English authors from India
The thing I love most about the great books written by Indian/Indian-origin English authors is the inextricable Indianness they carry with pride and vigour. While it’s true that the native language captures the texture of society in most prudent and accurate way. Some of the great Indic books, Godan — Hindi, Jootha Sach-Hindi, Gora- Bengali are the epitome of Indianness and I don’t think English can produce the same effect in the context of aforementioned novels, as evident by the lack of good translations available for these books. But then, those were the times of pre-independence era. Much have changed now and so have the voices of India.
In early January this year, I finished reading the novel, A Suitable Boy, written by acclaimed Indian author Vikram Seth. Set in the early years of independent India, when the first general election(1952) had not even taken place yet, this novel deals with different aspects of India of that time. It delves deep inside the social fabric of India to understand the very idea of India. Description of family lives, Indian traditions, prevailing political situation, the rise of different ideologies, farmers, religious diversity, and the waning kingdoms of India are done as much with grand opulence of literary aplomb as with the sheer devotion to Indianness.
I never felt, while reading this book, hearing voices different than I would have heard in reality. The magic of writing is such that you are transported to that Nehruvian era and you almost feel it happening around you in clear light. I have read various Hindi books dealing with situations around the same time and I will gladly rate it as an equivalent to those great Hindi novels in capacity to be effective.
A few months ago, I read Midnight’s Children, the booker-prize winning novel by Indian author Salman Rushdie and I had the same pleasure taking a dive through Indian history. Sheer Indianness of each character in rapidly changing India, with changing moralities, going through political tumult of its own and it’s neighbours, were unequivocally genuine. This novel was written in 1981, and I was really glad Indian authors have been successful in capturing the soul of India so fervently.
Reading books of R.K Narayan, Arundhati Roy, I had the same feeling that English is almost not foreign to us now. When any literature is successful in mirroring the societies of that region, soul of that region and get the true voices of the people heard outside and inside the region, then it can’t still be foreign to that region and this is a good thing, I suppose.
But more recently, I think there has been a sharp decline in English literature in India. Comparing to the aforementioned authors and their books, recent books seems almost like potboilers being served with not much prudence for the literature or society except for the tag of the “Best-selling” authors. Copying styles from western potboilers like Da Vinci Code and so many others, the current pool of writers are engrossed with fancy ideas to sell the story without thinking they are producing just some banal junk. I am not trying to generalise current English literature in India. I am just reflecting on popular trends, where Chetan Bhagat and others like him are on one pedestal and Christopher C. Doyle and many wannabe Dan Brown are on others.
But I sincerely hope, good writers, like Shashi Tharoor and others will inspire next generation of Indian writers who will carry forward the great legacy of Indian literature and will respect the voices and feelings of India fervently.