South Asian Literary Fiction

It has been a terrific year. I graduated law school, got married (!), inched closer to finding my way home, and I’m looking at several long-term career options, including one in my adopted hometown of Suva, Fiji!

However, I haven’t read as much as I would like to because law school and studying for the bar exam kills any sort of creative thought. I bought my partner a Nook HD+, the Barnes and Nobles reader, but I think I may now start using it more than her. If anyone reading this blog is a Nook user, feel free to add me as a friend, email:

My list of things to read includes mostly all the recently-released, award-winning or award-nominated South Asian fiction that I can find on the web:

Jamil Ahmad: The Wandering Falcon*
Alice Albinia: Leela’s Book
Tahmima Anam: The Good Muslim
U.R. Ananthamurthy: Bharathipura
Nadeem Aslam: The Blind Man’s Garden
Benyamin: Goat Days
Rahul Bhattacharya: The Sly Company of People Who Care
Chandrakanta: A Street in Srinagar
Renita D’ Silva: Monsoon Memories
Roopa Farooki: The Flying Man
Musharraf Ali Farooqi: Between Clay and Dust
Amitav Ghosh: River of Smoke, The Glass Palace*
Niven Govinden: Black Bread White Beer
Sunetra Gupta: So Good in Black
Mohsin Hamid: How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia*
Mohammed Hanif: Our Lady of Alice Bhatti
Sonora Jha: Foreign
Shehan Karunatilaka: Chinaman
Usha K.R: Monkey-man
Tabish Khair: The Thing About Thugs
Sachin Kundalkar: Cobalt Blue
Uzma Aslam Khan: Thinner Than Skin
Amit Majmudar: Partition, The Abundance
Kavery Nambisan: The Story that Must Not Be Told
Nayomi Munaweera: Island of a Thousand Mirrors
Uday Prakash: The Walls of Delhi
Anuradha Roy: The Atlas of Impossible Longing, The Folded Earth*
Nilanjana Roy: The Wildings
Saswati Sengupta: The Song Seekers
Shyam Selvadurai: The Hungry Ghosts
Geetanjali Shree: The Empty Space
Jeet Thayil: Narcopolis*
Thrity Umrigar: The Space Between Us, The Weight of Heaven, The World We Found*
Manu Joseph: The Illicit Happiness of Other People*
Cyrus Mistry: Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer
Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya: The Watch

I am going to stop there because the list grows longer by the second. I also want to write more so hopefully, 2014 will be the year that I release my first book. Maybe with the time not spent in law school, I can finally do something productive.

What are you reading?

The definition of an Indian Writer in English (IWE)

If I ever made it ‘big’ as an author, I probably won’t be considered ‘Indian Writer in English’ either since I have never been to India. At least that seems to be one of the central assumptions of the reporter: to make claims of authenticity beyond a shadow of doubt, one must have ties to ‘India’ and spend time in the country beyond merely advertising a book.

Why does it matter? So that the Indian press can take some fake nationalistic pride and solace from the fact that an award-winning writer is authentically Indian. No thanks. There is no such thing as being authentically Indian. We should celebrate good literature for the mere fact that it is good; not because it is written by one of ‘us.’

In a postmodern, postcolonial and transnational context, the Indianness of the writer is increasingly becoming both highly visible and irritatingly elusive. In the beginning there was Salman Rushdie, who was born in India—so what if he never lived here! Then there is Hari Kunzru—who, one wishes, looked more Indian so that our claim to include him as an ‘Indian writer’ would have more legitimacy! There is also Jhumpa Lahiri, the caramelskinned beauty, born in London, and brought up to be Indian in the US, who won the Pulitzer Award that is meant exclusively for ‘American’ writers. Is she Indian or is she not?

The annals of criticism on Indian writing in English are punctuated periodically by such basic questions. It is only when the big awards are announced that all debate is put on the backburner; the media, literati, and chatterati gear up with headlines and statements that declare ‘Indian writing in English comes of age’; ‘The Empire writes back’; or simply ‘Once again our girl gets home the Trophy’. V S Naipaul too, would have been similarly and readily co-opted, had he not waged a lifelong battle against such ‘areas of darkness’. There is definitely something about international awards that pushes further the frontiers of Indianness.

Strange things happen to these award-winning ‘Indian’ writers if they default on tokens of Indianness. Kiran Desai was pulled up by a chauvinistic section of the media for not wearing a sari to the Booker Award ceremony. Surely she should have known better than to reveal to the whole world and its aunt her innate multiculturalism—the same multiculturalism that she criticises so eloquently in her novel The Inheritance Of Loss. But Desai also found several champions who defended her sartorial choice as one that befitted a universal writer: Nilanjana S Roy, a reviewer and critic, observed, ‘Writers belong to nations by accident and by default. But the only country that can really hold them is the borderless country of the imagination. We diminish ourselves as readers every time we forget that.’’

Should we be ashamed of ourselves to want our very own Indian writers in English? Should we conclude that there are and can be no Indian, American or British writers? I wouldn’t worry too much about being overly nationalistic. After all, virtually no writer makes a secret of his or her saleable nationality when it comes to book promotions and publicity campaigns: Indianness sells well in the global market. The market-savvy Rushdie, for instance, introduced Kiran Desai as ‘a new child with lavish gifts’’ born of “India’s encounter with the English language’ and not as the denizen of a ‘borderless country of the imagination’ to the literary world.

The real problem is how to shop for the authentic Indian writer. Is s/he the one who looks Indian? V S Naipaul in; Hari Kunzru out. Is s/he she the one who writes about India? My God! Vikram Seth is out with his An Equal Music and it’s Mark Tully that’s in! Is s/he the one with the Indian passport? Oh God! Where is everybody?

I think I personally would go the Bollywood crossover way (there is no other way to go these days!). As in Loins Of Punjab, I too will look for the Indian soul—a purely spiritual engagement with the country. My prize for the Desi Writer Idol would go to our very own White Mogul, William Dalrymple. In recent times, Dalrymple has emerged as an articulate critic of American imperialism, which he critiques as the post-modern avatar of British colonialism.

The Scottish writer, his website claims, divides his time between Delhi and London. Not only is this more than Rushdie, Kunzru or Lahiri do to be Indian; it is also much more in hours and minutes than the time spent in their ‘own’ country by the likes of Kiran Desai. I hear that even Amitav Ghosh—who at one time was considered Indian with a vengeance by the same critics who rejected Rushdie for not being Indian enough—hardly visits any more, except for book tours, of course! Besides, Dalrymple knows Urdu, is a champion of pluralism and is regularly rapped on the knuckles by fellow whites for his West-bashing. How many Diasporic and international Indian writers can match this?

Source: Times of India Goa