The Holder of the World

by Bharati Mukherjee

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Who is the "holder of the world"?

In Bharati Mukherjee's novel, possible holders of the world include commodities and Beigh. Commodities could be the holder of the world because it's the Emperor's Tear diamond that brings Beigh's world into Hannah's world. Beigh herself could also be the holder of the world, as we know about Hannah's story through Beigh. It's through Beigh that we learn about her life in America in and in India. It's Beigh who holds both her own world and that of Hannah's.

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There might be many holders of the world in Bharati Mukherjee's novel. It is possible that not all of them are people.

For instance, you could argue that goods and commodities are the "holders of the world." What is it that makes our narrator, Beigh Masters, aware of Hannah Easton? It's the Emperor's Tear, or "the most perfect diamond ever." It is this valuable object that connects Beigh's world to Hannah's. We might say that it's the diamond that holds their two stories and the world of the book together.

Another way to discern "the holder of the world" could be to look at who's telling the story. Through Beigh, Hannah comes alive. We learn that she was orphaned "by secrecy and a bee sting." We learn about her marriage to an Irish swashbuckler and her later affair with Jadav Sin. All of this—and more—comes from Beigh.

Beigh has the power to reconstruct and shine a light on history. Perhaps "the holder of the world" is the present. It's through the present that we learn about the past. It's humans like Beigh—who dig into history, who bring it back to life—that hold the past and present world together.

If you want to be literal, you could argue that the emperor Aurangzeb is the true holder of the world. He is called "Alamgir, the World-Holder." Without Aurangzeb, there'd be no empire in which Hannah could meet Jadav. There'd be no grand, cross-cultural narrative.

Although, perhaps Aurangzeb is a holder of the world in a different way. Perhaps "the unlimited plunder" that he represents is the true holder of the world. Maybe you can connect the emperor's plunder to the plunder of Beigh's work. Maybe there's a way to look at "assets recovery" or "asset retrieval" as a kind of theft. How does Beigh's line of work commit her to removing art and jewels from their original contexts? How is it centered on dislocation and the perceived right to own what doesn't really belong to you?

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