The ideas of equality and justice from which the dominant political imaginary draws its legitimacy have never been anything other than grotesque fictions designed to secure exactly the opposite of those professed ends. –Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (2016) On December 3, 1984, a plume of deadly gas (mostly methyl isocyanate, or MIC) was released from the Union Carbide pesticide factory in Bhopal, killing an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 people instantly. The ecological legacy of this disaster—the persistent toxicity of the soil, air, and water in the region—would cause the deaths of tens of thousands of more people over the next thirty years. Regarded as the “worst industrial accident in human history,” the catastrophe in Bhopal likewise illustrates the distorted economic logic of Union Carbide’s business practices specifically, and of the neoliberal pathologies of free trade more broadly (Guha 570). Following the trenchant debt crises of the 1970s, and in compliance with the World Bank, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi would essentially “hand over the keys to the kingdom to the industrial elite and foreign capital” paving the way for what neoliberal economists have dubbed the “new India”; and corporate agriculture was among the first industries to benefit (Prashad 216). Under the aegis of “liberalization” and “free trade,” the agricultural sector would be transformed; and multinational corporations like Union Carbide would find few legal obstacles to profitable business ventures—lax safety regulations, for example, translating into increased profit. This rapacious economic model is in part the narrative burden of Indra Sinha’s (2007) picaresque novel Animal’s People. In the novel “Animal,” the titular pícaro, is an orphan whose parents were killed the night of the explosion. Owing to his mangled spine—one of many mutagenic effects of MIC in our nervous systems—he is forced to walk on his hands and feet; hence the name “Animal.” Sinha uses his grotesque form to critique both the company’s malfeasance as well as the developmentalist ethos that implicitly sanctioned such business practices—the promise of mobility a rhetorical veil for the human cost of India’s economic gains. Sinha’s deformed protagonist is a “ghoulish parody” of economic liberalization, if also a haunting remonstrance (Dionne 54). As such, I read him as a late-capitalist instantiation of the seventeenth-century memento mori tradition, an artistic movement in which pastoral landscapes were interrupted by spectral tombstones and the occasional skull—otherwise Arcadian spaces shrouded by the casualties of early modern enclosures in Europe. Animal, as I shall argue, serves a similar aesthetic and political function to works like Nicholas Poussin’s (1637) “Et in Arcadia Ego.” I shall further suggest that Sinha adopts the historically anti-humanist genre of the picaresque novel to critique both the tradition of liberal humanism from which the colonial (and corporate) subject was necessarily excluded, and to parody what have been called the “enabling fictions” of classical and neoliberalism—whether the eighteenth-century autobiography, the nineteenth-century Bildungsroman or “coming of age” tale, or the “twentieth-century development dreams” that undergirded programs like India’s “green revolution” (Elliot & Harkins; Tsing 4). While Animal’s tale alternates with that of his city and his “people”—mostly fellow citizens who bear the brunt of MIC’s long-term (if also teratogenic) effects, be they asthmatic children or lactating mothers producing poison—the novel is primarily a documentary of his survival and one that is both ruthless in its telling, and also in its form. Throughout, Sinha relies on the picaresque tropes of unreliable narration, an episodic structure, and the use of abjection to foreground what I am calling the “politics of global toxicity”: the juridical gymnastics of company shareholders and their government proxies, and the corresponding narratives that sanction these institutions whether explicitly or implicitly. The novel parodies representational strategies that augment the project of global capitalism—specifically, the liberal narrative of development—through its episodic form, and with a narrator whose mutilated body illustrates the toxic underside of industrial progress. The picaresque form has historically satirized instances of economic and political injustice beginning with the sixteenth-century Spanish tradition and its illustration of poverty and displacement in rural Salamanca; but while the itinerant “Lazarillo” (of the 1554 Lazarillo de Tormes) was similarly a product of dispossession, there was no pretense of mobility in early modern Spain. Thus, Sinha’s unique contribution is his critique of the peculiar logic of capital ascent that ignores the material substrate of labor and suffering that makes capital accumulation possible. He achieves this in part through the novel’s episodic form. Structured as a series of recordings intended for distribution to western readers, the novel asks: how does one talk of ascent or “progress” in a place like Bhopal—fictionalized as “Khaufpur” in the novel? Clearly, the notion of uplift in the aftermath of such a spectacular catastrophe is absurd; and the novel drives this point home over and again. In insisting on stagnation over and against the putative mobility evinced by more triumphalist narratives of liberal capitalism, the novel in fact illustrates a sort of distorted logic. As Pablo Mukherjee argues, the explosion and its horrific aftermath “perfectly embodies the toxic logical outcome of the contemporary mantra of globalization and development”—a mantra that extols the gospel of free