Tuesday, October 27, 2009

An essay in Foreign Policy

Recently Foreign Policy magazine invited me to venture some thoughts on the problems of and pressures on the Indian novel in English in a globalising time. My essay on this theme, "English Spoken Here", appears this week in the November/December issue.

Here are some essays that discuss in greater detail some of the novels brought up in this piece: Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games, Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger, Fakir Mohan Senapati's Six Acres And a Third, Manil Suri's The Age of Shiva, and Ali Sethi's The Wish Maker.


Ramnath said...

Hi Chandrahas,

You say, "In fact, the book now considered the first Indian novel, Rajmohan's Wife, was written in English in 1864 by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, a young magistrate of the Raj."

What about Prathapa Mudaliar Charithram. This is considered to be the first Tamil novel and it was written some years before Chatterjee's novel.

soumya guhathakurta said...

Prathapa Mudaliar Charithram was written in 1879. source english translation by meenakshi tyagarajan published by katha tamil library.

Not- said...

I really enjoyed reading this article.

By the way, the name's "not-" and not "not-said" .. the "said" is what blogspot.com seems to add by default.

parotechnics said...

True - we see the same things happening with films. Often films that people here really enjoy for all their texture and feeling that they somehow ring true don't play that well abroad on the commercial or non-commercial circuit. And others that present an explanation of India so to say travel successfully. But I also wonder about what happens in the reverse - as in, what there is to observe in the way that we consume the art of another culture?

RK said...

It seems that one of your essay's most provocative ideas--the specific as opposed to, or in conjunction with, the authentic--is restricted to the last paragraph, where it barely breathes before coming abruptly to rest. If you have a fuller version of this essay, one in which the idea of the specific in Indian literature is spoken of in greater detail, I hope you'll consider posting it here.

As such, your argument reveals a Realistic bias, seeming to prefer the novel of feeling, in which a character is subject to a (authorially chosen) sequence of events---the specific, the ostensibly contingent---that individuate him in some unmistakable way, over (say) the novel of ideas. There may not be much doubt that novels like Tiger and Shiva and Games can only be evaluated from the literary-realistic framework; but to then declare---and without justification---that this is the only framework possible is at least a little puzzling. What about the full-fledged postmodern novel---not the gaudy, morally decrepit brand that today's putatively precocious twenty-somethings with a predilection for sex and self-conscious Jewishness purvey (I'm thinking, of course, of Foer and early Smith and Thirwell and the rest)--- but one that is accountably engaged with the questions that any culture as riven as ours should be, those of authenticity, identity, commodification? Realism can be employed, in the manner of most Indian writers in English, to create a structure of feeling that can be interpreted later in cultural terms; but what is at least worth considering is some mixture of the realistic and the meaningfully metafictional, using as a model not those spoilt younger authors but some older ones: later Coetzee (Elizabeth Costello, Slow Man, Diary of a Bad Year) , Spark (most of her work), Murdoch (The Black Prince), to quote only the ones that immediately spring to mind. Such fiction, occupied simultaneously with character while subverting its own authority in representing it, seems inherently more capable of jolting the everyday reader out of his unconsciousness; of being able to engender those questions within him that a novel dedicated to a `realistic' portrayal cannot.