The Shiver of the Real

Raising the stakes for Indian writing in English

01 May 2014
COURTESY AMITAVA KUMAR
COURTESY AMITAVA KUMAR

THE ELECTIONS HAD ARRIVED. Each political party presented its manifesto. “Health vans will reach every part of India.” “Necessary legal framework will be created to protect and promote cow and its progeny.” “Every cycle-rickshaw puller will be given an auto-rickshaw or a solar-powered rickshaw free.”

Here is my own manifesto for Indian writing. I hereby call for a literature that engages with “the real”: not just the depiction of blood on the streets, or, for that matter, the cold air of the morgue, but also the warm, somewhat moist atmosphere of unwanted intimacy in the waiting room in which we have left behind a little bit of our past. Like the political parties, I too am trying to project myself to my home base.

The title of my novel Home Products, published back in 2007, was drawn from a quote by Mark Twain: “To my mind, one relative or neighbour mixed up in a scandal is more interesting than a whole Sodom and Gomorrah of outlanders gone rotten. Give me the home product every time.” But the title had always had another meaning for me. It was meant to signal that the story wasn’t for export. It was for readers in India. In fact, when people read it I wanted them to imagine that the novel could have been written in Hindi.

Amitava Kumar is a professor of English at Vassar College in upstate New York, USA. His latest book, The Lovers: A Novel, is forthcoming from Aleph Book Company.

Keywords: fiction Indian writers translation language adaptation realism vernacular literatures
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