into a ‘living’ space. She expands the building and rents out rooms to those in need and eventually, Imam Ziauddin becomes a permanent guest in the graveyard.
As described by Roy:
Over time Anjum began to enclose the graves of her relatives and build rooms around them. Each room had a grave (or two) and a bed. She built a separate bathhouse and a toilet with its own septic tank…. Anjum began to rent a couple of rooms to down- and- out travellers (the publicity was strictly by word of mouth). There weren’t all the many takers because obviously the setting and landscape, to say nothing of the innkeeper herself, were not to everybody’s taste (68).
Anjum names this guest house ‘Jannat’, which translates to ‘Paradise’. What begins as a private space for Anjum is converted into a guest house. At this juncture it is important to bring out the ecological implications of this business venture carried out by Anjum. If this is not enough, Anjum, with the help of Imam Ziauddin, sets up a funeral parlour in the graveyard premise. Since the graveyard is a space that exists out of the social sphere, no one questions this illegal business venture carried out by Anjum. “Gradually Jannat Guest House and Funeral Services became so much a part of the landscape that nobody questioned its provenance or its right to exist. It existed. And that was that.” (Roy 80).
The guests “sleep between the headstones, plant vegetables, create a new kind of human family that can obliterate the divisions between the living and the dead. Roy has imagined an inverse of the Garden of Eden—a paradise whose defining feature, rather than innocence, is experience and endurance.” (www.theatlantic.com). The parallelism between Jannat guest house and Khwabgah is evident since both the spaces are named after something that is far away from ‘reality’ which points to the fact of these spaces being fantastical or a haven for the people who reside in them. Moreover, these spaces house the people who have been ‘rejected’ by society for being ‘different’. Therefore, the graveyard as a space is similar to Khwabgah, in the sense of being a heterotopia. Foucault takes the example of a cemetery as a heterotopia as, “The cemetery is certainly a place unlike ordinary cultural spaces. It is a space that is however connected with all the sites of the city, state or society or village, etc., since each individual, each family has relatives in the cemetery.” (Foucault, “Of Other” 05). As discussed in Chapter four, heterotopia is characterized as a space where the entry is restricted and not accessible for the populace. In the case of the graveyard, though it is accessible to the public, yet, it is a space where only the dead are permanent residents. Therefore, though, the graveyard is open to the public, the ‘living’ are excluded from this space.
As an abstract space, the graveyard space, operates negatively. “Abstract space relates negatively to that which perceives and underpins it- namely, the historical and religio- political spheres… it transports and maintains specific social relations, dissolves others and stands opposed to yet others.” (Lefebvre 50). The idea of an abstract space is that it justifies, or rejects or opposes certain institutions and authoritative power centres and structures. The graveyard, in this case, justifies its own existence in the social space and yet, at the same time, suggests its independence from the social space as a space implying isolation through lack of human activities.
However, when Anjum inhabits the graveyard, she is shown to exploit the space through the economic ventures of setting up a guest house and a funeral parlour. This highlights the dichotomy of a male and a female psyche within Anjum. The feminine psyche, on the one hand, is on the quest to find her identity, and, on the other hand, the male psyche wants to control and assert authority and ownership over nature. This is indicative of the idea of how man thinks himself to be on top of the hierarchical order in the biosphere, as man is associated with the intellect and further, points out the arrogance of man as being superior to other beings. The notion of hierarchy, as described by Nirmal Selvamony, in his work, Oikopoetics and Tamil Poetry, where, the word oikos which is of Greek origins, refers to ‘home’ or ‘habitat’.
In the case of hierarchic oikos, the scared is at the top of the ladder, followed by humans in the middle and nature at the bottom. The hierarchic oikos suggests an exploitative relationship of how the powerful dominate over and misuse the so called subjugated, in this case, the subjugated and powerless being- nature. Anjum’s domination over nature could be looked at as her way of asserting her dominance over nature that she considers powerless. This abuse of resources and nature by Anjum must be compared to her inferior position and the discrimination in the social sphere, since, her gender identity of being a Hijra leads to her suppression by the heteronormative society. This hierarchy is due to the binaries of mind and matter split, an idea introduced by French philosopher, Rene Descartes, wherein, according to him, humans are rationale beings and therefore hold a superior position when compared to other creations. “Man’s superiority arises out of the fact that he is the only creature endowed with the ability to speak and therefore he considers himself as the only species on the planet worthy of being a topic of discourse” ( Jolsnaben 22).
