Saturday, July 19, 2008

How Indian Is Indian Writing In English?

The other day Uma raised the issue of why our published-to-critical-acclaim- overseas-Malaysian-authors :
... seemed to be everywhere else. To be anywhere but here.
The same is true of course of Indian authors. (And Pakistani authors, and Bangladeshi authors, and Sri Lankan authors, and Nigerian authors and ... the list goes on.)

Abhinav Maurya writes a very interesting piece about the phenomenon in LittleIndia [found via] :
The next time you walk into a bookstore to browse English books penned by Indian authors, try this little game. Turn to the author biography to see which continent he currently calls home. If you are pondering established names on the literary scene, chances are that nine times out of ten, you will hit upon the phenomenon of the Indian English writer in self-imposed exile.
He ponders the reasons for this, muses on the effects on the writing :
The multiculturalism evident in the works of émigré Indian writers is a result of the alienation they have suffered from both cultures, Indian and western, and their struggle to bridge the gap between the two. It is often because of the distance these writers must contend with between themselves and the milieu of their stories that a certain longing and sentimentality often creeps into their works. Though this element of nostalgia has often been debunked by the critics, it may well be seen as the hallmark of an emerging class of Indian writers.
And in the end recognises :
Whatever the reasons, the exile has done more good than harm to the Indian literary scene, with publishing houses and literary agencies setting up base in India, in recognition of the growing importance of Indian writing in the global scene. The press has been flooded for some years now with stories of major publishing houses like Penguin, HarperCollins and Random House flocking to India in expectation of a literary boom in the country. This in turn has helped many English writers living in India find good publishers and recognition for their work.
Not to mention of course the encouragement for writers inherent in seeing someone from your own part of the world succeed globally.

By the way, I take issue with Maurya saying that Hari Kunzru is an Indian author settled abroad! He was born in Britain and brought up in Britain, but yes has an Indian father! Does everyone need to be pigeon-holed neatly into boxes that identify them as exclusively this and that?


husni said...

There's a certain romanticism of being outside one's own culture, and this nostalgic value usually comes together with a more objective clarity in observing it, a perspective that's only obtainable from the outside. I think that this perspective plays as much a role as the nostalgia in making the writer.
Another point is that being "outside" one's own culture sometimes does not even have to be a physical condition, but merely a psychological one. One is just a clearer incarnation of the other.

donplaypuks® said...

I don't see the issue.

The state of some countries is such that one cannot write freely; and travel and a stint overseas does broaden the mind, not to mention sharpening one's command of English. Repressive censorship laws and printing restrictions come to mind.

At least 4 Malaysian writers who have made the mark in recent times, are all based overseas. A child cannt be held responsible for its parents' wanderings.

I don't really care about writers' Nationality or where they reside. As long as they give us a good read! Do you care if good Vodka comes from Warrington or caviar from Iran?

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that Indians always want to be anywhere but India.

Anonymous said...

Hi All,
This is a good writeup..
I'm having a presentation on 'Indian English Authors and their contributions' as one of my goals. I feel that the indian authors are amazing and they should be given all the freedom to write what they feel without any ristrictions. As I browsed, I found an interesting website It is called the IndiaPlaza Golden Quill Award and it is to recognize and encourage Indian writing. It actually gave me an idea about the number of writers and their amazing work.

Abhinav said...

Thanks for sharing the article. I've a few things to add. I'm a man; so a she ponders is definitely out of the question. And the article never says that 'Hari Kunzru is an Indian author settled abroad.' If he had been writing about Britain, I would have definitely regarded him as British. I do not recognize him as Indian. But his novels are often set in India. And in an interview, he ended up trying to clarify his stand saying that he and Zadie Smith are not Indian writers. It was this denial that I was referring to.

bibliobibuli said...

thanks for dropping by and it was a good article.

re hari - i don't think it is a denial when he says he isn't an indian author. you must give people the space to define themselves.

"his novel are set in india"

one of them was ("the impressionist")
one began in india and moved to america, britain and dubai. ("transmission")
the third was set entirely in the UK and France and didn't have a single Indian character. ("my revolutions")
the short stories ... not set in india ("noise")

not to split hairs (or hari's haha) really it shouldn't be an issue where someone is from or where they write about.

and to quote hari himself from an interview i did with him :

"I like to say I’m the least authentic person I know. All my life I’ve either been too brown or too white for somebody’s tastes. I’ve never been in the business of selling the image of an authentic Asian culture, or British Asian culture, or Indian culture.

I was in India and I was asked “Are you British or Indian?” and I said “I’m not Indian, I’ve lived in Britain all my life”. I’m the most ersatz of Indians, but how do I define my connection to India which is very real, and embodied in this my cousin, this my aunty?

I think that sense of disjunction is at the centre of my work, so if I’m credited with turning out a typically Asian story I’m being misread. The Impressionist has all the furniture of a typical Raj novel, but was intended to puff it up to the point where it becomes completely absurd. It takes the Merchant/Ivory notion of the Indian Raj and interrogates the assumptions people have about what Indian-ness is, or what an Indian novel ought to be."

bibliobibuli said...

and sorry about the unwitting sex change - i've put matters right now. (i really must be more careful with genders - this is the third time this has happened in as many weeks!)

and yes, i did misquote you on this point. my apologies. i jumped the gun.

Anonymous said...

Just thought will share this amazing, one of India's leading online shopping destination has instituted the Indiaplaza Golden Quill Book Awards. This annual award is aimed at encouraging quality writing amongst Indian authors. Leading publishing houses in India have been invited to nominate their best books published in 2007. Five books will be short listed and evaluated by an eminent panel of judges for the final "Critics' Choice Award". The readers will nominate the "Reader's Choice Award" through the online voting system. The winners will win the "Golden Quill" trophy and a cash prize of Rs. 1 lakh. The award will be given to an Indian author domiciled in India for original full length novel or a work of fiction in English or a translation into English of an original full length novel or work of fiction of any Indian language published in India in the previous calendar year.The panel includes Sir Mark Tully, writer and theatre critic Shanta Gokhale, Anita Nair, and novelist Mahasweta Devi. For details visit