Author: Parashkevova, Vassilena
Date published: January 1, 2010
"Through all the twists and turns, metamorphoses and transmogrifications The Arabian Nights has undergone," Marina Warner points out, "the central theme remains and remains known to every hearer and every reader" (Signs and Wonders 368). She speaks of the frame narrative of The Arabian Nights (henceforth Nights): Shahrazad telling stories to Sultan Shahryar every night till dawn, to save her life. In her novel When Dreams Travel (1999), the contemporary Indian writer Githa Hariharan has one of her characters exclaim in response to a similarly well-traversed narrative situation, "Is there no way out of this old story?" (231). The voice belongs to the slave girl Dilshad, who is lost, as the story she tells of herself goes, in the forest - another familiar, fairy-tale scenario. Yet as soon as she says these words, she sees the way out of the forest. It is her search for adventure and the desire for "unmapped territory" that have led her here (226). What instigates this question that magically delivers her from the forest is her realization that she is living a script. In the forest she has met, successively, two men - the first deceives her into marrying him with the promise that he will help her find her way, and the second, a strange, graceful, deer-man, is, in turn, seduced by her. Her story of herself has unwittingly followed two contrasting but related formulas - in her words: "the king seizes a virgin girl, the courtesan seduces a virgin boy" (231).
It is this persistent rigidity of preexisting scripts - of fairy tales, of myths, of fictions about women - that is explored in Hariharan's retelling of The Arabian Nights. Old stories continue to slip into her storytellers' tales and remain the worlds that their characters are forced to inhabit. It is, however, precisely the text's awareness of, and even complicity with, such scenarios that becomes subversive in the text. The strongest claim on the characters' dreams and fictions is posited by the frame architecture of the Nights, which serves as the structuring principle of When Dreams Travel. The novel offers a chronologically complicated frame that circles from the time of the first night, through the day after the thousand-and-first night, to years after that, and back again. This "temporal eclecticism," to borrow Stephen Benson's term ("Introduction" 4), is achieved through the use of mirrors and dreams, whether reminiscent, prophetic, or speculative, as instruments of time travel.
As Stephanie Jones points out, the novel belongs to a genealogy of contemporary reworkings of the Nights diat "embolden" Dinarzad, or Dunyazad, Shahrazad's sister.1 In these texts she is given body, voice, and agency, thus being released from her role of "audience, prompter, chorus, and heckler" (130), forever at the foot of the Sultan's bed, urging Shahrazad, "Sister, if you are not sleepy tell us one of your lovely little tales to while away the night" (Nights 39). The dynamics of Hariharan's novel denies the very possibility of Dinarzad's position - "the empty place," somehow both within and outside the text, which Western readers of the Nights found convenient to occupy and from which they could both "listen in" to Shahrazad's stories and observe an Eastern despotism "from the sidelines" (Ballister 90-91).
In Hariharan's novel we encounter a middle-aged Dunyazad, who has married Shahryar's brother, Shahzaman (as happens in longer versions of the Nights), and has lived with him in Samarkand for years but is now a widow. We see her arriving at the palace of Shahryar, who has recently become a widower himself, to discover the reasons for Shahrzad's unexpected death. There, in the fictional city of Shahabad, she assists the Sultan's son, Prince Umar, in taking over the throne to institute what is described as "a new order of things" (98), but which is only, as Dunyazad comments, another "regime" with "a tyrannical god at the head of the palace" (103). She is aided by the slave girl Dilshad, who has served Shahrzad and Shahryar, witnessed Shahrzad's death, and has intimate knowledge of the palace's structure and secrets. In return, Dilshad receives from the new sultan what she has long wanted to acquire - the transcript of Shahrzad's stories, written in gold.
