Thursday, January 27, 2011

This Matter of Language Writing and Publishing

It could be change in perceptions, it could be damning of the Indian Writer in English (IWE) who are desperately trying to find a foothold. (We who struggle to create in a language that is still alien to us.) Reason? Orhan Pamuk has come out against English fiction as written in countries other than English-speaking countries on the last day of the Jaipur Literary Festival and opines that other languages are ignored. Earlier in the day Salman Rushdie had said in this address almost the same thing (link courtesy Frontline):

"This is it: the prose writing - both fiction and non-fiction - created in this period by Indian writers working in English, is proving to be a stronger and more important body of work than most of what has been produced in the 16 "official languages" of India, the so-called "vernacular languages", during the same time; and, indeed, this new, and still burgeoning, "Indo-Anglian" literature represents perhaps the most valuable contribution India has yet made to the world of books."

Now what is it that makes language writers rue their chosen language of expression? I for one think that Orhan Pamuk is wrong and so is Salman Rushdie.

As regards Rushdie's observation: I speak from my tentative experience of one language of India. Malayalam - my mother tongue - which I speak and read, has a tradition of literature exceeding anything any IWEs have produced. I confess I am a wannabe IWE writer, however, I confess here that the existing body of Malayalam literature far out-weighs and out-shines the body of IWE literature we have yet produced.

For example has any IWE writers produced a dictionary or a grammar book of IWE language? (Here I speak as the great,great, great nephew of the man who wrote the first authoritative grammar book in the Malayalam language. More about Rev. George Mathan on this link.) Or, for that matter a grammar book for IWEs?

People speak and understand their mother tongue better than any another tongue. It's another matter that I am more familiar and conversant with English as I am educated in it. However, my parents put me in a school which taught Malayalam as an add-on language, so I speak and write that language rather well, but not well enough to write in it. My loss. Whenever I can - mostly when I am in Kerala - I pick up a novel or book in Malayalam and I know that it expresses thoughts and feeling much better than English. I find it difficult to express that here, so I will leave it alone.

I would also vouch that language writers find it easy to be accepted and to be translated in India. Most publishing houses encourage translations because they know the books will sell as it has already been tested by the local language reading market.

So, rest assured, dear Mr. Pamuk that language publishing is still strong and will weather whatever storms there are. And dear Rushdie-sirji Indian languages (I have only pointed out the richness of one language) have a collective oeuvre which IWEs cannot match.

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