Monday, October 27, 2008

A Dash of the Exotic

Aravind Adiga's Booker prize win for 'The White Tiger' and a reading of 'A Thousand Splendid Suns' got me thinking about the appeal of the indigenous.'The White Tiger' deals with the great Indian class struggle(I haven't read it yet,the reviews and newspapers are my sources) and 'A Thousand Splendid Suns' deals with the eternal strife of the Afghan people (women in particular);enough to have the west sit up and take notice.There is an unwritten rule that I like to call the curse of the great Indian novel;Indian writers need to gain validation in the west in order to gain so much as a compliment from their compatriots.

It seems that a best selling book involving the Indian subcontinent or the middle east must fulfill the following criteria.

- It must conform to a commonly held misconception.
- It must must arouse a condescending sense of pity in the reader.
- The writer must be represented by an American or European agent.
- A first novel is an advantage.
- It must be written in English peppered with indigenous references.

While I loved reading 'A Thousand Splendid Suns', and as an Indian I feel proud when Indian authors gain prominence; I sometimes wonder whether we,in our zest to heap praise upon what we consider to be 'native but mysteriously exotic',overlook the quiet greatness that is staring us in the face.I do not question the methods,the craft or the potential of these writers .I'm just a tad concerned that we may have missed out on the wit of a potential R.K. Narayanan, or the melancholic romance of some obscure middle eastern bard.

It is one thing to offer encouragement and quite another to overestimate achievement.


Upon an old wall dreaming said...

Very true... But i guess, the times, they are a changing, and the realization of this, is creeping in.

I have always had an inclination towards Indian writers, but thats probably because i can relate to their writing more.

La Diva! said...

The question again is, to what extent can you relate to the work of the Indian writer? As Indians,can we say with conviction that all that is written by Indian writers is indeed authentic? I agree that fiction writers need to incorporate a dash of the imaginative.But then is it worth romanticizing something based on misconception?

Gammafunction said...

I am not quite sure what books are you referring to when you cite your criteria.kindly clarify.

Not much can be read into 'A thousand splendid suns' and Indian\Middle Eastern books hogging the limelight as it is neither a middle eastern nor an Indian book.

La Diva! said...

Apologies for that little slip on 'A Thousand Splendid Suns'. However,since it is based on Afghanistan it fits the 'exotic' criterion which western readers often hanker for. It is moving and compelling but not a masterpiece as it is made out to be.

Speaking of books that are either written by Indians,or by NRIs about India; they have a melancholic flavor to them. This sort of thing makes publishers sit up and take notice.(eg. 'The Interpreter of Maladies' and from what I've heard 'The White Tiger'.)It seems that unless a writer of Indian origin writes a one sided account of the 'Indian condition', he or she will not get the recognition that is due.

We need foreign writers like Dominique Lapierre to remind us that Indians have an indomitable spirit despite all their hardships.I'm just a little concerned about this trend. Absolutely no hard feelings towards any book whatsoever.

Suhas said...

Definitely food for thought, especially the points you listed about the criteria an Indian novel might have to meet in order to gain recognition. If you haven't read it already, I'd recommend Upamanyu Chatterjee's "English August". By far the most 'Indian' of all the Indian novels in English I've read.