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Gautam Premnath: “Urban Form, Minority Identity, and Narrative Drift in Altaf Tyrewala’s No God in Sight”

February 17, 2012 @ 2:00 pm - 4:00 pm  |  Stevenson Fireside Lounge


Thirty-two pages into No God in Sight (2005), Altaf Tyrewala’s novel undertakes a dramatic formal turn. By this point, Tyrewala has established an inventive formula, serving up a series of brief, elegantly crafted, loosely connected, first-person narratives that chart sinuous, unpredictable pathways through various Bombay localities. Throughout Tyrewala sustains an unvaryingly wry, detached narratorial voice that levels out differences between petty travails and high tragedy in the lives of his middle-class Muslim characters. Yet as the seventh episode nears its end, a different tonal register irrupts into the narrative. As Amin-bhai, a small shoeshop-owner, anticipates his emigration to the United States, the laconic speaking style he shares with other narrators gives way to an impassioned litany of recrimination and regret. Cataloguing assaults upon Muslims and other religious minorities by Hindu fundamentalist zealots, Amin-bhai punctuates his leavetaking of his country, stating, “Let them have their Hindustan for Hindus.” Here, Tyrewala institutes a formal break, marked by a blank page. When the first-person narrative chain resumes, the scene has shifted to a Gujarati village whose residents are being harangued by a mahant into violence against unspecified “outsiders.” Tyrewala has retrieved his studied equanimity, and the novel renders state-sanctioned pogroms in 2002 Gujarat with a remarkably light touch. Before long the narrative returns to Bombay, and the novel reverts to its earlier guise of urban dérive. But the Gujarat detour has crucially redirected this earlier imperative. This talk analyzes how the novel’s ambitions as urban exploration are conditioned and inflected by its concern to reflect upon the question of contemporary Indian Muslim identity.

GAUTAM PREMNATH is Assistant Professor of English at UC Berkeley, where he specializes in the 20th-century Anglophone literatures of Britain, the Caribbean, and South Asia, and in theories of postcoloniality and diaspora. He has published numerous articles of literary criticism and cultural theory. His first book, Mobile Republics: Itineraries of Postcolonial Authorship between India and the Caribbean, is forthcoming from University of Virginia Press.

This lecture is presented by the Literature Department and the Institute for Humanities Research.

Event is free and open to the public. For further information, please contact Christine Hong at


February 17, 2012
2:00 pm - 4:00 pm


Stevenson Fireside Lounge
Humanites 1 University of California, Santa Cruz Cowell College
Santa Cruz, CA 95064 United States
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