Monthly Archives: September 2009

Dalit Autobiography in Kannada

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Siddalingayya’s Ooru Keri is one of the most important dalit autobiographies in Kannada. Other notable ones include Arvind Malagatti’s Government Brahman, Ramayya’s MaNegara and Govindaraju’s Manavilladavara Madhye. I think Siddalingayya’s autobiography is important not only because he is an important dalit poets in Kannada. I think his book has a larger importance for dalit literature as a whole.

from: lifevisionkcftc.org

from: lifevisionkcftc.org

Among dalit autobiographies we see two distinct types: autobiographies by those who are already notables in the society; by those who became notable because of the autobiography they have written. Siddalingayya was already an important public persona – an established kannada poet, a mass leader, a major figure in the Dalit Sangharsha Samiti (DSS), – unlike some of the Marathi authors of autobiographies, who came to obtain social notability through their autobiographies.  In this respect autobiography is not the means through which individuality is claimed by Siddalingayya.

Ooru Keri means ‘neighbourhood’ roughly, it refers to residential colony anyways. In this respect it is similar to Vasti an autobiography by the Marathi writer Vasant Moon. It has been pointed out by many that dalit autobiographies, contrary to other autobiographies, focus on the collmunity rather than the individual. That is, an autobiography also becomes ethography as it were, but one from within.

Ooru KeriThe remarkable feature of this book is that it is less a record of pain and suffering than of joy and success. The reader will perceive the oppression that Siddalingayya and his community go through but the author makes the reader see the power of dalits too. Dalit solidarity, struggle become frequent motifs here. No wonder in his afterword to this book D R Nagraj speaks of the ‘power of poorman’s laughter’. The reader of this book is repeatedly invited to laugh out at the naughtyness of the protagonist, or his friends, at the humorous side of occurences.

While the narrative does not trivilise the experiences, it nevertheless does not become a record only of the power of victimisers but tells how dalits wrest power for themselves. Importantly it relates the determination and the commitment of the dalits to shape their own life even when they are caught in highly subjected situations.

The language used is standard kannada unlike some of his revolutionary poems which use dalit dialects. It has been translated into English by S. R. Ramakrishna and published by Sahitya Academy. Availability is thus an issue. But you can easily get it on Flipkart here.

Caste as Human Rights Violation

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The ongoing UN session has drafted a resolution which considers caste discrimination as a human rights violation. This is a welcome development considering India’s consistent opposition to allow internationalisation of the issue of caste. Foreign policy of a nation quite often is based on reasons of false pride. In refusing in 2001 a resolution linking caste to racism India had displayed the same pride. Now with Sweden (EU) and Nepal going with the resolution, let us hope that India wont manage to block it.

The TOI says:

The draft principles specifically cited caste as one of the grounds on which more than 200 million people in the world suffer discrimination. “This type of discrimination is typically associated with the notion of purity and pollution and practices of untouchability, and is deeply rooted in societies and cultures where this discrimination is practiced,” it said.

UN treating caste as human rights violation might help in drawing the attention of the international community to the ancient horror that still thrives. If this increases the visibility of the practice of caste system we can hope it will bring greater pressure on the Indian civil society to emerge out of complacency. You may want to read this on the same issue.

from: ambedkar.org

from: ambedkar.org

Unless caste system, as Ambedkar taught us, is annhilated there is no real progress for this country.

Arundhati Roy “The God of Small Things” I

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A few scattered ideas about this v. good novel. I hope to add more thoughts later may be. Had Arundhati Roy not angered the Indian middle class with her uncomfortably sharp pieces in magazines, had she been a goody goody writer writing her uncontaminated literary stuff in her sterilised novels, had she not taken pot shots at the icons of progress and the capital, I guess she would have been much less rejected writer.  What say?

Anyways, about The God of Small Things

by John O'Hara

by John O'Hara

One of the important episodes in The God of Small Things presents a scene of violence. The importance of this is created through a repetition of snatches of the scene throughout the novel. It accumulates through frequent reappearances as a memory, bits of descriptions, a vision, a detail, a small sound and so on, until we are forced by the sheer accumulation of small bits into a shocking recognition of the degree of inhumanity displayed in that scene of violence. The scene is not presented in full detail in one place anywhere in the novel. It is built up as emerging from various bits across the narrative, like an insistent memory, a prickly past.

