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'Women, society, politics dominate South Asian literature'

Society, politics and new sensibilities are steering contemporary literature in the sub-continent, says noted poet and literary observer K. Satchidanandan.

books Updated: Oct 17, 2012 13:05 IST

Society, politics and new sensibilities are steering contemporary literature in the sub-continent, says noted poet and literary observer K. Satchidanandan.

In the last few years, this has seen an increase in writing about women's issues, a larger number of women writers, greater volume of Dalit literature from India and sharper insights into the socio-political problems in the remote regional pockets where life still hangs on the edge, said the poet-writer, who is the chair of the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature.

The Malayalam poet, one of the pioneers of modern Indian language poetry and a Nobel Prize nominee in 2011, says, "Several women writers in the sub-continent are drawing attention to the complex social realities like conservatism, bias, violence and the new struggle for equal opportunities that women have to live through in South Asia".

It was an extension of the new realistic wave that made up the scaffolding of the contemporary South Asian literary narratives, Satchidanandan said.

"Many of the books on the long list of the DSC South Asian Prize speak of this trend. They explore the lives of liberal Muslims in the region who are in a dilemma, caught between their secular beliefs and extremism in countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan," Satchidanandan told IANS in an interview.

He said, "Writers from the region are analysing the issues of terrorism and radical movements with great understanding and sympathy; probing the factors prompting such extremist behaviour".

"These have been the recurrent themes in the last two years with books like the 'Reluctant Fundamentalist' written a few years after 9/11," Satchidanandan said.

The DSC long list this year has two books that probe the conflicts in the modern Islamic societies in the sub-continent.

"The Wandering Falcon" by Jamil Ahmad narrates the love story of two Muslim tribal refugees who marry outside their community and are forced to live in exile. Their son Tor Baz - born in the middle of a no man's land with the lineage of tribal chiefs and outlaws - becomes the wandering falcon moving across mountains, plains and among people of the rugged northwestern frontier wastelands.

Tahmina Anam's "The Good Muslim" is the saga of a family that battles the challenges brought by peace after fighting Bangladesh's war of independence. The story is told through the eyes of an exile, who returns to her homeland to see her family transformed and religious fundamentalism on the rise.

In 2011, H.M. Naqvi's "Home Boy", which won the first DSC prize, used the 9/11 trauma as the centre-piece of its plot.

"In India, one of the new areas of literary focus is the troubled northeast. It has become a fertile crib of powerful literature because of the problems - result of its geographical and social positions," Satchidanandan said.

Regional lifestyles are powering a lot of the contemporary human drama in new Indian literature, he added.

"There are wonderful reflections of the rising new middle class - mostly from Bengal. Some novels analyse dilemmas, conflicts and aspirations," he said.

One such book, "The Song Seekers" by Saswati Chattopadhyay on the list, explores the dialectics of the 1960s Kolkata - a changing city embracing new populist ideas - viewed by women from the portals of an old mansion and brings out the conflict between religion, traditions and modern awareness.

The sweep of the middle class in the contemporary literary mosaic comes through in the language that South Asian writers have been using in the past decade, Satchidanandan observed.

"The use of colloquialism is rising. Words in Urdu, Parsi, vernacular languages and slang make occasional appearances in the prose, playing with forms, structures and idioms," he said.

In the last 10 years, the focus of South Asian literature has also turned to translations of verncular literature, he said.

"Talented translators trained well in English and their mother tongues have come out because of the incentives being offered to them as prizes," Satchidanandan said.

First Published: Oct 17, 2012 12:59 IST