Hariharan's frame narrative introduces another female character, Satyasama: an addition to the freaks' wing of the Sultan's harem. Satyasama is a foreigner whose body is covered in "sleek, lightweight fur" (91), who has been a wandering poet in her country, and who speaks cryptic statements, taken to be prophecies, in the little Shahabadi she knows. Satyasama dies in obscurity, but only after giving Dilshad her blessing - physically, a parting kiss that leaves a date-shaped mark of fur on Dilshad's face but, metaphorically, a narrative license. The stories that follow in the second part of the novel are told, in turns, by Dunyazad and Dilshad, in the course of seven nights and days - a timescale that punctures the ambition, totality, and "grand-scale infinity of a thousand nights" (118) and signals the text's metafictive awareness of its status as a temporary intervention in the afterlife of the Nights. In addition, the narrator disavows any claims to the symbolism of the number seven by pointing out its arbitrariness as well as that of fiction's beginnings or boundaries: "these measures of storytime ... are pretty conveniences but their rule must be wily rather than absolute" (116-17). Dilshad's and Dunyazad's storytelling parenthesis lasts an ordinary week.
Although there is no formal return to the frame - the novel ends with Dilshad's seventh tale - the framed stories revisit and extend the frame-events' and protagonists' multiply reflected pasts, presents, and futures to yet another putative "morning after." Then an aged Shahrzad appears and hands the storytelling game over to future generations of women. This pairing of stories complicates or bifurcates Shahrzad's single chain of narratives, inviting comparisons between the tales of each storyteller and articulating a new rhythm that moves between variations on and deviations from the familiar frame narrative, the center stage, the power hub. Whereas at the end of longer versions of the Nights we are told that the two brothers, Shahrayar and Shahzaman, rule alternately for one day each (Malti-Douglas 41), in Hariharan's novel the sultans' despotic government has been displaced by women's narrative mastery that is at the same time brought into the light of day
Dunyazad's tales develop the novel's frame characters, but only as confined to life and intrigue in the palace and its surroundings, whereas Dilshad's stories venture out into the city and its crowded markets, the countryside, and the forest. Both sets of tales, though, gradually take the reader to a more recognizably Indian cultural context. Shahrzad's project, described as a "ragged, porous umbrella of a story, a wandering story" (7-8), has changed hands once again and made "a subtle shift in geography." This shift is described in metaphorical terms, as a process of "dy [ing] the language," "loosen[ing] a chafing garment," "shrink [ing] veils," and "even bar [ing] a midriff" (1 17). Notably, the geographical markers of the novel's world are suggested here through a change in women's clothes, which indicates, in turn, that Hariharan seeks to address the process of abandoning constrictions imposed on women and, simultaneously, to foreground the ease with which this change can be enacted. Whereas at the end of longer versions of the Nights the two sisters are "paraded in an array of dresses before their respective spouses" (Malti-Douglas 40-41), in Hariharan's text the erotics of looking is supplanted by the idea of refashioning women's clothes, stories, and identities.
The location or home of the narrative position established in the Nights has also migrated. Having escaped from the palace, Dunyazad and Dilshad set out to roam between the cities of Shahabad and Samarkand, telling stories to each other. The between-ness of this narrative position points to the impure origins of The Arabian Nights as well as asserting the novel's own hybrid and nomadic character and its equidistance from either center of power - the power of the state and the Sultan's regime, on the one hand, and the authority and teleology of the Nights' frame narrative on the other. Fedwa Malti-Douglas argues that in the frame narrative of the Nights, voyages are "mislearning experiences." For instance, the voyage of Shahrayar and Shahzaman is seen as a "physical voyage whose consequences must be corrected by Shahraz‚d's narrative voyage" (38). Literature, in this sense, "must correct experience" (40). When Dreams Travel, as the title also suggests, places a similar emphasis on the narrative over the physical journey or, in other words, on the metaphorical aspect of travel. It also values the idea of setting out, of projecting one's vision outward and away from a simultaneously indefinite, mutable, and unfixed origin, over and above the idea of arrival or return.
