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Amitav
Ghosh is an Indian writer who is famous for his complex narrative strategies to
prove the nature of national and personal identity of India. He is familiar for
his award winning novels, The Glass
Palace, The Shadow Lines, Sea of Poppies, In an Antique Land. And The Hungry Tide. His novel The Calcutta Chromosome is less known
but very important and award winning work for science fiction. As an Indian, he
was much influence and interested in Indian history which is reflected in his
novel. The settings of his novels are probably around the subaltern
contemporary society of India. He was interested in the Indian colonial history
ad well known for his contribution to the English language in the post colonial
world. Ghosh’s childhood life in Calcutta influenced him to write this novel The Calcutta Chromosome, in which he represents
the geographical picture of Calcutta.

The Calcutta Chromosome contains
the idea of alternative history about the subaltern people and history of
Ronald Ross, the famous doctor who got Noble Price for his discovery about
Malaria Transmission. The entire novel is centered on the subaltern people’s
silence and history. The novel begins with the appearance of Antar, an employee
of the Life Watch Organization who belongs to technologically advanced world.
He always recounts an encounter with Murugan, an employee in the same
organization who has been vanished from Calcutta. Ghosh represents Murugan as a
voice of rationality in this novel. The entire text is quite complex because of
its deliberate mixed up timelines. Antar spent many years to find Murugan who
is been mislaid in Calcutta. Murugan and Antar were overlapped by time, action
and place in this novel.  Murugan was so
fascinated by Sir Ronald Ross, who is famous for his discovery of Malaria
Transmission. He forcefully got transferred to Calcutta for his research on
postcolonial utopian dream called immortality.

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Murugan
lived in colonial period of Sir Ronald Ross and Antar belongs to the New York
City who is technologically advanced. Through this both muugan and Antar are
separated by many years. After analyzing all the old documents and his phone
messages, Antar discovered that Murugan is systematically disappeared into
underground for his scientific and Mythical motion which grants the eternal
life to human. Murugan believes that these people are looking for immortality.
Ghosh places science and counter science, fiction and reality together through
the characters in the novel. The group of people in underground transfer their
chromosomes into others body and gradually changed into that person. Murugan
find outs in his research that Ronald Ross really did not discovered the
malaria parasite. Ross was helped by the subaltern group of underground who are
practitioners of native Indian mystical science to conclude the mystical fever.
The native Indian also gives a clue of chromosome transfer technique to the
western science through Ross which is now advanced by the technology.  Ghosh explores the untold history by placing
the alternative history of subaltern people through the research of Murugan and
Antar.

The
problems of subaltern people is always controversial and of course challenging
for the writers. Amitav Ghosh accepts this challenge and show a new way of
thinking about the subaltern. By providing an alternative history of India and
Indian knowledge of alternative science and technology, he challenges the western
science and knowledge. Ghosh brings up the idea of subaltern voice and their
silence to show the power of subaltern. The subaltern characters maintain the
silence and secrecy throughout the novel to exhibit their power. The subaltern
people living an underground life always remains silence, because they believe
silence as their religion. In this novel, Murugan says that silence is religion
for that subaltern group (), which clearly indicates the importance of silence.
In her essay, “Can the Subaltern Speak,” Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak argues that
the subaltern cannot speak because others are “speaking for them” (91). She
believes that recovering the voice of the subaltern is quite impossible. She
also criticizes that it is impossible for people to represent subalterns who
are in a privileged position of the society and cannot unlearn their own
privilege. But Ghosh silently attacks through silence by makes the subaltern to
speak through silence in his novel. The subaltern people who were undergrounded
communicate each other through the voice of silence. They believe that silence
connects them with religion and their sprit with God. Underworld batch admits
that it also provides them strength while transferring chromosomes to achieve
the utopian dream.

In this novel, Ghosh
establish a strong connection between immortality and the subaltern. This
article argues that Ghosh gives the message of subaltern consciousness through
the idea of immortality and their silent voice against the western
irrationality. It also discusses the connection between silence, and counter
science in the novel and examine posthuman to rewrite an alternative history of
subaltern. The character of Phulboni is also crucial to describe the subaltern
silence. Most Indian Bengali writers do have pen-names; it is very common to
them and it is same for Phulboni as well. Phulboni’s real name is Saiyad Murad
Husain and he uses Phulboni as a pen-name. Moreover, he is the person who the
subaltern people chose to write about themselves because he faces the
mysterious ghostly situation created by Laakhan and he starts writing Laakhan
stories. He speaks about the silence of the city of Calcutta and subaltern
people on his award winning ceremony and he says:

The silence of the
city has sustained me through all my years of writing: kept me alive in the
hope that it would claim me too before my ink run dry. For more years than I
can count I have wandered the darkness of these streets, searching for unseen
presence that reigns over this silence, striving to be taken in, begging to be
taken in across before my time runs out ..; to appeal to the mistress of this
silence, that most secret of deities, to give me what she has long denied: to
show herself to me … (31).

