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Horror, empathy and justice in The Gypsy Goddess by Meena Kandsamy

Aurore Montheil
Traduction(s) :
Horreur, empathie et justice dans The Gypsy Goddess de Meena Kandasamy [fr]


The Gypsy Goddess (2014) is Indian Dalit writer Meena Kandasamy’s first novel. The narrator recounts the 1968 massacre of forty-four landless Dalit villagers striking for higher wages in the village of Kilvenmani, Tamil Nadu. Because the victims of the massacre were marginalized, they did not receive justice and were obliterated from history. The narrator persistently addresses the readers to force them to look at the horror of this event. Kandasamy uses depictions of atrocities to elicit outrage towards the situation and empathy towards the victims, who are first and foremost defined by their humanity. As empathy is impossible when it comes to a crowd, because a crowd doesn’t have a face, the narrator focuses on individuals’ stories to incite the readers to empathize with them. This article aims at analysing Kandasamy’s representations of an un-representable massacre in order to ponder over the ethics of the depiction of horror. I will consider whether the narrative of the massacre can be a way to reinstitute the victims’ humanity and create empathy. I will also argue that the novel can render the massacred villagers justice in “re-humanizing” their lives and deaths thanks to the empathetic feelings created. 

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  • 1 The term “Dalit” is Marathi, was first mentioned in a Marathi-English dictionary (1947) and means “ (...)

1Even though Untouchability was legally abolished in India by Article 17 of the Constitution of 1950, casteism, i.e. discriminations and violence based on the caste system, still exists: Dalits1 live “on the brink of destitution” and “any attempt to defy the social order is met with violence or economic retaliation” (Dwivedi & Rajan, 2016, p. 14). When Dalit literature emerged, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, caste atrocities, which were on the rise, were met “with public indifference and political apathy” (Zecchini, 2018, p. 73). Subsequently, national empathy was not directed towards this social group. 

2The Gypsy Goddess (Kandasamy, 2014), Indian Dalit writer Meena Kandasamy’s first novel deals with such atrocities. The narrator recounts how forty-four landless Dalits of the village of Kilvenmani (Tamil Nadu) were massacred, burnt alive by their landlords on the 25th of December 1968 because they were striking for higher wages. Since they were part of a social minority, ostracized by society, only forty-two out of the forty-four victims were officially counted by the authorities, two infants were forgotten. Toral Jatin Gajarawala defines Dalit literature, “as a literature of protest and historical revisionism, typically with an emphasis on the documentation of the violence, oppression, and structural inequality engendered by casteism” (Gajarawala, 2013, p. 1-2). Kandasamy states that this kind of literature is the only one which can “fill in the blanks” of official history (Kandasamy, 2014, p. 24), i.e. reveal what happened to these villagers. The narrator persistently addresses the readers to force them to look at the horror of the massacre from the inside and arouse their empathy towards the characters’ suffering.

3There are many different and sometimes conflicting definitions of empathy. In this paper, we will mostly rely on the philosophical definition given by German phenomenologists Edmund Husserl and Edith Stein. According to Stein, empathy is not an identifiable emotion, but a form of intentionality aimed at other experiencing subjects (Stein, 2008, p. 68). As stated by Husserl, empathy is a specific kind of empirical experience that allows the empathizing subject to experience someone else’s consciousness (Husserl, 1973, p. 187). Thus, empathy entails considering the other’s corporeal expression, and translating it into reading emotions. Empathy should be differentiated from compassion, which comes from Latin compassio meaning “co-suffering” (Zahavi, 2014, p. 137), and from pity, which entails a hierarchical relationship and is, therefore, close to a form of scorn in the view of Hume and Nietzsche. Stein distinguishes different levels of empathy. The first level is the recognition of the other’s emotion without understanding their experience. The second level corresponds to the understanding of the other’s experience, which enables to better grasp the reasons why they feel this emotion (Stein, 2008, p. 10). We will consider how both levels of empathy are represented in Kandasamy’s novel and what their implications are.

