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Indian literature

Posted: 2014-12-31, 1:59
by vijayjohn
Hi, everybody! This is a thread for talking about any and all Indian literature. :) I'll just start out by talking about stuff I've read.

tl;dr I'm pretty familiar with Indian literature. :P

I guess you could say I've been reading some kind of Indian literature since childhood. I've tried reading some Indian literature written in English, and too often, it's just disturbingly prejudiced (classist, for example) and boring. In particular, I remember the stories in R. K. Narayan's Malgudi Days being like this, although he did write a story called "Like the Sun," which actually was a good story. Even more often, Indians writing in English turns out to be less of a coherent piece of writing and more of an exercise in showing off how much English they know.

I've found literature in other Indian languages (I'm not sure what to call it - "vernacular literature"?) to be much more interesting, about the lives of all kinds of people. I'm on my fifth novel in Malayalam now. So far, I've read one novel about a child's life, another about a man who gradually comes to believe that his his girlfriend is a demoness, another about a romance in a fishing community, and another about people from my community creating towns in the Western Ghats. The novel I'm reading now is about a landlord who gets knighted by Queen Victoria.

I can't claim to have read either the Mahabharata or the Ramayana, but I know a bunch of stories from both as well as from the Panchatantra and various stories about Birbal and Tenali Ramakrishna, some Buddhist stories (including some Jataka stories), two Jain stories, and various historical stories, including two very different versions of the story of Chandragupta Maurya.

Re: Indian literature

Posted: 2014-12-31, 5:14
by linguoboy
vijayjohn wrote:Even more often, Indians writing in English turns out to be less of a coherent piece of writing and more of an exercise in showing off how much English they know.

I disagree, but then I'm a fan of Salman Rushdie and Khushwant Singh.

Re: Indian literature

Posted: 2014-12-31, 20:38
by vijayjohn
linguoboy wrote:
vijayjohn wrote:Even more often, Indians writing in English turns out to be less of a coherent piece of writing and more of an exercise in showing off how much English they know.

I disagree, but then I'm a fan of Salman Rushdie and Khushwant Singh.

Yeah, from what I've heard, Salman Rushdie is hardly representative of Indian writing as a whole, and I have my doubts about Khushwant Singh in that regard, too. To be fair, though, I wasn't only thinking of novels (or even short stories) written in English by Indian people but also things like newspaper articles, essays, children's literature (oh my God, you should see Indian children's literature written in English :lol:), movie summaries, and language textbooks (remember the "Learn X Language in 30 Days" series? :P).

Re: Indian literature

Posted: 2015-01-05, 21:26
by linguoboy
vijayjohn wrote:Yeah, from what I've heard, Salman Rushdie is hardly representative of Indian writing as a whole, and I have my doubts about Khushwant Singh in that regard, too.
Rushdie has sold millions of books and won the Booker of Bookers. He's pretty much the poster boy for "Unrepresentative Indian Writer".

vijayjohn wrote:To be fair, though, I wasn't only thinking of novels (or even short stories) written in English by Indian people but also things like newspaper articles, essays, children's literature (oh my God, you should see Indian children's literature written in English :lol:), movie summaries, and language textbooks (remember the "Learn X Language in 30 Days" series? :P).
I do know what you mean. I picked up Mihir Bose's history of Bollywood recently and the style is so annoying. I should post some of the worst bits. I was hoping for something more of the calibre of Suketu Mehta's Maximum city, which is a terrific read.

Re: Indian literature

Posted: 2015-01-05, 22:12
by vijayjohn
linguoboy wrote:I do know what you mean. I picked up Mihir Bose's history of Bollywood recently and the style is so annoying. I should post some of the worst bits. I was hoping for something more of the calibre of Suketu Mehta's Maximum city, which is a terrific read.

My favorite example is the use of "kindle" in this quote. I wonder whether anybody here can even figure out what it's supposed to mean! (Of course, there are enough errors besides that, too, but this one particularly sticks out in my mind):
"What will this Brahman do in the battle field. Why did he wish to go rather than write poems."
Kindled some one.
"Let him go friend. He will never comeback and that will do a lot of good to us" other said.