This scene of violence depicts how the Kottayam police brutalise Velutha at the time of his arrest. At the time he is unarmed (he is not known to be armed anyway), asleep, caught unawares by the police. Yet they attack him and beat him up mortally (he succumbs to injuries the next day). In focusing on this scene I would like to pursue two related questions: the first relates to the number of actors present in this scene of violence. The scene of crime is split between the place of arrest, History House, and the police lock up. The second question relates to gender identity.

During the day, at the end of which Velutha is arrested, Rahel and Estha visit him as they often do. And as part of their play, they put paint on his nails. At the time of arrest and even after, Velutha, thus, has painted nails which prompts one of the police constables to exclaim: “What is this? AC- DC?” (190) The expression AC–DC of course is a derogatory reference to a bisexual. This production of bisexuality in Velutha at the moment of violence on him is entirely sudden. The novel has earlier portrayed him ambivalently in relation to his status in the labour economy. Velutha being a skilled worker has been indispensable for the Paradise Pickles and Preserves factory. Thus as labourer he is at once a dependent (he is unlikely to get a job elsewhere) as well as one on whom the factory depends. In relation to Ammu, he is seen as a receiver of gifts from her though in the past he has been the giver of gifts. These mild suggestions at Velutha’s ambivalent status in a quasi-feudal social setup are extended in the image of Velutha’s bisexuality at the instant of his brutalisation and death.

A similar constituting of Ammu can also be seen in the novel. She is a single parent for the twins and she tells them repeatedly that she is their mother as well as father. In her relation to Rahel and Estha, she alternates between the tough disciplinarian and tender parent. Thus Ammu is also ambivalently portrayed in a combined image of father/mother.

Further, with the twins too, such a portrayal can be seen. The twins see themselves as ‘one’. Rahel laughs at Estha’s funny dream in the midnight. She experiences his sensations. They are seen as a single person with double, dually sexed bodies: “The twins, not rude, not polite, said nothing. They walked home together. He and She. We and Us.” (237)

These elements in the novel that suggest androgynous identity in some of the main characters raise the question of metaphorisation of the victim. In the case of Ammu, then, we can ask if her status as a victim of patriarchy is a metaphor for other kinds of power regimes. Also, whether Velutha is a metaphorical victim of power regimes. It has to be remembered here that in each of these instances in the novel the victimiser is not seen as occupying a singular frame of oppression. The regimes of power are always a combination of different power systems. Hence, Velutha’s and Ammu’s metaphorisation raises the question whether we could admit such a combinatory perspective of the victim. We are familiar with the dangers in seeing every oppression as a metaphor of other oppressions with reference to the use of class as a category of social relation.

Nevertheless, when regimes of power reproduce themselves as social control variously, the subject of power is rendered liminal. Velutha and Ammu in The God of Small Things attest to how the juncture, where the conjunction of regimes of power effects its control at once, is multiply produced – woman also becomes caste marked; dalit also comes to be gendered. Subjectivity of the objects of power is multiply constituted. The risk of metaphorisation of the space of victim need not detain us from attending to the multiply constituted and scripted bodies of the oppressed.

While the oppressive system is not a singular regime, one that operates only as a patriarchy or brahminism but works in collusion to make the victimiser a complex, so is the oppressed a liminal figure, opening up a reductionist metaphorisation. This makes literal the statement ‘oppressed have no gender, no caste, no class’ by which in each scene of domination, the division between the oppressor and the oppressed seem to repeatedly insert the vocabulary of binary. This insertion of binary leads us back to the play of similarities and differences. The danger in an analysis that works with duality, in a minimal articulation, is a serious one. However the same scene in The God of Small Things leads us now to another question: from liminality of identity to the issue of the pitfalls of binary.

Jayant Kaikini – Now

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He can make you sit up and shake off complacency. Yes, Jayant Kaikini in some of his poems. I guess I have lived with this poem for a long time, now. There is no argument, no ‘tear floods’, no criticism, no irony. It merely comes to us as a series of images of urban life, of Bombay, of modernity. It blames no one. It asks no question. But drops a punch in the gut.

He does that in the other poem I had posted some time ago, ‘The Script’.

Jayant, you are amazing.

