Essays on identity, place, and the pervasiveness of the past in the present, by a global literary citizen.
Hariharan (In Times of Siege, 2003, etc.) employs abundant creative imagination as she conjures the centuries past that have shaped the present in which she finds herself. At some times and places, she envisions fields of battle, at others there are battles between lovers. Her aim is to come to terms not only with a place, but with herself in that place, a self who has never been defined by any one place: “I have lived all my life in a city, but if someone asked me, quite simply, ‘So which city are you from?’ I wouldn’t be able to answer. Or I would have too many answers….Or I could say: Anycity, composite city of visible cities, remembered cities, imagined cities.” Because of all the globe-trotting that has preceded the concluding title essay, it actually comes as a surprise to learn that she has “lived in Delhi for thirty years now.” If these essays are all over the map, they also cover a lot of thematic territory as well. Perhaps the most powerful essay is “Looking for a nation, looking at a nation,” occasioned by the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Algeria’s independence from France and a conference celebrating the revolutionary spirit of Franz Fanon. Hariharan quotes the final line of his first book: “My final prayer: oh my body, make me always a man who asks questions.” The author also asks questions, about the roles of women in various societies, about the dispossessed, and about power and the powerless. The most provocative essay, particularly for pro-Israel Americans, is “Seeing Palestine,” which, writes Hariharan, “has depended on what the beholders are looking for: on the burden of their beliefs, the depth of their wishes to map the place afresh, the sweep of their imagination.”
An uneven collection—never just travel writing or political analysis—that nonetheless seems to map new territory of its own.