What begins as an integrative oikos in the novel, with Anjum’s shift to the graveyard, wherein she sleeps between two graves, turns into an exploitative relation between Anjum and nature. In integrative oikos, kinship is maintained between the sacred, humans and nature. Heidegger explains that “the basic character of dwelling is to spare, to preserve.” (Heidegger 03).
The hegemonic and forced domination by Anjum is also suggestive of the conflict of nature and culture, as Anjum converts the graveyard into an inhabitable place. This juxtaposition of nature, which symbolizes instincts and openness, is contrasted with the building, in the form of a guest house, indicative of a closed space within the open space of the graveyard. As stated by Yi-Fu Tuan in the introduction to his work Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience, “Culture is uniquely developed in human beings. It strongly influences human behaviour and values.” (05). Culture has its association with civilization, which conditions individuals, and has a set of rules and regulations that one must abide by. The guest house becomes a symbol of civilization and life, as people walk in and out of the space. As being symbolic of culture, the building can be linked to artificiality in a natural space of the graveyard. As famously stated by William Reuckert, “Culture…has often fed like a great predator and parasite upon nature” (83) implying on the sacrificing and providing nature of the environment, as opposed to the constant consumption of resources by humans.
Jannat Guest House and Funeral Services is “a space that provides, among other things, a home and burial services for people like her, transgendered or cross-dressing or simply different, and so often denied proper burial.” (www.bostonglobe.com). Despite providing services to a limited group comprising of other social outcasts like Anjum, yet, ultimately, it is an economic endeavour. From a materialistic point of view, Anjum can be seen as exploiting her own people and the marginalised. In spite of her attempt to provide a decent funeral and burial for the prostitutes, and others, this must be viewed from an economic dimension as she exploits her surrounding space to make a living. Nature, particularly, the graveyard, in this case, is viewed as a money generating space and thus, is reduced to its use value. Quoting from Lefebvre’s The Production of Space, “Nature appears today as a source and resource of energies- indispensable, vast, but not unlimited. It appears, more clearly than in Marx’s time, as a source of use value.” (343). Lefebvre further goes on to explain that any occupied space gets a materialistic resonance. Quoting Lefebvre: “Space as such (as at once occupied and occupying and as a set of places) may be understood in a materialist way.” (172). In the case of the graveyard, it is reduced to a mere money generating enterprise, with utter neglect for the space. Looking at the larger picture of exploitation and mistreatment of the space points to the damage caused by Anjum- which is linked to the concept of ‘anthropocene’, which studies the human impact on nature and the surroundings. At the same time, it must be noted that Anjum does not exploit the natural resources in the graveyard, but, utilizes the space of the graveyard for her personal needs, which later extends to the public, or the people who stay in Jannat Guest House. As Gary Snyder states in the book, Ecotopia, “Economics must be seen as a small sub-branch of ecology.” (171). Simply put, profit making must not be seen as the ultimate means of prosperity of society, but, rather, is must be considered as a small part of the social networks and relations.
However, the space is not merely assigned utilitarian or instrumental value, but, is given value, based on the symbolic meaning it acquires over the decades and centuries. As argued in Cheryll Glotfelty’s book, The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology, “the construction of the environment is itself an exercise of cultural power. (xxviii). The notions about our surroundings are hegemonic constructs circulated by humans which has assigned graveyards a subordinate position in the social structure of spaces can and these circulated knowledge systems on nature can be traced back to history, from where we arrive at the meaning associated with a space. Any space can be explained in terms of its temporality and throughout history the space of a graveyard has been portrayed as a negative space. Lefebvre rightly states “and activity developed over (historical) time engenders (produces) a space, and can only attain practical reality or concrete existence within that space.” (115). The question arises as to how a grave as a space can get transformed? The answer to this is provided by perceiving, nature in general, as part of their contexts and as doing their duty. Similarly, graveyard as a space must be seen as performing its duty of a burial ground for the dead, instead of relating this space in a negative light. By removing a natural space from its context, a space is reduced to mere signs and symbols that are assigned to it by humans. Also, spaces must not be valued according to their use- value. Arundhati Roy unwinds the desperation of Anjum to find her identity in the graveyard space, and, therefore, subverts the formerly negative associations of the graveyard with death and stillness. Though Anjum finds her identity, this end to her quest of finding herself poses problems and is questionable since, in a way, by destroying her surroundings and through controlling and exploiting the space of a graveyard, she makes an independent living, which assists her to come to terms with her gender identity. Therefore, through the assertion of her identity as a human, and as an apparently superior being to the natural setting of the graveyard, Anjum comes to terms with her identity.
