Literature in India has not remained same since its first stages of development in 3000 BC. Indian literature since the Vedas and the Upanishads has produced more volumes of beautiful writings than any other part of the world. The history spoke of religion and epic, lyric and science, medicine and nature and of love and divinity. When seen in the broadest sense, the most beautiful proses and paras were articulated in our very own language- Sanskrit. Some of the most celebrated writers include Surdas, Valmiki, Guru Gobind Singh and Munshi Premchand who have left a mark in generations of literature to come. However, can the same be said when it comes to Indian Literature in English?
While most might argue that Indian award-winning novelists in recent years stand as proof of our recent advancement in this field, I see room for improvement. Certainly writers like Kiran Desai, Salman Rushdie and Jhumpa Lahiri have been critics’ favorite for their notable writings on sensitive issues like gender inequality, marital difficulties and cultural differences leading to a lack of identity among individuals. However, their lack of experimentation on other subjects makes these writers a typecast. How many Indian Booker Prize winners do you remember has NOT shown Indians as underdogs?
Casteism, culturalism and inequality have become perhaps the most popular themes of writing in India over the years. Casteism has always been one of the most sensitive and controversial topics in India. So much so, even filmmakers are evasive of the issue, fearing the worst. Yet, time and again, it has been not only written about but also internationally applauded in Literature. For example, in The God of Small Things, novelist Arundhati Roy has dealt with casteism deeply.
The novel is set in the late 1960s India when casteism was at still prevailing in the society. Her notable work went on to win the Booker Prize. Come 2006, we still have Kiran Desai writing about the Caste system and poverty in India. She too, like Roy won the prestigious award for the immaculate narration of the plight of ordinary Indians in extraordinary circumstances. Yet again another Booker Prize Winner in 2008, Aravind Adiga portrayed how the protagonist Balram in The White Tiger defies all odds to rise against the barriers of caste system in this country.
Other notable examples include Manu Joseph’s Serious Men, a story about differences between Dalits and Brahmins in India; Mulk Raj Anand (The Untouchable, Coolie and Two Leaves and a Bud); and most importantly, Salman Rushdie’s immensely popular and controversial work Midnight’s Children. These are some of the novels that have won awards and accolades repeatedly, despite dealing with the same issue: casteism.
A small research carried out on the recent Indian Literature in English has thus led to me to believe that Indian writers have forgotten that the challenge of writing lies not only in creating/ narrating a good plot, but also in exploring a new theme altogether. Therefore, I would say I am least in support of these awards.