Monday, April 21, 2008

William Dalrymple on the Indian Literary Dream that Wasn't

William Dalrymple on the Indian Literary Dream that Wasn't:

'The truth is, however, that since 1997 there has been no new galaxy of stars emerging to match the stature of those of the 1980s and 90s. Many of the Indian novelists who were signed up with such excitement 10 years ago failed to repay even a fraction of their advances. The only Indian-themed book to win the Booker - The Life of Pi - was written by Yann Martel, a white Canadian. In India itself, there is no new internationally acclaimed masterpiece, no new Roy.'

And then I read this and I weep tears of bitterness:

'Writers such as Kunzru, born in Hounslow or Edgware or Brooklyn or New Jersey, have a clear and built-in advantage over their cousins brought up in Jhansi or Patna. They have far more confidence in English, and their ethnicity and geography makes them natural bridges between cultures, able automatically to translate an Indian sensibility for the west - if that is what they want to do. Certainly, their background effortlessly puts them in a position to draw together a range of different influences, to work with ease in India and Britain and the US, and to produce art that is readily comprehensible at both ends of the globe.'

Seems my dream of being published is going farther and farther. Oh, great publishers, why haven't you replied to my emails, replied to me within a few weeks (as promised), when it is already one year and a half. The mind grows numb, hope dims, the distance seems blurred. Ah, well!

7 comments:

Rajiv said...

Thanks for the link to the original article and your short review.

I wonder how many can really write in English, I spend 98 percent of my day speaking in Hindi, I am quite good at it and have a fair command.
i write poems and stories in english just as I write hindi and I write because all my friends write in english.
And I am an ordinary Indian, and strangely Dalrymple worry about English literature does not worry me at all.
Consider this, we read more books in Hindi than English, I am particularly attracted to the dalit literature, and for that I even read Marathi Sahitya. All my problems and concerns are locked in my present which is lit in the fire of everyday India. Can this everyday India ever be translated into english. Who would we be speaking to, British Audience.
Take Malyalam literature for an Instant, I am told that its impossible to translate even something as simple as “I am worried” into English.
I spent 2 years in Trichur learning Kathakali, but sometimes even simple facial inflictions eluded me, because my body lacked the necessary linguistic depth which only Malyalam could bring out, out of my flesh.
And I experienced Language like ones own skin, ones own body. It has eyes and ears and nerves weave and runs all over filling it with its own distinct touch...blood.

So the question is why this hype and long face about the English novel.
I like to know your views.

regards
Rajiv


By the way I read your Review of the Kite Runner. I wrote a short critique of it (mainly the film), which probably might not be to your taste...my wife hates me for criticizing Khaled.
If you are interested, you can read it here.
http://spotha-dhvani.sulekha.com/blog/post/2008/04/the-kite-runner.htm

John said...

Hi Rajiv,

I may be forceed to disagree withyou because there are some very good writer in English in INdia. You know something, more people speak English in India than in US or UK. So it's upto us writers to invent a new idiom that can be carried forward by the writers following us.

About the review of Kite Runner I will definitely read it.

J

Rajiv said...

Hi John
Its not about how many speak English viz US, UK, but to whom is one really speaking.
Once upon a time Iranian was spoken more then Iran, but who today reads that literature.
What I found was the absurdity of Dalrymple's worries.
Sure there are some very good writers in English, no arguments there, but there is a reversal in progress and this is been pushed from Fm to TV soaps. English has failed to become our eyes and ears.
Can 'a new idiom' take over the Radio and TV, I have my doubts.

I want it to happen, but don't see how.
I will give you an example: Dalrymple and party hosted one of the most ambitions and one of the biggest Literary feast in Jaipur this year. lots of media coverage, from BBC, CNN to NDTV with a clear eye to promote English. And...English got all the media coverage, but the English writers (and some of the best) lectured to an absconding audience.
Hindi literature was slotted to be last, but on that day the Hall was full and bursting, but sadly the media was no where in sight.
That's how things are at ground Zero.
It is the remoteness of Image to its reality that worries me the most.

regards
Rajiv

John said...

Rajiv,

that is indeed a sad commentary on english writing. I was supporting Pablo organise Kitab in Bombay and it was badly sabotaged by people whom i won't name here. If that's the future of english writing then god help us.

J

Rajiv said...

yes that's sad. and I think only if there would be a Tamilian english, a Marathi english, a Hindi english can english sustain itself. Instead of seeking separateness and derive its internal growth/moment (verb) not just from English literature rooted and contexted in England, but, it should seek integration, a radical co-mingling here, in a fusion of Indian colors.
And how do you do that with english words that inevitably derive their existential existence from human activity rooted in english soil/US/UK.
anyway, thanks for the article, and waiting eagerly for your novel to hit the road.

Warm regards
Rajiv

John said...

Instead of seeking separateness and derive its internal growth/moment (verb) not just from English literature rooted and contexted in England, but, it should seek integration, a radical co-mingling here, in a fusion of Indian colors.

Rajiv,

Entirely in agreement. I am experimenting with what I call "Mack English" Read This:

http://poetecstasy.blogspot.com/2006/11/mack-english.html

http://www.ryze.com/posttopic.php?topicid=777340&confid=1199

Hope you like it. This is the english spoken by the Goans and East Indians of Bombay.

J

Rajiv said...

Hi John
WOW, I never knew that this was mack English, I always thought it to be typical bambaiya. Almost all my christian friends spoke it and also a few Mangalori friends, though there was a subtle difference, and my Christian friends would differentiate theirs from the Mangalori counterparts by calling the other makanaka.
...and this is around the 1970's, I was a just a KG toddling kid then.

I am sure your novel would be very refreshing and very very different and unique as well as interesting, though I am not sure how it will be able to capture the subtle and intimate emotions as I noticed that often in matters of grief they would lapse into their native tongue, which ever that happens to be, Mangalori, Konkani or Marathi.
for example I always find it awkward and funny when I have to register a grief of a rickshaw puller into english, it almost has an artificial quality.
I think this was also noted by Amitav Ghosh.


finished :)
LOOng read, but I enjoyed ever bit of that post, and also your poem.
Thanks for guiding me to such wonderful post.
Regards
Rajiv