English fiction in India? It's the same old story

Mon Jan 25, 2010 12:19pm EST
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By Rina Chandran

JAIPUR, India (Reuters) - Amid the color and celebration of the Jaipur Literary Festival, heralded as Asia's largest, one question has furrowed many brows and sparked anxious debate: is fiction writing in English in India past its prime?

Given the growing number of publishers and the constant flood of titles in bookstores, the question seems preposterous.

But in hushed conversations in the quaint courtyards and manicured lawns of Diggi Palace in Jaipur, there was a grudging consensus: fiction writing in English looks all the same.

Much of the recent published works are by young, urban, English-speaking middle-class Indians, are often about young, urban, middle-class Indians dealing with tradition, for instance, or the travails of single middle-class working women.

"Authors may well be writing about the world they know best, but the world all of them knows best seems increasingly to be the same world. It is as if the same novel is being written over and over again," journalist and author Hartosh Singh Bal wrote in Caravan magazine.

Bal, who co-wrote "A Certain Ambiguity: A Mathematical Novel," bemoaned "a lack of ambition and a repetitiveness of theme and setting," in part because authors in their early 30s or younger have been largely shaped by post-liberation India after the opening up of the economy in the early 90s.

"For many of them, English is their first language; the world they move in is almost entirely constructed in English ... this kind of fiction (is) repetitive in tone and character," he wrote.