The text not only juxtaposes the processes of travel and storytelling, but it also introduces the idea of "storyseekers." Initially this idea is associated with Dunyazad's role as story-detective, in which her vocation is to search the story, to light up all of its remote corners (115). She continuously demystifies aspects of the haunting frame narrative of the Nights, for instance, by grounding it in the realism of the body's messy, laborious, and painful processes, as in her account of how Shahrzad managed to give birth to three children between "working hours" (128) as a nightly storyteller. Yet, Dilshad is also a storyseeker, in the sense that she is both a traveler and a discoverer. Through her, die text parodies the "colonialist cataloguing" (Kabbani 29) in which the history of the Nights' travels and translations has been caught. More specifically, Dilshad allows a parody of the figure of the European story collector, whose ethnographic exercises - with their patterns of inherent authority, their tendencies to mythologizing and exoticization, and their classificatory mechanisms - carry the distinct overtones of orientalist epistemology. Dilshad's travels rescript and subvert these ethnographic journeys and, in this way, revisit one of the historical trajectories of the Nights: its orientalist translations and interpretations, initiated in the eighteenth century. Unlike the colonial traveling story collector, who uproots his "finds" to bring them back home to the West, Dilshad engages in storyseeking as a process of "entering" and transforming the stories she finds, of interacting with their tellers, and even of translating these tellers as well as herself into characters.
One of the stories Dilshad seeks out, titled "Rupavati's Breasts," provides a retelling of a Sanskrit tale concerned with the attainment of Buddhahood as a process of birth and rebirth. In this tale the Buddha first appears in the body of a woman, Rupavati, who, in an act of generosity, cuts off her breasts to feed a starving mother about to eat her newborn child. Her breasts are eventually restored, only to be lost again when she is rebom as a man, Rupavata, and then as successive male Buddhisatvas, in the end attaining Buddhahood. Traditional readings interpreted the excision of Rupavati's breasts as signaling the birth of the male body as the ideal body, equated with virtue (Armour and Ville 2). In Dilshad's story it is the tale that undergoes a series of reincarnations in the hands of three storytellers: an old woman Satyasama meets in her travels, the old woman's husband, and Satyasama herself. The old woman and her husband each recount narratives that seem to follow, with certain variations, the first and the second segments of the Sanskrit myth, but as independent stories. In the first one both breasts are removed, and in the second a single breast. The couple argue whose story is correct, with the old man eventually silencing his wife by rejecting the possibility that the Buddha could be born a woman. Seeing no reason "why she shouldn't have a turn at this game of moulding Rupavati's breasts" (185), Satyasama provides a subversive retelling, where rather man plucking out her breasts, Rupavati twists her husband's ears off (which later regrow) and plants them in the earth, thus causing ears of corn to magically appear, row after row, to feed the hungry mother and child. This story enacts the history of a myth's journey, with the reader witnessing its successive creative and ideological metamorphoses from one teller or generation of tellers to the next - all in one sitting. This tale also shares the motif of the mutilated female body with the previous tale, told by Dunyazad, and the element of the twist in the quest for virtue with Dilshad's later tales. A series of thematic variations thus stretches across the chain of tales, but remains rooted in the frame narrative of the Nights.
While Dunyazad is the heir and apprentice of Shahrzad, Dilshad is the successor of Satyasama, so both sets of stories are marked and claimed by the ideology of the Nights' narrative. In this sense the novel performs what Stephen Benson refers to as the idea of lateness, characteristic of some of contemporary fiction's employment of fairy tales, where lateness figures not so much in terms of the life of the author, but of the life and times of their genre and their relation to tradition ("Late Fairy Tales" 126). Thus, on a narrative level the text persistently flaunts the fact that the story we are reading exists in multiple versions as well as indicating its awareness of (an)other voice or voices that might be in control of it - a narrative nod to the Nights' roots in oral storytelling, which precludes the possibility of ownership. Continuous references are made, for instance, to the elusive and implicitly male narrator in the Nights. At other times, Hariharan's storyseekers/tellers mimic the voices of the many Shahrazads or contest the older, disembodied, and authoritative voice that tells a story in which Shahrazad is the objectified heroine (Marzolph and van Leeuwen 2: 565).
