The New Indian Express Editorial Director Prabhu Chawla interacting with Union Minister of State for HRD Shashi Tharoor during the OLF 2013 I Express Photo
Prabhu Chawla: You kept us spellbound for 45 minutes during which you discussed not only the biology of the literature, but also geography of literature. You communicate with India in English because you can’t communicate with Bharat in English. Jawaharlal Nehru wrote his first book ‘Discovery of India’ in English, but did he discover Bharat? When Rahul Gandhi speaks of India and Bharat, obviously he could not understand Bharat from “Discovery of India” which his great grandfather wrote. The question we are raising in literary festival is that current literature is more influenced by English writers. Is English being imposed? Are we able to create some kind of permanent impact on the way of people think about India, behave about India or they are just writing their own type. Literature, which is being written now is like a Shah Rukh Khan film which makes a crore of rupees in three days and the next three years, nobody remembers that. Is Indian literature drowned by so much noise made about the English literature?
Shashi Tharoor: Fact is there is already a tremendous expansion in what we understand by Indian writing in English, it covers wide range of journals which did not exist even 10-15 years ago. We now have RomComs __ romantic comedies, we have thrillers, we have historical, mythological writings like Amish Tripathy, Ashwin Sanghi.
Many of these very successful popular books could probably work in other languages too. But look at the success of a Chetan Bhagat who writes in very simple English that can be understood by anyone who has basic English education. It need not be translated in other languages.
And it is very often a story about small town in India and people very much like to read these books. I would say there has been a deepening of roots in Indian writing in English already. Now there is very good quality writing taking place in Indian languages. The problem is you have to know the language to truly appreciate the quality because our translations have not yet reached the level where we can read.
Many of the writers in Indian languages have not yet been able to benefit from such high quality translation and still they are not nationally known, but very much known in their own languages. We have some of the great Odia poets here, whose work we can read in English translation, but the fact is that it will not be appreciated in the same way as in the native language.
Prabhu Chawla: Right. If you are accepting that translation is the only way of promoting our own local literature, you are accepting the supremacy of English language. You are talking about globalisation. Global marketeers want to sell English books. An impression is being created that in Indian literature, there is class versus masses. Certain classes are imposing their own literature on the masses which they can’t connect.
Shashi Tharoor: You cannot force it on the masses because the masses won’t read you if they don’t want to.
Prabhu Chawla: Your are absolutely right, you are only catering to the market which can only buy books of `500 and `700. Many publishers are sitting here today we have a debate later on that also how to sell them, how to promote literature.