JAIPUR, India (Reuters) - Marriage, migration, and family ties may be the usual themes for English-language novels by authors of Indian descent, but best-selling writer Hari Kunzru is determined to change that.
Kunzru, who has a Kashmiri father and an English mother, made the departure in his recent novel “My Revolutions” which is about a failed 1960s English radical and has no links to India.
The country, however, features heavily in his two earlier novels, the acclaimed “The Impressionist,” set in British-ruled India, and “Transmission,” about an Indian computer programer in California.
“I said let’s do it, let’s not even have a hint of India in the book because I wanted to make a statement that I reserve the right to imagine anything I want,” Kunzru told Reuters at an annual literary festival in Jaipur, India.
“I wondered if I would be allowed to write a book that didn’t have Raj furniture or any Indian people. And I found that my publisher was very supportive,” he added.
Readers have long been fed a steady diet of multi-generational family sagas, arranged marriages and difficult migrations from writers of Indian descent, but Kunzru said people are more sophisticated now and more accepting of other themes.
“It was always in the air. If the world of south Asian writing in English starts with (Salman Rushdie’s) “Midnight’s Children,” then there was an expectation that you might write a family saga, or about migration,” he said.
“It is a double-edged sword: we’ve done well with all the attention, and there certainly is a market for it, so there has been some collusion between writers and publishers.
“But the space of operation has gotten wider. I think the days of spice markets and elephants are numbered.”
Kunzru, who has a “big Indian novel brewing” and is also working on another set in the Mojave desert in the United States, said the bigger battle was with the predominantly Western agents and publishers.
“They always want to put women in saris or young Sikh boys in turbans on the cover because they are directing it at the lowest common denominator,” said Kunzru, who was raised in Britain but now lives in New York. He turns 40 this year.
“It’s an ongoing fight. It’s something we’ve been arguing about for a while.”
The view of diaspora writers, or those of Indian descent living outside India, and how they view themselves has changed, Kunzru said, because writers are growing in confidence and do not feel the burden of expectation as much.
“This conversation has been going on for more than 20 years. We could be a maudlin group of lost little children, or we can turn it around and make it something to celebrate,” he said.
“I think we’re at a stage where we can own it and have fun with it.”
Editing by Miral Fahmy