Turbulent writings


Unruly times
Prashant Bhawalkar
Rupa & Co,
2009, pp 205, Rs 195

W

riting in English for the globe-trotting Indian is not a daunting prospect; but writing for a western audience, using some desi allusions becomes an obstacle for Dushyant, a copywriter in New York who aspires to publish a novel. He’s advised to inject culturally interesting insights such as the religion/community politics, family feuds and arranged marriages to enhance marketability. But the India that Dushyant has known is far removed from all this. Still he’s told that to play the literary game he must take his regional identity more seriously, partly to project persecution and make money out of the complexes he creates. There is a double narrative running through the novel — the writer and protagonist grow simultaneously.

Sometimes the reader is confused with the role of the writer in an age of instant gratification and the writer-subject relationship. The author’s technique, of the internal dialogue alongside the brahmanical inhibitions of the hero Advaita seem to overlap and the characterisation becomes insipid. The western world expects the Indian writer to sound like one who comes from a place where ostentation and grinding poverty co-exist and where people are oppressed and celebrated. Readers tend to gravitate towards those things that are easy to consume and relate to.
For this, the western audience cannot be blamed; they have been fed on a diet of immigrants’ stories about being uprooted and looking for opportunities in an alien land. Most of them cling to their homeland, waxing eloquent about the somnolent afternoons spent on the tiled verandah or the mounds of mangoes in the market.

Dushyant defends his style of writing by saying that he is celebrating his heritage and the myths. He finds it hard to use Indian colloquialisms as he has always written in the Queen’s English. But he is told that his style is too witty and devoid of heartwrenching emotions, like an anglicised coconut which is brown on the surface and white inside — meaning an Indian ashamed of his culture.

A more apt title for the book would have been the ‘Unruly Mind’ as it describes the struggle of an Indian writer. There are dead-end conversations termed as ‘civilised debate’ which talk about being comfortable with ambiguity and diversity, and about the western world view being so boringly predictable. The writer in the novel tells the story of Advaita’s life as a student in India and Australia and coming to terms with his own culture — in short, about his exile and dislocation. But this becomes rather ludicrous when he talks about dressing in women’s clothing being ‘liberating’, and a few paragraphs later, about India having been under British rule.

Prashant Bhawalkar, the author is truly a world citizen — a naturalised Canadian, he did his graduation from Mumbai, journalism in Sydney and has worked in Sydney, Toronto, Singapore and New York.

The language is high-brow, but the constant internal questioning, analysing and deducing makes the reader get lost in a maze of thoughts which are not translated into action. The educated, thinking, literary Indian tends to think of the outcome, that is whether the western critics will appreciate or trash it and this puts a brake on his spontaneity. Indian writers must break through this imaginary ceiling and write in their own comfort zones.

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