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South Asian Literary Association


The marketing of books is often beyond the control of their authors; nonetheless, dust jackets sometimes offer amusing evidence of the audience that publication houses, if not authors, wish to reach. Thus, in Red Earth and Pouring Rain ( 1995), Vikram Chandra apparently offers readers the sto1y of "an eighteenth-century wan-ior poet (now reincarnated as a typewriting monkey) and an Indian student home from college in America ... [and] ranging from bloody battles in colonial India to college anomie in California, from Hindu gods to MTV." By way of context, consider Lee Siegel's academic novel, Love in a Dead Language ( 1999), described on its jacket as ''a love sto1y, a translation of an Indian sex manual, an erotic farce, and a murder myste1y ... a hypertextual voyage through movie posters, undergraduate essays, upside down pages, the Kamasutra: Game of Love board game, and a proposed CD-ROM." We are led to believe that "Siegel has done for sex in India what Melville did for whaling in New England"- whatever that might mean. Now, Indians might excuse Siegel's book as a typical Orientalized commodification of their country, since it makes fun of its stereotyping in the process and ridicules the satyric professor at its center. But many have not been as forgiving of Chandra's novel, and of others like it, wondering whether he has written a "genuinely" Indian book or simply an ente1tainment for westerners and the Indo-Anglian cultural elite. The same geme of objections made against Chandra is increasingly made against expattiate novelists from Afiican nations as well, suggesting that questions of representation and performativity in globalized narration have not yet been settled in much of the postcolonial world. Therefore, in this essay, I would like to rehearse some of the issues that keep coming to the fore, drawing here on Vikram Chandra's recent essay contending with Meenakshi Mnkhe1jee and Rajeswari Sunder Rajan on the question of what makes for authenticity in national writing; l will also allude to Shash.i Tharoor's recent engagement of this issue in contention with Harish Trivedi. More broadly, I would like to silhouette those many migrant intellectuals who choose to write "of'' and "for" their homelands, but do so in ways that arguably suggest they write for an audience that lives elsewhere (as they themselves usually do). Are western critics, by focusing exclusively on a "world literature written in English," stifling authors in India and elsewhere who write in languages other than English? And how serious is the challenge that this western cultural juggernaut poses for regional writing?


Copyright © 2003 South Asian Review and South Asian Literary Association. Reprinted with permission.



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