MINDSCAPES AND THE CRISIS OF IDENTITY
Certain social groups may be seen as having rigid or unresponsive selves and bodies, making them relatively unfit for the kind of society we now seem to desire.
-Emily Martin, Flexible Bodies
Physical and social spaces are incomplete without a rational and a being capable of thinking and perceiving his/ her surroundings. The way an individual interprets one’s surroundings, shapes the person’s experience. Further on, language in the form of abstraction in the mind and social spaces are inseparable. As Henri Lefebvre states,
Every language is located in a space. Every discourse says something about a space (places or sets of places); and every discourse is emitted from a space… There are thus relationships between language and space which are to a greater or lesser extent misconstrued or disregarded (132).
Language practiced in social sphere takes shape in the mental space in the form of linguistics. The language presented in the novel becomes constrictive in the case of transgender persons as the normative heterosexual majority refer to the transgender community as ‘hijra’, ‘kinnar’, ‘kothi’ and the like. An identity is forced on the community rather than allowing the transgender populace to explore their gender and identity for themselves. This not only shows how humans ascribe meaning to spaces that surround them, but, they also assign identities for the humans and other objects around them.
In The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Aftab is on a quest to find his identity in the Duniya (World). After his transition and transformation as Anjum, she is unable to find her place in the world. Quoting an instance from the novel wherein two people are making a documentary about protest, where the protesters are asked to say-“Another World is Possible.” (Roy 110). At this point, Roy notes,
They had no idea what ‘Duniya’ meant in Anjum’s lexicon. Anjum, for her part, completely uncomprehending, stared into the camera. ‘Hum doosri Duniya se aaye hain,’ she explained helpfully, which meant: We’ve come from there… from the other world” (Roy 110)
In postcolonial discourse, ‘other’ refers to the subjugated and the marginalized who are identified by their difference from the centre. As noted in the eminent work Post-colonial Studies: The Key Concepts, “The existence of others is crucial in defining what is ‘normal’ and in locating one’s own place in the world” (Ashcroft et al. 154). In this case, the centre being the social space and heteronormative populace, they negate the existence of the so called ‘others’, the transgender persons in this case, by imposing norms and order. Also, a norm differs from a rule. As Judith Butler suggests in her Undoing Gender, “A norm is not the same as a rule, and it is not the same as a law. A norm operates within social practices as the implicit standard of normalization” (42).
The problem of ‘other’ the operation of norms, takes us to the dichotomy of the discourse of visibility and invisibility associated with postcolonial studies. If visibility refers to the centre, then, on the contrary, invisibility finds its association with the oppressed. The binaries of visibility and invisibility, in the novel get blurred, as in spite of being ‘visible’, Anjum remains invisible. This visibility is due to her appearance and the fact that she is a trans woman and does not fit into the rigid gender identities of male or female. Then appearance that gives her visibility is the same that makes her invisible to the heteronormative populace. Henri Lefebvre explains how “People look, and take sight, take seeing, for life itself.” (75). Where mere sight refers to visibility, invisibility would refer to a life in death situation, wherein, in spite of ‘being’, one is invisible in the society.
In the first space of the childhood home, visibility is given to Aftab in the form of surveillance and restricting his movements, but, his gender identity of being an intersex is made invisible to the society. It is in Khwabgah that Anjum’s appearance which gives her visibility is the same that leads to her invisibility making her an outcast in the social space. As she travels through these spaces, moving in and out of them, she undergoes a change in terms of how she perceives herself and identifies herself with the space.
