Identity matters

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Event In the run-up to The Hindu Best Fiction Award 2010, Urvashi Butalia read from Anjum Hasan's “Neti, Neti Not This, Not This”, one of the shortlisted books

All for this! Urvashi Butalia at Landmark in Gurgaon Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma
All for this! Urvashi Butalia at Landmark in Gurgaon Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma

K icking off a series of book readings serving as a prelude to the The Hindu Best Fiction Award 2010, author-publisher of Zubaan, Urvashi Butalia read from Anjum Hasan's “Neti, Neti Not This, Not This”, one of the 11 shortlisted books. The book reading, held at the Landmark Bookstore in DLF Grand Mall, Gurgaon, attracted a number of book lovers of the city.

Choosing parts of the book that bring out the essence of Hasan's book and underline the basic conflict of personal and social identities, Urvashi Butalia read with the kind of perfection and finesse that surely but unobtrusively transported the listeners to pages of Hasan's world. “Neti Neti”, Hasan's second book which follows the life of Sophie Das, one of the main characters from her debut novel “Lunatic in my Head”, explores the awkwardness of being an outsider that comes with Sophie's move from a village in Shillong to Bengaluru, a world that is so new and strange that the move is almost akin to moving from one country to another.

The parts Butalia chose to highlight soon sparked off a flurry of questions and answers from the audience, examining everything from the issue of translation and fiction in regional languages to the emergence of pulp fiction by Indian authors in English.

To the question of translation, Urvashi Butalia said that if it was between choosing to preserve the essence of the book or losing some of it in the process of translating while still allowing its message to reach a larger audience, she would definitely choose the latter. Butalia also underlined the need and importance of the new ‘chutnified' English that was unique to the Indian context and literary scene. She said that this new brand of English allowed for the incorporation of a basic ‘Indian-ness' into a language which was essentially not our own. This kind of morphing and adapting was indeed a way to make the language as Indian as possible.

Answering a question about the market of pulp fiction by Indian authors in English, Butalia said that owing to the late start of the novel form in India, this market was still emerging. “Authors are slowly growing more confident of tackling a wider range of issues and topics. There are more and more romantic novels and detective fiction by Indian authors now. I believe that every writer has many stories inside him. It's the publishers who have to provide the opportunities for them to come out,” Butalia said. Many other questions were raised, all in an attempt to understand the complex and multifaceted nature of Indian writing in English and the ever changing, ever-evolving answer to the definition of being Indian. While none of these questions can be definitively answered, the audience did leave with ample food for thought and a much better understanding of these issues.





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