Ghosh novel
shows silence as the power of subaltern to overcome their oppression and power
politics.  Rosalind C. Morris in Can the Subaltern Speak?
Reflections on the History of an Idea, argues that some persons
believe that “by digging afresh into the archives they will be able to somehow
recapture the authentic voice of the subaltern” (83). Morris considered that
subaltern history is ascertained by their rulers and this history is partial. Ghosh
acquaint
the alternative chronicle of the inferior and their utopian vision of accomplishing
the ultimate trial of immortality which is connected to the science-fictional
and philosophical term “posthuman.” We get to see new views of the posthuman,
importantly in this novel, Amitav Ghosh suggests a new way of thinking
about subaltern history and future. He brings up science, knowledge and
subalternity together to propose an alternative history. The British colonizers
assume that, science and advanced knowledge belongs to Western people and the
invention and scientific discoveries were the result of their superior
knowledge. Thomas Babington Macaulay in “Minutes of Indian Education,” claims
that western science and education are rational and Indian science and
educations are irrational. He considers that western language is languages of
science and knowledge. In Selected
Subaltern Studies, Ranajit Guha says that “the historiography of Indian
nationalism has for a long time been dominated by elitism- colonial eleitism
and bourgeois nationalism” (39). After all, Ghosh acquaint a new way of
thinking about the scripted history of those inventions, discoveries and the
untold histories behind them. He redrafts the history of discovery of the Malaria
bug in colonial India. He also includes the subaltern as the main subject of
this alternative history. This alternative history accommodates an open ended
way of thinking about subaltern futures as well. From this we come to know that
science-fiction is an influential way to rethink the future.

Subaltern history is
a crucial issue of postcolonial studies which plays a vital role in Ghosh’s
novel. Mangala is the leader of undergrounded group who is centered in the plot
by the description of Murugan, who seems to be the voice of rationality. Murugan, a third person narrator summons the
story of subaltern people in underground. Through his representation we get additional
information than the written biased history of the subaltern and their true
history of science. Murugan is seen as a mysterious character in this novel
because he remains mysterious and bit unusual through the whole book. Antar is
the protagonist of the novel who is a colleague of Murugan. He names himself as
mad scientist and introduces the subaltern group by calling them counter
science group. Ghosh writes this novel based on the book entitle Memoirs
by Ronald Ross after few years of receiving Noble Prize. In the book, he finds
out the history of the Indian subaltern people which is written on western
perspective. Claire Chambers in his essay “Postcolonial Science Fiction:
Amitav Ghosh’s The Calcutta Chromosome,” argues that Ross’s book is
plagiarized from the real history as, “the Memoirs was a hybrid text,
which provided highly selective excerpts from primary sources – mostly letters
that passed between Ross and his mentor Patrick Manson during the years 1895–9,
and also some selections from Ross’s diary – interspersed with Ross’s later
reflections on these” (60).

Ghosh’s novel
provides an alternative life story for both Ronald Ross and the subaltern
group. Ross’s Memoirs, works as a historical evidence for Ghosh to write
about untold Indian history of subaltern people. The narrative of the novel is
a bit complicated to define. There are three narrators in different parts of
the novel, first a third person narrative, then Murugan himself and the other
is Sonali Das. Sonali Das is an Indian female character, who is an actress and
tells the ghost story in Renupur. The flow of the narrative is a bit complex
however; this is a trick to attract the readers as well. Because of this
combination, Ghosh’s representation of science comes to be seen in three parts,
where we see effective blending of fiction and realism. Ghosh’s three-part
scientific representation includes, first, the future and the advanced
technology, secondly, the counter-science group and Ross’s discovery, and
finally the science-fictional utopian idea of the posthuman. This juxtaposition
of different features of science-fiction comes to provide a mysterious impact
on the novel. Moreover, Murugan introduces the scientific and also fictional
term, “interpersonal transmission,” which is very vital to the plot of the
novel. Through this fictional term he establishes the idea of counter-science
in the novel. Moreover, through this term, counter-science, the subaltern comes
to enter the plot as well.

