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Brave new writing by Asians

Three prominent Asian writers came together to discuss their works inspired by their respective cultures and countries of birth.

Shame, persecution and punishment is a common theme in Asian countries, agreed the three authors at a session titled The Brave New Asian, as they cited examples from their books to put the theme into perspective.

London-based Malaysian author Tash Aw spoke about a character named Phoebe from his Five Star Billionaire and how she is portrayed as a materialistic woman who wants “more, more and more and nothing is enough”.

Anita Raghavan drew parallels between Aw’s portrayal of Phoebe and her own inferences of Rajat Gupta, whose fall from power she documented in The Billionaire’s Apprentice. “Rajat Gupta’s move to New York City coincides with his leaving McKinsey & Co, whereas everyone around him was earning more and more money,” Raghavan said.

Shyam Selvadurai’s The Hungry Ghosts talks about a young Sri Lankan trying to come to terms with his sexuality and his culture. “There is no end to desire, whether materialistic or sexual desire or desire for love,” said Selvadurai about his character Shivan Rassiah. “Shame motivates Asian characters, whether fictional or real, and it’s not just the immediate shame but the generational shame that comes down to you and motivates Shivan to do what he does.”

Kaustav Bakshi, an assistant professor of English at Sanskrit College, found the session engaging. “It brought out the nuances of South Asian diasporic fiction. I enjoyed how they spoke about the way shame persists in the diaspora,” he said.