markets and whose exponents care little for its human costs (162). To wit, seven years after the accident, in December of 1991, then World Bank chief economist Larry Summers wrote the following in an internal memo: “I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that” (Vallette n. pag.). As we know from numerous critics of global capitalism and development—Neil Smith, David Harvey, and others—the uneven topographies of global capitalism have long demanded a tacit acceptance that third world toxicity is the necessary cost of global development and, consequently, first world prosperity. Western progress has hinged on such global asymmetries for centuries. When Animal proclaims that “they will build factories above our graves and use our ashes as cement,” we are reminded of successive waves of dispossession that have historically been sanctioned by similar economic philosophies (Sinha 275). Accordingly, in her argument for the imbricated processes of colonial and slave labor and the rise of the first-world bourgeoisie, Lisa Lowe cast this sort of logic in similar terms, albeit in a different historical context: “… colonized workers,” she notes, “produced the material comforts and commodities that furnished the bourgeois home” (30). She further remarks in reference to the ideological conditions that enabled (and continue to enable) such uneven geographies: “The modern distinction between definitions of the human and those to whom such distinctions do not extend is the condition of possibility for Western liberalism, and not its particular exception” (3). The “comparative [dis]advantage” with which such a model inheres was both the condition of possibility in the eighteenth-century context to which Lowe refers, and its latter-day correlate in the form of new modes of colonialism practiced by multinational corporations like Carbide (Patnaik and Moyo). Despite the global fervor around the green revolution, which many argue assuaged famine in postcolonial India, the human costs of agricultural reform were and are astounding. Beyond the thousands of Bhopali citizens who continue to develop life-threatening diseases, we are now confronted with the two-fold reality of crop failure on the one hand (owing to a rather short-sighted commitment to mono-cropping), and the current epidemic of farmer suicides in rural states like Maharashtra where the mechanisms of free trade produce far more debt than food (Shiva). Adding to this, multinational corporations persist in skirting state legislation by appealing to free markets. Referring to the so-called “Maoist corridor” in Andhra Pradesh, activist and writer Arundhati Roy uses the term “Mouist corridor” to refer to the scores of memoranda of understanding (MOUs) that enable companies to prioritize market competition and profit over the welfare of local communities (25). Thus, the “horrendous logic” of corporate capitalism persists. This logic, I argue, is the ideological thrust behind Animal’s People in which the author constructs a character, who blurs the distinction between liberal definitions of the human and colonialist typologies that produce its persistent other. Sinha’s pícaro is an animal insofar as his persona evinces none of the trappings of the modern individual; or the ideal protagonist of such generic forms as the Bildungsroman, whose teleological sense of direction inheres with a sense of mobility foreclosed to people like him (Slaughter). Animal thus begins his tale: “I used to be a human once. So I’m told” (Sinha 1). Sinha’s ontologically amorphous pícaro is uniquely effective at exposing the sorts of global asymmetries that Mukherjee and Lowe describe, and which institutions like the World Bank persistently reify whether explicitly or “under cover of a free market ideology … where laws and loopholes are selectively applied in a marketplace a lot freer for some societies and classes than for others” (Nixon 46). This is because, as an animal, he cannot be the burden of what Joseph Slaughter has called “literary humanitarianism” (314). He is not human in the liberal sense of that word. He possesses neither the liberty, nor the political agency to exercise the requisite reason that such a category demands. Animal may be a hero to his “people” to the degree that he is able to fight for them, but as we see at the novel’s conclusion, the pícaro figure can only ever serve as an instrument of critique. Khaufpur will not be remediated; nor will Animal. Unlike the local plant managers, who avoided trial and thus prosecution, Animal belongs to Khaufpur’s proliferating underclass and Sinha is careful to make this distinction. The beneficiaries of India’s much-lauded development program—the “poison-wallahs” who figure as apologists in the novel—enjoy a very different fate (Sinha). As such, Animal’s character is a perfect model of postcolonial picarism. More than the wily outcast of the sixteenth-century pícaresco—“Lazarillo” or “Don Pablos” in Él Buscón—Animal suffers the particular fate of the “rogue in the postcolony” (Balkan). He is the grist of the economic system of global/late capitalism—as the erstwhile hands of empire; and he is likewise its excrement—that is, its logical product. Memento mori indeed, the novel persistently reminds the reader that death—whether the metaphorical death of liberal humanist ideals, or the literal death of the subaltern body—is always with them. As Animal remarks at the end of the novel: “tomorrow there will be more of us” (Sinha 366). Arguably, postcolonial literature may serve such a purpose tout court—the postcolonial other serving as a reminder to western readers of the costs of “imperial liberalism”; but Sinha’s novel bears little resemblance to the narrative realism of popular Anglophone works