Lateness also becomes a dominant theme in the novel, particularly as related to the effects of time - both historical and storytime - on the body. This theme is apparent in the text's obsession with anatomical and physiological imagery. We see, for instance, the aged Shahrzad's flabby thighs, the "voluptuous battleground of a thousand and one intimacies, now fallow, creased" (268). We are also told that the palace itself "has grown obese, a flabby old man full of stale air" (80) and that it smells of "a thousand unfathomable secrets" (234). Even the setting of the story is described as "moth-eaten" (10). Hariharan's storytellers thus carry the burden of the inheritance of the Nights and have to physically endure the weight of this memory. They are forced to inhabit the structures of old narratives that also acquire physical form in the palace or the forest. As storyseekers, however, they have the additional ability of Michel de Certeau's "ordinary walkers," practitioners of everyday life who transform the text or map of the dominant order from within, precisely by virtue of being its inhabitants rather than its authors (93-99). While as storytellers the two women design, view, and maneuver their tales from an ontologically and epistemologically superior position, as storyseekers they enter and negotiate their roles in the spatializations of the texts they have produced. In the novel's interchangeability of tellers and seekers or tellers and characters, they succeed in making use of story comers that have been left invisible, questions that have been left unanswered, or voices that have been silenced - both in older narratives and in their own.
In this conversation between said and unsaid, tradition and innovation, prescription and subversion, a central mediating tool employed in both structural and thematic terms is the mirror. At various points of the narrative, Shahrzad and Dunyazad appear holding mirrors or swapping mirrors and roles. The light of a lamp picks up Dunyazad's image and, stretching it across floor and wall, produces a reflection of her sister, "a second Shahrzad, elastic, shadowy, massive; a matriarch of impressive proportions" (7). Female narrators and characters multiply along the chain of tales, themselves referred to as "refractions of the same story" (117), which has no beginning or end. Even the "first" mirror, that of Shahrzad, has been brought to the palace by a traveler.
Importantly, the presence of Shahrzad's mirror as a physical object in the novel's frame narrative revisits the genre of the story as a "mirror for princes," which also has a history of multiple origins, strands, and mutual reflections. This genre was especially popular in Arabic and Persian literature, influenced by classical Greek and Hellenistic elements, and is represented by numerous medieval European texts. It is also indebted to Indian sources in its early history. Conveying "examples of correct conduct for rulers, statesmen and other officials," "mirror for princes" books "educate by employing a mixture of admonition and entertainment" (Marzolph and van Leeuwen 2: 647). Such tales were subsequently incorporated into The Arabian Nights - a text that has itself been seen as a "manual for royal instruction" because of Shahrazad's didactic project in the frame narrative (Marzolph and van Leeuwen 2: 647).
However, although her stories aim to educate the ruler, the "political direction" of the Nights, as Robert Irwin points out, is not subversive or transformatory. From the start, the stories preach submission to God, Fate, and the ruler, and demonstrate that "to be entertained by stories is one of the prerogatives of kingship" (251). Edward Said, as Stephanie Jones reminds us, has also warned against seeing Shahrazad's project as subversive of the sultan's regime (117):
The Prophet is he who has completed a wo rid- view; thus the word heresy in Arabic is synonymous with the verb "to innovate" or "to begin." Islam views the world as a plenum, capable of neither diminishment nor amplification. Consequently, stories like those in The Arabian Nights are ornamental, variations on the world, not completions of it; neither are they lessons, structures, extensions, or totalities designed to illustrate either the author's prowess in representation, the education of a character, or ways in which the world can be viewed and changed. (Said 81)
Though the "mirror for princes" narrative, as it appears in the Nights, is not transformatory however, in Hariharan's novel it takes on a subversive potential, which relies on the idea of mirroring. Here a further notion proposed by Said will be helpful in throwing light on the role of the mirror in When Dreams Travel. He draws up a distinction between beginning and orŪgjn. A beginning is "a consciously intentional, productive activity" that is "eminently secular," "intends meaning," and "encourages non-linear development," whereas origin is "theological" and "centrally dominates what derives from it" (Said 372-73). In Hariharan's novel Shahrzad's mirror becomes heretic in that it does not reflect an authentic origin of storytelling or offer true identities, but intervenes in already existing stories to begin in medias res. Rather than claiming authorship of the stories she has told, moreover, Hariharan/Shahrzad disengages them from the authority of the palace or, indeed, from the fixity of any setting. The radical potential of Shahrzad's mirror thus lies in the novel's play on the duplicity oŪ frame - mirror frame and frame narrative - where the surface of the mirror frame is as reflective as that of the mirror; it de-centers rather than origina tes, while the surface of the mirror itself melts so that Dunyazad can "plunge into it" and wander in its "depths" (258).
