Identity construction in Rohinton Mistry’s short stories “Lend me your Light” and “Swimming Lessons”

Looking for light in-between Bombay and Toronto

Term Paper, 2012

17 Pages, Grade: 2,3



Table of Contents
1) Introduction ... 3
2) Main Part ... 4
2.1) Theories ... 4
2.2) Theories applied on the story ... 5
2.2.1) Présence Parsianne ... 6
2.2.2) Présence Indienne ... 7
2.2.3) Présence Européenne ... 7
2.2.4) Présence Américaine ... 9
2.3) Kersi as an hybrid identity ... 10
3) Conclusion ... 11
3.1) Hybridity as a problem ... 11
3.2) Hybridity as a resource ... 13
Bibliography ... 16

Globalization is one of those terms which are used quite inflationary in these times.
Regardless which area one is looking at, it doesn't matter if speaking for instance of economy,
communication or education, it seems like every sector of our post-modern world is shaped
by globalization. But how does this process influence our lives as an individual human being,
as an identity? In his short-story "Lend me your Light", which is part of the short-story cycle
"Taales of Firozsha Baag", Rohinton Mistry descibes the life of a young man, who emigrates
from India to Canada. Even before arriving at his new home, the protagonist has a bad feeling
concerning his future.
But as I slept on my last night in Bombay a searing pain in my eyes woke me up. It was one
o´clock. I bathed my eyes and tried to get back to sleep. Half-jokingly, I saw myself as
someone out of a Greek tragedy, guilty of the sin of hubris for seeking emigration out of the
land of my birth, and paying the price in burnt-out eyes: I, Tiresias, blind and throbbing
between two lives, the one in Bombay and the one to come in Toronto (Mistry 217).
Kersi, the main character, member of the Parsi community, grew up in an apartment
building in Bombay, India, went to an English school, listened to My fair lady in his youth
and emigrated to Canada. In order to bring light to the question what causes Kersi to have
problems with his eye-sight and to examine if he really resembles Tiresias the following term
paper tries to analyze the protagonist's identity.
Therefore in the first part of the body several postcolonial concepts of identity
construction are explained and in a second step applied on the first part of the story which
deals with Kersi´s past until he emigrates to Canada. Inspired by Stuart Halls article "Cultural
Identity and Diaspora" different influences Kersi is exposed to are examined in detail and in
the end their consequences on his process of identity construction are summarized. The
conclusion intends to answer the questions if Kersi really resembles Tiresias and what causes
Kersi to have problems with his eye sight. Therefore Kersi is compared to Tiresias, another
hybrid identity he feels similar to. It is shown that he, in contrast to the classical figure, does
not use hybridity as a resource but suffers from it. With this background it is then possible to
explain what causes Kersi to have problems with his eye-sight. On one hand this is shown by
looking at the metaphor of eye-sight in detail and on the other hand by analyzing the life he
leads in Canada. Secondly and finally it is shown how Kersi finally accepts hybridity as a
resource, opens up again and tries to become part of the Canadian society. Therefore first it is
shown how this is depicted in the story and what is important to successfully `dive` into a new
culture and how it works to be an hybrid identity. Another character of the story who is not
looking for light anymore but already enlightened is used an example for that. In the very end

it is referred back to the theories introduced in the beginning. The termpaper concludes with a
few words on identity construction in general in postmodern times.
2) Main Part
2.1) Theories
In the Oxford Dictionary individual identity is defined as "the sameness of a person or fact
that a person or thing is itself and not something else" (Oxford English Dictionary 620). But
how does this work in detail, how is it guaranteed that "a person is itself" and how is identity
constructed? The following paragraph intends to answer the questions of how and for what
purpose identity is constructed, why it underlies permanent transformation and which
consequences this leads to.
In his article "New Ethnicities" cultural theorist Stuart Hall stresses that identity is
politically, historically and culturally constructed by society. According to him several factors
like class, gender, race, sexuality and ethnicity shape identity. But he also stresses, that
identity is never fixed, is rather a process of repositioning than the essence of a person and
therefore permanently under revision and permanently being modified and reconstructed (cf.
Hall Ethnicities 225-226).
Another cultural theorist, Edward Said tells us more about the motives for identity
construction. He puts emphasis on the fact that positioning oneself and thereby locating
oneself in society always requires setting oneself apart from other people. Thus he argues we
create an other to define ourselves. Therefore binary oppositions are used to describe
ourselves as everything the other is not. So for example by describing India as dark, wild and
dangerous the West represents itself as bringer of light and ambassador of civilization and by
doing so actually rather defines itself than the East. Said concludes, identity construction in
this context served the purpose to justify the colonial hierarchical construct of the superior
West and the inferior rest (cf. McLeod 40-43).
But it would be too easy to define identity only by contrasting images, only by either
including or excluding. Depending on the surroundings, for example time, place and situation,
frontiers are shifted and identity defined differently (cf. Hall Identity 396). In his article "la
différance" cultural theorist Derrida developed a model which helps to overcome thinking in
binary opposition and shows how to define difference which cannot be described as ,,pure
otherness." (Hall Identity 397) Therefore he creates the new term ,,differance", formed out of
the two French verbs defer which means to shift and differ which is equally used in English.