Now

* Jayant Kaikini

from: google images

from: google images

Now it is eight p.m. –

time for the cooker’s first whistle

from the single-room kitchen of the chawl –

time for the bathed luxury buses to leap

into the vast dark night –

time for the unsold jasmines withering in the wickers

to die in tired fragrances –

time for the women returning home after work

to be appalled in front of the mirrors –

time for the aged tiger in the zoo

to wail for its grub –

upstairs in the third gulley of Kamatipura

teenaged Baby

starts her labour pain

they kick her in her stomach

with none of us there.

Raja Rao, ‘Kanthapura’ – I

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Kanthapura depicts the arrival of freedom struggle to a south Indian village sometime after 1921. It records the devastation of the village in the explosive encounter between the ‘foreign rulers’ and the freedom fighters. Traditionally it has been described as a novel that depicts the impact of Gandhism on a small village. But it nevertheless disrupts configurations of nationalism, colonialism and the brahminical discourse.

from: timesonline.co.uk

from: timesonline.co.uk

The all too well known characterisation of India as the white man’s burden (Kipling) can be used here as a shorthand for the ideological claims of colonialism about its racial, social, civilisational superiority that imposes it as a moral responsibility on the coloniser to bring light to the ‘dark’ and ‘depraved’ life of the Indians. Imperialism is defended by colonial discourse as a moral responsibility towards the barbaric. As Macaulay said in a speech in 1833: “There is an empire exempt from all natural causes of decay. Those triumphs are the pacific triumphs of reason over barbarism; that empire is the imperishable empire of our arts and our morals, our literature and our laws” (qtd. in The Imerishable Empire, M. Mukherjee, OUP, Delhi, 2000).

Such claims of the colonisers conditioned the self-perception of the colonised. The 19th century ‘Indian Renaissance’ is informed of this self-perception. This exemplifies Fanon’s description of the first phase of a colonised culture as one in which the native intellectual, having internalised the coloniser’s characterisation of the ‘native as barbaric’, attempts to obtain the coloniser’s approval by assimilating the culture of the occupying power. Raja Rammohan Roy’s eager participation in the debate over the Unitarian vs. Trinitarian Christianity (in Precepts of Jesus) provides us with one example. To take another, Toru Dutt in her Savitri attempts to create an ideal woman making Savitri a Victorian heroine as has been pointed out by Susie Tharu. A more explicit example is obtained from K.K. Sinha’s historical novel about the great Hindu past, Sanjogita or The Princess of Aryavarta, (1903) at the end of which the author says: “India appeals to her foreign masters for kindness and sympathy; she is indebted to them for her rescue from a chaotic society” (p. 267; qtd. in Mukherjee).

Kanthapura

I am only labouring here to make a fairly well established point that the discourse of colonialism instituted a notion of the natural superiority of the colonising race, and this was internalised by the colonised. Raja Rao’s Kantapura, critiques this position.

U R Ananthamurthy, “Samskara”

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I have heard that when UR Ananthamurthy was a visiting prof at USA once, he used to have packed halls. This fame was due to his novel Samskara, apparently, whcih was translated into English by AK Ramanujan. Ericfromm commented on Ananthamurthy’s novel, whcih also contributed to his fame over in USA.

It seems that outside the Kannada circles, he is primarily known as the author of Samskara. Here is an extract on how he came to write this novel which some consider as one of the most important Kannada modernist novels. Please ignore my disagreement.

How I wrote Samskara

U R Anathamurthy

I was barely 13 years old when some momentous things happened in my little Agrahara… I was witness to actual death all round me. Four miles away was my high school, which was closed because of plague in the town. People began to die along with the rats. In my village only the pariahs died. That was because, I had realized, the orthodox doctor had not gone to inoculate against plague- they were untouchables. Although I was surrounded by all these people, something in me was stirred against all these superstitious beliefs. My father used to read Gandhi’s writings in Harijan which used to come to our Agrahara.

Just then another queer thing happened in my Agrahara. An orthodox Brahmin who had joined the army had come back and he used to gather all of us schoolboys and drill us upon a hill. He also talked to us of far away places and the battles he had fought and so on. He had greatly impressed me. I was also privy to a secret, which no other Brahmin in the village knew. This ex-army young man who spoke English had a secret romance with one of the loveliest dark girls from the untouchable huts, although, he came from an orthodox family. This was a secret of elemental importance, which had begun to shake my belief in the whole caste system.