In the home space, where Anjum is born as Aftab, this space is not her choice as she is born into this family and therefore, is forced to live here. Aftab’s initial humiliation and embarrassment is caused due to the people surrounding him as they make fun of his gender, making him conscious of the fact that he is ‘different’ from the others around him. Moreover, on realising the truth about his son’s identity, Ali, says that there should be “a simple medical solution to their son’s problem” (Roy 16). The fact that the father, Mulaqat Ali looks at his son’s gender as problematic, shows that he is a victim of the societal norms and cannot accept his son’s gender identity. As Michel Foucault, in his work History of Sexuality: The Will to Knowledge (Volume I) mentions that discourse is a mechanism for power and social control; therefore “through discourse heterosexuality has been considered the norm, so much so that an diversion from this norm towards other gender or sexual behaviour is considered abnormal, sick and shameful” (Baruah 453).
To begin with, Mulaqat takes Aftab to a sexologist, Dr Ghulam Nabi, but, this trip to the doctor is carried out in a secretive manner, wherein the “ostensible purpose of their day” is to “inspect a prospective bride for their nephew…” (Roy 16), whereas, they have an appointment with Dr. Nabi. When Dr Nabi explains that in spite of treatment and medication, “there would be ‘Hijra tendencies'” (Roy 17) that would unlikely go away. At this juncture, Mulaqat Ali replies by saying: “‘Tendencies are no problem. Everybody has some tendency or the other… tendencies can always be managed'” (Roy 17). In order to manage these ‘tendencies’ and to inculcate manliness in Aftab, Mulaqat Ali tells his son stories of heroism, valour and battles of Temujin- Changez Khan and how he won the hand of his wife, Borte Khatun after she is kidnapped and Khan fights the army alone and brings Khatun back. Ali’s attempts are in vain, as Aftab longs to be Khatun and these stories that emphasize on masculinity and glorifies men does not have any impact on Aftab.
The turning point in Aftab’s life is when he sees a tall, slim-hipped woman dressed in a shiny green satin salwar kameez, wearing bright lipstick. This incident has a major impact on Aftab and is his first step towards his transition to becoming Anjum. Aftab “wanted to be her…. Whatever she was, Aftab wanted to be her” (Roy 18-19). It is apparent at this juncture, that Aftab’s unconscious state comes to the surface, and his gender orientation of his true self is expressed in terms of his longing to paint his nails, wear wrist full of bangles and so on. At the same time, Aftab’s parents live in denial and do not wish to accept his identity. Apart from being ‘disciplined’ at his home, the people surrounding Aftab make fun of him. They start teasing him and say: “He’s s She. He’s not a He or a She. He’s a He and a She. She-He, He- She Hee! Hee! Hee!” (Roy 12). This stops Aftab from attending music classes, initially, and then he refuses to go to school also.
This space denies Aftab of his natural tendencies and gender. Though Aftab faces discrimination and is watched by his own family, his mind is not mature enough to understand that the society finds his gender problematic. He can be seen as rebelling unconsciously against his family, when he longs to dress according to the societal norms of the dresses associated with and assigned to women, and when he secretly spends and divides his time between music classes and hanging around the doorway of Khwabgah.
Khwabgah, on the contrary, is a space to which Aftab moves according to his own will and choice. Firstly, Khwabgah becomes an important novel since this is where Aftab’s transformation into Anjum happens. Secondly, Aftab’s perception before he enters Khwabgah is different and undergoes a change after he enters this space. Before his entry into Khwabgah, he looks at this space with and its residents with reverence. Aftab is under the impression that the inmates of Khwabgah lead a peaceful and a happy life. When a resident, Nimmo Gorakhpuri suggests that Hijras can never be happy, Aftab is shocked. As Roy notes in the novel: “Her words hit Aftab with the force of a physical blow. ‘How can you say that? You are all happy here! This is the Khwabgah!’ he said, with rising panic.” To this, Nimmo responds by saying, “‘Who’s happy here? It’s all sham and fakery'” (Roy 23).
