Indianness: Authors' perspectives

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So what does Indianness mean to you? Is it the nation, which define its people, or the nation, which is peopled by its citizens? Clichés about India’s multicultural diversity are aplenty yet the veracity of it cannot be denied. Reflected best in our literature, entertainment and cuisines despite the nature of their versatility, there is a strain of commonality that binds our minds and stomachs alike. Amitav Ghosh: One of the most brilliant writers India can boast of, Amitav Ghosh is among the very few Indian Diaspora who  have has been able to recreate the essence of the Indian subcontinent without resorting to ridiculous hyperboles. This inherent Indianness however, in no way detracts from its universal appeal for  Ghosh’s wider appeal lies in his contemporaneity. Winner of numerous literary awards of both national and international acclaim, Ghosh’s novels are versatile both in subject and form.  The critic, chronicler, essayist , thinker Amitav Ghosh has certainly been breaking many glass ceilings. His work has the vividness of lived reality, which probably stem from his experiences as a journalist, academician, anthropologist and lecturer in different parts of the globe. While his multi generic novels have garnered tremendous praise his critical essays too are “rigourously political and vigorously fictional”. Ghosh in his works has addressed a variety of issues from sectarian violence to nationalism, unerringly placing his  work in the socio political framework of our times. His novels include The Shadow lines, Circle of Reason, The Glass Palace and the most recent Sea Of Poppies. Dancing in Cambodia and The Imam and the Indian take essay writing to altogether another level often presenting self-contained micro histories as a trope for a more global discourse. Whatever be his adopted writing style, he has an irrefutable knack of making simplistic albeit profound statements that stay with the reader. Sa’adat Hassan Manto: 15th August undoubtedly went down as an epochal day in Indian history. Unquestionably a day of immense pride for all Indians, it is regrettable that the sentiment is also automatically associated with the horrors of partition. For if  15th August was the triumph of the Indian War of Independence, August 14th was perhaps the  defeat of humanity as million lives were lost in   senseless rioting. An ineradicable impact was left on the psyche of those who witnessed it. This sense of fractured identity is best reflected in the partition narratives of this time. Talking about partition literature,  a name which stands out  is that of Saadat Hassan Manto. Manto invests in the life of the common man and has deep insights into the psychoanalysis of human behaviour. About chronicling the death of people lower on the social totem pole, Manto , as a twentieth century writer remains unparalleled. His themes are derived from the more sordid margins of life. He wrote on topics, which were generally considered taboo in pre and post colonial Indo – Pak society. Ranging from the socio – economic injustices of the times to hypocrisy, prostitution, madness, there was a sense of victimization in most of his works. His writing style was witty often bordering on the sarcastic and intrinsically honest , often brutally so  .His most well appreciated stories include Khol Do, Dhuan,Black Salwar, Tetwal ka kutta  and his magnum opus  ‘Toba Tek Singh’. He was also a film and radio scriptwriter, and journalist. In his short life, he published twenty-two collections of short stories, one novel, five collections of radio plays, three collections of essays, two collections of personal sketches. Having been tried on charges of obscenity on at least six occasions, he was also one of the most controversial writers of his time. On the approaching three day long Independence day weekend, we suggest you give Manto’s brilliant short stories a try for they paint some of the most realistic pictures of the then changing face of the Indian subcontinent On his writing he often commented, “If you find my stories dirty, the society you are living in is dirty. With my stories, I only expose the truth” Jhumpa Lahiri Almost all of us have a relative, even if someone really distant settled in America. For a long time there was little insight into the world of the Patels and the Boses settled in the US. Jhumpa Lahiri was one of the first authors to show that world to us, and to the rest of the world, a world she grew up in. She has written three books so far: two of them are collections of short stories- The Interpreter of Maladies, her Pulitzer award winning debut and Unaccustomed Earth, and a novel the Namesake. Her books always have first, second or some n-generation Indians. There are birthday party celebrations with all Indian aunties and uncles swooming in  She delights us with simple stories of simple people. Her language is plain  yet profound, one never really need to bother with a dictionary. Her books may be devoid of mirth or mystery, yet there is a beauty and a celebration. Rohinton Mistry Rohinton Mistry is a critically- acclaimed Indian author whose writings are predominantly based on the Parsi community. Settled  in Canada, he has won several awards for his novels. Mistry’s novels are a myriad of colourful characters, almost all of them Parsi. It is interesting to read about a community which is largely dwindling. His first novel, Such a Long Journey is about a middle- class banker who gets ensnared in a political conspiracy. It is based in the time of Emergency enforced under the leadership of Indira Gandhi, though she is not directly mentioned. His novels have a strong undercurrent of sadness and hopelessness. The narrative is addictive, detailing the intricacies of the character ;the story telling tugs at your heart.  A Fine Balance is a fine example indeed. It is a richly woven novel interweaving the slums of Bombay with middle- class Parsi lifestyle. His other novel, Family Matters is about a Parkinson- stricken patriarch who is trying to come to terms with his helplessness. The plot knits the content life of his daughter and her family with the sickness of an ailing father with all complexities and adjustments that come with it. It is a story of a household struggling to accept a wasted man who is way past his prime; the book also hints at the atrocities committed by Shiv Saininks and deals with corruption. Read Mistry for his intelligent writing and magnificent dialogues. His stories, though, at times gloomy are superlatively told and describe the Parsi culture with their various quirks in a singularly splendid manner. Vikram Seth While we sat planning the Independence Day issue, the one-desi author that cropped up repeatedly was Vikram Seth. Vikram Seth is arguably the finest author that India has produced. His repertoire is vast; ranging from poetry to mammoth novels. A polyglot (he speaks seven languages) currently, he resides in England; whilst in Delhi, he lives with his parents. Seth, apart from being a wonderful writer, comes across as an interesting albeit a slightly reserved individual. He is bisexual and has spoken out against the previous Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, calling it barbaric and archaic. Seth also faced humiliation and ostracisation in Doon School and famously spoke out about it during his visits there. Vikram Seth’s first novel was The Golden Gate, a novel in verse. It is about a group of friends living in California and their professional and personal lives. It is written entirely in rhyming tetrameter sonnets and it at once satirical and affectionate. An Equal Music is a book in prose; it is set in London and is melancholic with an underlying melody of Seth’s own interest in Classical music. Perhaps, the one book that defines Seth as the desi author is A Suitable Boy. A giant of a book, it delights, scandalizes, amuses and enthralls in equal measures. A story about a mother on a quest to find a suitable boy for her daughter, which becomes much more encompassing four families and bringing them together seamlessly. This Independence Day shell out a little money on a not so little book and get enchanted by the domestic drama and sheer brilliant storytelling that this desi provides. (The article has been contributed equally by Janhavi Mittal, Shraddha Gupta and Radhika Marwah)]]>

Journalism has been called the “first rough draft of history”. D.U.B may be termed as the first rough draft of DU history. Freedom to Express.

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