India everywhere was the theme at the World Economic Forum in Davos last year. It has now found a resonance in the literary world — as was evident at the ongoing second Jaipur Literature Festival.
“Economically, India is flabbergasting,” says Marc Parent, editor of Buchet Chastel, that will publish French translations of Sadat Hasan Manto’s short stories and a collection of essays by Mahatma Gandhi to commemorate 60 years of Indian independence. Parent last year published French translations of Tarun Tejpal and Rana Dasgupta.
“Economic power brings literary power and there is a major movement in Indian fiction and non-fiction,” he points out.
David Godwin, literary agent for Arundhati Roy and Kiran Desai, agrees that India is becoming a literary powerhouse, pointing to the growth in publishing infrastructure from quality imprints to quality bookshops. “It’s part of the new affluence.”
Parent pointed out that Tejpal’s Alchemy of Desire has sold 55,000 copies in France, making it one of the top selling 25 titles of the year. Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City is already in its second French reprint.
For Parent — sporting a Buddha and a Ganesha talisman around his neck — what is interesting is the global voice of contemporary writers. “Elephants and snake charmers still sell. But the new voices out of India that appeal just as strongly are global. For instance, of the 13 stories in Rana Dasgupta’s Tokyo Cancelled, only one is set in India.”
The number of Indian authors at the literature festival has grown from 18 last year to 27 — including Kiran Desai and Salman Rushdie. “But we are a billion people,” says Desai. “ We need more authors.”
For writers like Desai and Mehta, geographical boundaries have blurred. Though Desai has retained her Indian passport, she is unsure about where ‘home’ is. Mehta pointed out: “What is exile when a round trip home is $800?”
And for those budding writers who have stayed back, there is hope. David Godwin says he is considering opening an office in New Delhi.