The Strand of Hair: An Anglo-Indian reading of Cauvery Madhavan’s The Tainted


  • Keith Butler


There is a 11th-century Indian collection of short stories in Kathasaritsagara by Somadeva (Wikipedia) where a fastidious man sleeps upon a pile of comfortable mattresses but still feels a strand of hair under them. I use the hair as a metaphor for my discomfort when reading Cauvery Madhavan’s novel The Tainted. I contend Madhavan, despite her admirable talent, over supplies her narrative for a modern readership with a colonial trope, that of Anglo-Indians having ‘tainted blood’. Madhavan deftly recreates these 19th century Racial Science inspired stereotypes in her main characters, two Anglo-Indians, Rose and May Twomey. These characters are presented in problematised ways with regard to their femininity, sexuality, identity, complexion, accent, self-perception, aspirations, customs, and loyalties. However, I acknowledge that stereotyping is a signifying practice that “is central to the representation of racial difference” (D’Cruz quoting Stuart Hall, 2018, p.36) and that Anglo-Indian stock character literary vigilantism could do well to go beyond ‘spot-the stereotype’ (D’Cruz, 2018, p.45) towards a deeper understanding of the milieu producing the stock images. I refer to various post-colonial analytical discourses of Anglo-Indian literary representations during the British Raj and Independent India to inform my point of view. I further posit that Madhavan has wandered into mimicry without empathy and possibly risks re inscribing and perpetuating a repugnant, salacious, and hurtful stereotype of Anglo-Indian females for modern readership.