By Claire Buck (auth.)
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Additional info for Conceiving Strangeness in British First World War Writing
His death is an occasion for turning Grimshaw’s one-sided encounter with Kahn’s physicality into an instance of reciprocity. ” By contrast, “the mangled boy [Beji] was quite conscious” and is able to hold Sahib Smith in a vice-like grip, uttering the dying words “Sahib, Sahib,” before “subsid[ing] lifeless” (150). Together, Ram Singh and the sahib “gently” lift the “battered remnants” into a niche at the side of the trench, turning Grimshaw’s singular gesture, in which the primary contact was with the dead and mutilated corpse of the young soldier, into a moment of delicate sympathy between dafadar and sahib.
Anand’s use of the travelogue to explore the role of cultural difference is explicit in a scene where Lalu and his fellow sepoys explore Orléans, where they are encamped. 78 Lalu is “obsessed with something which struggled to burst through all the restraints and the embarrassment of the unfamiliar, to break through the fear of the exalted life that the Europeans lived, the rare high life of which he, like all the sepoys, had only had distant glimpses from the holes and the crevices in the thick hedges outside the Sahibs’ bungalows in India” (30).
It appears variously as the sign of both a “weak-minded” English prejudice and its “less-civilized” counterpart in Indian caste differences; as a sign of a taboo against corpses, a “primitive” response to death; and as a natural response to the abject conditions of the First World War trenches. Repulsion cannot be overcome in the colonial story because it is itself a sign of the insuperable difference between colonizer and colonized, representing and enforcing the discourses of racial and cultural difference that supported British colonial domination in India.