25 May 2007

The contemporary Indian novel – IV

I don’t understand it. In spite of V S Naipaul not having any good things to say about India, we are eager to embrace him as an Indian author. In spite of V S Naipaul claiming his Nobel Prize as a citizen of Trinidad & Tobago and the United Kingdom, we are craving for his company as an Indian author. In spite of V S Naipaul not being India-born or having lived in India for a substantial period of time (for instance, like William Dalrymple), we are willing to include him in our fold as an Indian author.

What is it with us Indians? Are we so much in need of talent and recognition that we have to borrow from the world outside – even from those who clearly distinguish themselves as not being Indian, or not being an Indian author? If we were to go by V S Naipaul’s own comments on the Hindi film as ‘not reflecting reality’ and ‘concealing the truth’, are we not indulging in exactly that same thing when we welcome him as an Indian author?

It’s strange that the authors who are recognised by the international literary world as Indian authors are the ones who don’t stay in India. They are the ones whose notions of India, as recorded in their writing, reflect an India which she is not. Or, perhaps has not been for many years. Writing from the UK or the US or Canada, these writers are creating a picture of India which is imaginary. They are creating an Indian identity which bears little resemblance to the reality. And yet, the whole world is accepting it as the truth.

I remember Salman Rushdie bringing up this point many years ago in a bit of non-fiction ‘The Eye of the Beholder: Indian Writing in English’ for the Commonwealth Institute. Rushdie suggested that the portrayal of India by Indian authors writing in English may be warped, skewed and distorted. He mentioned the habit of ‘looking back’ that Indian authors writing in English irrevocably practised. According to Rushdie,

“…exiles or emigrants or expatriates, are haunted by some sense of loss, some urge to reclaim, to look back, even at the risk of being mutated into pillars of salt. But if we do look back, we must also do so in the knowledge — which gives rise to profound uncertainties — that our physical alienation from India almost inevitably means that we will not be capable of reclaiming precisely the thing that was lost; that we will, in short, create fictions, not actual cities or villages, but invisible ones, imaginary homelands, Indias of the mind.”

But, besides me, and maybe a line-up of India’s own regional language authors who feel the need to assert themselves to clear the picture, no one is complaining. After all, writing is all about readership. And, the strength of the readership for the contemporary Indian novel lies with the Western world.


nehaldevi said...

....being an Indian author? If we were to go by V S Naipaul's own comments on the Hindi film as 'not reflecting reality' and 'concealing the truth', are we not indulging in exactly that same thing when we
welcome him as an Indian author?

Read your blog...I liked your take. Very insightful.

runawaysun said...

Thank you, nehaldevi, for visiting my blog and your encouragement. Appreciate it.

contrarian said...

Hero worship is perhaps congenital for Indians. Amidst the chaos of life they keep searching for things to make them feel good about themselves. And anything that may have slightest hint of being Indian or even related to India give them that opportunity. Be it Naipaul to Sunitha Williams etc etc ... Liked your thoughts but would be easier if you could use Labels perhaps. Just a suggestion. At the end its your blogworld :)

runawaysun said...


Thank you for visiting my blog and your comments. I agree, we, Indians, love to stake our claim on anything that is remotely Indian and famous. To me, it seems more like a craving for borrowed glory than hero worship.

Labels? Yes, lately, the thought has crossed my mind. However, considering the fact that I have blogged on over 20 different topics over the past 2 years, I’m not sure what labels to put where. It would mean, after I arrive at an archiving logic, I have to go back and label close to 400 blog posts.