like V.S. Naipaul’s A Bend in the River or Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance (Prashad). Animal’s People explicitly marshals the trope of the memento mori to drive home a particular point about dispossession. Sinha’s readers are directly confronted with the material consequences of their bourgeois complacency; as with Poussin’s tomb, Animal’s deformed figure is a corporeal reminder, and one that insists on being seen. “Like … most picaros,” Animal is “sacrificed to the ‘better’ society … celebrated in ‘great men’ historical narratives”—the sorts of stories that obscure the fact of labor and suffering in their triumphalist tales of modern progress, or “development” broadly conceived (Maiorino 113; Robbins). Adding to this, the arc of his character—framed as it is by “now-o-clock”—is a parody of the liberal pretense toward development, which is to be found in more aspirational genres: “Look, over there are the roofs of the Nutcracker. Know what time it’s there? Now o’clock, always now o’clock. In the Kingdom of the Poor, time doesn’t exist” (Sinha 185). This too is a stock convention of the picaresque novel—its episodic nature allowing for a temporal refutation of more teleological forms. Animal aspires to little other than carnal satisfaction: “My name is Animal, I say. ‘I’m not a fucking human being, I’ve no wish to be one’” (Sinha 23). He has no faith, and little sympathy. He, as did Lazarillo before him, survives on his wit and “pays his obeisance to bread, and not god” (Alter 5–6). Animal chastises his peer’s religious faith remarking: “us animals, our religion’s eating, drinking … the basic stuff you do to survive” (Sinha 88). If the “grotesque fictions” of western liberalism offer up “humanist similes [that point] toward divinity,” Animal’s People instead conjures “… antihumanist analogies that [favor] elementary forms of survival” (Ghosh; Maiorino 22). In this way Animal is a perfect rogue—a pícaro par excellence; and he likewise serves as a stunning indictment to those who would continue to preach the gospel of development in places like Sinha’s fictional Khaufpur. Despite former president Bush’s contention that “democracy, development, free markets and free trade … [will] lift whole societies out of poverty,” the mechanisms of free trade as practiced by companies like Union Carbide, or Monsanto and Cargill for that matter, have certainly proven otherwise (Harvey 5). This is precisely why I read Sinha’s pícaro as a memento mori figure—a Faustian specter in an otherwise palatable narrative of western progress. Less than a facile reminder to the reader of his own mortality, Animal embodies the economic logic that Summers extols, and that Lowe and Mukherjee critique. He likewise evinces the aesthetic logic that has produced this sort of character over and over again. The farmer magically extracted from Virgil’s landscape, the nineteenth-century laborer removed from Jane Austen’s countryside, or the displaced slum-dweller lingering just beyond the utopian cities of the “new India,” is bodied forth in the figure of Sinha’s irreverent and utterly grotesque rogue. Animal is an abject reminder of the human cost of economic and ecological imperialism; and his tale forces the ideological and epistemological bases of liberalism into sharp focus. Liberal narratives of individual progress or social development are foreclosed, because Animal cannot be properly situated at the origin of such fictions. Thus, the novel’s coup de grâce is perhaps its parodic deployment of the picaresque convention of autobiographical narration—what Claudio Guillén calls its “pseudo-autobiographical” nature. The novel mocks this “emancipatory trope” in rather clever ways to expose the sorts of “grotesque fictions” that typically rely on human suffering and environmental devastation (Aravamudan 235). Animal’s tale is in fact a superb “pseudo-autobiography”: he narrates his story into a series of tapes for the western “Eyes” that he imagines listening to them—the journalists and other “vultures” that prey on what Sinha characterizes as poverty porn. As Animal remarks: “Somewhere a bad thing happens, tears like rain in the wind, and look, here you come, drawn by the smell of blood” (Sinha 5). But rather than offer them blood, Animal proceeds to mock the very idea of such a narration with a series of perverse asides, outright lies, and even a vulgar nursery rhyme or two. He will not allow the western imagination to produce another “poison victim,” whose salvation hinges on their sympathy—an exchange, we should recall, governed by the same neoliberal logic espoused by Summers. The “impeccable … logic” for which Summers notoriously argued directly undergirds the strangely parallel relationship between Animal and the “Eyes.” So too does it bolster the sorts of economic practices that have historically produced figures like Animal: Summers’s “impeccable logic” in fact recalls the colonial logic of such liberal thinkers as John Stuart Mill, whose notion of liberty looked rather different in the context of Bengal during his tenure for the East India Company. As such, places like Khaufpur succinctly illustrate the shadow of both early and more recent modes of what Vijay Prashad aptly calls “imperial liberalism” (14). As with eighteenth-century Bengal where Mill would argue for the beneficence of the colonial occupation—the devastation of India’s peasantry a reasonable cost for England’s civilizing mission—twentieth-century Bhopal would also exist in a necessarily subordinate economic relationship to Delhi, if also Washington (Robson et al.). But while “[c]olonized peoples [then and now] created the conditions for liberal humanism,” European political philosophy has persistently disavowed the uneven