The idea of proliferating narratives has played a central role in reappropriations of the Nights. It emerges, for instance, in Jorge Louis Borges's use of the Nights as a marker of an infinity of fictional frames (Jones 116). It is also apparent in the works of Salman Rushdie, in which the Nights becomes a sign of a cycle -mediating oral tradition that performs the contamination of Western texts by Indian literary traditions (Teverson 65). It is not accidental that mirrors also figure prominently in these texts. Mirrors occupy an ambivalent, unstable conceptual position, mediating between science and magic, truth and illusion, and knowledge and speculation - an apt metaphor for the storyteller's craft. Michel Foucault defines the mirror as a cultural space of indefinite status that functions both as a utopia and as a heterotopia (178-79) while Umberto Eco describes it as a threshold phenomenon, situated between perception and signification (216). In Hariharan's novel the power of the mirror lies in the tension between sameness/origin and difference/re-beginning, or between its ability to faithfully reproduce an image or a story and its capacity, as Shahrzad is aware, to stretch, enlarge, invert, distort, fragment, or multiply that which it reflects. The Indian poet and scholar A. K. Ramanujan provides a list of the many forms reflexivity takes in Indian classical and folk literatures, including mirroring, distorted mirroring, parody, and the identification of family resemblances (8). In a later edition of the Ramayana, die hero hears the story of his own adventures, recited to him by his children, and "sees himself become a story" (Ramanujan 22) - a fate that is shared, to some extent, by Hariharan's story-tellers/seekers. For instance, Dilshad both tells stories of herself and hears a tale of herself told by Dunyazad; Shahrzad becomes Dunyazad's heroine and so on.
Like Shahrzad, Satyasama is a cultural amalgam. The former speaks Arabic, bears a Persian name, and employs an Indian narrative mode - the frame-story device (Enderwitz 188). 2 The latter's name is a compound of the Sanskrit for truth, "Satya," and the Arabic for sky, "sama" (Hariharan, "Double Burden" 22). Yet, if Satyasama is in some sense a double of Shahrzad, it is also true to say that she is her inverted or distorted double. Whereas one has to speak for her life, die other has to "fall silent to stay alive" (22). One is described as monumental in her physicality; the other's body is chopped off limb by limb until only a torso is left, which nevertheless continues groaning. Both Shahrzad and Satyasama are provocative, one in her presence and words, the other in her gradual disappearance and in her condition of signifying the violence done to her and to other characters or voices that have been, variously, excised, collected, or catalogued. Further binaries could be added: linguistic artistry versus a barely human noise; charm and pronounced sexuality versus monstrosity and asexuality; pregnancy/growth versus mutilation/shrinking, and so on. In producing Shahrzad's negative double, the novel does not, however, produce her other. Rather, it provides a pattern of inverted mirroring that counters the persistent specular bifurcation of the figure of woman into virgin and whore, beauty and beast, refuge and abyss.3 The play with mirror pairings, of stories and characters, echoes the Nights' preoccupation with the "balancing of numbers" - couples and quartets. It also echoes the collection's power struggles - between men and women, between siblings (Hariharan, "Double Burden 22), between storytellers and their descendants. Mirror symmetry is both seen as imprisoning and undercut by new proliferating symmetries. The sultan's ever growing collection of women in the harem and the parallel production of harems in European Oriental tales are parodied by the novel's steady multiplication of women storytellers.