  • 2 Here is an instance of such an address: “A reader cannot challenge what she does not comprehend. Be (...)
  • 3 On the other hand, this is how Kandasamy defines her readership: “You, being this you, you being no (...)

4Sharankumar Limbāe argues that Dalit literature aims at “inform[ing] Dalit society of its slavery, and narrat[ing] its pain and suffering to upper caste Hindus” (Limbāe, 2004. p. 19). However, if Kandasamy’s novel might aim at raising upper caste Hindus’ consciousness, it does not claim to make Dalits aware of their condition. Written in English, the novel is clearly aimed at Indians educated in English and Western readers, who are continually addressed throughout the novel. However, Kandasamy makes a clear distinction between these readers, whom she refers to sarcastically2 and her readers whom she repeatedly addresses through the first-person address “dear reader.”3 Thus, Punyashree Panda argues that “[t]hroughout her unconventional text, the novelist keeps reminding the reader of the ‘storytelling’ taking place in the text, teasing the reader like a long lost friend at times” (Panda, 2018, p. 159-160). Involving the readers in the narrative in this way may be one of the writer’s narrative strategies to incite empathy. Indeed, The Gypsy Goddess aims at revealing the horror of the massacre of forty-four people and arouse the readers’ sympathy for characters whose experiences are completely alien to them. Indeed, according to Martin Hoffman, empathy is selective, insofar as it is subjected to various types of bias, such as the “familiarity bias” (i.e., social proximity) and the “here-and-now bias” (i.e., reacting to victims “present in the immediate situation”) (Hoffman, 2010, p. 208-213). Thereby, Kandasamy tries to counter the partiality of empathy, according to which “we feel greater empathy for those who are similar to ourselves” (Prinz, 2011, p. 227). This paper endeavours to analyse how Kandasamy’s depiction of the unbearable atrocity of a distant massacre arouses the readers’ empathy. While on the one hand the novel aims at denouncing the lack of empathy of the caste system, on the other hand it represents individual’s experiences in order to arouse the readers’ empathy. This paradox may raise questions on how far the empathetic narrative of a massacre can go in doing justice to the victims.

Denouncing the lack of empathy of the caste system

  • 4 In her essay “Can the subaltern speak?,” Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak defines the term “subaltern” as (...)
  • 5 In the novel, the landlords’ caste is never specified. They are referred to as “caste-Hindus” and p (...)

5In The Gypsy Goddess, the narrator presents diverging points of view: the victims’ and their relatives’ on the one hand and the various authorities’ and the perpetrators’ on the other. What is striking in the confrontation of these different perspectives is the lack of empathy displayed by the second group towards the first one. This lack of empathy can be mainly imputed to the unfairness of the caste system. Thus, in India, “the marker of caste subsumes all other identities and makes a ‘normal’ life difficult” (Abraham & Misrahi-Barak, 2018, p. 10). This is especially true for Dalits, who are social pariahs. Consequently, “Dalits are often represented as disposable bodies and expendable lives” (Zecchini, 2018, p. 72). In the novel, the narrator demonstrates the fact that because of their subaltern status,4 the victims of the massacre did not benefit from the authorities’ empathy. Indeed, empathy is only possible when the other is seen as a human being. Judith Butler explains in this way that when victims are “humans who are not regarded as human,” but as “unreal,” their lives are “derealized” (Butler, 2006, p. 33). She argues further that because some lives are dehumanized “at the level of discourse,” this dehumanization becomes inscribed in the culture, and therefore can lead to “physical violence” which is subsequently considered normal (Butler, 2006, p. 34). Because the caste system dehumanizes Dalits, upper caste people5 cannot empathize with their experiences. Arundhati Roy explains that there are “approximately four thousand endogamous castes and sub-castes (jatis) in Hindu society, each with its own specified hereditary occupation, [which] are divided into four varnas—Brahmins (priests), Kshatriyas (soldiers), Vaishyas (traders) and Shudras (servants)” (Roy, 2017, p. 15). Outside this system are the Dalits, “whose presence, whose touch, whose very shadow is considered to be polluting by privileged-caste Hindus” (Roy, 2017, p. 15). As a result, Dalits’ lives are deemed worthless. This is what is at stake in the narrative of the work of Inspector Rajavel, the police officer in charge of the investigation, in The Gypsy Goddess. In his report, the victims are completely reified, revealing the character’s lack of empathy for them.

