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Subcontinental English Writers

G.J.V. Prasad

Edited by Fakrul Alam
Thomson Gale, 2006, pp. 490, price not stated.


This is a welcome addition to the critical apparatus available on sub- continental English writers. South Asian writing is as usual an in- vention of the western academy, a convenient label that sub-continental critics can use to talk about issues that concern the nations of the region. However, it is still English writing that is the pre-text for this academic investigation. The corpus that would constitute this area of writing has to be necessarily not so rooted for rooted literature would be of little interest to the diasporic writer and critic. This could explain some interesting omissions in the list of forty-eight writers chosen for this Dictionary.   In any case, I always look out for the inclusion (or exclusion) of Rabindranath Tagore in such definitive works, for his inclusion implies that he is an Indian English writer by virtue of his translations of his own works into English. Is it perhaps a signal that all South Asian English writing is an exercise in translation? Is that the reason that this volume is called South Asian Writers in English rather than South Asian English Writers—there is no South Asian English, and who writes in it any way? But then what are the boundaries that you would draw? If you have to translate your work yourself in order to make it to this magic circle, perhaps all writers in South Asia should begin to translate their works into English immediately. But then they would also have to write stuff that could be studied under this rubric. In which case, they needn’t even translate their own works themselves, all they need to do is to approve of the translations. I say this because the Dictionary includes Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, and the editor says that even though Gandhi’s later works were translated into English by others, they have been included ‘because of their impact on subsequent developments in South Asian politics and culture, and because of the lasting impact made globally by the English versions...’ (p. xvi) In a wonderful ironic twist that Gandhi would have appreciated, he has been appropriated into the canon of South Asian Writers in English because he opposed the English so successfully in a language other than English!   While still on the early writers included in the volume, it is interesting that while Rabindranath Tagore makes it to the list, Aurobindo Ghose is ignored because ‘neither ...

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