Dr. Nazia Hasan reviews Reading New India: Post-millennial Indian Fiction in English by E. Dawson Varughese (Bloomsbury: London, 2013)
All blood and gore apart, Reading New India: Post-Millennial Indian Fiction in English by E. Dawson Varughese is a very patriotic book, written in a post-colonial temperament. The Hindustaani expression “dil se” hooks you effortlessly. It is obvious in many ways, the first being the red line that accompanies as I type each word…the baffling response of the computer to each part of the author’s name. But as the sea goes calm after a tempest, now the red mark of doubt/incomprehension sticks to the surname only, it is accepting most of the things coming in its range. The new millennium announced its arrival with various new ideas and concepts, strewing them around; we collected some in a rush, some in a thoughtful mode. So does the world to any evolving culture and ideology.
Reading New India shows most of the characteristics to be a new hand book for the present generation scholars with a mind to know the developments in the Indian literary scenario. The young India, crick-lit, chick-lit are its strengths that even the senior scholars may not ignore. These off-shoots came a decade ago and today they almost make genre fields in themselves. The element of Indian-ness has been sincerely traced in most of the writings coming up which is more than being nationalistic. It’s a new identity that the young Indians are taking pride in, flaunting the richness of an incomparable heritage and oh yes, the history as well. We can’t shrug this baggage off easily. But, the plus-point is the attitude of generosity surrounding it. A century ago, England and Europe ‘constructed’ the Orient, but today, it is no news that the Indian subcontinent has a huge share in forming and shaping them as well!
Dawson reminds one of this when writing about the new India every mega-company wants to invest in; how every fashion house, every literary-cultural event, every technical venture somehow relates to this subcontinent in some obvious way.
This literary criticism traces the immediate history of the nation rife with experimentation with purity of Hinduism to a secular approach, Hindustani to English as second official language and how identity politics caused riots after every few decades. Now global modernity is another extension of our nation which many parts of the same are trying to get into. If William Walsh approved and propounded the constellation of three literary stars in Raja Rao, Mulk Raj Anand and R.K. Narayan for writing in English a century ago, today Verghese has her hands full. The numerous books and writings of every sort spilling every now and then in an English which dons a multicultural hat! It is pure to the core with some like Vikram Seth, some have made it an Indian bhasha, moulding it as need arises, feeling at home like the latest writings of Arvind Adiga, Sampurna Chatterji, Anjum Hasan and Geeta Sunder. It is post-colonialism at its best when Amitav Ghosh ‘writes back to the empire’ in the Serang’s version! Varughese’ is a very democratic presentation also as it is gender free- all females- males get a voice and make you listen, even the MSMs and WSWs. The Fantasy and new-historical fictions written in the new millennium is almost a new genre with the Indian legends, sagas, epics and fairy tales coming up with all the thrills of 3D effects. It underlines the fact narrated by Dipesh Chakarbarty in Provincializing Europe that probably India is the only country where you can see a neuro-scientist and astro-scientist waking up to the images of gods first and then going to the lab, proving how religion is refutable as a construction and façade! It co-exists here as an agent of balance act. The Crick-Chick-lit make interesting observations of the new writings coming up in a spate with the tech-boom.
The book is racy, giving you a smooth ride peppered with Indian exotica. You can’t stop once you hold it in hands. It is a thorough work in itself. And who says, you get to know a place by reading its history and sociology only. Varughese fulfills it through her literary sojourn as well in an impeccable manner. Besides literary archives, you could place it in tourism section also to show the new rising India, in a big stroke.
Dr. Nazia Hasan is Assistant Professor, Women’s College, Aligarh Muslim University, UP, India.