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Thursday, 5 October, 2000, 09:10 GMT 10:10 UK
Is the best South Asian literature in English?
Over recent years, South Asian writing has taken the English literary world by storm.
But is the best South Asian literature really written in English or is good or even better work being written in the local languages, like Marathi or Sinhala?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Vikram, USA/ India
The validity of a piece of literature does not depend on the language in which it is written. But by never writing in, or translating into, English, the writer deprives a world-wide audience of their work.
I feel that literature written in local languages has more power of expression to convey the real meaning the writer wants to put forth. South Asian literature is no exception. At the same time, the efforts of South Asian writers cannot be belittled in advancing English literature. Whereas writers from the West have woven their plots around the significant events of the Raj, the authors in Asia have picked plots from the ordinary life around them and definitely given a new dimension to English literature and its following in South Asia.
It is better to live in a world with a cacophony of languages and scriptures rather than in one where everyone is monotonous and ideas flow in the same direction.
Rajesh Rao, India
Although many Asian writers have adopted English to attain global readership, there are still writers, both famous and upcoming, who use local languages and are successful. It cannot be said that English has taken the place of good literature. Local languages have produced a vast amount of literature that has become world famous even when not being written in English.
Literature is a reflection of oneself -
culture, religion and tradition. These things
can be best expressed in the writer's
own language whether it be Urdu, Sanskrit,
It is wonderful to see South Asian writers from a variety of backgrounds write so successfully in English. At the same time, it would be a serious mistake to think that the current writing in English is all there is to South Asian literature. I do not know about the native languages of parts now in Pakistan, but regional languages in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh have seen some phenomenal developments.
It's doesn't matter if South Asian writers write in English or their local language
because they have already got a reputation as some of the most successful writers in the world.
But it's always better if they write in their own language and translate into English.
Agha Ata, USA
It is good to write in English to make the world to understand what is happening in developing countries like India or Sri Lanka. However, it is not going to do any good for the local population. Firstly, the local underprivileged people will not have the money to buy the book. Secondly, they cannot read English. In my opinion, if any book is intend to do good for local people it should be written in a local language. If you write a local story or an issue in English, it is only for the privileged population.
The English literature written in South Asia is mostly related to Western thoughts and ideas or targeted at audiences with a Western mentality. The few that I have read, give me the impression that we are still living in the colonial era - pleasing the "Engraz" is what we want to do. Languages have their own cultures and laws of expression. I believe that literature in the native languages of South Asia truly expresses the feelings of the region's people!
While Indian authors writing in English are winning accolades in the Western world, it is wrong to presume that the quality of local literature is in any way inferior to that produced in English. In fact, some of the best works that I have read are written by contemporary Hindi authors. Sanskrit and Urdu are languages which lend themselves to poetry .The only difference is that works in English have good financial backing thanks to the West while local literature does not.
I strongly believe that the Sub-continent has some of the best literature in the world. Poetry in Urdu is so classical and rhythmic that you will ruin it if you try to translate it into English. India and Pakistan is the home of great poets like Ghalib, Iqbal, Mir and many more. No question American literature has won more Nobel prizes but Indo-Pakistani literature does not needs a noble prize to be acclaimed.
The works of writers like OV Vijayan and MT Vasudevan Nair are in a class of their own. They have never been threatened nor have their novels been made into English films. So they remain unknown outside South Asia.
Prasanta K. Pattanaik, USA
The English language connection in Indian literary circles has been in existence for centuries for obvious historical reasons. The great contemporary Indian writers such as Roy, Rushdie and Seth have managed to effectively display the unique Indian cultural nuances, using the English language as an instrument of communication. Others have stuck to their regional dialect with equal effect, notably the greatest of them all: Rabindranath Tagore. In a nutshell, I believe that the totally Indian mode of expression can be made independently of any particular language.
The best South Asian literature is in
The best Indian literature is
definitely found in the local languages
and Indian English literature
cannot hold a handle to what
is being achieved in local
languages. My own familiarity is
with Malayalam literature but
I am sure the same is true of
other South Indian languages
Since the introduction of English in South Asia, some of the more affluent classes have taken to the language and expressed their thoughts in lucid prose and poetry in that language. But it must be realised that even now, a vast majority of South Asians compose prose and poetry in their own language(s). The writers in English merely reach a more global audience and hence seem to suggest to this audience that English is the sole medium of expression in South Asia whereas the truth is, English is just another language South Asians use to write and compose in.
Literary works in English by South Asian writers have value for their target audience - the Western English-speaking people and the cosmopolitan, relatively privileged people of the subcontinent, especially the elites.
As far as the huge majority (probably 95%) of the various peoples of the subcontinent are concerned, the literary output of the well-known
writers in question is pretty much irrelevant. This literature has
very little direct relevance to and impact on the very people it portrays.
While Indian authors writing in English are winning accolades in the Western world, it is wrong to presume that the quality of local literature is in any way inferior to that produced in English. In fact, some of the best works that I have read are written by contemporary Hindi authors. Sanskrit and Urdu are languages which lend themselves to poetry .The only difference is that works in English have a good financial backing thanks to the West while local literature does not.
Some writers writing in English may have gained prominence overseas, but I still think that the best literature written in South Asia is still in the local languages. But they are not promoted by foreign media, for reasons best known to them.
Srikanth Ranganathan, USA/ India
I think the reason South Asian literature in English is making waves in the Western world is because of hard work, perseverance, dedication and creativity.
South Asia does not need the West's approval about their literature. As it is the West has always discriminated against it.
South Asian writers are inclined to write artistically due to the complexity and artistic tone in the local and regional languages pertaining to that region. It gives English literature a different flavour without compromising language structure or grammar. It helps portray the sociological psyche that people from different backgrounds carry with them.
English is not the natural language of South Asia though it is popular here. The best south Indian literature can be found in Sanskrit. You can never find a match of Kalidasa's literature in any other language of the world.
Roy, M.R. Ananda, Rushdie, Ondaatji of India or Laxmi Prasad Devkota of Nepal have produced excellent volumes in English that stand on their own. However, the works of Devkota (who was the first Nepali writer to write an epic and many other poems originally in English) in Nepali or most works of Panta, Prasad and Nirala in Hindi have a distinct flavour that distinguish them from the current writings in English.
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