The British East India Company was given permission by a Mughal emperor (Islamic Persian ruler) in 1617 to trade in India. In protecting its trading interests, Britain used more and more military force until it took over large areas of India and its administration, with the cooperation of local rulers. In 1857, after the Indian Rebellion (also called the Sepoy Mutiny or the Revolt of 1857), the British government took over control of the country from the British East India Company, adding India to its empire. The British ruled in India with many trained Indians as part of their administrative staff. The upper classes of India lost their traditional power, and in order to gain advancement in the new system, Indians had to have an English education and training to get positions in the British Raj. Even today, the privileged classes of India are those with an English education.
Beginning in the 1920s, leaders such asMohandas Gandhi, sought to rouse the Indians from their colonial bondage. Gandhi taught the people to boycott English products and to make their own cloth and salt. He used the principle of nonviolence to protest the presence of the British and gained a following of millions. He was miraculously able to unify all the religious factions of India, particularly the Hindus and Muslims, who were rivals. Independence was granted in 1947, with the partition of the country into Pakistan (which later became the Islamic Republic of Pakistan) and India. India today is a secular state, and its citizens belong to many different religions, including Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Sikhism, and Buddhism.
Desai’s story takes place in the postcolonial nation of contemporary India. ‘‘Postcolonial’’ has a special meaning for the former territories of European nations, for all of the countries in Africa, Asia, or the Americas that were held by European powers were changed forever by the dominant foreign culture. The postcolonial nations often exhibit symptoms of displacement, shock, and schizophrenic values, amounting to a modern identity crisis. Forced to modernize, they cannot go back to the way things were, yet they cannot forget their cultural heritage. The family in ‘‘Games at Twilight’’ is much like a Western nuclear family, and their suburban life represents the new direction India took after independence. People had to move to the cities where there were jobs, and the old extended families and customs began to break down. Western education broughtWestern desires and consumerism and secularism. Most of Desai’s fiction takes place in large cities like Bombay or Delhi, which Desai describes as ugly and destructive of life, especially to sensitive souls like Ravi.
Women and Children
All this change gave rise to an educated English-speaking middle class in India that is oriented toward Western lifestyles and values. Desai had a German mother and was given a Western education. She became a voice of the modern middle-class Indian woman in her fiction, showing the inner suffering of stifled, sensitive women fighting against traditional roles in Cry, the Peacock and Fire on the Mountain. Desai champions a freer life for women but shows the cost of postcolonial shock in the families of her characters who confront the fragmentation of city life. The focus in ‘‘Games at Twilight,’’ however, is on the child. Anita Desai has written children’s books, such as Village by the Sea (1982), in which lower-class children have to support their failing family. Several stories in the collection Games at Twilight are written from a child’s point of view. Since her novels concern psychological portraits of adults, their malaise is often traced back to childhood incidents, such as Ravi’s rude awakening. Desai writes of Indian culture from a secular point of view, though she includes India’s rich religious and philosophical background in her work. Equally influenced by Western and postcolonial Indian concerns, she writes of both the breakdown of the old order and the search of her characters for a new life. Like Ravi, her characters strive to become themselves in a new and puzzling world.
Sara Constantakis, Thomas E. Barden – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 28 (2010) – Anita Desai – Published by Gale Cengage Learning.