A pink taxi

A pink taxi

September 14, 2010

Literature from the Indian Subcontinent

From the modern artists MF Hussein and Souza, to the contemporary Gupta and Anish Kapoor, we have so much more to discover from Indian art.
I believe however, that I am better acquainted with Indian writers (who write in English), than with Indian artists. So enough about Saramago and French literature, which took up too many entries this summer! It is time for me to share with you the passion I feel for Indian literature over the last ten years, 6 authors of which I will be discussing here.

Although each of these writers are of Indian origin, many of them have always lived in the West.  All of them master the English language beautifully. To make a generalization, I do believe that most  Indians cultivate a very rich vocabulary and that they construct intricate grammatical compositions.  Each of these writers are also endowed with the magic of narration.

I have previously mentioned my infatuation with the author of "Midnight's Children" (see the Incipit entry). Salman Rushdie  truly rules over these writers, even, in my opinion, over Amitav Gosh, who may be older than him. Set aside the fiasco of "Satanic Verses", which turned out to be negative publicity with a silver lining, propulsing him further on the literary stage, and in his wake, the other authors shone vividly.

Reading "Midnight's Children", with its  yellow faded cover, a book I had inherited from my husband who was dazzled by it, felt similar to reading "One Hundred Years of Solitude" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I was transported to another world, was mesmerized by his intricate vocabulary,  and by the enchanting voice of his narrative.

Soon after, I read "A Suitable Boy" by Vikram Seth. Seth lives comfortably in two worlds. His Indian origins allowed him to compose a melodious narrative, a heafty 1000 page tome that I carried in each of my handbags, read on every bus, on every step, in every cafe, on every bench, on every plane, on every couch, during lonely meals, and most enjoyably in bed right before falling asleep.

A few months later, I discovered his gem of a book, "Golden Gate". Here, Seth showed allowed his American side to shine, more precisely the Californian, Stanford educated side. His description of white Americans, the vegan Californian techie type was very accurate. The entire novel,with an alluring narative, is entirely composed in verse. I remember the rythmn of his verse resonating  in my mind, even after I'd close the book.

Amitav Gosh's "Glass Palace" was a book I shared with my family. All the members, minus those who don't read novels, read it. Each one of us loved the saga. We discussed it as though we were in a book club, having read it one after the other. The same could be said about "White Tiger" by Aravind Adiga, which I gifted to many, and discussed at length with friends and family.

I will never forget "The God of Small Things" for having read it twice. Once alone and once aloud to my husband. At the time, we still had the patience (and time) of newlyweds and I read him a chapter a day, preferring the alternate days because the chapters alternated between the children's story and their mother's. We preferred the children's narrative, and till this day we both remember the airport scene and the Sound of Music cinema scene. The magic of reading!

Recently, I picked up Jhumpa Lahiri's collection of short stories "Unaccustomed Earth" (what a title!). The pink cover with the beautifully painted Japanese tidal wave will remain forever an acurate image of how her story telling pulled me in. I swam to the gentle tide of her simple sentences. Yet her narrative is so powerfully dense that I was caught in the current and I drowned in her stories. Her stories are short but their narrative is novelesque.  The tempo began with slow accurate descriptions of the decor, then the characters built up and the drama along with it. Close to the end of a story, she throws you in a free fall thrust! After I "survived" two stories, I knew to expect the unexpected and slowed down my reading, amplyfying the crescendo every time I took a respite to digest.

Unfortunatly, I have seen the movie based on her only novel "The Namesake" prior to actually reading the book. However, I have gifted the novel to my dad who has read it and I look forward to taking it back, and reading it.
Is that called an "Indian giver"?


  1. I have two daughters who keep on shoving books under my nose,they make me feel guilty if I dont comply.One book that I closed after the first chapter was Rushdie's because I am against tantallizing people with sensitive subjects especially the religious ones.
    We were faced last week with a crazy preacher,who got his wish to be all over the screens and on the front page of leading papers.Why because he wanted to breach the unknown,and could have been the cause of the injury to many innocent people.
    How do we define Free Speech?No clue!

  2. Thanks for the reading list Yazz. How about an entry on some of the feminist literature you've read. I know you had your share. You've given tribute to the french then the Indian writers. How about the women writers that have inspired you. I would love to get my hands on such a list ;)

  3. I truly enjoyed reading the Glass Palace. It's an amazing novel! I couldn't put it down! A real page turner! I look forward to delving deeper into Indian litterature. Thank you for the booklist!