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New India's New Fictions


Anubha Yadav

READING NEW INDIA: POST MILLENNIAL INDIAN FICTION IN ENGLISH
By E. Dawson Varughese
Bloomsbury, London, 2013, pp. 187, Rs. 799.00

VOLUME XXXVII NUMBER 9 September 2013

Some years back, I found myself attending the farewell function of a sarkaari officer, a bureaucrat. The usual white-cloth covered chairs, the podium with a small shaky wood table, a vase of short stemmed officious looking desi roses and a red carpet on the stage. Like the tradition of speech delivery goes, the speeches started from the junior-most officers and slowly moved upwards, in peculiar babu English. The finale was to be delivered by the senior-most bureaucrat sitting right in the centre. Finally this last bureaucrat got the microphone. And he said, ‘Today, I am again reminded of those lines, Debakanta Barua’s lines, “India is Indira, Indira is India”.’ And he went ahead to explain how the bureaucrat, the woman retiring (her name also Indira) was indeed the Department itself. He got a huge reception of claps from the audience. It would perhaps be an apt start for a post-emergency Indian-novel in English.   On one hand the anecdote in itself is peculiar to India, while on the other, words like ‘sarkaari’, ‘desi’ and ‘babu’ accentuate that ‘Indian-ness’. Daisy Rockewell in her paper: ‘The Shape of a Place: Translation and Cultural Marking in South Asian Fictions’ defines this practice of ‘cultural marking’ of a text to identify that text as ‘inhabiting a particular culture’. Varughese’s Reading New India dwells in detail on similar ideas: what are the mechanisms and preoccupations of ‘Indian Writing in English’ that uniquely qualify it as Indian writing in English? The book seeks to answer this critical question through a contemporary study of India and Indian literature in English in the context of their overlapping histories.   Reading New India works as a canvas to showcase the ‘new’ writings and happenings in post millennial India. It contemplates on the nature of the genres and themes emerging and connects the fiction with the cultural and socio-political shifts in India. The book starts by placing itself briefly in the history of Indian writing in English, the ‘present’ traditions. She briefly outlines it with works such as Bankimchandra Chatterjee’s Rajmohan’s Wife (the first novel written and published in English by an Indian writer), Sarojini Naidu’s, The Song of My City, and the Poetry of Toru Dutt (the first collection of Indian poetry published by a woman). Here Dawson also discusses writers such as Rudyard Kipling who knew India in another way, saw it through another lens, ...


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