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Monday, 15 September 2008

Essay - The Authenticity of the Indian Writer's Global Identity

*I thought I had lost this article having written it almost 2 years ago and am so glad to have suddenly retrieved it.

by Suzan Abrams

Not too long ago, when I was in England, the distinguished author and historian, William Dalrymple - of the bestselling White Mughals - essayed a handsome feature spread for a British weekend newspaper in which the subject of a voracious Indian literary culture with respect to its burgeoning authorship worldwide, was eagerly questioned and debated as to any remaining skeletal form of a present existence.

Mr. Dalrymple appeared to me, to doubt that Indian writers were sucessfully working their way into novels or making sales without stepping out of their Mumbai/Kolkata shores.

He preferred to acknowledge that the successful Indian author was one who made sure he/she balanced at least 2 national cultures - one Eastern and the other Western - if not more within its belt and on its head.

He especially appeared to base his present conclusion from the personality of the current stereotype of the Indian author present at the famous Hay-on-Wye writing festival (2005) in particular, for its book readings and talks.

A British hybrid perhaps, given examples of successful Indian authors from those of Indian parents, later born and raised abroad especially in Britain and the States. I, of course, disagree.

In fact, such questions re-open a Pandora’s box with quicker speed than you could cast a dice.

How would you label the successful Indian writer whose parents emigrated from India into different eastern cultures eg. Singapore, Malaysia and even Japan. How would one explain the high inspirations of gentler poets like Mani Rao who while based in Hong Kong, has long established a tremendous following.

Such debates open up pages of controversy in a quest to decide on an author’s true identity. Perhaps the author is simply what she/he is, created by its heritage and life’s experiences.

How would one after all, explain globalisation that is swiftly opening borders and boundaries and destroying limitations, for any ambitious traveller who writes, making the stay-at-home-author and futuristically speaking - an almost sure relic of the past.

Mr. Darylmple appeared to doubt altogether, the existence of any living and working author in India - still successfully thriving on its literary merits - to the best of my knowledge.

“Darylmple’s assumption is that he can assess India’s youthful literary culture in English by adding up prizes, publishing advances, and sales figure rather than by examining individual texts, ” penned a disgusted Mr. Mishra to the Guardian. “Clearly, Dalrymple feels free to air-brush Indian writers out of existence in the pages of the Guardian,” he finished. “… But he will have be a lot more scruplous and rigorous if he wants Indian readers to accept his judgements.”

I agree with Mr. Pankaj Mishra on the grounds that he also named a good flurry of Indian authors who write and makes their homes in their motherland or who retain exceptionally strong roots even while staying in the West.

He named Amit Chaudhuri, Vikram Chandra, SiddharthaDeb, Raj Kamal Jhan, Rana Dasgupta, Rupa Bajwa and Tabish Khair amongst others.

I know that Siddharth Dhanwant Sanghvi who won the Betty Trask Award in UK, for his debut novel, The Last Song of Dusk and who has a British agent, still lives with his parents in Delhi. Rupa Bajwa did not come to England to launch her popular debut novel, The Sari Shop which was longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction at the time, as it was called. She has remained in Amritsar to work on her second novel.

Manju Kapur, authoress of Difficult Daughters and winner of a Commonwealth Prize still lives, works and writes actively from New Delhi. Uzma Aslam Khan the author of her debut novel, Trespassing, launched her book in England. She lives in Lahore with her husband. The gorgeous Raj Kamal Jha, author of the highly-acclaimed The Blue Bedspread still lives in Delhi where he edits The Indian Express, a national newspaper.

Radhika Jha who wrote The Elephant and The Maruti and Smell, lives and works in Delhi, 3 years ago, Smell turned up winner of the Prix Guerlain in Paris. Anita Nair, author of various bestselling novels worldwide, lives and writes in Bangalore. Then there is former journalist Shinie Antony who left her job to write novels and subsequently won different Commonwealth Prizes for each one. She lives and writes in and from Delhi.

The majority of these authors have their interests looked after by literary agents in Europe and subsequently with translation rights, are published by several European publishers all round. Rupa Bajwa was straightaway published by Penguin UK. Kapur’s literary agent is Heather Godwin of the David Godwin Literary Agency. Anita Nair, Uzma and Radhika Jha share the same British literary agent. Rana Dasgupta is looked after by the world-famous agent, Toby Eady in London.

And Vikram Seth attests to the fact that he spends at least 6 months annually with his mother in Delhi, even while living in London. Of course, having no commitment rings on his finger helped, Seth had boasted to The Bookseller of his single status.

I could think of a few more names if time was on my side. These are just some that presently sit at the back of my head, ready to be summoned at a moment’s notice.

Free wallpaper credit to Sanatansociety.com.
Captions are of a saint teaching in a temple above and a lady eagerly waiting, below.


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