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Myriad Hues of Kittur

By Aravind Adiga
Picador, New Delhi, 2008, pp. 284, Rs. 295.00


An obvious, though determining, feature of the English novel in India has been its focus on subjects that can easily be articulated in English. Typically this fiction has tended to deal with diasporic Indian communities, with the experience of migration itself and, increasingly, with the inner lives of Indians in India for whom the English language has become second nature. By the same token, though, our one internationally comprehensible language has not been as successful in accessing those areas in the life of India where English is never spoken and barely understood. Despite or perhaps because of its international visibility, the Indian English novel (unlike fiction written in our regional languages) has tended to shy away from the great social divisions of our everyday lives—between, for example, the driver or domestic help and his employer, the pavement seller of pirated books and the police, the knowledge produced from English newspapers and that which is generated from the streets. A basic feature of Aravind Adiga’s work is that it moves away from the cultural space within which Indian fiction in English has typically unfolded by engaging precisely with these tensions. In The White Tiger Adiga had already found in an everyday but radically unstable relationship between a low caste, poor, intelligent and ambitious driver and his mildly liberal, corrupt and weak employer a site where the conflicting interests and aspirations of a divided society can have full and violent play. In his second published work Adiga goes further. Unlike The White Tiger, which remains locked within the relationship between Balram Halwai and Mr. Ashok, the stories brought together in Between the Assassinations move in many directions along the divided social landscape of Kittur.   Between the Assassinations depends, at least partly, on a certain flexibility of form to set off interactions between a wide variety of social positions that it manages to sustain. Thus, at one level, Between the Assassinations is made up of free standing pieces that can be read independently of each other. But Adiga’s Kittur also corresponds to Garcia Marquez’s Mocondo or R.K. Narayan’s Malgudi: that is, it is constituted as a fictional town where all the stories of Between the Assassinations are set. Moreover, in a move that is clearly aimed at diffusing the demarcating boundary lines between individual stories, Adiga deprives these stories of the clearest marker of their individuality: their ...

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