Aftab, at first, is happy in Khwabgah as it seemed like an ideal place for him to come to terms with his identity. Eventually, this illusion of a happy and contended space of Khwabgah gets shattered through not just this incident, but, the fact that he undergoes physical changes. As Nimmo rightly points out “The riot is inside us. The war is inside us. Indo- Pak is inside us. It will never settle down. It can’t” (Roy 23). Aftab understands this inner conflict only when his outer appearance beings to change. Along with being a physical change, it is more of an emotional and psychological trauma that one undergoes. Through Aftab, Roy presents the sudden changes in the body as waging a war and creating a riot within oneself:
He grew tall and muscular. And hairy… He developed an Adam’s apple that bobbled up and down. He longed to tear it out of his throat. Next came the unkindest betrayal of all- the thing that he could do nothing about. His voice broke. A deep, powerful man’s voice appeared in place of his sweet, high voice. He was repelled by it and scared himself each time he spoke (24).
This space of Khwabgah becomes significant as it not only suggests physical damage of the space, but, also points out to the mental landscape of a broken psyche in its desperate quest for acceptance and visibility in the society and the search for identity. This ‘House of Dreams’ is described as an “ordinary, broken down home”, where “The roof of one of the rooms had caved in and its walls had crumbled into a heap of rubble…” (Roy 20). This broken imagery is symbolic and must be read in parallel to Anjum’s “patched- together body” (Roy 29). Thus, this description by Roy is not limited to the literal sense as it further intensifies and problematizes the inner conflict of Anjum with the disintegration of Khwabgah as a structure or a building.
However, it is not only this change in appearance that causes her unhappiness, but, the fact that she lives in Khwabgah with “her partially realised dreams” of her unfulfilled dream of finding herself in the normative heterosexual society. To add to this, she is insulted by a mob in the Gujarat riots, where one of the men says “Nahi yaar, mat maro, Hijron ka maarna apshagun hota hai. Don’t kill her, brother, killing Hijras brings bad luck” (Roy 62). This episode holds relevance in Anjum’s life, as, she starts looking at herself as a bringer of bad luck. After she returns back to Khwabgah, her behaviour gets altered as this particular incident impacts her and leads to her eventual shifting to the graveyard.
Yet, Hijras are known to “pursue distinct professions such as ritualized blessing during weddings and childbirth” (Dutta and Roy 322). These differing opinions of the society and the so called ‘mainstream’ heterosexuals poses a problem for the transgender community as this inconsistency of thought of the society affects the transgender persons and their perceptions of themselves. This is suggested in the novel, where, some of the inmates of Khwabgah, such as Nimmo Gorakhpuri consider themselves as inferior to the heteronormative populace. As Nicholas Juliet Barden, in her thesis titled Gender, Sexuality and Psychoanalysis: Re-evaluating Oedipal Theory, states that a “sense of otherness persisted into a self- construct” (80). This is to say that the negative opinions of the society is the opinions, characters such as Anjum and Nimmo have about themselves and they start believing that they are not part of the mainstream society, but, rather, are the so called subjugated ‘other’. As noted by Arjun Appadurai, the oppressed “are confined by what they know, feel and believe. They are prisoners of their “mode of thought.”” (Appadurai, “Putting” 37).
After a disappointing thirty years in Khwabgah, not having found happiness, Anjum’s movement to the graveyard is crucial to finding her place in the world. Through the course of Anjum’s life, she faces internal conflicts in terms of her bodily changes and appearance. Being assigned the gender of ‘male’ at birth, Anjum associates herself as a ‘female’, and, since, the society, with its rigid gender identities of either male or female, looks at Anjum as a combination of both the masculine and the feminine characteristics. So, this points to the inner conflict of man and woman within Anjum. Yet, Anjum is not a complete female or a complete male. And, this idea of an incomplete self, on a personal level is the cause of trauma of not ‘fitting in’ along with the society thrusting a misleading identity that one may not associate with. As Aniruddha Dutta and Raina Roy highlight this misconception of the society,
A trans woman, to be respected as such, has to be seen as really and only a woman; to suggest that she may potentially be also genderqueer, third gender- or worse, a feminine male- can only be seen as offensive misgendering (332).
