Thursday, September 1, 2011

These songs do not die

Could a region as varied as Southasia expect anything other than today’s dizzying cornucopia of literary creations?

Southasian literature, in its many voices, languages and avatars, retains an underlying warp and woof of cultural connectivity. Each country of the Subcontinent has its own political and emotive narrative and its own unique stories to share. Linguistic histories, colonial experiences (or resistance to them), and traumas such as Partition and conflict have fermented and matured the writing of each of our countries and societies. The Empire left – but left its language, literature and genres behind. The phrase, ‘A language is a dialect with an army and a navy’ first came into use via the linguist Max Weinrich. In a linguistically diverse set of cultures, the Queen’s English asserted a hegemonic sway.

While Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children (1981) was a watershed that impacted how the world viewed Southasian writing, the author’s magical prose also transformed the way this writing looked at itself. Although some critics categorised it as a valorisation of the ‘post-colonial exotic’, Pico Iyer’s famous essay ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ described it as ‘a call to free spirits everywhere to remake the world with imagination’, opening up ‘a new universe by changing the way we tell stories and see the world around us.’ The voice of Saleem Sinai, Rushdie’s main character, reclaimed the spoken sounds of the Bombay streets into English literary usage. The sinuous stylistic flow also reflected the texture and grain of Urdu, which is an important part of Rushdie’s literary inheritance.

Full report here Himal

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