Srinivas Aravamudan argues that the harem functions in such tales as an "apparently timeless space," "in the manner that the castle functions for the Gothic, evoking multiple periods of history at once" (244-45). In contrast, the novel's exercise of pairing, mirroring and multiplication is never dehistoricized, never just a matter of a hall-of-mirrors play. Its allusions to various historical periods are specific to each tale and summon an intricate history, and its frame narrative evokes the eternity of the Nights as a way of asserting its eternal mutability. In the first or frame part of the novel, Shahryar draws a plan for a monument to Shahrzad that evokes the Taj Mahal, built by Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife. A high minaret with levels built in alternation by two brothers in one of Dilshad's tales recalls Qutb Minar.4 Qutb Minar was built by the first Muslim ruler of Delhi, Qutb-ud-din, on the foundations of a Hindu temple. Additional stories were erected by Qutb-ud-din's successors. The first mosque built in India stands at the foot of the Qutb Minar and bears an inscription that states that it was "built with materials obtained from demolishing '27 idolatrous temples'" (Singh et al. 211). In the novel Dilshad's characters violently debate which of the two brothers' inscriptions on the structure are greater - a debate that evokes the continuing Hindu-Muslim animosity in contemporary India. In another tale Satyasama is a one-eyed monkey woman, silenced by the two-eyed citizens of the suggestively named Eternal City, which is divided into eastwallas and westwallas. In this tale, territorial divisions/secessions mirror bodily mutilations/dissections. All of these veiled allusions celebrate India's complex cultural heritage and critique its successive cartographic partitionings and communal, religious, and linguistic divisions in a retelling of a text, whose cultural coordinates are also partly Indian and similarly hybrid, bearing the history of successive conquests, migrations, and reinscriptions.
Ultimately, though, the novel's project lies in the recuperation of women's stories. Another prominent example of inverting or distorting mirroring in the novel is "The Martyr's Walk" - a game that Shahrzad and Dunyazad have played as girls, in their desire to be heroines, and that also foregrounds the interchangeability of storytellers and storyseekers. "[E] ach player describes herself as she makes her way to the blade-holding hand that waits for her" (53). Later, Dunyazad and Dilshad play this game, each answering, in turn, the following question: "If you were talking (or writing) for your life, what would you say?" (118). In her story of the first night of Shahrzad's storytelling, Dunyazad sees her sister walk the familiar martyr's walk toward the sultan's bedchamber and realizes what the plan is that her sister has for avoiding death on the following morning. Thus the game effectively reframes the Nights, as it appears to have long preexisted the time of Shahrzad's storytelling rather than arising as a response to it. The fact that the sisters have invented such a dangerous, or even masochistic, game is reminiscent of the idea of "the female subject who creates the condition of her own imprisonment" as described in Sarah Gamble's reading of Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber (Gamble 35). Whether the condition of the game is self-imposed, or prophetic, in its prediction of the sultan's violence, or an exercise in mimicry in which the girls reproduce the violence of the adult world they see is necessarily ambivalent and open to speculation, denying legitimacy to any one of these possibilities. Jorge Luis Borges points out that the "invention" of the Nights' frame narrative "is said to be posterior to the title, and was devised in the aim of justifying it" (102). "The Martyr's Walk," like the title "The Thousand and One Nights," evokes the idea of the mirror reflected in another mirror, as a device that rejects origins and initiates incessant re-beginnings through what Tzvetan Todorov has referred to as a "marvelous story-machine": "we are beyond the origin and unable to conceive of it. . . . Each narrative refers us to another in a series of reflections" (237). Significantly, the narrative-men of the Nights (Todorov 229) have been replaced by narrative-women in Hariharan's retelling, where, in the alternating tales of Dunyazad and Dilshad, the mirror stages an interplay of tradition and innovation while challenging what Hariharan refers to as "normative" or "descriptive" myths - for instance, of "the kind that tells you what sort of wife you should be" ("Double Burden" 9, 18). The ludic frame of "The Martyr's Walk," or the invitation to produce more frames of this kind, to be prepared, is passed on to the reader in the last sentences of the novel in Shahrzad's voice: "And you - what will you do when your turn comes? When the drums roll, and the sword blunted with age, the rusty axe, wake up to be freshly sharpened?" (276).