As explained in the previous chapter, the space of a graveyard has its associations with nature and has certain roles and functions to perform in the biosphere. The fact that graveyard is an ‘outside’ and an open space shows the connection of this space being linked to the masculine space, yet, in ecoliterature, nature is paralleled with women. “Woman stands as metaphor for Nature” (Massey 11) and one contributing factor to this parallelism is the power of fertility, associated with women and also with the regenerative capacity of nature. In such a case, the space of a graveyard can be seen as the amalgamation of both the masculine space, due to the location being outside of a ‘closed’ space; and a feminine space, due to its connections with nature. Furthering this idea, the space of a graveyard, from this point of view, could be viewed as a neutral space also.
Since Anjum is seen struggling to balance her inner femininity with the outward appearance of masculinity, her female psyche is in search for her identity, whereas, the male psyche, which is visible physically, can be seen as exploiting nature, trying to assert superiority and dominance over nature. Doreen Massey indicates in her book, Space, Place and Gender, that “woman represented feeling, sexuality and even chaos, man was rationality and control” (258). The fact that there is a possibility of interpreting the graveyard space as a neutral space, could be a reason as to how Anjum is finally able to realise her identity in this space, as the society assigns or refers to the transgender persons as ‘neuter’ gender.
Nonetheless, when Anjum initially moves out of Khwabgah to the graveyard, she is disillusioned and unhappy with her identity as a hijra. Roy notes how the riot, where she is humiliated because of her gender, impacts Anjum:
For months Anjum lived in the graveyard, a ravaged, feral spectre, out- haunting every resident djinn and spirit, ambushing bereaved families who came to bury their dead with a grief so wild, so untethered, that it clean outstripped theirs. She stopped grooming herself, stopped dyeing her hair. It grew dead white from the roots, and suddenly, halfway down her head, turned jet black, making her look, well… striped (Roy 63).
This initial disappointment in Anjum is suggested through the imagery of stagnation, grief and tiredness in her character, who stops dressing up and lets her natural self thrive in the natural space of the graveyard. This metaphorical ‘deadness’ in her is emphasized on, with the stillness in the graveyard, that is directly linked to the concept of death. Moreover, this could point out to the death instinct in Anjum as in spite of having found her identity, she longs to die. This is suggested when Roy states, “Anjum waited to die”. (92). Ultimately, this discontentment of Anjum is replaced by a sense of having found her identity. The movement from death prevailing in the space, to finding one’s identity, is juxtaposed with the symbol of death and a silent space of a graveyard.
Having embraced her new found identity, she becomes confident of herself. In an instance from the novel, when she is called by different names, she says:
‘It doesn’t matter. I’m all of them, I’m Romi and Juli, I’m Laila and Majnu. And Mujna, why not? Who says my name is Anjum? I’m not Anjum, I’m Anjuman. I’m a mehfil, I’m a gathering. Of everybody and nobody, of everything and nothing. (Roy 4).
By suggesting a transformation in the character of Anjum, Roy traces the journey of Anjum as Aftab, who is unaware of his identity and faces discrimination from the society for being different, to being oppressed of his natural instincts in his home, which is symbolic of the hegemonic heteronormative centre. Secondly, Khwabgah serves as a contradictory space since this is where Aftab transitions into Anjum, yet, is unable to come to terms with her identity. The inner conflict is expressed in this space through the fights, abuses and the temper tantrums of the residents of Khwabgah. The gender crisis reaches its peak when Anjum takes the decision to shift to the graveyard, but, eventually finds her true self and identity in a socially isolated space.
Just as space, time and matter delineate and encompass the essential qualities of the physical world, spatiality, temporality, and social being can be seen as the abstract dimensions which together comprise all facets of human existence.
