03 June 2007

On foreign land

It’s interesting to note that although many Indian authors writing in English live in the UK, the US and Canada, their stories are mostly about India. Typically, there are three themes that run through their stories:

One, stories in India about Indian life. Two, stories in India about Indian life where Indian immigrants return to India from their new home for a brief spell. And three, stories about Indian immigrants in their new home on foreign land.

This is true because of the authors’ familiarity with both cultures… and the histories and geographies of both countries. Without this background, it is difficult to accomplish their tasks as Indian writers telling the world about India. It actually enables writing of this immigrant kind. My guess is, these writers draw heavily upon both (a) their memories of their old countries and (b) their personal experiences of, and responses to, their new homes.

This qualification gives them an edge over India’s home-grown writers who depend entirely upon their Indian experience. Indian home-grown writers not only lack the magic of immigrant experience, but, because of their lack of knowledge of foreign land, the people there and their customs, they desperately fall short in their ability to relate to, and please, Western readers.

Western readers, in turn, are enamoured by Indian writing in English – particularly by the works of those writers who are able to showcase the best of both worlds.

Mind you, this is true not of Indian writing in English alone, but encompasses writers of other countries as well. By that, I mean writers who share the experience of the immigrant kind and, yet, are able to relate to readers of both countries, old and new. J M Coetzee (South Africa, Australia), Kazuo Ishiguro (Japan, the UK) and Michael Ondatjee (Sri Lanka, Canada and the world) are three names that come to mind immediately.

In doing so, they emerge as global writers whose writing appeals to a much larger global readership. They may live on foreign land for the moment, but their writing endears them to a much larger audience.

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