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Hunting The Snark: On The Trail Of Regional Indian Science Fiction

Anil Menon

It is easy enough to find non-existent things; one simply has to look in all the wrong places. It is also easy to find ubiquitous things; like junk mail, they find you. But it is having to find snarks, the stuff that’s in-between— not so few as to be non-existent and not so many as to be universal— that vexes, as Douglas Adams put it, the “tea time of the soul.” Car keys, true love, good translations and the self-confident idli all fall into the vexatious category. Apparently, so does regional Indian science fiction (SF).   I say “apparently,” because I only spent a few weeks in search of Indian SF authors working in regional languages. It wasn’t just idle curiosity. Michael Iwoleit, chief editor of the SF e-zine Internova1 , was hoping to put together a special issue on Indian SF, with an emphasis on regional languages. When he learnt I’d be in India during June and July of this year, he generously volunteered my assistance.   Lewis Carroll’s Snark was pursued with thimbles, care, forks and hope, as well as railway-shares, smiles and soap. My methodology was not dissimilar. Mischievous circumstance and my wallet often determined the next leg of my trajectory. If I came to a fork in the road, I frequently turned back. My interviews were informal, to say the least. This report— travel notes really— can be accused of a great many things, but thoroughness is not one of them.   Still, a travelogue belongs to the literature of first impressions, and first impressions do have their uses. So without any further apology, here are my conclusions on the state of regional Indian SF: 1. There is hardly any SF in most regional Indian languages. 2. Much of what exists is naïve, often poorly translated and/or derivative. 3. There are interesting exceptions to both (1) and (2); 4. Indian SF’s prospects, far from being bleak, are quite promising.   For me, the most surprising discovery was the paucity of regional Indian SF. At the start of my trip, I had been optimistic. For example, if Debjani Sengupta is right, Indian SF began with Hemlal Dutta’s Bangla work, “Rahasya” (Mystery), published in Bigyan Darpon, circa 1880. Bengalis have always been especially prolific. There is J. C. Bose’s Polatok Tufan (1896) through Premendra Mitra’s Mosha (1945) to Samit Basu’s Simoqin Prophesies (2005). And surely, the number of regional writers working in ...

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