-Edward W Soja, Postmodern Geographies (25)
Novel as a genre, weaves a tale with complexities in the plot to present the readers with the human life in all its glory, misery. Also, the novel presents the imaginative mind and creative power of the author who juxtaposes the real world with that of a fictional world. The novel, when compared to other genres such as poetry or prose, puts across an idea which needs to be dealt with in detail. In the case of prose or poetry, a larger experience is difficult to espouse due to the limitations of expression and writing. On the other hand, novel has a vast expanse and can present the narrative that spreads over a wide and lengthy span of time. A setting is crucial and primary to the novel and in certain cases, the space and setting itself become a character, depicting a symbol or representing the various societal institutions, or, simply, taking up the characteristic quality of a vice or a virtue. Life is breathed into a space with characters or a persona, revolving whom the narrative is framed. In order to tell a story, the genre of novel stands apart, since, it can narrate in entirety, the experiences of the protagonist which shapes the protagonist’s life.
Similarly, Arundhati Roy’s novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, narrates the story of Anjum, a trans woman and traces her life back from Anjum’s birth as a boy named Aftab and his ‘difference’ from others while charting the eventual transition and transformation into Anjum. Since, the novel traces the birth and from thereon, the growth and life of Anjum, this novel of Roy can be considered a bildungsroman. Anjum’s life, that forms one part of the novel, is a mini narrative within the entire narrative frame of The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. As a novel, it portrays the life of a Hijra through the character of Aftab and shows the struggle and trauma faced for being ‘different’, considering the fact that he is unable to fit into the inflexible binaries of male and female. Due to this, he is discriminated as a child and goes on to face an identity crisis, wherein his perceptions about himself are based on the societal norms of the stereotypical gender binaries. As stated by Judith Butler:
“Gender is the mechanism by which notions of masculine and feminine are produced and naturalized, but gender might very well be the apparatus by which such terms are deconstructed and denaturalized.” (Butler, “Undoing” 42).
However, the title of the novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, is ironic, since all the characters in the novel are in search of their lost happiness. For Anjum, her happiness is defined by her acceptance in the ‘Duniya’ (world). Moreover, the characters try to achieve their happiness through various means, sometimes resorting to violence, or by hurting the sentiments of others. This happiness, however, is short-lived considering that it is based on selfish needs. In the case of Anjum, she finds happiness in isolation and also by exploiting the space of the graveyard. Yet, this happiness is not complete, as it is accompanied by bouts of temper tantrums and regret with regard to her past. Anjum undertakes this travel not only to find her place in the world, but, also to find her happiness, that she lost as a young boy who was forced to conform and made a victim of the stringent rules enforced by society.
Anjum’s movement from one space to another in the quest of realising her identity can be looked as moving from the upper social space to the space that suggests isolation, that is, the space of the graveyard. There is a hierarchy associated with spaces, wherein, the cultural and commercial centres are given priority and importance over the spaces that are isolated. In the case of the novel, the hierarchical structure of spaces follows the order of assigning the topmost preference to the childhood home, since this space is a part of the urban space wherein there is a concentration of people and knowledge systems and power structures associated with the societal norms. On the other hand, Khwabgah as a space occupies the middle position, as, it is a part of the social space, yet is separate from it. This is to suggest that due to the residents and their departure from the set gender identities, this space acts as a foil to the childhood home space. Lastly, the space of the graveyard is at the bottom of this hierarchical order of spaces due to the simple fact that this space finds its associations with the idea of death, which is a binary to the idea of living and the social setup of community living and social relations and interactions. Doreen Massey explains that we understand spaces not only with reference to the oppositions and contradictions within them, rather, places are boundless, in the sense, that they operate through a chain of relations and links, rather than in isolation. Quoting Massey,
The identities of place are always unfixed, contested and multiple. And, the particularity of any place is, in these terms, constructed not by placing boundaries around it and defining its identity through counter-position to the other which lies beyond, but precisely (in part) through the specificity of the mix of links and interconnections to that ‘beyond’. Places viewed this way are open and porous. (05)
