Dr. Nalini Pathania has done her research in post colonial studies. She has written several research papers and takes active part in international seminars. Currently she is teaching in Govt MAM College Jammu (J & K)-India. Her teaching career spans twenty years. Most of her papers are on Roma history and culture. Her expertise on the subject can be seen in this publication. email: <nalini901@gmail.com>



by Dr. Nalini Pathania

Margaret P. Kirk’s novel Gypsy draws out the cultural difference and the cultural conflict between the Roma and the ‘gajo’ i.e the whites in Europe. The Roma speak Romani and are ethnically as well as socially poles apart from the Europeans. Although they are spatial neighbours yet their cultural identities are different. Kirk seamlessly showcases Roma identity by pitting it against the Other’s identity. She shows how the Rom identity operates with different codes. In the novel ‘Da’ (Micah’s father is punished by the roma judiciary ‘kris’ which is comprised of the roma elders. ‘Kris’ becomes ‘Da’s’ judge and jury. Its “verdict when it came, would be absolute, no appeal possible, none consider”(Kirk 4). The word of its judiciary i.e ‘Krisatova’ is final. The author also writes of the roma social group ‘Kumpania’ being sacred to all Roma. It is a Rom’s “life, his world, his only identity. Without it he had no more substance than smoke.” Expulsion from ‘Kumpania’ would result in the social death of a Rom. Roma exodus is also hinted at by Kirk when she makes a mention of the ‘Kris’ ‘ verdict being in accordance to what had been passed down to the Roma “through long travels of his people.” The author writes about the cultural pride of the Roma when the elders deliver their verdict to Da. The ‘kris’ tells Da to “shun all places where the Rom gather. From this day you are not of the people. You are no longer rom. This we have decided” . . . . Kirk endorses the view in her novel that the roma have willingly retained their identityand also know of their cultural difference with the Others.

Roma are the largest ethnic minority in Europe but their economic and social position is peripheral to those of the whites’. Their abject economic condition is alluded to by Kirk, when she writes about ‘Da’ telling his ten year old son Micah to adopt stealth and anonymity in the ‘gajo’ world. He tells his son “Lie low, laddo, melt into the background, that’s our way”(Kirk 17). A Rom’s free and independent spirit is detected when the father wants micah to shun ‘gajo’ school because he fears his son getting influenced by the cultural practices of the whites. He is afraid that his son’s Rom identity would be threatened by school. Da tells Micah “School is not for our people, son. School is for slaves”(18). . . . Da chooses to maintain his grid of difference from the whites. He is of the opinion that formal school educationto be an external threat to his minority culture.

Since the Roma roam freely fom one country to the other, thus, transcending all borders their lifestyle dissuades them from staying in a particular place for too long. Bhikshu Chaman Lal has also written about their love for freedom in his book Gipsies, the Forgotten Children of India. The Holocaust wasn’t sometyhing which happened to the Jews alone. Ania Loomba writes that German minorities such as the Poles, gypsies as well as Slavs fell victim to it. In the novel Micah’s grandmother tells him that during the war the Nazis “locked us up, gassed us in them places with walls and guards and ovens. Thousands of us . . . the gaje on this side made out they didn’t know till after, but we knew, we knew all the time” (Kirk 197) . . . . The voice of the Jews was heard after the war because they were an economically sound community and powerful social position in the west. But the voice of the Rom and the other minorities was drowned and remained unheard because of their subaltern status. After the war in the novel the russian Felix Abramsky in London airs his views and those of the Europeans regarding gypsies. He says “Gypsies - aren’t they everywhere? Just look at him, barely out of the cradle and already a thief.” In the two textual examples one garners that all central cultures try to maintain their hierarchy by pushing the minority cultures to the peripheries. They manage to do so by condemning the minority group’s way of life, language, religion and also giving their social group a bad name. The culture of the rich overlooks the economic difficulties faced by a subaltern group such as that of the Roma. The second textual example reveals that all Roma by word of mouth have been told by by their ancestors of their migration from India to Europe. Historically the king of Sindh was defeated by Mohd. Bin Kasim in 712AD and 20,000 to 30,000 Indians were taken by him as war booty only to be sold in the slave markete of Khorassan in Central Asisa.Some of them were inducted in thye invader’s army where these hapless people excelled not only as soldiers but as vetrinary doctors and ironsmiths known as ‘Kaldarash’.Their love for horses is legendary. Kirk writes in her story that “Give a Rom his horse, a set of Royal Doulton for the wife, he thinks he’s died and gone to heaven”(Kirk 194). Kirk fortifes the view in her novel that gypsies are excellent skilled workers when she writes about Micah “reaching for electrician’s tape and copper wire with quick Gypsy fingers”.

Kirk writes that the gypsies are an archaich people and have wandered countries the world over for a very long time. Even if a Rom does not know a formal language he is sure to know and recognise a sign language known as a ‘patteran’. “A patteran. That’s a signal what the rom leaves behind ‘em “(Kirk 149). Kirk also articulates that the roma are a family oriented people and like to have their immediate and extended family around them. “The Romani needs that, his family around him, all his family, aunts, uncles, brothers, half-brothers, cousins, sisters, parents. He’s never alone, he’s not meant to be, can’t live that way”(163). The author writes about Da’s wagon being burnt after his death for “it’s the old way”(190). This custom bears sembelance with the Hindu custom of burning the belongings of their dead. The Roma culture has its roots in India but hasn’t retained its original purity. Years of exodus from their ‘Barothan’ i.e motherland has diluted their cultural practices but still they hold on to their basic tenets. This can be seen in their worship of ‘Kali Sarah’ or ‘Sati Sarah’ which is the hindu goddess Kali. Hindu cultural practices such as Barkhi which is held with a feast after one year of a person’s death corresponds with the Roma ‘pomana’. Their language as per J. S. Pathania a scholar on Romani has its roots in india and is a form of the Indian Prakrit language.

The overview of the novel is that gypsy cultural practices and language is ridiculed by the whites. The social space assigned to the Roma in Europe is at the lower ladder. This makes them a vulnerable people and their cultural practices are always in a danger of being dismissed as vulgar and tasteless by the upper classs society. Culture sustains itself and retains its position as per the economic superstructure. The propagation of ill-repute of the Roma in Europe is part of the whites’ strategy to maintain their cultural hierarchy over this minority. The norms of the dominant culture prevail in Europe but since the social subgroup of Roma tries to retain its cultural identity this vexes relations between the two.

Works Cited and Consulted

Featherstone, Mike. “Theories of Consumer Culture.” (1990): Ryan and Musiol 667-682.
Hilmes, Michele. “Battle of the Global Paradigms.” 920030: Ryan and Musiol 1-23.
Kirk, P. Margaret. Gypsy. Canada: Collier Macmillan Canada, Inc., 1987. Print.
Loomba, Ania. Colonialism/Postcolonialism.London: Routledge,1998. Print.
Niederer, Elizabeth and Rainer Winter. “Fashion, culture, and the Construction of Identity.”(unknown): Ryan and Musiol 687-697.
Pratt, Geraldine. “Grids of Difference: Place and Identity Formation.” (1998): Ryan and Musiol 154-169.
Ryan, Michael and Hanna Musiol, eds. Culture studies An Anthology. UK: Blackwell Publishing, 2008. Print.

© Author
(Published in Kafla Intercontinental - Summer 2015)