Re: Indian literature

Posted: 2015-01-25, 1:27
by Yasna

Re: Indian literature

Posted: 2015-01-25, 2:34
by vijayjohn
This reminded me about how hard it is to access (vernacular) Indian literature in India. Quite frankly, it is impossible to find any good-quality literature in Malayalam in my parents' hometown. If you go to even the best bookstores there, all you will find is classics of English literature (in English) and, in Malayalam, evangelical literature. Aside from that, there is nothing other than, say, a booklet in Malayalam on copyright laws or on how to grow the latest cash crop. I doubt that it is even possible to buy (any other sort of) literature in Malayalam outside the three biggest cities (Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi, and Kozhikode). It is way easier to find Indian vernacular literature at the university library here in Austin than it ever has been in India itself.

Re: Indian literature

Posted: 2015-01-25, 3:35
by TeneReef
Paulo Coelho seems the most popular author here: http://www.dcbooks.com/

Re: Indian literature

Posted: 2015-02-01, 8:38
by vijayjohn
I recently started getting more active in a Malayalam forum I'm part of. There's one thread in that forum where some users talk about books they've been reading. One (Malayalee) user claims that the reason why Malayalee writers remain little known "is because their style isn't innovative" and that Malayalam literature "will never go beyond our culture and language, for various reasons."

Since I'm pretty much the only user here who's Malayalee, I guess I'm just curious about what y'all think. Do you think Malayalee literature stands a chance outside Kerala? If you've read some Malayalam literature before, what do you think of it? Do you think other non-Malayalees would be able to appreciate it, too? If you haven't read any before, would you be willing to give it a try? :P

Re: Indian literature

Posted: 2015-02-01, 15:23
by Yasna
vijayjohn wrote:Since I'm pretty much the only user here who's Malayalee, I guess I'm just curious about what y'all think. Do you think Malayalee literature stands a chance outside Kerala? If you've read some Malayalam literature before, what do you think of it? Do you think other non-Malayalees would be able to appreciate it, too? If you haven't read any before, would you be willing to give it a try? :P

I would like to give it a try. In fact, can you recommend a few books that you think might have broad appeal to the outside world? It would be a plus if it doesn't cost a fortune and a lot of effort to get it in the United States. SF, fantasy, mystery, normal fiction... anything is fine.

Re: Indian literature

Posted: 2015-02-01, 15:57
by linguoboy
vijayjohn wrote:Since I'm pretty much the only user here who's Malayalee, I guess I'm just curious about what y'all think. Do you think Malayalee literature stands a chance outside Kerala? If you've read some Malayalam literature before, what do you think of it? Do you think other non-Malayalees would be able to appreciate it, too? If you haven't read any before, would you be willing to give it a try? :P
The biggest obstacle in the US would be the expectations of the market. We ghettoise writers--particularly foreign writers--and it can be very hard to get publishers to promote works which don't fit into established categories. There's a certain notion of what a "modern Indian novel" should be, moulded by the success of writers like Rushdie, Desai, Ghosh, and others, and the more easily Malayali authors can be slotted in with them, the better their chances of succeeding in the American market.

Re: Indian literature

Posted: 2015-02-02, 0:24
by vijayjohn
Yasna wrote:I would like to give it a try. In fact, can you recommend a few books that you think might have broad appeal to the outside world? It would be a plus if it doesn't cost a fortune and a lot of effort to get it in the United States. SF, fantasy, mystery, normal fiction... anything is fine.

Hmm...well, tbh, I'm not sure what's been translated, except for Chemmeen, which is available here and was adapted into the first Malayalam movie to win a national award. I'd also recommend this and this, but I can't seem to find a translation in English for either of them. Yakshi by Malayattoor is also good, although I don't know whether that's ever been translated, either. Some of his other works have been translated, though, and at least one of them is also available on Amazon.

Re: Indian literature

Posted: 2015-02-02, 10:54
by TeneReef
vijayjohn wrote:I recently started getting more active in a Malayalam forum I'm part of. There's one thread in that forum where some users talk about books they've been reading. One (Malayalee) user claims that the reason why Malayalee writers remain little known "is because their style isn't innovative" and that Malayalam literature "will never go beyond our culture and language, for various reasons."

