21 June, 2021
Letters | Mar 11, 2002

Midnight's Orphans

Of Sour Grapes and Writerly Ferment

Mar 11, 2002

Midnight’s Orphans (February 25) reeked with the fetid odour of envy and malice as writer after writer vented his bilious ire on the iwe. Ultimately, it’s all about money and readership, in that order, regardless of the language a book may be written in. And the English language commands more money and readers than any other. That’s what the unfortunate vernacs lack but it doesn’t give them the licence to dub iwe intellectual pygmies, necromancers or artificial western flowers.
Indranil Sinha, on e-mail

"The iwe is like sambar in a five-star hotel"—that was delicious! The article reminded me of an Arabic saying: better the gruel in the house than a feast at the neighbour’s.
Srinivas Shastri, on e-mail

Why blame writers when the real culprits are the publishers? Every second book published by them is about Partition, or Hindu-Muslim riots or if nothing else, cookery. Moreover, all of these so-called iwe base their first novel on personal experiences and have trouble writing a second. There’s hope only if publishers become more daring and encourage new writers with innovative ideas.
Mukund Biswas, Calcutta

A good story is free of its language. Arabian Nights, Tanizaki’s Makioka Sisters or Lampedusa’s Leopard are worthy not because their authors wrote them in their own languages but because they had vivid imagination and spoke of universal truths.
Azhar, on e-mail

While it might be sacrilege to compare a Roy with MT or Basheer, the likes of Sir Vidia and Salman Rushdie have to be respected for their writing. One has to learn to accept good writing in both spheres.
S. Sajith Kumar, Thrissur

Though we haven’t done much to preserve our cultural heritage—including popularising and preserving our languages—the objections raised by regional writers are unfair. For one, writing in English is a matter of personal choice. Since Naipaul and Jhumpa Lahiri are third/second generation immigrants, what language can they be expected to write in?
Anirudha Podder, Bangalore

Yes, there are many of us out here who, being products of English missionary schools, have tasted the cuisine of distant lands but never been exposed to the rich and diverse literature of our own country. We would sincerely wish for more translations which, even if they cannot communicate the local flavour adequately, will at least lead us closer to the pulse of the writer.
Chitra Amarnath, on e-mail

One can understand regional writers getting worked up about vastly more successful Indian English writers. The only dose of humour—unintended, of course—provided by the bitter and whining bunch of Indian writers interviewed was their nominations for the Nobel. Except two, all nominated writers who’ve been safely dead for decades. Are these writers small-minded about their contemporaries also? Mr M.T. Vasudevan Nair, is O.V. Vijayan bothering you as much as Arundhati Roy?
T.R. Parmeshwar, New Delhi

For some four decades Kannada writer U.R. Ananthamurthy has thrived on voyeuristic caste-consciousness conflicts and hurt the sentiments of the underprivileged in Karnataka. He admitted as much in an interview he gave your magazine. With globalisation and English education, a new breed of young and talented writers have created a storm with Indian writing in English. Writers like Ananthamurthy, who has taught English to PhD students in Mysore for three decades, should instead of cribbing and cursing try to match the calibre of these new-wave writers.
H.B. Muralidhara, Bombay

That regional Indian writers should feel insecure because of the growing prominence of those writing in English is worth considering. What we need to work on is towards creating a meeting ground for regional languages to develop better. An Indian author writing in English does not make him any less Indian. It’s always the thoughts that count, not the language they’re spun in.
Parthajit Bhattacharyya, Delhi

I disagree with Bhalachandra Nimade that translations of Indian regional literature into English is not our headache (For a Word’s Worth). Such translations only help increase the reader base not only abroad but even within India. From my own experience, I once found an English translation of Satyajit Ray’s work. I’m sure the original Bengali version of these stories is much richer, but for me even the translation was an enriching experience; it made me want to read more.
Guru Harakere, on e-mail

True, the new breed of Indo-Anglian writers have received more prominence in the international circuit than their Indian language counterparts. While one reason is the immense popularity of the English language, what’s striking about these writers is that they have given the language a distinctly Indian style. And it’s found worldwide acceptance. As for the likes of Mahasweta Devi, Ashokamitran and Nirmal Verma, they portray just another side of the Indian reality. There is no reason for them to feel insecure. The two genres cannot be compared or seen as a threat to the other, both exist in their own right.
Suchitra Garg, on e-mail

