In his essay, "The lost sub-continent" (The Guardian, Aug 13 ), William Dalrymple argues that the next batch of successful Indian writers in English will emerge from the Diaspora, not from amongst those writers who are living and working on the Indian soil. He says:
"If the last few years are anything to go by, I suspect that in the years ahead the main competition Indian writers aspiring to win the Booker will face will not be the Alan Hollinghursts or the AS Byatts, so much as their own cousins born and brought up in the west."
And why this will be so:
"Writers such as Kunzru, born in Hounslow or Edgware or Brooklyn or New Jersey, have a clear and built-in advantage over their cousins brought up in Jhansi or Patna. They have far more confidence in English, and their ethnicity and geography makes them natural bridges between cultures, able automatically to translate an Indian sensibility for the west - if that is what they want to do. Certainly, their background effortlessly puts them in a position to draw together a range of different influences, to work with ease in India and Britain and the US, and to produce art that is readily comprehensible at both ends of the globe."
I guess William has a point here. But the fact is that this has always been the case, with the exception of Roy (incidently, Amit Chaudhuri has returned to his native Bengal from Oxford). For example, what did Picador discover in India? Only Rajkamal Jha and Siddharth Deb?
The fact is the market for Indian (and even African) writing in English is not in India but in America and Europe. It is natural that Indian writers, who have degrees and addresses in London or New York, will succeed as they have better access to literary agents or publishers. Also, the lack of a literary culture in India, especially in centres like Delhi as noted by William, will not be a problem for Indian writers in the West.
Agreed that a majority of 'successful' Indian writers in English will emerge from the diaspora, but I am not sure if all of them will be delivering masterpieces. We never know when another Roy emerges from the shadowy towns of Jhansi or Patna! Who had imagined that such a "Tigerwoodsian" debut-making writer from Kerala would take the literary world by storm? In literature the possibilities are always there.
I had noted the "there is much money in crearive writing these days" scene in Nair's Monsoon Wedding. But to me, that came off as more of satirical comment than anything else. In India, whoever can afford, is either going for a foreign MBA or Creative Writing or Filmmaking course. For Indians, what matters is money and the limelight ('the obsession with sucess'). That will always be the attraction. Remember the "Miss India" craze a few years ago after Aishwarya-Sushmita success?
I liked the description of Delhi mushairas in the essay. Yes, that culture is, alas, gone now. Then artists were patronised by rich nobles. Not any more.
The lack of non-fiction writing in India is because of the incestous nature of the world of Indian publishing. Editors will commission books to only those whom they know only, and won't give chance to new people or look for new talent. Also, where are the lit agents for the Indian market?