When the Harijans began to die they set fire to whole huts for everyone had died in the hut. They were thatched huts with no belongings and the Brahmins in my Agrahara whispered to one another that they were being punished by god for having dared to enter temples somewhere in North India under the guidance of the Kali of our yug – Mahatma Gandhi. The beautiful girl I referred to, had seemed extraordinarily lovely to me- I had read the story of `Mathsygandhi ‘; the fisherwoman with whom Parashara fell in love and instantaneously produced Vedavyasa, the Sathyojatha. I was living in the world of Purana and reality at the same time.

URA

from: outlookindia.com

Such was my state when one fine morning the beautiful girl did not come to clean our cowshed and I was told that she had run away. That struck me: she ran because she was touched. In other words, I thought, however vaguely, that a new consciousness was aroused in her by her contact with an upper-caste man. This lighted up the meaning of the Parashara Purana in me. We, the boys of Agrahara, used to edit then a manuscript journal in three languages- English, Kannada and Sanskrit. I had friends who were doing their SSLC and so could write in English and the boys who went to Sanskrit Pathashalas could write in Sanskrit and I wrote in Kannada. I remember to have written a story on this metaphorically. Why metaphorically? Not because I felt like a poet, but because I wanted to hide the true story from my elders whom I feared. It was much later I realized that even Dostoeveski wrote metaphorically for similar reasons, to hide from the Czarist censors.

I don’ t remember how this story was received in the manuscript journal which I had named ‘Tharangini’. For many years later in 1964, when I was 32 years old, I went to see a Bergman film “The Seventh Seal” in England with my friend and guide, the famous novelist Malcolm Bradbury. Seventh seal is a film on a Christian facing a belief crisis. It was a great and symbolic film, but I saw it without sub-titles. I was stirred by it. Often creativity is aroused by imperfect understanding and even misunderstanding. I told Bradbury, “Look Malcolm, as an Englishman you have to create your medieval times through learning and knowledge acquired with hard scholarship. But the medieval times are part of my consciousness; centuries can co-exist in the Indian mind” Malcolm said that my writing must reflect such an existence.

I had to give my next chapter of my thesis on Marxism and fiction to him. What a boring and hard chapter to write and I wanted to evade it. What better ruse can there be if your teacher is a novelist? I told Malcolm that I have begun to write a novel and I did. I finished it within a week. Being away for nearly two years from my own land and people, the language Kannada with all its richness and the people whom I knew came back to me and I found myself rewriting the story, which I had written at the age of 13. But with a lot more in it than I could grasp in my tender years. This is how Samskara was born in England.

From: kannadasaahithya.com

U R Ananthamurthy, the public intellectual

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URA

from: hindu.com

It is an interesting idea, the public intellectual. I guess the word may be challenged as to whether there can be an intellectual in a domain other than public. But, I guess the use of this expression to refer to Ananthamurthy has something to do with the fact that he takes it upon himself to be a voice raising issues that concerns the public in a society that is increasingly turning introvert.

Once my friend Ashok Hegde, the story writer, and me were with Shantinath Desai. In our conversation Ananthamurthy’s later writings came in for a discussion. What Shantinath Desai said has stuck in my mind. He said that after a point some writers become public property. What they write, good or not, becomes important for the language community. Their writings become an example irrespective of whether they have a present appeal.

Another instance that comes to my mind about Ananthamurthy is what my favourite living Kannada writer Rasheed once wrote in his blog about him. I think Rasheed went to Ananthamurthy for the purpose of some podcast or some such thing. Anyways, he was accompanied by a friend. Ananthamurthy receives them cordially, seats them in the front room, makes a small talk and then insisting they have some tea proceeds to the kitchen to brew some. Rasheed is touched by the ready warmth with which Ananthamurthy plays host.

I have had the opportunity to talk to him only once. In IUCCA, Pune, he presided over a book relaease and after the do, there was a little tea and biscuits. Over the tea Pune’s own poet Dilip Chitre and Ananthamurthy were animatedly talking about the status of English and the Indian languages. I joined in with a contrary view. I still remember the intent look on his face which was as enthusiastic to listen to a rookie for a fine debate. He showed no impatience. He was keen to listen to the younger people and engage in a debate with them. I think that shows the public nature of his concerns.