topographies of global capitalism (Lowe 39). Before Mill would apply a utilitarian calculus to justify Indian dispossession, John Locke would famously proffer a theory of “improvement”—whether of land or persons—that all but sanctioned colonial violence. Of course, and more germane to a discussion of Sinha’s postcolonial picaresque, we might consider how the social contracts penned by Locke and also Jean-Jacques Rousseau laid the groundwork for a particular narrative form: emanating in a primordial “state of nature” from which the modern subject would necessarily emerge, Rousseau’s 1862 Social Contract was a Bildungsroman par excellence. So too did it mirror its generic contemporary, the autobiography—also an exponent of liberal capitalism when we consider the narrative telos of such canonical exemplars as that of Olaudah Equiano, whose capital enfranchisement was by necessity the presumed outcome of his eighteenth-century aspirations (Lowe). The social contracts logically prefigured the narrative traditions of the autobiography and coming-of-age tales as well as such “enabling fictions” as those promoted by late-capitalist development initiatives—those of the IMF and the World Bank, for example, in the form of economic policy. Such narratives necessarily begin in poverty (or, in the parlance of the IMF, “under-development”) and culminate in a narrowly construed mode of liberty, which is available only to a select few. Obviously, persons like Animal cannot count among those select few, lest institutions like the World Bank wish to suffer economically; hence Sinha’s explicit repudiation of such a conventionally liberal Bildung. At the end of the novel when faced with the option of corrective surgery—surely a metaphor for economic uplift—Animal refuses. The ending, I would argue, is a brilliant means of skewering farcical narratives about social mobility that have historically relied on the dispossession of figures like Animal—Sinha’s pícaro a precise embodiment of a sort of social death (Patterson). Animal as Memento Mori Animal’s character is redolent with the political resonances of earlier aesthetic traditions—the pastoral, the picturesque—in which figures like Thomas Gainsborough’s “little dirty subjects,” or the images of low life foregrounded in the early picaresque novels played a similar role: their marginalization was a necessary condition for the emergent bourgeois subject (Bermingham; Greenblatt). Contemporary picaresque novels serve a similar end: the rogue in the postcolony is a reminder of the conditions from which the modern subject emerges and out of which his progress is made possible. This is what has been called the transversality of the rogue figure. Here, “the modern subject and the rogue occupy a transversal plane in which both are necessary logical conditions” (Balkan 198). Perhaps the most stunning model of transversality, however, is to be found in the memento mori tradition in which paintings of similarly imagined utopian spaces—not unlike Locke’s edenic America and, more recently, the “neoliberal utopia” evinced by imagined projections of New Delhi—are haunted by the specter of death (Ahmed). In Guercino’s “Et in Arcadia Ego,” not unlike Poussin’s, the Arcadian fantasy is interrupted by the presence of a skull. In this particular composition, the skull conjures the seventeenth-century reality of displacement and expulsion produced by early modern enclosures in Europe. Poussin would simply replace the skull with a tomb. Arguably, the “home” that Animal cultivates out of the detritus of the Union Carbide factory is a tomb of a different sort—the abandoned “Kampani” as illustrated in the novel functioning itself as a sort of mausoleum. We might even argue that Sinha deploys the trope of the memento mori to invite closer scrutiny of the imperial geographies of empire for which Animal’s world functions as a form of synecdoche. That the “Nutcracker” slum where Animal’s people live is crafted out of the remains of the factory is of course symbolic; but, more than this, Animal lives within its crumbling walls—using its discarded records as a blanket no less. He describes the “silent spring” within the abandoned factory thus: “No bird song. No hoppers in the grass. No bee hum. Insects can’t survive here. Wonderful poisons the Kampani made, so good its impossible to get rid of them, after all these years they’re still doing their work” (Carson; Sinha 29). It is also worth mentioning that Sinha draws his own Arcadia explicitly. In an image that succinctly recalls Poussin’s, he tells us: A little way off, across the tracks and near the factory wall, is a falling down tower of stone with grass growing out of its walls. Some bigwig built it hundreds of years ago, in those days the factory lands were orchards. It was maybe a tomb, no one knows its purpose, when the poison factory came and threw its wall around the orchards, this ruin was left outside. (43) There is no shortage of images of what we might call the “structure of feeling” of enclosure and displacement, which is succinctly captured in the memento mori tradition (Williams, Marxism and Literature). Translated literally as “remember that you must die,” such images remind the viewer that their imaginative pleasure hinges on the persistence of such violent modes of erasure as those which enabled the production of pastoral verse, picturesque landscapes, and more recent efforts toward “beautification” as were practiced in Indira’s India, or Manmohan Singh’s in which he promised a city that was “Delhi-ciously Yours.” The tradition of emptying landscapes of labor (and of poverty) for our imaginative pleasure absolutely persists in our global imagination, as does the correlative anxiety, which is wrought from a