The parallel processes of mirroring, traveling, and storytelling in the novel thus manipulate, reclaim, and repoliticize the Nights while acknowledging its lingering power. Roles and stories are continually refracted, inverted, and distorted in ways that question the primacy of the "original" over the mirror image - a process that points to the persistent specular split of women's identities or the violence involved in the drawing of boundaries and in the articulation of pure notions of cultural and storytelling lineage. Hariharan's text opens with what can be described as a visual summary of the frame narrative of the Nights - a scene in which all players are fixed in a certain memorable posture: Shahryar listening transfixed to Shahrzad's words; Shahrzad licking her lips in between stories; Dunyazad at the foot of the bed, and Shahzaman, as a voyeur, hidden behind a curtain, watching, with a blood-dripping sword in his hand. This re-creation of a "momentous cultural memory," however - what Jack Zipes might refer to as the germ, or the mÍme of the Nights, capable of imprinting itself on the brain, of being transmitted or replicated (Zipes 32) - does not involve a simple replication of the Nights' scenario. In the novel Shahrzad's storytelling project is metaphorically referred to as a process of "rowing a floating island," the title of her very first tale. This apparent oxymoron, "floating island," encapsulates the productive tension between stasis and motion or tradition and innovation in the text. The project is colossal, stable, and predetermined, but also unruly, shifting, and unpredictable. Shahrzad's narrative, as When Dreams Travel and the existence of numerous other revisions of the Nights demonstrate, can be repopulated and navigated around the world like a ship, mooring temporarily at various shores.
1. The spelling of the frame characters' names used in this article is based on Hariharan's text. Spellings in reference to The Arabian Nights (The Thousand and One Nights) are based on Husain Haddawy's translation (1990), which is a rendition of Muhsin Mahdi's Arabic edition of a fourteenth-century Syrian manuscript. Other spellings in this article follow respective studies on the Nights and are acknowledged in the text.
2. See also David Beaumont's discussion of the Persian-Indian origins of the Nights. Embedded narratives, he suggests, are considered to have derived from Indian works such as the Pancatantra (3).
3. I borrow the term specular from French feminist theorist Luce Irigaray, who resorts to the figure of the mirror - specifically, the gynecological instrument speculum, which comes to symbolize the patriarchal-mediated knowledge of women as based on the idea of lacks and absences. The speculum is "an instrument to dilate the lips, the orifices, the walls, so that the eye can penetrate the interior," so that "the eye can enter, to see, notably with speculative intent" (144-45). Yet in Hariharan's novel, what Irigaray refers to as women's "specular imprisonment" may be seen to be countered by means of the same specular modus operandi. There, as I argue, the mirror polarizations of women's roles, the idealized or essen tialist notions of the self's totality and coherence are undermined through a spectral doubling/ multiplication/inversion of female roles.
4. Hariharan acknowledges these and other allusions to an Indian cultural context ("Double Burden" 14).
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Vassilena Parashkevova is the bibliography editor of Journal oj Commonwealth Literature and the assistant editor of Clues: A Journal oj Detection. She has taught contemporary fiction and critical theory at London South Bank University and postcolonial literature at the University of Southampton and has published on Salman Rushdie's works, focusing on cities, urban histories and geographies, urban identities, and interurban travel.