If you are interested in reading Ananthamurthy, visit his website Rujuvatu at sampada.net

Nissim Ezekiel’s Night of the Scorpion

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Every poet, good or bad, writes a poem that strikes the right chords with a majority of readers. Say, Frost. He is so much loved for so many poems, yet many take the name of ‘Road not taken’ or ‘Sleeping by woods..’ when you mention his name. With the Nissim Ezekiel such an oft remembered poem is The Night of the Scorpion. In this poem the speaker, an adult now in awe of his mother’s love for her children, remembers the time in his childhood when a scorpion had stung his mother. It was a rainy night, cold, and a scorpion had slipped into the house, perhaps for warmth. The skill of Ezekiel in this poem is in making it so evocative. It has his characteristic irony, and even a hint of satire. But what catches our attention is the vividity of the description.

For example, see how the poet refers to the remembered detail of the visiting neighbours who come expressing sympathy and solidarity: “The peasants came like swarms of flies”. This image gathers together at once a statement and a description of the behaviour of the neighbours: villagers coming to visit in big numbers and the continuous noise (not very useful speech but an endless stream of repetitive chatter) they make. Rarely do we come across vividity of such density.

Similar is the lines: “With candles and with lanterns throwing giant scorpion shadows/ on the sun-baked walls they searched for him; he was not found”.  The image here is at once apt, vivid and accurate. The villagers with candles or lanterns are searching for the scorpion. It is obvious that they bend forward in this search. This action would require them to hold the lamps ahead of them and at a low height. The light from these lanterns catches the bending shapes of the villagers and throws shadows on the walls which naturally are amplified in the process.  To the bewildered child who is seeing all these commotion, these shadows appear like giant scorpions because of their bloated size and because scorpion is on everyone’s mind and talk.

The use of inversion in the following lines with the repeated ‘they said’ ending is effective in recreating the effect of repetition and reporting. The closing lines make the poem a bit romantic although I reckon, many like the poem for the sentiment contained in those lines.

In the Indian classrooms when this poem is taught, what seem to receive emphasis is the status of superstition. I feel that the poem is not really about superstition. Somehow, the paraphernalia that surround this poem in most of the academic anthologies encourage the students to consider this poem as a criticism of the superstition among Indians. That interpretation beats me. How about you?

from: google images

from: google images

Here is the text:

I remember the night my mother was stung by a scorpion.
Ten hours of steady rain had driven him to crawl beneath a sack of rice.
Parting with his poison — flash of diabolic tail in the dark room — he risked the rain again.
The peasants came like swarms of flies and buzzed the Name of God a hundred times to paralyse the Evil One.
With candles and with lanterns throwing giant scorpion shadows
on the sun-baked walls they searched for him; he was not found.
They clicked their tongues. With every movement the scorpion made his poison moved in Mother’s blood, they said.
May he sit still, they said.
May the sins of your previous birth
be burned away tonight, they said.
May your suffering decrease
the misfortunes of your next birth, they said.
May the sum of evil balanced in this unreal world against the sum of good become diminished by your pain.
May the poison purify your flesh of desire, and your spirit of ambition, they said, and they sat around on the floor with my mother in the centre.
The peace of understanding on each face.
More candles, more lanterns, more neighbours, more insects and the endless rain.
My mother twisted through and through groaning on a mat.
My father, sceptic, rationalist, trying every curse and blessing, powder, mixture, herb, and hybrid. He even poured a little paraffin upon the bitten toes and put a match to it.
I watched the flame feeding on my mother.
I watched the holy man perform his rites to tame the poison with incantation.
After twenty hours it lost its sting.
My mother only said:
“Thank God the scorpion picked on me and spared my children.”

cfp: Book on Indian English Novelists of 1981 And After

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A book on Indian English novels post Rushdie’s MC.

