Indian reality, from the margins

Vanitybagh“Vanity Bagh” by Anees Salim and “Foreign” by Sonora Jha are representative of works of many new writers who do not mind taking the risks involved in portraying Indian rural reality in English, writes K. Satchidanandan in the Frontline.

It has been some time since the subcontinental English fiction came of age and began to grapple with Indian history and reality with a confidence and an artistry one seldom comes across in its early practitioners. This new confidence that one first found in writers such as Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth and Amitav Ghosh marks many of the new writers who do not mind taking the risks involved in portraying Indian rural reality in English: the risk of exoticisation, of the work looking like an inadequate translation, of the difficulty in expressing in English the nuances of rustic life and speech. And, looking at the result, one can well say it has not been a vain adventure: we now have a corpus of such fiction that can legitimately claim to be as much Indian as fiction written in the languages whose losses in texture are compensated to a great extent by the intimate insight into the lives and minds of the men and women who people their ably painted landscapes.

I have in front of me two such novels: Vanity Bagh by Anees Salim and Foreign by Sonora Jha. While the former is Anees’ second novel, the latter is Sonora’s debut work. They are written from very different points of view: the first with a comic detachment and the second with moving concern; yet the reality they portray is genuinely contemporary and their novels deal in different ways with the marginalised sections of the Indian society, Vanity Bagh with a group of poor young men living in a north Indian mohalla named Vanity Bagh and Foreign (I should say I am not happy with the title that sounds trite and popish considering the grave reality being portrayed in the novel) with the peasants living (and dying) in utter despair in the village of Dhanpur in Maharashtra.

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