Murugan writes articles about his research on Ross’s discovery, and he
names one of them as “An Alternative Interpretation of Late Nineteenth-Century
Malaria Research: Is There a Secret History?” According to him the underground
people already have invented that Malaria is caused by mosquito bites and the
cure for this as well. Mangala and her team are looking for something more than
this invention, and Murugan names it “Calcutta Chromosome” which will help them
to get the ultimate pleasure of immortality. Murugan describes the “Calcutta
Chromosome” and says

It’s not symmetrically paired. And the reason why it’s
not paired is because it doesn’t split, into eggs and sperm. And guess why that
is? I’ll tell you: it’s because this is a chromosome that is not transmitted
from generation to generation by sexual reproduction. It develops out of a
process of recombination and is particular to every individual. (247)

Murugan,
through this speech, introduces the uniqueness of the chromosome. According to
him this Calcutta Chromosome is very special and non-transmitted one. As he
names this special chromosome followed by Calcutta, it points towards the
uniqueness of the city Calcutta itself
as well. Ronald Ross himself is even aware of the issue that doing
experiments on human beings is not a legal thing; he wants to keep the issue of
experiments on Lutchman secret. Ross says to Doc Manson that, “Don’t for
heaven’s sake mention Lutchman at the British Medical Association … he is a
government servant. To give a government servant servant fever would be a
crime” (72). Ross’s statement makes it clear that he uses Indian lower-class
people as guinea pigs. Ghosh clearly gives the counter attack for western
inhuman science by placing the native Indian science and alternative history.

Murugan claims that
Mangala is far more intelligent than Ross or anybody thinks about her. He says,

With this woman
we’re talking about a lot whole more than just talent; we may be talking genius
here. — she wasn’t carrying a shit-load of theory in her head… Unlike Ross
she didn’t need to read zoological study to see that there was a difference
between culex and anopheles: she’d have seen it like you or I see difference
between a dachshund and Doberman. (243)

Through this statement Murugan argues
that Mangala, the subaltern woman, is more talented than the contemporary
Western scientist. Such representation of the subaltern and their own kind of knowledge opens up the way of thinking about alternative
modernity. We get to find a new version of modernity and knowledge that
belongs to the subaltern people.  

Ghosh brings up
science and counter-science together to rewrite subaltern history and to
propose an open ended way to rethink subaltern voice. He makes readers think
about the alternative subaltern modernity in a new way. He establishes a
connection between the subaltern’s own kind of modernity and science. Ranjit
Guha thinks that, this history itself is biased and elitist history. Therefore,
Ghosh wants us to think about subaltern past and future, more than whatever
history tells us, in an open ended way. This new way of thinking raises a
question of the rationality that comes to ask whether the Western scientific
research and its history is rational and superior or the Western hegemony makes
us believe it. Ghosh ends the novel with the posthuman also to propose a future
to the subaltern people where they seem to have the controlling power. Thus
Ghosh’s novel deals with the subaltern history, their voice, and their future
as well. Through silence and secrecy, the subaltern people get their voice in
their posthuman life and they wanted Antar to listen to their voice. The
subaltern people choose their listeners by themselves and in the end finally
they choose Antar to listen to their voice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Work Cited

Ghosh, Amitav. The Calcutta Chromosome. USA: Avon
Books, 1995. Print.

Chambers, Claire. “Postcolonial Science Fiction: Amitav
Ghosh’s The Calcutta Chromosome”.         Jcl.sagepub.com.
University of Leeds. Web. 05 January 2018.

C. Morris, Rosalind, ed. Can the Subaltern Speak?
Reflections on the History of an Idea. New York: Guha, Ranjit, and Gayatri
Chakravorty Spivak. Selected Subaltern Studies. New York: Oxford University press, 1988. Print.  

O’Connell, Charles, Hugh. “Mutating Toward the Future: The
Convergence of Utopianism,  Postcolonial
SF, and the Postcontemporary Longing for Form in Amitav Ghosh’s The                                      Calcutta
Chromosome.” Muse.jhu.edu. Johns Hopkins University press, Winter
2012:                                     (773-795).
MUSE. 09 January 2018.

Spivak, Gayatri. ”Can the Subaltern Speak.” Mcgill.ca.
Colombia University Press, 2010: 61-88.    web.
05 January 2018.

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