Children of Midnight: Indian English Novelists of 1981 And After (October 31, 2009)

full name / name of organization:

Dr. Nilanshu Kumar Agarwal and Dr. Ludmila Volna

contact email:

nilanshu1973@yahoo.com, ludmila.volna@free.fr

Children of Midnight: Indian English Novelists of
1981 And After
The publication of Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children in 1981 assertively changed the fate of Indian English fiction. It has now become a force to count with. New explorations in the narrative technique in addition to a great variety of themes has made it sure that this creativity has left its indelible impression on the world literary map. The novelists since Midnight’s Children have struck diverse notes in their novels. There is a greater deciphering of the individual’s alienated soul in the world. Marooned colonized/feminine/weak/Dalit/Black/queer individual struggling against the colonial/patriarchal/powerful/ Brahmin/white/orthodox market forces is the favourite subject of the fiction-writers. The masters of Post-1981 Indian English fiction have exerted themselves to present the inner emotional ripples of their characters. It is not that the earlier novelists’ voice was mute to the interior struggles of the individual. Nevertheless, contemporary voices are more vocal in expressing the inner torments of the marginalized and their murmurings are taken more seriously the world over. The novel has moved from homogeneity of themes and techniques to heterogeneity of subjects and methodology. There is an evolution from the simple to the complex.
The present anthology of critical research papers which will be entitled Children of Midnight: Indian English Novelists of 1981 And After seeks to explore the works of major Indian English fiction writers published since 1981. Previously unpublished research papers on the subject are invited which will follow the latest edition of MLA stylesheet for citation purpose with the references given in the parenthetical form in the text and with Works cited at the end. Papers should be marked by a sharp critical acumen and analyze the novels in the light of the contemporary critical thought.
Papers together with a brief bioprofile should be sent to Dr. Nilanshu Kumar Agarwal {Feroze Gandhi College Rae Bareli U.P., India, } and/or to Dr. Ludmila Volna {Charles University Prague, Czech Republic, ) before 31 October 2009.

from: http://call-for-papers.sas.upenn.edu/

“Booker Novels”

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What is the significance of a literary award to the field of Indian English literature? Perhaps the question in itself appears rather presumptuous considering that a literary award, even a prestigious one, is a small affair compared to the goings on in a nation’s literary scene. But the fact that such a suggestion can be made indicates the forces that constitute canon and impact the field at large. The direction that Indian English novel took since the time Midnight’s Children got the Booker prize in 1981 is conditioned by the transnational capital of which the Booker Prize is emblematic.

There is an interesting ambivalence about the Booker. Several of the Booker winning novelists are non-British; so much so that the prize has come to be associated with the postcolonial literary productions. On the other hand, the endowment came from the Booker company which made its fortunes from the sugar factories in Guyana. The reference to Booker in the Caribbean poet David Dabydeen’s “Song of the Creole Gang Women” is revealing:

Wuk, nuttin bu wuk

Maan noon an night nuttin bu wuk

Booker own me patacake

Booker own me pickni.

Pain, nuttin bu pain

Waan million tous’ne acre cane

So this colonial history of Booker sits ambivalently with its above-mentioned association with postcolonialism. The ambivalent nature of Booker doesn’t end here. Pico Iyyer and Richard Todd have alluded to the proliferation of fiction from the former colonies that have won the Booker and have suggested it to be the ‘Empire writing back’. On the other hand, Booker has been a major figure in the commercialization of English-language literature in the global market. Thus, the Booker prize may also be seen as a colonial patron within whose premises the postcolonial carnival is underway. This ambivalence is very much present in the postcolonial literary productions too. The question that postcolonial theory so consciously and so eloquently has repeatedly dealt with concerns its production and circulation within the discursive locations put in place and maintained by colonial and neocolonial forces. The ambivalence that wraps Booker prize thus reveals that we have to be wary about the value-accumulation it enables. We have learnt from Bourdieu that literary prizes are part of the complex processes that produce cultural capital within the aesthetic field. Therefore, the starting point for this enquiry would be that the tag ‘Booker Winner’ is not an automatic signifier of the value of a novel.

An assessment of the impact of Booker prize on Indian English fiction may proceed in different directions. For example we can start by remembering that Booker prize is endowed by the Booker plc which has rather unflattering colonial credentials. Such an approach might take us down a polemical path where we notice how Booker Prize as an institution has entrenched the colonial / neo-colonial conditioning of cultural production in our society. From this perspective, it might be illustrative to study the impact of Booker Prize and its widely visible commodification of cultural productions on the field of Indian fiction in other languages. If by 1997 a situation arises in which Salman Rushdie confidently declares that “the prose writing … by Indian writers working in English is proving to be a stronger and more important body of work than most of what has been produced … in the so-called ‘vernacular languages'”, we may be justified in feeling that the neo-colonial mechanism has worked effectively to perpetuate a hierarchical structure. The production of cultural hierarchy through an institution like Booker prize plays an important role in engendering a situation which obtains the structure of feeling that a stronger body of work is being done in English language. This view which implicitly holds the Booker prize responsible for the continuation of active colonial structures in the field of culture is not unreasonable though it is a cynical approach, hence in need of revision.