similarly exploitative economic model—the surfeit of recent picaresque novels attesting to similar anxieties. In his classic account of nostalgia, false Arcadianism, and the pastoral tradition—The Country and the City (1973)—Raymond Williams walks the reader through poetic versions of the golden age fallacy beginning with Virgil. Williams effectively demonstrates (with an exhaustive series of works) that the “green language” of the pastoral tradition enacted a violent erasure of rural subjectivity, or what Alan Vardy has described as a form of aesthetic enclosure. Against the sorts of magical erasures cited above, Williams’s project recuperates the “fact of labor” in the landscape; he reminds his readers that the pastoral frame had never existed without the correlative disposal of persons like John Clare, or Krishna Kalamb to cite a more recent example. Arguably, Sinha’s novel, like Clare’s or Kalamb’s poetry, likewise exposes the lie of such aesthetic enclosures. Far from masking the imperial imaginary of global capitalism, the narrative terrain of Animal’s People conjures what we might call a sort of late-capitalist heterotopia. The novel presents multiple sites—“Khaufpur,” “Amrika,” and Coatesville, Georgia—whose remote geographies are sutured by both global capital flows and the toxic byproducts of the global commodity exchange. As the story of a “half-outsider,” Animal’s narrative keeps the disparate sites of this particular exchange—of pesticides, of steel, of poison, and of human lives—in tension (Guillen). In this way, the novel also (and rather effectively) casts light on the material inequities that sustain what Edward Soja has called the “postmodern geographies” of late capitalism—that is, the “contemporary restructuring of capitalist spatiality” (159). Additionally, and evocative of Stacy Alaimo’s notion of “trans-corporeality,” the novel also illustrates an interconnected ecology, which further disrupts normative borders—here the onto-epistemologies that undergird the imperial qua liberal imaginary. The novel directly challenges conceptions of the human, while also posing new questions concerning biopolitics and suggesting a sort of “radical materialism” (Dawson). As an example, instead of counterpoising the “poison-house” against a living landscape, Sinha collapses the two sites: “Look throughout this place a silent war is being waged. Mother Nature’s trying to take back the land. Wild sandalwood trees have arrived, who knows how, must be their seeds were shat by overflying birds … Under the poison-house trees are growing up through the pipework” (Sinha 31). In this portrait of a defiant local ecology, the author endows the natural landscape with a peculiar because unfamiliar sort of agency—a natural resistance that undermines the arbitrarily established borders of the corporation as well as the state. This dissolution of any clear lines of demarcation is quite productive: like the amorphous figure of the principal character, the terrain itself resists easy categorization. Such scenes (of which there are several in the novel) also seem to critique aesthetic renderings of “nature”—pastoral, picturesque, etc.—that persistently deny the human and nonhuman presences that interrupt our imaginative pleasure. It is this particular critique that helps Sinha to establish what Rob Nixon would call an “environmental picaresque.” That is, the novel is not merely an instantiation of the picaresque form, but is according to Nixon somewhat sui generis: Sinha, argues Nixon, “singlehandedly” invented the genre of the environmental picaresque by deploying classic picaresque tropes in the service of exposing the sorts of environmental violence that we see in places like Bhopal (46). Most notable is certainly Sinha’s manipulation of linear time which, Nixon argues, effectively duplicates the material and affective resonances of environmental violence—a violence whose temporal schema resists normative representation. “Time in paradise …” Animal tells us, inheres with “the deep time when there was no difference between anything” (Sinha 352). Of course “paradise” here refers to the slum “covered in shit and plastic” where “Animal’s people” lived (Sinha 106). Thus, picaresque indictment is transformed into tragic parody: more than a comic retelling of the exploits of the pícaro, here we see that the “Nutcracker” is a filthy place where Animal and his “people” must survive despite a dearth of clean water and other life-sustaining resources. The strange timelessness of the picaresque form—in Lazarillo, in Animal’s People, and elsewhere—has historically evoked the relentless present of the rogue, not the dreamy landscapes of more optimistic fictions. The picaresque novel thus serves a more material end—what Giancarlo Maiorino would also call its “econopoetics.” As Animal remarks: “there is no night and day, only a vast hunger through which suns wheel, and moons wane and wax and have no meaning” (Sinha 186). By suturing the narrative with such corporeal desires—hunger over and against the loftier goals of the traditional hero and his “starry skies”—Animal tells a very different tale (Lukacs 29). As in the picaresque tradition more broadly, “the acquisition of food weighs on matters of artistic representation” (Maiorino 23). But the issue of time in Sinha’s novel has already been sufficiently taken up by Nixon, whose stunning critique—his “Neoliberalism, Slow Violence, and the Environmental Picaresque”—links the novel’s protagonist to the 1554 “Lazarillo” through such conventions as its nonlinear structure, which he argues is a perfect means of illustrating “slow violence.” Nixon comments on the usefulness of nonlinearity for arresting the reader in the grotesque present of Bhopal—abjection here