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Peripheral shift in literature sprinkling regional flavours

Regional literature in India has always mirrored social changes, conflicts and cultural shifts of society while Indian writings in English have traced the history and cultural aspects of the metros.

books Updated: Jul 12, 2013 16:54 IST

Regional literature in India has always mirrored social changes, conflicts and cultural shifts of society while Indian writings in English have traced the history and cultural aspects of the metros. These streams are slowly being bridged by a new breed of writers who are venturing beyond the metros and adding piquant flavours to their works.


Reaching out to the northeast are TV journalist Kishalay Bhattacharjee's "Che in Paona Bazar" and Aruni Kashyap's debut novel "The House with a Thousand Stories".

This region has often been shrouded in mystery and stereotyped in umpteen ways, but through these writings, the narrative has navigated through fictional characters in the local settings to give a glimpse of local food, music and culture along the lines of loss, love and conflict.

"My primary focus was to chronicle stories that would connect the dots and present the big picture and also attempt to rid the stereotypical images," admitted Bhattacharjee, whose novel has a series of snapshots from Manipur and is based on real events.

Given the fact this senior journalist grew up in Shillong and has covered the conflict in the region for 17 years, this automatically lends credibility to the poignant narrative and descriptions.

The triumvirate of cities - Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata - have caught the fancy of many authors who have used different storytelling methods to explore them through their culture, history, society or night life.

Be it William Dalrymple's well-researched "City of Djinns", Suketu Mehta's revelations in "Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found" or Amit Chaudhuri's lucid tale about Kolkata in "Calcutta: Two Years in the City" - each one has chosen a unique subject to make the text interesting.

The peripheral shift is a win-win situation for writers in English.

"It is true that nowadays you have many new voices speaking of towns, cities and regions that are beyond the metros. I think this is happening because the focus is shifting from the centre to the periphery and readers want to know of things that seem to be increasingly falling off the radar," Pan Macmillan India editorial director Pranav Kumar Singh told IANS.

"This is adding to the diversity of publishing and engaging readers in many different and new ways," he added.

These writings come with a sense of belonging and familiarity, often throwing up daunting challenges for a writer to do justice to the terrain.

"It has challenges because it can turn out to be entirely anecdotal but my journalistic training helped me to see its objectively," Bhattacharjee said, adding the natural reaction of the reader can be "what will an outsider know about our people and
places?".

Kashyap, whose novel is about Mayong situated on the bank of the Brahmaputra in Assam, felt the regional shift is perhaps because the concept of a pan-Indian novel is slowly diluting.

"One of the reasons why the new crop of writers are setting their novels in smaller cities and writing on regional themes is because the pan-Indian novel in English is probably not relevant any more," Kashyap told IANS.

"The Indian-English writer is no more burdened with the responsibility of narrating about the nation," he added.

In the coming months, Amitava Kumar's "Drunken Rats and Angry Poets. A Short Biography of Patna" will pay a mocking, yet affectionate tribute to a Patna citizen. Part-reportage, part-memoir, the novel will document the changes Patna has undergone through the years.

So will the strong aroma of coffee waft in the air with Nirmala Lakshman's "Degree Coffee By The Yard. A Short Biography of Madras" that will focus on the unseen characteristics that one would have otherwise missed about the city that is now called Chennai.

These novels, part-fictional, part-non-fictional are laced with personal memories, detailed observations and associations that are nostalgic at times.

"The childhood memories aren't nostalgic rants but carefully chosen to present a sharper picture of the people and places. Those places are not imagined communities but made up of real people with their anxieties, loves, frustrations and struggles like any other people anywhere in the world," Bhattacharjee said of his novel.

Not aimed to be travelogues, the visual description in these novels is often so evocative that readers may end up with putting the place on their travel list.
That happened with Kashyap while he was reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's "Americanah."

"Such were the descriptions of Lagos that I felt like visiting the city," he admitted, saying he will be more than happy if a reader connects with his book and visits Assam.

This peripheral shift is here to stay and Pranav Singh felt the different voices will give new dimensions to a place or city.

"Each individual and every author has a different view of his city and as long as the voice speaks of some new dimension of the city, these cities will continue to be written about," he added.