By Claire Buck (auth.)
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The final ellipsis, which ends the novel, designates both an unfinished narrative and an unfinished journey. Lalu’s education will continue in the final volume of the trilogy, with his experiences in a German prisoner of war camp and his return to India as outcast and newly minted postcolonial dissident. Thus, while the sepoys’ arrival at the front initiates a Western Front trench narrative in Across the Black Waters, Anand has generated out of the travelogue an external perspective calculated to reveal the limitations of the First World War story.
Thus the sepoys occupy a conventional tourist role, window-shopping, admiring the architecture, and examining historic monuments, before withdrawing to a café for refreshments. As tourists they acquire the privileges of scopic and interpretative control, using their Indian experience and knowledge to explain and evaluate the sights of Europe. And, although they are objects of interest to the French natives, the narrative firmly assigns the French to the position of exotic and foreign. The Frenchmen who try to guide the Indian soldiers in the Place du Martin speak a “soft but unintelligible lingo,” while the cathedral is described as, “an intricate mesh of ancient architecture, decorated with statues, steeples, minarets and crevices in which pigeons fluttered as in the monolithic temples of India” (33, 32).
In the conversation sympathy carries two meanings. The Bramin tells Grimshaw that, he would rather be kicked by some of our high placed officials, than be shaken by the hand, which latter function was, to use his own expression, often like the sting of a scorpion. I have often watched an “all smiles” official shaking hands in his best perfunctory social manner and The First World War and the Unhoming of Europe 25 thought to myself how wise orientals were to have the salaam in lieu thereof. Even with Englishmen, one can detect at once the difference between the hand shake of a friend, and that of mere conventionality; and I am sure orientals possess a still more delicate sense for detecting at once that carefully suppressed repulsion that many weak-minded Englishmen cultivate with regard to all who are not “white”.