Food represents a country’s culture and thus it could possibly be studied to identify post-colonial ideologies present in a text. India and other Asian countries are globally acclaimed for their food culture. This food does not just stop with preparing and tasting, it has been carried beyond its scope to the field of literature. In this context, it is worthwhile to quote the words of Jennifer that, “Food connects humans, and perhaps all living things, by a common need for it that all share. It is in many ways an ordinary thing, but it is essential to all. Through globalization, food now connects people in very literal, physical ways”(3). Thus the role of food in every culture portrays some values.These aspects are found in Ghosh’s In An Antique Land, a travelogue based on his experiences at Egypt. In this work, Amitav has blended the cultures of both India and Egypt. The work is an excellent epitome of the role of food in Eastern culture. The paper deals with the writer’s artistic portrayal of his experiences in an alien land as well as the depiction of the Egyptian culture with specific reference to food.
The New York Times has praised the book as the “hybrid of history, cultural investigation and travelogue”. Ghosh’s every work has a distinct character left by him. His earlier works show his quest for identity, immigrant sensibility and other diaspora elements. Besides, one could locate a great thirst for seeking identity in the alien land by identifying his native culture with that of the alien culture. All his works cleverly blend the native culture with the alien land. The present study has been made in In an Antique land that describes the experiences of the writer in Egypt as a social anthropologist, trying to trace the life of a slave MS4 brought to India by a Jewish Trader named Ben Yiju.
The narrative is neatly packed with his quest to trace the past life of the slave Bomma and his adventures in Egypt where the people had some wrong thinking about the Hindus. Instead of justifying the practices of his religion, Amitav just remains silent. At the same time, he never tries to emancipate the other religion. His only fault is, he was unable to justify certain practices in his religion to the non natives who had no knowledge of his religion. They had a certain false notion about Indian culture. Rather than breaking such notions, Amitav tries to move on by remaining silent.
In any culture food plays a crucial role, that too in a country like India, food is a part of its culture. Similarly, even in the Egyptian land, food is intertwined with the culture of its people. Egyptians share similar culture to that of Indians. The hospitality they provide to the author, an Indian is an evidence for their friendly attitude. Amitav as a diaspora writer tries to connect to his roots in India through his country’s culture. In one of the reviews, the work has been appreciated as “… a leisurely blend of travelogue, history and cross-cultural analysis” (“In an Antique Land Book Review”) by Ghosh that has reconstructed or recreated a 12th-century master-slave relationship in the modern concept of slavery.
Background of the study
Clifford in his review notes, “The Third World anthropologist now conceives his research as extending a long history of intercultural relations, contacts not defined by European expansion or the dichotomy of East and West” (“London review”). Beneath this cross-cultural and cross-questioning, there is an undercurrent of sorrow which is evident when Ghosh narrates his past to his new friends explaining the religious practices of people in India like burning their dead, he is reminded that, in India, how the Hindus were routinely slaughtered by the Muslims, and the Muslims in turn by the Hindus for not doing so. The story of Ghosh himself, known in the village as “…the Indian doctor, the uncircumcised, cow-worshiping kaffir who would not convert to Islam” demonstrates how the veritable culture of his native land affects him on an alien land. The story combines a variety of every day conversation and research scholarship intertwined with the history and relationship between the two nations, Egypt and India, for more than ten centuries.
A reviewer about In an Antique Land remarks that it is not an anthropologist trying to reap on the years of tedious study because Ghosh writes with a great care and tenderness and is honest, funny and wry – all the great qualities of a travel writer. The only shame is that he overstretched himself with the dual narrative theme, a challenge that few ever manage to pass off successfully and even more unlikely a stunt when dealing with ancient anthropology. Commenting on the narration he further remarks:
Ghosh reveals himself to have an accomplished turn of phrase and a humble voice that lends itself to evoking the values and beliefs of a poor, peasant society. It makes the reader wonder why he attempted the dual narrative approach at all. A reviewer in Publishers weekly has remarked about how Ghosh has pointed out in his work about servitude as “a career opportunity, the principal means of recruitment into privileged strata of the army and bureaucracy. Researching in letters and documents in Egypt … He also writes vividly of southern India, a tapestry of castes, cults and worship of spirit-deities.” (“Publishers Weekly”)
In the opening of the novel, the prologue mentions the purpose of the writer on finding a particular slave who has come along with a Jewish trader originally from Tunisia travelled through Egypt and came to India as a trader. He had amassed great wealth as his trade flourished and there are references related to this were discovered in Genzia.