an aesthetic means of conjuring the particular condition of the pícaro in the Global South, and a tactic that was likewise employed in Lazarillo. In what follows, I read Animal accordingly; but I eschew an exhaustive discussion of time owing to Nixon’s thorough treatment of this aspect of the novel. I will simply add that Sinha’s manipulation of time—the recurrent motif of “now-o-clock,” which recalls Salman Rushdie’s “tick-tock,” but in an even more sardonic homage to the violence of imperial teleologies—is a significant subversion of the aspirational tale of liberal ascent. Here, Sinha literally petrifies and protracts a single significant moment so as to render imaginatively the quarter-century long legacy of Union Carbide in central India. Despite his constant disavowal of the primacy of “that night” as a marker of identity, it is nonetheless the temporal anchor of the novel. And the format—the episodically narrated series of tapes—allows for the reader to stay stuck in time. In this way, it is a superb “environmental picaresque” in so far as the reader is not able to bracket such forms of environmental violence. The explosion, the court case, the sickness … is never ending. We are stuck with Animal in its persistent present. As Animal also tells us: “hope dies in places like this, because hope lives in the future and there’s no future here” (Sinha 185). I am interested here, though, in arguing for the rogue figure as a sort of antithesis to the liberal hero—a grotesque figure, who represents the “people of the Apokalis,” and the “kingdom of the poor” (Sinha 63, 172). A Faustian specter indeed, one of Animal’s “people” asks the Kampani lawyer quite presciently: “Mr. Lawyer, we lived in the shadow of your factory, you told us you were making medicine for the fields. You were making poisons to kill insects, but you killed us instead. I would like to ask, was there ever much difference, to you?” (Sinha 306). She likewise asks: “Is Khaufpur the only poisoned city?” (Sinha 296). The latter question gestures toward the larger matrix of global capitalism in which the uneven topographies of economic development have created many Khaufpurs. The closing line—“We are the people of the Apokalis. Tomorrow there will be more of us”—is more than a revenge fantasy (Sinha 366). It is a clear indication that, despite the promises of western liberalism in the form of development, or progress, tomorrow there will surely be more casualties like Animal. Perhaps then, an even more chilling comment would be “Tomorrow, tomorrow, I want to cancel tomorrow” (Sinha 277). As memento mori, the novel forces a consideration of such shadows of imperial liberalism as the aborted fetuses that likewise figure in the novel—a grotesque manipulation of the oft-cited trope of “midnight’s children.” The “Kha in the jar,” who Animal befriends, tells him: “I am the egg of nature, which ignorant and arrogant men have spoiled” (Sinha 139). The Kha is literally an aborted fetus housed in a jar in a government clinic—an “egg” of a despoiled nature that such arrogant men as the “poison minister” and the Kampani managers have produced. Mukherjee also comments that “Animal and Kha mirror each other in that they have both been placed beyond the pale of normative humanity by the Kampani’s poison gas”—the Kha, though, an even more terrifying illustration of the company’s grotesque logic (153). The Kha evinces, to a great extent, the structure of feeling of what we might call a sort of neoliberal Arcadianism—a perverted longing for a mode of life that explicitly requires the erasure of such local subjects as the “Kha in the jar,” not to mention Animal himself. The Kha in the jar, and perhaps even more than Animal, is a succinct physical manifestation of the distorted logic to which I alluded at the outset of this essay. The local minister tells the American doctor “Elli,” who had come to Khaufpur under humanitarian pretenses: “Please don’t think worse of me if I tell you the truth. Those poor people never had a chance. If it had not been the factory it would have been cholera, TB, exhaustion, hunger. They would have died anyway” (Sinha 153). As is made evident by such comments, the company’s failures “were more than callous oversights; they were practices that illuminate the structural logic of the corporation’s existence in India” (Mukherjee 140). Animal's People and the Politics of Global Toxicity Animal’s People illuminates why real protests (in Bhopal and elsewhere) feature local residents comparing former Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson to Osama bin Laden; but the novel’s treatment of the fictional community’s protest is more complicated. It attests to the tricky politics of resistance in which, as his character Zafar recurrently notes, residents must find strength in having nothing. Zafar, who is an activist in the community but with no personal ties there, implores people to marshal their desperation into political action. This, he does, through such modes of resistance as hunger strikes and a proposed boycott of a new clinic, whose origins are unknown—some opining that it might be a response by the company to charges of criminal behavior, and thus a way of saving face. Zafar, who befriends Animal and employs him in the service of the movement, is one of many complicated figures in the novel—the liberal intellectual, whose elite education separates him from subjects like Animal, but whose (more) local origins distinguish him from such well-intentioned liberals as the foreign “Amrikan doctress … Elli.” Animal is also counterpoised against figures like Somraj, a former singer whose lungs were so charred “that night” that he can no longer sing, and who, like Animal, also lost his family—aside from