Another approach to understand the impact of Booker Prize might take us through the processes of the media, the market and all the manoeuvre surrounding it. We begin to notice that Booker Prize is not merely a recognition of literary merit. It drags the literary practice into the market jugglery in which culture becomes a decked up product. In the process the celebrated postcolonial novels, their oppositional thematic notwithstanding, simply become fodder to the market grind. In fact in his persuasive book The Postcolonial Exotic Graham Huggan develops the argument that Booker Prize is one of the means by which postcolonialism is marketed in the West. Despite being convincing, this approach is also rather cynical. Because, here again we consider with finality the determining power of the market forces over cultural production. That is, rather than recuperating the cultural products from the absolute hold of the market, we are thus resubmitting it. I think we can benefit from the awareness that institutions like Booker Prize are not natural arbitrators of value; that the entire process of conferring prizes includes the generation of a value that furthers the marketing needs and then legitimising such a value. We might in our critiques expose the structures that confer transnational significance to postcolonial cultural products under the aegis of institutions like Booker Prize. Even as we thus refuse to attach the value-conferring authority to the Booker, we might yet not want to dismiss the cultural products. We should insist on enquiring into the values these postcolonial cultural products generate.  My contention is that in Indian English fiction one may find a distinct type of novel writing which  may be ironically called ‘Booker novels’.

The category ‘Booker novels’ includes those that have received the Booker prize and many others that haven’t. The characterising features of a ‘Booker novel’ in Indian English fiction are: they are produced by authors who acquire a certain transnational purchase; they are published by international publishing houses for the global market; they are read by a transnational readership; they are commented upon by international scholars; they are prescribed for study in colleges and universities in different parts of the world; they have an implicit or explicit subversion of the nation-state. These characteristics might tempt us to pursue the earlier mentioned polemics and see these novels as interpellating their readers as the subjects of the transnational capital.

I must admit that irony should consume this view and we must argue that if we use the word Booker novels to refer to a type of Indian English novels, then there is a privileging of the Booker prize as a legitimising force that indexes value. I will move on to another view and suggest that may be we can talk about polemical novels in another post.

Jayant Kaikini’s poem Bobby

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It is no secret that I am an unabashed fan of Jayant Kaikini who writes poetry and fiction in Kannada. He has such a fresh pair of eyes with which he sees so much that I can never see. Well, see his poem Bobby for example (in my translation). If my translation displeases you, do comment, I will work on it.

Bobby

* Jayant Kaikini

Have you conversed with dogs?

Rubbing your cheeks against their

striped, spotted throbbing throats,

have you listened to their hot breathed exuberance?

Have you felt slighted as it eloped

with a bitch during mating season

ignoring the feed and

you too?

It is angrrrry at somebody in the deserted backyard –

standing with woof woof breathless ado

tongue in a tizzy, then, the moment

you touch its back like cooled off milk

it begins to soften, have you experienced it?

Have you felt proud

when it barked by mistake at you

and in utter remorse weaved itself around your feet?

Once, limping, mewling, thigh-wound bleeding,

bitten by someone, it comes to you,

lies near you in pain lifting all four,

tear line at eye’s edge,

snivelling every time medicine is applied,

whining at night, growling at each touch;

have you felt scared at this

strange deformity,

been melted by the wagging tail?

A visitor warns, it may be rabid, the tail is too rigid.

Frightened you make queries, hire a gun man and

get him to take aim concealed and

shoot.

At the moment of the shot

have you noticed its frantic gaze facing the cocked gun?

In those eyes – distant wrecked ships – dying days –

rain soaked cemeteries – sounds… didn’t you hear?

In those eyes, oblivious of even your limbs,

didn’t you merge with the world?

CFP: Socio-Cultural Approaches to Translation

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Here is the cfp for the Hyderabad Central Univ seminar on Socio-Cultural Approaches to Translation: Indian and European Perspectives

Socio-Cultural Approaches to Translation: Indian and European Perspectives
University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad, India  –  10 -12 February 2010
Deadline for proposals: 31 October 2009

In recent times translation has taken on a more central role in societies, whether in India or in the rest of the world. Far from being considered as a linguistic activity only it is now seen as bridging, and sometimes broadening, gaps between different cultures. In Translation Studies, its socio-cultural dimension has been taken into account. It has been shown translation may bring new inputs into local cultures to the extent that it may even reshape them. It may develop national cultures to the detriment of more regional ones, or the reverse, or also play ambivalent roles. In contexts where many languages coexist, its role as a vehicle for mediation and communication is sometimes questioned as it may elevate one language to a higher status while downplaying the others. It may reinforce jingoism or enculturation, prejudices or awareness of differences. In other words translation modifies, or preserves, the perception of the other. Hence, translating as an activity and translation as the result of this activity are inseparable from the concept of culture.

From this viewpoint words are not taken for themselves but for their communicative functions. Translation methods and strategies, different linguistic systems and their constraints in terms of meaning and construction, worldviews, etc. are still analyzed, but in so far as they reveal and contribute to a particular case of intercultural communication.

Besides, translations never only affect words. Texts do not appear on their own but accompany or are accompanied by pre-textual elements such as book covers, figures, diagrams, colour, real products, etc. so that translation studies should analyze translations in their overall environments. As can be seen, the concept of translation that is developed here is all-embracing. Is translation only an inter-linguistic process or does it also constitutes an inter-semiotic activity across cultures and languages?

The time has now come to analyze and estimate the socio-cultural value of translation in terms of its contribution to the receiving cultures, and also the translated cultures at times.  One of the possibilities to understand a culture is to learn its language(s) and the sign systems operating within it. Another complementary one is to study what parts of it are preserved in translating. Besides being a daily activity, translation is thus a means for understanding and maybe improving inter-linguistic, inter-semiotic and intercultural communication. The question whether cultural synthesis can be achieved deserves attention.

Aim of the conference: This international conference would like to bring together Indian and non-Indian perspectives on translation with a view to setting up a platform for discussion, comparison and long-term collaboration. It aims to analyze how different cultures interact and interfere with one another through translation.

Venue: Centre for Study of Foreign Languages, School of Humanities, University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad, India.

Hyderabad is the capital city of Andhra Pradesh and is served by an international airport.

Organizers:

– Prof. J. PRABHAKARA RAO, Coordinator, Centre for Study of Foreign Languages, School of Humanities, University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad-500 046, INDIA, <pjandhyala1@gmail.com>.
– Prof. Jean PEETERS, Université de Bretagne-Sud,  4, rue Jean Zay, BP 92 116 , 56 321 Lorient Cédex, FRANCE,  <jean.peeters@univ-ubs.fr>.

Scientific committee:

Prof. J. PRABHAKARA RAO, University of Hyderabad, India.
Prof. Pramod Talgeri, Vice-President, Inter-Disciplinary University, Pune
Prof. B.R. Bapuji, CALTS, University of Hyderabad, India
Prof. Jean PEETERS, Université de Bretagne-Sud, France.
Prof. Michel BALLARD, Université d’Artois, France
Prof. Teresa TOMASZKIEWICZ, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan, Poland.

Participants
Scholars in the fields of Translation Studies, Cultural Studies, Sociolinguistics, Languages, Indology or with an interest in Intercultural Communication.
No. of Participants: 10 (from Europe) + 10 (from India)
Working language:    English

Hospitality: The hosting Institution, i.e. Centre for Study of Foreign Languages, University of Hyderabad will provide local hospitality to participants.

Registration fee: Indians: Rs.1,000/-, Non-Indians: Rs.2,000/-

Paper Proposals: The conference encourages paper proposals in relation with the above-mentioned theme.
The deadline for the submission of abstracts is 31st October, 2009. Participants intending to give a paper should email an abstract of 600 words maximum as an attached file (MSWord format or RTF) to:
<pjandhyala1@gmail.com> and <jean.peeters@univ-ubs.fr>.

The maximum number of papers is 20 (10 Indian and 10 non Indian). The proposals will be assessed by the scientific committee on the basis of their relevance to the conference’s topic.

The scientific committee will return its decision by 30th November, 2009.
The papers should be no longer than 25 minute and will be followed by 10 minutes for discussion.
A selection of papers will be published.