The two spaces of Khwabgah and the graveyard, therefore, become marginalised spaces in contrast to the hegemonic space of the childhood home. Anjum’s movement is suggestive of the fact that as she moves to a more marginalised space, she finds it easier to realise her identity. As stated in Mobilities: New Perspectives on Transport and Society, “travel is necessary for social life, enabling complex connections to be made, often as a matter of social (or political) obligation.” (Grieco and Urry 42). Yet, in the novel, Anjum undertakes a travel away from society and its complex relations, to comprehend her true identity. Khwabgah is a transitional space, firstly because of the simple reason that it is the in between space or the space that lies between the two spaces of the childhood home and the graveyard. On the one hand, the home space is part of the public sphere and on the other hand, the graveyard can be associated with both the public sphere and private space, but, more specifically to the private sphere due to its isolation. Each space is constructed out of the multiplicity of social relations. The three spaces in the novel are constantly opposed to and in contradiction to each other. Henri Lefebvre explains that the knowledge systems and dominant institutions in a social space form a centre and he points out that without these hegemonic structures, binaries cannot exist. Quoting him:
Knowledge, consciousness and social practice may thus all be seen to share the centre. There is no ‘reality’ without the concentration of energy, without a focus or core- nor, therefore, without the dialectic: centre- periphery, accretion- dissipation, condensation- radiation, glomeration- saturation, concentration- eruption, implosion- explosion. (399)
In the case of the psyche of Anjum, in the first place of childhood home, she is controlled and watched over by her authoritative father. The chaos in Aftab’s mind and body is juxtaposed with the order outside in the society. As Michel Foucault notes in his The History of Sexuality, Volume I, “Power is everywhere; not because it embraces everything, but because it comes from everywhere.” (93). This argument stands true, since, Aftab is watched not only by his family, but, also, is judged and observed by the society. In Khwabgah, Anjum’s identity crisis intensifies due to the perceptions of other inmates of this space. Yi-Fu Tuan states that: “Place is a center of meaning constructed by experience.” (Tuan, “Place” 152). In this case, Anjum’s behavioural patterns and vocabulary undergoes a paradigm change due to her experiences and also, due to the direct influence of the residents of Khwabgah. Lastly, in the graveyard, she manages to identify her place in the world, yet, is haunted by an inherent unhappiness which manifests through her appearance. She associates closely to this space due to the seclusion, which is absent in the other two spaces. While in the first space, Anjum is subjugated, but, in the graveyard space, she controls and asserts her superiority over nature. Arjun Appadurai states, “the problem of place and voice is ultimately a problem of power” (Appadurai, “Place and Voice” 20). Building on this idea, the end of this journey for Anjum is a quest for identity and power through which she can attain happiness.
Roy subverts the notions associated with the graveyard when she places Anjum in the space. A space that becomes home to Anjum, this is where she realises her identity. The novelist deconstructs the stereotypical associations and the symbolic meaning and resonances this space has acquired over the centuries. As explained in Postmodern Geographies, “To ‘deconstruct’, then is to reinscribe and resituate meanings, events and objects within broader movements and structures; it is, so to speak, to reverse the imposing tapestry…” (Soja 12). Although this space of a graveyard does not become a positive space on the whole, yet, Roy makes it a livable space for the so called ‘outcasts’ and oppressed populace.
Now, considering each of these three spaces to be a centre, with the home space being a dominating urban space and also the centre while Aftab resides in that space, there is a shift in the centre every time Aftab (or Anjum) moves and travels from one place to the next. This directly points how there is no one centre and a centre cannot be fixed as it is always in a state of flux. In The Production of Space, Lefebvre states:
The notion of centrality replaces the notion of totality, repositioning it, revitalising it, and rendering it dialectical. Any, centrality, once established, is destined to suffer dispersal, to dissolve or to explode from the effects of saturation, attrition, outside aggressions, and so on. This means that the ‘real’ can never become completely fixed, that it is constantly in a state of mobilization. It also means that a general figure (that of the centre and of ‘decentring’) is in play which leaves room for both repetition and difference, for both time and juxtaposition (399).
To conclude, the notions associated with a space undergoes a change and has acquired a symbolic meaning through the centuries. Notwithstanding, these notions pertaining to a space can be subverted and deconstructed with the change in ideologies. Also, a space affects the perceptions of an individual due to the experiences and the population that surrounds the individual. A space cannot be a central structure since with change in knowledge systems; it is difficult and not possible to give fixity to a particular space. Therefore, with the change in trends, and the shift in space, the centre also keeps changing constantly.
The linguistic aspects and language and its limited vocabulary pertaining to the transgender community, as brought out briefly in the thesis, can be taken up for further study and analysis.
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