Nisha, his daughter and Animal’s muse. Consequently, he looks for music in the many mundane elements around him—frogs, the creaking of rickshaws, and so forth. Music, for Somraj, is a salve. It offers a “promise,” an alternative logic that defies the logic of the company and the logic of those who protest the company’s violence with different versions of their own (Sinha). Somraj’s character—along with Animal’s, Zafar’s, and also Elli’s—constitutes an element of the increasingly tangled mosaic of resistance and revolution that has been deployed over time against the company, and whose tactics repeatedly come into question as each ultimately fails. Animal, who sees no folly in violence—in contradistinction to Zafar’s resilience, and Somraj’s and Farouq’s faith—stands apart. And his tactics—the accidental burning of the factory toward the end of the novel for example—also seem an omniscient wink at the reader that sometimes violence necessarily begets violence. Of course, Animal’s form also reminds the reader that justice is not merely an acknowledgement of past wrongs: “justice should involve the Kampani facing trial” (Rickel 103). In this way, the novel is certainly more complicated than what I have argued is its Spanish progenitor. Sure, like Lazarillo, Animal knows that only as a huckster would he survive. And both have no illusions about god, or innate human goodness. Both also symbolize the anti-humanist discourse of the picaresque tradition, whose burden is the poverty and suffering of those for whom survival takes primacy over such false promises as social justice. But, and quite significantly, there are clear differences between Animal’s People and Lazarillo de Tormes. The latter was a closed fiction in which the pícaro’s narration was much more tightly circumscribed by his subjective experiences. Animal’s People is a far more expansive story, with a host of different storylines—that of the Kampani of course, but also of the complicated local politics of Khaufpur. We learn much of characters like Nisha, Zafar, and also Farouq—their varied religious and philosophical beliefs, etc. Sinha offers frequent comments on their Hindu and Muslim affiliations, noting that such distinctions are not relevant to the fight for justice—perhaps a nod to the false notions of national solidarity, which are continually marshaled against India’s poorer castes. And finally, Animal’s narrative arc also departs in some ways from the classic picaresque form. He meditates on his own humanity—“if they kill me, what will die?”—as he experiences shame and love and pain (Sinha 313). Lazarillo embodies no such emotions. Thus, there is a progressive Bildung in regards to Animal’s affective states, which contradicts common descriptions of the pícaro figure, who is generally reducible to a mere instrument for political critique. Mukherjee also raises the issue of genre arguing that the novel is actually “an echo of [the] stylistics of north Indian classical musical performance” (162). He reads “Animal’s traumatized imaginings about the night of the accident as the notes arranged … to create a raga of, as Animal calls it, bhayanak rasa – the mood of terror” (162). Mukherjee thus aligns the Sinha novel with a sixteenth century Indian tradition, and not any Spanish one. Commenting on the leitmotif of music in the novel and the significance of Somraj’s character, he further remarks: “As Animal sees it, a major task of his story is to convey this mood of sheer terror to his audience. In this – and it is clear by the term that he uses – he is very much like an Indian classical singer whose task is to pitch his melody and rhythm to express or evoke certain moods or rasas” (157). I wonder, though, if we cannot accept that Animal’s “raga” is both a metaphor for an alternative mode of order—an alternative to both the dislogic of the Kampani’s murderous business practices, and to the liberal ideology that understands the term “human” in rather limited ways—while also an instantiation of the picaresque form. That is, I argue that we can read the novel as a postcolonial picaresque, which illustrates the emergent realities of neoliberal capitalism as well as the residual cultural practices of both the classical Indian raga, and the Spanish picaresque novel. This, it seems, is what Maureen Moynaugh meant by her comment, in the context of the Nigerian picaresque, regarding “the re-emergence of a picaresque sensibility … to explore and to protest the socio-political conditions that produce a new kind of rogue” (51). We might also consider that the picaresque form is an incredibly generative means of socioeconomic critique. This is certainly the case in Animal’s People even if we are to read it as a descendant of local aesthetic forms. The novel is absolutely a critique of both the neoliberal logic that would produce such figures as Animal, and of the larger matrix of global capitalism in which the structure of liberal humanitarianism effectively veils the transnational economic relationships that have in fact produced many Bhopals. To return again to Williams, if the dominant cultural ethos promotes a narrowly imagined sense of development or “uplift,” I read the emergent aesthetic tradition of the postcolonial picaresque as its logical counter. Like Lazarillo before him Animal is evocative of the itinerant subject produced not by any “transcendental homelessness,” but by a particular way of being in the world (Lukacs 41). In the era of late capitalism, the “faceless average” evoked by Lazarillo emerges as so many “Animals”—a phenomenon that arises as new cycles of primitive accumulation produce ever more Bhopals (Maiorino 74). Of course, we must take seriously arguments like Mukherjee’s; there is certainly a risk in such