Monday, February 13, 2006

Jeet Thayil's reading

The poet Jeet Thayil has some worthy observations about literature and some good picks in recent books by new Indian writers on the books page of the Times of India yesterday. I concur with Thayil's view that a lot of new Indian writers are "producing unexpected work in terms of genre and language" - I've read three very good first novels by Indian writers in the last two months alone (I've written about two here and here, and the third is my friend Sonia Faleiro's The Girl). And Thayil has some very good things to say too about Henry James and Naipaul. I quote the whole piece here:
I liked Rupa Bajwa's The Sari Shop, Samit Basu's The Manticore's Secret, Pankaj Mishra's An End to Suffering: The Buddha In The World, Sarnath Banerjee's Corridor, Rana Dasgupta's Tokyo Cancelled, Siddhartha Deb's Surface.

It's good to know there are young Indians producing unexpected work in terms of genre and language. And it's good to know Indian publishers are finally willing to take a risk and take on fresh material. India has more young people than ever before and they deserve a new kind of writing.

I think he's the master of the semi colon and the em dash. Look at the first paragraph of A Way In The World for an example of authoritative punctuation. I go to Dante for the difficulty, to remind myself that there's no need, ever, to explain.

For pleasure, I read cookbooks and Salim Ali's The Book Of Indian Birds, which has some delightful passages.

For instance this description of the Malabar Whistling Thrush: "In breeding season, male has a rich and remarkably human whistling song, rambling aimlessly up and down the scale, whence the bird gets its popular name of 'Idle Schoolboy'."

My favourite characters from literature are Moby Dick, Babar, Aeon Flux, Billy the Kid, Agastya Sen, Job, Nancy Drew, Nick Charles, Saleem Sinai, the cities of Bombay and New York.

As for a favourite line, at the moment probably this line from an Edward Thomas poem: 'Blessed are the dead that the rain rains upon.'

Here are some poems by Thayil - they're not entirely to my taste, but you can make up your own mind about them. He can also be found in conversation with the writer Eunice D'Souza here. And here's another piece by him on a subject on which any alert Indian moviegoer could come up with his or her own essay: "Borrowed by Bollywood". I don't possess a copy of A Way In The World, but if some reader who does could quote the first paragraph in a comment, we could all have a look at that.

And here's another very good piece by another Indian poet, Keki Daruwala: "On Writing in English: an Indian poet’s perspective". Daruwala says very perceptively, about the endeavour to find a poetic language apposite to his circumstances: "In university one had been brought up on a diet of Shelley and Keats. When you left the campus you faced harsh reality around you -- drought, poverty and communal riots. One needed a harsh language, words with a saw-edge, words which rasped and got into you like the shards of a broken bottle. Slowly, almost unconsciously the poems developed a vocabulary and a soundscape of their own." A good interview with Daruwala in the Hindu can be found here.

1 comment:

Unknown said...


I just wanted to say that I was at this book reading where Rupa Bajwa was reading out excerpts from her book. Then came the question answer session. And a middle aged man who was there with his wife got up and said that when he had got to half way through the book, it got really disturbing and he couldn't read any further. He said his wife and he held hands through the night. Then he congratulated Bajwa on writing so poerfully. At this, Bajwa got extremely apologetic and said she was sorry for having kept them up. She looked conscience stricken. It was one of the best moments I have had in any book reading.