Saturday, January 17, 2009

Indianness Anxiety

I have often blogged about the exotification of India by Indian writers who write in English. As an Indian, I find myself cringing at a precious turn of phrase or lush prose style that appear to be the bane of these writers. I have to ask myself what would remain of such a piece of writing once all the Indian ambiance elements are removed from it. Does the story remain worth telling after that ? That I can't imagine One Hundred Years of Solitude set anywhere else but Macondo is a perfect of example of blatant double standards.

Knowing fully well that the act of parsing a piece of writing into its style and substance components is the best way to kill the joy of reading and appreciating the real merits of a work, I just can't seem to help myself when the locale happens to be India. Whenever I read an Indian author whose writing fails to transcend his or her cultural identity, I tend to question the authenticity of that identity itself and the clarity of the voice in which it is expressed.

While I am perfectly incapable of formulating what constitutes "The Real Indian Experience", it seems that being an Indian predisposes me towards having an opinion about another person's version of that experience and turning overly anxious about their ability to describe it correctly.

Vikram Chandra has a
great observation on this phenomenon :

I noticed the constant hum of this rhetoric, this anxiety about the anxiety of Indianness, this notion of a real reality that was being distorted by "Third World cosmopolitans," this fear of an all-devouring and all-distorting West. I heard it in conversations, in critical texts, in reviews. And Indians who wrote in English were the one of the prime locations for this rhetoric to test itself, to make its declarations of power and belonging, to announce its possession of certain territories and its right to delineate lines of control.

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