Congratulations to Outlook for its first ever ‘bharatiya’ story! Secular historians, English language authors, Valentine’s Day, globalisation, foreign media, foreign TV channels, get the whole shebang out! Who needs the West? Midnight’s Orphans will reassure the honorable hrd minister M.M. Joshi about Outlook’s bharatiya credentials. What shall we throw out next? Shall we throw out chhaana, the cottage cheese, of French origin, from which Bengali sweets are made? We should, since it’s not indigenous to ‘Bharat’. Let’s throw English out too, and forget the fact that it gives India the only competitive advantage this country has over China. What about the potato? Perhaps Outlook might launch a campaign against it as new research has shown that this ‘deracinated’ vegetable may not be ‘indigenous’ to India. Let’s institute Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan in all things, from authors to vegetables.
Sagarika Ghose, New Delhi

Language is a medium to express oneself. And I see nothing wrong with Indians writing in English.
Anuradha Bhaskara, Bombay

Fine, Indians writing in regional languages produce good writing, but why be such inverted snobs? Obviously Indian writers in English are also being appreciated globally, and that’s good news for an avid reader like me.
Patrick Sanjiv Lal Ghose, Calcutta

Regional writing has its own socio-cultural identity, which a reader can instantly understand and assimilate. Regional translation into English per se is undesirable as it tends to rob the spontaneity and flow. But there are many distinguished authors who wield their pen with equal ease in English as well as in their regional language. The choice of reading must be left entirely to the reader, whatever the language.
K.V. Raghuram, Wayanad, Kerala

Your story could have been far richer if instead of reducing regional writers in the eyes of the readers, you had looked at the dilemmas of writing in a regional language, the anguish (or satisfaction) of reaching a limited audience. It would have given the reader a perspective on regional writing in India.
Devika, on e-mail

As an Indian poet writing in English I have to answer the criticism of the iwe from regional language writers. Firstly, we write in English (of the Indian variety) because English is as much an Indian language as any other since a historical accident that occurred 200 years ago, and was enshrined in the Indian Constitution 50 years back—after the British left. Besides, if even 1 per cent of Indians read English, then it is a larger readership, than say, that of Kannada. And, pray why are we iwe poets always excluded from any discussion?
Hoshang Merchant, Hyderabad

What was the point in reiterating the same old tired argument that Rushdie and Naipaul are rootless? The challenge is to hone your particular condition into something creative, which any good writer in any language can do, and I would have loved to know how regional writers have turned their "privileged" vernacular condition into a literary weapon.
Prachi Deshpande, on e-mail

The regional writers’ grouse against their English counterparts is valid. Indian writing in English is devoid of any real story element and is nothing more than just a texture, a treatment. They come across as nothing more than autobiographies, twice removed.
Sumant Bhattacharya, Noida, UP

Though it’s true that regional writers have the right words and idioms to portray Indian reality, they cater to a very limited group whereas English is the only language people all over India can understand. The question of the iwe becoming commercialised and writing for the West comes only later.
Fatima Mirza, on e-mail

I’m on a university grant working towards a paper on translations from South Asian languages to English. I have found the works of almost all the big names in Indian literature mentioned in your story pretty awful to quite ordinary. Whereas I’ve come across some wonderful works in Katha anthologies, Sahitya Akademi publications, the Little Magazine, etc. Some of the writers like Uday Prakash (Hindi), N.S. Madhavan (Malayalam), Jayamohan (Tamil) are of such outstanding quality that they write as well as their counterparts in America or Britain.
Shireen Gill, Ontario, Canada

Wasn’t this a huge case of grapes gone sour?
Nishi Pulugartha, on e-mail

America's Chicken Salad

When Mush Met Bush

Mar 11, 2002

I couldn’t agree more with Madhu Trehan’s ‘opinion’ on the two-faced American policy when it comes to Palestine and Pakistan (America’s Chicken Salad, February 25). In a nutshell, Bush Jr’s or for that matter Bush Sr’s foreign policy is and was a repackaged Dulles doctrine. To add to the showmanship was Blair scurrying to America’s bidding. America cannot tolerate an attack on one of its buildings and Britain sent their navy to attack Argentina over Falklands but India, according to them, should like a poor man learn to live with pain.
C.G. Prasad, Chennai