It required him to list identification marks of the deceased, describe the corpse closely observing all cavities (nose, ear, mouth, vagina and etc.) in good light during daytime, indicate the nature of the visible wound (incised, lacerated, bruised, fractured), look for ligature marks and signs of struggle, comment on the expression of countenance and the position of limbs, and report the presence of blood (liquid or clotted), saliva, froth, vomit or semen at the scene of crime. (Kandasamy, 2014, p. 109-110)

6Only the corporeality of the corpses is described. The synecdoches “(nose, ear, mouth, vagina and etc.)” dismember them. The use of the noun “cavities” and the fact that the body parts are in parentheses dehumanize the corpses, which are not regarded as human. Moreover, the corpses become abject (Kristeva, 2015) as the frontier between the inside and outside is blurred, the various wounds and body fluids are what matter here. The corpses are considered clinically, without empathy. Even though the examination of “the expression of countenance” may lead to some kind of recognition of the victims’ humanity, no empathy is aroused, as the work necessitates “comment[ing]” on the facial expression and not experiencing the other’s consciousness. The verb “list” announces the numbering of the victims which ensues in the novel. The coroner’s report coldly numbers the forty-two registered victims as the following three examples illustrate:

1. Male, age not known, nobody can identify body; height 4'10"; marital status not known; protruding tongue, body totally burnt below the hip, hand flexed at the elbow, blackened blood all over the body. (Kandasamy, 2014, p. 110)

4. Poomayil, aged about 18 years, daughter of Kanchi; Harijan; height 3'11"; unmarried; hair partially singed; neck and left ear visibly burnt, charred hands and feet, legs blackened up to the hip, liquid-filled blisters all over the body. (Kandasamy, 2014, p. 110)

39. Charred human corpse with only skull and bones; other details not known. (Kandasamy, 2014, p. 113)

7The violence undergone by the villagers is such that the identity of some victims cannot be ascertained. Victim 39 is solely defined as a “human corpse,” which is in such a state that neither their gender, nor their age or identity can be deciphered. Here again, the use of metonymies, following the coroner’s gaze, fragments the corpses and “derealizes” their experience. Only the wounds inflicted by the fire remain. The very few clues about their lives (“marital status,” “aged about 18 years, daughter of Kanchi,” “unmarried”) are not enough to imagine their experiences as human beings. From this clinical perspective, no empathy is possible.

  • 6 Sarcasm can be defined as a cold and mordant irony stated in an impassive and falsely indifferent t (...)

8Yet as Kandasamy’s novel aims at revealing the horror of the dehumanisation at work in the caste system, more often than not, the narrator uses sarcasm6 to decry the authorities’ lack of empathy. In the following extract, the narrator adopts the police’s perspective, in order to better show their inhumanity:

Next, IG Mahadevan decided that the dead would not be returned to their relatives. This was his third charitable act of the day. He beamed with pride that he had solved the problem of handing over incomplete body parts of the unidentified victims. He was no longer rankled by questions: “What if there was a mix-up of the dead children? What if husbands mourned for other men’s wives? Would everybody at least get a complete corpse? What if the mass funeral fuelled a retaliation?” (Kandasamy, 2014, p. 132)

  • 7 Outrage is both a cognitive process and a deeply felt emotion. According to the Collins English Dic (...)