Since I'm pretty much the only user here who's Malayalee, I guess I'm just curious about what y'all think. Do you think Malayalee literature stands a chance outside Kerala? If you've read some Malayalam literature before, what do you think of it? Do you think other non-Malayalees would be able to appreciate it, too? If you haven't read any before, would you be willing to give it a try? :P


I don't know.
Ethno-centric (folklore-rich) literature written in countries other than our own is not very appreciated nowadays, people like reading ethnicity-neutral/universal literature. That's why Paulo Coelho's books like Veronika decides to die are popular all around the world, but Jorge Amado's books like Mar morto are not. It's easier to read a universal novel (time, space and culture-neutral), than ''ethic'', context-heavy mind-''tiring'' novels (with many footnotes and endnotes).
Foreigners really need to be into Malayalam/Portuguese... or interested in Kerala/Brazil... and its culture/tradition to get an ''ethnic'' book...Blame it on consumerism.

That's why Paulo Coelho's books sell well here in Croatia, but Jorge Amado's books don't (even though they've been translated into Croatian: http://ljevak.hr/knjige/knjiga-16474-mrtvo-more ).

Re: Indian literature

Posted: 2015-02-02, 16:44
by linguoboy
TeneReef wrote:Ethno-centric (folklore-rich) literature written in countries other than our own is not very appreciated nowadays, people like reading ethnicity-neutral/universal literature.
Yes and no. Again, it depends on what the market has been cultivated to accept. If you read best-selling Chinese and Chinese-American novels, for instance, you'll find a lot of focus on traditional Chinese folklore and culture. And Jorge Amado does well in this country because he fits the mould of "Latin American magical realism". But you won't find, say, works of science fiction from Chinese or Latin American authors translated for the American market. It's not "folkloric" enough.

Re: Indian literature

Posted: 2015-03-30, 2:33
by Yasna
The wilderness library

At 73, P.V. Chinnathambi runs one of the loneliest libraries anywhere. In the middle of the forested wilderness of Kerala’s Idukki district, the library’s 160-books — all classics — are regularly borrowed, read, and returned by poor, Muthavan adivasis

Re: Indian literature

Posted: 2015-04-27, 6:45
by vijayjohn
I (finally!) just read this. That's pretty cool. I definitely have books by at least some of the authors that guy mentions, including Ningalenne Communistaakki (or "You Made Me a Communist"), the play that he calls a "polemic" written by Kerala's biggest advocate of communism and that seems to be of great historical importance in the context of modern Kerala, since it was largely responsible for communism becoming extremely popular in that state for decades to come. Middle-class people in Kerala (probably including the author of that article...) eschew Malayalam literature, but lower-class people do not necessarily, and I would think that literacy in their own language (or in Malayalam) was the immediate goal for them (unlike for the middle class).

Re: Indian literature

Posted: 2015-05-02, 20:51
by linguoboy
Hey, vijayjohn! I was at our local Indian bookstore and I saw a compilation of shorter fiction from M.T. Vasudevan Nair, a Malayali writer. I was going to pick up but I thought I'd check with you first. He seems very popular, but that's no guarantee he'd be to my taste. (In fact, it's almost a guarantee he wouldn't.)

They also had something by a Kannada writer I've never heard of. I thought that was a positive sign since in general the place is so North Indian slanted it isn't even funny. (They seem to have everything by Khushwant Singh available in English, for instance.) My husband picked up Sacred games by Indian-American writer Vikram Chandra and I was like, "You doofus, we have a copy of that at home, I read it three years ago." So he exchanged it for a book by Vikram Seth.

Re: Indian literature

Posted: 2015-05-02, 22:26
by vijayjohn
linguoboy wrote:Hey, vijayjohn! I was at our local Indian bookstore and I saw a compilation of shorter fiction from M.T. Vasudevan Nair, a Malayali writer.

WHAT. No way!

I asked my dad what he thought of him, and he says he was a good writer. I just checked and I don't think we have anything he wrote except two of his novels, Arabiponnu (The Gold of Arabia, co-written with N. P. Mohammed) and Randamoozham (The Second Turn, which is basically a retelling of the Mahabharata but apparently "widely regarded as [his] masterpiece"). I don't think my dad cared much for either of them, though.

I mostly know his name because he's also a movie director, and some of his stories were adapted into movies. Out of those, I've heard that Iruttinde Athmavu (Soul/Creature of Darkness; also the name of one of his short story collections) and especially Nirmalyam were good movies (Nirmalyam is an adaptation of a short story he wrote called "Pallivalum Kalchilambum," meaning something like 'The Church (or is it Temple?) Sword and the Anklet"). I also have another movie called Aalkkoottathil Thaniye (Alone in a Crowd), which is apparently based on a travelogue of the same name that he wrote. That was a good movie, too. I should watch it again. :lol: