In the foreword to his 1938 novel. Kanthapura, raja rao notes: One has to convey in a language that is not ones own the spirit that is ones own. One has to convey the various shades and omissions of a certain thought-movement that looks maltreated in an alien language. I use the word alien, yet English is not really an alien language. It is the language of our intellectual make-up like sanskrit or Persian was before but not of our emotional make-up. We are all instinctively bilingual, many of us writing in our own language and in English. We cannot write like the English. We can write only as help Indians. In the manner Raja rao chooses to tell his tale of Kanthapura, in the cadence of his sentences and in the flow of the narrative, he gives us at least one possible way of writing as Indians.
In the intervening years, the length of the Indian novel in English has shrunk, the rushdian burden, if it ever existed, has been thrown off, and the prevailing model is squarely within the realist traditions of the English novel. More and more, as we become comfortable with the idea of English as a first language, our reading is confined to what comes to us from the Anglo-American world. We could not have picked a worse model, for it leaves us with two equally limiting alternatives to remain within the world where only English is spoken (the bath in warm water) or to step out armed with a form unsuited to the task. Consider help how bizarre a realist novel that seeks to escape the confines of the English-speaking world can. . we are supposed to unquestioningly accept the idea that every character in such a novel speaks English with equal ease. In the Indian context, it is more plausible to imagine characters that can fly. Even when the reader realises that the writer is working with a translated reality, how is he to make sense of a territory where reality is lived out in at least two languages and where it is the interplay between these languages that settles the. Macaulays bastards, the question of language, which is intimately tied to the question of form, is central to the whole enterprise of fie. . This was not lost on the first generation of Indian writers in English.
It is as if the same novel is being written over and over again. The writer in Sanskrit was working within an aesthetic framework that resulted in his consciously leaving out much of the world. We have no such aesthetic defining us and yet, through the unconscious act of borrowing an aesthetic, we have ended up similarly circumscribed. An all-out retreat, this unthinking retreat from the diversity of languages and settings in India is only a subset of a larger retreat from the diversity of form. Just a decade ago, amit Chaudhuri, in an essay called. Huge baggy monster: Mimetic Theories of the Indian novel after Rushdie, had complained of the tautological idea that since India is a huge baggy monster, the novels that accommodate it have to be baggy monsters as well. He went on to claim that: Post-Rushdie, the Indian novel in English has been constructed, in both popular and critical terms, as something distinct from indeed, as alternative to the conventional English novel Indian life is plural, garrulous, rambling, lacking a fixed centre, and the. Delicacy, nuance and irony apparently belong properly to the domain of the English novel and to the rational traditions of the european Enlightenment; and inasmuch as these traditions have been involved with the history of colonialism, nuance and irony must be looked on with suspicion. While i dont know about nuance or irony, chaudhuris case about baggy monsters no longer stands.
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Only a few recent works escape these limitations, such as Siddharth Chowdhurys. Patna roughcut, about a university student in Delhi who goes back to patna to work as a journalist and write, and Omair Ahmads. The Storytellers Tale, a perfectly-structured fable constructed out of the stories a noblewoman and a poet fleeing a delhi laid waste tell each other. The overarching tendency, though, has been a retreat to a world defined by English. It is a retreat to the past.
We are aspiring a culture where the elite have always spoken a language of their own: Sanskrit to begin with, then Persian and now English. If you apply the paradigm rambriksh of a national fiction to what has come down to us in the name of Sanskrit literature, you can see the similarities. It is circumscribed in its failure to step outside a gated world; individual authors such as Kalidasa or Bhartrihari are worthy of attention, but as a collective the terms monotony and a bath in warm water are not out place. In similar fashion, a number of good novels and good authors can exist comfortably in a setting where the multilingualism of the country does not intrude in any real way, but taken as a collective this kind of fiction will become repetitive in tone and. Authors may well be writing about the world they know best, but the world all of them know best seems increasingly to be the same world.
In fie i know of just one book published in the last decade that touches this terrain Amita kanekars. A spoke in the Wheel a historical novel set in mauryan times. I have to go back a little to find Gita mehtas. River Sutra and in actual truth the feel of these small towns is best portrayed. A passage to India, a novel set in the Indo-gangetic plain but born out of em forsters experience in Dewas, a town barely 20 kilometres from Indore. It was only natural to turn from this paucity and wonder if it is peculiar to madhya pradesh.
But Punjab has been no better served by fie in the recent past. In the early years of fie, mulk raj Anand and Khushwant Singh wrote extensively of the state, but from the last 10 years i only know of Rupa bajwas. The sari Shop and neel Kamal Puris, the patiala quartet. . And even these books have registered a shift from the rural settings explored by the earlier authors. I believe much the same holds true for the rest of the country. Fie has for the most part retreated from the world that lies outside metropolitan India. This failure stems in part from the transition the country has undergone since 1991. Authors in their early 30s or younger have been predominantly shaped by the post-liberalisation world. For many of them, English is their first language; the world they move in is almost entirely constructed in English.
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I prefer to know a few places well, returning to them time and again. . I have spent several years reporting out of Punjab and Madhya pradesh, so i can claim some knowledge of these two states. Over the writing past three years I have been working on a travelogue set along the narmada river. My fascination with the river has led me to explore how other writers have written of the terrain. By the terrain I dont just mean the river, the vindhya mountains or the palash tree in bloom. I also mean the life and history of the small towns along the river whose course stretches over 1,200 kilometres from Amarkantak in south Madhya pradesh to Bharuch in Gujarat. As far as non-fiction goes, there are a few recent travelogues in Gujarati, hindi and English, and there is, of course, no lack of Puranic history. But as soon as I turn to fiction, there is almost nothing since kalidasa wrote of his beloved avanti. Meghdutta he describes the river reva, or the narmada, and the young men comporting with courtesans on the hills near Vidisha.
And if fiction cant do that, then what hope for telling the story of a nation? I believe just the opposite that fiction is still essential to the way that a nation understands itself, perhaps more so than ever before. If you agree with Monica Ali, as I do, then it entry is worth asking: what of India? Literature in the Indian languages is a vast enterprise, and books in one language are barely accessible to those who speak another. To understand ourselves through this vast corpus may be as futile an endeavour as the map that Jorge luis Borges dreamt up, a map that in every detail is a true copy of the real world. Fie should in principle work far better as an atlas; after all, it can potentially represent every part of the country. But it doesnt and this failure is, i believe, one of the main reasons for the monotony it evokes. Let me come to this failure through a digression, which is only my way of defining fie through what it is not. Journalists range from the perpetually peripatetic to those who would rather never leave delhi because they feel that all that there is to know in this country transpires there.
were one, or. There is no separating Indian Writing in English (IWE) from English literature; in fact, the term iwe is so diffuse that it is almost without meaning. . my criticism was directed at what is being written in India in English hence the term fie. Even those who took umbrage at my article, such as blogger and former publisher Nilanjana s roy, wrote in to say that the one thing I do agree with Bal about is the monotony of much that is published these days. I can only think that the suggestion of monotony and the perception of a bath of warm water both indicate a problem that needs some attention. Iecent essay in, the Atlantic, monica Ali made the case that: In our modern, multicultural world, one that has become geographically unbound, perhaps literature too has become unanchored. It can only add a sense of rootlessness, as writers and books traverse the globe this is not just a question of geography, of migration patterns. Its also about trends in fiction itself. Were all postmodernists now. Or at least we must give a nod to the idea that fiction cannot reliably hold up a mirror to an individual life.
3 years ago, reply - report Abuse. Were not lying in sort of a bath of warm water and reflecting upon, you know, our sort of quirky, funny families. This is what pakistani writer Daniyal mueenuddin thinks separates recent pakistani writing from work being produced in India. Mueenuddin is not alone in thinking this. A few months ago, i wrote a short article bemoaning the state of recent Fiction Written in India in English (fie in which I complained about a lack of ambition and a repetitiveness of theme and setting. It triggered an intense debate, with many endorsing what I had said, but at least a few publishers and bloggers objecting strongly because they felt I was prescribing a norm for the Indian novel. The novel, though, can accommodate anything and everything, and individual novels can hardly be faulted for either subscribing or failing to subscribe to any norm. My dark complaint had to do with a collective.
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