Filmi Duniya

Mar 11, 2002

Politics, they say, is the art of the possible. But the increasing participation of Bollywood actors and actresses in the UP, Punjab and Uttaranchal assembly elections has reduced politics to mindless entertainment. It’s time politics was redefined as the art of tamasha.
K.S. Sundaram, Bangalore

If the Indian voter had a choice, he’d much rather watch Hema Malini speak for the prime minister, Amitabh Bachchan sing for Mulayam Singh Yadav or Govinda dance for Sonia Gandhi than hear some unknown, unheard of politician drone on about promises that will remain unfulfilled. Obviously the contestants had no issues to speak of, which is why they converted the poll maidans into an entertainment platform.
G.S. Rao, Bangalore

Back From The Dead

Well-Nailed Lie

Mar 11, 2002

It was great to see your magazine shed some light on the junk science behind hiv/aids projections in India (Back From the Dead, February 25). However I disagree with what is said in The aids Lie in India—that the exaggerated hiv statistics in India are based on a host of blunders by "reputed" international agencies. Upon closer examination it is, in my opinion, more a case of intentional fraud. If this sounds unfeasible, you should know that the US Centre for Disease Control has already admitted to intentionally misleading its citizens about aids in order to modify behaviour and fund the aids industries in the US. This is confounded by the fact that the hiv tests on which the fake statistics in India are based have been profoundly discredited and are not even proof of infection. And that many credible scientists and doctors are questioning the dogma that hiv is the cause of aids—something being ignored by major news outlets—and you have the making of the most important story of scientific fraud of the century.
Dr Michael Ellner, President, HEAL, New York

A very thought-provoking article. It disturbs me greatly that I’ll never read about these statistical discrepancies in the American press. No one in my country is permitted to question anything about aids in the media and be taken seriously. Statistical shortcomings are but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to aids, even its tests and treatments are subject to scrutiny these days as what we think we know about aids turns out to be something else entirely.
Betty Best, on e-mail

The irresponsible game with the lives and identities of the mostly disadvantaged people (prostitutes, migrant labourers, truck drivers and others) is evident from Miller’s statements who, as an expert in his position, is not convincing enough about his ignorance of hiv/aids estimates. The who, Geneva, too stands exposed in its servitude to pharmaceutical companies.
Dr Ute Schumann, on e-mail

Using high estimates is a common feature in all hiv/aids campaigns in the past. None of the projections have come true but they have been the basis for enormous budgets for the agencies involved. The impact on other heath issues is enormous, especially in poorer countries. hiv/aids is a good example of how the developed world can still successfully make money from poor countries.
Christian Fiala, Vienna


Said Too Much?

Mar 11, 2002

Apropos your column Babu Buzz (February 25), I’d merely stated that the condition of some of the companies being sold is so bad that if they are not privatised they would close down and jobs would be lost. Privatisation, on the other hand, would save jobs. Disinvestment often makes public sector assets more productive. Being a bureaucrat I can never make a statement about a political ideology or group.
Pradip Baijal, Secretary, Department of Disinvestment


Mar 11, 2002

Allow me to quote from the first paragraph of your piece on Bhimbetka (outlooktraveller, February 25): "If primordial soup had been a predictive Alphabet Soup, your cup would have surely runneth over—with A for Acheulian, B for Bhimbetka and C for chalcolithic caves or that kind of prehistoric ABC. And if you want to get to the end of your cup and the rock bottom of history, take a holiday at Bhimbetka, the largest collection of prehistoric at in India." Don’t you think hieroglyphics would have been easier to decipher?
Ashok, on e-mail

Shaw's Fools

Nobody’s Fools

Mar 11, 2002

Hats off to you for hitting the proverbial nail squarely on the head (Shaw’s Fools, February 18). I’ve always been amazed that the Indian press has never (till date) taken our cricket administrators to task for the utter contempt they hold the paying public in. I love the game but will never step into an Indian stadium to watch it. Until the wise men of Indian cricket wake up, my advice to my fellow countrymen will be to stay at home and watch TV.
Kuruvilla Abraham, on e-mail

Yes, the state treats us, the ordinary citizens of India, as Jews in Nazi Germany. Now it’s using cricket stadia as concentration camps.
Gaurav Dixit, Lucknow

Ups And Downs


Mar 11, 2002

Our cover story Ups and Downs (March 4) inadvertently mentioned that bjp leader Lalji Tandon had lost from Lucknow in the recently-concluded UP assembly elections. The error is regretted.

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