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Tuesday, 19 February, 2002, 10:55 GMT
Indian festival debates local talent
Book shopping in India
Modern India is a multilingual mélange of voices
Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has expressed concern at the problems faced by non-English-language writers in India.

Indian authors who wrote in languages other than English often suffered from undeserved neglect, said Mr Vajpayee.

He was speaking after inaugurating an international literature festival in Delhi dedicated to celebrating Indian writing.

He said there were plans to set up a national translation board that would make good Indian literature available in other languages.

The festival is organised by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations.


But the Indian premier's remarks were contradicted by one of the star guests at the event - the Nobel Laureate, Sir VS Naipaul.

Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul
Sir VS Naipaul: Critic of many developing societies
In a keynote speech, he said that those attending the festival were not there "to celebrate the antiquity of literature in India, but to celebrate modern writing."

He also said that if Indian authors writing in vernacular languages had written great works, they would have become great themselves.

Modern Indian writing in English had given India "a truer idea of itself" than it had before, he added.

VS Naipaul has previously made clear his belief that post-colonial cultures in the developing world are not well adapted to coping with modernity.

An opinion reflected over a series of books including A House for Mr Biswas and the Booker Prize-winning In A Free State.

'The Queen's English'

India has 17 recognised indigenous languages, and in all of them there are new thinkers and vibrant writers who hardly ever get a wider audience, according to the writer and journalist Suresh Kohli.

Speaking to BBC World Service's Arts In Action programme, Mr Kohli said while authors such as Sir Naipaul have raised the profile of Indian literature, they only experiment with the language once they have a firm grasp of "the Queen' English".

Bookseller in Delhi
Indians writing in Indian languages don't get published
To this end, audiences are being denied the rich variety of Indian literature.

"In areas such as Bengal, which has produced some of the finest writers, and Hindi which is spread over five states, much more is happening," he said.

"[Writing] is much more vibrant, much more active, much more interesting and dynamic as compared to what is being written in English."

Translation was not a lucrative profession, he said, another reason why Indian writers were not reaching a wider audience.

"It is not economically viable for somebody to just pick up a book and spend the next six to eight months translating the 200 raw pages," he says.

While publishers continue to scour the literary world in the hope of finding next season's bestsellers, in Mr Kohli's view it is unlikely to come from South Asian ranks, largely because Indian publishers do not make any effort to promote Indian authors.

Suresh Kohli speaking to BBC World Service
"Indian literature has suffered because of bad translations"
See also:

11 Oct 01 | Arts
Naipaul: A singular talent
23 Oct 01 | Arts
Trinidad tribute to Naipaul
14 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: India
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