Asia+n writing in English

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Publishing trends: On e-books and Genre Writing in South Asia

by Zeenat Mahal @zeemahal

SLMHLMN-cover-final (1)Genre writing in English by South Asians is a comparatively new phenomenon. Though there are writers like Shobhaa De who have been writing popular fiction for the last two decades, most writers want to be known as ‘literary’ authors. The common belief in South Asia has been, until now, that in order to have any merit, writing in English has to be ‘literary,’ a term used to signify art. A literary book is supposed to have finer prose, important themes and most of all, it is expected to be a piece of such crafted excellence that it can withstand the test of time. Traditionally, value has been placed with this form of writing, while all other forms of writing are dismissed as worthless. This prejudice is true anywhere in the world, but it has lasted far longer in South Asia. Popular literature by South Asians has only recently found an audience in South Asia.

There are two phenomena at work here. Homi K. Bhabha suggests that the fascination with the written word leads to the ‘book [being regarded] as wonder.’ The other is the fascination with a person who can make a story out of nothing, or worse, ‘put you in a book.’ There might be remnants of post-colonialism working here as well. Writers who can employ the language of power, i.e. English, to write and to capture ‘truths’ and ‘reality’ are celebrated more than those who write in local languages, not counting the great poets and classical writers. The idea that the revered written word may be ‘reduced’ to nothing more than ‘pulp’ appal these gatekeepers of ‘taste’ and ‘merit.’ The written word as entertainment is frowned upon, because reading as a leisurely habit has been associated with rich, well-educated people who want to come across as intellectuals. Continue reading

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Granta’s India issue disappoints

Granta’s second India issue brings together a new crop of writers who don’t quite up the ante, says Faiza S. Khan in Open

Too much of the fiction (and non-fiction) in this issue is competent if utterly mundane; I’m hard-pressed to remember it two days after reading it. I’d venture that it isn’t a sign of the much-ballyhooed Death of the Novel or any particular crisis facing Indian literature at the moment; it seems to me a matter of poor selection—more work in translation for example would have been great—and the same problem Raymond Chandler wrote to a friend about in 1947: ‘Undoubtedly we are getting a lot of adept reportage which masquerades as fiction and will go on getting it, but essentially I believe that it is lacking an emotional quality. Even when they deal with death, and they often do, they are not tragic. I suppose that is to be expected. An age which is incapable of poetry is incapable of any kind of literature except that cleverness of a decadence. The boys can say anything, their scenes are almost tiresomely neat, they have all the facts and all the answers, but they are little men who have forgotten how to pray.’

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Vassanji’s Third and Final Continent

MG Vassanji goes home again in an elegant memoir: Open

Home_Was_Kariakoo_220‘Surely a returnee has some claim to the land which formed him—which is not in some godforsaken corner of the globe but in the centre of his imagination. And surely distance lends objectivity.’ Fierce words for a gentle writer, but on the subject of reappropriating true homes, he cannot be dissuaded. Canadian MG Vassanji—acclaimed author of six novels, two collections of short stories and a memoir of travels in India—is one of the more reticent writers the Indian diaspora lays claim to, and in this keenly-observed travelogue-cum-memoir, he makes his own claims, not on India but on the land which raised him and which is often misrepresented. East Africa and the lives of its people is his particular province as a writer, and here, as he has previously attempted, he speaks for Indian or Asian Africans, who are sometimes dispossessed twice over in a confusion of countries. African literature has claimed him, but he must still defend his identity, it is evident.

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Discontent and Its Civilizations – Pakistan’s place in the world

In a collection of essays, Mohsin Hamid looks at Pakistan’s role as villain within the global news industry: The Guardian

Mohsin Hamid, novelist.In 2010, Mohsin Hamid was asked by Granta to contribute to a piece entitled “How to write about Pakistan”. Other poets or novelists might have railed against accounts littered with mullahs, military generals, secret agencies and American drones. Hamid, characteristically droll, drew up a list of 10 commandments of which the first three were: “Must have mangoes”; “Must have maids who serve mangoes”; “Maids must have affairs with man servants who should occasionally steal mangoes.” Continue reading

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Awards celebrate Hakka literature

Outstanding works of Hakka literature received recognition at the fifth Tung Blossom Literary Awards yesterday, as the organizers expressed their desire to carry on the Hakka community’s rich cultural heritage.

Held by the Hakka Affairs Council, the event saw 30 awards given out to works in three categories — short stories, prose and poetry — with separate divisions for works written in Mandarin Chinese and those in the Hakka language.

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Zee Jaipur Literature Festival: Mumbai poet gets Khushwant Singh prize

For her collection titled ‘When God is a Traveller’, Mumbai-based poet Arundhati Subramaniam was on Saturday awarded the inaugural Khushwant Singh memorial prize for poetry at the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival 2015. The prize is worth Rs. 2 lakh. It was open to Indian poets who brought out books in English (including translations), between September 15, 2013 and September 15, 2014.

For her collection titled ‘When God is a Traveller’, Mumbai-based poet Arundhati Subramaniam was on Saturday awarded the inaugural Khushwant Singh memorial prize for poetry at the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival 2015. The prize is worth Rs. 2 lakh. It was open to Indian poets who brought out books in English (including translations), between September 15, 2013 and September 15, 2014.

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Zee Jaipur Literature Festival: I am in the sunset of my life, quips VS Naipaul

VSNaipaulHe’s 82-years-old, frail and not in the best of health, but Nobel laureate Sir VS Naipaul had the crowds at Jaipur hanging on to his every word on Saturday at the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival (ZeeJLF). Speaking to Naipaul about his life and writings was Farrukh Dhondy, his long-time friend and eminent British novelist and scriptwriter, even as his wife, Lady Nadira, sat in a chair behind him, taking notes, holding the microphone when he became too tired to hold it, and prompting the words when he forgot what he was saying or ran out of steam.  Continue reading

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Zee Jaipur Literature Festival: Crowds throng to hear APJ Abdul Kalam speak

kalamAPJ Abdul Kalam drew the biggest crowd at the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival for his session ‘The Visionary: Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam’ on Saturday evening. Bibek Debroy, Professor at the Centre for Policy Research, moderated the session with the former president which attracted the largest crowd at the festival this year. The session followed close on the heels of Kalam’s session earlier in the day, titled ‘Ignited Minds’, that also drew a packed house at the ‘Ford Samvad’ venue of the Diggi Palace. Continue reading


Jaipur Literature Festival: Debating the need for a fine line between artistic freedom & insulting beliefs

Playwright and actor Girish Karnad best summed up the danger facing writers: not electronic screens, but the forces that want to destroy books. The issue has such resonance now that a session at the annual Jaipur Literature Festival on whether commerce was killing good writing morphed into a dialectic on how far one’s freedom of speech extends.

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