The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Letters to Editor

Smaller figures

Sir — Ashok Mitra is right in saying that a crop of writers of Asian descent, born and brought up on foreign shores, has arrived on the literary scene. They mainly write about the countries their parents or grandparents had left behind (“Unaware of gold”, Oct 29). With many literary awards as well as hefty advances from publishing houses going their way, these “ethnic” writers are much in demand these days. Most of them come from affluent backgrounds and have been educated in the best schools and universities. They are naturally comfortable in expressing themselves in the English language. Being a student of literature, I appreciate the truth in Mitra’s statement, when he says that compared to a Manik Bandyopadhyay or a Sadat Hasan Manto, these new writers have failed to explore “the lower depths as much of the mind of an individual as of society”. Many of these writers present a kind of anaesthetized version of reality. They write about people and places from which they have been distanced, both physically and mentally, in a language which is alien to their subjects. All these perhaps contribute to a reality that is itself ‘unreal’, and representations that are at times unmoving.

However, when Mitra classifies authors as good and bad, one wonders whether he is doing it on the basis of who has or has not read the ‘Old Masters’. Surely this criterion alone cannot serve as the benchmark of a good writer. It is advisable that a writer reads as much as he/she can from the repository of past works but this is not a necessary condition to become a good writer. Again, I fail to understand how the economic position of an author can become a marker of the greatness of his art. The repeated stress on how these new expatriate writers mint a lot of money, while Bandyopadhyay and Manto lived in penury, seems to suggest that Mitra’s reasoning is flawed and misdirected.

In fact, Mitra has provided the answers to all these problems in his article. In a globalized world, burdened with an information overload, the ‘new’ has ceased to shock. Even literature does not arouse in readers strong emotions as it once used to. This has spawned an indifferent set of readers and branded writers whose works fail to touch a chord. But I must admit that language still has a serious role to play. The regional literature circuit, though, is definitely more lively than what is being produced in the genre of ‘Indian Writing in English’.

Yours faithfully,
Somdatta Bhattacharya, Calcutta

Sir — It was surprising to find an erudite columnist such as Ashok Mitra peg an entire piece on conjecture. The central premise of the piece hinges on the unwarranted assumption that successful south Asian writers in the West are ill- informed about literary works in their native countries. Nothing could be more ridiculously judgmental than a hypothesis such as this.

It was smart of Mitra not to name any of the writers who have earned his ire. If he has to criticize an author, he would do well to refer to their literary output, rather than their lack of exposure to literature. However, one cannot dismiss Mitra’s contention that Sadat Hasan Manto or Manik Bandyopadhyay did not get their due. But is that reason enough to rail against these south Asian writers' Great artists like Vincent van Gogh were never appreciated in their lifetime, Likewise, Bandyopadhyay or Manto must have never actually cared for the kind of recognition that Mitra thinks they deserved. And why just these two writers, how many in the West know about Bibhuti Bhushan and his phenomenal contribution to literature' There are many more writers who can be added to the list. If these authors had bothered about money or fame, they would have got their work translated into English, the way Tagore had done. If Tagore hadn’t translated his work into English, no one in the West would have heard his name. And one cannot really blame the West for that.

Yours faithfully,
Sudipto Roy, Calcutta

Sir — Ashok Mitra’s diatribe against some Asian writers who have found literary success in the United Kingdom and the United States of America appears to have been tinged with envy. His assertion that the works of Manik Bandyopadhyay and Sadat Hasan Manto are superior to those of diasporic writers is not supported by any solid evidence. Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things or Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children will be considered a timeless classic in any country.

Bandyopadhyay and Manto died poor. So did many other writers, such as D.H. Lawrence and George Orwell. A writer worth his salt does not judge the merit of his writing by the amount of wealth it brings him.

Yours faithfully,
Keron Bhattacharya, Nottingham, UK

Sir — Informative, educative, and written in his incisive style, Ashok Mitra’s article has done more to bring the literary contributions of Sadat Hasan Manto and Manik Bandyopadhyay into focus than any other person in recent memory. The article would undoubtedly revive readers’ interest in the writings of these largely-unrecognized literary greats.

Yours faithfully,
Imtiaz Chowdhry, Calcutta

Monkey business

Sir — In addition to stray dogs, monkeys, these days, are running amok on Delhi roads, which makes commuting a hazardous exercise in the capital. The wildlife department and NGOs must take initiatives and try to come up with solutions to the problem. It might also be a good idea to put all strays under government surveillance. These animals must be caught and transported to nearby jungles or kept in the zoo. Unfortunately, most zoos in the country are overcrowded, which has resulted in an acute shortage of space for the animals in cages. Therefore, it would be a better idea if the authorities first catch these animals and then move them to remote regions so that they will not be able to make their way back to the cities.

Yours faithfully,
Mahesh Kapasi, Delhi

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