Monday, November 08, 2010

World Literature Today runs issue on Writing from Modern India

University of Oklahoma's venerable magazine World Literature Today (established as Books Abroad back in 1927) has dedicated its November/December issue to writing from modern India. 

Of course, the focus on Indian writing is not new for the magazine. It carried a brief survey of Indian poetry back in 1939 by Vasudeo B. Metta, while its 1954 issue considered contemporary Indian writing more comprehensively in an essay by Mahendra V. Desai.  In 1969, just as the Beatles were discovering India, WLT dedicated its autumn issue to Indian writing, this time with an introduction by Nissim Ezekiel.

The next time the WLT searchlights found Indian was in 1994, again at a critical juncture, soon after the country had launched its long process of economic liberalisation with the corollary of unprecedented growth.  That issue, guest edited by Vinay Dharwadker, devoted a hundred pages to Indian writing from a host of major languages including carrying many original language poems alongside their translations into English.

2010 seems an appropriate moment to return to Indian writing. The hyper-excitement of the western publishing industry about the country's writers in English of the 1990s has now settled into comfortable familiarity.  With clockwork regularity, Indian writers (from India, expatriates and of the diaspora) deliver interesting, powerful, politically engaged and emotionally charged poetry, fiction, essays,  and turn up regularly on international awards nights and bestseller lists. 

And yet, as an Indian writer (who writes mostly in English, for the record),  I am always disappointed by the lack of dissemination of brilliant writing by the country's greatest writers.  Here I must confess that - at the risk of sounding parochial - in my opinion, the country's best writing is done in languages other than English. Writers in the country's regional, autoctonous languages push boundaries of class, faith, gender and sexuality, as well as literary techniques and style, in ways that many of us, writing in English, can barely begin to imagine. 

WLT's India issues have always gone beyond the English language in seeking out writing from India. The current issue is no different.  Guest edited by poet Sudeep Sen, the issue features the some of the best loved writers from Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Oriya and Malayalam, in addition to writing in English by Indians based in the country as well as around the globe. 

More pleasurable for the reader, however, is the issue's exuberant mix of old favourites and new writers, as well as the stellar diversity of ages, genders, regions and interests.  It is this diversity that fulfills Sen's self-declared aim of providing not a comprehensive list of authors but rather "just an introductory show window to the vast array of fine Indian writers and literary practitioners."

A slightly different online edition (featuring an unusual selection of poetry by Rabindranath Tagore) can be found on the WLT website which also has instructions for obtaining the very beautifully illustrated and designed print edition.

All in all, a lovely celebration of India's literary practices.

PS: As full disclosure, I must also inform you that the print version features my short story "Faded Serge and Yellowed Lace," my small tribute to my years of living in Spain and dedicated to (and set in) my old neighbourhood of Gracia, Barcelona.