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Ghosh’s work thus represents Contexts and intertexts 31 a particularly interesting and complex example of the tenacious hold that humanism has had on the Indian – and especially Bengali – cultural imagination since the mid-nineteenth century vernacular ‘renaissances’, of which the Bengali variant is perhaps the most well-known. The ‘Bengal Renaissance’, as it is called, constituted the first attempt by colonised Indians to wrestle with the ideological challenges of colonial modernity and it laid the foundations for most conceptualisations of what an Indian modernity might look like.
Indian intellectuals such as Amitav Ghosh who matured during the period of India’s protracted and corrosive crisis of identity are therefore caught on the horns of an acute political and ethical dilemma. On the one hand, the critique of prevailing conceptions of nationhood are absolutely necessary in order to Contexts and intertexts 29 realise the larger goal of ‘freedom’ promised at independence; on the other hand, that very goal may be increasingly jeopardised by the acceleration of India’s political disintegration.
National unity had fragmented into a multiplicity of regional, religious, caste, class, and linguistic identities; secularism had been undermined by the deployment of religious identities in the service of political expediency and the price was being paid by the increasing entrenchment of communalism as a political logic; and democracy itself had been reduced to little more than a periodic performance, a masque that hid beneath its subtle veils the corruptions of a gargantuan bureaucracy. The crisis of the state thus resulted in a corresponding crisis of representation in both its political and discursive senses.