| Alex Clark with Ruchir Joshi at the British Council interface. Picture by Aranya Sen
“The only bearer of family memories.” That’s how Alex Clark, British literary critic, now writing her first book, perceives being an only child. What is now a common phenomenon was not so in the 1960s, when Alex was born, post-baby boom. This is the idea that prompted the Sunday Times critic to embark on a book titled Only Child.
“Having never been able to locate myself within any particular visible minority, it seemed that the world of support groups and pride marches might be within my grasp,” she writes in the witty first chapter.
Clark traces the spotlight on Indian writing back to The God of Small Things. “Arundhati Roy was the first Indian writer where publishers thought the book was good and that they could sell a lot of copies,” said the 35-year-old.
Before that, the Naipauls and the Rushdies may have been very famous, but Roy’s saleability opened the floodgates. She had not realised that the line between selling and selling-out (an accusation levelled at numerous English writers in India who, apparently, court foreign publishers and prizes, not domestic audiences) had been breached.
“Naturally, in Britain, India occupies a strange kind of mental space, with nostalgia and mysticism… I had not really thought of how the writers who are taken to represent that would be received in India,” she confessed. But then, some of the controversies are not for audiences abroad to resolve. “Many issues are for Indian writers to sort out.”
While there is a problem if regional language writers are being sidelined, Clark said the western slant to Indo-Anglian writing is natural. “That’s life. That’s economic migration and that is the way the world works.”
The same concerns came up in England, she explained, for instance, over the question of British companies setting up call centres in India. “The power is not with you, and you have nothing when they are gone.”
Clark shared some of her visions as a reader and a writer at talks at the Calcutta and Jadavpur universities and during an interactive meet at the British Council, sharing the stage with novelist Ruchir Joshi.
The energetic discussion on Monday evening provided food for literary thought, moving from the only-child concept to the pressures of writing to Clark’s experiences on the panel of judges for the Granta selection of the Best of Young British Novelists.
Expectedly, Hari Kunzru’s dramatic rejection of a literary award recently, on the grounds that the sponsor took a stand against asylum-seekers, came up for discussion. The audience felt that such a move could be a bid for more publicity, but Clark later disagreed. “It was a great move,” she said before her departure on Tuesday.