Combining the meaning of those two words Derrida exactly captures the variety of meanings
which are important to fully understand the concept of difference for identity construction.
Derrida constructs a new word which differs from its old form but without completely erasing
its former meaning (cf. Hall Identity 397). One could say that the meaning of the old word is
"deferred" (Hall Identity 397). The same idea can be applied on identity, it is always being
deferred and thereby different to its old meaning but nevertheless still shaped by its former
concepts .
To sum up, it can be said that identities are constructed by an ongoing process of
repositioning, are defined by setting themselves apart from others with the help of binary
oppositions but cannot only be thought in binary oppositions because their construction also
depends on situation and former concepts of identities and thereby identities are multilayered.
Theories applied on the story
The short-story "Lend me your Light" constantly jumps between India and Canada
and thereby invites the reader to simplify and think in binary oppositions. The following part
of this term paper therefore intends to show the complexity of identity construction and its
consequences for the individual human being especially in diaspora situations when multiple
influences come together like it is the case for our protagonist Kersi.
In the article "Cultural Identity and Diaspora" Hall shows which influences were
important for the formation of Jamaican identity by splitting it up into several layers, which
he calls présences, a term Hall adopted from Aime Césaire and Leopold Senghor. Hall
separately writes about each of those présences to better grasp and understand Jamaican
identity as a whole (cf. Hall Identity 398-402). In the same way Hall differentiates between
different layers of Jamaican identity, the following paragraph is supposed to examine the
identity of main character Kersi. As we will see Kersi is Indian and not Indian, European and
not European, Canadian and not Canadian, Parsi and not Parsi at the same time. Referring to
Stuart Hall's ,,Cultural Identity and Diaspora" Kersi's identity can be thought as being
constructed out of four different présences; Présence Parsiaine, Présence Européenne,
Présence Indienne and Présence Américaine.
I am fully aware of the fact that Hall uses this concept to analyze the identity of a
whole culture whereas this term paper is mainly concerned with the identity of a single human
being. But what matters is that both are shaped by their hybridity, this is what Hall's model
concentrates on and hence I decided to analyze Kersi with the help of the model of various
présences. Therefore in the following paragraphs it is first shown which présences can be

found in our story, how they can be characterized and what part they play in the story before
in the end all of those observations are brought together in order to better understand the
identity and problems of our main character Kersi.
Présence Parsianne is probably the most problematic term to explain. One might think
that this Présence does not play a big role in our story because neither Kersi nor the other
main characters, his brother Percy and his childhood friend Jamshed, are consciously trying to
represent the Parsi. On the other hand all of them grew up with Parsi parents, thereby
traditional Parsi stories and beliefs where omnipresent in their lives and became base of their
Parsi identity as such is strongly marked by flight, diaspora and the experience of
being excluded. Members of the Parsi had to flee and look for a new home several times
throughout history. They lived in diaspora from Iran under Hindus as a result of Muslim
oppression. Also the Parsi had to live in diaspora under the Muslims oppression in India and
later under British rule (cf. Bharucha 28-31). Subsequently they have a very pragmatic
approach to life, so for example after the British invasion the Parsi, who understood
themselves in first line as businessmen, did not mind letting their children be missionized in
Christian missionary schools in order to support their relationship with the new leaders. As a
result of that they became mediators between Indians and English colonizers, but where later
on discriminated again by the Indians because of their close connection to the former
Although the Parsi actively took part in the Indian struggle for independence and still
play an important role for Indian society they lost their elite status gained under British rule
and had to live again at the margins of Indian society. Some of the Parsi like our protagonist
and his friend Jamshed therefore decided to immigrate to start a better life elsewhere (cf.
Batra 118-123). But as in India where they were "called crow eaters" (Batra 122) and seen as
the other because of their White Caucasian background, they were also othered in Western
countries (cf. Bharucha 55). As Hall stresses in article "The West and the Rest" which he also
alludes to in his essay on "Cultural Identity and Diaspora" when analyzing Jamaican identity
(cf. Hall Identity 396), the West does not differentiate between Parsi, Indians and Pakistanis,
Non-Europeans are only seen as the East, only seen as the other (cf. Hall West and the Rest
Excerpt out of 17 pages


Identity construction in Rohinton Mistry’s short stories “Lend me your Light” and “Swimming Lessons”
Looking for light in-between Bombay and Toronto
University of Göttingen
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Globalization, Economy, Communication, Literature, Lend me your Light, Education, Identity, Rohinton Mistry, Swimming Lessons
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Anonymous, 2012, Identity construction in Rohinton Mistry’s short stories “Lend me your Light” and “Swimming Lessons”, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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