Sunday, April 5, 2009

American imagination? It's Indian writing calling.

On my way to Texas on a week-long vacation. Browsing at the small airport bookstore in Baltimore, MD. Hey, isn't it Nandan Nilekani on that book cover? And is that Lord Shiva on that other cover? Come to think of it, there is a lot of writing by Indians and Indian Americans in this small store. I can see Imagining India, Nandan's first book. The Age of Shiva, Manil Suri's second. Gang Leader for a Day, Sudhir Venkatesh's scary little non-fiction. The Enchantress of Florence. And of course the obligatory copies of Slumdog Millionnaire. Isn't that interesting.

Walking the aisles of Barnes and Noble in Houston, TX. Hey! Is that really ...

There they all are - Salman Rushdie, Rohinton Mistry, Vikas Swarup, Aravind Adiga, Vikram Seth, Anita Desai, David Davidar, Jhumpa Lahiri, Suketu Mehta, Manil Suri, Vikram Chandra. And many others. Holding the Indian flag aloft, writing in the queen's language. As Salman Rushdie pointed out - memorably, and controversially - "the ironic proposition that India's best writing since independence may have been done in the language of the departed imperialists ...".

Many years back, in what seems like a different age, I once took a course in college called 'Indian Writing in English'. As coursework, we read authors like Raja Rao, Mulk Raj Anand, Ruth Prawer Jhabwala, R.K. Narayan ... great writers all, but hardly people your average American reader would recognize, let alone appreciate.

And now? Is that curry I smell?

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