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In Session: Textuality and Sexuality: Politics and Gender in Modern South Asia
2: “An Edifice of Self-Discipline”: R.K. Narayan’s Painter of Signs and the Gendered Politics of the Emergency
Friday, March 26, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
The Ohio State University, United States
The National Emergency in India imposed by President Fakhruddin Ahmed from 1975-1977 at the behest of Indira Gandhi has been memorialized within a gendered framework. Cultural representations of the period produced in the years after the event rely on gendered allegories to represent the Emergency as an “exceptional” moment in Indian democracy. A disproportionate emphasis on the personality of Indira Gandhi obscures structural debates on sexuality and gender that informed the Emergency. This paper reads Indian English author R.K Narayan’s novel The Painter of Signs in the context of these debates.
Serialized at the height of the Emergency, the novel’s female protagonist Daisy is a staunch supporter and enforcer of the Emergency’s population control program. Her insistence on “self-discipline” threatens to rupture the fragile romance in the novel, and eventually the possibility of the heterosexual family. I examine Narayan's representation of Daisy’s work in relation to the rhetoric of national discipline during the Emergency. Some of the questions I propose are: How did the sexual politics of the Emergency alter Narayan's local, insulated worlds? How does the Indian English novel simultaneously reproduces and resists the framing of the 'Emergency' as an exception?