9In this sarcastic extract, the Inspector General of police’s lack of empathy appears first in his emotional reaction. In the presence of a mass grave, he feels proud of himself. The contradiction between his decision of not returning the corpses to their relatives, involving depriving them of funerals, and the conclusion of it being a “charitable act” indicates that this “charitable act” is actually an antiphrasis. Accordingly, the narrator denounces the character’s lack of empathy and actual charity. The same can be said about the character’s reaction and the reason which triggers it. Denying the relatives of the victims the possibility of mourning is a breach of human rights and not a reason to feel proud of oneself. The accumulation of questions in direct speech further emphasizes the character’s absence of empathy, as the lack of identification of the victims results in a kind of humorous quid pro quo, “What if husbands mourned for other men’s wives?.” Sarcasm is a literary device that enables Kandasamy to appeal to the readers’ sense of outrage7 towards the authorities’ indifference, in order to encourage empathy for the victims.

10To counter the insensitivity towards the victims of the massacre displayed by the authorities, Kandasamy re-humanizes the victims in the novel, in order to enable the readers to regard them as human beings, consider their experience and feel empathy towards them.

Considering individual experiences to arouse empathy

11The Gypsy Goddess does not only focus on the villagers’ deaths, but also on their existences and on their community’s experience after the massacre. Jesse Prinz argues that we cannot empathize with a collective and that we need to take into account individuals’ experiences in order to empathize with a group of people (Prinz, 2011, p. 221). The novel illustrates how empathy fails to occur if one does not regard the massacre as individuals’ experiences but as a mass murder, the victims of which one cannot identify. This is how the villagers understand the politicians’ reactions:

12We think the problem with the politicians is that they have seen too many deaths. To them every death is only a funeral. Nothing more, nothing less. Or every death is like a marriage, or it is like a meeting, or it is like a procession. If they don’t have to make a speech at a death, some of them are relieved and some of them are offended (Kandasamy, 2014, p. 157-158).

13This excerpt, from the last chapter of the novel, is narrated in the first-person plural, in the collective name of all the surviving villagers of Kilvenmani. The confusion between “death” and “funeral” indicates that to politicians, death is dehumanized, “derealized.” The use of the polysyndeton “Or every death is like a marriage, or it is like a meeting, or it is like a procession” (emphasis added) intensifies this dehumanization, as only the ritual surrounding death persists, instead of the personal experience. Moreover, this ritual is ironically confused with other trivial ceremonies such as “a marriage,” “a meeting,” or “a procession,” thus emptying its meaning. In this instance, no empathy is possible, as what the politicians display is closer to pity. Indeed, Gérôme Truc explains that pity is, politically speaking, the way in which those who have noticed other people’s suffering try to soothe it without assuming responsibility for it nor considering individuals’ suffering (Truc, 2008, p. 130). Thus Kandasamy denounces the unfairness of the caste system in which the fairest emotion those at the top can feel for those at the bottom is pity, i.e. an emotion which reproduces this system of domination. This is what Gajarawala defines, in another context, as a colonial perspective, which implies “a distantiation and othering from the pitiable and largely inert object” (Gajarawala, 2013 p. 55).

14In order to arouse empathy rather than pity, Kandasamy presents both collective and individual stories. For instance, Chapter 4 “Seasons of Violence” displays the villagers’ demands as a community to have higher wages. On the other hand, Chapter 9 “A Minor Witness” displays Nandan’s viewpoint on the massacre. The title can be read as an antiphrasis, as Kandasamy dedicates a whole chapter to the young villager’s first-person account, which sheds light on the events leading to the massacre of his fellow villagers. Another first-person testimony, in Chapter 11 “In Police Custody,” offers new perspectives on the evening of the massacre. In this chapter, the narrator transcribes Ramalingam’s first-person narrative. The character, an agricultural labourer, directly addresses the narrator in order to ask her to reveal the truth about the massacre:

I don’t know what you feel, or whose side you are on but I have told my story, sister, I haven’t lied to you, a man cannot lie when he has the taste of death on his tongue, I want you to write this all down and put it in the papers and tell the truth to the whole world. Let everyone read about what happened here and let them burn with anger. And yes, you can note this too, my name is Ramalingam, I live on the same street where the tragedy took place, I have studied up to the eighth standard. (Kandasamy, 2014, p. 129-130)

15The choice of a first-person narration leads to what Stein defined as the second level of empathy. Indeed, through this direct account, the readers have access to the character’s experience. Ramalingam discloses his name and refers to his emotions, which humanises him further. The readers discover his human experience and understand the reasons for his suffering. The character addresses the narrator, as “sister,” which creates a complicity between the two of them, and also involves the readers with the reference to the narrator’s writing, which is equated to an obligation to remember. With this unmediated account, Kandasamy tries to arouse the readers’ empathy for her characters.

16Feeling empathy implies experiencing the same emotions. Accordingly, in order to instil anger in the readers, Ramalingam’s speech is permeated with offensive language. Zecchini argues that in Dalit literature, language “becomes the site of resistance,” and that “in the work of many Dalit writers, it is often uncouth, provocative and impossible to neutralize.” She explains that “the obscenity and crudity of [the] vocabulary that refuses to ‘decorate’, neutralize or camouflage its subject” serves to illustrate the everyday violence suffered by Dalits (Zecchini, 2018, p. 79). The novel gives a stark depiction of this crude reality, and Ramalingam’s speech is a valuable example of the use of obscene language:

I know it scene by scene, it is more clear to me than this moment, it is more real to me than the two of us here, talking, I feel as if all I need to do is to thrust my hand out and I will catch some mother-fucker from that mob, that’s what I did that day, I’d never seen this whoreson before, he was one of rowdies [sic.] who had been sent to our village, he was asking us, “which are the streets we should beat up, which are the streets we should burn,” you see this mob did not know that we were the residents of the very village that they were heading to. (Kandasamy, 2014, p. 124)

17Ramalingam’s flow of speech looks authentic, contains few marks of punctuation and crude language (“mother-fucker,” “whoreson”). These characteristics translate the character’s anger, which cannot be contained. Moreover, the violence is also physical, with the references to the character’s gesture towards the assailants and to the massacre the latter are going to commit. Because of its obscenity, this passage forces the readers to experience the character’s anger, empathize with him, and hence feel outraged.

18Through the narration of individual experiences, the novel aims at arousing the readers’ empathy for events that are foreign to them. However empathy is not an end in itself but must be followed by action. This is what Kandasamy intends: her empathetic novel allows her to do justice to the actual victims of the massacre.

An empathetic narrative as a means to render justice

  • 8 A hypotyposis is a narrative, which intends to represent its object through language but moreover e (...)

19The novel reveals the profound injustice of the verdict of the trial. The decision was to “free fifteen landlords. Eight of them [got] a token punishment of ten years in jail. No one [was] sentenced for life, no one [was] sentenced to death” (Kandasamy, 2014, p. 177). The parallelism in the narrator’s conclusion equates two antithetical nouns, “life” and “death,” implying that the sentence was unfair, as it did not impact the perpetrators’ lives in any way. To counterbalance this injustice, Chapter 10 “Mischief by Fire,” focuses on the actual victims’ experience. Although the euphemistic title translates the authorities’ point of view on the massacre, defined as mere arson, this chapter actually represents the moment of the massacre in order to reveal the victims’ humanity, counterbalancing the narrative in Chapter 8, in which the victims are merely numbered and not treated as human beings. This chapter is composed of a single sentence, which is 879 words long. The use of the present simple disconnects it from history and forces the readers to experience the massacre along the narrative. The lack of punctuation makes it difficult to gather for the readers, who pant along the paragraphs as the characters pant because of the panic they undergo. In this hypotyposis,8 Kandasamy creates a description which is so striking that the beholders have the impression of experiencing the killing. The narrator forces the readers to see the unbearable massacre, but also to hear, smell and feel it. She resorts to all the senses to represent the horror of this scene as a living picture:

[A]nd facial features disappear and flesh now starts splitting and shin bones show and hair singes with a strange smell and the flames hastily lick away at every last juicy bit as the bones learn to burst like dead wood and some of the singing bones spring to life and crack along the grain as if maintaining the beats of a secret and long forgotten dirge because life has become extinct and there is no time for tears because death holds no terror.(Kandasamy, 2014, p. 118)

20The narrative requires the readers to use their sense of sight to view how the bodies are rendered abject, fragmented by the synecdoches (“facial features,” “flesh,” “shin bones,” “hair”) and appearing inside out because of the fire consuming them. Yet, the references to the other senses creates a synesthetic effect, which produces a sense of harmony, reinforced by the polysyndeton in “and,” which connects the various sensations and thus the disjointed body parts, whereas commas would disconnect them further. On the other hand, the use of alliterations also invites the readers to use their sense of hearing. The alliterations in sibilant sounds ([ʃ], [s], [z]) reminds one of the fire hissing around the victims, engendering a sense of panic. However, the allusion to the “dirge” suggests that the other alliterative sound in [b], which mainly revolves around the repetition of the noun “bones,” may aim at creating the tune of this funeral music. This chapter is an empathetic one: by appealing to the readers’ senses, it compels them to experience the victims’ last moments, and commemorate their humanity. Empathy allows the readers to take part in the literary funeral organised by the narrator, to replace the one the victims never had, in order to do them justice.

21Finally, the narrative represents the characters’ empathy for each other at a time of extreme horror.

[A]nd in desperation a mother throws her one-year-old son out of the burning hut but the boy is caught by the leering mobsters and chopped into pieces and thrown back in and in that precise yet fleeting moment of loss and rage everyone realizes that they would die if their death meant saving a loved one and that they would die if their death meant staying together and that they would die anyway because it would not be as disastrous as living long enough to share this sight and so alone and together they prepare to resign themselves to the fact that they have mounted their collective funeral pyre.(Kandasamy, 2014, p. 117-118)

22At the beginning of the excerpt, the explicit references to mutilations inflicted with bladed weapons are unbearable. The use of the passive voice highlights the assailants’ cruelty and the victims’ impossibility to escape. This hopelessness is emphasized further by the antithetic use of the adverbs “out” symbolizing hope, and “in” immediately denying it, imprisoning the boy in the sentence as well as in the burning hut. In opposition to the attackers’ lack of empathy, the omniscient focalization enables the narrator to reveal the victims’ solidarity and empathy even at the heart of horror. The use of the oxymoron “alone and together” underlines the victims’ individuality but also their belonging to a united community. The anaphora of the phrase “they would die if their death meant…” sheds light on the empathy the characters feel for each other when facing the same ordeal. By opposing this empathy to the landlords’ insensitivity and indifference, the novel reinstates their humanity in the face of the perpetrators’ barbarity. The disclosure of their unfair treatment arouses the readers’ empathy and trigger their sense of outrage. These emotions counter the general indifference and lack of empathy towards the victims of the massacre and thereby contribute to a rendering of justice.


23In The Gypsy Goddess, Kandasamy fills in the blanks of official history, shedding light on an unfair system which dehumanizes an entire part of society on the grounds that they are Dalit. The narrative reveals various points of view, which it confronts with each other, in order to better highlight the landlords’ cruelty and the victims’ humanity. Thus, the novel aims at denying the possibility of a selective empathy, which would leave an entire part of the population aside, because they are culturally considered unworthy of this feeling. Kandasamy’s writing reveals her own empathy for her characters and the actual people they embody, and her aim of doing them justice, as they did not receive it from the judiciary system.

24Kandasamy asks her readers to adopt an empathetic reading of the novel, not a colonialist one. She does not ask for compassion or pity, refusing to reveal the “village’s wounds of shame” (Kandasamy, 2014, p. 153), but focuses on the villagers’ experience as a dominated social entity treated unfairly by the dominating castes. The goal is to arouse empathy in order to provoke outrage in the face of such injustice.

