South Asian Long Fiction Analysis


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The Indian subcontinent, or what geographers call South Asia, includes India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bhutan. Though world leaders can change borders and create new political entities, they cannot persuade men and women of letters to observe such artificial boundaries. Thus, even though she is not an Indian in the narrow sense of the word but “technically Pakistani,” a writer such as Bapsi Sidhwa is included in Mirrorwork: Fifty Years of Indian Writing, 1947-1997 (1997). As coeditor Salman Rushdie explains, “This anthology has no need of Partitions”; indeed, he recognizes Sidhwa’s Ice-Candy-Man (1988), published in the United States as Cracking India (1991), as a valuable re-creation of “the horror of the division of the subcontinent.”

Even if political divisions are disregarded, however, there are other issues confronting any student of South Asian long fiction. One is how to deal with the many worthwhile novels and short stories written in the vernacular. Since there are fourteen major languages in the state of India alone, it is obvious that if these works are to receive the general recognition they deserve, they must be translated into English. Though there are objections to the use of a colonial language for such purposes, they are outweighed by practical considerations and even broad social benefits. In their introduction to The Penguin New Writing in India (1995), editors Aditya Behl and David Nicholls express their belief that such translations will enable people long separated by language to come to a better understanding of other cultures, thus enabling them to interact more successfully in what has always been a multicultural and multilingual society.

The fact that so many South Asians are choosing English as the language in which they express themselves has also dismayed some critics. However, these writers evidently feel more comfortable in English than in the vernacular, and they are well aware that works written in English will be more likely to reach readers throughout the world. They may also point out literary precedents early in the nineteenth century.