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South Asian writing in English

My new article A Cheer for South Asian Writers is now up in SatyaCircle.

"The renaissance for South Asians writing in English can be attributed, I think, (partly) to the emotional boost that Salman Rushdie's winning of the Booker Prize gave to sub-continental authors. Before Rushdie, the genre was sparse. There were of course a few recognizable writers such as R.K.Narayan, Mulk Raj Anand, and Raja Rao, who were enormously respected, but who were not very well known outside of the cognoscenti. .... .Rushdie's publication of Midnight's Children changed all that. Not only did it win critical acclaim, but it also found a wide and appreciative audience around the world. ....By the time I was in college, there was a host of Indian writers publishing books about Indian experiences in English. They were looking at their country through modern, cosmopolitan eyes, not only writing about the Diaspora, but also bridging cultural, geographical, and lifestyle gaps."

In case you want to read more about the writers that I mentioned in that article, the following websites may help. They have a lot of stuff on some of the writers that I mentioned in that article.

Arundhati Roy
Amitav Ghosh
Bapsi Sidhwa
Salman Rushdie

I'll try to add some more links later in the day.


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Thank you for your excellent comments. I think you are right. Size of the market is not big enough to sustain the genre right now. This is also driving some to write stuff which is not genuine and/or are geared towards a western audience. Your last point. Interesting, I was thinking about this, with respect to movies while watching Monsoon Wedding a few weeks back.

I agree with you that the publishing and distribution infrastructure within India could be much improved.

But in my opinion, the primary challenge is on the demand side i.e., there’s just not a big enough market within India to sustain the Indian-Writing-in-English (IWE) genre.

This will change. In a decade or so, there will emerge a critical mass of Indians fluent in English and with the necessary standard of living to generate an internal demand for quality writing. But till then, most of the revenue for Indian authors will continue to come from the West.

To some extent, this weakness on the demand side explains the dearth of English translations of Indian language works (your final point).

In my opinion, the influence of the dollar can also explain some of the more forgettable outpourings in the IWE genre -- Gita Mehta’s lame attempt at exoticization, “The River Sutra” or Shashi Tharoor’s glib and superficial “India: From Midnight to Millennium”. I’m yet to meet a single reader brought up in India who thinks much of either book.

Thanks, Ashwini.

You are right. I only mentioned Bapsi Sidhwa and Samrat Upadhyay among writers from other S. Asian countries. I guess I should have mentioned more. However, I was trying to identify a trend and the underlying causes and impacts rather than bring attention to all brilliant writers.

Also, the trend seems to most noticeable in India which has a larger infrastructure and market that can support this market much better. As a result, Indian writers have been making the most impact. But there a fair number of brilliant writers from elsewhere that I could not mention(Michael Ondaatje immediately springs to mind) who are making a wave.

BTW, you have a very interesting website!

Interesting article. However, throughout your article you use the term South Asian authors and then go on to discuss Indian authors barring one. Discussing English writing from other S.Asian countries would have made your article a more interesting read.

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