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Blom, A., Jaoul, N. (2008). “Outraged Communities,” South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal, 2.

Butler, J. (2006). Precarious Life. The Powers of Mourning and Violence. Verso.

Dwivedi, O. P., Rajan, V. G. J. (2016). Human Rights in Postcolonial India. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

Gajarawala, T. J. (2013). Untouchable Fictions. Literary Realism and the Crisis of Caste. Fordham University Press.

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Kandasamy, M. (2014). The Gypsy Goddess. Atlantic Books.

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1 The term “Dalit” is Marathi, was first mentioned in a Marathi-English dictionary (1947) and means “Depressed classes.” The use of this term was popularized by the intellectual Dalit Panthers movement of the 1970s. In their manifesto, the Dalit Panthers defined “Dalits” as “members of Scheduled Castes and Tribes, Neo-Buddhists, the working people, the landless and poor peasants, women and all those who are being exploited politically, economically and in the name of religion.” Ashok K. Pankaj and Ajit K. Pandey explain that “[i]n broader terms; ‘Dalits’ incorporate all non-upper castes, that is, excluding Brahmin, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas in terms of Varna category” (Pankaj & Pandey, 2019, p. 4-6). This term is preferred to “Untouchable” which corroborates the caste system hierarchy rather than illustrates people’s experiences (Abraham & Misrahi-Barak, 2018, p. 18).

2 Here is an instance of such an address: “A reader cannot challenge what she does not comprehend. Beyond history lessons, she will find herself gravitating towards twisted tales. Hence, this rabble-rousing. Hence, this troublemaking. This craving for unintelligibility is a curse upon the postcolonial reader, who seeks me out. And I write for my readers” (Kandasamy, 2014, p. 55). Here the writer particularly shows contempt for specialists of postcolonial literature who might try to classify her writing according to a set of norms, which she deliberately chooses to transgress, instead of being interested in the story told.

3 On the other hand, this is how Kandasamy defines her readership: “You, being this you, you being no ordinary reader, you being the collective, you being the reader who rights the wrongs, you being the reader who fills in the blanks, you being not only evasive but also anonymous, enter this story” (Kandasamy, 2014, p. 185). In this extract, the writer depicts her ideal reader, whom she identifies with. Thus, the anaphora of the pronoun “you” and the flattering depiction create a complicity that participates in inciting empathy.

4 In her essay “Can the subaltern speak?,” Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak defines the term “subaltern” as a category of people who are socially, politically and geographically outside the hegemonic power structure and consequently subject to multiple and intersecting forms of oppression (Spivak, 2010).

5 In the novel, the landlords’ caste is never specified. They are referred to as “caste-Hindus” and part of the “ruling classes.”

6 Sarcasm can be defined as a cold and mordant irony stated in an impassive and falsely indifferent tone.

7 Outrage is both a cognitive process and a deeply felt emotion. According to the Collins English Dictionary, it is “an intense feeling of anger and shock” (Blom & Jaoul, 2008, p. 8).

8 A hypotyposis is a narrative, which intends to represent its object through language but moreover endeavours to touch the viewers’ imagination and conjure up the scene which is described through imitative or associative stratagems (Suhamy, 2004, p. 83).

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Aurore Montheil

Aurore Montheil is a PhD student at the University of Toulouse Jean-Jaurès whose work focuses on contemporary Indian literature. She is writing a PhD dissertation, entitled “Politics and Aesthetics of the Obscene in Five Contemporary Indian Women Writers’ Novels” supervised by Héliane Ventura and Vanessa Guignery. She has been teaching at the INSPE of Pyrénées Atlantiques since 2019. Her research interests include Indian literature and culture, postcolonial literatures, decoloniality, gender studies, feminism, and the ethics and aesthetics of the obscene in contemporary Indian literature written by English-speaking women writers.

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