LONDON LETTER 1996
BY: T.R.K

Writers of theIndian Diaspora

I have been reading an extraordinary critique of Asian writers in English by a group of literary academics. The book, Writers of the Indian Diaspora attempts appraisals of the works of 58 writers, mainly from the Indian subcontinent, although the Indian diaspora takes in Asians from far-flung places like Fiji, the West Indies, Africa, Europe and America. There are several surprises. The only writer born in the 19th century and still living and writing, in Oxford, is Nirad Chaudhuri. Represented alongside are writers of undoubted literary sensibilities, but minor writers. The central theme is the assumption that as members of the Indian diaspora, we all share the same "diasporic consciousness".  The editor Emmannuel S. Nelson has been tracking these and other writers for a decade, in search of the "shared sensibility generated by a complex network of historical connections, spiritual affinities and cultural memories", all of which manifest as a thematic consistency in the works of these writers.


The other interesting fact to emerge is how the North American universities have provided a safe harbour and financial shelter for a number of these writers. Raja Rao who is now 87, has continued to live in Austin,Texas, ever since his appointment at the University of Texas to teach Philosophy.  R.Parthasarathy, the poet who suffered from a wholesale disenchantment with England and all things British was rescued by such a placement in the USA. His bitter reaction against his infatuation with things English, expressed forcefully in his essay "Whoring After English Gods", is now mellowed. He now lives and teaches at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. Zulfikar Ghose, the poet and novelist deserted England for the US in 1969 for a teaching job at the University of Texas. He has been hugely prolific with half a dozen works of fiction and several collections of poetry. Several others have scaled the literary academia, paradoxically to teach creative writing to American students at several US universities, like Padma Hejmadi, Bharati  Mukherjee, Mena Alexander and several others. I was some what surprised to find that Shankar Menon Marath, now 89 and living and still writing in England has been missed, as he would have exemplified the "diasporic consciousness" more fully than most included in this otherwise excellent work. Some of the other familiar names included are Kamala Markhandeya, Anita Desai, Amitav Ghose, Prafulla Mohanti, Rustom Cowasjee, Dom Moraes, Farrukh Dhondy, V.S. and Shiva Naipaul. Omissions like Adil Jussawalla, one of the finest poets who lived and wrote in England for over a decade is glaring. Amit Chaudhury is another new generation novelist who has been missed. He lives and teaches at an Oxford College. His two novels An Afternoon Raag and A Sublime Address have had the highest critical praise heaped on them. I am currently reading these two wonderful books with increasing pleasure and astonishment, if only to discover how well-crafted and beautifully written they are. I am currently writing an appraisal of Amit Chaudhury's work and hope to interview him on one of my periodic re-visits to Oxford.

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