Literary wars: Natives Vs Anglophones

vsnaipaul.jpgAnuradha Roy of Permanent Black wrote this interesting piece for India’s The Hindu in 2002. Though slightly dated, it nevertheless highlights some of the issues surrounding the language wars, particularly the preference to write and publish in English over other Indian languages (the effects of such a tussle has been illustrated here. Reporting on the various literary festivals organised in 2002, Roy wrote:

The Mother Tongue and the Other Tongue: This one was so bitter it might just prove cathartic. Balchandra Nemade has long wanted to tell people like Amitav Ghosh and V.S. Naipaul that they are a rootless, mercenary bunch of nobodies, and now he had the opportunity: “They are all ignorant,” he said indignantly, “even Naipaul. How could Naipaul just write a book on India because his publisher told him to? Is that any reason to write a book?” Krishna Sobti, refined and temperate, said she found it impossible to understand why really good writers and critics in the local languages had been left out. And why was there no writer from the regional languages on the panels that read from their works in Delhi’s colleges?

Mother-tonguers spoke of the inauthenticity of English depictions of Indian realities. Botanical metaphors flew fast and furious as one accused the other of rootlessness. Sir V.S. Naipaul, meanwhile, with Rushdian ignorance, announced at the opening of the AHTW that apart from the renaissance in Bengal, modern Indian literature has only existed for the last 40 years. Khushwant Singh, ever ready for combat, said that those who write in English were fighting an unequal battle: “They can read us, but we can’t read them.” With perverse glee he informed bhasha writers that those who write in English would continue to earn more royalty and continue to be more widely read. Ananthamurthy smiled gently. “If I take him seriously,” he said, “it would look foolish.”

The two battles, between institutions and between languages, resulted in an informal boycott by writers as a form of silent protest. Participants whose names were on various panels stayed away, among them Arundhati Roy, Krishna Sobti, Chandrasekhar Kambar, Upamanyu Chatterjee. Perhaps the protest was required. But then again, perhaps the protesters could have been a little more public about staying away and spared the rest of us slogging it across town to hear and see our favourite writers, only to find empty chairs betokening their disapproval.

Pointing to the problematic of post-colonial literature in English, Marathi littérateur Balchandra Nemade commented:

We are familiar with Indo- Anglian writing and know what our friends in other languages are writing. Very few of the Indo-Anglian writers are familiar with our works and yet they make sweeping statements about Indian literature . (read here)

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