They have witnessed the aftermath of Partition, watched gruesome images of terrorism, faced untouchability in their poor Dalit families, dazzled in Bollywood and lived the American dream.
Authors representing India at the Frankfurt Book Fair, the world’s largest ever, reflect the agony and ecstasy of India not just in their work — but in their personal lives as well. India is the guest of honour this year at the festival, where the theme is “Today’s India”.
The lives of the authors reflect the paradox of that India. Namdeo Dhasal was born in the so-called untouchable Dalit community of Mahars in Pur-Kanersar village in Maharashtra. Unable to support his home, his father took his family to work as an assistant in a beef shop in a flesh trade neighbourhood in Mumbai. Dhasal’s literary work was shaped here, reflecting in works like the Marathi poetry collection “Golpitha”.
Across the country in Dehradun, Om Prakash Valmiki, another eminent Dalit writer documented the pain of his milieu in his Hindi books such as “Joothan (Leftovers).”
Shafi Shauq, born in 1950, is a Kashmiri poet who has witnessed 17 blood-laced years in his homeland from the University of Kashmir, one of the crucibles of the anti-India campaign.
Hundreds of kilometers away in the northeast, Indira Goswami, an Assamese writer, has keenly documented aftermath of militancy in the northeast and “mediated” on behalf of the United Liberation Front of Asom, with which the government recently ended its ceasefire.
Punjabi author Gurdial Singh, winner of the Jnanpith Award, was 14 when India was torn apart. Decades of work features the pain of the times, as well as the complexities of class and religion that it left behind.
Far to the south in Andhra Pradesh, K Siva Reddy was born in a family of farmers and his life shaped his poetry in a land where debts drove farmers to death.
Amitav Ghosh, Amit Chaudhuri and Girish Karnad also documented the pathos and ironies of India, but were “personally part of the upper crust India”, which reached out to the West and started dreaming big long before the middle class followed in its footsteps after liberalisation.
Away from the realities of day-to-day India are poets like Javed Akhtar and Nida Fazli, who have written soulful lyrics for Hindi films, transporting listeners into a make-belief world. Bollywood is now one of India’s biggest global brand ambassadors The fair, probably the biggest in its 58-year history, is showcasing 382,000 titles from 113 countries.