Laughter in the Dark

Vilas Sarang’s bilingual modernism

01 September 2015
Vilas Sarang
EXPRESS ARCHIVE PHOTO
Vilas Sarang
EXPRESS ARCHIVE PHOTO

Death recurs in Vilas Sarang’s fiction as punctually as in a flowering tree. It enters the story through everyday objects, rituals, rooms and corpses. Handcuffed to this bleak universe is Sarang’s phenomenal comic vision, that mocks what he creates and makes death a difficult joke: hard to decipher and harder to laugh at. But a writer’s death is different. It makes us turn to him or her in the way that we turn to the funnel of light coming from a projection box. For a moment the projected image, the literary text in a writer’s case, is forgotten, and the source that lights up this image becomes of greater interest. If the writer is Indian, however, and his major output has been in the genre of the short story, there’s hardly anyone facing the screen, let alone turning away from it.

When Vilas Sarang passed away earlier this year in Mumbai, at the age of 73, there were stray pieces discussing his life or giving brief sketches of his work. But the kinds of literary choices he made as a bilingual writer of fiction, poetry and criticism in English and Marathi, and the precarious position he held within the Marathi cultural sphere, still need closer inspection. So does his relationship with European and Marathi modernism, genres which influenced almost all his work and whose principles he used to critique the realism of his predecessors—prolific Marathi novelists of the 1930s and 1940s such as NS Phadke—and of his contemporaries in the 1980s, such as Bhalchandra Nemade, who classified modernism as essentially a Western practice.

Bhalchandra Nemade. MADHU KAPPARATH Bhalchandra Nemade. MADHU KAPPARATH
Bhalchandra Nemade
MADHU KAPPARATH

Mantra Mukim is a postgraduate student of English literature at Delhi University.

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