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A weighty issue

A weighty issue
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First Published: Fri, Apr 17 2009. 10 51 PM IST

Out of the box: Amitav Ghosh experimented with genre fiction. Jerry Bauer / Reuters
Out of the box: Amitav Ghosh experimented with genre fiction. Jerry Bauer / Reuters
Updated: Fri, Apr 17 2009. 10 51 PM IST
Until recently, Indian English writers mostly steered clear of genre fiction: fiction written ostensibly within the framework of a particular genre, such as cyber fiction or the detective novel. This had to do with the heavy cultural weight of “books”, which we have traditionally considered sacred, and the colonial prestige of English.
Out of the box: Amitav Ghosh experimented with genre fiction. Jerry Bauer / Reuters
In recent years, this has been dented: Samit Basu, Ruchir Joshi, Amitav Ghosh in The Calcutta Chromosome, Hirsh Sawhney’s forthcoming Crime Noir anthology, etc. And yet, surely it is revealing that genre aspects of even The Calcutta Chromosome are seldom taken up by scholars of literature in India? Not to mention the fact that most Indian scholars tend to prefer Ghosh’s other novels, which do not deploy genre fiction to the same effect.
This is a pity. While genre fiction draws upon pulp fiction, it need not be identified with it. Pulp fiction stays within the confines of a genre, repeating itself endlessly, while genre fiction uses the limits to issue a challenge. The French author Sébastien Doubinsky probably had that in mind when he claimed, in a recent interview, that he loves “genre because it enables you to destroy it”.
Doubinsky has his first English-language novel, The Babylonian Trilogy, forthcoming from a British press, with an introduction by the legendary genre writer Michael Moorcock. The Babylonian Trilogy is an experimental three-part novel, each loosely linked section dealing with a particular aspect of the imaginary city: war in The Birth of Television according to Buddha, crime in Yellow Bull and violence in The Gardens of Babylon. It uses different “genre” characteristics to launch an ironic assault on the myths of our age.
Given the tenor of the times, genre fiction might well offer the best options to narrate and criticize. It is time more Indian English novelists stepped off their literary high horses and jumped on to the motorcycles and spacecrafts of genre fiction.
Poetry-shoetry
No, Daljit Nagra’s Look We Have Coming to Dover! does not herald a new dawn for Indian poetry in English. A good collection of its kind, it nevertheless belongs to the tradition of black British and post-colonial poetry, which draws upon theories and practices of creolized, spoken Englishes. English in India has a different role and relationship to dozens of other languages. Some excellent poets—from Nissim Ezekiel, Ramanujan, Jayanta Mahapatra and Keki Daruwalla to Jeet Thayil, etc.—have written Indian poetry in English, and written it very well. But the critical equipment to celebrate and criticize this poetry in its distinctive context is still lacking. Until this equipment materializes, Indian poetry in English will continue to be neglected—above all, internationally. And until then, one could do worse than quote Ogden Nash’s advice to prospective mothers of poets: “…don’t gamble on the chance that future generations may crown him./ Follow your original impulse and drown him.”
Who’s next?
Wasafiri, a major magazine dedicated to post-colonial writing (published by Routledge from London but also available in India now), has launched a new writing prize to mark its 25th anniversary. “Help us discover the best of tomorrow’s writers today,” the pamphlet urges. So why not give it a shot? Details are available at www.wasafiri.org
Born and raised in Gaya, Tabish Khair is the Denmark-based author of Filming.
Write to Tabish at readingroom@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Apr 17 2009. 10 51 PM IST