generic pronouncements. As Peter Hitchcock would also argue: “Too often genre is an alibi of cultural integration, a mode in which the African novel, for instance, is celebrated precisely because its ‘local color’ is rendered in a recognizable form” (323). But it is not my intention to gloss the novel in this way. I argue, rather, that Animal (as “faceless average”) is uniquely effective in conjuring a new sort of proletariat owing precisely to Sinha’s nuanced adaptation of the pícaro’s tale. In this sense, the novel may be situated in a burgeoning canon—that of similarly picaresque novels, which have lately captured the experiences of persons displaced across the Global South.2 Tomorrow, There Will be More of Us! Any distinctions notwithstanding, Animal’s tale ends like Lazarillo’s: both find love amidst the squalor of their lives. But while Lazarillo’s tale ends in resignation, Animal’s ends in triumph—that is, Animal’s People culminates in a strange sort of revenge. Toward the end of the novel, after Zafar and Farouq have endured days of their hunger fast, and while the Kampani lawyers persist in their arrogance, Animal unknowingly causes a fire in the factory that reproduces (to a far lesser extent of course) the conditions of “that night.” After ingesting the very pills that he had earlier used to poison Zafar in a futile attempt at suicide, Animal spins out into a hallucinatory frenzy during which he first starts the fire and then finds himself in the forest in fits of hysteria. Here, Sinha relies on a bit of magic to convey Animal’s coming into consciousness. The passage is reminiscent of the strangely miasmic aura of the Sundarbans in Rushdie’s 1981 Midnight’s Children—also a picaresque indictment, although of a different (but equally dubious) coming of age. But India’s “tryst with destiny” in 1984 was quite different from that of 1947 (Nehru, “Tryst”). And the revenge fantasy that Sinha creates at the end of the novel is not the sort that we see in Rushdie. After the fast is ended, the Kampani lawyers resume their discussions, and the citizens of Khaufpur know the outcome. Justice will not be served, and so a bit of “poetic justice” is instead delivered: They had begun their arguing and haggling when without warning their eyes began to sting. An evil burning sensation began in their noses and throats, a little like the smoke of burning chillies, it caught nastily in the throat, it seared the lungs, they were coughing, but coughing made it ten times worse. Something was in the room, something uninvited, an invisible fire, by the time they had realized this is was already too late. These big shot politicians and lawyers, they got up in a panic, they reeled around, retching, everything they did just made the pain worse. Tears streamed from their eyes, hardly could they see. One of the lawyers was trying to vomit, the rest of them ran in panic. They rushed from the room, jostling in the doorway each man for himself, the buffalo it seems being too bulky to rush, was left behind while the others scrambled to save their skins. These Kampani heroes, these politicians, they were shitting themselves, they thought they were dying, they thought they’d been attacked with the same gas that leaked on that night, and every man there knew exactly how horrible the depths of those who breathed the Kampani’s poisons. (Sinha 360–1) Poetic justice would have to suffice, because, as we learn in the novel, “gone” indeed are the days “when the starry skies are the map of all possible paths” (Lukacs 29). Here instead, “the heartless stars glitter like knives above the city” (Sinha 327). And so, the ending is to be expected: Eyes, what else can I tell you? Life goes on. It will take time, so we’re told, to appoint a new judge in the case, the hearing’s again been postponed, the Kampani’s still trying to find ways to avoid appearing …. There is still sickness all over Khaufpur … the factory is still there, blackened by fire it’s, but the grass is growing again, and the charred jungle is pushing out green shoots. Moons play hide and seek in the pipework of the poison-khana still the foreign jarnaliss come. (Sinha 365) But true to form, Animal punctuates this tragic fact—told with the signature wit and resignation of his character—with a nod to Lazarillo: he takes his wife, and accepts his fate. And he promises the eyes to whom he has narrated his tale: “We are the people of the Apokalis. Tomorrow there will be more of us” (Sinha 366). As if to confirm the deadly truth of the novel, and the role of the form—a picaresque memento mori that reminds us that there are in fact many Bhopals—Animal beseeches the eyes thus: “Remember me. All things pass, but the poor remain” (Sinha 366). Acknowledgments I would like to thank Ashley Dawson, Robert Reid-Pharr, Alan Vardy, Siraj Ahmed, Tobyn De Marco, Micheal Rumore, Gary Rothbard, Wendy Tronrud, and Kelly Keane for their invaluable comments. Footnotes 1 In his critique of Animal’s People, Pablo Mukherjee cites the “politics of environmental toxicity” (“Dead Air” 134). In substituting “global,” I refer to a global apartheid system that thrives on the persistent dispossession of places like Bhopal. 2 In Patrick Chamoiseau’s 1992 picaresque novel Texaco, the author describes the displaced communities of Fort du France (Martinique) as a “new proletariat without factories and without work.” Similar postcolonial picaresque novels that critique neoliberal private property regimes and forced displacement include Chris Abani’s 2004 petro-picaresque novel GraceLand and Aravind Adiga’s 2008 The White Tiger. 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ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 6, 2018
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