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A Labour of Love

Madhumita Chakraborty

Edited by Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharjee and A.J. Thomas
Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, 2012, Rs. 450.00


The two volumes of Sahitya Akademi’s publication The Best of Indian Literature 1957-2007 is a must have collection for any connoisseur or even someone who is interested in Indian literature of the post-Independence period. This collection in two volumes covers the best of Indian literature written from all corners of India in the first fifty years of Independence. Since all the writings have previously appeared in the Akademi’s journal at some point or the other in the last fifty years, they would be familiar to many readers, who may have read some of the pieces in isolation. The uniqueness of this volume is in a number of things. Firstly, it brings together in a single collection writings from nearly 24 Indian languages in translation. Second, the collection gives an insight into the major literary movements, issues of this period. And third, it brings together, in one collection nearly all the major literary icons of modern India.   This is indeed a collection of some outstanding writings, by some of the luminaries and best known names of Indian literature. It epitomizes the motto with which one associates the Sahitya Akademi—that ‘Indian literature is one, though written in many languages’. From Bengali, Tamil, Telugu to Maithili, Konkani and other not so well read and ‘popular’ (and I do not mean popular here in the normal sense, but in the sense of the less well-known perhaps in our predominantly majoritarian discourse), the collection is, as already mentioned above, a jewel in any individual’s book collection. It also repudiates Rushdie’s claim that prose writing—both fiction and non-fiction—by Indian writers in English, is a stronger and more important body of work than most of what has been produced in the regional language, during the same time.   Cutting across genres—from short stories, poetry, drama and non-fiction prose—the collection exposes the reader to the dominant genres in Indian literature, even though the short story and poetry clearly occupy centre stage. The themes running through the collection are also many—from the pangs of Partition to the marginalization faced by the people living in the North East. And indeed Indian literature refers here to both works written in English as well as the regional languages—an Anita Desai, Mulk Raj Anand or a Jayanta Mahapatra fit as much into the collection as a Bonophool, Fakir Mohan Senapati or Faiz Ahmed Faiz.   ...

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